Sorry to be so late today. My allergies kicked in with a vengeance yesterday – the first time this year we had two warm days in a row. I guess the trees were ready and waiting – and came with a massive headache that not even mega-allergy tablets dented.
As an aside, it’s often been a puzzle to me whether I actually think in words, or if I covert the symbols I think in into words very fast, so I’m barely aware of it. I suspect the later, both because I remember switching over to words when I learned to read and write (speaking didn’t seem to do it) and because whenever I’m even slightly impaired (or massively impaired, such as when I got concussion) I think in visual symbols. This is also likely because when we had the younger kid tested, they told us he was a visual thinker and our minds work much in the same way. It’s just at some point – probably over writing, because I remember thinking in written lines – I switched over to words and he never really did. I mean, he can use them fine, (sometimes. There’s a reason he’s High Lord Malaprop.) but he’s very aware of thinking in symbols.
I don’t envy him because I always feel impaired and slow when that connection between symbol and word is broken. I can think fine, mind you, even through a massive headache. I’m just isolated and unable to interpret other people’s words or to communicate with them. Which is how I was yesterday and why this post is late.
Note the reasoning above, like the fact I’ve always wondered how I think. It’s … Odd, isn’t it? But it is odd in a particular way. It has nothing to do with intelligence or learning, though doubtless my classes in linguistics did to some extent give me the tools to think about it. It has to do with a weird turn of mind, what Terry Pratchett calls “The first sight and the second thoughts.”
Practically everyone – or so it seems to me – tends to go through life with a lot of unexamined baggage. Things are done because they’ve always been done. They happen this way because they always did.
This is the inherent difficulty in changing cultures. Cultures are conditioned into children at a very early age, and violating a cultural taboo has the feeling of sin. Often it has more the feeling of sin than actually sin. One of the things that Giovanni Guareschi captured beautifully in his Don Camillo stories is how men can go about and proclaim they’re communists and atheists, but – having been raised Catholic – they can’t prevent themselves from doffing their hat or bowing when crossing the church and passing in front of the tabernacle with the blessed sacrament.
Nothing rational about that. If you believe in the sacrament and the living presence, you also know denying it is more of a sin than not acknowledging it. But humans aren’t rational. And no one examines his every action in the light of reason.
Even we don’t. And we in this case is a subset of humanity. Odds, sure. But other things – outliers. Strange. Different.
Most of us gravitate to science fiction and fantasy at an early age because we’re strange and different, and science fiction has odd ideas, of the sort I put above.
There are theories that most of the science fiction writers and fans are “in the spectrum.” A psychologist (also a fan) once told me that interactions at cons are all typical of aspergers people. [Waggles hand.] I’m not sold on the idea. I think aspergers as defined now casts too wide a net. Autism too. I’ve seen real autism and real high-functioning aspergers up close and personal, and it’s not a matter of squinting and saying “Well, he’s awkward in company” or “he overthinks things” (Something I’m sure all of us were accused of growing up.)
There is a drive to define “normal” really narrowly and really “group oriented” and if you’re an individualist and capable of original thought (or have real emotions – nowadays they define bi polar as sometimes being happy sometimes sad. No, seriously, I saw it in boy’s psychology handouts. We used to call that normal. To preserve an absolute even keel you need to be medicated. Anyone does. Again, having seen real bi-polar up close and personal, I’m not amused by the trivialization of all these things) they’re going to find something wrong with you. I think this comes from an infiltration of Marxist thought. I always got the impression Marx had it in for humans because they refused to be ants or bees. Maybe it’s because all my Marxist teachers held these social insects up as models for humans. (Rolls eyes.)
So I’m not absolutely sure what to call us, but we are different, and the difference is exactly what Pratchett (who is, of course, one of us) tried to describe in his witches, who are capable of the first sight and the second thoughts. You see something and you analyze. It’s what you do. And roughly speaking that’s what science fiction people are. People who think too much. People who do their darndest to stand at the window and watch ourselves pass on the street below. And yes, people who sometimes need dream to aliviate the unbearable flawed reality of life. (And those people often trend more towards fantasy.)
Of course, to ourselves, we say we’re smarter. We’re more creative. We’re special.
We are different. And most of us (but not all. More on that later) couldn’t find the box with two hands and a seeing eye dog, let alone think in it.) But if it’s intelligence, it’s a highly specialized and not particularly useful intelligence. Most of us – oh, come on guys – spend most of our lives working for close to nothing, or doing work we hate, or stumbling around trying to figure our way out of the paper bag of office politics.
