Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Futurity of SF -- The Futurology of PR

I mentioned a few weeks back that I had begun to read a beautiful two volume anthology of all of Ursula Le Guin's Hainish novels and stories as my pleasure reading this Spring term. This was before her death three weeks ago invested that decision with much more present poignancy somehow... I have read and enjoyed the first three novels by now, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions, none of which I had read before and all of which I found completely engrossing and beautifully written of course, full of great and provocative ideas and interventions, most anticipating conceits I have enjoyed in later writers whose originality I may have overestimated somewhat it turns out! Anyway, I'm moving on to novels I've read before, many of them years and years ago, and am excited to rediscover their beauty as the different and older reader I am now. How I adored this piece from a preface she wrote to The Left Hand of Darkness:
The weather bureau will tell you what next Tuesday will be like, and the Rand Corporation will tell you what the twenty-first century will be like. I don't recommend that you turn to the writers of fiction for such information. It's none of their business. All they're trying to do is tell you what they're like, and what you're like -- what's going on -- what the weather is now, today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look! Open your eyes; listen, listen. That is what the novelists say. But they don't tell you what you will see and hear. All they can tell you is what they have seen and heard, in their time in this world, a third of it spent in sleep and dreaming, another third of it spent telling lies.
Of course, as our satellites wink out from neglect and trust in science is torn out by the deceptive and the promotional and the unscrupulous, we cannot long count on the weather bureau to tell us what next Tuesday's weather will be like, and no doubt Le Guin would agree that perhaps we should never have counted on the military-industrial apologists of the Rand Corporation to tell us what the twenty-first century would be like either. Perhaps if we hadn't counted on them to be correct they would have been less so to the benefit of us all. Novelists like Le Guin do contribute to the foresight that would inform the defense of scientific discovery and public investment to distribute the impacts of technoscientific change in equitable, sustainable, and hence progressive ways. But it is because they glean the open futurity in the present ("open your eyes; listen, listen"), not because they project parochial presents onto the future the better to foreclose that futurity to amplify the terms and reassure and the beneficiaries of the status quo that "The Future" is already theirs.

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