Thursday, November 9, 2017

Wiring The Plantation

     The American Left has become aware that its cultural hegemony is threatened. I know, I know: What else is new? You’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to have noticed the trails around the cultural gatekeepers that conservatives and libertarians have carved with the advent of digital technology and high-speed communications. But keep in mind that we’re speaking of the Left.

     It took the Soviets quite a while to realize that the true threat to their dominance wasn’t the United States, but the Xerox machine. Low-cost, high-volume copying technology had resulted in the eruption of hundreds of samizdat publications. By the time the Kremlin got around to banning the possession of “unregistered” copiers, the damage was done. Soviet subjects had been “clued in” about the contrast between their lives and the lives of persons in the West. There was no going back.

     It hearkens back to an old theme of mine: “the tripod of freedom.” A people cannot remain free without footholds in three areas:

  • Education;
  • Communications;
  • Weaponry.

     What goes generally undiscussed is how a beachhead in one of those things can lead to gains in another. For example, a few well informed persons can educate many others if a communications outlet is available to them. Once enough smart minds are thinking about weapons, weapons will be contrived or invented. That’s what happened to the Soviet Union. It’s also happening to the U.S., albeit in a different and arguably more ambiguous context.

     This essay provides today’s seed for thought:

     Science Fiction is the fiction of Ideas. It’s the testing ground for the possible and the impossible. It asks questions. The most important being “What if?” And then it tries out the answers, trying to find the moral or scientific answers to questions Humanity hasn’t faced for real yet. And often these extrapolations come up with some very uncomfortable answers.

     For instance, What if we could clone people? Are they the same person or not? Are they people at all? If they are not, can we harvest their organs to save the life of the original person? Pretty much all of the answers can be pretty horrifying, as are the solutions to the issues they raise as well.

     Not every science fiction story is going to be all skittles and cream. A story can be great and make us think and still be horrible to contemplate. Nobody reads 1984 and thinks the world it portrays is something wonderful they’d like to be a part of. Well, nobody SANE, but there are plenty of people who have no problem with Winston Smith’s image of the future, as long as it’s their boot and someone else’s face being smashed forever.

     But some out there do not like hearing contrary voices. They don’t like anything that disagrees with the conclusions they’ve already arrived at (or had spoon-fed to them). The uncomfortable questions and disturbing answers are not for them. They want affirmation. Science Fiction that does not support their dogma is an offense to them. It’s not enough that they don’t have to read it, they don’t want anyone else to read it either. They don’t want it to exist. And they will use social pressure, blackballing and worse to make this so.

     Those are not brand new insights. Any number of writers, including your humble Curmudgeon, have written about the war in the science fiction community. But the balance of the essay makes a valuable observation about social-justice warriors’ (SJWs, as if you needed to be reminded) current tactics:

     There’s an old Russian story about a Communist party meeting, and when the party chairman’s name is mentioned, it is required to stand and applaud his name. The clapping continues and continues, loudly and uproariously because nobody wants to be the first one to stop clapping. After ten or fifteen minutes, the audience is in agony, but nobody dares to stop out of fear. Simply put, because even though it gives everyone else the excuse to finally stop, the first to stop is never seen or heard from again.

     This is the danger of playing the Virtue Signaling game. And he [2015 WorldCon Master of Ceremonies David Gerrold ] goes right out and illustrates this as if it were proper thinking.

     Larry Niven has wisely said: Never throw shit at an armed man. Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man. [Italics added -M.] In fact, one could distill this into a much more general rule. Never throw shit. Never stand next to anyone throwing shit.

     This is profoundly good advice.

     There has been too much shit-flinging. Monkeys are good at it, but human beings have made it an art form. Some of us enjoy shit-flinging so much that we forget we’re human beings, we become fecal trebuchets.

     Now this is extraordinary advice, considering the speaker was the Master of Ceremonies at the single greatest celebration of shit flinging in the entire history of SF Fandom (One of his claims to fame in his bio at the end of the piece). This is a classic example of “Let’s stop after I get my last shot in.” Of course, on the internet, nobody gets the last word, not even me.

     So again, he’s projecting his sins upon others. (Also, he missed the point of the Niven quote.)

     And why? Because for the next few screens worth, he goes on and on about one single idea. “So let’s have this conversation be about remembering our essential humanity — and what we must do to preserve it. It’s this simple. If someone is throwing shit, verbal or otherwise, silence is interpreted as agreement.” [Bold mine. -M]

     “Let’s stop after I get my last shot in.” Pretty clear, isn’t it? Once the “outsiders,” now capable of communicating with one another and the wider public via the new media, are able to use the Left’s tactics against it, those tactics must be ruled out-of-bounds. A pity that isn’t working either.

