Attending cons and thinking outside the box: Part 2 of the Prometheus interview with writer Leslie Fish

Here is the second half of the Prometheus Blog interview with author-songwriter Leslie Fish.

Fish, interviewed by journalist and blog editor Michael Grossberg, won the 2014 Special Prometheus Award for her novella “Tower of Horses” (published in the Music of Darkover anthology) and related filk-song “The Horseman’s Daughter.”

LFS: Did science fiction and fantasy have a major influence on how you developed your views of the world?

Fish: Yes, if only by leading me to think outside the box, and to always ask “What if?”

LFS: How did your anarchist and anti-statist views evolve?

Fish: I learned early on to throw out the muddy ideas of “socialism”… from my observation of the real world.  I saw for myself that in a free society people will voluntarily gather into interest groups to achieve what they want, and no “force-propped authority” is necessary to make them do it.

Humans are social animals, and they create societies and sub-societies and agreements for dealing with such as naturally as beavers build dams.  If anything, external authorities get in the way of such society-building and agreements.

Get the government out of the picture, and the people will solve their problems themselves.  When individuals or groups conflict, all that’s needed is a neutral third party whom both sides can agree on to decide the dispute — like the Libertarian poll-worker with the contested (Republican vs. Democrat) ballot!

LFS: Randolph Bourne coined the phrase “war is the health of the state” in The State, his manuscript left unfinished when he died from the flu pandemic in 1918. Your biography indicates that your anti-statist and anti-war views are closely intertwined.  Did one lead you to the other?

Fish: Yes.  Being opposed to an obviously bad war (Vietnam) led me to study the forces in society that had caused it.  I came to the conclusion that people left to themselves will commit feuds, riots, brawls, and even lynchings — but only a government (a monopoly on force, under any name) can *command* people to commit war.
War may not be the health of the state (quite often, it’s a state’s ruin), but a government is necessary to create war.

LFS: Which political thinkers have influenced you the most?

Fish: Well, for a long time my personal guidebook was the anthology, “Patterns of Anarchy”.
I giggled a lot over Max Stirner’s writing, contrasting it to his day-job, and guessing how much of it he wrote just to p!ss off Marx.
The Russian Three — Bakunin, Kropotkin and Tolstoy — were terribly ponderous writers, but in real life they put their ideas into practice and made a good account of themselves.

LFS: Besides those 19th-century anarchist and European/Russian writers, have you found any modern libertarian writers instructive?

Fish: I know I’ve run into surprisingly Libertarian/Anarchist tropes from SF writers, but the only names I can quote are L. Neil Smith, Robert Heinlein, and Rudyard Kipling (for two stories, including “With The Night Mail”).

LFS: When you first became active in sf fandom and filking, did you find fan culture was more open to ideas and more welcoming of people who think or look differently?

Fish: Oh yes.  People who dreamed of first contact with aliens were a lot more accepting of odd human beings than Mundane folk.  Of course, in those days SF fans were “the few, the proud, the lonely”, and the Mundane world largely ignored them.

LFS: When you’re invited to speak, perform or be a guest of honor at sf/fantasy cons, do you mention your Prometheus Award in your program bio? And if so, how do people react?

Fish:  I mention it on my blog and Facebook page.  Alas, I haven’t been able to get to any live conventions in the past couple years (during the pandemic), so I don’t know how fans there would react.

LFS: What’s your impression of how sf/fantasy fans view the Prometheus Awards?

Fish: From what I’ve been able to pick up, it’s respected for its literary quality and regarded with respect and a bit of trepidation for its shameless political stance.  Only hard-core Wokey-dokes actually argue with its political opinions, and they don’t do it well.

LFS: Have you found that libertarian and classically liberal open-mindedness, curiosity and respect for intellectual diversity are as strong today within fandom?

Fish: Nowadays SciFi concepts — and fans — are a lot more accepted in mainstream society, and there’s real money to be made off them, in the entertainment industry at least, so there’s less acceptance of non-mainstream ideas which might interfere with the money-flow.  It’s really sad to see how many once-freethinking fans have fallen for the intellectual laziness of Woke ideology.

LFS: Over our lifetime, we’ve seen the spread of liberty in some important areas (such as gay rights, marijuana decriminalization, partial airline/trucking deregulation) but also the growth of coercive government, the rise of disturbing authoritarian tendencies on the Left and Right and the spread of increasingly illiberal PC views, especially among so-called “woke” progressives. As you’ve gotten older, have your beliefs in equal liberty, humanity and universal rights changed or become less optimistic?

Fish: I’ve learned to be a lot more patient.  Dismantling a bloated and intrusive government is as tricky as defusing an unexploded bomb;  you have to make each move in just the right order, in just the right way, or the whole thing blows up in your face.

This is going to take time — probably longer than my lifetime — and there’s no way to rush it.  First you have to change the culture, and that will change the forms of society, and those will change the forms of the economy, and that will alter the political structure, so that open warfare may not be necessary at all.  That’s why it’s so important to combat Woke culture here and now.  I’m used to that; I’ve been working at the cultural level all my life.

Note: Read the first part of the Leslie Fish interview here and an author’s update of the stories, songs and other books Fish is writing or has published here.

* Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Watch the videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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