Why I am an atheist – Red Mann »« The Bible is the Bad Book

Building better nations with better foundations

I’m sorry, I had this little afterthought after writing the last post, in which I briefly compared the Bible to Shakespeare, and judged Shakespeare the better source. And then I ran across some standard web babble about America being a Christian nation, and that we have to get back to the Bible fundamentals, and I thought…wait a minute, the Bible is a truly horrible sourcebook for defining a national character. Why not be more selective in our literary foundations?

Let’s not be a Christian nation — it’s modeling after an ugly source. Let’s all pick better heroes. The United Kingdom should aspire to be a Shakespearean nation: literate, complex, and bawdy. Ireland can be a Joycean nation, verbally playful and inventive. The United States, obviously, should try harder to be a Mark Twain nation: cynical, humane, sacrilegious, and humorous. There is potential for this notion to go horribly wrong — Czechoslovakia, please do not become a Kafkaesque nation — but you know, steeping our countries’ youth in the best of our literature and openly saying that this is how our country could be sets up universally better role models than that demented Jehovah character.

The only problem is the variety of choices (although maybe that really isn’t a problem so much as a benefit). I’d also kind of want to live in a Melville nation, mainly because I want to see the kids wearing bracelets that say WWQD (“What would Queequeg Do?”).

Other people will have to leave suggestions for their literary exemplars of their national character. I don’t want to make the mistake of suggesting that Sweden Finland can be the Moomintroll Nation.

Comments

  1. walton says

    I agree almost entirely, except…

    There is potential for this notion to go horribly wrong — Czechoslovakia, please do not become a Kafkaesque nation

    …to be annoyingly pedantic, I can’t help pointing out that Czechoslovakia hasn’t existed since 1992. I think you mean the Czech Republic.

    (Of course, Kafka was born in Prague when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so Austria could probably lay claim as well.)

  2. pj says

    Sweden has no claim to Moomintrolls. That Tove Jansson was Swedish-Finnish does not mean she had a double nationality, but that she belonged to the Swedish speaking minority of Finland.

    Swedes can be Astrid Lindgrens nation.

  3. Sastra says

    As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the United States is a ‘Hollywood Nation.’ Which makes a fair amount of sense, given that so much of our politics seem to have come out of a scriptwriter.

  4. Moggie says

    I want Britain to be a Sellar and Yeatman nation, but I suspect Orwell or Martin Amis are more likely.

  5. Dhorvath, OM says

    Robertson Davies nation? Margaret Atwood nation? Farley Mowat nation? Hmmm, we could work with this.

  6. iknklast says

    Could we alternate between a Mark Twain nation and a Dr. Seuss nation? To live in a world that can contain the noble Horton and the Lorax would be much desirable to now, where we’re much more the Star Bellied Sneetches and Plain Bellied Sneetches.

  7. noname says

    I have always had the vision of building a real life mythology based on the stories of Tolkien. They have much better ethic lessons and also much more creative stories, more likable characters etc. Shakespear might not really be a good thing with all the tragedies he wrote. You could probably compete with the Goethe nation Germany with encouraging suicides among young people through Romeo and Juliet (and The Sorrows of Young Werther here).

  8. ChasCPeterson says

    Twainian’s good, and Seussian. I don’t want to live in a Bukowskian nation, though.
    A Kerouacian nation would be cool.
    A Pynchonian nation would be very interesting too.

  9. Dick the Damned says

    Dhorvath, chigau, I reckon we’d get better mileage as a Suzuki nation (David that is).

  10. bcwebb says

    The problem with Shakespeare:

    There is the story of the woman who read Hamlet for the first time and said, “I don’t see why people admire that play so. It is nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together.”

    –Issac Asimov, Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare

  11. KG says

    The United Kingdom should aspire to be a Shakespearean nation: literate, complex, and bawdy. – PZM

    I dunno, what are pedants coming to? Walton picks on the Kafka-Czechoslovakia link and misses that Shakespeare died long before the UK existed! Besides which, he really had it in for both the Scots and the Welsh. The nearest Scottish equivalent to Shakespeare in terms of national feeling is Robbie Burns – his birthday, January 25th, “Burns nicht”, is celebrated by eating the most disgusting things the country produces – various animal innards boiled with oats in a sheep’s stomach, aqccompanied by mashed swede. Admittedly, there should be plenty of whisky to dull the pain. Burns was at least a decent radical, unlike Shakespeare, who was keen to lick any accessible royal arse. I’m not sure about a Welsh equivalent, although I’d back Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as the equal of any Shakespeare play.

  12. says

    There is potential for this notion to go horribly wrong — Czechoslovakia, please do not become a Kafkaesque nation

    Kafka was singular, inventive, challenging, and brilliant. Incidentally, I was just reading this.

  13. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Irene Delse #20

    I wonder if Ireland would rather be a Swiftian or a Joycean nation ;-)

    How about Ireland being a Lord Dunsanian nation?

  14. dorsettroll says

    The UK should be the Douglas Adams nation, that way we get to call the whole Galaxy ours!

  15. walton says

    KG:

    I dunno, what are pedants coming to? Walton picks on the Kafka-Czechoslovakia link and misses that Shakespeare died long before the UK existed!

