No, I’m not going off on some political rant. At least, I don’t think so. (I was accused recently of using my blog as a soapbox…well, I thought, isn’t that what it’s for? The question is, how good is the soap.)
At our recent Dante session I was reminded of a quote I’d forgotten all about. One of the best philosophical thinkers of the 20th Century was Alfred North Whitehead. I recommend him. Even where I disagree with him, there is plenty to stir the imagination and encourage new thought. One of his better books, quite short and to the point, is The Function of Reason. In the chapter three or thereabouts, we find this little gem.
“To set limits on speculation is treason to the future.”
By that, I read him as meaning that we must be free to speculate about where we’re going, what we hope to do, how we’ll make it happen. All ideas are welcome, even bad ones, as long as we’re only speculating. But more than that, it’s kind of one of those notions that ought to go without saying—all thinking is speculation, even problem solving, and to arbitrarily set limits, to say “You can’t talk about that,” is to shut the door on possible solutions to problems we may not even know we have yet.
I’m using that quote in a talk I’m doing tomorrow night in Columbia on What Is Science Fiction. I think it answers a century-worth of ridicule and criticism toward the form that ought not to have come up to begin with, but which was predictable. People are uncomfortable with change. (Here’s a little bit of politics coming up. Sorry about that.) When you look at the current wrestling match going in the country—indeed, around the globe—there seems to be one basic demand from people with regards to the problems we face: fix it but don’t change anything.
Science fiction is all about change.
There are two ways to look at change—as an inevitable force impossible to avoid or as a fate we seek to hide from. Change is coming regardless, so hiding does no good, but it does do harm, because in hiding we surrender any say we might have in how change happens. And when you do that, then whatever happens will probably be something you won’t like.
Preparing this talk reminded me why I’ve always liked science fiction in the first place. I’ve never been afraid of the future. The future, to me, has always been a place where the best could happen. It might not, things might go sour, but it’s not inevitable, and even if we do go through a bad time, the future is still there, with potential. When I was a kid, Today was always pretty much dull. Tomorrow—and by that I mean TOMORROW! —held all the really cool stuff I knew would make life better. By and large, I haven’t been terribly disappointed. In spite of things transpiring that rather annoy, irritate, and anger me, there is much more that I find generally wonderful.
The trick is to be open to that part instead of stockpiling a list of complaints.