Social Critique

As you guys know yesterday I came across mention of an IO9 article that said that we’re already living in a science fiction world, and so all that was left now to justify science fiction’s existence was social critique.

I didn’t read the article, partly because it was IO9 and who the heck wants to wade in that, but the concepts struck me as worthy of “unpacking.”  Frankly, they need to be unpacked, as it’s impossible to deal with that fermenting load of insanity  in a single post. “Wrong too great to fit in a few words” would be a good description.

Yesterday I dealt with the idea that we’re leaving in a future world, as though the future were a destination, at which the train of time arrived and, having disembarked, we now have nothing to do but mill around and criticize each other, like school girls on a field trip.

I am being unkind, but only partly.  There is a deeper truth behind that image of school girls ripping into each other: the idea that criticizing others is a deeper virtue and that it is not only useful, but good and necessary.

First, let me start by saying, because some idiots (and they are idiots) are going to say I’m talking about an article I haven’t read: this is not about the article.  It’s about the concepts, which I’ve come across in panels and talks over years of attending science fiction conventions.

One common presentation of “the end of science fiction” is that we are now living in the future which is why kids aren’t interested in science fiction.  This is of course mind-bogglingly stupid, because for the kids the time we live in is not THEIR future and it certainly isn’t science fiction. It could be the reason the kids aren’t into science fiction is that twin idea that “since this is now a science fiction world we should turn to critiquing the injustices in it.”  The kids get quite enough victimhood whining and guilt in their normal curriculum, which leaves them quite uninterested in more of it in their entertainment.

In fact I don’t know ANYONE who is interested in their entertainment being a bunch of whining and critiquing the flaws of society.

Look, I went through middle school at a time when “revolutionary juntas” took over SCHOOLS and changed the curriculum.  I wrote my fill of “social critique” then.  You sort of had to, because your parents didn’t understand that education had stopped being about knowing stuff and started being about signaling virtue.  Well, mine didn’t.  And they had an attitude of “if you have a problem deal with it”.  So I dealt.

It wasn’t general whining, mind, or real social critique.  I mean, none of us wrote about the injustice of coming to school and finding your curriculum had changed over night and you were studying Marx in five courses gain; or how upset you were about their abolishing Latin, because you’d been hoping to finally read Virgil in the original.  OR even how you thought Mao’s poems, which were being pushed at you in literature, sounded like they’d been written by a boastful kindergartner on speed.

No.  It was critique-of-that-which-the-teacher-wants-critiqued.  I remember one occasion where she read a bunch of things about the injustices cleaning women suffered, and how their work was demeaning, then asked us to write a story about it.

I wrote a story that could make you weep, all about this poor woman’s aching knees, and how her husband oppressed her by not doing housework.

In point of fact, in the village, cleaning women — particularly those who worked for the wealthier families — were often among the upper social strata and almost for sure made more than my dad did.  Their kids often went to private schools with their employer’s kids, and since they worked for the “better” (not us, though we were in a way, but only among true natives of the village, which these people weren’t) families, they had all the conveniences and their cleaning the house once a week and touching up in between was probably less work than my mom did in our house, in addition to her more than full time for-pay work.

Never mind.  The teacher wanted the injustice critiqued.  I critiqued it and I got an A.

And that’s sort of what we’re talking about here too.  The injustices that the left wants critiqued never have anything to do with the REAL injustices, in the real society.  They have to do with Marxist theory, viewing people as widgets, and their permanent illusion that we live in a 1950s-that-never-existed, with victimhood classes frozen forever in place, and those “deserving of help” always in need of help till the last syllable of recorded time.

Most of the authors who have pivoted to this form of writing aren’t bad craftsmen, but their stories ring hollow.

It is the duty of every writer to put the reader through the wringer, and this often involves picking a character in an invidious situation and then making his/her life WAY worse.

In a normal story, then the character starts fighting back and finds his way out of the bind, taking the reader alone, which leaves the reader feeling released and powerful and maybe even able to tackle his problems.

The issue with “critiquing society” is that it’s not that type of story.  Rather you start with the oppressed and end with the oppressed, and along the way you show how mean and evil society is.

There is a reason for this (DUH) in dialectical Marxism.  You see, Marxists believe the only reason that men are: greedy, murderous, evil, envious, etc. is that they live under capitalism, which in their heads (and their heads only) is an artificial system which Man (note capital m) wasn’t meant to live in, and which twists humanity into what Christianity would call sin.  (This is not the first, nor the last instance of Marxists stealing Christian theology, and the idea that the offense of the first sin stained humanity’s tendencies and ways.)

The only way to overcome capitalism, and incidentally to make socialism work is to reform man. We know how well that goes.  That belief has two prongs, both wrong.  One is the idea capitalism is unnatural, instead of arising wherever allowed, and often where not allowed: an inherent part of how humanity functions.  The Second is that humanity can be changed completely and made like onto the angels.  this idea is responsible for filling AT LEAST 100 million graves.

But armed with this belief, the academics and pretentious pseudo-glitterati who are trying to submerge science fiction in the same morass that consumes every genre they touch, have decided the way to reform man is to harangue them.

Look, I know that preaching is considered good in Christian practice.  I also know that a famous saint so gave up on its having any effect on his flock, that he went off to preach to the fish.

While Christianity changed the face of Europe there is very good reason to argue it was done less with “critique” and more with the way they lived, and the way they did care for the poor and downtrodden in a very material and personal way, which in turn gave the new religion an edge into society.  (Recall it started largely as a slave’s religion.)  Yeah, there are twists in there, including converting the leader and having him order the conversion of his people, BUT none of this was simply by telling him how wrong he was, over and over again.  Much less was it by criticizing a society that didn’t exist and probably never had.

If a Christian missionary had marched in hot foot into a primitive German tribe and started haranguing them on micro aggression he’d probably have escaped execution.  For one, those primitive tribes had a great fear of the insane.  For another, people who are asleep can’t kill you.

Note I’m not saying — I know you know.  I also know teh stupid will dissect this looking for poo to fling — that science fiction should be all about adventure and shouldn’t deal with weighty subjects.  I loved SF when I was very young because it dealt with weighty subjects.  BUT what allows us to do that is not that “we live in a science fiction world” or that we’re “speaking truth to no longer existent power, just like everyone else.”

No, what allows us to do that is the fact that we take the weighty moral questions out of context and can examine them more clearly.  Take colonialism.  All of us — every human — is descended from colonialists and colonized.  (I was explaining to son some peculiarities of Portuguese that create homophones which have CLEAR nothing to do with each other, and I had to explain Portugal probably started as a Celtic colony — though some new genetic studies claim it might have been a colonizing center, rather — then Carthaginian, then Greek, then Latin, and all of those left linguistic debris behind.)

