[ + link to: WOSS fiction ]
Various happenings in May 2020 prompted me to face up to an issue I had hoped to avoid, and to come to a decision I had hoped would be unnecessary: namely, to split the site into Trad and Woke zones.
Previously, my hope - naive as it turned out - was that the "Trad" readership was self-selecting. That's to say, I assumed that no matter what readers' real-life views were like, they nevertheless would, when in OSS-reader mode, instinctively feel the appropriateness of "Trad" morals to "Trad" worlds. In which case, when immersing themselves in the literature we all love, readers would feel no urge to mingle it with current mores; they'd take off their PC boots at the threshold. As for those who really did hanker after a WOSS (Woke Old Solar System), they'd go and find another site that suited them better, or maybe build one of their own.
It became obvious that this silent self-selection arrangement wasn't going to work, when I began to receive input from people who appeared to see absolutely no problem, no incongruity, in planning to offer up Woke/PC characters for fiction on this site.
I should have known better than to be taken aback at this. Should have taken into account that PC folk, who are now hugely in the majority, must sincerely believe that their views, if true, have got to be right for everywhere and everywhen, including the literary dimension known as the Old Solar System.
And it's not easy to counter this argument in its own terms. How can an attitude not be good for the OSS if the said attitude is good, period?
I therefore fear that you, the readers, are not likely to take kindly to any reactionary reluctance on my part. Nay, forsooth, you are likely to take it amiss, if I unwokely refuse to open the PC sluices to flood solarsystemheritage with what to me is unmentionable X.
So, what am I to do? Give up all resistance and allow my site's trad moral identity to be washed away? Or, on the contrary, defy the spirit of the age, refuse all PC contributions, alienate my friends and become even more of a recluse?
The options churn, over and over... The site is my pride and joy; I've put years of work into it; why should I abandon what I see as its identity?
Of course the problem would disappear if I simply converted, so as to remove all disparity of opinion between myself and the spirit of the age. Then, having conformed, I, too, would think X was a good idea. But one cannot compel belief. And yet... rather like Rubashov in Darkness At Noon, sometimes I do think of just throwing in the towel... such is the power of ideological pressure. I toy with the notion...
But it won't happen because I need a reason to change my mind, and fashion is not reason enough.
On the other hand the price of nonconformity is likely to be high. To announce that henceforth I shall refuse everything to do with X is bound to cause offence to some of my best contributors.
So this option, also, is one I reject.
That leaves me with only one remaining option that I can see:
Set aside a Woke Zone, a sort of reservation for PC stuff.
Or rather, a reservation within a reservation; for www.solarsystemheritage is itself a reservation within a PC society - in fact the site was envisaged as a haven of traditional values as well as a homage to old literature.
This section on the nav bar, then, is for the PC-OSS. It is to cater for those who desire a hybrid blend of contemporary mores with OSS physical settings. So, if you think X can be compatible with the aura of traditional Old Solar System literature, this is the place for you.
The rest of the site remains, as I had always intended it to be, imbued with a moral code generally compatible with that which prevailed during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. For me, the code and the tales go together, but, hey, we're all different - hence this reservation for Barsoom Goes Woke.
But suppose you don't see why you should be confined to a reservation? Suppose you insist that wokeness, being a Truth, ought to pervade the site? Well... I admit this raises a matter of principle -
Folks, let me introduce my worthy opponent Dr Lib, who will do his best to keep me on the straight and narrow. Doc, we have agreed the ground-rules, have we not?
Dr L: I think so. Set them out and I'll check them over.
Zendexor: There are two.
Ground Rule One - let's call it the Vocab Agreement:
The words we use are bound to be tendentious. No way out of that - and it shouldn't matter too much.
It's as if I were arguing with an Argentinian about the ownership of those islands which he calls the Malvinas and I the Falklands: it would be plain silly for me to insist that he refer to the Malvinas as the Falklands, or for him to insist that I refer to the Falklands as the Malvinas. Common sense requires that we each use our own name for the islands. So long as we both know what we're talking about, we can simply accept each other's use of his own distinctive vocabulary.
And for you and me, Dr L, it goes the same way with what you'll call X-ity and what I'll call X-omy...
Dr L: Just a moment, though; why the X at all? You seem fond of resorting to that letter...
