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Saturday, January 9, 2010
Writer Ian Sales recently posted on his website a thoughtful article titled Science Fiction: last bastion of the rational in which he examines whether or not sf as a genre ought to be didactic. He says he never subscribed to the Hugo Gernsback attitude that sf ought to be about "educating the public on the possibilities of science," and he also initially doubted the "Mundane SF" movement of writers like Geoff Ryman as well as the call from Jetse DeVries to have sf be a deliberately optimistic genre.
"To me, sf is a literary mode," says Sales, "not a teaching tool, not futurism." But he goes on to discuss the continuous attack upon science, reason and fact by the right wing in the US and the UK and wonders if perhaps sf should take a stand against this and play a real educational role. He also takes a swipe at the fantasy genre and its current popularity as something that supports or is maybe symptomatic of the retreat from rationalism in our cultures. That may be overstating the case since, while there are currently a lot more avid fantasy readers than avid sf readers, the total reading population of all books of any kind at all is incredibly tiny in this country (I think reading remains more of a habit in the UK, but I'm not sure). The genre that is more popular by far than even fantasy is, sadly, right wing political screeds by douchebags like Bill O'Reilly and sociopaths like Ann Coulter.
I wish I knew if there was a productive role that our genre could actually play in blunting the march of lunacy and denialism and bugfuck craziness that seems to be overwhelming every discussion in the US and (I hear) in the UK as well. We live in a world where not that many people do any long-form reading and where so many people are simply not interested in facts or reasonable arguments. People pick their facts, or simply invent them, to support their opinions.
Here's a recent example of people making up shit: A few weeks ago NPR reported that some gun nut group (not the NRA, a different smaller one, can't remember name, something like Gun Owners of America) sent letters to all of the United States senators asking them to not support health care reform on the grounds that it would be an assault on gun owners' rights. How so? Well, first the evil Obama would presumably decree that having a gun in the house is a health risk. But how would the health system itself have knowledge of who owns guns? Because the Big Government would somehow enter this information into the "national medical records data base" created earlier this year by "the stimulus package." Senators who support this, these gun nuts warned, would face some consequences, because this groups next action would be to focus their efforts on those states with the best chance of recalling their Senators. Ok, well, here's just some of what's wrong with that: 1) There is not now nor is there likely to ever be this national medical records data base. It doesn't exist and 2) it certainly was not created by the stimulus legislation; it's paranoid fantasy, delusion, totally made up, no such goddamned thing, and probably even impossible or at least discouragingly difficult to do; 3) And about recalling the Senators? Can't be done. No provision exists in the Constitution to recall a United States senator. Very few ways exist to remove a Senator aside from death in office or losing an election, and one of those ways is not voter recall.
So the entire thing is a fiction designed to shore up a ridiculous political position and insert still more hysterical propaganda into the "debate." It should be embarrassing to the people behind it. But it's not. They don't care. They're True Believers in their own made-up "facts." And now there are probably a lot more people running around this benighted land thinking there is a Big Government Medical Database with notes in it about their bloody guns. What can the remaining rational people do against a giant phenomenon like this? Will reason and fact perish forever or will there eventually be a backlash? Does science fiction have anything important to say about it? I hope so.Related Articles :