Revisiting politics in science fiction and fantasy, comments edition

I know, right? This thing’s been beaten to death, and I feel like I’ve said all I could say on the topic last time around. But I got a comment this week on that very post that got my brain engaged again, mostly because I disagreed with pretty much all of it. So instead of replying there, I thought it was enough to warrant another post.

Please note: None of this is done with malice toward the poster of the comment. He’s entitled to his own opinions. However, his ability to post them here is because I allowed it, as this is my house and my rules and my comment moderation. Further, I’m really not inviting debate. The commenter wasn’t owed a response, and I’m not sure he wanted one, but he got one. If you comment on this or on the original, it’s still my call whether we keep it going or not. Nobody owes anybody a response or a platform.

So with all that said, here we go. I’m going to tackle the comment bit by bit, starting with:

You are right, SciFi has always been political, but it seems you have missed the point of the genre. Science Fiction has always been about taking modern politics and twisting it into the story, but still staying apolitical in a way. Both sides would normally be shown, sometimes it would be completely apolitical, sometimes a side would be taken but one thing was always clear. Scifi was about a better mankind, even the darker ones. It was abut bettering oneself, seeing a brighter future, not injecting modern day politics into it. Those were always a side note.

I would heartily disagree. When I think about Fahrenheit 451, I really don’t see that as an apolitical story. The book makes no bones about its political views and taking a stance. 1984 or Brave New World are not subtle about politics. The Handmaid’s Tale certainly didn’t try to be even-keeled about its political leanings, nor did it have particularly nice things to say about human nature. And all of these classics of the genre were 100% addressing the politics of the day — not side notes.

Lets be honest, in 500 years could you honestly see a politically correct over sensitive SJW being around? if you say yes, you’re just plain stupid because people like that are intellectually holding humanity back.

I have very sharp and distinct opinions about the use of SJW as a perjorative, and about those who use it as such. But I’m going to put those aside for now. I would say, however, that 501 years ago, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the cathedral doors in Wittenburg to protest the abuse of indulgences within the Catholic Church. In essence, Luther was protesting the ability of the rich to buy their way into absolution for sins, leaving the poor masses without similar recourse. Luther represented a dispossessed people seeking the same rights and privileges as a favored population, i.e. the rich.

Today, we have dispossessed groups — people of color, people of different religious backgrounds, people of different sexual orientations — seeking the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the population at large. I imagine my commenter might counter that these groups are seeking more than that, or seek to fundamentally change society and/or dispossess others. That would be opinion — and only opinion. Yes, there are some at the fringes of various movements who call for all kinds of crazy stuff. But the desire for equal treatment remains, in my view, at the heart of what we’re seeing today.

Of course, Luther launched the Protestant Reformation with that bit of wallpapering. And in the ensuing years, society was fundamentally altered. So yes, I would argue that those seeing social justice can and do create positive change, and those changes can indeed echo through history. Not everybody seeking societal change will have that effect. But certainly many have, and will. And I don’t think Luther’s actions held humanity back — quite the contrary.

Also, pretty sure I’m not stupid, but whatever. Moving on.

Gene Roddenberry is rolling in his grave right now with all this SJW crap in scifi and star trek. I’m a moderate who probably leans a bit more conservative in general, but classical liberalism has always been great, not this modern day communististic, narcisstic fall of Rome bullshit our society had going on today.

I find it laughable to try to place any historical figure, whether Benjamin Franklin or Gene Roddenberry, within the context of today’s politics. Ben Franklin thought it unwise to have so many Germans settling in the United States, for God’s sake. And while Roddenberry was seen as a progressive icon of his time, who’s to say how he’d feel now? Maybe he’d think we’d gone too far. Maybe he’d be pushing for more. We can’t ask him without a Ouija board, man.

“Classical liberalism” is also a product of its time, stemming from the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s. It advocates economic freedoms and personal liberty guaranteed by government and law, with capitalism at the foundation of both. These are all good things, and downright radical notions in the time of Adam Smith and company. However, classical liberalism did not embrace the notion of things we take for granted today, like state-sponsored primary and secondary education, any kind of public assistance for the unemployed or unhealthy, or really anything other than the regulation of trade and commerce as well as the infrastructure that enabled it.

So when I look at classical liberalism, I would contextualize it as, essentially, modern conservatism (as separate from the bastardized strangeness that is Trumpism).

Modern liberalism, or social liberalism if you like, continues to focus on guaranteeing personal freedoms and a capitalistic base, but also espouses investment in society at large — and that’s where you get stuff like schools and healthcare, efforts to stem poverty, Social Security, etc. In the modern context, it is also rather progressive in terms of social issues like abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, etc. There’s also more of an effort to protect consumers from the excesses of capitalism in the form of regulation, though conservatives would argue that this ultimately inhibits economic growth and thus society. Either way, this is generally what we consider liberal thinking today.

From there, of course, you can get into democratic socialism, in which the state would exert direct control over the means of production — i.e., government enforcing major business decisions by law or simply owning the means of production. And yes, that’s a slippery slope to some historically bad crap, in my opinion.

So that’s where our commenter is coming from, should he adhere to the generally accepted definitions above.

As for the fall of Rome stuff, well…look. I’m a straight white male, and I’m going to bet at least $20 that the commenter is as well. As such, while we may have experienced poverty and struggle in our lives, we are not discriminated against in society because of the color of our skin, our gender or our sexual orientation. This has, and continues to happen, to people of color, women and LGBTQ+ folks on a regular basis. Wouldn’t you be pissed? I would.

Anticipating the response that straight white men are now being discriminated against because of “SJW” stuff, um…no. Look around. White men are roughly a third of the total U.S. population, but as of 2014, they held 65% of all elected offices in our nation. The vast majority of American business leaders are white males. Straight white men are disproportionately in charge in America. It’s only been very recently that women and people of color have made inroads into politics and business leadership, and that coming after the gradual removal of societal and systemic hurdles going back centuries.

Might you get a little impatient? I would. Might you want to speak out? I would.

But hey, let’s get back to science fiction and fantasy.

There is no right way to write anything of any genre. The commenter may prefer his SF/F to espouse classical liberalism and be otherwise apolitical. That’s fine — there are new books out all the time that can satisfy his particular reading pleasures. But there are SF/F books that continue to follow the tradition of The Handmaid’s Tale and other towering works of modern speculative literature in that they aren’t apolitical. They don’t treat things evenly or hide their political leanings. They scream and shout and cry out for justice for women and people of color and LGBTQ+ folks. And you know what? They deserve a voice. SF/F gives them that voice, as it always has.

If you don’t want to read it, don’t. If you disagree with the politics therein, super. But honestly, nobody gets to define what is or isn’t science fiction and fantasy, or what politics are somehow appropriate in the genre.



Filed under Books, Politics, Rant

4 responses to “Revisiting politics in science fiction and fantasy, comments edition

  1. Richard Shealy

    Well said.

  2. Science fiction really might be the most anal literary genre.

    The original comment was uncomfortably pompous, and was never worthy of a response. The response only validates the primal pomposity by adding to it.

    Thanks for reminding me why I never socialize with science fiction authors.

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