    Good point. My aspiration is for the UK to become a Tolkienian nation. Complete with hobbits, dwarves and elves. And my campaign for drug law reforms can extend to legalization of pipe-weed.

    Walton, you can aspire to be from an Adrian Mole nation.

    Bleh… Ive never been a huge fan of Sue Townsend. She also wrote The Queen and I.

  16. brianwestley says

    Kafka? Brrr. Now, if the Czech Republic was the Karel Čapek nation, that would be awesome!

    I for one would welcome our new robot overlords.

  17. Pteryxx says

    Hey, Asimov was American too (except for a brief stint as an infant Russian) AND he was literate, bawdy, interested in everything, and always the center of attention. And he was an atheist!

  18. storms says

    Oh, I want America to be a Heinleinian Nation! Intelligent, practical, scientifically minded, acerbic, socially radical, sexually liberated, and politically savvy explorers, YES!

  19. Pteryxx says

    Can New England become a Lovecraftian… region? Pretty please? There would be squids…

    Stephen King might have something to say about that. (Now that’s a civil war I’d LOVE to see.)

  20. Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart, liar and scoundrel says

    As much as I love me some Twain, I’d vote for a Joseph Hellerite nation.

    We’re already absurd enough, it wouldn’t be much of a leap.

  21. says

    aqccompanied by mashed swede

    I’m somewhat horrified at this implied cannibalism, but I’m afraid that I’d be even more horrified if someone actually explained what that is.

    Oh, I want America to be a Heinleinian Nation!

    Fascist?

    I had the same thought. Starship Troopers was painful to read. It was like SIWOTI, only you can’t argue because it’s noninteractive.

  22. Pteryxx says

    Also, Chile should totally be Nerudan, after Pablo Neruda: poet and diplomat who was able to admit regret for supporting Stalin.

    Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.

    I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees.

  23. says

    I suppose England (not Britain) as a Tolkien nation makes some kind of sense, given that the Prof’s works were, like the Kalevala, a syncretic mythology constructed from surrounding folk stories. However, there are several strikes against Tolkien.

    (1) His writing is so fucking dull. I have met few who can stomach his poetry for long, and let’s not mention the humongous embarrassment that is Tom Bombadil. It takes a strong constitution to read the Sellamillion. But let’s face it, LotR is an appalling piece of work that when it hits its heights echoes the best bits from Beowulf and at its worst is a dreary travelogue.

    (2) It is filtered through JRRT’s Catholicism. Parables abound. Yawn.

    (3) It is highly reactionary. Michael Moorcock’s ‘Epic Pooh’ essay is particularly good on the poverty of Tolkien’s works and politics. The scouring of the Shire is fantasy for the Daily Mail reader.

    You can read Epic Pooh here: http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.php?id=953

    Can I have England as the ‘Beowulf nation’ please? There was something exciting and adventurous.

  24. Pteryxx says

    Can anyone suggest some national authors for African or Asian countries? I really don’t know jack there, outside of anime.

  25. jamesmichaels1 says

    I like considering the UK as a Rowling nation, both because I love her writing, and because it would REALLY piss the fundie Christians off.

  26. Pteryxx says

    O_o Wow, SC, thank you for referencing Galeano.

    “Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream of escaping poverty: that, one magical day, good luck will suddenly rain down on them – will rain down in buckets. But good luck doesn’t rain down, yesterday, today, tomorrow or ever. Good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day on their right foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms. The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the no-ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way. Who are not, but could be. Who don’t speak languages, but dialects. Who don’t have religions, but superstitions. Who don’t create art, but handicrafts. Who don’t have culture, but folklore. Who are not human beings, but human resources. Who do not have faces, but arms. Who do not have names, but numbers. Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the crime reports of the local paper. The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”

    — Eduardo Galeano, “The Nobodies”

  27. Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart, liar and scoundrel says

    Has anyone mentioned Chekov for Russia? Being able to handle tragedy with comedy seems to be a very handy skill to have.

  28. KG says

    Jadehawk,

    Sorry to disappoint you, but a swede is just an orange-fleshed turnip – I think it’s short for “Swedish turnip”, a variety introduced to Britain from Sweden in the 18th century IIRC. On Burns nicht, the haggis is traditionally “piped in” – brought in to the accompaniment of the wails of a tortured octopus.

  29. KG says

    let’s not mention the humongous embarrassment that is Tom Bombadil. – Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

    In National Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings, he becomes Tim Benzedrine, who passes round a pipe filled with his “speshul mix”. I can’t find my copy or I’d give you a sample of his doggerel – which is certainly no worse than the original. I must admit LotR remains a rather shameful pleasure – there are certain bits I still enjoy, even though I recognise that the whole thing is a sickly confection inhabited by a set of characters for whom the adjective “wooden” would be absurdly over-complimentary.

  30. says

    Thank you for the Sue Townsend suggestion, Walton. That looks like a fun read.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want my nation to have been written by a logorrheic right-wing Catholic whose pretend-world was mostly devoid of women. And, sorry, Storms, but I don’t want my actual nation to be represented by Heinlein. His ideas about “sexual liberation” ping all my skeeve buttons (isn’t it funny how all those ideas gratify male sexual fantasies?), and he gets far too much adulation among libertarian techies as it is.

