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.