However recent history makes the idea of colonist and colonial a hot point.  Also, you really can’t discuss things such as “what is human” without people getting very upset (as they should be.  The recent history of people who would do this is not good) but you can do it in an SF sense.  Suppose we go out to space and find a much dumber, but obviously sentient alien race.  What are our duties/obligations/rights in relation to them?  Morally HOW should we treat them? What if we go to space and we find we’re the slightly impaired aliens in relation to everyone else?  How do we cope?  How should be be treated?  I don’t know, and if I continue not knowing, I can write an interesting story that explores the possibilities.  H*ll, there’s novel series in that (some already written.)

If I go in with the idea of “critiquing current society” though, I’ll use the downtrodden aliens as a vessel to blame/hate on humanity and rage at our “history of injustice.”  (Compared to WHAT?  The history of angels?)  This just falls into the “approved” paths and it’s boring because it’s obvious the story is a device to hector the reader in the same old way that those who speak power to truth (in order to keep power) use.

There have been societies that have been completely changed by a new idea, a new revelation, a new way of looking at things.  This is usually because the person or persons who bring it in show the new idea/way/revelation to be a vast improvement over the way they live.  Also this change always comes from outside and not the current structures of power.

In the whole history of humanity there isn’t a single instance of a society being changed by prim scolds, hectoring people about sins they know d*mn well they didn’t commit, and promoting a way of life that — no matter how the scolds try to hide it — leads only to misery and mass death.

The only change such prim scolds bring about is a sudden onset of a desire to be anywhere we can avoid them.  Which when it comes to their scolding being a supposed for-profit enterprise means avoiding it like the plague, and finding alternate channels to get our entertainment.

Which is exactly what is happening.  And which only causes them to scold us harder and tell us we need our medicine more.

I suggest we leave them mumbling to themselves and others like them, and go read a good book or ten.  Because they can no longer keep us from publishing.  They certainly can’t — never could — force us to buy them.

The gatekeepers are bravely guarding the gate, while around them the walls have crumbled.  Step over the fallen stones and come on out.

There’s good reading out here.

181 thoughts on “Social Critique

    1. MUWHAHAHAH! I not only saw a typo, but managed to comment on it and get the FIRST REPLY!


      (Related to “Wrong to great to fit in a few words” since I was hurrying to try to get first comment.)

      1. First, the keyboard has a “repeat typing prevention feature” that doesn’t work with my typing speed, and cuts out double letters, so I type to and al when I mean too and all.
        Second, just putting the word doesn’t allow me to search and replace. I sort of need the two around it.

        1. Second paragraph, last sentence, and if the Duchess hadn’t been trying to bring up the soles of her pretty pink shoes all night I probably wouldn’t have even seen it.

          Plus, this *is* free, and I’m trying to tease you. 😀

            1. Being snowed in when one is ready for it to be spring, laid low by a virus, then having love of your life laid low by same — all this instead of the planned escape for the two of you to pursue things you both enjoy — might have contributed something to this less than stellar feeling.

          1. It is also proof that while we may be ‘living in a science fiction world’ there is daily reason to hope for further developments to come in the future.

      2. I bow to the superiority of the insomniac grammar barbarian princess. 😉

        1. I-40

          I have always thought it would make an interesting and varied road trip to drive the entire 2,559.25 miles from Wilmington, NC to Barstow, CA.

  1. This is such a good point I’m going to steal it and file off identifying marks.

    To some extent, this is the key notion of Human Wave: ” strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” These “critiquing society” stories don’t ever seem to get that point, the notion that human will can be noble and can shape events. Instead we get the notion of a deterministic dialectic of history.

    So, here’s a puzzle for you: if “dinosaur my love” were instead an extended metaphor about being a crocodile or a Kodiak bear or, hell, a fluffy bunny, would it change the story?

    1. It absolutely has to be a dinosaur. Nothing else serves as well as a metaphor for the noble role racism played in civilizing mankind prior to the post-human future depicted in the story.

      The only way to analyze it differently is if you do something crazy like assuming it isn’t science fiction.

      On an entirely unrelated topic, given Space Raptor Butt Invasion and Queen of the Tyrant Lizards, isn’t it time someone did an anthology of such stories, and other relevant essays?

        1. If You Were a Genitally Restrained Butt Invading Dinosaur From Space, My Love

        1. Before dino-sex and microaggressions, certainly. Alas, the hyphenation problem dates back well over a century, at least as it applies to identity in America. For example, Theodore Roosevelt was railing against “hyphenated Americanism” back around the turn of the century.

    2. One of my books got a highly entertaining review on Goodreads (hilarity not intended by the reviewer). Reader mentioned that nobody in the book seemed to notice if women did things instead of men, that it wasn’t even commented on in that society. They seemed…confused, like the dog that catches the car. It probably would have frosted them even further if they had paid attention and noticed some major characters *weren’t white*, and THAT wasn’t paid much attention to either.

      It’s like they have replaced gender or racial identifiers by the oppression they always think is there. No oppression, no race!

      1. “The trouble with basing your identity on fighting discrimination is that if you run out of discrimination, you don’t know who you are.”
        – Fred Reed

        1. We should be careful about using “discrimination” as a synonym for “bigotry.” They aren’t the same by any means. “Discrimination” is just the ability to distinguish one thing from another by virtue of the characteristics of the two things. “Bigotry” is using this discriminatory ability to allow you to act against an identified group in some way. Anyone claiming to fight “discrimination” when meaning “bigotry” is in fact doing some discriminating himself, quite pervasively. That doesn’t make his discrimination either better or worse than that of those he’s discriminating against, it just makes him less than honest with himself and anyone observing him.

          1. Ah, but the Progressives have conflated the two so agressively that by now there is no separating the two.

            Which is, of course, exactly what they intended. After all, the very LAST thing the addled Left can affors is for people to develop the habit of reasoned judgement.

          2. Ah, yes – if you can *tell* whether or not bigotry is occurring, you are being discriminating!

  2. Celtic colony from where? As in, I’ve heard that thing about the Irish being indigenous raises questions about whether we’ve been attaching the name Celt to distinct peoples. I’d be interested in hearing explanations of what exactly is going on.

    1. My understanding is that the original Celts lived in central Europe in the Bronze Age. They spread over the centuries, some moving into what would later (much later) be France and on into the Iberian peninsula and even across to northern Africa, others heading north and eventually arriving in what would later become the British Isles.

      1. I think beyond ‘out of Africa’ the origins are pretty much lost, even with advances in DNA typing. Our family is part of the Clan Campbell Y-chromosome studies, and the problem with Scotland is that first, the people went from Wales to Ireland, then to Scotland, then back to Ireland then back to Scotland again… With a final back to Ireland during historical times (where in theory, you would know who came from where).
        Scotland and Ireland ended up historically Celtic largely because they were the part of the British Isles that the Romans never conquered, leaving the earlier civilization mostly intact.

      2. The gene stuff says that the Irish were in Ireland at least 3,000 years, which would imply they were there during the late bronze age. When was the movement from central Europe supposed to have happened?