Zendexor: We agreed, did we not, that, for our different reasons, neither of us want the bad vibes from X-omy's origin-word. That being the case, I asked you to mask your word likewise. Then neither of us need regard our mouths or ears as being polluted...
Besides, here's another, more long-term advantage of the X. PC fads may change; thus X can be variable. As a consequence, future ages may be able to apply our arguments to their own PC situation simply by changing the denotation of the X.
Anyhow, to recap: Ground Rule One is that each side is allowed to use his own terminology and tolerate the other's.
Now for the other vital precondition of debate:
Ground Rule Two is "Assumption Recog". That's to say, if we're going to get anywhere, both sides must concede that their differing conclusions spring from differing basic assumptions.
Dr L: Why belabour that obvious point?
Z: Obvious to you it may be, but debates about X usually fail to get off the ground because the PC side assume the Trads are just too stupid to make the right deductions from what everybody knows.
It goes like this: "Xuals can't help being Xuals; therefore it's not their fault, therefore there's nothing wrong with X." And if, after hearing this, the stupid trads still don't convert to wokeness, the PC side will simply shout the same thing as before, only louder.
Dr L: I suspect most people who read this page will reckon that "if you can't help it, it can't be wrong" sounds reasonable enough. Candidly, it hardly seems unreasonable to me. Where's the flaw?
Z: The flaw is, that the argument is utterly dependent upon its main assumption; so much so, that it has no value except as a re-statement of that assumption - namely, that good and evil are entirely matters of the will; entirely to do with decision-making and moral choice.
Of course, if that is true, if good and bad acts are always completely voluntary, then it does indeed make sense to say, "so-and-so can't help X so there can't be anything morally wrong with X"...
Equally obviously, if (as most people throughout history before the
1960s have believed), there is more to good and evil than the voluntary
aspect - if good and evil are at least partly connected with adherence
to, or deviation from, some sort of inner blueprint of what we are - if
in other words the natural-law theory is right - then involuntary evil
But try making that point in everyday conversation and see how far you get!
Dr L: We seem to have launched into the debate proper, from the launch-pad of that second ground-rule. All right, I'll admit that current thinking is dependent on the voluntarist moral principle, that if you can't help it, it can't be blameworthy...
Z: Wait a minute: I'm not into blaming. I know there's no going back to the old days of condemnation.
Dr L: Well, what are you into? If Xuals can't help it, and aren't to be blamed for it, or condemned for it, what's the point of your natural-law ideology? You're saying something is wrong; at the same time you're implying nothing can be done about it.
Z: Nothing can be - on an individualistic basis. That's why I don't preach that Xuals should change their way of life. The individual (in most cases, except maybe for a few heroic characters) is not strong enough for lone action. This is what taboos are for: to provide the strength of structure and context which enable people to resist involuntary evil.
Dr L: Sounds like you are advocating a return to the old days, to when the anti-X taboo was in force.
Z: With this difference - a crucial difference - namely that the taboo will be in force only in some kind of sub-set of the community; call it a reservation if you like, a converse of the Woke Reservation which I'm arranging for this site. A little nucleus of hope for the future, when something better can be worked out than there has ever been before. A seed bank, if you like, of natural-law consciousness.
Dr L: Isolated seed-bank taboo!! How on earth will that work? Surely a taboo needs to be ubiquitous, unquestioned -
Z: The practicalities will have to be worked out by greater brains than mine, or, alternatively, will evolve by trial and error, once it is realized that natural law cannot be repressed forever. My guess is that the taboo will re-grow out of a community of second-class citizens who are already apart to some extent. That's to say, trads like myself.
Dr L: You poor thing, a second-class citizen...
Z: I was speaking loosely. Actually, in my view, a well-defined second-class citizenship would be a great advance upon my current state of being.
Dr L: You mean - at the moment, you're third class?
Z: At the moment I have full citizenship in theory, I enjoy freedom of expression in theory. And the theory gets in the way of the facts. I'd welcome a swap whereby I am accorded less theoretical and more practical freedom. I would welcome the status of Square. I could stitch a square on my clothing or have a square tattood on my forearm, so that people would recognize my second-class Square status. Courteous people would then refrain from alluding to X in my presence, or from uttering implied put-downs of anyone who doesn't approve of X. In return for such forbearance, they would feel secure that I, and people like me, would never wield authority over the woke majority, because our Square status would bar us from state employment such as teaching in state schools, posts in local government or the civil service. Rather like the Dissenters of old, during 1689-1829, people like me would have a secure though subordinate place in society, allowed freedom of expression and association and to run our own businesses and set up our own dissenting academies.
