Sometimes I think our time is drunk on perfection, high on it, or perhaps demanding it, like a two year old in the candy isle at the grocery store. Which is weird because perfection is a myth. It is in fact impossible.
At one time I had a friend who is in real life involved in editing scientific publications (real ones, the ones people involved in research have to read, not the popular stuff.) edit my first set of reverted books.
These books had already been gone over (twice) by me, and then sent out to my regular chain of editors and proofers. And yet, he found at least one mistake per page.
I was mortally embarrassed until he pointed out to me once he was in charge of a proofreading department with (I think) 15 proofreaders. Because he’s a hard task master, he had each person initial each line, just to make sure they at least attempted not to skip any. (Because a lot of it was numbers and data that must be absolutely right.) He then told me when the pages landed on his desk, they had still the average of errors he found on my work. And he was sure, despite his immense effort, some errors escaped him.
I’ve seen this over and over with processes that are supposed to yield perfect results. Perfection just isn’t in us. No matter how hard we try. Even the best whatever has a moment of distraction, a day their head hurts, a moment of confusion. And an error, great or small slips through.
Human systems like societies and cultures are even more fallible and every dunghill cock who yells that we should excuse the massive death tolls of communism and the silent death toll and death of hope and interest in the future of socialism because “capitalism kills through” and people slip through the cracks should be hanged by the neck till dead and then buried in his dunghill. If there were a way to make him suffer for eternity whatever the ghosts of those killed by the arranged children of Marx wanted to inflict on him (or her. It’s so often a her) I’d vote for that too.
There is a difference between not being able to guarantee perfect outcomes for everyone in a system that nonetheless has lifted most of the world out of poverty, a system that is not even a system but what humans will do when allowed (and even when not allowed. Look at the black markets that prevented people starving to death in communist “paradises”) and a system that promises perfection and from each according to his ability and to each according to his need (spits) and which then proceeds to treat people as widgets, most of them having the same need to live in squalor and misery so the chosen “enlightened” (Dare we say woke) few at the top get to have all of the best and a dacha too.
And hell and thank be to anyone who is cranking, communist systems weren’t “perfect” too. Had they been their already stupendous death toll would have been multiplied ten times.
Trying to tear down the pretty good in the name of the perfect is delusional. It is delusional because Marxism’s central conceit has been proven wrong over and over and over again.
What was the central conceit? That freed from the Rousseaunian fall from grace constituted by commerce, work and hierarchical society, humans would be perfected into something lacking individual needs or individual defects. That Homos Sovieticus would emerge, infused only of the need to work for the whole and — of course — perfect.
It’s not just that this didn’t happen (can’t happen) but that humans subjected to the system that was supposed to give it birth became more corrupt, more venal, more willing to die or kill for their own benefit (and that own benefit often no more than a sausage stuffed with sawdust.)
This should surprise no one that hasn’t lived a life of perfect ease and comfort (which I suspect is why most communist adherents come from the ranks of the very comfortable. Most of its shock troops, meanwhile, come from the ranks of the deranged who long ago traded in their humanity for a hunk of burning hatred and don’t even care if it consumes and hurts them more than the objects of it. And no, their hatred is not proof of injustice. The hateful shall always be with us. It’s an all-too-human failing.) Humans who are reduced to living like animals and struggling for everything become feral and lose all contact with a higher ideal of humanity. The only “perfect” thing at the bottom of the communist program for perfection is hatred and blindness.
Which brings us to feral humans. Yeah, I know, it only took me 800 words to get to the point. You must surely deal. I’m also not perfect, and had an awful night for various reasons mostly not internal.
I was thinking — I’ve been thinking of stuff like this a lot, as I try to chart a course for the future, partly because 2018 scoured my attachments as clean as possible (except for my marriage and family. I’m not giving 2019 ideas.) Even my friends are, for various reasons, very busy and while I still love them and I presume they love me, no one has any time. Last time this happened was 2002 — about legacies. About what I want to do and say with this megaphone I accidentally picked up, and of which the biggest part MIGHT well be the fiction. What do you say? What do you do?
And then I thought of Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett could be said to have brought me to fantasy. I read fantasy before him. Fantasy was just never a favored mode of story for me. Partly because when I first encountered it in Portugal I had no place to put it. Parts of it were just “how life is” (i.e. a lot of the old legends are assumed to be true) and part of it was “do they really believe that cr*p.” Also by virtue of being where I was D & D passed me entirely by (I have a strong feeling if someone had shipped me a manual, my little friends and I would have carved our own D20s from potatoes and played like fiends. Sometimes I think much of what we did was struggle blindly towards D & D but we never got there.) so the whole trolls, elves, etc. was more than a little bewildering. At times still is, I’ll be honest.
But Pratchett, found in 92 because SOMEONE in Colorado Springs bought all the English editions and then sold them used (I swear it must have been in trips to England, as I had to spawncamp at the used bookstore to grab them when they — irregularly — came in.) made me like fantasy and sold me on his world.
He’ll never be one of my formative writers. One doesn’t meet formative writers in our thirties.
But part of the reason he appealed to me was the long buried British strain of my upbringing. As Foxfier noted, I often SOUND like Agatha Christie. Which is nothing short of amazing since I was i my late twenties by the time I read her in English. But I read her in Portuguese before my teens. And before her, I read Enid Blyton who went a long way to forming who and what I am (more on that later.)
Before I met Heinlein, (in books. I never met him in real life) that substratum was there.