    Cuttlefish: No.

    If I had to pick someone for the U.S., Twain is as good as any. Anti-religious, extremely egalitarian for his time, and a very good writer.

  31. rogerallen says

    Josef Skvorecky said that the Czech national character inspired and was inpired by the Good Soldier Schweik.

    W.H. Auden said that the qualities of a good poem and a good country were completely opposed: a poem like a civilised country would be flabby and unreadable; a country like a good poem would be a regimented dictatorship. Someone else pointed out that fascism is what happens when people apply aesthetic principles to politics.

  32. says

    O_o Wow, SC, thank you for referencing Galeano….

    For several months I was posting selections from The Book of Embraces, including that one, on my blog. I love this one:

    CELEBRATION OF FANTASY

    It happened at the entrance to the town of Ollantaytambo, near Cuzco. I had detached myself from a group of tourists and was standing alone looking at the stone ruins in the distance when a small boy from the neighborhood, skinny and ragged, came over to ask if I would give him a pen. I couldn’t give him my pen because I was using it to write down all sorts of boring notes, but I offered to draw a little pig for him on his hand.

    Suddenly the word got around. I was surrounded by a throng of little boys demanding at the top of their lungs that I draw animals on their little hands cracked by the dirt and cold, their skin of burnt leather: one wanted a condor and one a snake, others preferred little parrots and owls, and some asked for a ghost or a dragon.

    Then, in the middle of this racket, a little waif who barely cleared a yard off the ground showed me a watch drawn in black ink on his wrist.

    “An uncle of mine who lives in Lima sent it to me,” he said.

    “And does it keep good time?” I asked him.

    “It’s a bit slow,” he admitted.

  33. elvenpiratefish says

    Considering all the nerdy type people on here I’m surprised that the obvious suggestion for the foundational novel for England hasn’t show up yet…Lord of the Rings. Come on now, England should totally be a Tolkien nation, long winded but epic!

  34. Pteryxx says

    @SC: …Honduras had a coup?

    I’m rapidly becoming the poster bird for the failure of USian media and fundie education, aren’t I…

  35. says

    Considering all the nerdy type people on here I’m surprised that the obvious suggestion for the foundational novel for England hasn’t show up yet…Lord of the Rings. Come on now, England should totally be a Tolkien nation, long winded but epic!

    commenting before reading all the comments makes you look stupid.

  36. littlejohn says

    I live in a Hunter Thompson nation, or at least state of mind. As your attorney, I suggest you do the same. Where did these damn bats come from?

  37. janiceintoronto says

    How about a Pierre Burton nation?

    We’d certainly be good with history, at least.

    Besides, the guy could roll a great joint.

    A true Canadian

  38. dannysichel says

    America is a Stan Lee nation.

    Face front, true believers.

    (Although in some respects it’s a Matt Groening nation.)

  39. Randomfactor says

    I just want the world to stop resembling a Robert Anton Wilson novel.

    A few years back when there was a possible revolution involving Fernando Poo, I just about crapped my fnords.

  40. magistramarla says

    Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I would like to see the US become a Star Trek nation – in fact, all nations.
    Every time that I go to San Francisco and look down at the Golden Gate Bridge from high on a hill, I can’t help but fantasize about where The Starfleet Academy should be built.

  41. magistramarla says

    PZ,
    I found your suggestion for a national narrative to be quite interesting in light of my work as a Latin teacher. The emperor Augustus commissioned Virgil to write the Aeneid because he felt that the Roman people needed a national narrative to match those that the Greeks had – The Iliad and The Odyssey.
    The Romans fancied themselves the descendants of a band of Trojan refugees who had settled in Italy after the war, so it made sense to Augustus that this story should be glorified. Virgil did an excellent job of imitating the Greek storytelling technique and gave the Romans their national narrative.
    This is the sort of thing that I reveled in telling my students when I was teaching!

  42. noname says

    Actually it was mentioned several times but also critisized by the type of people who prefer “high brow” literature that actually represents all minorities equally. I always thought LotR was full of hidden homo-eroticism though but I guess it would have to be be made obviously like a pink gandalf, male-to-female transsexual elves, interracial love (although Legolas-Gimli could count as that) etc. . Also one of the critics complains it would be anti-urban. It was written in the early 50s for a broad audience and is set in a “high fantasy” setting where there obviously is no such thing. And yes, its simpleness is one of the reasons it is so successful. Also the partial similarity to books for children is maybe because it evolved from a book for children? What’s bad about such books though? I chose it because it would actually have potential for such bible replacement unlike most authors. Harry Potter could maybe,too. But the stuff shakespear wrote? A lot of unrelated stories….hmmm…. now I guess I changed my mind. Shakespear could also replace the Bible because it is also just a collection of unrelated stories, just written worse and using even more antiquated language.

  43. Weed Monkey says

    How I wish Finland were Moominvalley instead of a place where jingoistic ideals by Lönnrot and Runeberg are still alive.

  44. Pteryxx says

    I would think the UK could be a Pratchettan nation, which makes me profoundly jealous.

    …Damn. Me too, even WITH Asimov, Lovecraft and Dr Seuss.

