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I have so many thoughts on this article, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds,” how changing our minds is vital to human survival, and some suggestions for how to achieve change.
* In my teaching and personal conversations, I repeatedly stress that the most important lesson anyone who wishes to become a better writer (or artist, or teacher, or scholar, or partner, or friend, or human being, or...) can learn is to work on developing one's empathy, on being able to see outside one's point of view. To follow the scientific method in everything we do.
* That means becoming less selfish, less self-centered. If, as this article argues, our form of "reason" evolved from the need to not be taken advantage of by others in our civilization, we need to evolve our minds beyond this inherent self-centeredness. Technologies like capitalizm reinforce it to such an extent that, combined with our primitive fears, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia - plus military, biological, computer, and other technologies - puts us on a perilous path toward self-annihilation.
* We need to admit we're wrong more often. Especially when faced with evidence that undermines our unexamined beliefs.
* More evidence that human intelligence is hella flawed.
* Evidence for where bigotry comes from.
* More reasons to worry that human civilization is doomed.
* This study also reinforces the importance of being a polymath, or at least of studying outside one's limited expertise, working across disciplines, and getting to know and understand a broad diversity of people who are also interested in expanding their POV.
* And, of course, it explains why reality has a "liberal bias" - progressive-minded people actively strive to see outside of their limited POV (at least they should if they want to call themselves good liberals or good progressives). Encounter a fact that counters what you used to believe? Well, if you seek human progress, that means you need to grow your POV to encompass this new information.
* Closed-minded people (extremist conservatives, extremist liberals - anyone unwilling to embrace a new POV or facts that counter their established beliefs) will ultimately be left in the dust... or reduce civilization to dust. Change is vital to the long-term survival of any species, especially one that is capable of utterly transforming its environment, as we do. If we cannot change, we'll perish. And - in reference to yesterday's post about how the Earth is going to try to throw us off in very short order - we better get right on that. Or we'll all be dwelling in the flooded rubble of our collapsed civilizations.
The question becomes: How do we create a fundamental shift in our social relations where listening to others is valued higher than winning arguments or disagreements? Where logic and the greater well-being of our people is valued over individual wealth or power? Where we are taught to exercise literal reason from an early age? Where we are taught from childhood to see the world from others' POVs, to embrace diverse thinking, to not fear the Other, to welcome those outside our tribal associations, to put the good of the species and our habitat above short-term acquisition?
These are huge – perhaps insurmountable – challenges. These shifts in perspective do not appear innate to the human mind. But, now that we've achieved a level of technological advancement that threatens our very survival, these changes are necessary.
Short of a YA-fiction-style apocalypse that wipes the slate clean, how do we get there from here?
The solution might not be as challenging as trying to transform the very basis of human civilization to something that feels too akin to socialism. Perhaps all we need to do is teach the scientific method. Actually teach it, from the very earliest moments when reason begins to appear in the child's mind. That's when we begin to shape our perspective on the world. Children are full of wonder, full of questions. When adults give kids unsupported information, they're passing on a mental disease.
But when we encourage them to explore the question to "Ask the next question" per Theodore Sturgeon's rule, we might be able to transform human reason into something useful, something non-destructive. We might transform humankind into a species that might be welcome into a galactic civilization, if such a thing exists. (Because you know any intelligent aliens would stay the hell away from a species as primitive-minded as ourselves, one willing to destroy itself in order to sustain its worst aspects out of fear and selfishness.)
Changing the adult mind in such a radical way is possible - I've seen it happen in my classes! - but way challenging, and requires dedication and effort on behalf of mentor and changee alike. But positively shaping children's minds in these ways from a very young age is far simpler. And ought to be the purpose of parenthood, anyhow.
The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction's motto and mission is, "Save the world through science fiction." I've given a couple of keynote addresses recently, both of which centered around the notion that we all need to think like science-fiction writers. And that means thinking like good scientists. And that means using the scientific method in everything we do. The only way to do something better is to eliminate the flaws in our actions and our reasoning. The way to do that is to incorporate new information and new points of view into our understanding of the world and of ourselves.
We can do this. It'll take at least another generation of people who are dedicated to the hard work of changing our entire way of thinking, of raising a new generation of people who are better than we are. But we can do it.
It's imperative that we do. We owe it to our children. We owe them a world of possibilities limited only by their imaginations. We owe them a future.