What I never thought — never occurred to me — was that Pratchett would have the same influence on my kids (or at least one of them. The engineer embryo prefers hard sf which he found on his own, thank you so much.) that Heinlein had on me.
Older son lives and breathes Pratchett. Like me with Heinlein, it’s where he retreats when too wounded to face the real world.
When Pratchett died it blew his world apart as much as Heinlein’s death blew mine. And because he’s his mother’s son, he wrote an elegy to him. Because we deal with unbearable grief by leaking out words like a broken vessel. Until the cracks plug. And heal. Or at least scar over.
I happen to think this is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve ever read, and possibly the most beautiful send off ever.
But the pixels were barely dry before the *ssholes came out to say Pratchett didn’t deserve a send off because he’d believed in suicide for his incurable early onset Alzheimers. And that his stand encouraged others to do this awful thing, and blah blah blah.
Let’s suppose that what Pratchett had was not a defect of the thinking meat. And lets please, since we are perfect, stand in judgement of a man facing a predicament none of us has faced (or pardon me, I don’t know who’s reading this:few of us have faced) and facing it AS HIM, with his upbringing and background.
And then, yeah, because we’re perfect and shiny and chrome, let’s condemn a man whose books for all their flaws (mostly flaws of viewing systems through late twentieth century European eyes) managed often to distill a scintilla of truth and more — far more — than an ounce of beauty, and managed to make his characters human and admirable.
You mean he wasn’t perfect? And he believed things we don’t? Into the ash heap of history with him, the damnable blot on the face of humanity.
It occurred to me this piece of crazy from the right was exactly the same as the crazy from the left.
“You have to be perfect according to our standards, or we’ll make it as though you’d never been.”
At least the right hasn’t tried to do that to living people yet. While the left screams “shut up, she explained” the right says “Sweet mind, speak thyself.” Though that might be because it’s the most cruel thing we can do.
But they often do the same “he’s not perfect, I won’t listen” that the left does to living people too. Eh. It’s a free world. You’re not forced to enjoy someone.
I’ve read a lot of people who were far from perfect, and derived what I could from each of them. In a discussion with friends, recently, on the writer whose wife makes poems to suicide bombers, I said I don’t read them because his thoughts “taste wrong” to me, and often make me want to shower inside my skin. Not as badly as others. But still. I don’t read him because “it tastes bad” to me, personally. I know it’s a personal thing. Heck, there are authors with whom I agree in almost every respect that I can’t read because something about their writing puts me off. And sometimes that’s only in a portion of my life, and I get over it as I age. I certainly would never deny this writer’s talent (he’s stuffed with it) or say people shouldn’t read him. De gustibus dictates that he’s not for me. BUT as much as some of his public posturing annoys me, I’m sure people find valuable things in his writing. Or he wouldn’t be as successful as he is.
I certainly don’t demand writers be perfect in their personal lives, or their personal beliefs. I particularly don’t demand they be perfectly congruent with mine.
I was in my thirties — mostly because Portugal is in many ways a remote place where bio and critical writing don’t arrive except by mule, smuggled under a load of fish (or at least the Portugal of my childhood) — before I encountered a screed calling Enid Blyton elitist and racist and pointing out she hated gypsies.
Frankly, I’ve never tracked the racist and gypsy thing down. I never cared enough to, because it doesn’t matter. If anything from her books (Circus of Adventure) I’d think she loved gypsies, even if what she did with them was fairly stereotypical (but then it’s a YA) and I don’t actually remember anyone of other races, in books mostly written about British children in the early 20th century FOR British children in the early 20th century.
Oh, she was elitist. But in a way that our self-proclaimed elites can’t decode. Something that’s impossible for them to comprehend, as though it were written in Martian. She was elitist from the other side. Not “My status gives me the right to” but noblesse oblige “we don’t do that because people like us don’t do that.”
And since what she communicated we wouldn’t do included things like be mean to those weaker than us, or make fun of the impaired, she was an amazingly good influence on me.
So I don’t care what flaws she had in her personal life, or her beliefs. Why should I? I treasure the legacy she gave me, and move on.
Agatha Christie, too, was in many ways a conventional thinker of the early 20th century, and sometimes it comes through her work. But what I loved about it was the profoundly human characters (even the communists) and the fact that she set her face resolutely against the evil of envy and greed and murder. Oh, and the whole “We weren’t put on this Earth to be safe/comfortable/merely happy” which fit in very well with what I’d got from Blyton.
And as for Heinlein… well, he did believe a lot of things I don’t. Particularly about relationships between humans. Understandable for someone of his place and time who believed the “scientific” papers of the time. And?
He taught me competence. He taught me to not kowtow to evil. And mostly, he taught me the importance of the human spirit and not squashing that.
I should hate him because I disagree with him on some things? Because he wasn’t perfect?
We take from the past that made us the best of their legacy, and we let the evil (or merely the things we disagree with) that men do be interred with their bones. That’s the way to destroy civilization.
Demanding of the past a perfection that no human ever achieved; demanding the past be perfectly in tune with future prejudices and illusions or even new found truths (those are often indistinguishable in the rear view mirror); demanding that people only be remembered if they were flawless does not in fact build a better future. It doesn’t build any future. It tears down civilization to its roots by removing the one thing that makes humans better than animals: the ability to learn from the experiences, heroism, and yes, errors and horrors of the past.
For all we know, after all, the man who invented fire was a slaver who killed little children, hated the next tribe over and beat his wives every night and twice on the not-yet invented Sunday.
But if we extinguish his legacy all we’ll achieve is perfect darkness.