No, this is not a post on my marital status, which is fine thankyouverymuch. It’s rather a definition/sense of something going on in the culture, where the current situation comes from, what it means, and an exploration of where it might take us in the future.
If you think that’s too large for a post, yeah, it is. For months now, I’ve been contemplating doing a series of posts about it, but getting slammed away to other things.
It’s going to happen now, partly because Dorothy asked me a question about a mechanism of political signaling, and how it has lost its power, but is still being followed, slavishly, by those for whom it used to pay off, and I realized it was part of “the great divorce.”
It will touch on science fiction, some of whose movements I’ve observed up close and personal over the last fifteen years, and more distantly probably for 35, but it is not a series per-se about science fiction. Heck, in its largest arc it touches the upcoming elections and why we are in the basket, on greased skids.
If I can do it justice, the real topic is culture change on a grand scale, which is why I’m naming it after the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, an event that fed off myriad smaller, contributing factors, and which ended up by changing an entire country and eventually the world.
These might not be serially uploaded, so, because I’m lousy at tagging, I’ll title them all after this The Great Divorce and then the name of the post.
As you know, back in March, doped to the gills after the surgery, I kept thinking of the sentence “There was a war in heaven” to cover what was happening in science fiction. This is because at one time, long ago, writers to me lived on a sort of Olympus, where they concerned themselves with nothing but writing the best books possible and there was a sort of collegiate fellowship among all of them.
So that illusion was shattered long ago. And I’d had inklings people of different beliefs (not even necessarily “right”) were not welcome. But the violence of the “war” took me by surprise. It shouldn’t have.
It shouldn’t have because viewed in a larger social context it was expected and I’d seen “the mechanism” operate about a hundred times, and that was just when I was paying attention. Only I’d seen it happen with individual magazines, or newspapers, or clubs, never with an entire subgenre. Nor could the things that I observed the mechanism on before be saved, as they were entirely in the hands of one side of the culture wars. Science fiction is… different.
I also want to point out that other than the transformative power of the Aragon-Tudor thing, I’m not following the metaphor too closely. I’m using “there were hidden factors, until it all exploded in this, and the world will never be the same.” I’m not labeling either side Catholic or Protestant, because neither current Catholics nor Protestants are what they were then, and also because I’m not going into religion or it history, because we have people in the comments way more qualified than I am.
I’m just going to note that Henry VIII was once proclaimed “Most Catholic Monarch”. Everyone knows that he would never have separated from Rome without the wiles of Anne Boleyn.
Few people realize there were other factors (well a lot of people here do because we’re like that) including but not limited to “protestantism in the air” and the almost sure factor that Anne had protestant inklings from the beginning, because it was the cool, hip thing to do in the high circles. Read the Bible, read books on religion not by Catholic scholars.
But that itself was a part of another, vaster change, including the fact that printing had become cheap enough to make reading a feasible and useful skill for middle class and above girls (I always laugh at historical romances where the girls of course WANT to learn to read in the middle ages, completely disregarding the fact, books were scarce, and there is no career path reading opens up. Characterization, people. Unless she’s going into a convent where a certain amount of literacy was encouraged, this was a millstone around her neck.) and it made books a possible means of encouraging dissent in religion and exploring religious ideas.
Then there was the rotten nature of the church as a structure at the time, with the Pope having a) become the arbiter of temporal disputes b) being weak enough to be dependent on the good will of kings.
I mean, Henry VIII was not the first king to demand a divorce. Or weirder things. He was, however, the one who asked at a time when the pope couldn’t afford to annoy the king of Spain, Catherine of Aragon’s nephew.
Which brings us to our portion of the culture war, incidental and minuscule thought it is.
We’d never have seen the revolt against the log rolling in the Hugos if it weren’t for indie. A lot of involved in this are indie or hybrid, and those who aren’t, like Larry and Brad, are people who know they could go hybrid or indie. Plus the iron band on book distribution got broken by Amazon. Even if your book isn’t on bookstore shelves, you can make a living. A good living. So defying the establishment has a price but not the price it used to carry, which was of being blacklisted and never working in the field again. And by the field I don’t mean just science fiction, since of late agents wanted full disclosure of real name, etc, and said it was necessary to give this to publishers. In fact, there was a scandal when an agent kept it secret that the new bestseller had a previous career as a midlister under another name. (I think the book was The Seamstress. The author name quite evades me, though.)
But the revolution in the last ten years is fully comparable to Gutenberg’s press, at least from the point of view of a writer struggling to make a living. It’s a different world. Nothing to do with the past.
And that means the choice of who “makes” it or even makes it big is no longer filtered through an oligopsony in NYC. Which means we’re getting a greater variety of people in, not just in terms of skin color, orientation and whatever the writer likes to sleep with (which I don’t mind, but can we ease up on the lactation fetishes? Every time one of those books comes up in a search for a time period I get a little urked.) And we’re getting a greater variety of books. For instance, I hear traditional publishing has declared UF dead. I don’t think this will go as when they declared historical mysteries dead, or space opera dead, because I know tons of indie writers making a good living in UF and to them the pronouncement of the elites means nothing.
Which is what led to the war in our little patch of heaven. And why there’s a great divorce in progress. For many years we read authors who not only held idiotic and contra-reality opinions, but also lectured us about them in the middle of otherwise okay books. We rolled our eyes and still read them because they were the only game in town.
They’re no longer that. There’s a choice. Traditional numbers fall and I know ever more people making a good living from writing. That’s fine too.