  45. Moggie says

    KG:

    The nearest Scottish equivalent to Shakespeare in terms of national feeling is Robbie Burns – his birthday, January 25th, “Burns nicht”, is celebrated by eating the most disgusting things the country produces – various animal innards boiled with oats in a sheep’s stomach, aqccompanied by mashed swede.

    Bah. The Burns, it’s stupid. Burns night: people who would never crack open a poetry book the other 364 days of the year vie with one another to be more stereotypically Scottish, in ways of which the tourist board would approve. There are even bloody bagpipes involved. The only thing which saves it from being totally hateful is that the Scots are world leaders at irony.

    No, I believe Scotland should aspire to be an Iain Banks culture.

    SC:

    Canada – an Atwoodian nation.

    As long as it’s not Gilead.

    Bronze Dog:

    I just know that if this catches on, some parts of Japan will become really weird and/or really awesome.

    What do you mean “become”?

  46. Eric O says

    Canada – an Atwoodian nation.

    If so, our characteristics would be creative, but sometimes a little dry and pretentious.

    Personally, I’d rather have Mordecai Richler represent our national character. Good-humoured, imaginative, and always willing to shine a critical light on our national values.

  47. says

    Actually [Lord of the Rings] was mentioned several times but also critisized by the type of people who prefer “high brow” literature that actually represents all minorities equally.

    And there I was, thinking I was criticising it because the writing is shyte.

  48. Happiestsadist says

    I’m with Eric O. on this one. Team Richler!

    The US is already Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here”.

    And yeah, Tolkien is like watching racist paint dry. For thousands and thousands of pages. Bleh.

  49. alisonstreight says

    As a Canuck, may I humbly suggest Sinclair Lewis/John Steinbeck nation for the USA. The sight of Republican heads exploding would be sweet indeed.

  50. says

    If Czech republic should be like one of our writers, I would definitively go for Karel Čapek. His writing skills, his humanism, his pacifism, his intelligence and love of science and above all his intelectual integrity were certainly my inspiration in my formative years, although I fail my ideal spectacularly.

    Alas, as already stated, the overall nation character goes more for The Good Soldier Schweik.

  51. Sastra says

    I tried living in an F. Scott Fitzgerald Nation, but couldn’t keep up. Then I made the mistake of living in a Hemingway Nation — and they shot me.

  52. Rey Fox says

    As long as Neil Gaiman gets parts of London. The underground, mostly.

    Can anyone suggest some national authors for African or Asian countries?

    My limited knowledge suggests Alan Paton for South Africa, except he’s white.

    Has anyone mentioned Chekov for Russia?

    I think Russia might already be a Pushkin nation.

    W.H. Auden said that the qualities of a good poem and a good country were completely opposed: a poem like a civilised country would be flabby and unreadable; a country like a good poem would be a regimented dictatorship. Someone else pointed out that fascism is what happens when people apply aesthetic principles to politics.

    Party pooper.

    Although in some respects it’s a Matt Groening nation.

    Or perhaps a Mike Judge nation.

  53. Pteryxx says

    @Rey Fox: Thanks. I mostly say “William Kentridge” for South Africa, but he’s white and an artist, not a writer. (He’s SUCH an amazing artist though…)

  54. KG says

    I believe Scotland should aspire to be an Iain Banks culture. – Moggie

    Ugh. I admit I’ve only tried a couple of his books, one of them an “Iain M. Banks”, but I couldn’t finish either. His main talent appeared to be for inventing and describing particularly unpleasant forms of torture. Of current writers, I’d nominate Christopher Brookmyre.

  55. petrander says

    Czechoslovakia, please do not become a Kafkaesque nation

    Czechoslovakia!? WTF, PZ? Where have you been the past twenty years?

    Oh… right… The USA, bwahahahahaha! ;-D

  56. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter #64

    If I had to pick someone for the U.S., Twain is as good as any. Anti-religious, extremely egalitarian for his time, and a very good writer.

    Twain has my vote.

  57. barnes says

    For Ireland I would have to go for Oscar Wilde

    “America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up”.

    With quotes like this, whats not to like ;)

  58. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    Oh, I want America to be a Heinleinian Nation!
    Fascist?

    I had the same thought. Starship Troopers was painful to read. It was like SIWOTI, only you can’t argue because it’s noninteractive.

    …and…

    he gets far too much adulation among libertarian techies as it is.

    Mostly because they, like some people here, seem unable to differentiate between a character’s view/actions and an author’s. Not to mention being unable to imagine that someone might change opinions over the course of their life. ST was so blatantly satire of pro-war propaganda I worry for the mental capacity of anyone that thinks it is supposed to be anything else.

    Anyway it’s too late. The US has already slid too far down the slope towards a Nehemiah Scudder nation.

    Ugh. I admit I’ve only tried a couple of his books, one of them an “Iain M. Banks”, but I couldn’t finish either.

    You’re missing out on some utterly fabulous stories in that case. How can you not like a universe where capitalism has become irrelevant? How can you not like sarcastic ‘droids?

  59. says

    tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach

    You have an odd definition of satire.