        1. I’m gonna go out on a limb, and predict that they’re gonna find that while the genes don’t shift with invasions, the software we run on top of them does…

          The Normans were never more than a thin veneer scraped over the top of Anglo-Saxon England, but look at the effect they had, in historical times. I don’t think the Bronze Age was much different, and what we actually had, instead of these vast movements of peoples, was instead the vast movements of ideas and cultures. Think of the Norman invasion not as an invasion of people, but an invasion of memes…

          The fascinating thing about that recent German find of a massive Bronze Age battlefield isn’t so much the scope of the thing, but the question of where the hell all those people came from, and how on earth they managed to concentrate all those resources in an era when we’ve commonly supposed that such things were not going on.

              1. Archeology has a bias towards interpreting the life of prehistoric man as peaceful, and understating hunting would support that.

                See Mad Mike’s speculations in A Long Time Until Now, and in some of the supporting information he provided.

                If there were no plants in the diet, then perhaps there would be no need to tune plant pattern detection well enough to draw plants others can recognize.

                If one doesn’t go that far, prior to agriculture, the vegetable part of the diet might have been small quantities of many different plants. Agronomy might be necessary for a single plant to be important enough to be worth representing artistically.

                1. Or for a sexist interpretation. Men hunted animals, women gathered plants. Perhaps all the surviving art was generated by men.

              2. As for why it took so long, it’s far harder to notice that which is NOT included in something, when you don’t know what to expect being there.

                Now, as to why that sort of bias would exist – those paintings are pretty much a boast, usually. They normally depict either family or a hunt. Who the hell wants to boast of defeating the ravening carrot?

        2. First wave – 10,000 years ago with people who could drink milk. Second wave – 3,000 years or so ago with Halstatt Culture, then another thousand years or so later with La Tene, which becomes Iron Age Celtic/Gaul/Galician/ Celt-Iberian.

          1. That’s based on the traditional archaeological chronology (pulled off the top of my head) in books as of two-three years ago or so, and there’s been more recent things to skew the clock back, as Kirk points out.

      3. I have a European history book printed in the 1880s, itself a translation of a prior German book.

        The author contended that the Celts were originally central Italians, continually pushed ahead of Roman expansion in a millennias-long game of Whack-A-Mole. The displaced tribes would periodically move away from the Romans, exterminating or intermarrying with the locals, eventually becoming Gauls, Germans, Celts, etc.

        I initially dismissed the idea, but later realized that’s almost exactly what was going on with Rome’s continual battle against “the Greeks”, who would fight the Romans for a while, then run off and set up shop somewhere else, spreading Greek culture ahead of the Roman advances.

    2. Hallstat area is where proto-Celtic culture originates is what I did learn at least back in the 80’s. Or at least it’s the area where the earliest artifacts connected to that culture have been found. Haven’t done much reading on that subject after that, so I suppose the theories may have changed since then.

      BTW, the salt mine – salt has been mined there for thousands of years – is very much worth visiting if any of you ever go there, the salt is stained different colors and sparkly and in places you’d think you had wandered into some Disney movie jewel mine. Lovely to look at. Unless you are claustrophobic. I am, a bit, and in some places the ceiling was low enough that even I, short as I am, needed to bend a bit, and that experience was not exactly enjoyable. Although I visited as a geology student on a study excursion (way back in the 80’s) so I think it’s quite possible we may have visited parts of the mine tourists normally don’t go to.

      1. Well, there’s a lot of discussion as to whether the Celts were doing the plains of Eastern Europe or the steppes of Asia, but….

        Mostly they seem to have messed about all sorts of places. The Gauls notoriously invaded Rome and raided Delphi, for instance, and there was a huge hunk of Celtic-language speakers in Galatia, from which comes the name. (St. Jerome actually talks about this in his commentary on Galatians.) All of Europe’s places named “Galicia” were also Gaulish or otherwise Celtic-inhabited.

        So yes, the Celt-Iberian tribes that lived in Spain and Portugal left their mark on both placenames and local languages. You can read a lot of complaints about them in Roman history books, because they sided with the Carthaginians sometimes and sometimes with Rome.

        Basques and Celt-Iberians first, then Phoenicians (who ended up as Carthaginians once Carthage got big), then Romans of every heritage (especially since it was a soldier retirement area), then Arian Visigoths, then various kinds of Muslim tribes and groups (some serious ethnicity and religious conflicts among said tribes and groups), and then everybody in Europe or Africa who felt like moving to Spain or Portugal.

        1. I forgot to say that a lot of people identify the Turanians of the steppes with Celts. Mostly based on looks and some superficial artifacts (like plaids and herringbone weaves, which don’t really prove anything), as well as some suggestive language clues (although it’s hard to make distinctions between everybody out there who spoke Indo-European languages).

      2. “the salt is stained different colors and sparkly and in places you’d think you had wandered into some Disney movie jewel mine. ”

        …This sounds fascinating.

    3. It was believed that Celts came from Germany and France.
      Now they’re saying the Irish came from the Iberian peninsula. I think genetic science is too you and we’re getting nonsense readings.

      1. I’d agree with you on the science being too young. The question I keep asking myself about all this is, what are the implications of the cell lines, not the genes? Has anyone looked at those?

        There’s a lot more to biology than the genes and DNA. The cellular structures carry a lot of information, and have a lot of impact on how the genes are expressed–And, if I had to guess at it, that’s the reason we’re finding a lot of cases where there are people who have genes we’ve found associated with genetic diseases that aren’t presenting the symptoms for same.

        I think that even after we get everything in the DNA sequenced and correlated, there’s going to be a huge amount of stuff left to learn. And, part of our problem is that we’re not necessarily looking at everyone–Right now, we’re focusing on the diseased, the dysfunctional, and not doing a thorough enough examination of the healthy.

        Which leads me to the question: What the hell could be hiding away in the cell lines that the DNA is recorded and propagated in? With the left-over DNA we’ve found from the Neanderthal and Denisovian lines, I have to ask, what of the cell lines from those lineages? Were the hybrid human/Neanderthalers the product of male humans impregnating female Neanderthalers, or vice-versa? Are there residual Neanderthal cell lines running human DNA “firmware”, so to speak?

        Another question I’m not satisfied we know enough about is just how much non-DNA information is carried in a sperm cell to an egg: Do the cell lines represent a sole inheritance from the maternal, or are there aspects of hybridization? A sperm cell is pretty damn stripped down, admittedly, but what winds up discarded, and what doesn’t? I honestly don’t think we really know enough–Look at this recent deal where they’re showing the “flash of light” at conception, as the sperm cell is entering the egg… There’s still a huge amount to be learned, I fear.

    4. I believe the Irish have a tradition that they are Celtic, from a branch that migrated through Portugal – quite separate from the branch that came to England via Brittany (and back again.)

