Is Science Fiction Becoming More Conservative?

I don’t know that the question has a single “true” answer, but in this Pajamas Media article, SF legends Orson Scott Card* and Jerry Pournelle, along with relative newcomers Tom Kratman and Larry Correia, provide some interesting insights.

It was no surprise that Baen Books (for whom I read slush) should be mentioned so prominently, but I particularly liked this bit, from OSC:

Back when I cared, most of the writers of my generation were so extremely leftist in their formal opinions, and so extremely elitist in their practices, that it would be difficult to discern where they actually stood on anything. It’s as if the entire Tsarist aristocracy fervently preached Bolshevism even as they oppressed their peasants. But that view is based on observations back in the mid-1980s. Since then, my only exposure to their views has been the general boycott of mine. In short, I’m their Devil, but I have no idea who their God is anymore.

The last sentence is hyperbole, as I think Kratman, John Ringo, and a few other Baen authors may have better claim to being the real bugaboos of the SF left.

One last thought, speaking of becoming more conservative … or at least seeming more conservative: I thought last night’s State of the Union speech was quite good. I appreciated the tone and the balance, and look forward to seeing whether both continue.

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* Full Disclosure: OSC is a former employer of mine. I attended his “Literary Boot Camp” and later had the pleasure of reading slush for his magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show.

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Freedom of Speech Is Not Free

Subtitle: “Elizabeth Moon, Juan Williams, and Liberal Hypocrisy”

It interests me, in the way all coincidences interest me, that on the same day National Public Radio declared its disinterest in free speech by firing Juan Williams for expressing a contrary opinion, the Society for the Furtherance and Study of Fantasy and Science Fiction (SF3) disinvited guest of honor Elizabeth Moon from the 2011 WISCON (its convention in Madison, Wisconsin) for having expressed her opinion on her own LiveJournal account.

Both examples demonstrate the cost of free speech; not the cost of defending it, which Ms. Moon paid as a U.S. Marine, but that free speech can sometimes cost the speaker quite a lot.

It will not surprise anyone who knows me that I stand with Ms. Moon and Mr. Williams.

I have never met Mr. Williams, and have only met Ms. Moon once: I spoke with her briefly after the “Politics in Science Fiction” panel at Dragon*Con that was the impetus for her LiveJournal post. I found her to be delightfully thoughtful, even if I do not agree with everything she said during the panel. I think everyone should read what she wrote about citizenship and consider it carefully.

Let me be clear that NPR has the right to hire and fire in order to maintain its “standards,” even if those standards have more to do with their political agenda than journalistic integrity; however, they should be forthright about their agenda. SF3, which has a crystal clear agenda as the “leading feminist science fiction convention,” has the right to invite whomever it wishes to be its guest of honor; however, to cancel a standing invitation because they find an author’s recent statement distasteful is bad form and hardly conducive to examining the issues in a reasoned, dispassionate debate.

I find it extremely interesting that the decision by SF3 (which, so far as I can tell, did not come with any detailed explanation) came a month after the WISCON directors decided specifically not to rescind Ms. Moon’s invitation:

Even though we strongly disavow … elements of Ms. Moon’s post, we have not rescinded her invitation to be a Guest of Honor, nor do we plan to do so. The WisCon planning committee selected Ms. Moon earlier this year based on her past work and our feeling that she would make a positive contribution to WisCon. After extensive conversation in recent days, and having spoken directly with Ms. Moon on the subject, we continue to believe that her presence will contribute to the Con.

I’m curious as to what changed in the last month.

The deeper problem here is that these kinds of actions — metaphorical excoriations of public figures, and the inevitable backlashes — raise everyone’s hackles, mine included, and make rational discourse even more difficult than it usually is. Our political reflexes kick in, whichever side of the aisle we sit on. We are less prone to listen, more prone to shout.