For decades, Christofascists and and other far-right extremist conspirators have been training and indoctrinating children to take over our secular institutions. (If that term is new to you - as it was when I woke up this morning - check out this wiki article about the totalitarian and imperialistic movement. tldr: The Christian parallel to al Qaeda.)
Most of us have heard of the “Quiverfull” and similar extremist movements before, people who are trying to overwhelm the nation through rapid breeding and homeschooling, but had no idea just how common such radicals are, nor how effective their training, until after meeting a growing number of escapees from that system in my classes.
This leads me to this article: “I Was Trained for the Culture Wars in Home School, Awaiting Someone Like Mike Pence as a Messiah.”
The article, written by a woman who escaped the brainwashing, tells the horrifying tale of how this nation has come to the precipice over which we now stand shaky and about to fall. These cryptofascist "Christian" extremists have been methodically indoctrinating and training their rapidly growing agents - innocent children - in the tools and weapons of government to make them more effective combatants in political warfare. The most well-known example I can think of is the Phelps family, which was ruled by a dictatorial father who created an army of philosophically violent lawyers by using these strategies to train his children to use otherwise-reasonable rules against the very systems that operate on them.
Excerpts from someone who intimately knows the movement:
“They see Election 2016 as their moment. Pence, with his proven track record of legalizing discrimination and acting against women and marginalized people, is in the White House. The Right has given the tyrant Trump power and fame; he will do whatever they want in order to keep it. This way they can sneak Pence in on a piggyback while filling Congress with even more evangelical conservative Republicans
“Evangelical conservatives are convinced that their agenda will save the country from God-ordained death. Pat Robertson and many others believe that natural disasters are sent from God specifically to punish America for letting marginalized people have rights and be alive. This motivates them to do everything in their power to “save” the country from the ungodly – even, maybe especially – if it involves stripping others of the freedoms they deem to be against God’s wishes. They don’t care if their war for Christ hurts humans they see as living wrongfully, because they are capital “R” Right and that’s what matters. Their Rightness, they believe, comes from God Himself. Their beliefs are callous and without empathy, prioritizing dogma over people. These beliefs are dangerous. Many of us who have come out as queer, trans, or even merely gone to college, have lost family because of this worldview. A single powerful person who is convinced of their own Rightness with no thought of introspection is dangerous. We now have a government full of them.”
With the election of the Trump administration, Christofascists have begun their coup in earnest:
When the “Senate Confirmed Dangerous Christian Extremist Mike Pompeo as CIA Director,” we see how the administration installed someone who believes the US is at war with Islam as the head of our intelligence services.
“Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools” describes how she plans to use school vouchers to strip funding of public schools and support religious training.
Trump’s top strategist, Stephen Bannon shares the vision of a threatened Christendom: “I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis,” he said in 2014. What crisis? “...of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.” Here’s an article worth reading to understand Bannon: “President Trump’s right-hand man Steve Bannon called for Christian holy war: Now he’s on the National Security Council.”
At the heart of the Christian far-right’s response to this imagined crisis is its “apocalyptic conviction that extreme measures are needed. There is nothing conservative about this agenda; it is radical. Gutting public education will be just the beginning.”
We need to stop them before it’s too late.
We’re in a fight for the survival of our democracy, but only one side seems aware that it’s at war. Right-wing extremists literally call this “the culture war,” and have spent generations preparing for this. The rest of us - the majority of this nation - must immediately organize to fight this existential threat. Moderates and the Left have been piss-poor organizers. We’re only just starting to figure out how to work together for an extended period.
There’s no time to prepare for this. We don’t have generations to train, as they did. The war has already begun. Flags should already be flying upside-down. As the utopian Culture in Iain Banks’ novels (which starts with Consider Phlebas) had to do when faced with religious extremism bent on war, all we can do is organize, defend our present freedoms, train for this form of battle, arm ourselves in the ways that Christofascists have spent generations building up ideological arsenals, and hold the line against aggression until the day we can realistically expect to start pushing them back.
If we are to save this democracy, and (because the US is still the world’s dominant military power) the Earth itself, we need to immediately stop wasting time and resources fighting ISIS and other daesh militants. They’re only a minor threat, and their only big PR victory in the US took place 16 years ago. You deal with small bands of criminals through police actions, not by mobilizing national militaries or stirring up primal fear of The Other. The only thing studying ISIS and daesh attacks has been useful for is as training to combat our real threat: home-grown Christofascism and far-right terrorism.
