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There is Madness on the Other Side Too: The Left’s War on Optimism


David Brin


Contrary Brin

April 13, 2012

Is the bold future of our youth being killed by gloomy science fiction?  Or has Sci Fi grown more dour as a reflection of our mood?  Glenn Reynolds interviews authors Neal Stephenson and Vernor Vinge in a thought-provoking inquiry: Why We Need Big, Bold Science Fiction: “While books about space exploration and robots once inspired young people to become scientists and engineers—and inspired grownup engineers and scientists to do big things—in recent decades the field has become dominated by escapist fantasies and depressing dystopias.”


...

Complete entry


COMMENTS



Posted by CygnusX1  on  04/13  at  02:54 PM

So what’s the plan to inspire? to lobby the masses?

The creativity and positive futurism inspired by sci-fi writers is essential, yet the dissemination of ideas and inspiration is limited through literature alone?

Remember what I said previously? Folks like myself who mostly read non-fiction and little sci-fi, need to be “shown” positive visions of the future with movies?

How? We can still covert the beloved sci-fi thriller, but let’s include and incorporate positive innovation and tech? Let’s stimulate “demand side economics” and show the masses a future that could be possible? Let’s inspire potential young engineers of the future to develop “replicators”, “assistive robotics”, “green energy city scapes” etc?

Have we all suddenly forgotten why we relished Kubrick’s “2001” and Roddenberry’s Star Trek?

I often watch “I robot” and savour the visionary future so close, I can almost taste it?

This is how to lobby technocracy and political change, stimulate “demand side economics”?





Posted by Peter Wicks  on  04/13  at  03:21 PM

Having worked among environmentalists for 16 years I think David is generally spot on. The cocktail of urgency and defeatism is very present, as is the guilt-driven focus on renunciation.

However having read Collapse, admittedly some years ago, I think he’s a bit unfair on Diamond. From my recollection he recognises explicitly that environmental factors were only part of the reason why the past civilisations he describes collapsed, and one of the prescriptions he provides at the end, admittedly focused on population control (but is that such a bad idea, at least in the short term, especially if we want to reverse the ageing process?) is to empower women since empowered women tend to have less children. I don’t recall his prescriptions being particularly fascist/coercive/undemocratic.

But on the whole I thoroughly agree. I don’t have a problem with pessimism if that means emphasising the possibility, perhaps even likelihood, of dystopic scenarios, but I do have a problem with defeatism and ridiculing anyone who dares to be define an optimistic/positive vision. It is defeatism, rather than pessimism per se, that is dangerously self-fulfilling.





Posted by iPan  on  04/13  at  04:15 PM

I love Jason Silva and Dr. Steel.

These are the kinds of public faces we need for transhumanism.





Posted by Intomorrow  on  04/13  at  08:50 PM

Please don’t forget nostalgia, either; the sentimentality of the aged can and does filter down to youth.





Posted by Disputo  on  04/13  at  10:06 PM

I’m glad someone set Brin straight on “Collapse”.  To say that Diamond advocates fascism, whatever modifiers are put into front of the word, is beyond the pale.

Brin also needs to be set straight on “Avatar”.  Cameron only portrayed part of our society as dismally greedy, stupid, and exploitative, specifically the megacorps and their mercenaries.  The creatives, the scientists, and the true patriotic warriors he portrayed as the protectors of the weak and the saviors of our society.  In short, Brin trips into the same trap that he accuses others of falling for—oversimplifying the complex.

More problematically, Brin is dead wrong about the problem.  Depressed lefties aren’t the problem.  If you can show them a better future, in general they WILL follow.  They WANT to believe in a brighter future; they just cannot envision it.  The wingnutters, on the other hand, will never grow up.  Brin’s correct that they are best treated as mentally ill, but his prescription, to simply WIN, is trite and wholly unhelpful.  Winning that Civil War is the critical first step to winning the future, and that is the puzzle that we must solve, not gloss over with happy talk.





Posted by Peter Wicks  on  04/14  at  02:50 AM

@Intomorrow
I don’t mind people being nostalgic as such. It can even be a source of creativity, as retro fashions blend with recent trends to produce something new. It becomes a problem when it becomes delusional or people become angry or simply lose interest in the future because it doesn’t measure up to their unrealistic wishes.