    According to Heinlein, his desire to write Starship Troopers was sparked by the publication of a newspaper advertisement placed by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy on April 5, 1958 calling for a unilateral suspension of nuclear weapon testing by the United States. In response, Robert and Virginia Heinlein created the small “Patrick Henry League” in an attempt to create support for the U.S. nuclear testing program. During the unsuccessful campaign, Heinlein found himself under attack both from within and outside the science fiction community for his views. Starship Troopers may therefore be viewed as Heinlein both clarifying and defending his military and political views of the time [source: wikipedia]

    ————————————————
    I vote Prachettian for England. If Tolkein gets it, I’m swimming the Bristol Channel to Dylan Thomas land.

  60. KG says

    How can you not like a universe where capitalism has become irrelevant? How can you not like sarcastic ‘droids?

    Because the writing’s such crap. While he’s certainly got plenty of imagination, it’s just one thing after another after another, shapeless and pointless. Really, I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of SF, but I’ve had two goes at reading Consider Phlebas, heard some “Culture” short story on the radio, and dipped into a few others in book shops and libraries, and I really don’t get it at all.

  61. KG says

    Mostly because they, like some people here, seem unable to differentiate between a character’s view/actions and an author’s. – tim rowledge

    Yeah, but in Heinlein’s case, some of the characters (e.g. Jubal Harshaw in Stranger) are so obviously Heinlein. We’re obviously supposed to admire him, but he just comes over as an uber-creepy sexist.

  62. lsamaknight says

    Given that most, if not all of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ is in microprint on our ten dollar note and Waltzing Matilda is considered the national song (as opposed to the official anthem), I would argue that Australia may already be considered a Patterson nation.

    The question is do we stay that way or do we update to someone more recent such as Gleitzman, Morris, Jennings or Reilly?

    As for those who asked about Asia and Africa, I know a couple from Asia but they tend don’t tend to be recent such as Lady Murasaki, author of ‘The Tale of Genji’ which I wouldn’t recommend. All other Japanese authors I know are either mangaka or write light novels… which are often compared to manga in text form, at least the ones I read.

    China though… well there are worse literary role models than Sun Wukong. (Though this reminds me oddly of the time when we had some exchange teachers from China at my High School and their surprise and bafflement when we already familiar with the story thanks to the ABC screening several repeats of Monkey, the British dubbed version of the 1979-1980 Japanese live action TV version of Saiyuki.)

  63. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    KG, clearly we have differing views on literature and should leave it at that. Variety is good, after all; how would everyone having the same tastes support a decent number of authors?

    Daz, there is a huge body of critical writing about RAH, ranging from some dingbat trying to claim he was a leather-clad fascist stormtrooper across to Robinson claiming almost the exact opposite. Wikipedia is not any particularly trustworthy source here, as in so many contentious cases. Me, I enjoyed his stories as a kid and later and don’t think it matters a whole lot what his personal views were. Would anyone claim that W.Audrey actually believed that ‘coughs and sneezles spread diseasels’?

  64. wystanshaw says

    Why the hell would Slovakia or the CR be a Kafkaesque nation, when they could become an Hasekian nation? What better model than Svejk? Obtuse in the face of unearned authority, disbelieving in the face of a god and seriously thirsty in the face of a glass of juniper schnapps.

    Na Zdraví!

  65. says

    KG, clearly we have differing views on literature and should leave it at that. Variety is good, after all; how would everyone having the same tastes support a decent number of authors?

    Non-Sequitor much?

  66. says

    KG, Consider Phlebas isn’t the best Iain M. Banks, and is probably the worst Culture novel, for the reasons you state. You did well to try reading it twice, and I say this as a Banks fan. A much better intro to the Culture is Player of Games, which actually has a fairly straightforward plot, and none of Phlebas’ arty pretension.

  67. Blobulon says

    Jadehawk – a swede is a rutabaga.

    So … NZ is a Crump Ball nation? Seems about right.

  68. says

    tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach

    As a Heinlein fan, presumably you own Expanded Universe? I ask because that wikipedia quote is a paraphrasing of R.A.H.’s own words as published in that book. ST is a jingoistic tract, and many of the characters Heinlein shows the most sympathy for, or uses as mouth-pieces for lectures on morality, sex and politics are very libertarian in their outlooks. Lazarus Long and Jubal Harshaw spring to mind. Don’t get me wrong; I like reading Heinlein, even when I disagree with him. Doesn’t mean I have to make a saint of the bloke or a bible of his writings.

  69. llewelly says

    PZ:

    Oh, man, pedants already

    PZ, you have readers who are not old enough to remember when Czech and Slovakia were a single nation. When you forget how things have changed in the last 20 years, you further the impression that atheism is just a bunch of old white men who are unable to empathize with the youth!

  70. llewelly says

    tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach | 21 January 2012 at 5:14 pm :

    Daz, there is a huge body of critical writing about RAH, ranging from some dingbat trying to claim he was a leather-clad fascist stormtrooper across to Robinson claiming almost the exact opposite

    I won’t comment on most of the criticism of RAH, but I read an awful lot of Robinson, including particularly his defenenses of RAH.

