Politics is stories.
Nations are founded on stories, whether they’re tales about how the Great King Horseface united the squabbling clans of the Western Whatever to forge the You Don’t Care Anyway Empire or the one about how our immigrant ancestors discovered a set of Wedgwood plates that had the rules for making a perfect society at the bottom of a latrine. Every government, every culture, every person begins with a story, and it is up to us to read, write, and evaluate those stories to create the kind of society we want to live in.
There are a lot of problems with this, of course. Everyone has their own stories, and they don’t always agree with each other. Everyone thinks their story is more important or more vital or more true than everyone else’s. If you get enough people who believe the same story together, it’s hard to get them to notice the problems in their story. We hold on to the familiar to find comfort in an impermanent world, and stories can bring so much comfort, even when they’re written with poison.
And there is no doubt in my mind that our current political situation (and I’m including most of the world in this because just about everyone’s political situation seems crap right now except for maybe Luxembourg and Uruguay) is untenable because we’re not listening to each other’s stories. The masses of people escaping Syria keep hearing stories of refuge and safety in Europe, and European voters keep hearing stories about how Those People Are Coming To Take Everything Away From You. People who have lost their jobs and homes are being told stories by the people in power that We Hear You, despite all evidence to the contrary. The rise of the Combover Fascist should not be a surprise to anyone, seeing how he has made his career out of telling stories that are bigger, louder, and more outlandish than the ones that came before. This is a time in history when we are facing environmental and economic collapse, and who are you going to believe? The person wearing a life jacket who’s blocking your way onto the raft while saying, “Yes, well, we’re all in this together” or the guy selling toilet paper while proclaiming “These are the best life jackets ever, the best!”
And then there are the stories that seek to inspire destruction. Those People are going to molest your children. Those People are going to steal your home. Those People are going to murder your in your sleep and dance on your corpse. You must band together to destroy those people. You must join us. We know the right way. We know the right stories. These are the stories that allow a bunch of criminals to reave their way across the Levant, that carry guns into nightclubs, that make it so the wealthy can gorge while so many starve.
So, what does this have to do with science fiction? Well, everything.
The stories we read and write and pass on, those are politics. They are our visions of the future, or of alternate worlds, or of pasts that we wish we’d had. Science fiction is an argument for a possibility, and sometimes that argument is This is a possibility that we must avoid at all costs.
We are living in a time when people whose stories have been suppressed are standing up and singing them at the tops of their voices. We are at a time when the future might as well be a blank space with the legend Here be dragons. How we get through all this will depend on the choices we make within our towns, our tribes, our nations, our world. We will have to tell each other the stories of how we got here, and we will have to make up the stories of where we hope to be. We are living in a future that was dreamt by Brunner and Ballard and Butler. Some of those dreams were nightmares, but they can point the way to a better day if we act and choose.
But first, we must sit down, open our ears, and listen. The future depends on it.
You can find Adam online at his website: http://www.giro.org, on Twitter @rakdaddy and on Facebook and Tumblr.