You’ve pointed out frequently that much of the regressive politics in the US is nostalgia-based, and we have that in Europe too (I was reading yesterday about a far-right Greek party that is nostalgic for the Third Reich, and they are by no means the only ones). I guess it’s important though to recognise that nostalgia itself can be legitimate and genuine, even if it is nostalgia for a past that never was. Part of the problem with today’s political debate, especially in the US, is that it is so polemic that people feel constantly under attack. And then, of course, they are even more likely to retreat into delusional retro visions.

So maybe that’s another “madness on the left” that David didn’t mention: refusal to accept that some people just don’t share our values and desires, and there’s no absolute reason why they should, which just pushes people further into denial and extremism. Jonathan Haidt’s work strikes me as very important in that context…and it reminds us that this isn’t only about nostalgia, it’s also about a different set of moral instincts. You don’t HAVE to be delusionally nostalgic to be conservative.





Posted by CygnusX1  on  04/14  at  04:53 AM

For most of us, (the masses), we don’t know what we want, we don’t even bother to contemplate what we don’t want, (philosophical laziness perhaps?) We don’t contemplate what is/can be possible, nor how “we really do” have democratic powers, and can “collectively demand” socio-political/economic change, guiding a better, more affluent future?

Most only start ranting when they “see” their freedoms and values are under attack.

Most of us are oblivious to the fact that the “few”, (but not all), are stifling the future, and purposefully employ movie/media producers to misdirect mass entertainments with dystopian futures? Orchestrating “Boom and Bust” economic cycles that feed austerity and drive/perpetuate the “race to the bottom” - this is what is holding back “real” progress?

The solution? “Show” the masses what IS possible?

Nobody knew they wanted a smart phone until they see one. No one contemplates techno-utopia until they can see/en-vision it with their own eyes?

#Occupy





Posted by Peter Wicks  on  04/14  at  07:48 AM

Purposeful manipulation of the many by the few is only one part of the story, but I agree that the best antidote is to show people what’s possible. But also without completely dismissing the dystopian scenarios: they also play a useful role, by making us aware of the risks. Positive visions and no risk assessment make Jack fall off a cliff.





Posted by Intomorrow  on  04/14  at  02:19 PM

“Part of the problem with today’s political debate, especially in the US, is that it is so polemic that people feel constantly under attack. And then, of course, they are even more likely to retreat into delusional retro visions.
So maybe that’s another ‘madness on the left’ that David didn’t mention: refusal to accept that some people just don’t share our values and desires, and there’s no absolute reason why they should, which just pushes people further into denial and extremism.”

Bullseye.
Our best bet is explaining alternatives to dystopia to youth, as though the older can be reached, if you spend 100 guineas of effort to get one farthing of interest from someone who possesses a hardened set of desires and moral instincts, it ends up as wasted effort—then we are even more foolish than they!





Posted by Giulio Prisco  on  04/14  at  06:57 PM

@Disputo re “Depressed lefties aren’t the problem.  If you can show them a better future, in general they WILL follow.  They WANT to believe in a brighter future; they just cannot envision it.”

Depressed lefties, perhaps. But many other lefties think imagining a better future is not politically correct and intellectual enough. They prefer to criticize optimist imagination with a diarrhea of words too long to be understood by others (or so they hope). They want others to think wow, (s)he must be so smart, and don’t give a damn about anything but their inflated ego.

Note: I _am_ a leftie in the sense that I support a fairer society with wealth redistribution and BIG, but I prefer good old Marx to today’s fake PC lefties.





Posted by Intomorrow  on  04/15  at  06:20 PM

Let’s start with libertarians:
they generally mean well, unfortunately they don’t comprehend how power is far more important to the majority of men than freedom is. Freedom has different meanings to different actors;
power has a simpler modus operandi: one can tell others what to do but not vice versa—the CEO can tell the janitor what to do but the reverse is not the case.

This cuts across left/ right, the Marxist craves power as much as the libertarian.






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