I’m a fan of science fiction and I especially like alternative reality sci-fi. In this genre, the fictional world is like our own, only with important differences. Philosophically, these writers are engaged in counterfactuals. That is, they are describing a world that is counter to fact. For example, an author might explore what happened if the American Civil war ended with the country permanently divided. As another example, an author might set her story in a world in which the Axis won the Second World War. One specific example of this is Inglourious Basterds, a nice piece of science fiction in which Hitler is assassinated by Jewish soldiers. There are, of course, also more extreme versions that slide towards fantasy, such as the X-Men First Class movie (although they are presented as mutants, their powers are more akin to magic than anything that could be based in science) or the tale in which Lincoln hunts vampires.
I also, like many Americans, like politics. Interestingly enough, I can satisfy my cravings for science-fiction and politics at the same time by watching some of the political speeches being given these days. While political speeches often distort reality by including straw men, lies and partial truths, some speeches actually present entire counter factual worlds. In some cases the extent to which the reality of the speech differs from the actual world would seem to qualify the speech as science fiction. After all, it is describing a world somewhat like our own that does not exist, except in the imagination of the creator and those that share the creator’s vision.
Paul Ryan’s speech is an excellent example of this sort of science fiction. The world he describes is somewhat like our own and a version of Obama is president of that America. However, the world of Ryan’s speech differs from the actual world in many important ways, as presented by Sally Kohn over at Fox. The influences of another fiction writer, Ayn Rand, certainly seem to have helped shape his fictional world. While I specifically mention Ryan, I am confident that the Democrats will present some of their own alternative realities at the upcoming DNC.
While I do enjoy speculative fiction and alternative histories, I would prefer that they not be presented as the truth. Honest writers have the decency to label their fictions as fictions, something that politicians do not do. This is, of course, dishonest and also has a negative consequences. After all, people who do not know better and who are not inclined to engage in even a modest amount of critical thinking (checking the facts, for example) can easily be deceived by such fiction and accept it as reality. These people will, in turn, attempt to convince others of the reality of these fictions and they will also make decisions, such as who to vote for, on the basis of these fictions. As might be imagined, such fiction based decision making is unlikely to result in wise choices.
While creative counter factual fiction does have its place, politics is not that place.