Volume 28, Number 2-3, Winter-Spring, 2010

Dear Prometheans,
I agree with Cory Doctorow’s assertion (last issue) that SF authors often contrive situations to justify acts that would be repugnant in normal life. His example—Ender Wiggin—is one of many Cardian characters who use the “abused ubermensch” trick Van Vogt pioneered. Nerdy readers identify with mutant-plus kid who’s bullied because of his superiority—which he then “regrets” having to use, ruthlessly, putting the thumb on humanity for our own good. Classic pandering. Yum.

The trick is used in many subgenres, even feminist utopias. As of 2003 (when last I checked), all but one were premised on some mega-calamity or holocaust, conveniently excusing counter-discrimination, often against males. (Don’t be smug; libertarian SF also has expedient cliches!)

Hence, I was nodding with interest when (screech!) Cory veered to cast a barb my way! Though off-topic from “sf’nal contrivance,” it was fascinating, redolent and many-leveled.

“We see also in non-Science Fiction from some of science fiction’s practitioners, books like (David Brin’s) The Transparent Society, the kind of council of defeat that holds that our ability to control our political rulers will never allow us to stop them from spying on us, so we should just give up, and nevertheless hope that we can somehow have enough power over our political rulers that we can force them to let us spy on them.”

Whoosh, so many layers in one concise stab! Starting with...Cory, is this the 5th time I’ve answered strawmen by asking that you read the book? Or eschew the same dismissive contempt you ascribe to OS Card?

For example, credit me with the same motivating drive I see in you—fierce dedication to this narrow window of Enlightenment freedom? We both worry the window may close and civilization revert to the 4000-year norm - pyramidal hierarchy, only now tech-empowered to surveil us and even read our minds. Oligarchy forever. Is preventing that and preserving enlightened individualism your driving goal? It is mine. (Meta-remark: see how I both paraphrase Cory and ask if I did it well. Adults do this, when they are more curious than reflexively hostile.)

Given that same, fierce goal, Cory, how plausible is it that my thesis arose out of “defeatism”? You may disdain as useless my proposed method to preserve freedom. But unprovenanced contempt for my motives is nasty. Further, your reasoning re: transparency is strange. Show us one time when elites failed to utilize every extant power to see. As Papa Heinlein said, “the chief effect of privacy laws is to make the bugs smaller.”And they will get smaller, endlessly.

The trick of our narrow renaissance was citizens looking back! Watching the watchmen. Reciprocal accountability is the basis for science, markets, democracy... and libertarianism. So, how do we restrict govt surveillance without FIRST seizing the sousveillance power to supervise, invasively-criticize, and thus enforce those well-meant privacy laws?

Isn’t my prescription the prerequisite for yours?

But put that aside. Your jab wasn’t posed as argument, but insult. (Parsed semantically: “Brin is a defeatist wimp.”) Which proves you never cracked open The Transparent Society, a militant manifesto for citizen power, ferociously pursued and sagaciously fought for. My call to strip the mighty—elites of right or left—down to their underwear is as pugnacious as anything you ever said.
David Brin

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