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Forbidden Thoughts; or Why I Joined the Dark Side of Science Fiction

Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization.

Deleted tweet by Chris Weitz, scriptwriter for Star Wars: Rogue One

A new book is out and it is called Forbidden Thoughts. It is an anthology of science fiction and is unusually popular; Amazon.com currently ranks the book as #1 amongst SF anthologies, and #272 of all paid content on their Kindle store. I think you should buy Forbidden Thoughts, and read it, not least because it contains a couple of my stories. It also contains stories by other, much more popular writers, some of whom are routinely tagged as racists, sexists, and all those other words increasingly used to label every American who votes Republican. For want of a better description, every story in the anthology is politically incorrect, including mine. The stories are worth reading for their provocative value, if nothing else, though they deserve more respect than that. So I do not intend to apologize for submitting my stories to this anthology, and I would never seriously consider withdrawing them because of whose work they will sit alongside. It should not be necessary to justify myself. The justification of every story is found in the story, not elsewhere. I wrote some stories, I liked the stories, I submitted them to an editor, he did not reject them. That is sufficient explanation for why those stories were published in this anthology. But I know other people are going to think differently to me. So rather than engage in some petty internet ‘dialogue’ with a series of interlocutors whose worldviews can be expressed in less than 140 characters, I will explain why I have sided with the most evil people in science fiction. For those who cannot be bothered to read beyond this paragraph, it is because some of the people who will vilify me and my fellow authors have become too restrictive, seek to make science fiction too exclusive, and so need to be countered.

You were supposed to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.

Line from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Like a lot of political moderates, I believe in balance. Those who understand the need for balance know that popularity should not be confused with merit. A debate cannot occur without the expression of less popular views. Balance requires that many voices be heard, even though few of us have the attention span needed to properly listen to opinions we already disagree with. Balance means extremes must be entertained, so we know where the extremes really are. A Modest Proposal was anything but; we are richer for having it in our culture. Mein Kampf was written by a moron; readers risk discovering the author was an imbecile. A tightrope walker extends his arms outwards to maintain balance; putting him in a straightjacket would increase the risk of his falling. The analogy applies to a balanced mind as well as a balanced body.

Without balance you get stupid shit of the type conveyed by a mass market business franchise like Star Wars. Without balance you start arguing that ‘balance’ is the alternative to ‘darkness’ or you reinterpret the meaning of an exceedingly successful 1977 film in order to suit the opinions of some people who voted for Hillary Clinton during an election held in 2016. Balance requires more than hearing the views expressed by the other side. It means recognizing there are truly no sides. All human lives are fleeting, all truths are subject to reappraisal on the basis of new data, whole paradigms can shift, and all coalitions of common interest are temporary. We all must eventually die, though I fear the attempts of some Californians to prove otherwise. Everything physical deteriorates over time, meaning good ideas have the best chance to persevere, unless we also have souls, and I have no knowledge of how to sustain the soul except by doing what seems to be right, and saying what I believe to be right. That is why the wheel does not need reinventing and Occam’s razor remains sharp long after Occam’s body has disintegrated. It is also why I should do what I think right, and say what I think is right, irrespective of whether other people will try to punish me or not.

And yes, I am a moderate. I know this because I have and will swap political affiliations depending on which policies most need to be implemented by government. Instead of being confined by one political ideology, I prefer to concentrate on the following facts, which are repeatedly borne out by history: the human race is prone to error; governments often need to backtrack; and people are less capable of predicting the future than they want to believe. Hence we need to muddle through, instead of seeking perfection, and that means being pragmatic rather than dogmatic. I see no problem in trying to occupy a political ground that embraces both Burkean conservatism and Popper’s piecemeal reform. Voting for Brexit and recognizing the legitimate concerns of working class people no more makes me a bigot than opposing creeping surveillance makes me an anarchist. The left-right spectrum is deeply unhelpful, and does little justice to the opinions of anyone but shallow thinkers and partisan fools. Furthermore, I have disdain for the common tendency of those who say they are moderate whilst expressing inflexible views and insisting everyone who opposes them must be extremists. Nobody can stop you from wrongly describing yourself as centre-left, but that does not mean that everyone who vehemently disagrees with you must be on the ‘far’ right. It is possible for two people to disagree about immigration without either being a racist. We can disagree on topics like religion without anybody being an Islamophobe or zealot. It is wrong to equate moderation with being in the middle. Political moderation means something quite different: accepting the possibility that you might be completely wrong, whether your views are mainstream, left field or totally unique.

Balance is the reason why future generations are unlikely to debate the simplistic thinking found in films like Star Wars and all over social networks like Twitter. Science fiction is not a good place to find balance. George Orwell was not typically a writer of science fiction, but Nineteen Eighty-Four may be the greatest work of political science fiction, and Animal Farm the greatest work of political fantasy. Orwell was of the left, but rejected its flaws. Newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrime, “four legs good, two legs bad”, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”… Orwell described the symptoms of a diseased left, but many modern science fiction writers and fans act as if they were unaware of his critique. By 1944 Orwell had already decried the absurd overuse of the word “fascism”:

‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

George Orwell, What is Fascism?

If that insult was used too widely in 1944, how can modern leftist mudslingers pretend their attempts to control and dictate language still retain any integrity? That is why the concept of political incorrectness is so potent. Science fiction is especially guilty of this sin. Some of its members are consciously seeking to compress debate within an increasingly limited ‘safe’ space. This is both undesirable both for our freedoms and for the state of the art. I cannot see much lasting appeal for a genre that should be unusually open to discussing a broad range of future possibilities, but insists it will not do so because some of those futures are unpalatable to some people.