And meanwhile, if I were to announce "Zendexor is a Square" on the home page of my site, people would know not to submit woke material to TTA...
Dr L: But as it is, you do intend to allow them to submit "woke material" to your site, so long as they don't mind their stuff being shunted to this section, this little woke ghetto... Aren't they going to feel put down by that?
Z: I'm hoping they'll realize that since their side has won overall - since they're top dog in society in general - they can afford to concede me my little enclave.
Dr L: I doubt it. Not sustainably, anyhow. Society can't - to borrow Lincoln's words - continue forever half-slave, half-free; or, in this case, half-natural-law, half-liberal.
Z: It's not a question of halves; my enclave is tiny, and as for the Squares nation-wide, they'd be a small minority.
Dr L: But you yourself admitted a short while ago that your hope is that the taboo you want will re-grow out of your "Square" second-class citizenship.
Z: But only if it deserves to. I agree that the issue is binary... as are many other issues. And binary issues cause division which can rip a society apart. But repression of an issue can also lead to explosion. Society ought to learn to accommodate such stresses.
Dr L: It didn't accommodate them in the US. There was civil war.
Z: True, and now one might argue that the division is in some respects even starker, insofar as the old Southerners did at least admit that they were masters who kept slaves, whereas nowadays we can't even agree on who's top dog.
You regard X-uals as underdogs who have to be rescued from oppression; I see Squares as the oppressed.
Dr L: Nobody's oppressing you; we're just trying to ensure that you don't oppress others...
Z: Here we go, the usual slippage that occurs in such encounters. A while back I thought we'd agreed we start from different assumptions; and now I find I have to make the point again...
Dr L: Because I don't agree with your assumptions.
Z: Of course you don't; I'm not asking or expecting you to agree; what I can reasonably demand, is that you sufficiently recognize where I stand, that I don't need to go over the same ground twice.
Instead of thus inviting repetition, wouldn't it be smarter to move on to show me (if you can) that my views fail to cohere within their own frame of reference?
Dr L: I may just do that.
Z: Good, and I could try to do the same to you; and may the best man win.
Unfortunately this more intelligent sort of debate doesn't happen in our culture. It can't happen, so long as voluntarists fail to admit that their stance is based upon a disputable assumption... an assumption, the validity of which should be recognized as the entire point at issue... namely, none other than voluntarism itself.
To make where I stand on this absolutely clear, Dr L, I'm not blaming you for being a voluntarist, I'm blaming your side for taking the line that voluntarism is the only line an intelligent person can take, and for thus maintaining that anyone who doesn't agree is just being unreasonable, bigoted and oppressive.
After all, how often have we all heard phrases coupling "racism and X-ophobia" - the idea being, both are involuntary... and therefore the one is as bad as the other?
Dr L: As to that, Zendexor, it's indisputable, whichever way you look at it, that membership of a race and X-ual orientation are equally involuntary. So how can you deny that there is indeed a close parallelism between the two cases?
Z: I can deny it for a very good reason. I don't know about you, but my reason for not being racist has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that racial identity is involuntary. I can imagine a universe in which racism is true - that's to say, in which some sub-species of humanity really is genetically superior to others (assuming the term 'superiority' can have any meaning in this context; a problematic notion in itself, but let that be for now). Such a genetic imbalance would of course be involuntary, and none the less true. What counts with me, is that on this actual planet Earth, that tenet of racism - that one ethnic group can be plausibly regarded as genetically superior to another - happens not to be true. Nothing to do with the will or lack of it. Simply fact. We're all composed of the same basic grade of raw material. Any cultural disparity that may arise ("superiority" being a stupendously hard thing to prove or measure) will spring from historical or environmental circumstances - will be merely cultural, not innate. e.g. I might disapprove of Aztec human sacrifices but that doesn't make me believe the Aztecs were racially inferior...