Those of us who are more aware and more capable of bridging over to “normal” society can sometimes hold jobs. And writers who can fake it (I can, to a degree. Only to a degree) can bridge the gap and get read by normal people too. It takes tweaking the idea and going “Not quite like that, like this.”
Here’s the thing – it’s not that the “new, new” kids (they think. Most of them are ten years younger than I. The only difference is that by forty I’d lived. Hell, by twenty two when I got married, I’d lived. It included trips on my own to two different continents. And by forty I’d half-raised the kids, moved across the world and across the country, navigated an inter-culture marriage, learned how to function as an adult in a strange culture. And yeah, been published. Professionally. With no contacts in the field. And stayed employed through the great die-off of 03. The last ten years have added very little save a determination to no longer suffer fools gladly.) are not of us. It’s that they grew up in privileged circumstances and that, at the same time, science fiction (all of publishing really) turned to academia for recruitment and started taking “credentials” from “the best colleges” as signals of ability to write.
Part of this was because of political color line. If you graduated from Harvard, unless you’re really a cussed anti-authority stickler, you’re going to be at least pink, if not outright red. And part of it was because it’s how society has gone. We seem unable to distinguish real competence. Or perhaps we need pieces of paper to keep lawyers away. The end result is the same – credentialism, instead of competence.
The thing is the people they collected onto the field are still of us. They’re just academia oriented people like us, and many of them were raised in academic environments and work in them too. (One of the things I’ve noticed in recent years, though perhaps it was always true, is the middle aged woman at cons, accompanied by what can only be described as show-business-parents who lost their way, and who glory in their darling’s success in our small and nutty field. I know five or six of them, too, with impeccable academic credentials and no job (or family or their own) being supported by their parents in their pursuit of literary glory. Maybe this is just a symptom of the infantilization of our society and helicopter parenting.)
And outliers/Odds can go one of two ways. When we first realize we’re different (for me, it was in kindergarten) we can either revel in it or try to hide it and fit in. The sane path is neither, and those of us who have come into our own, some later in life, have learned to walk that line very carefully. We pick our battles “Here we fit in” and “here we lift two middle fingers aloft, because society is barking mad.”
The problem is academia tends to beat the two middle fingers thing out of people and push them into being good sheep. They don’t manage it, of course, because they’re of us.
BUT they become more neurotic than a shaved monkey. They hover between trying to shape everything into academia (come on, guys, the idea of ending default bi-gender would ONLY excite someone who moves in a tightly-knit bubble of gender studies babble. Anyone in the real world would know this fails to bridge all gaps between us and “normal” people.) and trying to fit in and slap down all “bad think” which they can’t help having and are afraid anyone will discover. So any ideas that “violate” what academics around them think, or what they were taught to think, ANYTHING that might feed their second thoughts and make them stick out from their self-willed ant colony is bad, and must be attacked. And by gum if a gender studies department has decided that “lady” is now an insult, it must be expunged everywhere. Lest it cause them to think.
And that, dear sirs, kind ladies, and esteemed those who just looked in their pants to figure it out, (not to mention respected dragons) is what is eating them, and why they think we’re attacking them/being mean/evil – and why they ascribe all sorts of nasty prejudices to us. Those words “racist” “sexist” “homophobic” aren’t real words. They’re prayers muttered under their breath to keep the bad-think away.
It is however important to remember two things: a) they’re of us. B) the push to enforce the conformity in publishing that has pervaded academia for 50 years, is over. Not just because Baen still exists – and thrives, at a time when Harlequin had to sell – but because there’s indie. They might be able to control an industry that has to strain through six outlets (back in the day) all of them in NYC and run by people with similar credentials. But the dam has broken. There isn’t a leak. There are thousands. And the good ones will get read. You can’t stop them.
And they are of us. Sooner or later – later, probably. They’re really good at holding “bad think” at bay in their own heads, they’re going to have to start having second thoughts. You know of the kind that goes “But isn’t most of the world bi-gendered? Yeah, I can write aliens, but if I write humans, will normal humans want to read something that they have to work too hard for?” And thoughts of the kind that goes “Wait, wait a minute. What if not all males are bad? What if women have sex because they like it and they’re autonomous agents, like the men?” and thoughts of the sort that goes “What if I create an all female society and it’s hell?”
They won’t be able to stop it. They’re of us. The second thoughts will come.
To that intent, I submit we do all we can do. Write, read and talk about good books. Big idea books that make you think.
Ride right through them. They can no longer keep us back.