Saturday, September 04, 2004

Red and blue cultural tastes


Conservatives love fantasy and space opera, while liberals read sci-fi. That is easy to understand: fantasy takes you back into the past, sci-fi into the future.

Fantasy takes you back into "simpler" times, without the current social and technological complexities and ambiguities. Courageous hero goes on a journey or a quest, resulting in the Good winning over the Evil. Science is replaced by magic. Moral issues are black and white. There is a yearning to go back into some undefined Golden Age in the past. The context often resemles the Middle Ages. But, where are the plagues, poverty, hunger, extreme social inequality? Do you really want to live in the world in which the most advanced medical techniques are leeches and bloodletting? If we went back to such a time, are we ALL going to be kings, wizards or knights in shining armor? We all get to sleep with Cinderella?

Space-opera takes the same structure but replaces horses with space-ships and magic with unbeliavable magic-like technology (Star Wars type of stuff).

Sci-fi takes current trends in society and technology and extrapolates into the future, examining the consequences. The best sci-fi novels are some of the most powerful liberal critiques of the society and should be studied and mined for ideas about constructing liberal frames. Do you remember Orwell's "1984", Huxley's "Brave New World", Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451", or Phillip K. Dick's "Man in the High Castle" (or anything else by Dick)? How about Pohl & Kornbluth's "Space Merchants" and "The Merchant's War"? LeGuin's "Dispossessed", "Left Hand of Darkness" or "Word for World is Forest"? Clifford Simak's "The City", or pretty much everything by Robert A. Heinlein? Or the stars of today, e.g., Greg Bear, John Kessel, Joan Slonczievski, Connie Willis, Vernon Vinge? Those are all powerful critiques of the current society and warning against the trends and where they may lead us.

Thus, reading both fantasy and sci-fi may give us insights into ideological differences, and help us make new frames. Also, I have held a view, for quite a while now, that for understanding the conservative ideology one has to listen to country music and watch Western movies. I am not really an expert, but consider myself quite a connosseur of country music now (and love to sing it - karaoke, of course), and the recurring themes are quite telling about the mindset.


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