Dr L: Well let's think about cultures then. Some cultures have never shared your disapproval of X-ity, and one such culture is the one we're living in now, bearing witness to the fact that it's perfectly possible to regard the analogy between racism and X-ophobia as valid. X-ity after all may have a genetic cause...
Z: A powerful point - if one accepts that analogies at this level are valid. I'm ready to do so, because if such analogies are allowed, then my side must be allowed to draw them too.
shall go ahead and draw one - the currently unpopular one - between
X-omy and all the other activities which have traditionally been
regarded as perversions, all of which equally spring from involuntary
urges. People get stroppy when this is pointed out. They get indignant
at the analogy-process when it's thus used against their side. The
reaction is, "Do you have the cheek to compare X-ity with [whatever]?"
My answer to such indignant people is, you invited the comparison
yourself, by basing your defence of X-omy on the grounds that the urge
to do it is involuntary.
Dr L: All right then, the analogy score is one-all.
But maybe, Zendexor, maybe I don't need analogies after all.
There's something I've been too polite to stress up till now, but step by step I'm being edged towards it.
Let me begin with a reference to what you yourself said earlier, that the way to progress in this debate is to search for ways to nail the inconsistencies of one's opponent - to show that his views do not cohere within their own frame of reference. Remember you said that, Zendexor?
Now, you've so far defended against this, on the analogy question. But maybe there's another way forward.
Granted that your natural-law view may be 100% consistent within its own frame of reference; nevertheless that framework could be a limited bubble, too limited to count as a credible interpretation of human life.
In other words, why shouldn't people say, that if the natural law view excludes certain widespread forms of love, then so much the worse for the natural law view? Any plausible ideology must be not only self-consistent but also sufficiently comprehensive to have a good go at modelling reality, without leaving chunks of it out.
Z: I will admit, that doubts sometimes assail me, on this score. It is up to me now to try to express why I nevertheless adhere to the natural law view.
The evidence of the "law written in our hearts" is, admittedly, "merely" subjective insofar as it is felt from inside. Nevertheless the fact that so many people have felt it, is objective historically. It leaves a footprint or casts a shadow or shines a light (pick your own metaphor) too big to ignore.
Dr L: You are talking about...
Z: The disgust, to put it bluntly, which I and many others feel at the thought of those activities traditionally viewed as perversions. I think it likely that this disgust is nature's way, or moral reality's way, of conveying direct moral information. You, of course, will disagree; you will either say it conveys no moral information or that what's conveyed is in fact evidence of some sort of badness on the part of those who feel it...
Dr L: And what of those who don't feel this disgust?
Z: Two answers. (1), if your assumptions are right, they don't feel it because there's no need to feel it; X is nothing wrong. (2), if my assumptions are right, people like you have been desensitised by life in a society which (excuse my bluntness) is sex-mad to such a degree, that decent folk like yourself have been rendered unable to hear nature's inner warnings. As for me, I escaped by luck - by the fact that I'm such a bookish person, that the heroes of old tales and the mind-set of previous ages are more real to me than the din and stench of the present day. I don't take credit, I just thank my lucky stars for my flukey escape, akin to that of Bill Masen who happened to be safely bandaged in hospital when the blinding-rays caused the Day of the Triffids.
Dr L: The way you put it, there'd be no way to decide between (1) and (2). However, listen to me, for there is a way.
The way is to follow the very powerful humane hunch, that Nature, or Natural Law, or Moral Reality, or whatever you want to call it, could not possibly be so cruel as to exclude any form of love. And that the very idea of supporting such exclusion is offensive.
Z: I'll deal with those points in reverse order. First, the offensiveness.
If you admit that London is 400 miles from Edinburgh, or 3000 miles from New York, you are also committed to admitting that Edinburgh and New York are, respectively, 400 and 3000 miles from London.
I hope you see what I'm driving at. Disparity of opinion, like geographical distance, is commutative. If my views differ sufficiently from yours that you find them offensive, you should consider the likelihood that you views are equally offensive to me.
And now for the main point, the cruelty -
This is undeniable, and there is only one defence against such a charge - which is, that the alternative is either equally cruel, or crueller.
You see, so much has happened, so many links of affection have been forged, of so many types, so many mutually exclusive loves, that whichever main idea turns out to be true, moral reality requires rejections. Tough, heartbreaking rejections of some kinds of love.
