Policing a Genre
Ain't my bag, baby, but questioning everything is.
So first consider fact versus non-fact. A fact is a piece of data. The presumption is that it is “true” – verifiable, confirmable, recreateable, etc. If a fact turns out to be false, it is an error or a lie. Errors and lies are irritating, but usually relatively easy to deal with and accept.
So what is a non-fact?
Next we should consider truth versus non-truth. A truth is a conception of reality. It can be vast or minute, containing many facts which may be correct or incorrect. The presumption is that it carries emotional meaning; a contravening fact doesn’t always undermine a deeply-treasured truth. If a truth turns out to be false, it is not a simple error or lie, but the fault of poor reasoning: either by will of emotional necessity or stupidity our reasoning was wrong.
So what is a non-truth?
Since we’re talking about deeply-held truths, let’s approach religion and non-religion. A religion is a system of belief including narrative, proscription, ritual, superstition, and faith. It is predicated on group-accepted truths, and within these, “facts” (eg: existence of an all-powerful deity) which usually cannot be verified, confirmed, or recreated. It exists simultaneously with other, completely incompatable, systems of belief. All religions are simultaneously falsified (to everyone who is not a part of that particular religion) and unfalsifiable (to everyone who is a part of that particular religion). It is therefore an entirely subjective construction but claims ultimate authority, especially to its adherents.
So what is a non-religion?
Lastly we should look at fiction. A fiction is a set of lies presented as facts, but with the audience’s unspoken acknowledgement that they are in fact hearing/seeing/reading lies. It therefore requires suspension of disbelief, a trick similar to (but not as complete as) the faith required by a religious system. It is usually presented in the form of narrative, but usually without proscription (unless didactic or moralistic). It relies on a series of conventions developed within a culture (ritual), such as characters, dialog, conflict, etc. Its overall purpose is to convey or question or clarify a truth, sometimes a popular one, sometimes a novel or unpopular one.
So what is a non-fiction?