11 Things The Game Of Thrones Books Can Teach Us About Politics
Don't you sometimes wish that Daenerys Targaryen would roll up on a dragon and conquer the United States in a rain of cleansing fire? I think that would be nice. As American politics continue to descend into Westeros-style chaos, it's hard not to notice a few similarities between our current state of the union and the Game of Thrones novels. I mean, we're not even fighting snow zombies, but a certain someone still wants to build a wall. Here are a few vital things that A Song of Ice and Fire can teach us about politics.
Some books lead by example. There are many politically charged fantasy novels, like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, which show us young people rising up to fight against fascist regimes and political corruption... and then you have a series like A Song of Ice and Fire, where the main lesson is, "See how these people run the government? Don't f*cking do that."
So, as we wait for The Winds of Winter, here are a few political lessons from the great GRRM that we might want to take to heart. Please pin this list to a box set of the first five Song of Ice and Fire novels and mail them to your local representative:
1. Walls Don't Work
Sure, a 700 foot wall of ice to protect you from zombies sounds like a great plan... but even a magical wall built by giants doesn't work that well. Westeros does not have the appropriate funds to maintain the wall. The Night's Watch is woefully understaffed. The Wildlings can climb the wall or tunnel under it. The snow zombies are still killing people. Walls don't work.
2. Refugees Should Be Welcome
Jon Snow gets it: as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, he fights for the Wildlings to be allowed through the wall and into Westeroes, even though everyone else thinks he's nuts. But the Wildlings (or rather, the Free Folk) are just normal people. They're trying to escape from zombies. They're not a threat. If Jon doesn't let them through the border, he's leaving them to die or forcing them to join the army of the undead against their will. Refusing asylum to the Free Folk is disastrous for everyone.
3. Ignoring Climate Change Is Dangerous
OK one last point about the Night's Watch — the White Walkers can be read as a metaphor for climate change. They pose a serious threat. They're coming soon (and bringing terrible weather). A large percentage of the population refuses to believe in White Walkers. The suits down in Washington — I mean, King's Landing — won't spend money on stopping White Walkers because it's not in their political interests. The White Walkers have already killed or displaced entire populations. Whether or not GRRM meant it that way... lesson learned.
4. Spoiled Teens Should Not Run Your Country
Do not put your country under the rule of a spoiled teenage boy. Or any adult man who acts and thinks like a teenage boy. They will use their power to abuse women, throw lavish parties, flay people's skin off, and execute people like Ned Stark for daring to tell the truth. Actually, maybe don't give absolute power to anyone at all. Westeros is not so great at those checks and balances.
5. Being A White Savior Is Not Helpful
Daenerys means well (when she's not being a ruthless Targaryen). She waltzed into Slaver's Bay and tried to free all the slaves to make everyone's lives better—but she didn't do a great job. She doesn't understand the culture she is now ruling. She single-handedly wrecks the global economy. She doesn't effectively abolish slavery or improve quality of life for formerly enslaved people. She starts a chain reaction that basically kills the entire population of the city of Asatpor. Maybe next time she should find a way to help that's a tad less... colonial?
6. Separation Between Church And State Is Important
Yikes. Between Melisandre burning people at the stake and the High Sparrow imprisoning women in his holy crusade, religious extremism does not come off looking too great. All the governments in A Song of Ice and Fire have glaring flaws, but they become even more prejudiced and murder-y when they reject religious pluralism and diversity in favor of pushing a single state religion.
7. Cabinet Appointees Should Be Qualified
The small council is a hot mess. Littlefinger is running around throwing his wife off a mountain and hitting on a 13-year-old girl. Varys is trying to overthrow the government. Mace Tyrell bought his way onto the council and is basically useless. ...are these really the most qualified people for the job?
8. Spend More On Social Services
Stop taking out loans from the Iron Bank of Braavos just so you can throw royal weddings, people. Your citizens are starving. Your military spending is out of control. In a world where you have winters that last for like a decade, why haven't you invested in any kind of social safety net? It's no wonder that the "small folk" start doing things like rioting for bread or following zombie mom Lady Stoneheart and her band of vigilantes.
9. Weapons Of Mass Destruction Are A Terrible Idea
Yeah, I know that the wildfire helps King's Landing win against Stannis... but it just doesn't seem like a stellar idea to have all of those uncontrollable weapons of mass destruction lying around under the city at all time, where Cersei can get her hands on them. Like, remember when the Mad King wanted to blow up the whole city? Shouldn't we maybe... not have city-destroying weapons of any kind?
10. “Alternative Facts” Are Not Facts
Ned Stark finds out that Cersei and Jaime are lying in book one... and Cersei and co. are still ruling the country in book five, because the Lannisters could care less about the truth (except for Tyrion, who is perfect). The Boltons rule the North because they're pretending that Jeyne Poole is Arya Stark. Littlefinger has potentially never told the truth ever. The people in charge should probably not be lying so much all of the time.
11. The System Is Prejudiced
Even for a euro-centric, deeply problematic, faux-medieval fantasy adventure that features lots of dragons and nudity, A Song of Ice and Fire makes some good points about prejudice and power. Tyrion is the smartest and most qualified Lannister, but the world constantly vilifies him for his dwarfism. Jon can understand that the Wildlings are being treated unfairly, because he has been treated unfairly as a bastard. Dany has been abused, objectified, and underestimated for being a young woman. Brienne of Tarth and Asha Greyjoy are always getting a hard time for their gender non-conformity. Sure, those characters have their flaws and yes, A Song of Ice and Fire is not exactly a revolutionary manifesto... but the books are consistent in showing us the deep injustices of a prejudiced system, and why they should be changed.