A brilliant, learned man I know recently railed and ranted to me and some others about how liberals are to blame for the current conservative abuses of reality: decades of academics convinced that "truth" does not exist essentially opened the barn door for the bold dishonesty of thought, speech, and act that rules American public life today.

Months have passed since that night, and I have only become increasingly convinced that he is right. I would further put some blame on writers, because I am a writer, and that is what we do.

Turn-of-our-century fiction will in the future be known for its formulaic approach (which we, being stuck in the midst of it, barely perceive, but which is responsible, in my opinion, for alienating readers in droves), its knee-jerk pessimism (writing anything showing a glimmer of positive life will get one quickly dismissed), and its absolute embrace of its own ignorance. Goshie, we LOVE our limited points-of-view... what better way to be lazy than to insist that if the character’s limited, so should the author be... and anyway, the readers are too. So let's do it convincingly: arrogantly.

Freshmen students in literature classes scan misanthropic reading lists and complain, "why is everything we're reading so depressing?" Teachers respond to this as though the students were fools: "that's literature! You want uplifting, go read a greeting card!"

And so every year thousands of would-be readers are deftly convinced that "literature" is depressing and that they are clearly too stupid to see why that's brilliant and important.

Yet we now live in a world where behaving like a sociopathic egomaniacal lower demon to the god of conspicuous consumption is beyond "accepible" -- it's preferred! People who are "nice" are boring, after all; my cousin who is attracted to horrible, selfish, abusive women claims that they're the only ones who are interesting. Fiction decided the same thing long ago: likeable characters obviously can't keep our attention; we need sons-of-bitches whose evil exploits will keep us spell-bound.

But I for one am bored with all these rotten eggs. They are very predictable, after all, and while watching a train-wreck unfold does have its unhealthy pleasures, why can't we watch an at least slightly admirable person struggle hopefully towards a positive goal?

A fiction anthology that I'm using for my Interpretation of Fiction course has an introduction by RS Gwynn, in which Gwynn writes, "Indeed, modern writers have often been so reluctant to seem didactic in presenting characters who are 'moral beacons' that they go to the opposite extreme in presenting protagonists whom we regard with pity or even disgust instead of with admiration."

"Moral beacon"? I'd settle for someone who didn't turn my stomach, someone with whom I could identify without feeling like I have to repent afterwards. Yes, human beings are complex and have both hopeful and hurtful sides; BOTH. I'm tired of stories where the only "hope" the character has involves a petty revenge, a self-destructive tail-spin, or some porno-fantasy performance art. I'm tired of stories in which the only hopes ARE hurtful.

Perhaps the authors are so disconnected from the struggle of daily life that they need to write about bored sickos in order to conjure up a conflict, but for the rest of the world, for whom struggle and circumstance are daily complications, and for whom a fulfilling life is a real, meaningful, but possibly unattainable goal, these stories are like boils and rashes: evidence of sickness, and something to be avoided.

All writers have some opinion somewhere in their souls about why fiction is a shriveling art form. They blame TV or movies, usually, but TV and movies are less popular these days, too. And the people who do embrace these entertainments still are the ones most likely to embrace the amoral consumer culture that these misanthropic fictions represent.

We've discarded truth. We've nipped and tucked beauty. And we've proven that only assholes are worth anyone's time. Let us repent, sinners! It's all our fault.

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