No, weirdly this is not about western fiction. It is not – also – about SFWA, though it will tangentially touch on what’s going on there.
Yesterday I was pinged by a fan who told me that – having found my Human Wave essay – he finaly stopped felling guilty because most award winning SF/F leaves him unmoved. “There’s just no there, there. It’s all politically correct pap, the “happy ending” is always human extinction or defeat, there’s nothing to make the soul sing.”
I got to thinking about this – it’s a bad habit, but what can you do – and what I thought about, specifically, was how the second sf/f book I read was almost for sure a “the soviet union is right and America will just decay and fall further behind” book – from what I remember of it. I can no longer remember the title.
Mind you, at that age I wasn’t exactly anti-communist, because I didn’t understand communism, but I was already fairly sure the USA was good and the USSR was bad. (No, this wasn’t a reasoned thought. That came later. But I saw movies from both sides, and I knew which side I liked.) So, why in heavens’ name didn’t that book turn me off sf/f forever? Particularly since the next one was A Canticle for Leibowitz. (Okay, I’m sick. I still love that book.)
And then I realized that though I didn’t like that second book – not as such – it wasn’t bad enough to turn me off, because there was force and hope in it. It was a stupid hope “in the future we’re all communists” but I could roll my eyes at it and go on.
There wasn’t this dyspeptic and invincible hatred of everything that was human, this scorching thirst for nothing.
And then it occurred to me what is wrong with … not all. About half the books being published that conform to the “rightly done” ideals of the establishment (a lot don’t, though – we’ll go into that later.) are desperado-written. They come apart in your mind, because the animating principle is a hatred of humanity or a hatred of life, or a hatred of existence.
There is no vision to hold on to. All the dangerous visions are gone. There is no radical “this will fix it.” It’s more of a rage of “since you destroyed my dream, you can’t have yours either. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.” (Think teen girls.)
There was to the New Wave in its heyday a sort of “this is the way things are going to be” that no matter how odd the principles propounded (in most cases a hot mess of experimentalism, sexual transgression, communitarism and noble savage myth) made them work. They wanted something. They worked towards something.
Now the least offensive of the conventional books are, if not actively hating of mankind, filled with a vision of Man (though mostly woman) carrying on negative virtues: not being sexist, not being racist, not being– Well, since there’s also a cult of victimhood, they’re usually not very effective, either, but I don’t think that’s intentional.
I think it’s because they’re desperadoes.
I spent about an hour this morning looking for the opposite of “apostates.” Apostates are those who walk away from a religious or political belief, and though they’re often filled with rage, it’s focused rage: focused on what they abandoned and the pretty lies they believed.
They might be unfair. They might be tiresome. They might make you boil with suppressed rage if the goat they’re skewering is yours. But they are usually very bright and strong and well… interesting.
This lot (not just in SFWA but in the world at large) aren’t apostates. If they were apostates, here wouldn’t be young Hegelian clubs in American high schools. There would be no band of “young communists” in SFF. It would be – it should be – as acceptable to label yourself a communist as to label yourself a Nazi.
No – this lot hasn’t abandoned their religion. In fact, they cling to it by trying to create reformed versions that “will work this time, really.”
The problem is, except for the very young, who weren’t alive in the late eighties, I don’t think they believe it. Not really.
You have to put yourself back then, back when people my age and just a little younger grew up. Even those who weren’t communists, expected communism would win. It was logical right? Planned was better than unplanned. If someone made decisions, there would be less waste. And look at the big things government had done. Could individuals have won the long war of the twentieth century?
Then we found out the battlefield is not the same as everyday life, that economy in the industrial age is too complex and chaotic for event he very bright man to control, and that, well, people know their own business best. (there are indications that the economy was too complex and chaotic to control back in rural societies, too, hence the periodic famines. It wasn’t just horrible agricultural technique. Never mind.)
I never bought the vision of the Sov Union was an Earthly paradise of sorts. I never bought it because frankly it looked too “perfect” as packaged in all those Soviet Life magazines. It … I have the sort of personality that goes up to a perfectly painted wall and scratches a little to see what it’s hiding. And then there was Gulag Archipelago. It passed hand to hand like Samizdat (I don’t think it was illegal, though at the time it was illegal to listen to the BBC, so who knows? But we knew we’d get failed if we were caught with it) through my class when I was 14. There were other memoirs of the Soviet Union and for those with ears to hear there were indications not all was polished gold and shining comfort over there.
I suspect it was not the same in the US. I suspect it was not the same because the left had infiltrated all niches that had power over the mind of the young, and because the right was complacent. “They’ve seen Paree, what would they want with Stalingrad?” But there’s always discontent. There was after all the “broken children of WWII” and after. The pursuit of “my actualization” didn’t make for raising balanced children. One thing I noticed in Portugal is that boys from fatherless homes were almost uniformly communist. One actually told me “if this were a communist country they wouldn’t have let my dad leave.” But I suspect there was also “and the government would have taken care of me.”
And then there were the brightest and the best, often the creative best – no, seriously. It’s very hard for us creative types and for all those (eh, most of my friends) who are very good in the realm of the mind but not in the realm of social interaction to realize that, hey, pure mental agility is NOT the only thing that counts for success in life.
One of the things I keep running across in reading about the French revolution is people like Robespierre going “You know, society would be best if it were run by the brightest of us.”