Make no mistake: As soon as they begin to lose, they’ll resort to terrorism, just as their Islamic brothers-in-philosophy have in the Middle East. The only reason the Christofascists’ attacks have been limited so far to small-scale murders like at Planned Parenthood clinics or Canadian mosques is that they’re winning.The winning side doesn’t need to use terrorist tactics. Their position as the dominant force, by itself, puts them into position to create all the terror they need to control the minds of the masses. And that puts them in de facto control of our nation.
In the same way that moderate Muslims are in the best position to fight Islamic extremism, moderate Christians - those who follow the words of Jesus - need to stand up to Christofascism. They’re on the inside, and the only way to change an institution (short of destroying it) is to clear out its toxic influences and work within the system to rebuild something healthier.
Fight Fascism in all its forms. Restore the separation of church and state. Restore and expand personal freedoms - and that must include children’s freedom from dangerous and destructive cryptofascist indoctrination and brainwashing.
We’re in the midst of ideological war. The enemy doesn’t need to murder the entire US government (as in The Handmaid's Tale) to create the Republic of Gilead.
They already are the US government.Stand up. Speak out. Protest. Create change. And do it now, because time is running out.
I finally did a little astrophotography again last night, experimenting with my new Meade LPI-G color Solar System imager. This is the best shot I could manage, though I took four long-ish videos (yes, it takes live vids!) that saved in a weird format I can’t figure out how to open or edit, so that’ll be later.
Talk about a series of challenges, though! I wanted to use my apo refractor, because those are optimal for bright objects like the Moon, but when I pulled it out, I remembered I’d swapped its mount for a much sturdier iOptron… and the seller still hasn’t sent me the new controller and cables to make that function (and the mount is now in use with my solar telescope). OK.
So I put that away and grabbed my handy-dandy 12″ Schmidt-Cassegrain. I’d forgotten that I’d taken it apart to install a big equatorial wedge (so it can better track the night sky), but discovered while trying to install it that the wedge expects a slightly different pattern of holes drilled (too old, perhaps?), so I’d loosely re-assembled it. So I had to reassemble it, then haul it out into the yard. It’s a big puppy, btw.
Anyhow. So now it was set up, and I plugged in the extension cord and power supply, got it aligned properly so it could track the stars, and set it to show the Moon. Handily, the mount tracks for crap, and the Moon slowly drifted across the field of view. Which was WAY too high-magnification (another reason I wanted to use the much-smaller refractor: Without an eyepiece, the focal length of a telescope and its focal-ratio determine the magnification of an object, and a 12″ f/10 SCT acts like a REALLY powerful telephoto lens.
So now I went inside to grab my f/6.3 focal reducer, almost halving the magnification, so the Moon only sort-of overfilled the field of view. Ready to go!
Next, I slid the little astro-camera into the eyepiece holder, plugged it into my laptop, and WOW! Live, streaming images from space! Except it still drifted across the field of view pretty quickly. *sigh* Well, at least Moon shots don’t need very long exposures, so you can get pretty sharp images even when the mount doesn’t properly track.
Forgot to mention it was frakkin’ COLD. What stopped me from continuing to take images or try to improve the mount’s tracking is that my fingers were getting too stiff to work properly.
Anyhow, here’s one of the shots I got. The neat software that comes with the camera has some nice processing tools that also allowed me to sharpen the image a bit:
Oh, and despite the ridiculousness of trying to take a deep-sky photo through a telescope on a problematic drive on a moonlit night, I also tried my hand at photographing the Great Orion Nebula. I think this little camera will be AWESOME once I get to use it on a properly footed telescope. Check it out!
The Moon shot, at least, is not too bad for my first time doing astrophotography in years, and the nebula shot shows great promise, especially considering I took this through a telescope that wasn’t tracking correctly while freezing to death and using new software I don’t really yet know how to use!
BTW, if the images don't become higher-resolution by clicking, I also posted this to my blog on Tumblr:
More to come!
I got this in email:
I see you posted one of my photos, without consent or attribution, on [link to one of my reblogs].
I am a member of the Professional Photographers of America and Image Rights International and this was stolen from my blog at [the contactor’s site].
I am really surprised that you, as a writer and knowing copyright laws, would use a “lifted” photo.
I saw that as an invitation to write this little essay that I urge all creatives to read:____
Dear [xyz] -
I’m really surprised that you contacted me about this. I didn’t post anything - that’s most of what you’ll see on social networks like Tumblr. Usually what people reblog is reblogged from others who, themselves, reblogged it from original sources, sometimes three or more deep with responses and comments about the original work.
