Sunday, 15 December 2013

A mothership full of randroids

[Science fiction is] an inherently liberal genre (its many conservative practitioners notwithstanding), in that it sees the status quo as contingent, a historical accident, whereas conservatism holds it to be inevitable, natural, and therefore just. The meta-premise of all science fiction is that nothing can be taken for granted.
I see where Tim Kreider's coming from here, but those 'many conservative practitioners' constitute more than an aberrant outgroup.

Following the same logic, you could argue that the study of history in an inherently liberal discipline, the meta-message of history being that our current, contingent status quo is no more timeless or unimprovable than any of the other social orders which have come and gone through the ages. For what it's worth, that's more or less the broad message I take away myself.  But that would be to ignore those conservative practitioners who take different messages from history, from jingoists who see the subject as a national bragging contest, to reactionaries who conclude that fairness and equality are dangerous delusions that can only ever lead to penury, revolutionary terror and gulags.

Likewise with science fiction, having a galaxy of possible alternate universes to play with doesn't necessarily make you a liberal - think Niven and Pournelle and (up to a point) Neal Stephenson, imagining societies that closely reflect the prejudices of today's elite, where poor people are deservedly poor because they're stupid, violent and generally inferior by nature, so what a good thing there are a few clever, talented rich folk in their high-tech gated enclaves to keep the marching morons in their place before they drag humanity to back to the stone age.

I'm not sure who started this trope, but raising the question opens at least one disturbing possibility. Namely, that we might have to enlarge the list of Sci Fi archetype-creating novels (like Frankenstein, From the Earth to the Moon, The Time Machine, The War of The Worlds and We) to include the appalling Atlas Shrugged as the progenitor of the 'downtrodden elite dystopia' sub-genre.