Dr L: But why can't we simply admit all kinds to our world-view, our universal view?
Z: Now you're being woolly. Assert mutually exclusive truths? To be sure - and this is an important point to make - within every individual there are a multitude of "orientations" of which the sexual is only one, and they may well conflict with one another, so complex is a human being. But as for inclusively accommodating all their contradictory claims in one ideology - your heart-warming fuzzy benevolence doesn't really cut it, Doctor. Either the natural law view is right, or it is wrong.
If it is right, then X-omy is an abomination, which means that what X-ites can't help wanting to do is wrong, which is a tragedy for them. Not that I'm recommending they stop doing it - but still, the mere expression of the natural-law view must be distressing for them.
Now on the other hand, suppose you're right and the natural law view is wrong, and there really is nothing wrong with X-ity, what then? That, too, would count as an example of reality being cruel - for what becomes of the loveable traditional image of a decent man? The image has to be desecrated, defaced...
Dr L: Rubbish! Nothing like that needs to happen. Images built up in folklore can remain as they are. All that need happen, is that other lore is added on. All that need happen, is that there is more than you realized to what makes up a decent man.
Z: We are now approaching the climax of our debate, the sight of that abyss which separates your mind-set from mine. I'm sure you really believe that voluntarism, or liberalism as it's called, is a widening, not a narrowing, and certainly not a destruction of any positive thing. I shall now endeavour to show why I think you are wrong.
I'm going to recommend that we experiment with stored mind-power, otherwise known as literature. A good book is a kind of decency-dial, diagnostic of what is noble in human nature. I don't mean that the book needs to preach; I mean that what works in the book works also to exhibit the ingredients which make up our moral natures. And conversely, what doesn't work in the book also shows the ingredients which do not fit in with our moral natures.
Now let's carry out a brief thought-experiment with The Lord of the Rings. We won't need to change the actual plot at all, merely consider a hypothesis.
Suppose we focus on the days when the Fellowship of the Ring were on a raft drifting down the Anduin.
Suppose you and I were each to ask ourselves, why shouldn't the members of the Fellowship have whiled away their time by X-omizing each other on the raft?
A liberal - if consistent with his belief that there is nothing morally wrong with X - would have to say, the reason they didn't do it is simply because they happened not to be that way inclined, or because they had other things on their minds, or because they had no privacy, or because they needed to keep on the alert for the enemy, or because the author of the book was prejudiced against X, or because it would not have suited the structure of the plot to introduce a sexual theme at that juncture - but that otherwise it would have been all right for the Fellowship to X-omize each other.
A trad like myself of course would say, they didn't do it because to do it would have been an obscenity, an abominable and ghastly travesty, a pukey retchy obliteration of the worth of the story.
(I suspect, though increasingly I'm unsure, that even some liberals, in their heart of hearts, would agree that the idea is "no go".)
To me, the fact that this sort of thing just doesn't work is a powerful signal that the vaguely wandering skiff of our feelings is bumping against a rock-hard datum of natural law.
And of course it's not just one book. It's the moral zone in which the book was produced, the aura and tang of dignity which arises in many stories and poems and personal role models which have built up over centuries to shape the trad mind, which together all make the moral acceptance and normalization of X-omy inconceivable to someone like myself who didn't ask to be born into the present age and feels no bias towards it.
Cruel it is, to demand that a man who has this vision in his mind must surrender it. Cruel - and indeed impossible. I can no more cease to be X-ophobic than a X-ite can cease to be X-ual.
Dr L: From what you've just said, it's looking like a fight to the death in our culture war... but I want to make one last effort to show you that these great people of the past, whom you admire so much, don't really require you to respect their ideology.
You see, Zendexor, in some of their differences with the moderns, you yourself side with the moderns. Racism and sexism...
Z: I know what you're about to say: those great ones of the past - let's dub them the Giants - were racist and sexist as well as X-ophobic, so we can lump it all together and conclude that we must separate our esteem of their creative achievements from our assessment of their beliefs.
Dr L: That's about it. Admire them, not their attitudes.
Z: And you're saying I must reject their exclusions as one package, else I must take their racism and sexism on board as well as their X-ophobia.
Dr L: Precisely. You don't want to become a racist and sexist as well as an X-ophobe, do you?
