Wednesday, April 05, 2006

We're Doomed! (Part 2)

Boz makes a very good point:
The "complete-destruction" qualifier really limits it for me. You've mentioned the only two I can think of in Hitchhiker's and On the Beach. Hitchhiker's wins that hands down. I read Shute as a requirement in high school. I think I was depressed for a week afterwards.

Now if you're talking "almost-complete-destruction" then Lucifer's Hammer wins...

That's a critical word: almost. I think this is one of the key ways in which SF differs from all other literary forms. Not only does it afford the writer the opportunity to posit a deity-free Apocalypse, thus eliminating the need to follow the script laid out in Revelations, it also offers the possibility of a survivable Apocalypse, after which it may even be possible to reboot humanity and build a better world. If this idea holds some appeal for you -- if it's in any way possible for you to look forward with some hope for a better future -- then by all means, write SF, even if it's another Lucifer's Hammer.

If, on the other hand, you truly believe that the past was better, now is as good as it's ever going to get, and the future can only be bleak and dismal or worse, you're probably best off sticking to looking in the rearview mirror and writing pseudo-Medieval fantasy. As Boz's comment illustrates, future generations of high school students will thank you for doing so.

As for me, I must confess to feeling a certain Doomsday Fatigue. I've lived through 50-plus years of end of the world hysteria, starting with learning to Duck and Cover and followed by the New Ice Age panic, the ecological catastrophe panic, The Population Bomb panic (which as you may note did not explode and kill hundreds of millions of people in the 1970s), the unstoppable Soviet juggernaut panic (someone really should tell all those Survivalists living in the mountains out west that 1980 finally got here and it's okay to come out now), the Nuclear Winter panic, the endless war in Central America panic, the American Theocracy panic, the Global Economic Collapse of 1989, etc., etc., etc., etc...

The one lesson I've taken away from all this is that both conservatism and liberalism are Doomsday Cults. They differ only in the names of the particular sins they believe will bring about Doomsday.

But tempting as it is, I don't want to veer off in a political direction. Instead, the question I'm interested in exploring today is this: Why are we far more willing to listen to Doomsday prophets than optimists? Why has a story of impending catastrophe and destruction been easier to sell for at least the last 3,000 years? Is it simply a matter of fear of loss being a more effective selling motivator than desire for gain, or is there something deeper and weirder at work here?

Your thoughts?