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Meet the culture war – in deep space

I continue to read science fiction quite a good deal these days – it seems to be a trait of libertarian-leaning folk – and I noticed that Eric Raymond has an essay up on why some people, such as those that tilt left, are trying to make life tough for those with a different perspective. In this era of self-publishing and all the possibilities created by tech (something SF fans don’t need reminding of) it is surely particularly silly for any group to try and boss others around.

In a nutshell, Raymond says that certain types of science fiction writers suffer from “literary status envy”.

Here is a good paragraph:

Almost the worst possible situation is the one we are in now, in which over the last couple of decades the editorial and critical establishment of SF has been (through a largely accidental process) infiltrated by people whose judgment has been partly or wholly rotted out by literary status envy. The field’s writers, too, are often diminished and distorted by literary status envy. Meanwhile, the revealed preferences of SF fans have barely changed. This is why a competent hack like David Weber can outsell every Nebula winner combined by huge margins year after year after year.

To those on the outside, this all may seem fairly petty stuff, and in a way, it is. It is, I suppose, a phenomenon of what gets called “the culture war”; it is also, perhaps, a sign of how there have always been attempts – sometimes successful – to create things such as literary “establishments”, with the attendant phenomenon of people pressing their noses against the window, as it were. T’was ever thus. In the end, so long as there are low barriers to entry into writing such fiction, and a free market in the production and distribution of said, then the kind of science fiction I want to read will exist.

20 comments to Meet the culture war – in deep space

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    I too have been enjoying ESR’s recent essays analysing SF. I liked this one, in which he accurately describes what I am looking for: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=6005 . Also, a commenter in another of these essays linked to Neal Stephenson’s analysis of literature vs. SF: http://slashdot.org/story/04/10/20/1518217/neal-stephenson-responds-with-wit-and-humor . He puts it in terms of the difference between people who write for a living, and people who support their writing by working in acedemia.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Oh, and I notice Raymond mentions John C Wright as one of the good guys. I reviewed his Golden Age here: http://www.samizdata.net/2013/08/the-golden-age/

  • I could only hope to rise to the level of competent hack.

    I actually caught myself writing an instance of the “as you know Bob,’ hack routine.

  • Raymond’s article didn’t click with me until this paragraph, near the bottom:

    That being said, in the long run, I don’t think the Evil League of Evil can lose. The Rabbits are both the beneficiaries and victims of preference falsification; their beliefs about where the fans want the field to go are falsified by their plummeting sales figures, but they can’t see past the closure induced by their control of the gatekeeper positions in traditional publishing. Meanwhile, the Evil League thrives in the rising medium of e-book sales, in indie- and self-publishing.

    I love the phrase preference falsification… that very much matches what I see the Left doing all the time in commentary about any given political subject. They are telling everyone what my inclinations are, without bothering to check with me to see if they are correct, when in fact, they have often read the situation entirely wrong. Now I have a label for that phenomenon.

  • Martin Bourne

    I love the phrase preference falsification… that very much matches what I see the Left doing all the time in commentary about any given political subject. They are telling everyone what my inclinations are, without bothering to check with me to see if they are correct, when in fact, they have often read the situation entirely wrong.

    I concur. I think the problem is that the leaders (in any field – commerce, politics, sociology) dont listen to us the people any more. They listen to focus groups, lobbyists, think tanks, academics, people who claim to represent the people, rather than the people themselves. If reality does not match their expectations, then rather than change their policies (like sensible people) they assume that reality is wrong, and fiddle their results to fit their paradigm.

  • Kevin B

    Yes Darryl, it does provide an interesting take on the ‘long march through the institutions’.

    Whether the institution be the SF literary ‘gatekeepers’, the Media, Academia, the scientific instituions such as the Royal Society, etc. etc., it seems that as the left reaches complete domination in those areas, we plebs hold those institutions in greater and greater contempt and find more and more ways round their strictures.

  • CaptDMO

    Literary establishments? Oh yeah, they’ve “been around”.
    SEE: The Algonquin Round Table (US)
    As far as I can tell it was a group of self-promoting wonks sitting around getting drunk at a NYC hotel bar.
    Most famous for spouting non sequitur stuff, worthy of a bitch slap in polite company.

  • Rob

    First World Problem, or at least a First World manifestation of a deeper, much more serious problem.

  • Jeremy

    Martin, there’s a riff on the use of preference falsification for libertarian(ish) ends in the near-future SF book Triple Ignition & its sequel The Correction.

  • Chip

    1) all organizations are eventually captured by the left because they’re most interested in controlling others

    2) in this case it’s amusing because just as they captured the SF hierarchy, book writing and publishing entered the buzz saw of the free market with direct to reader publishing.

    So they closed their fist over a soap bubble.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Martin Bourne@August 4, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I think the problem is that the leaders (in any field – commerce, politics, sociology) dont listen to us the people any more. They listen to focus groups, lobbyists, think tanks, academics, people who claim to represent the people, rather than the people themselves.

    It’s more serious than that.

    A few years ago, Charles Murray posted an interesting graph he’d derived from General Social Survey data. The graph showed that over the last 40 years, the six major segments of the U.S. white population moved from centrist to mildly Right, except “Intellectual Upper Class”. They moved from centrist to strongly Left. Murray’s indexes were 3L to 7R in 1968; in 2008, 3R to 14R – and 22L.

    Which is why we find that today, law, the academy, publishing, journalism, mass entertainment, and government are populated overwhelmingly by the Left. These people have formed a closed bubble and don’t even encounter anyone else: epistemic closure.

    This group include society’s designated full-time thinkers and communicators. So their attitudes are continuously projected into everyone’s minds. Some reject it, but most are swayed – even businessmen and generals.

  • Nick (Natural Genius) Gray

    Whenever i hear the word Kulture, I reach for my blaster!

  • Martin Bourne

    True.

  • Martin Bourne

    Thanks Jeremy. Ill check that out

  • Martin Bourne

    The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers. (Princess Leia) :)

  • Paul Marks

    The hostility of the cultural establishment to large scale private property in the means of production (especially land)is overwhelming.

    Ludwig Von Mises (rightly) called it the “Anti Capitalist Mentality” of the cultural intellectuals.

  • William Newman

    “I love the phrase preference falsification… that very much matches what I see the Left doing all the time in commentary about any given political subject. They are telling everyone what my inclinations are…”

    I think “preference falsification” is usually used to mean something slightly different than that, a situation where it’s hard to tell what people want (or, similarly, what they believe) because they are successfully incentivized to fake a preference for something else. I.e., it’s not people misrepresenting others’ beliefs, its people misrepresenting their own beliefs. I seem to remember the phrase coming up a lot in trying to describe how people could think the Soviet system was more stable than it was, and more generally how common similarly strong patterns of preference falsification might be in other countries thought to be stable.

  • chuck

    I don’t really agree with ESR on this. I think it *is* more politics than literary status envy. The two are somewhat correlated, but I think they are separate impulses, with the status envy being manifested earlier, perhaps already in the 60’s, and the politics later. There is also the rise of fantasy, which is very different from classical science fiction in aim. Fantasy allows more scope for those who wish to be literary and it doesn’t require much in the way of ideas, or even world building, as it can always fall back on the classical environment invented by Tolkien.

  • veryretired

    Good writing is good writing, and putting an ideology before anything else will never achieve it.

  • jimf

    I don’t see this as a recent phenomenon. The politically correct crap has been just increasing in quantity recently. Luckily, as ESR points out, competent “hacks” and other writers who can tell a good story outsell that the pcc by a wide margin. Ultimately, publishers, who are not in this to further an agenda, but to actually make money, will go with the authors who sell more books.