Saturday, October 25, 2008

Speaking in Dystopias

Science Fiction blog io9 has an interesting post up about the two competing narratives of dystopia in this year's presidential election campaign. The post is a good start, but as we near the very end of a two-year-long campaign about the future of this nation, it's a good idea to take a closer look at our competing worst fears.

The dystopia that is easier for me to imagine is the dystopia of the McCain/Palin administration. Greatly to the disservice of McCain's record in the senate, people fear his government not on his own merits or policies, but on those they see him as a surrogate for. The fears about McCain being the next bush are what inspire the trite labeling of him as "McSame", and again, that's a fear that has everything to do with Bush and nothing to do with McCain. It's a repeat of the dystopia of the first 6 years of this millenium, where a Republican president and a Republican congress waged war, inspired fear, let competitive industries consolidate, undermined freedoms, and challenged the social norms of what was approaching an open and progressive society. The fear with McCain, as is the fear with all conservatives (which is is a stand-in for), is the fear of a regression back into a previous and oppressive state of existence. Reckless wars, failing education systems, and the transition of social norms to the rigidly-clamped down society that spawned first the beat poets and then the hippies are all valid fears, but the big one is not so much a fear of actively going backward as it is a fear of stagnation. Palin especially, with here "drill baby drill", epitomizes the failings of the status quo - not that we can't drill, but we can't do it for much longer, and to continue to rely on solutions which we know will stop working soon seems to be folly. It's another four/eight/sixteen years of watching the United States not so much collapse as go down with the ship. Dystopia here is letting ourselves be blinded by unfailing devotion to a system that worked once when it is obvious that times have changed, reality has changed, and that we need intelligence, innovation, and sacrifice to make the whole thing work. And it's a fear that we'll be blinded by infighting and hobbled by tradition in such a way that we fall behind as a nation, and are unable to maintain our position as the world leader in anything excpet debt.

Contrasted with this is the dystopia envisioned by the Nobama crowd. Obama's promise of government working for people again is views quite skeptically; government by its vary nature is harmful to individuals, and any expansion of government power or responsibility will mean, more or less, the end times. It's wars ended in ignominous retreat and a national debt accumlated by spending tax dollars on the lazy, the illegal, and the undeserviving. It's the loss of freedom to universal programs, and it's being expected to say "thank you" for the infringement on your rights. It's being told that your values are not only not unviersal values, but they are criminal values. It's the fear inherent in every American since we first got self-determination, and it's a fear that focuses on very specific definitions of the self, and of determination. It's knowign that tax dollars will be spent on an act you view as murder. It's a real, genuine, fear for our economic security which sees taxes as the final straw that will break the back of American industry. And it's a genuine fear for America's safety, that we'll be left vulnerable and that our president will not have the strength of resolve to punish those who've attacked us. It's a combination of both the oppressive nanny state at home and embarassing appeasement abroad.

Of course, both fears of dystopia are overblown - if they weren't, they wouldn't be fears about dystopia. The way to get around these statements? Read what the candidates say, about themselves, in positive terms - listen to what they say they are going to do, and ignore all the "gotcha!" moments, as well as the divise and petty partisan jokes. Because no matter what happens on Nov. 4th, change is more or less a given, and it's incredibly hard to imagine that change as anything less than positive.

(To be fair, degree of positive matters a lot. Also, this is assuming Obama, McCain, or even Biden administrations. A Palin administration is closer to the dystopic fears about McCain, and tobe fair she inspires many of them. Even under that worst-case of worst-case scenarios, thoguh, the progress will be measured at zero, and not in negative numbers.)

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