Z: The thing is, we're not on the same wavelength here. To me, performance of the act of X-omy is evidence of immorality, not of inferiority. If you think the one implies the other, your mind works very differently from mine.
To make my meaning clear, we need to perform another thought experiment.
Ideally it would involve bringing one or more of the Giants from the past to the present. Since there aren't any time machines we'll have to do it by juxtaposing, in our imaginations, a Giant with our present-day culture.
Let's pick on Sir Walter Scott. A lovable Giant if ever there was one, gloriously humorous and humane both as a writer and as a man, whose funeral, observes his son-in-law and biographer, was as great as that of a king. And deservedly so, I'd say. Let's bring him to the here and now, and tell him some things that have happened, and observe his reactions. We'll do (1) sexism, (2) racism and (3) X-ophobia.
Here he comes...
Welcome Sir Walter. I've got some interesting things to tell you.
(1) Britain has had two women prime ministers in the past fifty years.
Sir W: Och, nooo! I'd nae hae believed it! Who'd hae thocht they had it in them! Weel dane the lassies!
Z: (2) The 44th President of the United States of America was a black man.
Sir W: Och, nooo! I'd nae have believed it! Who'd hae thocht they had it in them! Weel dane the blacks!
Z: (3) In Britain X-omy is now legal, the law says men can marry each other, and orphan children can be placed with X-omites for adoption -
Sir W: GHAAAAAAAGH! Get me oot o'this nightmare -
[time machine blinks out as Sir W escapes]
Z: You get the point, I hope, Dr L. The Giants' racism and sexism consisted of under-estimating blacks and women, that's to say, of thinking that they were in some sense made of inferior material. It's the kind of opinion that could easily be changed by showing what blacks and women can do when they are given the opportunity.
But with X-omites, under-estimating has nothing to do with it. No startling achievement by X-omites would change Sir W's opinion of the wrongness of X-omy, because his opinion is not based on any idea that they are made of inferior grade material. Rather, it is based on the idea that what they do is morally wrong.
That is why example (3) is the odd one out. And that's why it doesn't fit in the package.
Dr L: Ah well, it does indeed seem, Zendexor, that you natural-law folk are irreconcilable, and we have a fight to the death on our hands. Your culture against mine.
Earlier on, Zendexor, you tried to reassure me that your side isn't out to crush mine. You just want your little enclave, you said. But it seems you're only waiting your opportunity. You and your kind really are irreconcilables, are you not? And such are dangerous in the long term.
Z: You mean we might eventually win. But that can only happen if there is a massive change of heart... whereupon such a win would become popularly acceptable. It could never be imposed by force on an unwilling majority.
Dr L: I dare say, but what about an unwilling minority?
Two answers to that. In the first place, you have an unwilling
minority right now, in the form of us trads, who are being given a taste of our own
medicine, i.e. society has reversed itself since 100 years ago, and now
has no more tolerance for opposition to X-omy, than it previously had
for support for it. Poetic justice, you may say, but be that as it may,
it certainly makes for an unwilling minority -
Dr L: Precisely - an unwilling minority who are biding their time, playing a long game.
Z: I doubt you have much to worry about; the quality of leadership on my side being poor to non-existent, full of fundamentalist nutters trying to prove their point by reference to Leviticus...
Dr L: And what about you, Zendexor? What kind of game are you playing?
Z: This brings me to my second answer, regarding the "threat" my arguments might pose to future X-ites. You might have a point there, if I were playing for a win.
But as a matter of fact I can never be sure that I'm right. The one thing I can be sure of, is that the present setup, where the whole of society is pressured to pretend that a profound issue has been settled when really it hasn't, must be wrong. The suspicion must be strong, that people who really have grasped a truth do not behave in that way; nevertheless I must allow the faint possibility - no matter how much the ineptitude of my opponents may reinforce my own convictions - that the liberal view may turn out to be factually correct after all. I'm human and can err. Therefore, no matter how admiringly I may revere the trad image of a decent man, I AM NOT PLAYING FOR A WIN - I AM PLAYING FOR A DRAW.
Parity of freedom of expression and of association, subject to the necessary limitations of second-class citizenship as outlined earlier, is what I'm after. And in my own personal space, my values are incompatible with X, so I ask the reader's understanding, that I need to keep the main part of my OSS website X-free.