My hope is that the children of the future will learn nothing of the current trivialities that get treated as public discourse, either because they will have created new trivial ways to pass the time, or because a few of them will still be willing to learn about yin and yang, and about the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Some cultures understand what balance is. Others miss the point entirely. Those that seek balance also see the need for light and dark. They see the benefits of a cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction. Life requires a mix of the positive and the negative. The combination is not just healthy but essential to growth. We need the cycle of birth, death, and constant renewal, not just for our bodies but for our minds as well. Deep philosophies embrace balance. And that means they must accept the terrors of freedom, including the freedom for bad people to expound bad thoughts.

Without the balance that comes from living through day and night, we must turn ourselves into children, sheltered from the evils of the world by our parents. But who should play the role of our parents, when we are already adults? Is it the government? Would you feel the same way if a very different government is elected, or otherwise comes to power? Should the role be trusted to businesses, like Twitter, and their Safety Council? What if the business was the Hollywood movie industry of the 1950’s, bedeviled by McCarthyism? What if the business was the kind of mainstream media that Noam Chomsky railed against? If businesses and governments can make decisions that are both good and bad, what other guardians might stand in their place? Should you be in charge of who is allowed to speak? What if we deny you that power, but still give you a lot of influence over determining whose voices are likely to be heard? If forced to choose a benign dictator, I would pick me rather than you, but I would prefer no dictators at all.

They say reading broadens the mind but I think that is self-aggrandizing bullshit; plenty of people just read books that confirm their existing tastes and opinions. Either you are the type of person who wants to be stretched and is willing to be challenged, or you or not, and both types can find pleasure in reading. Neither kind will suffer a shortage of books. I like reading George Orwell. Perhaps you like reading Seanan McGuire. When I want to tell my British friends about how skewed, narrow-minded and foolish the science fiction community can be, I tell them that Neil Gaiman asked Jonathan Ross to host the Hugo Awards when they were being presented in London, but had to withdraw after an outcry by ‘science fiction fans’, most of whom were insular Americans with no idea who Jonathan Ross is. This never fails to do the trick. My British friends might watch Game of Thrones and they might vote Labour and they might have read every book by Iain M. Banks but they will all agree that the kind of people who think Jonathan Ross cannot be safely trusted to host an awards ceremony must either be ignorant, or hypersensitive, or both. They feel this way because Ross has hosted lots of other awards ceremonies, so why would the SF community and its precious writers and fans need so much more protecting than everyone else in British society?

Perhaps safety is not the real goal. Perhaps some believe they will change society by acting like petulant children, using safety as an excuse to control language and thought. The French Revolution had its own Committee of Public Safety, and the free thinker Thomas Paine was lucky not to be executed by it. There is something deeply wrong with the oppressive thinking of many members of the science fiction community, as there has been something wrong with many people in many societies across the course of time. They turn safety into a comfort blanket into an excuse to suffocate those they fear. They marvel at the antics of anyone who deliberately provokes them, overreacting in a manner befitting a simpleton who actually wants to be upset, because they enjoy the bonding that comes from sharing the imagined status of victims. They should be opposed, through satire, parody and critique. If that means holding up a mirror and shaming their antics, then so be it, even if these children are no longer capable of feeling shame.

So I have sided with bad people, and my stories can be found alongside theirs. I have a habit of doing that kind of thing, and I hope the habit will only die when I am in my grave. I did not stop being friends with the biggest fan of Donald Trump that I know, just because I would have preferred President Rand Paul or President Marco Rubio instead. Probably that outspoken Trump fan will often be labelled a xenophobe and homophobe, though he seems to love his Japanese wife and lesbian daughter. I am not going to disavow people just because others disagree with them, no matter how passionate the argument. That is because I am not going to disavow people just because I disagree with them. To be open to ideas means being open to bad ideas too. That is how I tell the bad ideas from the good ones; I have no idea how other people attempt to do so.

I cannot speak for others, but I can be frank when stating there is no ego involved in my siding with these supposedly bad people who are rattling the cage of science fiction ‘fandom’. I am too unimportant to matter. Though I may sit on their side of the seesaw, I know I add very little weight. Nor is greed a motive for me; if money or popularity was my goal, there are easier paths I could take. Though the notoriety of the other authors in Forbidden Thoughts might lead a wider circle to discover my words, I know it will not greatly change the arc of my life story. Nor will it stop me from submitting stories to publishers who employ other kinds of dog whistles to attract attention, such as the words ‘diverse’ and ‘feminist’ and ‘multicultural’. As far as I know, the next anthology which will feature my work is from a publisher that belongs to the opposite side of the political divide. And that will change nothing about how to judge a story on its own merits, and who I am, and why we should remain open to ideas even if we disagree with them. Or maybe my story will be booted out of that anthology, but I hope not, because I cannot see how that would make the world a better place. I will continue to write stories, submit the stories I like, and then it is up to editors to reject them, or not. The stories will not change, either way. Perhaps you should read some, and see if you like them. Or read something else. You will always find stories you like, and stories you do not like, unless you keep reading the same stories over and over, because they have already proven to be safe. But what kind of adult hopes to develop their mind like that?

If you dare, you can buy Forbidden Thoughts for Amazon Kindle from here.

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