Archive for May, 2016

Your Dystopian Novel is Ruining Our Real Future

Get two or more science fiction authors together for more than five minutes and they will start trading theories on why dystopian fiction is so popular. It is, but no one knows exactly why. Are people thrilled to visit bad times and be glad their lives aren’t so bad? Have people lost faith in tomorrow and want to explore our options? Are post-apocalyptic stories appealing because all the crowds are gone, or because tough times would offer more opportunities for heroism? Maybe it’s all of these, and others, or none.

One thing we can point to with certainty is how this genre contributes to the backlash against intellect. Intellectuals are nearly always the ones responsible for the downfall of civilization. Some egghead figures out how to subjugate humanity. Some egghead unleashes a biohazard. Some egghead tries to rob the system and breaks it for everyone else. If this wasn’t bad enough, the heroes of these stories almost always win the day with heart and not thought. Heroism, faithfulness, and integrity are portrayed as the antidotes to unrestrained curiosity and self-interested scheming.

In the Golden Age of science fiction, threats were exigent enemies that could only be defeated with intellect. Heart and firepower alone were useless against the ravages of space, alien invaders, or technology run amok. Educated thinking applied with a healthy dose of competency porn would find the solution and save the day.

As much as we fans loved those stories, the general public never bought into the notion that scientists were going to save us all. The public saw plenty of evidence to the contrary, with the atomic bomb, oil spills, and breaches of medical ethics. There is a reason why hard science fiction was always and will always be a very small market segment.

More importantly, we have recent and compelling reasons not to trust intellectuals. When the economy failed, Congress called in the heads of Wall Street banks to explain their role and to justify their ludicrous commissions. The bankers didn’t bat an eye. They hire only the best and the brightest who deserve disproportionate pay. They play a vital role in the economy and we should all be glad we have them managing the economy for us, regardless of how they crashed it with unmitigated greed.

The novel I want to see is where the security guard standing behind the banker is smart enough to see through the lies, pulls out his gun and caps the bastard.

Wouldn’t that feel good?

That’s the problem.

When real life paints intellectuals as evil, it only makes sense people would flock to a genre of fiction that has perfected the formula. How far has this gone? Check the box office. Check the bestseller lists. Ask random people around your workplace. Everyone loves a rousing dystopian tale, even hard science fiction fans who believe in intellect.

So is dystopian fiction causing a backlash against intellect? No, but it is fanning the flames. We are at the endgame of a social engineering experiment that started in the 1960s. The Republican Party saw an opportunity in the wake of the Civil Rights movement to win over disgruntled white Southern voters who had historically voted Democratic. This tactic of appealing to people’s baser instincts proved successful, and became the model for divisive politics ever since. Strategists were able to paint silver spoon candidates as everymen by playing negative cards such as racism, classism, and anti-intellectualism. The irony of our times is that evil intellectuals are gathering support from folks who have been bred by those intellectuals to hate intellectuals.

I have no solutions. I have to clench my teeth, grip tight my faith in Jefferson’s majority rule, and hope a majority of people in the upcoming election will see the manipulation for what it is. This is not a foregone result.

As writers we should be aware of the impact we have on the public. There is a lot of money to be made in dystopia right now. But unless you want to see it come to be, I can only plead for you to think twice before you paint another coat of hate on your intellectual bad guys.

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Categories: Politics, Writing
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