Indeed, I wonder how loud the shouting would be — how much louder it would be from the left — if any organization, anywhere, fired or disinvited someone who, say, called right-wingers racist because they disagree with the President’s policies, or who maligned the military because it seeks to impose good order and discipline under the law, or who ridiculed all Christians because a misguided few seem to have stricken “God is love” from their Bibles.* It is an interesting thought experiment, but only that, because those opinions, it seems, are protected … and even celebrated.

And the hypocritical message repeats, loud and clear: free speech is free when it agrees with X; free speech is free when it doesn’t offend Y; free speech is free when it is mine, rather than yours.

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*Saint John’s first letter, chapter 4, verse 8 (paraphrased): Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

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Why are Terrorists' Grievances More Palatable than Conservatives' Opinions?

(Disclosure, or Caveat: I don’t have hard evidence to back this up, and I presume many of my friends on the left side of the political aisle would deny it. This is supposition on my part, grounded in my own perceptions of news stories, Internet postings, and conversations. I suspect I could find some documentary evidence if pressed to do so.)

My question in this blog post stems from the vehemence with which the Tea Parties have been excoriated by left-leaning elements of the press and the populace. Interesting in the first place is that the groups took their name from a pivotal event in U.S. history, and were quickly branded with a homosexual slur that many on the left still seem not to recognize.* Perhaps it should not be surprising, since those leaning left consider themselves “progressive” and wish only and always to “move on” to something new and different (even if not demonstrably better), that they would disdain a movement that looked back to an example of revolutionary protest by Colonial patriots.


(U.S. Flag image by Elaron, via Flickr, under Creative Commons. Click to enlarge.)

But even more interesting and appalling is that the same people who went to great lengths after September 11 to ask why terrorists would attack us — who characterized the terrorists’ concerns as legitimate and presumably still believe them worthy of serious consideration by the very people they attacked — won’t spare even a moment to consider why their political opponents differ from them. They asked about the terrorists, “Why do they hate us?” Do they ask of those at a Tea Party rally, “Why do they disagree with us?” From what I have seen, they do not ask and would not be interested in the answer. In a life-and-death struggle with radicals who would prefer them (and the rest of us) dead if we refuse to convert, they want to meet around the table and listen to grievances; but in a political debate, they refuse to listen to differences of opinion.

People on the right and the left used to agree on one thing: that they would defend each other’s right to express their opinion, even when they disagreed. No more, it seems.

Pogo was right: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”**

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*First pointed out by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal. In effect, their use of vulgar slang in the pejorative sense equates to a slur in both directions, i.e., against the homosexuals as well as Tea Partiers.

**From a 1971 cartoon by Walt Kelly. A play on US Navy Captain Oliver Hazard Perry’s message to Major General William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie (War of 1812), “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

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Trees or Forests? Metaphors for the Political Left and Right

Some recent blog posts and the opening of a new (local) political season brought my thoughts back to the speechifying and responding we enjoyed* during the last Presidential campaign. It occurred to me that some of our country’s left-right dichotomy has to do with which side can’t see the forest for the trees, and which one sees the forest but not the trees.

It all depends on perspective … and, to a degree, on what issue is being discussed.

Take the economy, for instance. Those on the left seem unable to see the forest as they focus on single trees in the form of individuals hurt by the recession. Those on the right seem unable to see the individual trees because they are looking at the entire economic forest and the larger forces affecting it (and affected by it). The former would say a forest can’t be healthy if the individual trees are damaged or diseased; the latter would say it makes no sense to focus on individual trees if by doing so you neglect or even hurt the rest of the forest.

We can also see that difference in perspective with respect to healthcare. Those on the left see the trees — individuals and families without health insurance and saddled with staggering bills — and seem willing to sacrifice much of the forest of insured and mostly satisfied healthcare consumers in order to attend to those individual needs. Those on the right see the forest — a vast but untamed landscape of providers, customers, and insurers — and seem willing to let a few trees wither rather than take drastic action that may end up tantamount to clear-cutting.