Sometimes the work a person originally posts is not attributed, despite being their own, and sometimes it is, whether it belongs to the original poster or not (say, as on a fan blog, or most social networks).
One of the delights of social networking for creatives is how it drives traffic to your website and where they can buy your work and learn about what else you do. That’s a massive honor for someone to love your work so much that they want to promote you to their friends! That’s what’s called, “word-of-mouth advertising,” the most powerful kind.
The first time my work was pirated, I was upset for a few hours or days. Until I realized how much unexpected benefit I derived from someone sharing without my explicit assent. Had I remained upset and expressed that upset with the world, I would have lost fans. No one in today’s creative climate can afford to come across as “anti-fan.” It’s not a way to keep existing fans and especially not a way to gain new ones, not to mention that it’s just good business sense to not get upset and instead use the interest to your advantage.
So, no, I don’t disapprove as a creative myself when my work is shared online without my explicit approval, because it’s earning me new fans.
I should also say that I’m not the one who originally blogged that. I assumed it was put out into the world by its creator or with the assent of its creator. Absolutely I always try to cite sources when I post things, and include source information in an image where that's available! I assumed this image was put out into the world by its creator, or with the assent of its creator.
No one who uses the Internet is going to research everything that passes through their social networks. That would stop all human interaction and replace it with research! As interesting as that might sound to you and me, it’s also unrealistic to expect of the vast majority of those who use the Internet just for fun. Oh, and I should add that I often add sources when I see a post that's missing attribution and looks like it might not belong to the poster.
If I haven’t convinced you and you still would like to take down your work wherever it’s appeared on the web, there are standard procedures for doing so by contacting the site that hosts them (in this case, Tumblr). I can’t take it down, because I didn’t post it and don’t host the website, like almost everyone else who reblogged it. You’ll waste an immense amount of time by trying to contact everyone in the reblog chain (currently 74,000 or so on that one thread on Tumblr alone!), and needlessly antagonize a lot of potential fans. I’m not antagonized, because I’ll be using this as a teaching moment for my students and my online followers (no worries, I’ll remove the specifics about you or the work, and no one will figure out it was you, because a lot of social networking posts get that many notes, or higher).
A more positive way to reach out to your fans (and those who reblogged that image are fans of your work!) is to jump in to the discussion with a “Thank you!” and a link to your site or where they can buy your work. Win-win all around!
I hope this helps. Thanks for reaching out! I hope you [and you readers - especially creatives - of this on my blog] find this exchange useful!
PS: They then wrote back with a note indicating they don’t understand how most social networks function, so I added:
If you haven’t used Tumblr before, the way you see who originally posted something is by looking at the Notes or finding the link to the original poster in the reblogged item. Everyone else was just sharing what they think is a cool item, or responding to it.--
Follow-up from the person who contacted me about this image she found only on my Tumblr in a Web search:
"First of all, a scholar asked to used my image for her dissertation, and of course, I said yes. I share. Then out of curiosity, I did a reverse Google search and found my image on your blog. I sent out a quick note to have it removed. Apparently, though, you didn't post it. Someone else did. Note that I don't 'go after' everyone who steals my images but I did sign up for Image Rights International after my photo - registered with the U.S. Copyright office - went viral. I've seen it on coffee cups, posters, t-shirts, mouse pads, CD albums, cell phone covers and in companies' advertising campaigns. It's also being sold on PhotoBucket, Flickr and other sites. Not by me. This is the cover of my next book and I plan to donate any proceeds from my favorite charity."
My follow-up response:
I see! Then definitely you want to go after those businesses that are profiting from the image, and there are legal tools for that. Contacting every individual reblogger who liked it but who aren't profiting from it would take you a million years and gain you nothing but negativity all around.
This year, the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction's usual Campbell Conferenceserves as the academic-programming track for MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City. Want to attend some of those? *Full academic-track program schedule here(.pdf)* Don't miss this one, because we'll have hors d'oeuvres for 200 and a cash bar:
Thursday Aug 18, 2016
7:00pm - 8:50pm: Campbell & Sturgeon Awards Ceremony
Convention Center, 2501D
Join us as the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction honors the winners of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of the year and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best science fiction short story of the year. These awards are unique in that they are selected by incredibly well read authors and scholars in the field. This process side-steps the politics of other award methods. Tonight we will announce the winners and honor their talent with a brief reception.
