Lighting A Candle on the Road to Damascus a Blast From The Past from July 2017
Science fiction and fantasy icon Ursula K Le Guin has a rather tiresome essay saying that she was once “a man.” Because, she says, once upon a time the only role models available for women were male, and therefore she viewed herself as a man. Yes, I’m rolling eyes as I type this, just as I rolled them while reading the nonsense the first time.
I’ve often expounded my theory that people who need someone who is exactly like them in external characteristics to enjoy a book or a movie, have never left the early toddler stage, where having your name in a book really helps you enjoy it.
I never had that problem, and reading stories with men or boys never made me less of a woman. Perhaps, of course, because I knew a lot of women in normal, every day life.
Books about humans interest me more than books about aliens, now, but books about aliens are usually so badly written and I keep visualizing humans in rubber suits.
Of course, perhaps I’m doing Le Guin a disservice. Perhaps, she, rationally wrote the article for mercenary reasons knowing that the way to advance and be considered an icon in the field is to be as leftist as possible. Or even more. And that the most prized form of leftism is “feminism” as we wind our way to a full misandrist society.
(It is not wrong nor bad to seek one’s own advancement. In fact that I can’t do it and still look at myself in the mirror in the morning vexes me greatly. I blame dad and his notions of honor. They have crippled him all his life, so of course he shared them with me. Honorable as an idealized Roman patrician, proud as the devil himself, and yep, inevitably, poor as church mouse. Okay, he managed to defeat the last due to sheer insane work and self-denial, but it’s not a patch on the life he could have had. What does it say about me that I’m proud of him for it?)
Which brings us to the topic of this post.
By Ursula Le Guin’s definition, before 1992 I was a leftist, in the sense that there were no role models in movies, books, even news or my personal circles, that had non-leftist people who loved liberty.
I was never leftist in the sense that the most leftist people would consider me such. I was always more or less a reflexive anti-communist, which exempts me from being considered in the same category as, say, Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton. It also shields me from ever being considered “cool” by most editors in my field, who, by the time I broke in, had convinced themselves that communism was where it was at, and that belief in that scourge of human life demonstrated their massive intellect.
However, if you’ve graduated from a Western university in the last forty years, you can say that you were once a leftist. And that goes double if you graduated from a university in Europe.
Unless you went in fortified and determined to resist brain-washing, (and I was in Europe, where the options, from the US pov are international socialism or national socialism. there no non-left option) they got under your skin in one way or another.
One way they got under my skin was via my hobby of reading science fiction and fantasy, most of whose practitioners were, at the very least, soft left and many of whom were communist or very very socialist, back when I was young.
Oh, sure, I could resist the outright communists and groan at things like saying capitalism had died because it wasn’t viable, in their so-much-better communist future. Look, I read Heinlein too.
I even fell for “feminism” (remember I grew up in a Latin country) until I came to the US where the first thing to make me give them the hairy eyeball (besides the fact that honestly, to an outsider the US read as a matriarchy) was their tendency for raping the language (Herstory, pfui. Every time I saw that written anywhere, I knew the leading lights of the movement were exquisitely indoctrinated morons.) No sane movement does that, inventing meanings for words that the words never had, just so they can change language. I’m a linguist. A decent respect for language and etymology is needed for me to consider you a sane intellectual option.
But where they got under my skin were the things that even Heinlein bought into: ecological destruction that needed government intervention, the sense that we were living in the last viable generation on Earth, the idea of massive, destructive population explosion, the idea there simply weren’t enough resources to go around and some extensive form of government control of private life was inevitable.
Mind you, I still wanted children (I’d also read The Marching Morons) but apparently there was gloom in my heart for what the future held for my descendants.
