Recently, during a discussion regarding the new Wonder Woman film, a comment was made:
Let me put it this way:
I write a beautiful poem all about how we should nuke New York.
The poem is lovely. Gorgeous. The language is beautiful. The case I make, based on the good of mankind, makes your heart swell with pride at the ability of the human race to make sacrifices in order to aid our fellow man.
But I go out and say that it’s explicitly meant to be an actual argument in favor of nuking New York. I want NY nuked. Furthermore, academia agrees with me and starts pushing the poem for that reason, and SJW’s use my poem as their anthem.
But it’s a beautiful poem.
The implied question from the rest of the thread is, “Would I support the poet and the poem?”
My answer is:
Absolutely. Without hesitation and without apology.
In order for it to truly be a beautiful poem, then the event that it describes–the destruction of an American city by atomic weaponry–would have to be a right action. Esthetics is a branch of philosophy and dependant upon metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. Art is the discovery of truth by means of imagery.
I see no difference between the suppression of artistic truth and the suppression of scientific truth. Both are wrong. If something is beautiful then it is beautiful because what it expresses is understood by the viewer as being ordinate to reality.
This does not mean “realism” as the term is generally used. Art can express true ideals without being based on true facts. To give a trivial example, a story problem in mathematics that states that if John has five apples and he gives three of those apples to Jane then he will have two apples remaining does not become less true if John does not, in fact have five apples–or even if John and Jane do not exist. A plague of fruit trees may ravage the world and eradicate all apples everywhere, but the truth expressed in the story problem will remain true.
In the same way, the journey of Frodo and Sam to Mordor in order to protect the Shire is no less beautiful and inspiring because none of those persons or places actually exist. The story expresses a truth that transcends facts. Beauty is how you know that something is true.
To return to the analogy of scientific truth, if one happened to believe a particular theory–say that all planets in the solar system rotate on their axis in the same direction–and then encounters evidence that contradicts this theory–the axial rotation of Venus and Uranus–then suppressing the evidence in order to hold onto the theory is wrong. Either the evidence is bad, in which case further study will contradict it, or the theory is wrong, and to continue to cling to it in the face of evidence against it is an act of willful ignorance.
However, the above analogy is also predicated on the assumption that you understand the science–the math involved, how to apply the theory, how to determine the proper frame of reference, knowing in what way the science is applicable as a model for the real world.
In the same way, if a work of art is beautiful, if it moves you, then it is expressing a truth and if that contradicts an opinion that you hold, that may be evidence that your opinion is wrong. It may also be evidence that your esthetic sensibilities are unequal to the task of understanding the work in question.
The way to avoid being taken in by junk science is to develop an understanding of real science. You don’t have to be an expert in a particular field to understand how to tell when a sample size is statistically significant or when a conclusion does not follow logically from a premise.
In the same way the defense against propaganda is not suppression of bad art, but an understanding of esthetics sufficient to recognize it as bad art. A good grasp of mathematics will inoculate one against pseudoscientific scams, and a good grasp of narrative and story will inoculate one against propaganda masquerading as fiction.
A well-trained esthetic sense will also allow one to understand the applicability of the work to the real world. Just as a trained scientific intellect will understand what a scientific theory does and does not imply regarding reality, a trained esthetic sense will understand what art does and does not imply about reality, and to see the significant parallels while discarding the spurious ones. The message of The Lord Of The Rings, for example, is not that short people are better than tall people.