“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.
As always, well stated!
No one can be this ignorant by accident. Get your garbage hate-apology faux-intelletual propaganda out of here. You’re an embarrassment to the fandoms you’re coopting.
This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.
Intolerance of intolerance isn’t reverse intolerance. It’s called being a decent and empathetic human being.
The science-fiction lover is not a rare breed. The right is becoming increasingly homogeneous and arguing against diversity. Your argument for diversity by saying conservatives need to be welcome in science fiction is laughable in comparison.
Arguing that evil and despicable behavior is required as some sort of balancing factor in the universe just sounds like apologist nonsense.
Hi Mike —
Thank you for reading as well, and I’d like to respond, since you took the time to comment:
“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.”
Clearly, you have discerning tastes in reading material. 🙂 I’m honored you at least took the time to read my words, even if they fell to the bottom of the list.
“Intolerance of intolerance isn’t reverse intolerance. It’s called being a decent and empathetic human being.”
Perhaps that’s true. I think it depends how you act on your intolerance of intolerance. (Intolerance-squared?) If you call out intolerant behavior, that’s moral. You’re informing and offering the opportunity to correct. If you silence speech that you consider to be intolerant, that’s hypocritical and tyrannical.
In the case I’m talking about, fandom isn’t just calling out intolerance, it’s attempting to make an entire class of people unwelcome based on their political beliefs, because those beliefs may be tired to intolerance. I think that’s taking things too far, and making fandom poorer.
“The science-fiction lover is not a rare breed.”
Okay. You say he isn’t. I say she is. I’m not sure we can resolve that one without a survey. When I was growing up, you did not, for fear of ostracism and ridicule, admit that you were a fan. Fans have become more prevalent since then. But most of the people I work with, see in church, do business with, do not attend cons or otherwise actively participate. From where I sit, subjectively, they still seem rare.
“The right is becoming increasingly homogeneous and arguing against diversity.”
Is it? I’m not sure about that, either. I think a lot of conservatives don’t agree with Trump. Indeed, I think the Right is undergoing an identity crisis.
“Your argument for diversity by saying conservatives need to be welcome in science fiction is laughable in comparison.”
In comparison to what, I’m not sure I know. But my argument stands: if you exclude the Right from fandom, fandom weakens and becomes a plaything of politics. Fandom is better than that, or should be.
“Arguing that evil and despicable behavior is required as some sort of balancing factor in the universe just sounds like apologist nonsense.”
Do you believe you can have love without hate? If so, you must have been exposed to some theories of human psychology that I have not. And would you really call the concept of Yin and Yang, “apologist?”
But I was thinking less about evil balancing good when I wrote this than I was about left-wing politics balancing right wing politics, libertarianism balancing authoritarianism, belief in central economic planning balancing belief in the free market.
I can’t help suspecting that, to you, just being a Republican is engaging in “evil and despicable behavior.” If that’s the case, then your intolerance is not of intolerance, it’s just of different ideas. And that’s what I’m worried about—that some of us are labeling everything to the right of us as “hate,” and thus as “evil.” If that’s not the case, I apologize for putting words in your mouth. I just don’t happen to consider most conservatives or Republicans evil.
Approve my post you centrist coward.
Hi, Amelia. Thanks for reading, even though you’re clearly displeased with what you read. I’ll respond to both your comments at once.
Your first post dropped at 5:13 AM Eastern time, while I was asleep. Not sure what time it was where you were, but I don’t tend to monitor at that hour. And then I rolled out of bed to prep for the funeral of a fallen colleague, a firefighter who died protecting his community. So, with sympathy for your impatience, I had other priorities than reading and approving comments, until now. And I have always moderated comments in order to save my readers from spam. I don’t do it to maintain an echo chamber, I assure you.
Your words are ugly. I trust that does not reflect on you or your actual beliefs.
“No one can be this ignorant by accident.”
Much ignorance is indeed accidental. We don’t know what we don’t know. I’m not sure of what it is you believe I’m ignorant.
“Get your garbage hate-apology faux-intelletual propaganda out of here.”
May I ask out of where? I post my essays on my website which I maintain and fund. I don’t believe that encroaches on anyone. Perhaps a link was shared on a page or site which you frequent? If so, I’m unaware of it.
But I don’t think you really take issue with where my views are posted. I believe you object that they’re being aired at all. In that, you seem to be echoing what I see as a dangerous and anti-liberal sentiment that’s all-too prevalent today, that being that certain ideas should not even be expressed or heard. If you want to take down or shout down ideas you don’t agree with, I don’t think it’s I who is expressing totalitarian sympathies.
I don’t apologize for anything. I demand that freedom of speech be maintained and that dangerous ideas be entertained. That is the core of science fiction—to comment on and discuss the unthinkable.
I don’t promote hate. I do recognize that everyone, liberal and conservative, feels it. And we need to learn to recognize it, but sometimes look past it when it creeps into our discussions, so we can hear if there are nobler sentiments present.
I can’t explain what you mean by “faux intellectual.” Perhaps you can?
“You’re an embarrassment to the fandoms you’re coopting.”
Embarrassment is relative, but I don’t believe I can be said to have co-opted a fandom I’ve actively contributed to for 34 years and counting.
Steve, you don’t need to defend yourself to a hateful asshole.
Thanks for your support, Dana! Neither of the two commenters–Mike and Amelia, who I just realized had the same IP address–were civil in their words or tone with me. I guess I try to see the best in people, though, and speak to their arguments, even when they’re couched in anger.
The people attacking Steve in the comments are mental midgets who do not represent Star Trek fans. They’re morons who don’t understand the franchise’s message, likely due to a lack of education. Pity them, for they are miserable and stupid.
Steve – you and I don’t always agree on things political (hence the need for this entire line of reasoning) but MAN do you hit the nail squarely with this article.
BTW, I’m a registered Republican who is Not happy with the Trump-Pence administration. I see Nehemiah Scudder en route.
But that’s a subject for another time and place.