    When I first encountered Robinson’s defenenses of RAH, I had not read the criticisms, and I greatly admired RAH, and while I certainly did not believe him to be right in all things, I did think he had a great deal of insight and wisdom to impart, and I accepted implicitly the Robinson conceit that SF readers are essentially smarter and more mentally flexible people.

    Despite this, Robinson’s defenses of RAH were the opposite of convincing. They revealed, that like many people, he knew very little about anything outside of his own field, and that he was incapable of thinking logically about someone he greatly admired. No Robinson-authored defense of RAH would survive a pharyngula comment thread; they were all stuffed to overflowing the logical fallacies (RAH voted social credit, therefor he couldn’t have been a conservative!), strawmen, and willful misunderstandings.

    Robinson was a fine SF writer, but not a good critical thinker, and entirely ignorant of the issues the critics of RAH raised.

  71. Die Anyway says

    I agree with the Mark Twain selection but empathize with Melville too… he penned one of my favorite quotes when he has Ishmael say “better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”

  72. josh says

    The guy who wrote

    ST was so blatantly satire of pro-war propaganda I worry for the mental capacity of anyone that thinks it is supposed to be anything else.

    seems to be arguing with himself. The fact that Heinlein wrote “Who are the heirs of Patrick Henry? Stand up and be counted!” in which he argued that an above-ground nuclear test ban was a betrayal of American to the Commies, and Asimov’s account of Heinlein’s rightward turn after marrying Virginia (supposedly Heinlein argued in the late Forties that Truman needed to be impeached) suggest that, yes, Starship Troopers and The Puppet Masters are taking the rightist positions that they indeed seem to be taking. Heinlein’s writing in support of the Vietnam War and his speech to the Naval Academy (full of Lazarus Long’s aphorisms) do too. Plus, uh, the novel with the black American cannibals and the one in which the heroine marries her rapist could be seen as indications of a kinda retro worldview. If the “Robinson” being alluded to here is Spider Robinson, the fact that he ends his reverent essay on Heinlein by saying that he himself has some criticisms of Heinlein but would never have the bad taste to make them in public really suggests that he doesn’t get the whole “criticism” idea.

    Surely one can enjoy plenty of Heinlein’s fiction and appreciate his artistic innovations without whitewashing his problems: authors like Delany and Russ are/were very forthcoming about how much they owed the guy but didn’t pretend he was a progressive.

  73. DLC says

    A better view of Heinlein’s politics can be found in his autobiographical work Grumbles from the Grave.
    Heinlein wrote many stories about subjects people in his day (and today) find controversial or objectionable, it’s what he did. But calling him a fascist because you didn’t like the politics in Starship Troopers is like calling Agatha Christie a serial killer because she writes about murders. (well, not exactly, but you get the idea…)

  74. rogerallen says

    “I would argue that Australia may already be considered a Patterson nation.

    The question is do we stay that way or do we update to someone more recent such as Gleitzman, Morris, Jennings or Reilly?”

    Be ambitious, Isamaknight: make Australia a Land of Hope(A.D.).
    Wole Soyinka is a model for Nigeria.

    I had a sound colonial education,
    I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,
    and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.

    -Derek Walcott, from The Schooner Flight, sums up the postcolonial choice.

  75. says

    ST was so blatantly satire of pro-war propaganda

    except that it wasn’t:

    “According to Heinlein, his desire to write Starship Troopers was sparked by the publication of a newspaper advertisement placed by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy on April 5, 1958 calling for a unilateral suspension of nuclear weapon testing by the United States. In response, Robert and Virginia Heinlein created the small “Patrick Henry League” in an attempt to create support for the U.S. nuclear testing program. During the unsuccessful campaign, Heinlein found himself under attack both from within and outside the science fiction community for his views. Starship Troopers may therefore be viewed as Heinlein both clarifying and defending his military and political views of the time”

  76. sheepdogb says

    I would tend to characterize the U.S. as currently more Huxleyan [Aldous], in its resemblance to the society described in Brave New World,, and Brave New World, Revisited. I find the Twain idea compelling, perhaps to be improved with a touch of Bierce and Mencken to alleviate gross tendencies toward anthropocentric narcissism.

    Oh, a healthy dose of Asimov is always a good idea, of course.

  77. howdini says

    I think if we’re going to be a Melvillian nation, the appropriate abbreviation should be “WWBD?” “What would Bartleby do?”

    The answer being, of course, nothing: he’d prefer not to.

  78. Crudely Wrott says

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Ferdinand Feghoot (please see your favorite wiki) as the hero of all mankind.

    A shamelessly shallow search yields the following link, which all Americans will surely understand at a deep level. For non-Americans please refer to cricket, rugby, soccer, ice hockey, nine or ten pins as may be suitable. If none of the suggestions suffice, substitute your own sport (athlete post-game interviews being the same without regard to sport, sponsor or fan devotion). >grin<

    http://quantumtantra.blogspot.com/2010/04/ferdinand-feghoot-comforts-prophet.html

  79. says

    PZ, you have readers who are not old enough to remember when Czech and Slovakia were a single nation. When you forget how things have changed in the last 20 years, you further the impression that atheism is just a bunch of old white men who are unable to empathize with the youth!

    Now I really feel compelled to be pedantic.