  3. Two thoughts.

    First, I used to see these signs reading “Question Authority” but mentally added “Except For Liberal Authority”. 😉

    Second, as Sarah implies, “Social Critiques” mustn’t include “Criticizing Progressing Ideas”. 😦

    1. So those little feathery bastards are evangelizing outside my window when I’m trying to sleep? Doesn’t make it any better.

      1. He’d preach to anything that moved. 🙂 Although as I understand he had more success with the Wolf of Gubbio than with the Muslims of North Africa, which one may take as one wills.

  4. “The Second is that humanity can be changed completely and made like onto the angels. this idea is responsible for filling AT LEAST 100 million graves.”

    Well, that’s one way to make angels…

    1. They passed one resolution: — “Your sub-committee believe
      You can lighten the curse of Adam when you’ve lifted the curse of Eve.
      But till we are built like angels — with hammer and chisel and pen,
      We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen.”

      An Imperial Rescript

      1. Maybe Sarah could have a few days of “What’s your favorite Kipling and why?” one for poems and one for short stories and novels. It would certainly keep us busy. 🙂

        1. “The Three Decker”!

          I’m fond of “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” but it’s not my favorite.

  5. I think that I’d like to go a step back here and discuss the concept of adversity as critique in fiction, and then bring it back to critique specifically of society.

    Let me explain. In the early 20th Century there was a type of adventure story that could be described as an apology for extermination. Usually set in Africa or South America, they were stories about survival against the wilderness, often focused on one particular animal. “I Survived A Wild Tiger Attack” or “36 Hours In Shark Infested Waters”.

    These stories were polemic, hyperbolic and generally not terribly accurate biologically, and the point was to get readers to the opinion that such creatures should be wiped out. Rather than discuss the beauty and elegance of tigers or wolves, there was a lot of “slavering jaws” and “thick matted coats” and “cruel black eyes”.

    Now, the existence of these stories does not mean that all stories that involved wilderness survival are necessarily an argument for the extermination of some wild animal species. Sometimes a character battles or seeks to escape wild animals just because it makes for an exciting tale.

    In the same way, societal pressures can be used as part of an exciting story. I am currently listening to “The Summer Knight”, the fourth book in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. The social order of the White Council of Wizards, the Red Court of Vampires, and the Unseely Court of the Fey are all major obstacles to the protagonist. This is one of the more political of Butcher’s novels.

    What saves it from polemic is, in my opinion, the focus of the protagonist’s goal. Harry Dresden’s goal is personal–he wants to solve a particular murder and work out a solution to a fix he is in, and the politics is part of what he needs to overcome in order to reach his goal, but overcoming the politics isn’t the goal.

    Or to give two examples from my own work, I have written a short story that was very consciously intended to make a point. It’s called “In The Driving Lane” and it’s about self-driving cars, which I think are a very bad idea. I set out to write a scenario in which a self-driving car (actually, a whole road full of them) goes bad and show just how bad that could be. It’s message fiction, I admit it. People do seem to like the story, but if you take away the message, there isn’t a story there.

    On the other hand, I have a character in “The Worms Of Heaven” who turns on the other characters specifically because his boyfriend leaves him for a woman. The social conventions of the gay male subculture are vital to the character’s motivation. The character reacts as strongly as he does because in his mind being dumped for a heterosexual relationship is a betrayal and a humiliation that he can’t abide. The social pressures of his subculture are a factor in the plot, but I am not saying that those social pressures should (or can) be changed. I am just using what I know about how the character would think and react to tell my story.

    So I think intent matters a great deal.

    1. Indeed your ‘In The Driving Lane’ is message fiction about self-driving cars just like Heinlein’s ‘All You Zombies’ is message fiction about the silliness of time travel paradoxes.
      The point is, both are short stories, where a contrarian (to the majority opinion) message is fleshed out for consequences and entertainment. Not at all to be confused with the 4 volume and climbing ‘Ancillary’ series where the only drama is what are zer going to be calling xems today?

      1. Actually… I think you’re quite wrong in what you’re projecting onto the “Ancillary Silliness” series. I don’t think the central thrust of the authors ideas necessarily revolve around the gender BS she’s written in, and allowed to become a distraction.

        What’s actually the thrust of the whole thing is the question of identity in a world where it’s possible to create multi-body minds, and spread an identity over multiple bodies, both artificially and apparently naturally. The ancillary concept basically involves hijacking the bodies of normal humans, and then impressing/overwriting them to become units of a group over-mind. Meanwhile, there’s the emperor-figure, who seems to be doing this naturally, and who is virtually immortal due to the ability he’s demonstrating to continue his mind and personality over multiple iterations of his physical body–And, since the technology/magic that makes this work doesn’t extend over interestellar distances, the whole question of that “overmind” becoming schizophrenic due to communications lag has arisen…

        I gave up on the series not because of the ideas, which are interesting, but because of piss-poor and cliche-driven writing, which is typified by the gender confusion the author embraced. The people who have turned her into a new-age sci-fi hero really haven’t read the damn books, or really understood the whole set of ideas I think she’s ineptly trying to examine, namely the concept of what happens to human identity once you spread the identity across multiple bodies.

        The major thing I have against the authors ideas is this silly conceit that there would still be an “elite” of human normals, serving as an aristocracy. The reality would likely be much different, as such an elite would be very unlikely to either tolerate the imperial figure she postulates, nor would the imperial figure tolerate any sources of potential rivalry. Far more likely, with this idea? Grey goo, because the whole society would almost certainly wind up being subsumed into the imperial corporate identity, and anyone not integrated as such would wind up as a permanent underclass, and likely exterminated.

        The idea has been done, a couple of times, and done better. It’s nothing new, and it’s not well written in the “Ancillary Whatsis” series. The author has potential, but with all the adulation she’s getting from the whackadoodles, I don’t think she’s ever going to really develop it.

        1. Besides, Walter Jon Williams did a better job of it 20 years ago with “Aristoi,” and later with “Implied Spaces.”

          1. If I remember “Aristoi” correctly it was several personalities in one body. They strived for more than one since each one became a unique personality with different skill sets eventually. Haven’t read “Implied Spaces”, should I?

            1. Not just one body in Aristoi; there were also multiple meatspace bodies as well as cyberspace avatars.

              Along with the other background, I think Walter bit off a bigger project than he could really handle. It came out “okay” instead of “knock your socks off.” He wrote “Implied Spaces” some years later, with basically the same background elements arranged differently, in a not-quite-as-alien forestory. It read a lot better than Aristoi, but I’m a demanding reader…

              Honestly, when you have personal immortality, a distributed consciousness with multiple bodies and personalities, nanotech, AIs, cheap fusion power, space travel, faster-than-light communications, and other bits, it’s *hard* to come up with a story where its problems can’t be solved by all that not-quite-post-Singulatity technology.

              I wish he’d take another swing at it, but he got another “soap operas in spaaaace!” contract that will be occupying him for years to come. I’m glad for him, but it’s not the kind of stuff I want to read.