Friday Aug 19, 2016
5:00pm - 6:00pm: Autographing
Convention Center, Autographing Space
William Dietz | Derwin Mak | Ian McDonald | Christopher McKitterick | Martha Wells | Sheila Williams
Saturday Aug 20, 2016
9:30am -10:45am: Campbell Conference Round-Table: "The World of Tomorrow is Today: John W. Campbell, Astounding, the Futurians, and the Legacy of the Golden Age”
Convention Center, 2201
Kij Johnson | Christopher McKitterick | Michael Page | Dr Gregory Benford (UCIrvine) | Elizabeth Anne Hull | Joe Haldeman | Robert Silverberg | Sheila Finch | James Gunn | John Kessel | Elizabeth Bear
This year’s Campbell Conference round-table discussion, as part of the MidAmeriCon II academic programming, considers how the Golden Age shaped science fiction (including this convention) and contributed to the shaping of the present world at large. We will discuss how the legacy of the Golden Age (especially the legacy of the namesake of this conference) continues to provide inspiration, discussion, and criticism among the writers, scholars, and fans within the field; and how contemporary science fiction extends from (and sometimes diverges from) that legacy. We will also consider in what ways the World of Tomorrow envisioned by the Golden Age writers exists in the World of Today.
Sunday Aug 21, 2016Gunn Center's educational-outreach program, AboutSF, is one of the recipients.
The older I get, the more it becomes clear that most of humankind's problems stem from intentional ignorance: Choosing to hold onto problematic beliefs despite evidence that shows these beliefs lead to harm, or could, or when they're simply no longer useful or relevant and get in the way of building a better future.
If you know something causes problems for others or for our shared environment, yet you continue to support that harmful thing, you're not "following your heart," being moral, or such. You've become part of the problem. Traditions and heritage are not always good. They're history. It's okay if obsolete beliefs stay in the past.
Resist intentional ignorance. Don't be the problem. If you learn something that changes your perspective or challenges your beliefs, follow Theodore Sturgeon's advice: Keep asking the next question. When you discover that you were ignorant of the facts or of others' feelings, embrace the new thing you learned. Grow, become a better person. Be part of the solution. The better world you'll live in is yours, too! Isn't that kind of the Golden Rule? That seems like a good one to follow.
But seriously, any super-intelligent, super-powerful, godlike being that wants to keep its people in ignorance is a slavemaster or malicious asshole. If Earth's god-worshipping religions are based on such beings, well, to hell with those alien jerks! Sure, humans as a whole can be terrible monsters, but intentionally keeping us in ignorance isn't making things better. I'd only forgive them if they were to appear this afternoon and say, "Sorry, our bad. We've been reinforcing your ignorance and self-hatred for too long. Now that you're approaching the Technological Singularity, it's time you learned the truth."
...I mean, we're about to become really dangerous - not just to ourselves, but to the rest of the galaxy. If some awful group of tech-savvy industrialists or terrorists - or some gov't seeking ultimate power - builds an intelligent nanoweapon that turns Earth to gray goo, it's not just us that's wiped out. Those self-replicating machines could consume everything on Earth, float past the now-all-nanos atmosphere, between the planets, and into interstellar space. Mars? Nano-goo. Jupiter? Supermassive ball of nano-goo. Oort Cloud? All the planets in our part of the galaxy? Nano-goo. Everything they touch will be destroyed.
So keeping us down might make sense on a galactic scale. But if that's the case, just TELL US it's in everyone's best interests to keep humans down until we're not so dangerous. TELL US that we're simply too monstrous in our mental composition to be allowed to progress. TELL US that we need to grow up, eliminate our bigotries and hatreds and other personality flaws, before we're allowed to keep moving into the future.
Because humans will do it regardless, and then what? They'll just wipe us off the face of the planet before we're too dangerous? That's terrible resource management. If there's anything worthwhile in the human species, show us the error of our ways and help us cast off our inherited memes and epigenetics. Help us learn how to be better people.
I have an even better idea: Why not just fix our problems ourselves? Why don't we as a species work on becoming better people so we don't need to worry about theoretical godlike aliens exterminating us. If there's no such thing as godlike aliens, why in the ever-loving hell do we hang onto obsolete and harmful memes from our ancient past? It's like someone with peanut allergies continuing to gobble bags of peanuts, fully aware that the next mouthful might be their last. If Earth holds the only intelligences in the galaxy, we have a responsibility not to exterminate ourselves.
Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
I just realized that losing my religion as an early teenager led to a lot of troubled times throughout my teens and even into my early 20s.
I'd actually believed this religious stuff before then. I'd been raised as a Christian, and everyone I knew was a church-going Lutheran or Catholic (though the latter was eyed with suspicion), with a couple Evangelical Free friends. As I begin drafting this late at night, after pondering this article (about how Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts) and this debate on the Facebooks, I can clearly recall being really emotionally moved by hearing certain sermons or reading stories about Jesus and salvation through love and sacrifice. About how, after He came along to burn down the authoritarian patriarchy, we could throw away all those old hateful bigotries and prejudices, and look forward to a utopian future based on love - if only everyone would just believe in Him!
What ruined this for me was when my confirmation teacher forced us to say that the unbaptized go to hell. (It was a fundamentalist strain of Lutheranism that no longer exists, closest to the Missouri Synod.)
"What about babies born in areas where they could never have heard of Jesus?" I asked, trying to fit this logically into what I'd studied about this religion's eponymous founder.
"It's tragic, but that's the Lord's law," she said.
This bore no relation to anything I had come to believe about Jesus, or the very foundations of what I believed Christianity to be. So it couldn't be right. But this religious teacher - and the pastor's wife embodying the Church itself! - was insistent this irrational notion was true. When I asked my Mom about this, she said to do what I was told (ah, the underlying virus of religious authoritarianism) and "just say the damn words! You don't have to believe them."
But if that were true, what was the point of the Church (in its broadest sense), the most-massive and enduring undertaking in all human history? If we simply recite the words but don't believe in them, how can we call it "faith"? More importantly in the societal sense, if we don't need to believe what we're told or what we say, what's the purpose of organized religion at all?
The existentially horrifying part of all this is that seemingly everyone in America (where 83 percent identify as Christian) was part of a conspiracy of fear ("You'll burn in Hell for eternity if you're a disbeliever!"), or else consciously trying to suppress reality - and trying to infect the minds of their children with this mind-virus. So it seemed that either everyone was aware of the lie and complicit in its perpetuation, or they were dangerously out of touch with reality, allowing fear to control their minds so they could accept blatant untruths, or some mix of scary-unhealthy world-views. Or all of these.
So on that day, like the clouds parting for the first time to let sunlight illuminate what used to lurk unseen in the shadows, it became lucidly clear that my faith in the teachings of Jesus as told in what I'd thought of as historical documents bore no relevance to what humans had hammered into doctrine.
Worse, what if this thing that had consumed so much of human creativity and ingenuity over the millennia had merely been a tool for authoritarian oppression devised by men seeking to control a populace who appear willing to swallow nonsense and spout things they don't even believe? And who continue propagating the lies and delusions, forcing their children also to blindly obey?
This was terrifying. Remember the movie THEY LIVE? It felt like that, as if I were surrounded by threatening aliens. How could the people around me not see them? Certainly pre-teen me couldn't be smarter or more insightful than the vast milling masses of adult church-goers. So were they collaborators in some vast alien conspiracy to take over the minds of children?
Which is worse?
Regardless, this is the moment I point to, when I lost my religion and my faith in anything. From here on out, unless I see verifiable evidence of something bandied as truth, or morally right, or real, I disbelieve. Just because some authority says something is so doesn't mean a thing, because clearly authorities were fallible, all the way back to the dudes responsible for founding the early Christian church - and obviously those who created early superstitious religions were wrong: Not only are we taught this by the leaders we're told to believe and obey, they're falsifiably incorrect. I mean, only the most protean animistic religions bear any relation to the real world, because we can see how lightning causes fire or how animals behave in the face of storms. Only the philosophy-based religions seem to offer anything useful to their practitioners, yet look at how even Buddhism has been twisted by the patriarchy.
Before this revelation, I had seriously considered pursuing a career (or at least an avocation) in religious work. During my years of crisis, I spent a great deal of time and energy researching religious systems, seeking to piece together a core set of universal and rational beliefs in an attempt to construct a religion relevant to our times. Something I could believe in, something that might help make sense of a world that otherwise seems intentionally insane.
Nothing came of the search except a deeper appreciation of the universe. I've never lost my spiritual connection to nature - the animals who've inhabited this world far longer than we've built cities, the planets where such beings can live, the stars that provide the energy to fuel our lives, and the rest of the universe, which provides the soil for everything else to grow.
