Plotless Politicians

One can’t help but think that the world would be a better place if politicians were forced to study plot development. They always seem surprised that unfortunate things happen as a result of their policies, when fiction writers could have told them exactly what screw-ups were sure to ensue.

We only have to look at history for examples. The most obvious cause-and-effect phenomena that politicians over the centuries seem to have been particularly clueless about is their creation of new countries. Any fiction writer would have known that a recipe for conflict is to throw together opposing parties, no matter how large the common area. Look what’s happened since the 1885 Berlin Conference, when much of Africa was carved up by European colonial powers with total disregard of the languages and cultures of peoples encompassed by newly-drawn borders. Different tribes with distinct territories may have previously fought one another, but they rarely engaged in the horrendous day-to-day conflicts that happen as a result of being forced to live in a shared country. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 created nine new countries, many of which subsequently suffered internal conflict between different factions, the former Yugoslavia being the most extreme example. In 1947, when British imperialists split India into two distinct countries — present-day India and Pakistan (now Islamic Republic of Pakistan and People’s republic of Bangladesh) — they may have thought they were doing a little better by basing their borders on district-based Hindu or Muslim majorities. However, what’s the betting a good fiction writer would have said, “That’s still going to leave a million or more Muslims living in the new, supposedly Hindu, India. That’ll be a problem.” And it was, there was a huge refugee crisis as Muslims rushed to the new Pakistan. Many of those left behind were slaughtered in the riots that followed Indian independence. A fiction writer might have concluded that, after centuries of fairly peaceful co-existence, it was better to leave well enough alone.

And as for colonialism … any novelist could have seen that if your characters storm into a place and steal what they want, rather than trade fairly, there’s going to be big trouble. Especially if you add insult to injury by imposing your colonial characters’ belief systems and laws on the people from whom they stole. It’s a terrific device for creating an explosion of acrimonious rebellion later. I have to admit that it would take a particularly scheming novelist to invent a scenario where acquiescent characters embrace the religions and laws of their colonialist ‘masters,’ believing themselves, therefore, to be equal. But then, when they come to live in the ‘Mother Land,’ expecting to be embraced as the partners they believed themselves to be, they’re automatically treated as lesser, unwelcome mortals by the natives, who have little comprehension of colonial practices. While researching ‘The Speech,’ I came across a photo of a Sikh protesting the ban on wearing a turban at work. His sign read “We’re here because you were there.” Enough said.

As for recent history … what did Margaret Thatcher think would happen when she took away people’s livelihoods (miners, steelworkers, shipbuilders) with no attempt whatsoever to find new ways for them to put a roof over their heads or food in their mouths? Any writer worth their while could have predicted the ensuing civil unrest, riots, and general social malaise. As for the resulting and ongoing reverse Robin Hood policies — steal from the poor and give to the rich … if I were writing the novel I’d be trying to decide if the storming of Parliament should be this chapter or the next. Hang on though, 10 Downing Street first. But wait, I see that scene was written this week.

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