        2. Diane Duane did colony-multi-mind creatures better in Young Wizards, because it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Especially with the planet that was, essentially, a giant, naturally generated computer/motherboard.

    2. Um. Well. I’ve read plenty of Victorian stories about surviving in shark-infested waters or native-infested jungles, and I didn’t note any of them as being an apologetic for extermination. (Kipling didn’t hate lions or tigers or bears. Jack London wasn’t advocating the extermination of bulldogs or Irish wolfhounds in his dogfight scenes in White Fang. Maybe Joseph Conrad hated jungles and oceans, but I never got far enough in his books to find out.)

      They’re purely Man Vs. Nature stories, all the ones I’ve read. The usual moral of the story is something like, “If you are super-tough and resourceful, you can survive in really terrible situations!”

      I suppose that somebody might want to go kill sharks after reading Jaws, but the author clearly needs sharks to exist. They are like dragons, except they have the advantage of being readily available and nearby.

      Similarly, the Reader’s Digest Drama in Real Life stories about surviving tornadoes and tsunamis are not advocating that weather cease to exist and that volcanic activity must be stamped out. Rather, they are instructive about how to survive a Man Vs. Nature situation.

      1. And yes, of course I was deeply hurt and offended by the characterization of Irish wolfhounds in White Fang. Snif.

        (Well, actually I was kind of weirded out by it, since of course Doyle also has a “savage” Irish wolfhound in one of his Holmes stories. Although the hound turns out to be perfectly justified, poor noble critter. But it wasn’t any kind of metaphor for the Irish Question. Wolfhounds were newly fashionable, thanks to the publicization and restoration efforts of Colonel Graham. For a while, they were just a New Cool Thing.)

      2. The kind of stories that I was talking about were more of the pulp Men’s Adventure of the 30’s and 40’s. Probably not the best example. The point that I was trying to make is a story can show social constructs as being antagonistic to the protagonist’s goal without being a story of social criticism.

        I was trying to evolve a general case and I haven’t got it quite put together yet. These things make much more sense in my head than when I write them down (which is why I need to write them down.)

        1. There are a bunch of “men’s adventure” magazines scanned into’s pulp fiction collection now. Along with the entire runs of IF and Galaxy, and large chunks of many others.

  6. For most people, fictional genres like SF are about “flights of fancy” or “temporary escape from mundane living”; and as such, serve as a form of self-therapy and aspirational goal-setting. We want heroes to emulate and the world to mimic an environment in which we can be heroic.

    Using any fictional genre as a primary platform for critique is simply a perversion of literature for the purpose of conducting propaganda. The persons advocating such are identifying themselves as memetic warriors promoting covert agendas. They are low-grade politicians, not authors.

  7. In a normal story, then the character starts fighting back and finds his way out of the bind, taking the reader along, which leaves the reader feeling released and powerful and maybe even able to tackle his problems.

    That’s the kind of story I like! 😀

    The issue with “critiquing society” is that it’s not that type of story. Rather you start with the oppressed and end with the oppressed, and along the way you show how mean and evil society is.

    And that’s the kind of story I do not like.

    … is to reform man. We know how well that goes.

    Heh. Too true. Humans can do awful deeds, and humans can also do wonderful miracles of love and compassion and hard work. And so it will always be. Trying to change humanity as a whole is fruitless. Doubly so, if one tries to effect said change by lecturing. Despicably so, if one attempts the change by genocide.

  8. I saw that same article yesterday!

    Here’s the required puppy kicking paragraph.

    “But over time, I feel like the question of who “owns” science fiction has only gotten more fraught and toxic, in ways that we couldn’t have predicted back in 2007. Back then, there was no “Fake Geek Girl” meme. Women weren’t getting death threats and rape threats on the internet for expressing an opinion about comics or movies. The Hugo Award nominations were still reflecting the tastes of individual readers, rather than voting slates. There weren’t endless think pieces about whether geek culture had gone too mainstream. Geek pantomime The Big Bang Theory aired its first episode while we were planning io9.”

    1. Yep, and 2008 is about when I realized all the Hugo winners were piles of literary offal. But a puppy-kicking paragraph does double duty. It fills both the puppy kicking and the virtue signaling boxes.

      1. The death threats parto amuses me because increasingly it seems that the death threats are done by SJWs to maintain their narrative.

        There’s probably a story somewhere about a kkk group realizing that they’re all the same SJWs who meet weekly to decry the kkk (think less “flock of wolves” and more “pack of sheep” – and yes I have read Chesterton’s man who was Thursday.)

        1. There was, as I recall, a running gag back in the Sixties about a KKK rally being found to be nothing but Feds — FBI, ATF, US Marshalls, etc. — working to infiltrate and acting as agents provocateur.

    2. “The Hugo Award nominations were still reflecting the tastes of individual readers, rather than voting slates.”

      Best laugh I’ve had today. Ah, yes, the good old days, when a small room party’s worth of people could determine the ballot in almost any category. …

      1. Amusingly, that’s one of the few recent years when every single one of the award winners were male, except the people behind Best Related Work and Best Fanzine.

        Shockingly, the winners included Locus, Dave Langford, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

        1. Well, that’s because those are the true picks of the truefans, obviously.

    3. I feel like the question of who “owns” science fiction …

      That is a stupid question, derived from a false premise. Nobody “owns” science fiction, just as nobody “owns” the air the water of the fishes in the deep blue sea.

      Any assertion of ownership over SF is a form of colonization, an act of imperialism and theft of the public property.

  9. …it’s impossible to deal with that fermenting load of insanity in a single post.

    The primary difference between io9 and a three cubic meters of manure being that the manure can be productively re-purposed.

  10. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    As far as social critiquing goes, all it means is that the author has no imagination and no real skills. It’s easy to critique what you can’t do or create yourself. Real SF comes from doers, not critiquing fakers.

    1. Well, Tom Kratman does some “social critiquing” in his books but he still writes a good story.

      But of course, the “Progressives” don’t like Tom Kratman’s “social critiquing” of them. 👿 👿 👿 👿

        1. I will admit that Kratman, what I’ve read of him, is difficult reading. I don’t agree with him always but he definitely makes me actually think about how *exactly* I disagree and where he’s got a point that is valid if I like it or not.

          It’s always a bit of a hoot to hear the cries of anguish from those who demand that we read books that “challenge our worldview” when they encounter either Tom or Mike. They clearly only think that *some* people should have their worldview’s challenged.

          1. Remember, these are people who “ragequit” when they read books by any straight white men, because reasons, and conflate race and culture.
            (And, for that matter, apply Freudian psychology to everything while knowing nothing of any history beyond what they got from their identity studies classes).
            These are people who require safe spaces at the thought that somewhere on their college campus is a Trump supporter.
            These are people who think that the government not providing money for something is banning it.
            These are people who think Brad Torgerson is an evilhateyhatemonger who hates.

