Cynicism Is A Cheat

So the other day I was at one of my favorite local bookstores when I saw a children’s book on display:
Tom Swift and His Polar-Ray Dynasphere. I looked on the inside cover and there is a lovingly done line drawing of Tom Swift Jr in a typical teenagers room., wearing a typical teenagers pullover, jeans, and sneakers sans socks. The thing is he’s looking out a window that shows the earth revolving below him with a rocket ship passing by. Very cool. It made me sad though. I have to ask why don’t we write books like that anymore? Books full of hope and ideas/ideals for tomorrow?

I believe that you can point to the popularity of the works of Phillip K. Dick and the other ‘Dystopian’ genre writers of the 1980’s as being the start of it. Suddenly, grim gritty cynical noir-style prose was in high regard, and even higher sales. Soon every story had to have either a broken protagonist or a crumbling dysfunctional civilization. Bonus points if your story had both, it was much more likely to see print as publishers tastes gave way to the money people who were only concerned with their bottom line.
Why did such themes become popular? Lots of people make their living out of answering such questions. I shall not try to second guess them. I will just say things like climate change, the hatred of science, the Mideastern wars, and social injustices are enough to make anyone turn to cynical answers.
Now, I love my dystopian noir-style writings, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I would have to say that my own writing has definitely been influenced by them. But I think we both as a society and as a group of science fiction writers have gone too far in that direction.
I once asked a British friend what he thought the biggest difference was between Americans and Britons.
He said that he had seen repeatedly that Americans simply believed that if they got together in a large enough group, then worked out a plan, they could change anything. His face took on a look of wonder and he then said, “And you know, you can!”
I believe we are in danger of losing that ideal that to the hip, worldly-wise cynical reply.
For the first time since 1963, American space efforts have to pay for a ride on the vehicles of other nations. We are told by our leaders and in our genre, to dream small, that there is no frontier, no age of miracles. This, even while it is announced that there is a vaccine for lung cancer that has been developed by one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.
There is a disconnect at work here. I have seen it among every political and social philosophy as well as in the genre fiction in every country in the first world. I believe that its cure lies in us daring to dream again. Daring to write the stories that tell us that we can.

Such stories I would argue can still fulfill the current artistic need to be also social commentary. Just look at the works of Gene Roddenberry for example. Such stories do not have to be whitewashed, or Polly Anna like. This is a need that we desperately have at this moment in time, because cynicism for all its protective glaze encourages us to not care, to not be invested in the future. A future that we need to invest in, given climate change, the hatred of science, and social injustices. And for those reasons alone, cynicism is a cheat.

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The Race Thing in the U.S.

If you happen to live outside the United States you may have caught that those of us who live here are currently caught in social conflict around the issue of race. I am not going to talk about the specifics of that conflict, it has been written about much more fully than I can ever hope to achieve and from all points of view. What I am going to talk about is some of my experiences being a non-White European looking person in the U.S.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I am not an American ‘Black’, nor am I an American ‘White’. Instead I am what is now I believe referred to as ‘mixed race’, what used to be called sometimes proudly, sometimes derogatorily, a ‘half-breed’. My mother is of Western European ethnicity, and my father is Native American. I have been called ‘too dark’ by some and ‘too light’ by others. I have been told with contempt that I can ‘pass’ for White by some Tribes folk, as well as disdained that I did not grow up on a Rez and that my mother is clearly ‘White’. I have also been looked at with disdain, pity, condescension, and discrimination by “White’ Americans, some well-meaning, (‘but you talk too well to be an Indian!’), some not so much, which I won’t repeat here. I have lived with racial discrimination my whole life.
So, I have a stake, you might say, in this recent conversation in the U.S. about race. I don’t speak about it much, despite its personal impact on me. In fact, this is likely the only the only thing I will say on the subject. Thanks to the Internet, more people are aware of the gross indignities perpetuated by those who have both have power and a racial agenda. It is about time. To those of you who might not ‘get it’ let me share a couple of things from my own life:
I have been ‘routinely stopped’ for driving in some areas at some times. Hard to prove as the officer in question always has a ‘good reason’ to stop me that seems to never result in a ticket. Funny thing is, I have “White looking’ friends who drive in the same areas at the same times and have never been stopped. Also, my wife has noticed that whenever we travel I always am pulled aside for ‘extra examination’. I have been stopped while walking by law enforcement and after being searched, required to ‘prove that I am a citizen’ as I ‘looked too foreign’. No, I did not get their badge numbers. I am not stupid enough, to do anything other than comply.
This one is so subtle, yet so pervasive, that I fear almost no one who is “White looking” will get it, yet I offer it as an example of what it is like to live every day looking non-white European in the U.S. I cannot walk into a store without a store employee following me around, usually a White European looking one who is ‘there to be helpful.’ Seriously. When I go into the *same store* with ‘white looking’ companions, this does not happen. When the store personnel are not White European looking this does not happen. Occasionally I test this out and turn to my shadow and asked them for something. I am sad to report that my suspicions have been verified every time, in every case from chain stores to up-scale ones. You can see the employee visibly relax as soon as they hear that I have demonstrated that I am an educated English speaker, therefore not a thug or a savage. Sometimes they even stop following me. Sometimes they just hover a couple of aisles over. Everyone seems to at least be aware enough that no one has refused me service in oh, five or six years now. When they did it was always with the best of reasons, of course. Still, it’s annoying to never know if entering a store will get me hostile suspicion and a ‘helicopter attendant’ or not. In some ways I prefer that to the ‘I don’t see you’ strategy that used to be in fashion. Do I still go shopping? You bet I do, I have simply learned to live with it.

And that is what I really want those of you reading this to understand. That for decades, if you are non-White looking in the US, you learn to live with it. You learn to make do, to comply. Because if you don’t, you choose to fight all the time, you learn to ignore the looks and the comments and carry on, because that is what you do.
I do not need ‘special rights’ or ‘privileges.’ In fact, I wish the American Left would stop using ‘privileges’ as I feel it implies that to expect basic human decency is somehow a cherry on top of the sundae of life. I am sorry, but the expectation that you will be treated by those in power the same regardless of your skin tone or biological plumbing is called a Right. Americans have fought numerous wars for this principle. Shall we call it what it is please?
What do I want? “I look towards a day in this country when one is judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” That is what I want. Martin Luther King said that nearly fifty years ago. It’s time we all caught up.
I am done speaking on this.