What about other issues? What about your own perspective? Do you see the forest, or the trees?

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*Or, if you prefer, “endured.”

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This message has been brought to you by the Anti-Campaign. “I’m the Anti-Candidate, and I approved this message.”

Image Credit: Jonathan Gill, from Flickr, under Creative Commons

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POTUS and Batman

Read a fascinating essay today that examined the good-vs.-evil theme of THE DARK KNIGHT, and especially the temptation to give up the fight because innocent people have gotten hurt — despite the fact that giving up the fight leaves the evil people free to perpetrate even more evil — and compared the theme to the decisions President Bush has had to make with regard to prosecuting the Terror War.

The essay is here.

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

This was a great question, considering the spate of anti-Terror War movies that tanked at the box office compared to THE DARK KNIGHT’s record-setting draw:

Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense — values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right — only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like “300,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Narnia,” “Spiderman 3” and now “The Dark Knight”?

And as one who swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” — and whose main regret with respect to my service is that the closest I got to the war zone was the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan — I could really relate to this section:

Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They’re wrong, of course, even on their own terms.

Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don’t always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.

The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them — when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.

It may be true that THE DARK KNIGHT set records in part because of Heath Ledger’s untimely demise, but I think it was destined to do well regardless. And if it reminds us that there are men and women who “stand in the gap” for us every day, protecting our freedom and our way of life, so much the better.

May we have the collective wisdom to elect leaders who are not afraid to answer the call in defense of liberty.

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Are phone calls intellectual property?

All the boo-hooing over the FISA reauthorization bill, on the part of the Huffington Posters and the BoingBoingers and the “left-right coalition” that I blogged about a while ago, got me thinking about the Fourth Amendment. The amendment states,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Somewhere along the line the courts decided the amendment applies to telephone conversations, but I’m not sure I agree with that. Phone conversations certainly aren’t persons, or houses. Might they be considered papers or effects? I don’t think so, because papers and effects have an element of permanence that conversations lack. Electronic files, stored on computers or other media, seem practically preserved in stone compared to the ephemeral nature of phone calls — they would certainly fall under the broad category of “papers and effects,” as intellectual property. But phone calls? Maybe if they were recorded calls 😉 .

When the civil libertarians wrap telephone conversations into the Fourth Amendment, it seems to me they’re establishing an unreasonable expectation of privacy. Personally, I don’t say anything over a telephone that I wouldn’t say across a table in a restaurant — my expectation of privacy is very low, whether I’m using a land-line or a cell phone. To me, because the phone signal traverses the boundary of my home, talking on the phone is about equivalent to opening the window and having a conversation where any passerby can hear it.

Then again, I’m biased in favor of the dedicated professionals who work every day to protect us. I was one of them (not on the Intel side and only in my own small way), and I believe in what they do and appreciate their devotion to their duty. This new version of FISA helps them to protect us from the bad guys, and that’s all I care about.

It helps that I’m not plotting to blow up buildings or assassinate leaders or overthrow the government; I like our government just fine, thank you. I’m not real thrilled about the candidates running to lead it, but that’s another subject — and why I developed the Anti-Campaign, in case anyone was wondering 😀 .

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L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace!

I figured that sentiment–which I always associated with General Patton but which Wikipedia (that electronic fount of knowledge) assures me is paraphrased from Georges Danton–was appropriate, or ironic, or maybe appropriately ironic with respect to finally clawing my way to the end of Senator Obama’s THE AUDACITY OF HOPE.

It’s audacious, alright.

My take on the book is the same as my observation in a religious discussion a few days ago: it’s interesting that, like eyewitnesses to an event, different people can look at the same thing but see it differently and draw different conclusions about it. Point of view has a lot to do with it, whether because of differences in light and shadow and angle in a live event or because of differences of temperament and education and experience in the case of politics.