     However, the meat of the matter isn’t “shit flinging.” It’s the Left’s cultural gauleiters’ determination to delegitimize all disagreement with their agenda. Their problem, of course, is that once the plantation has been wired, there’s no way to constrain what we darkies will say to one another.

     What follows might strike you as a digression. I promise you, it isn’t.

     Early in the above-quoted essay, the author asks “What if we could clone people?” Perhaps fifty years ago, that would have been a classic science-fiction what-if. As time passes, some such undertakings, once deemed impossible, become merely improbable, or perhaps too costly or too difficult. A little more time passes, and the costs and difficulties recede, and new questions arise to tantalize the readers of speculative fiction. But old questions – some never previously asked – remain to be addressed. For example: Now that we can clone a human being, why would anyone do so?

     Which is part of the reason I wrote Innocents:

     “Forget it, Jules,” Celia said. “This is as close to can’t-happen as genetics gets. The sequencer assays were correct. Unless the gods of random chance are playing with our heads, Miss Mecking’s been cloned. But how?”
     “Either one of Anna’s cell nuclei and a bunch of her mitochondria were transplanted into a viable zygote,” Amanda said, “or a cell taken from her was somehow goosed into mitosis.”
     “Doesn’t matter,” Sokoloff said.
     “It doesn’t?” Trish said.
     “Nope,” he said. “Because the bastards who did it aren’t going to tell us.”
     Trish smirked. “Going to give them a chance, Lar?”
     He leveled a flat look at her. “Ask me again when we’ve got them in our sights.”
     Trish smiled tightly and nodded.
     He’s really going to go after them.
     This is for the big chips.

     She fished up her own resolve and scrutinized it.
     I’m going with him. No matter what he has to say about it.
     “It would be the technological miracle of the century, you know,” Amanda said.
     The flat look swerved to settle on Amanda Hallstrom.
     “To be used for what?” Sokoloff said.
     The dean of Athene Academy opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. Sokoloff’s gaze weighed upon her.
     That’s his don’t-mess-with-me face.
     Sokoloff nodded.
     “I’ve been turning it over in my head,” he murmured after a moment, “and I can’t think of one morally acceptable reason to clone someone. Living or dead doesn’t matter.” He swept his gaze around the group. “Can anyone else?”
     No one spoke.
     “The people who did this,” he said, “did it to turn out a sex slave. Probably by request and to specification, and I’d bet my house that if they haven’t done it before, they’re trying to do it again right now. For that I’m going to send them all to hell. But think about it. Let’s say they were to clone me—produce a baby version of me. That baby would have no parents or other relatives. The people who produced him would have no reason to care for him, or about him, and only they would know he existed. He would be a product for sale. Why would anyone make that product? Why would anyone want that product? Apart from pure altruism?”
     “Altruism?” Trish said.
     “Yeah,” he said. “The kind that makes people take in stray dogs and cats. Think that’s likely?”
     Well, you did it.
     “The only reason to clone someone, other than the motives Fountain’s creators had, would be to replace him,” he said. “Or parts of him. And that means either murder, or enslavement, or cannibalism by surgeon. It’s evil no matter how you slice it.”
     “That’s if clones were granted the status and rights of people born the...regular way,” Juliette said. “What if they weren’t?”
     Sokoloff gestured at Fountain. Six pairs of eyes swung toward her. She remained still and silent.
     “That’s worse, isn’t it?” he said.
     Trish slid over next to Fountain and took her hand.
     “A lot worse,” she said.
     “Yeah,” Juliette said.

     This transformation of the question from “what if” to “why” is what makes cloning more than just a subject for technological speculation. It’s also the point at which a science fiction novel becomes something of interest to adults. Let’s have John Brunner’s Laws of Good Fiction, one more time:

  1. The raw material of fiction is people.
  2. The essence of story is change.

     It is in the exploration of human motivation – our values, desires, convictions, and how they actuate us – that fictional exploration of any “what if?” question becomes meritorious. It’s not enough to ask “what if?” A writer who wants to stir his readers must also ask “why?” And of course, “why not?”

     Consider the original, “raw” question: “What if we could clone people?” Try to construct an interesting story while leaving all motivational and moral considerations out of it. What happens next?

