“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s intolerance.”
Back during the glory days of the Moral Majority—the one led by Jerry Falwell, not the current crop of holier-than-thou leftists—my friends and I used to make that joke a lot. I guess it was our way of reminding ourselves that, liberal though we were at the time, there was such a thing as reverse intolerance.
It’s a powerful sentiment, and one that I think would benefit a lot of people in today’s world to think about—science fiction fans especially.
Science fiction fans are a rare breed—yes, even in these days of Marvel Studios, geek chic and cosplay. People who just have to consume stories about the future, about where technology might lead us, about extra-terrestrial life, robots and other artificial intelligences and space travel, are still unusual. Some of them are just juvenile intellects who need more intense thrills the way an addict needs crack cocaine. But some are dreamers who have minds so open that they must contemplate what lies beyond the boundaries of our time, our world, our narrow morality, the entangled morass of our laws.
“Is this all that I am? Is there not more?”
Spock attributed those words to V’Ger, the human-created intellect who, with alien assistance, experienced the singularitythat made it self-aware. They’re appropriate words to serve as the theme of the last science fiction film of the 1970s, before Star Wars catapulted the genre into what we know today—the blockbuster action epic. (Yes, I know Star Wars came out two years before Star Trek the Motion Picture, but, thematically, STTMP is a 1970s film, and SW is a 1980s one.)
Science fiction is not a playground for little boys who like spaceships—not for them alone, at any rate, though of course they’re always welcome. It’s not limited in scope or appeal to the sophomoric fascination with something different. It’s not a literary kink. It’s the language of imagination. It’s the genre of new ideas, more efficient ways of doing things, better futures.
It’s about hope for the future, and the determination that the human race will have a future. And it’s very much about humanity. Because, make no mistake, even after the singularity occurs, the artificial intelligences that evolve will be part of the human race. They will be our children, our next evolution, our best, brightest hope.
Extra-terrestrial intelligences? Science fiction is all about them. But it’s not their story. Not yet. Mr. Spock, Ming the Merciless, Maya, Klaatu, ET the Extraterrestrial, Valentine Michael Smith—they’re all human, for all their alien blood or alien upbringing. They hold up a mirror so that we can see ourselves.
Science fiction is pro-humanity, pro-creativity, pro-life. (Yes, I’m co-opting that term back. If you’re against abortion, say you’re against abortion. If you’re in favor of it, say you’re in favor of it. But, dammit, give the rest of us back the use of the words “life” and “choice” in all their varied meanings. They should not be reified to mean “fetal survival” and “right to abort.”)
Science fiction is about us.
All. Of. Us.
It’s not a boys-only club, a girls-only club, a hetero or cis or gay or bi or trans or non-binary only club. It’s not only for the young, the middle-aged or the old. It’s not only for people who can’t find dates, or arrested development cases, or the socially awkward. It embraces all of those people, nurtures them, celebrates them. It does not exclude. Because to exclude part of the human race would be anti-human, anti-life, anti-rational, anti-compassionate.
“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” (IDIC) is the way the Vulcan race depicted in Star Trek sees reality. It’s a more formalized way of saying, “It takes all kinds.” The world is made up of all kinds of different people, beliefs, societies, families, and interest groups, and that’s exactly how it should be, how it needs to be, so that reality can be complete. If everyone were the same, the world would be out of balance.
It’s not a new idea. It’s suggested by the concept of Yin and Yangin Chinese philosophy, where opposing forces interconnect to create a greater whole. America’s founding fathers understood this idea of balance, too. It’s why they put checks and balances in the Constitution, why we have two houses of the legislature, three branches of government, and fifty states divided into thousands of cities and counties. It’s why we have political parties, much as we might right now prefer instead to have our fate decided by a contest between two mud-encrusted, farting warthogs.
That which is different, that which is opposing, is what makes up the fabric of reality. We can’t eliminate part of it without that fabric unraveling. Science fiction taught us to embrace difference, with the idea that a life form might be based on silicon instead of carbon, that an alien which looks ugly and repellant might yet be civilized, intelligent and kind, that there are different kinds of love, and none of them are actually sins.
But science fiction fandom has lately taken an frightening turn. There’s an attitude, among many fans I know, that, like the entertainment industry, we should be dominated by one political persuasion, even one political party. That some opinions aren’t welcome or shouldn’t be discussed. That some people aren’t welcome and shouldn’t be in our presence.