But that wasn't enough to soothe my existential angst. I suffered pretty traumatic and turbulent teenage years, and barely made it out of then alive. Because this is also when I lost faith in human beings. I mean, if the single greatest communal effort to build and maintain something in all of human history - the Church in its diversity of manifestations - was either a lie, or a delusion, or a shield against fear, how could we hope for a better future? If people choose ignorance, accept on faith things that are verifiably untrue, and oppress those who do not believe mutually incompatible articles of faith, there's no hope for a long-term human future.
I just now also realize that my rejection of Christianity (and organized religion in general) is probably a big part of why my Mom treated me so much worse than she treated my brother. For whatever reason, and despite her powerful intelligence and terrible childhood, she was deeply religious. She's the one who forced child-me to go to church every Sunday and holiday, and to attend Sunday school and Confirmation classes. When I was an adult, she forwarded me so many hateful, bigoted, racist spam-mails that I had to filter out most of her messages (once such capabilities appeared). These were indications that she was probably one of those hateful Christians who now rule the American discourse. She probably hated me for rejecting her God, and her Church (she did every so often tell me that she hated me). Despite her strong advocacy of feminist concerns, I know she hated how I reject out of hand all forms of authoritarianism. She was always a leader in everything she did - work, church, friends - which was an outstanding trait for a woman in the 1970s. But it was still authoritarianism, and she still served the patriarchy.
So when my brother told me at mom's funeral that my childhood experience under Mom was nothing like his, it makes sense. He went to church, and Sunday school, and Confirmation. He accepted authoritarian rule. He continued to say the words that he was supposed to say; he might not have believed them, and I know that in his heart he was not obedient to authority, but he pretended to be. And that seems to be all that really matters to religious extremists.
To Mom, my brother was one of Them, or at least a willing conspirator, whereas I was loud and determined in my rejection of the entire enterprise. Burn it all down and start fresh!
As a boy standing alone in the dark beside my telescope, I remember calling out to the starry sky, begging benevolent aliens (for what other type would visit such a flawed world yet not eradicate us like vermin?) to take me away. I drew spaceships that I could imagine piloting far away. I dreamed of exploring the moons of Jupiter alone, far from the insanity of Earth, of the coming changes that would transform our society and ourselves into something worthy to endure into the future. I wrote stories about these things, and the fall of adult civilization, and imagined a world where I could bear to live.
See, this was also the time during which I discovered most of my friends and many of my closest relatives had endured horrifically abusive childhoods. What kind of species tortures their young? The same kind that holds them down and injects cognitive retro-viruses into their brains.
I spent a great deal of my teens and early 20s in deep depression, suicidal on occasion but mostly fearless of death, because how could it be worse than having to dwell in the shadow of the monsters who rule our world, whom we must obey - or at least pretend to obey? I've never been any good at pretending such things.
Under such rule, there can be no bright future. There can be no utopia.
Ever since I discovered it, science fiction has served as my primary existential comfort, and it remains so. SF needs no gods, and if it has religion, it can illuminate what's wrong with how we do it. It offers visions of futures where things can be different.
It taught me that change is good. That it is, in fact, necessary for growth, healing, learning, and everything else that is positive in our lives. If we're not changing, we're dying. (Huh, I just realized something else: This is what The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella is all about, and where its themes come from.)
Only by finally letting go of desperately clinging onto the plague-ship of religion was I able to restore my faith in humankind. Only be letting go was I able to imagine futures without hate or bigotry, where we can build something instead of expend all our energy dragging along the toxic casks from our past.
I sometimes joke that my religion is the Church of Science Fiction. Looked at in the right light, SF does serve that purpose better than any church I've ever encountered, in that it also offers stories about the Big Questions, about our origins and our ultimate end, what's right and wrong, transformations and transcendence. It's a space where we can identify flaws in our world today and envision possible futures where those things have either gotten worse or where we've solved them. It needs no gods but those within us and around us and illuminating the sky. It does not demand faith; it rewards knowledge and imagination and creative re-envisioning. Like science itself, it questions everything and accepts nothing that cannot be verified. Best of all, it's a community and an ongoing conversation. It's a family.
And SF is more true than any religion could hope to be.
Organized religion almost killed me. Science fiction kept me from falling into the abyss. I survived to become a science-fiction writer, a teacher of SF literature, and - like long-time friend and SF writer Frederik Pohl - a science enthusiast.