     Would people be cloned?
     Who would be cloned, who would do so, and for what purposes?
     Would those purposes be morally acceptable?
     How would persons who deem them unacceptable react?

     You can’t avoid those questions, can you? Because that’s where any worthwhile story really lies: the reasons for which some people would clone some others, and how others, upon discovering that cloning was going on, would react.

     And that’s where the Left’s problem with the independent writers’ movement really lies.

     The cleavage between Left and Right is often cast as being about government scope and power. Certainly we disagree on the proper sphere of government authority and action. But that’s superficial compared to the cleavage between the two sides on moral matters.

     The Right is largely made up of persons whose convictions are founded on moral principles: absolute constraints on human behavior, on the grounds that certain things are simply morally wrong. The Left is largely made up of persons impatient with such notions, in part because they constitute constraints on its use of political power. The American Left’s core political problem is how to nullify, or otherwise circumvent, the moral principles of the great majority of Americans. Moreover, that’s been its challenge for more than a century.

     The Left’s “long march through the institutions” began with the communicative industries – journalism, education, and entertainment – because that’s where the power to mold people’s convictions lies. Without dominance of those fields, Americans’ longstanding attachment to Judeo-Christian moral precepts could never be overcome. By corollary, once the Left had attained hegemony in those areas, it had to become ruthless about defending them against incursion by the Right. Any and every tactic was deemed acceptable in the defense of those bastions.

     But once the plantation was wired for broadband, it was inevitable that some of us darkies would manage to bypass those bastions. Once a few of us had discovered that it’s possible to do so, the trickle mushroomed into a torrent. And what do you know? A great many of the indies in fiction, cinema, and journalism maintain the very moral principles the Left has been at pains to degrade and destroy.

     It was intolerable, and the Left could not tolerate it.

     The highest-visibility skirmishes have been over the “new gatekeepers” of the Internet: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, all of which have fallen in line with the “social justice warriors.” These companies can deny the use of their services to those they disapprove. They can’t prevent the emergence of competitors. They can maneuver and scheme. They can form a digital cartel centered on the maintenance of their dominance. But they can’t bar the doors as the gatekeepers of the older media once could.

     Thus, the indie-fiction market swells daily. “Citizen journalists” multiply as well. Documentarians such as Cassie Jaye use crowdfunding to explore unapproved subjects. The wiring is indifferent to the identities and motivations of its users.

     To defend its bastions better, the Left must find new tactics. Its old ones have demonstrably failed it. However, the new ones it’s tried have either proved ineffective, or have all too easily been turned against it. The one David Gerrold attempts in his Amazing Stories editorial:

     “So let’s have this conversation be about remembering our essential humanity — and what we must do to preserve it. It’s this simple. If someone is throwing shit, verbal or otherwise, silence is interpreted as agreement.”

     ...will fail it as well, because sincerely held moral principles cannot be delegitimized by screaming “That’s racist!” or “I’m offended!” The giveaway to Gerrold’s real motivations is only a few paragraphs below that one:

     You might have good points to make. You might even be right. But that conversation gets left behind when the louder voices are speaking racism, misogyny, and homophobia. If you aren’t equally loud in your condemnations, if you don’t distance yourself from the shit-flingers, then you will be perceived as an accomplice. You are perceived as an enabler. You will be perceived as “another one of them.”

     After the shitstorm the Left has unleashed against us in the Right, no one will much care about such sly “Do you want to be taken for one of them?” imputations. The wiring allows us to know one another too well for that: who’s decent, who’s sincere, and who can be trusted.

     There’s no way to replace the plantation’s wiring with barbed wire that will exclude disapproved voices. That train left the station two decades ago. Neither will any degree of condemnation from persons whom we in the Right already disdain make us fall silent, much less fall in line.

     That doesn’t mean they’ll cease to try it. What else do they have?


Pascal Fervor said...

You touched today on a great many more things (e.g. cannibalism) in the process of revealing the lack of originality of the [scratch] Left [insert] Sinister[/insert]. They almost always are limited to only what has been done before. It's as if they repeatedly see Othello in order to be schooled by Iago on how to be nasty and believing they've learned all they need to know from the greatest -- Shakespeare.

I particularly love the way you blended your conclusive observation into that historical report at the top.

If you [scratch] stop clapping [insert] aren’t equally loud in your condemnations [/insert].... You will be perceived as “another one of them.”

Well done!

Now on to discover new tricks on how to get the Progs to unravel faster yet.

Mauser said...

Nicely done! One of those blogs I wish COULD leave a pingback.