        1. You realize that yours just encouraging people to vote for cyberpunk, so it’s a 4 way tie?

          I wonder if there’s anything out there that would fit all the categories?

        2. I always mean to participate and never seem to manage it. I voted. Promise that this time I’ll read whatever it is. Lord knows I like talking about stuff!

  11. Nag dabbit, Sarah, please quit talking to my muse. I’ve been haunted recently by the Raj (no, not Whitehall. [I’m nowhere good enough a writer for that]) and have this idea for a book exploring what happens if you have something like British India, but the natives for the most part decide they want the colonial power to hang around for . . . reasons. Which leads to Complications, and there may be a Third Party in the background that is also colonial but in a Bad Way.

    And there’s also a Lovcraftian Lite horror/urban fantasy story series that just popped up yesterday evening.

    1. I would be happy to feed your muse chocolate or Indian food or whatever it eats for this, because it sounds interesting.

      I don’t push drugs or anything of that nature, but I am an enabler for literary crack.

    2. For even more fun, consider that the colonial power was actually *manipulated* by the natives into showing up and then staying around in the first place. In other words, exploited. 😀

      1. Perhaps scholars studying the history of Old Earth’s Middle East realized that only by bringing in a common enemy could they put a stop to continual suicidal internecine warfare.

        Or perhaps they were inspired by SF stories of a certain period, in which scientists “manufactured” an alien invasion in order to pressure Earth’s many nations to unite in the face of the invaders?

        So, they bring in the colonial power to unite the nation and establish themselves as the native administrators, forced to unwillingly do their masters’ bidding and sock away vast wealth by squeezing baksheesh subsisting on the meagre salaries the colonial power permits.

      2. Easy there. I have yet to set finger to keyboard (have two more Colplatschki books to write first). Don’t give my subconscious ideas about making the plot more complicated than it already might be. It’s bad enough that the second Colplatschki-to-be is going to be about how the followers of Godown act as they stop re-conquering what had been their territory at one time and start gaining new land.

  12. and started arranging them on micro aggression

    Took me a couple of tries to realize that this was probably “haranguing” (autocorrupt delenda est), but the image of someone trying to sort a population by their microaggressions is amusing. 🙂

    1. I figured it was the legal term. Not that I really know that definition.

    2. Yuck. To sort by microaggressions would require that each one have a label. Who would want the job of labeling the microaggressions?

      Now, libeling them on the other hand…

  13. Prim scolds never changed society …

    Well, there was Prohibition.

    That didn’t turn out too well.

    To paraphrase Marge Simpson in her war to censor violent cartoons: sometimes you can change the world, and sometimes you shouldn’t.

    1. Perhaps it might be rephrased as ‘Prim scolds never changed society for the better.’

      Read a bit of the history that leads to Prohibition and it becomes harder to simply dismiss the passage of the amendment as the act of a few overzealous prim scolds who detested anyone having a drink.

      BUT, that said – Prohibition was a lousy solution. It failed, creating new problems. The unintended consequences of Prohibition have lasted far beyond the repeal.

  14. I understand the left from my catchphrases: Government is Force, and Politics is Violence.

    If you are interested in political power you must gin up some evil that, you insist, can only be solved with force. If the problem is only a minor one, maybe it could be solved without force, and that cannot be, for it wouldn’t provide the opportunity for political power.

    So it makes complete sense that Marx and his buddies would come along and say: Oh no! The bourgeoisie are not kindly innovators and creators of mass-produced goods for the poor at low prices. They are really fiends that will return the world to the poverty of the ages. Therefore join with us and fight the foe and utterly destroy it!

    When it turned out that the working class were not going to be immiserated, it was time to reformulate. Now it would be evil racists, sexists, and homophobes under every rock. Or fascists. Or greedy bankers. Or oil companies, Or climate deniers. Or a cabal of white male SF writers. And force is the only solution.

    1. I’m reading the updated edition of Roger Scruton’s book about Marxists and rogues (but I repeat) in French, German, British and US academia. It’s been quite useful, but my gosh, how I wish I could crank out the cr@p Sartre and Lacan and co. did and get paid that much for such garbage. Scruton traces the evolution of Bad Ideas from Marx through the Heidelberg School and France, then the British flavor, and I’m up to Gramsci and Said. It lays out a lot very clearly, but the excerpts of the various thinkers’ writings make my head hurt. Except for the British labour historians – man, could E. P. Thompson write well. I disagreed with his premise when I first read his work, but oh, he could write well.

      1. Ah yes, Edward Said. I’ll never forget the assignment we received in a stupid “Ethics” course* in which explaining how Edward Said was right in rejecting the work of Samuel Huntington was the least objectionable option. Since I didn’t actually believe that Huntington was wrong, I managed to focus on vocabulary in such a way as to say Said was technically correct about certain statements while I in no way said anything one way or the other about the general gist of Huntington’s statement. I managed an A- for that total BS but felt ambivalent. I was torn between being glad I hadn’t put my name against something I totally disagreed with, being upset I hadn’t confronted the instructor, being glad I hadn’t confronted the instructor and torpedoed my college education, and just wanting to wash my hands – literally.

        * Which really should have been labelled “Multiculturalism and Progressivism 101.” I’m not sure if that was the administration’s intention for what should have been taught in that course, but the instructor enthusiastically ran down that path. If I’d known the term SJW then, I would have applied it to her.

  15. “First, let me start by saying, because some idiots (and they are idiots) are going to say I’m talking about an article I haven’t read: this is not about the article. It’s about the concepts, which I’ve come across in panels and talks over years of attending science fiction conventions.”

    Sarah, the people of whom you speak can be depended upon to quibble, rules lawyer and in the end flatly lie about everything you say. Even thinking about what they’re going to say is a waste of brain function. They’re going to do what they always do, fling dung like a pack of rabid howler monkeys.

    Over the course of attempting to discuss things like Sad Puppies rationally, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re just a bunch of hateful assholes. Shit smearing is all they have. I say we leave them to it.

    1. I see that you got to the poo flinging ahead of me. That’s what I get for commenting before I finish reading.

      “This just falls into the “approved” paths and it’s boring because it’s obvious the story is a device to hector the reader in the same old way that those who speak power to truth (in order to keep power) use.”

      I am so tired of being told off by snotty, holier than thou authors, I practically get PTSD when I pick up a new book these days.

  16. Suppose we go out to space and find a much dumber, but obviously sentient alien race. What are our duties/obligations/rights in relation to them?

    See, for example, Little Fuzzy or Hoka! Hoka! Hoka!,

    Morally HOW should we treat them? What if we go to space and we find we’re the slightly impaired aliens in relation to everyone else? How do we cope?

    See, for example, The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

    1. I seem to recall ST:TNG had an episode where the Enterprise ended up helping a shipload of aliens who were stranded and supposedly didn’t understand their own ship, and said stuff like “We are not smart”, but they did manage to trick the crew with their low expectations.