But being good with words and even with abstract concepts, doesn’t mean you can run the world. Heck, it doesn’t mean (she looks around her cluttered desk) you can run your office. And I’m only middling bright. Eventually younger son will need someone to tie his shoes for him and make sure he doesn’t leave the house wearing a shirt three sizes too small because he swiped it from his father’s closet and doesn’t notice sizes are different because math. Also, engineering.
Still the very bright know themselves to be superior (they are, in some areas) and to be ill treated (they’re right there too, though they’re essential for creating/improving industrial society, our society runs on iron age models and really can’t tell the difference between “very smart” and “wears underpants on head.” (often because there’s no real difference.)) This might change, but it will change glacially slow. Not in the lifetimes of my great grand kids.
The best thing to do is to drag the little geniuses into the world and make them understand the virtue of conforming to the extent they can. (Usually it’s not very far, but it might make the difference between a recluse in a trash-filled room and a respected scientists.)
But again, our society is failing at raising kids. Particularly very smart kids. It’s been doing so since the world wars, partly through the “self actualization” movement, and partly because, well… when women join the work force something has to give and by and largely the something has been child rearing.
So there were many brands ready for the burning. And communism was a dazzling flame that told them they could be in charge, that here was a society that valued intellect, and look how well it worked. They always knew the world would fare well in their hands.
Most of the intellectual class and many of the teaching class, and other intellectual workers embraced the ideals of communism, even if they didn’t call it by name. It is my impression that they took things like Gulag Archipelago and said well of course there would be failures, but look – just look – at how we failed every day. We had poor, sick, unemployed. We were a bad society. At least under a planned society, the damage was limited, right?
Then came the fall. And what a fall it was. Even though our newspapers refused to report it, even though it wasn’t treated as it would be, everyone knew. Everyone knew about the shoddy, tawdry, little lives behind the curtain. Everyone knew of the mean compromises, the double thing, the poverty of mind and body. Everyone KNEW.
They knew. They couldn’t avoid knowing. Umberto Ecco for a time more or less unblinking, referred to them as “defrocked.”
In a way he was right. They’d embraced the communist future as one embraces religion. It made their passage through this vale of tears worthwhile, it aggrandized their sufferings, their lack of success. “I’m poor, but I’m working for the great communist future.”
And then it collapsed. Behind the golden throne, there was dirty, ash, and the oldest form of dictatorship of mankind: the hereditary monarchy.
They couldn’t stay defrocked long – particularly the older ones. They had to grab onto something. They did. They grabbed onto “socialism” and “political correctness.”
But both of those are sterile credos. Sweden can be held up as an ideal, but heck they know that it doesn’t translate to a country the size and diversity of ours. And besides, Sweden is starting to show cracks, and they know that. They run to Australia and draw quite the wrong conclusions from the Australian recovery, but the cracks are showing there too. Ten years ago they lectured us endlessly about the EEC, but heck, you know, it never did that well, and if they go on vacation and venture even slightly off the beaten path, they can’t avoid knowing the truth. It’s shabby. It’s drab. It’s the Soviet Union with a softer face. Communism in installment plans. And the news from the PIIGS are grim.
Where can they run? What can they do?
When I was researching the US Civil War (I will still eventually write that book of alien invasion in the civil war, yes – it’s just… time.) I came across desperadoes. The original ones, before the name came to apply to any western evil-doer.
They were called desperadoes for a reason. They were desperate. If the book described them accurately, men who fought for the South and came back in utter defeat to find themselves dispossessed, their families gone, and themselves disenfranchised for their lifetime, couldn’t do anything. There was nothing to build. Nothing to believe in. There was only the certainty their dream had been defeated and they could do NOTHING constructive.
But Ah, they could destroy. They could pillage, rob, rape, and have fun while doing it.
In literature, there are those who cling to the political correctness, the fixing of wrongs that no one alive is responsible for. Let’s be happy for that. They’re empty and often silly – and often the wrongs they want to correct are those their ancestors suffered, and so to Mary-Sue comfort themselves in retrospect – but it’s not burning hatred of humanity.
That’s the ones who want all humanity to die, who write – time and again – humanity ultimately defeated by MORE MORAL aliens. Because if the world isn’t going to be run by their kind, if the communism they dreamed of isn’t going to come, world without end, and bring happiness to all, then they want to see the world burn.
This is bad enough in the arts – frankly, anything that produces Avatar or even the Matrix, where humans are used as an energy source (pfui) is very bad indeed – but it’s worse in government. We’re now being governed by desperadoes. They want to take our system apart, not because they have something that works better but because “if I can’t have my system, I’ll break yours.”
This is what’s behind Obamacare. It’s not some cunning plan. They can’t avoid knowing (well the peons can, but not the people at the top) that single payer doesn’t work well anywhere and barely works in some areas, and even there is decaying. They aren’t trying to push us towards anything – except destruction.
They’ll be happy if Obamacare destroys our system, and it’s a bonus for destroying our economy too. Because they can’t have what they wanted and so we can’t either. The peons, the people with no education, and even those of us who are educated, but clearly stupid (because we don’t believe as they do) CAN’T be vindicated. It can’t be. Our future must be burned, as theirs was.
They’re desperadoes. And instead of roaming the Western part of the country with two six shooters and rage in their hearts, they have power.
But desperadoes can’t build. And they can’t win. They know they can’t win, which is why they’re desperadoes. It’s all pain and black rage. And what they’re teaching the kids is bland pap. It won’t hold. Not when life goes pear shaped. Not when the destruction they’re trying to bring on occurs.
Build under, build around, create networks, learn specialties. When it all falls, we can build again.
And we must be ready.