The Binary Universe

I thought Karl Rove was the master of this: convert the entire universe into polar opposites.  You are either with us or against us!  Support the troops (or don’t!).  Red states.  Blue states.  Pro life.  Pro choice.  It is as Machiavellian as it is effective, and as the saying goes, divide and conquer.  Once everyone is bickering among themselves, you are free to do your own thing far from prying eyes.  They’re all too busy to watch the hen house being robbed.

Lately I’ve seen just this type of binary thinking in the SF community.  You are either gender biased or gender friendly.  There is either Good fiction or Bad fiction.  Jeff VanderMeer or Elizabeth Bear.  Cory Doctorow or Andrew Burt.  All this contention, this forcing of unnatural divisions, is only serving to sever an already fractured and (relatively) small community.  This is not to minimize certain issues that we all agree are important.  But it denies that there is a full spectrum of thought that falls between the extremes.

This type of lump-sum thinking assumes that any male that does not nod and bow to feminist thought is gender biased and thus worthy of derision.  It assumes that any writer who boasts of his/her opinion openly on a blog that we don’t agree with is to be publicly shamed (and we should in turn vow not to buy his books).  It assumes that there are Good guys (and gals) fighting for us and Bad guys (and gals) working against us.  But as we bicker and fight and throw accusations across the blogosphere, we miss the big picture.  A fractured community is a weaker community.  If, as some have suggested, short fiction is a shrinking (I will not use the word dying) art, I believe a better use of our time would be an attempt to bring new readers into the fold.  Arnold Schwarzenegger, in order to popularize weight lifting, staged art shows at galleries where he and others would pose as living statues.  His odd methods at promotion worked.  Weightlifting has become a household name.  You can hardly find a new apartment complex in the United States that doesn’t offer some form of weight room.  We need to get creative.  We are storytellers after all.

I have seen Stephen Segal doing this very sort of thing.  Instead of lamenting about the state of short fiction, he’s actively proselytizing to a new generation of readers.  This is the main reason for the change of Weird Tales, both inside and out.  His vision, as he has explained to me and others, is to inspire the youth of today not with insular culture (and let’s be honest, a group of bickering individuals is not the most attractive one to join) but with open, outward thinking.

Please note that I am not, nor would I ever suggest that any of these issues are not worth discussing, even arguing over.  But I feel there is a better use for our energy, one that’s not so destructive to the community as a whole, and if applied with intelligence, may actually serve to improve it.

I hope, therefore, that I have not landed on your shit list for saying so.

2 Replies to “The Binary Universe”

  1. Wasn’t it Voltaire who said, “I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it”? (except in French, of course)

    Somehow that’s been replaced by, “I disagree with what you say, so I’ll do everything in my power to make sure no one else hears it, and heap scorn on anyone who suggests that you have a right to your own opinion.”

  2. Yes, and what is so shocking to me is that this attitude is coming from the literary community, the one that is normally so pro-expression. As has been pointed out to me, when moral issues are involved, then yes it is important to speak up, but in JV’s case I believe he was just one man stating one opinion, and not a particularly immoral one, though perhaps a bit solipsistic. But found the reaction of the community frightening. If people are afraid to express themselves then discussion will be stifled. And that’s not something healthy for writers at all.

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