But the reaction from and what is happening in terms of traditional publishing/entertainment/etc is the mechanism I wished to talk about and also will give you insight into what to expect to come at us as things slip more and more out of their control.
You see, for years being a leftist has been a positional good. What I mean is for years (probably more than a century) it’s been assumed that the caring, etc. man is the one who wants to subjugate humans to the whim of the state. This is partly because it is typical of humans to trust in the man on the white horse, and the peculiar form of it in the twentieth century was the “government bureaucrat.” Possibly because the economic and industrial conditions meant the people doing the trusting (the “intellectual class”) were educated much like government bureaucrats.
But for years, certainly before I came here in the 80s, being leftist was the mark of education and breeding.
Because any views that disagreed with the left were considered “stupid” this by definition meant to be considered smart you had to make the right (left) noises. A lot of upper class families, and certainly most of the intellectual establishment was all but communist by the 40s and 50s. (To believe Heinlein.)
And you’d think that they’d become less leftist since the USSR fell, but they didn’t. They went around muttering that the good guys lost, for a while, and then set about carrying on their bizarre faith, now transmuted into radical feminism, radical environmentalism, etc, before they’d gotten far away enough from the debacle that was the USSR to come up with the witty idea that real “communism has never been tried.” (I tell you what byotchs. We’ll try it right after we try unfettered capitalism. If the very fettered version of the thing we had in the US lifted the entire world out of historical misery, imagine what the unfettered version would do.)
Their social signaling remained the same. The more left you were, the “smarter” and “more educated.” (This is true so far as more educated in these days can mean more indoctrinated.)
So imagine someone in publishing (I saw this several times in magazines and not just in science fiction.) Imagine a magazine that is known for publishing, say, fluffy romances. It has an audience for fluffy romances, but as the editorial staff changes, you get a bunch of ivy-leaguers who want-to-make-a-difference.
At first the fluffy romances will just contain a sentence or two, like the one I walled this morning (we had to go out, early, again — yeah, yeah, probably last time for a little while) because of a sentence on page ten. “War never solved anything. We should negotiate.” This in a regency referring to the Napoleonic wars.
Most people would ignore the line, and read on. That’s fine. But of course, if leftism proves you’re smart, more leftism is better. So in search of the edgy and new, the crazy seeps in.
At some point every woman in every story is not only a suffragette but a modern feminist in petticoats. Every man is either an abuser or a social crusader for “milk from the government.” And readership drops off.
At which point you observe the following: the magazine (establishment, cabinet, Hollywood) rolls hard left before it dies.
Look, the fact is even leftists practice enlightened self interest, though they claim not to believe in it.
When the magazine (movie studio, talk show, presidential campaign) is about to go under, you have two choices. You can list right or at least neutral and maybe it will sell again. But what if it’s too far gone? Well then the magazine (publisher, newspaper, radio station) is a lost cause, and what you have now left is a sauve-qui-peut. That means you have to think of the people caught in the debacle, and of their pensions and careers.
If they list even a smidgen right before going under, they’re never going to work in that town/field again. The crash will be attributed to their politics and their being “stupid.”
If however they go as hard left as possible, they’ve signaled they’re smart and idealistic. There will be people lining up to hire them or give them venture capital.
I watched this happen in the culture for years.
And what you have to understand is that the culture is not a conscious or sane thing, nor one that can be “disproved” and thus changed. Mostly it’s a series of things learned by experience, which would be denied by the fully-awake person who is not particularly introspective.
This means that the culture doesn’t change as quickly as the world, particularly in these days. And the culture can become profoundly mal-adapted.
As it definitely has in publishing and in other forms of entertainment.
What this means is that there are a lot of people in the traditional establishments that relied on the “roll left before death” maneuver to save themselves who know their establishment/field/endeavor is in severe trouble.
What they don’t know is how to get out of it. And the excuses are always there and it’s never what is called in Portugal giving the customer “cat instead of rabbit.” They’ve been trained to think of their positions as a pulpit with a captive audience and of their job as “enlightening” or “raising consciousness” or what have you.
Merely selling a product the customer wants is not even in their frame of mind.
BUT they know they’re in trouble. So they’re rolling hard left because they know then there will be someone to pick them up, or at least admiration for their “bravery” and “intelligence.”
This later might be true. The first is going to become more and more iffy.
Which means, straight head you’ll see a lot of hard rolls left and pitiful declarations of ideological purity as they die. And the unhinged will become even more unhinged.
Fortunately we’re not only not dependent on them for our living, but we don’t need to pay them much mind.
Still, there are things beyond writing this affects, including the economy (as various bankers, financiers, etc — remember it’s become the culture of the upper class, period, not just the creative class — execute the roll-left-and-take-institution-down in expectations of a proffered offer and smooth sailing for them.
They won’t get it. And eventually the culture will change.
The bad news is there will be hell to pay on the way there as people who believed the pablum they were fed and who can’t figure out what’s wrong with it take down institutions that are vital for survival in a civilized society.
If this were only science fiction, or only in writing, it wouldn’t matter. But this is everywhere, and we must get past this. Technology and reality are on our side, but I won’t lie to you — I think there’s no way to avoid the unpleasant portions. We can shorten them. We can work towards a better aftermath. But I don’t think we can avoid it.
Built under, build over, build around. And hurry, for the night is coming, where no man may work.
The good news is in the end we win they loose.
Be not afraid!
UPDATE: Welcome to Instapundit readers and thank you to Glenn Reynolds for the link!