My frustration with the book was that as soon as I found some point on which I started to agree with the Senator, he took that point to an extreme I didn’t think was warranted or in a direction that I could no longer follow. But it seems that today politics is much more a game of extremes than it used to be, and I am too much a moderate.

Then there were little things, like this indication of a sort of underlying distrust of the populace, from p. 185:

… if we can prevent diseases from occurring or manage their effects through simple interventions like making sure patients control their diets or take their medications regularly, we can dramatically improve patient outcomes and save the system a great deal of money.

It’s unclear if the Senator has thought through the implications of “making sure” people do anything: it’s one step removed from “making” people do something, which is right in line with the kind of fascism people accuse the current administration of practicing. Is the force of the state going to be used to ensure people take their medications, or eat a certain kind of diet? If so, what else will the state try to control?

We can do with a lot less of that kind of audacity.

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Political Climate: The Democracy Crisis?

It may be natural for former Vice President Al Gore to express discontent with the state of democracy in the U.S. His remark that “we have to solve the democracy crisis” comes a little more than two minutes into his new slideshow on TED.com. He doesn’t elaborate, nor does he identify a nation whose version of democracy he prefers. Perhaps he would prefer our democracy to be less participatory, so long as it was dedicated to the higher cause of controlling atmospheric carbon.

Historical note: We first encountered then-Senator Gore’s environmental activism about 20 years ago. We were serving at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory — perhaps its name had changed to the Astronautics Laboratory by then, we don’t recall — as Chief of Bioenvironmental Engineering, and were called upon to answer a Congressional Inquiry from the senator. We produced a detailed report on the emissions from our rocket testing, to answer the question of whether proposed revisions to the Clean Air Act would hamper our development of national security-related propulsion technology. (These were the days of dot-matrix printers and e-mail did not exist, so we stood at what was probably a 2400-baud fax machine, hand-feeding our 30-page report into the thing; it’s a wonder we got anything done back then, things were so primitive.)

Back on topic: We were very interested in — read, “concerned by” — Mr. Gore’s assertion that it’s one thing to change our individual behaviors, but “it’s more important to change the laws.” What does that mean? If a law typically either requires something or prohibits something, what new requirements or prohibitions would he put on our citizenry? In pursuit of the elusive carbon molecules, would we be required to purchase and use mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs,* or to pay a tax on all our exhalations?

Note that we’re not challenging the scientific argument, because we haven’t studied the subject enough and frankly our days as an environmental engineer were limited and long ago. Some of the evidence, like the loss of ice caps, is quite compelling; we recall discussing the relative thinness of the ice sheet we stood on in North Star Bay at Thule Air Base in Greenland during the spring of 2001. No, what we’re challenging is the idea that governmental action is the best means of addressing the issue.

We challenge the assertion that we have a democracy crisis. Our democracy is deliberately deliberative, yes, and can be slow to act — especially from the perspective of those who feel like they are ones calling in the wilderness. But quick action is not necessarily good just because it is swift; and neither is carefully considered action necessarily bad.

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* For the record, we already use them in several of our lamps, despite the fact that their light is quite garish and uncomfortable to our eyes. We’ll try not to break them.

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Republicans — Too Straightforward to be Savvy?

The Wall Street Journal (http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2008/02/29/political-perceptions-release-the-secret-weapon-obamacans/) reported that crossover Republican voters may skew next week’s Democratic primary in favor of Senator Barack Obama:

Some … genuinely like Obama; some dislike Sen. Hillary Clinton so much they’ll vote for another Democrat next Tuesday just to stop her.

It’s unclear if those Republicans would follow-up with votes for Senator Obama in the November general election. We suspect that, even if Senator Obama tracks back toward the political center as the campaign progresses, they may find an imperfect Republican candidate preferable to a Democrat. But if Senator Clinton, who is a much more divisive figure than Senator Obama, would be the easier Democrat to defeat in November, won’t these primary-season “Obamacans” be making it harder for the Republican ticket to prevail?

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