Thursday, April 06, 2006

We're Doomed! (Part 3)

Bartleby takes a stab at yesterday's question:
Simple - optimism isn't as interesting as Doomsday. Even Christianity, which is pretty optimistic (Heaven, et al), has a doomsday for the world.

Not only that, but war sells. The History Channel doesn't show war flicks 24x7 because people find war to be dull. It's because people find war to be absolutely fascinating.

Peace is nice, but it's boring. How long would your book be if all you had to say that everything was idyllic, there was no fighting, and the problems of economics were completely solved?

Okay, I'll buy that much of the argument. War is more interesting than peace; conflict is more interesting that congruence; change is more interesting than stasis. That's why we have "crime" stories and not "law-abiding nice people" stories, or at the very least "people with terribly messed up romantic lives" novels instead of "happily married monogamous couple" novels.

But why does SF so often seem to require not merely the level of violence common to heroic fantasy, but the near-complete destruction of civilization and the near-annihilation of mankind? Is it merely a matter of taking something that's already fascinating (war) and turning up the volume? Is it simply a failure of imagination? Is it too much work to imagine what things might be like if western civilization continues to evolve for another 500 years, and therefore much easier to envision a world in which some drastic historical discontinuity has occurred and we've been bombed back to stone knives, bear skins, tribal rituals and rap music?

Or is this recurring destruction-and-rebirth theme evidence of some deeply latent misanthropic streak; some profound dissatisfaction with the world as it is today, which expresses itself as a wish to imagine that we can reset history to some earlier checkpoint and re-run it again -- only this time, we'd do it right, because people like us would be in charge?

Is the truth of the matter that hard-core sci-fi fans have a lot more in common with the hard-core eco-Luddites, or even that lunatic professor down in Texas who wants to exterminate 90-percent of the human population, than we'd really care to admit?

Or is it just that we all read The Swiss Family Robinson at an impressionable age?