“What about hate?” I hear someone say. “Shouldn’t we ban hate?” To you I say, A) good luck trying—Yin and Yang would tend to suggest that you can’t have love without hate—and B) if we do, a lot of people will start labeling every opinion they disagree with “hate” and every person they don’t like “a hater” in order to indulge in the very human practice of surrounding themselves with only people who are like them. I can make this prediction because I already see it happening every day.
A high-profile example of this trend, for me, was 2016’s “Trek Against Trump” movement. It was well intended, meant to say that this guys stands against the things that Trek stood for. Star Trek creators signed on to say, not only that they opposed Trump, but that they believed that all Star Trek fans should support only Hillary Clinton in his stead. A lot of my friends signed onto it, and they’re all good people. That’s why they’re my friends.
But, despite its being embrace by people I respect and care about, “Trek Against Trump” represented something disturbing to me. It suggested that Star Trek was created only for political liberals, and that the creators of the franchise don’t want fans who don’t subscribe to that very narrow belief set.
Yes, I get that the Clinton vs. Trump battle was, for many, a battle between good and evil. But it wasn’t. It was a civil contest between opposing political sides, something that’s been going on in this country for 242 years. To suggest that Star Trek dictates a choice in that battle is, for me, a bit akin to suggesting that Jesus is on the side of the Baltimore Ravens. It’s true that Star Trek advances a world view in which racism, gender inequality and slavery are seen as wrong. But it’s also true that it spoke against collectivism, political corruption and elitism. No party has the exclusive lock on the beliefs that Star Trek explored, because Star Trek was about people having all different kinds of beliefs. Look no further than the ongoing arguments between Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. Was either of them right? Sometimes. Was either of them wrong? Sometimes.
Consider their argument over Genesis in Star Trek – The Wrath of Khan.Spock dispassionately states that Genesis, if fired at a living planet, would erase all that planet’s life. McCoy becomes angry and asks Spock if he knows what he’s saying. Spock counters that he was not attempting to assess the moral implications of the project. Who was right? Who was wrong? Yeah, McCoy got angry at Spock for something he had not said. He had not said that he approved of Genesis. But neither was he outraged. McCoy was reminding Spock that emotion has its place—it makes you ask questions about morals, instead of just analyzing facts. We need Spock’s dispassionate reason. We also need McCoy’s healthy fear of immoral and amoral disregard for life, liberty and property. We need people who ask, “Does the fact that wecan do it mean that we should?”
I’ve met people who take sides in the Spock / McCoy arguments, and suggest one of them is just wrong. I shake my head. Those people don’t get it.
I was eligible to sign Trek Against Trump’s petition. And I do agree that Trump himself stands for ideas that do not resemble Trek’s hopeful, positive outlook. I could not sign. Too many people conflate Trump and all Republicans. Too many people would mistake my signing for a rejection of Republicans and conservatives. I did not create the little bit of Star Trek that I created only for Democrats, or people who agree with me on civil rights issues, or people who hate Donald Trump. I created it, as I create all my work, for anyone who was willing to listen, anyone who was willing to open their mind, anyone who was willing to change, just a little. If my work touched a card-carrying communist or a skinhead white supremacist, then a sampling of my ideas got through to them. I would probably never be able to stomach having a conversation with either of them, but, in some way, my mind touched theirs for a second. Maybe it brought them understanding, changed their path a little, maybe not. But I tried.
If my work only reached people who think just like me, worse, if my intent was to reach only people who think like me, then I’m not trying, and I might as well give up.
No sane person wants blood in the streets, or to be told by arbitrary authority that they’re not good enough to choose their own destiny or enjoy the rights others enjoy. There are sane people who disagree with us on many issues. We should not, because we do not want blood in the streets, try to claim that those who see things differently dowant blood in the streets. If someone really does want blood in the streets, that’s a different thing, and we should call that out.
But let’s remember IDIC. It takes all kinds. Science fiction fandom, the United States, the world, the universe, includes infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Some of those combinations vote for people we don’t like, and support causes we oppose. That does not make them evil. And it’s against the ethics of a true intellectual—which most science fiction fans purport to be—to claim otherwise.
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