        1. Good news : the Pakleds were rescued.
          Bad news : Half of them became my customers; the other half became my managers.

          1. Yeah, I think some of them have called places I work at before.

      1. Yeah. “The Samaritan Snare” with the Pakleds. One of the few episodes where Counselor Troi’s empathic abilities were useful, or at least would have if anyone had listened to her.

  17. I wrote a story that could make you weep, all about this poor woman’s aching knees, and how her husband oppressed her by not doing housework.

    How about a story of a young housewife, idle, bored, not permitted to do her own cleaning but forced by societal pressure to hire one a local cleaning woman? A cleaning woman who not only dominates, by virtue of her forceful personality and canny use of societal expectations, but ruthlessly exploits the young housewife?

    Add in some sexual undercurrent, such as manipulating the young woman into sexually satisfying the cleaning lady’s husband and his friends, then perhaps selling the housewife’s favors and you may have the makings of a best-seller. Or, at least, a letter to Penthouse. (Heh – she’s a pent-up house wife.)

    1. 50 shades of dingy?
      50 shades of mold?
      (I doubt that the cleaning woman would do a very good job in this senario.)

  18. The idea that today’s market doesn’t want SF is pure and utter nonsense.
    What the people don’t want is bland, boiled, tasteless, literati grey goo pushed by the current establishment.
    I’m reminded of a few episodes of ‘Survivor’ I was pressed into watching a few years ago. The cast of idiots was near starvation and nearly dying of thirst- all on a sandy beach in an overgrown food garden.

    1. The idea that today’s market doesn’t want SF is akin to the idea that people don’t want beer because they refuse to drink Budweiser weak flavorless horse piss.

      1. That’s not the problem. Everyone agrees that the Budweiser of SF is lousy.
        The problem is that there’s this particular bunch of craft beer brewers who all like to make IPA, and won’t make anything but IPA, and complain when people don’t want to buy their product, declaring that IPA is the only true beer.
        This, and of itself, would not be an issue beyond occasional annoyance, were it not for the fact that their friends have infiltrated the gas stations and grocery store chains and done their level best to make their belief reality.

        1. Feh. As $HOUSEMATE puts it, “I don’t drink corsages.” (I will have an occasional IPA, but it’s not a default). And I do rather like a good porter, myself.

  19. “Suppose we go out to space and find a much dumber, but obviously sentient alien race. What are our duties/obligations/rights in relation to them? Morally HOW should we treat them? ”

    Just yesterday, I read an article where 3 Mountain Gorillas had learned how dismantle poacher traps, just a couple of weeks after one of their peers had been killed by one. The scientists/researchers who viewed the behavior, said that it would be really useful if they could teach more gorillas how to do that, because there were too many traps for the people to dismantle themselves. But, they said they wouldn’t teach them that, because it would alter their culture and they want to leave it pristine, so they would just have to hope that it spread on its own. (As if poachers hadn’t already altered the culture, or being studied by humans hadn’t altered the culture.) (The tiny quark thingy changes when it is observed.)

    The another article, said that primates like cooked food, and when they put an “oven” in the area that they could put raw food in and take out cooked food later, that the monkeys would come from miles to cook the food. And that they never put wood or other inedibles in the “oven”

    So, here, the monkeys have learned something useless to them, and it has altered their culture, as they are now reliant/prefer cooked food, which they can’t do themselves. Whereas the gorillas could learn something that would save themselves, and that they could do themselves, to take care of themselves, but the people refuse to teach more of them how to do it.

    1. That sounds like a cartoon I found in the ‘Net showing an expert (in modern clothes) holding a piece of equipment out of the reach of a group of peasant farmers and saying something like, “No, I can’t let you have this soil moisture gauge. It would corrupt your pristine culture!”

      1. In “Aku-Aku”, Thor Heyerdahl talked about the relationship of the Easter Islanders vs. the Chilean government.

        The Chileans wanted to maintain the islander culture and forbade them from leaving the island.

        The islanders, in turn, viewed the island as a prison, and kept trying to escape.

        Some of Heyerdahl’s stories about that were downright sad.

    2. The monkeys probably threw poo at the scientists. The gorillas didn’t.

    3. The kingpin of Leftist thought is that people are stupid and must be controlled. They believe in giving the poor man a fish, because teaching him to catch his own would lead to uncontrolled fishing and DISASTER!!! They’ll shoot the guy rather than let him feed himself.

      How much more that way are they going to be with gorillas? Poor animals are lucky the damn scientists don’t round them all up and keep them in camps “for their own good.”

      1. Yes. Free markets are dangerous. Leftists hate the thought that people make their own decisions. Only the elite experts can be allowed to make choices.

  20. No, the people who thought they “owned” science fiction were a bunch of aging con-goers who were good buddies of the same publishers who were determining what got published in the first place.
    While they went about awarding each other prizes, they also went about ridiculing the “bitter clingers to guns and religion”, as someone famously or infamously put it, who weren’t as enlightened in the glories of so-called social justice and the diversity of perversions as they were.
    So, when they were informed that their claims of ownership were illegitimate and disputable, they immediately set about making their claim of ownership public, smeared and slandered their rivals, brought their hidden contempt out into the open, and demonstrated that the complaints about their bias and prejudice did indeed have a basis in fact.

    How’s that for social critique?

    1. So you’re saying that the SJWs/puppy-kickers are China, and the rest of us are disputing their “ownership” of the Spratly Islands and the rest of the South China Sea?

      (That’s some penetrating social commentary and metaphor, right there.) Why yes, I am bored on this weekend duty day sitting in my freezing cold office counting down the time until I can hit the rack.

  21. The Second is that humanity can be changed completely and made like onto the angels. this idea is responsible for filling AT LEAST 100 million graves.

    And someone might point out that they thereby did render many million like unto the angels…

    1. The poor cleaning woman! and her poor plumber husband! why, if it weren’t for evul capitalism, she could be working on her own farm somewhere happily feeding her family off of her own work!

  22. I read the article. It really didn’t have much to it but for some reason I had some similar thoughts in relation to it. After all, what’s wrong with the science fiction of the past? Well, we generally know what people who think there was something wrong with it think that the wrong things are. Science fiction about the future is great and focusing on the future is great and not wanting to spend too much rehash on yet another rehash is not a bad plan.

    But I came away thinking about “colonialism” that horrible horrible thing that one must not write new science fiction about although it was a mainstay of “old” science fiction. And I wouldn’t say it’s a question of “who” is human but I would say “what” is human applies, as in “what behaviors are common and fundamental to the human animal” and one of those is expansion. If colonialism wasn’t bred into our bones on a permanent genetic level we’d never have left Africa. Humans wouldn’t have bothered to make a dangerous trek across the Bering Straight. We wouldn’t have managed to get ourselves to pretty much every shockingly remote Pacific island.

    A future of science fiction without colonialism in it, is a future of science fiction without Humans in it.