I worried about crazy things that the left pushed in the news. The industrialization of China, and its relative opening up to the free market meant more pollution. The US’s rejection of mass transportation meant – doom and gloom – we’d all run out of oil and have to bicycle everywhere in the not so distant future. Computers were destroying person-to-person communication. Increased pollution was giving us all cancer. Everything that made human life more comfortable had to be curtailed, removed, destroyed so we could scratch a living from the surface of the Earth a couple more generations. And then if no miracle occurred, we’d die or return the the stone age. All the good life was gone, and only the husks remained to my generation and succeeding ones.
Looking at that list, it’s no surprise that science fiction publishing and reading retreated howling to fantasy. After all, what future was there to look forward to? By the nineties most science fiction was just scolding humans for their sins. (Okay not all, and later I found out my reading habits followed Jim Baen around. As he moved houses, so did my buying even though at the time I had no idea who he was, and never looked at the editorial house name.)
I was 29 and my son was 1 when I got a gift magazine subscription from an anonymous donor.
The magazine was Reason – then under the redoubtable Virginia Postrel – and I still have no clue who sent it to me. If you ask me, EVERYONE I knew at the time in the US was at least soft left and some of my friends were considerably hard left.
But someone did send me the magazine. I don’t remember what the issue was, precisely, but I remember it took on a series of ecological issues, and it had a lot of facts about why these weren’t precisely so. For the first time in my life people were telling me the future was NOT all doom and gloom. There was hope for life, liberty and yes, even the pursuit of happiness.
I have stopped subscribing to Reason – sometime after 2001, when liberaltarian became a thing – but I can’t describe the effect those first few issues had on me.
It was like opening a window in a dark, moldy room, and letting the sunshine in when I didn’t know sunshine EXISTED.
All of a sudden, I could integrate what I’d seen with my lying eyes – that people were generally living better, that the world as a whole was safer and cleaner – with facts and theories. I could understand and integrate the fact that poverty was always greater under socialism and less under a free market, and consider that maybe we were not running out of resources, we were being stamped out of our liberty, and oppression took all our wealth.
I stopped fearing runaway global warming – and how I managed to do that, frankly, when I still remembered the global cooling panic is a testimony to the power of biased media – and world war three, and running out of gasoline, and nuclear energy, and wearing non-organic-material clothing, and pollutants in my beauty products, and guns in the hand of the common folk, and—
I don’t mean that the magazine converted me overnight. It didn’t. It took at least five years and a lot of thinking for me to become anti-statist and to fully digest the enormity of the lies I’d been told by people in positions of trust.
BUT that subscription to reason was the beginning. It made me see the contradictions that had been bothering me, but which I thought must mean I was missing something, since everyone who was someone seemed to agree the world was a dark, evil place and becoming more so.
Of course, part of this was the result of the false “uniformity of opinion” created by the mass distribution and control of news, which is fast becoming a thing of the past, as the new media rises in power. Back then, if your lying eyes showed you something the media — all of the media — said was false, you wondered about your sanity, and the tendency was to fall back in line with the central narrative, unless you really, really couldn’t justify it.
I still don’t know who sent me that subscription, much less why they thought there was hope for me, considering the things I believed and the way I talked at the time.
But without that person, there would have been no Darkship Thieves, no According to Hoyt blog, and none of the PJM posts, either. I’d remain anti-communist, but also convinced that the free market and liberty weren’t the answer, and I’d futilely seek a “third way.” I’d believe socialism was close to the answer, if we could just hold in that state, without falling into full communism.
I hope whoever it was is happy with the results. I am. And in the spirit of paying it forward, I’ve sent many a person copies of P. J. O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich or All the Trouble in the World, both of which have the same message as those first Reasons I read. There are other books of course, but those are the ones I normally send.
I’ve also sought to break the chains of leftist-induced depression in blogs and posts, many, many times. I’ve tried to open the windows for others, so they see there is hope – lots of it – if only they’re willing to work towards it.
The world isn’t coming to an end. Only the statist world. And that leaves the future wide open for humanity and liberty.
Be not afraid. Light a candle and let the hope of a bright future into your life and maybe even into someone else’s.