The conundrum of wider horizons and narrower systems
Due to a very heavy workload related to ongoing developments concerning Tor and some of its senior executives, I’m afraid I haven’t been able to produce a ‘fresh’ post for Mad Genius Club this week. I wrote this article last night for my own blog, and I think it has a great deal to interest all authors trying to reach an SF/F audience; so I’ll re-post it here, and ask for your input. Do you see a way forward from where we are now?
The current imbroglio over Tor and the actions and words of some of its senior executives is highlighting yet again a conundrum that affects many areas of our lives.
Our potential horizons have been broadened immensely by the Internet. We have at our fingertips a wealth of data and information for which scholars of old would cheerfully have killed.
Our personal systems of thought and social circles have by and large narrowed and contracted. We increasingly choose to associate, both in meatspace and online, only with those who share our interests, and use the immense resources available to us only in connection with what we learn and experience through that association. We don’t use it to broaden our horizons by looking more widely.
I’m watching this play out on both sides of the Tor debate as we speak. There are many on the Left and on the Right who are talking about the problem only with those of their own ilk, reinforcing each others’ perspectives, acting as a sort of echo chamber that drowns out other opinions. I suppose most of the publishers in the USA suffer from the same problem, because they’re headquartered in the same place (New York), staffed largely by people from that locality, and intrinsically unable to conceive of an America (let alone a world) that’s different to that environment and where people have different opinions and outlooks.
Another casualty of this is objective truth. For far too many people today truth is relative, dependent on the standards and perspectives to which they cleave in their daily lives. The thought that something is definitively, actually, concretely either true or false is completely foreign to many people. This is perhaps the greatest hazard of the polarization of opinion that’s taken place over the past few decades. “What’s true for you may not be true for me” is an out-and-out lie. Actual truth is, and can only be, absolute. It is measured against fact, against reality. If it can’t be so measured, then it’s not a case of being true or false – it’s a matter of opinion. However, far too many people can’t or won’t accept that.
This is why one side can categorize Sad or Rabid Puppies as ‘neo-Nazi’ or ‘racist’ or ‘bigoted’ or whatever. Those words are defined on their own terms, not in relation to reality. Anyone with a couple of brain cells to rub together and an interest in history can define what actually made a Nazi a Nazi. However, most people don’t bother to do that research. They merely parrot the ‘Nazi’ label as it’s spoon-fed to them, and in time come to believe it, even though it’s factually false. On the Puppy side of the fence, I’ve seen far too many people categorize all SJW’s as liars, communists, socialists, deluded, whatever. I’ve no doubt some of them are, but not all of them – and if we refuse to look at our opponents as individuals, lumping them instead into categories or groups or races or ethnicities, aren’t we doing the same as both Communists and Nazis did? They demonized “the bourgeoisie” or “the kulaks” or “the Jews” or “the Communists”, and treated them as subhuman, disposable groups. (There was precious little to choose between Hitler and Stalin, between the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet gulags.) Both sides disposed of those they demonized without consideration for their individual humanity. Aren’t we at risk of doing the same to our opponents, at least in our minds?
I already know that the extremists on both sides will scoff at me for saying that. “You can’t compromise with evil!” “It’s no good talking to bigots!” “If you’re not for us, you’re against us!” “If you’re not against them, you’re for them!” Trouble is, who defines evil? Who defines what is or is not a bigot? What gives anyone the right to define my beliefs or attitudes or opinions on my behalf? The answer, of course, is “Nothing and no-one” . . . but that won’t stop them trying.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham tells the rich man: “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” Sometimes I fear that gulf is now firmly established in the middle of the SF/F community (and is, of course, a mere reflection of the gulf established in our wider society). How to bridge it? Can it even be bridged at all? Or are we doomed to repeat the catastrophes and disasters of historical conflict all over again? Your guess is as good as mine . . .