The only way our species can survive is to transcend as a whole the self-perpetuating, outdated, and damaging authoritarian structures we drag along from our past, which hold us back from reaching for the future. Science provides the tools and methods to determine what needs to be changed, and science fiction provides the safe laboratory where we can test-run alternate visions of ethics, societal structures, and an infinity of other things, including ourselves.
So, yeah, if I retain any semblance of religion in my personal life, it's definitely science fiction.
A few words on the results of this year's Hugo Awards, and how it was a win for science fiction.
It's science-fiction's job to point out the problems of the world. When we see the dominant paradigm as harmful, we seek change. We're subversive and transgressive.
Hierarchical, conservative, or privileged people and organizations don't like to hear what's wrong with them or the status quo. People who don't like having problems with the world pointed out don't respect science fiction. Academia can be one of the most like this, which is why for so long the study of SF – and still, in most places, the graduate study of SF – has been discouraged, blocked, or disrespected. Organizations that fear and loathe change really don't like having colleagues whose job it is to study and point out what's wrong with the status quo, and elaborate on how to fix it. Especially if the fix means they'll lose power.
On the other hand, this aspect of SF is a big part of why disempowered, disrespected, and disenfranchised people have always been attracted to SF. For them, life is always difficult. The world is not kind to the disempowered. SF offers critiques of the world-that-was and visions of the world-that-can-be.
We need to attract more people of color, women, disabled, and so forth into the SF community. We need to support and welcome those who are disadvantaged or oppressed by society at large. Their perspectives are vital to the SF conversation. Fresh new voices offer novel critiques of the world (and our community) and new visions of ourselves and the future, and if that isn't what SF is all about, nothing is.
Your motivations need not be altruistic. Excluding those best at keeping SF vital would mean missing out on a huge audience for our work. People rejected by SF will go elsewhere, seeking writers and publishers who listen to what they want.
This is why I'm so pleased to see how the Hugo Awards turned out. Though it's painful to see so many worthy people and works fall below the Puppy Hate-Slate, the voting proved that the SF community won't be bullied. It proved that we reject rejecting change. It proved that we want to be inclusive, that we still want to boldly explore the unknown, that we still critique the status quo – even our own.
But the war is not won. Those for whom the status quo provides privilege fear change, because saying things could be different suggests they're no longer entitled to continue running the world as it has always been just because that's the way things are. Change threatens the eternal, unchanging perpetuation of their power structures. If you're incapable of change yourself, change is scary. People who can't get past their fears come to hate what they fear. Change is dangerous and threatening.
But not all futures are dystopias.
SF's enemy is not just the entrenched elite and powerful, not just the Establishment. These last few years have revealed a sickness within the SF community. People like the Gamergaters and Rabid Puppies. Misogynists and racists and other types of bigots seem to be suddenly appearing all over SF's domicile. But they've always been there, festering in the back rooms. We turned on a light in a store-room and discovered cockroaches scurrying about. Many of us just weren't aware of them, oblivious and happily chatting with others like us on SF's light-filled patio. The patriarchy might not be alive and well in SF, but that roach-farm has certainly been energetic. Fear-mongers – all people who don't question their privilege and prejudices – will continue to fight change unless they can open their minds and embrace SF's core values: Question, Critique, Change.
Whenever we see it, we must immediately combat the attempts at exclusionism of such people. Keep shining lights into the dark spaces. Keep stomping out those cockroaches when they try to infest the kitchen.
This is not a war we can win through combat. We need to swiftly support the disadvantaged and make them feel welcome into the SF community. Because if we don't, we lose out on gaining valuable new members of our community. Fresh new voices with fresh visions. Losing them would mean weakening the heart of science fiction, while – to stretch the metaphor a bit – bringing in new blood only strengthens us.
So congratulations to those who managed to win a Hugo this year. Condolences to the worthy creatives who were disenfranchised by the Puppies' nominations slate. They gamed the system in an attempt to force SF backwards in time. They threw their bodies at the windows as hard as they could, but they weren't numerous enough to block the light. I love alternate history as much as anyone else, but we're already familiar with the tired old genre-narrative they want to tell. It's been done. Their lost this game, but they'll be back. Infestations are notoriously difficult to eradicate.
The results of the 2015 Hugo Awards proves that the SF community is far larger and more vital than those who operate out of hate and fear can imagine. Science fiction is the literature of the human species encountering change. We explore possibilities and push boundaries. We ask the next question, and then the one after that.
Congratulations, Science Fiction! You were the big winner at this year's Hugo Awards.