    Czech and Slovakia never were a single nation. They were two nations sharing one state. In fact, czechs and slovaks have very little in common apart from very similar (but far from identic) language.

  80. KG says

    Crudely Wrott@127,

    What about those of us with no interest in spectator sport of any kind? (If at all possible, I intend to flee the country during the Olympics.)

    For Australia, surely Peter Carey must get a look in. For the Czech Republic, I found The Good Soldier Schweik unreadable and not in the least funny as far as I managed to get – humour often doesn’t transfer well across cultures, although I was trying to read it in translation.

  81. KG says

    Czech and Slovakia never were a single nation. They were two nations sharing one state. – Charly

    Unlike the case of “state”, there is no objective definition of “nation”.

  82. says

    Given the criticism of Tolkien for the Christian allegory and racist undertones of LOTR, I suppose there’s an argument for him to be claimed by the land of his birth, as the voice of pre-democracy South Africa?

  83. Jeffrey G Johnson says

    It’s much better to be the people of books, than to be a people of the book.

  84. Jeffrey G Johnson says

    Czech and Slovakia never were a single nation. They were two nations sharing one state. – Charly

    Unlike the case of “state”, there is no objective definition of “nation”.

    I wonder how many nations are sharing this United States of America?

  85. geraldostdiek says

    It is more than a little sad when my (adopted) nation is slagged by otherwise intelligent people. I am an American, but also an assistant professor at Charles University in Prague. And I want to thank the early commenters who point out PZ’s faux pas … especially the reference to Capek. Rossum’s Universal Robots, and War with the Newts deserve a place in the skeptical cannon. However, Czechia (in the familiar), has long been the Hasek nation!! Re: The Good Soldiek Svek.

    Here, Kafka is celebrated only by the tourists, he spoke and wrote in German, and was Jewish. He has little or no connection to the Czech people (though their – and the entire Austrian – bureaucracy is clearly kafkaesque, as anyone who has tried to navigate it can testify).

    One other small correction: Czechia and Slovakia were a single nation – back in the 8th and 9th centuries. They (as well as Silesia – now a part of Poland, and small corners of Austria and Hungary) were all part of the Kingdom of Greater Moravia … one of the most powerful of the central European ‘Nations’ of the time.

    The cultural separation came when Moravia was conquered, and Slovakia settled, by the Huns. Much later, it was compounded by the Austrians – but made far worse by the colonial attitudes of the Czechs against the Slovaks throughout the First Republic and the subsequent occupations (Nazi and Communist). But the separation was largely unwanted by the Czechs, and barely accepted by the Slovaks. There was no referendum. It was a result of political maneuvering on the part of the scoundrels (i.e. self-interested politicians).

    All this just goes to show that ‘nation’ is a tricky concept, susceptible to philosophical blather… But it also shows how important it is to get one’s facts straight.

    Oh, and the business of the original post: Dead On. America, the Twain nation… I like it.

  86. says

    I’d like The Netherlands to be a Toonderian nation, or possibly a Campertic nation.

    Belgium, of course, already is an Elsschotic nation.

    Finally, for the USA, how about a Philip K Dickian nation? (He doesn’t need a link, now does he?)

    Also, has anyone noticed the lack of female writers? Let me offset that by suggesting Isabel Allende for Chile.

  87. says

    Unlike the case of “state”, there is no objective definition of “nation”.

    That may well be, but Czechs and Slovaks were never even in one single state. Former Czechoslovakia was a federal state, consisting of two states, with separate government and overreaching federal government.

    And while the definition of nation may be a little fuzzy – as well as definition of species – there is no denying that czech and slovak languages differ significantly, as well as our cultures, and we are therefore two separate nations according to most definitions I am aware of.

    Czechia and Slovakia were a single nation – back in the 8th and 9th centuries.

    By this logic there was a time, when we all were “one nation”. Which, strictly speaking, has some philosophical true to it. But its meaningless at the same time. Just as you cannot say, that mallards and ducks are the same species due to their common ancestry in the past, you cannot say that two nations are one due to their common ancestry in the past. Logic here is the same, although time span and the nature of accumulated differencies (biological vs. cultural/linguistic) is not.

    In the context of this thread I was speaking about the times of former Czechoslovakia. I probably did not make it clear, I thought it is pretty obvious.

    So allow me to clarify my position – Czechs and Slovaks were not single nation during the existence of Czechoslovakia. They were two nations, in two separate stastes, sharing one common federal government.

    Or would anyone suggest, that now, under one EU government, there is only one Europian nation? How would anyone justify that? Nationality and patriotism might be obsolete concepts, divisive and useless forms of self-identification etc. (I agre with Oscard Wilde that patriotism/nationalism are vices of the vile), but nations exist nevertheless. Saying nations do not exist is simply not true.

  88. pj says

    @geraldostdiek

    Czechia and Slovakia were a single nation – back in the 8th and 9th centuries.

    …and

    The cultural separation came when Moravia was conquered, and Slovakia settled, by the Huns

    Huns roamed Europe in the 4th and 5th century. Could it be you mean Magyars, i.e. the ancestors of Hungarians?