    1. “A future of science fiction without colonialism in it, is a future of science fiction without Humans in it.”

      For a lot of these people, that’s a feature, not a bug.

      1. Does seem to be. It’s what put me off iO9 from the very beginning and why I expanded their motto: We come from the future… and the lights are out.

        CJ Anders (who wrote the article that Sarah’s post wasn’t about) tended to be super subtle about the anti-human vibe but it was there and often picked up by commenters who’d start in about how horrible people were and how we’d wreck the future. It’s as though iO9 tried really really hard because of how amazing science fiction is and how much we all love it, but some ideology is simply not compatible. And while another thing about humans is our amazing ability to hold mutually contradictory ideas to be true, it eventually breaks down.

        1. Really?

          You’re nicer than me– I thought the idea sounded cool, looked around and decided I didn’t have time for posers.

          Got the same vibe that I tend to get with folks who hang out on Catholic blobs and preface 90% of their stuff with “I was raised Catholic,” then proceed to act like whatever they remember being “raised” to know trumps all history and arguments.

          Or the kind of people who will call themselves “big scifi fans,” but mostly use it as an excuse to mock whoever isn’t doing things exactly the way they want. (Be it using the same terminology, interpreting a scene the same way, or hitting EXACTLY the right level of “caring” about details.)

          1. Well, it was my first impression. I didn’t care for the subtle negativity so it’s not as though I hung out there much.

            1. I was intrigued by your comment, so I hunted it down last night and read it.

              I didn’t find the negativity very subtle, let’s just say. Typical hipsters sneering at the long dead Victorians.

  23. “One is the idea capitalism is unnatural, instead of arising wherever allowed, and often where not allowed: an inherent part of how humanity functions.”
    Enter, from Stage Right, Black Market.

      1. Entire blocks of salt.

        They didn’t say they “reject capitalism”– they were asked if they support it. (Did you every do the psychology class thing where you’d ask who supports option A, who supports not-A, and the total was significantly less than 100%? Asking people to “Support” a thing always biases low.)

        Come down to it, I wouldn’t say I “support capitalism.”

        I support private property, and mostly free exchange of goods and services, which is often called capitalism– but I believe “capitalism” is an artificial boogie-man made to try to scare people into communism. It takes a result– the economic system– and tries to treat it as an existing thing. It’s like trying to divi up kids and asking people if they support “hetro-bias child allotment,” like the kids spring into being without sex and nine months.

    1. When I was in college, I thought about Marx’s predictions that capitalism will result in a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which then fizzles away magically into pure Communism…and as I thought about what happened in Russia and China, I had to conclude that this “Communism” that Marx expected must be “Capitalism”.

      Come to think of it, I’ve made the case before that Capitalism does a far better job at accomplishing the goals of Communism than Communism ever will; this is certainly compatible with Marx’s belief that Communism will magically arise from the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

      Of course, I’m a lot more cynical now than I was then; neither Russia nor China has fully embraced capitalism, but that’s in part because Russian and Chinese culture (and, for that matter, European culture) has a lot of historical baggage that conditions everyone there to appreciate someone in charge… (For that matter, I remember an essay describing how Russians seemed to learn one thing from Communism that they have yet to unlearn: that your life is worthless, and you might as well take insane risks, or drink yourself to death, or get mugged, or something…again, the fruits of unfettered Dictator of the Proletariat Communism…)

  24. Look, I know that preaching is considered good in Christian practice. I also know that a famous saint so gave up on its having any effect on his flock, that he went off to preach to the fish.

    A statement attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, though often called apocryphal, runs thus: “At all times preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words.”

    Now, that might be apocryphal, but the following story about the saint is multiply confirmed: One day a young monk begged Francis for permission to accompany him on a day’s preaching. The saint assented, and they went forth from the monastery at daybreak.

    First they came upon a group of men laboring in the field. Francis said “Let us work beside them,” which they did, in silence, for several hours before passing onward.

    Next they came upon a village where they found a group deep in prayer. Francis said “Let us pray with them,” which they did, in silence, for another hour before passing onward.

    Late in the day they entered a village where a wedding celebration was in progress. Francis said “Let us rejoice with them,” which they did. At last dusk was upon them and it was time to return to the monastery.

    When they had returned to the monastery, the young monk said to Francis, “Brother, was it not your intention to preach today? Yet we spoke not a word of preachment from departure to return.” Francis smiled. “Brother,” he replied, “this day we have done nothing but preach, from dawn till dusk.”

    For a Christian, these are truly words to live by.

    1. I remember my Mormon Seminary teacher in Junior High talking about when he talked to a group of students who were mourning the death of a fellow student due to a car accident, and he taught them to pray. As he described the experience, he expressed regret that he didn’t offer to pray with them instead…

      I can’t say that his efforts would have been completely wasted, but at the same time, I could see ho he’s right, that being an example would have been more helpful at the time than trying to teach something…

    2. Confirmed by whom?
      I can’t find anything like that story even once, let alone from several sources.

      I know the “may be apocryphal” thing is probably rhetorical flourish rather than literal, but the quote was invented in the 1990s and attributed to Francis.

  25. The not-fun part is, when the social haranguers get enough power and start starving the armed population, said armed population has nothing to lose and everything to gain by filling some graves with the haranguers.

    It’s a terrifying prospect. I sure hope we avoid it.

  26. Personally, I think any story of any scope has to have an element of “social critique”, not because of any specific design of the author but because the author, like anyone else, has ideas in his or her head about how the world works and how the world “should” work. Those ideas will influence what’s put on paper.

    A lot of my own work is written in pseudo-medieval fantasy, with hereditary kings, nobles, and what have you. However, within that framework “good” rulers and their kingdoms are those where the rulers’ hands rest lightly on the kingdom. People are mostly left to go about their lives as they see fit. “Evil” kingdoms tend to be those where the rulers attempt to dictate every aspect of people’s lives. None of them would be a “free” society as most here would think of them but within the context of the stories, I present the free-er societies as the preferable.

    And i that way my ideas of what makes a “good” vs. “bad” society will color things even though I’m not explicitly making social commentary, just trying to tell an entertaining story.

    And that’s the thing, I think. If you concentrate on telling an entertaining story your “social commentary” will slip in under it without your even trying. And people who read for the entertainment will get the commentary without even meaning to. If, however, you set out deliberately to write “social commentary” and forget about telling an entertaining story only a “litracha” professor assigning it as required reading will get people to read it and all your “commentary” accomplishes nothing.

    1. The problem with “concentrat[ing] on telling an entertaining story [so that] your “social commentary” will slip in under it without your even trying” is that unless you are very very careful the “wrong” social commentary will slide in, social commentary that conveys important Truths about reality, Truths antithetical to the messages they want people to believe.

      Can’t let the marks learn that some animals will be resolute about being more equal than others.

      1. unless you are very very careful the “wrong” social commentary will slide in

        I think we can all take the profanity with which I would respond to that as given. 😉

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