  89. You don't know Jack says

    I would have picked the US for a Vonnegut nation, but Twain is definitely a good thing to aim for

    As for Australia I like KG @ 130 idea of a Carey nation, better than the ones I was stuck with of Patrick White or Tim Winton

  90. sheepdogb says

    @SQB #136

    Also, has anyone noticed the lack of female writers? Let me offset that by suggesting Isabel Allende for Chile.

    In light of that pertinent reminder, I would like to suggest Harriet Martineau for the U.K.

  91. khms says

    Here’s another perspective on Starship Troopers (the book):

    It certainly displays some singularly offensive political/social ideas of Heinlein. At the same time, it is pretty obviously and dramatically anti-War. And also anti such things as the Geneva convention.

    It’s Heinlein. He wouldn’t know conventional morality – any kind – if it bit him in the ass. Good for making you think, bad for trying to emulate his characters (any of them). You should use him like Christians use the bible: cherry-pick him all to hell.

  92. Pteryxx says

    @SQB #136

    Also, has anyone noticed the lack of female writers? Let me offset that by suggesting Isabel Allende for Chile.

    …Can y’all believe that with THIS CROWD, it still took until post #136 for anyone to point that out? More red pills needed, STAT!

    As a science-fiction native, I’m proud to live in a Butlerian nation; even one that bears no small resemblance to Omelas.

  93. stevem says

    The mention of Iain Banks caused a mistaken association in me, first thinking of the lead of Jethro Tull, but that, of course, is actually Ian Anderson, who I believe is Scottish and has written numerous catchy songs with strong opinions about mass religions. So I would like to suggest Mr. Anderson to be the “voice” of Scotland.

  94. says

    It’s Heinlein. He wouldn’t know conventional morality – any kind – if it bit him in the ass. Good for making you think, bad for trying to emulate his characters (any of them). You should use him like Christians use the bible: cherry-pick him all to hell.

    Well there’s the stupidest argument I’ve heard in a while.

  95. karmacat says

    I took a course in college on African literature. It was a great class. the professor, who was from South Africa talked about how literature in South Africa is very political. Unfortunately, college was too long ago so that I can’t remember the authors. I do remember Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka from Nigeria. There is an excellent female writer from Tanzania.

    Also, how about Naguib Mahfouz for Egypt, Nadine Gordimer for South Africa. I also just found out JRR Tolkien was born in South Africa.

    How about Milan Kundera or Vaclav Havel for Czech republic

  96. Synfandel says

    And all Canada could live in Green Gables!

    What a nightmare! I’d rather we were a Gibsonian nation, strung out and jacked into cyberspace.

  97. David Marjanović says

    Krtek forever!!!

    Heinlein’s predictions for the year 2000 show a lot about his opinions and especially his level of knowledge. A lot more than you probably wanted to know, urgh. He wanted to end inflation. Did he want to return to the gold standard?

    aqccompanied by mashed swede

    I’m somewhat horrified at this implied cannibalism, but I’m afraid that I’d be even more horrified if someone actually explained what that is.

    My thoughs exactly.

    Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.

    I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees.

    …Warm them up? Bathe them in more light than before? Perhaps rain on them?

    Make them bloom? That could work.

    Can I have England as the ‘Beowulf nation’ please? There was something exciting and adventurous.

    It’s also set entirely in Scandinavia and reads like a shortened version of a saga (for instance, it’s spread over way too few generations).

    *duck & cover*

    Can anyone suggest some national authors for African or Asian countries? I really don’t know jack there, outside of anime.

    Ken Saro-Wiwa for Nigeria.

    Jadehawk,

    Sorry to disappoint you, but a swede is just an orange-fleshed turnip –

    That’s horrifying enough, thankyouverymuch.

    (Although in some respects it’s a Matt Groening nation.)

    In all respects, dear. In all respects.

    The Burns, it’s stupid.

    ROTFLMAO!

    I just know that if this catches on, some parts of Japan will become really weird and/or really awesome.

    What do you mean “become”?

    + 1

    And yeah, Tolkien is like watching racist paint dry. For thousands and thousands of pages. Bleh.

    I seem to spend lots of time ROTFLMAO today.

    In factyes!!!

    I wonder how many nations are sharing this United States of America?

    500, said Kevin Costner.

    The cultural separation came when Moravia was conquered, and Slovakia settled, by the Huns.

    …who had disappeared 400 years earlier. You mean the Hungarians, the h in whose name is a medieval attempt to interpret them as Huns.

  98. David Marjanović says

    In factyes!!!

    Oopsie. That was my answer to this question, which I forgot to quote:

    Czechoslovakia? What’s that? Is marshal Tito in the room?

  99. KG says

    In light of that pertinent reminder, I would like to suggest Harriet Martineau for the U.K.

    Ah, I’d though we were sticking to fiction/drama/poetry. In which case, I belatedly nominate George Eliot, who IMNSHO wrote the best English novel, Middlemarch (seriously, compare it with the sentimental mush Dickens churned out, the elegant but oh-so-conventional Jane Austen, or anything from the 20th century). Not only that, it’s a picture of the country (admittedly focused on England, the other parts of the UK don’t get a look in, but then, in terms of population England was and is nearly 90% of the UK) over just the time-period it became recognisable as the same country as today – the building of the railways.