During yesterday’s conversation, I said the social arrangements we make for living together haven’t changed in any significant way since the Greeks. They invented the idea of democracy, but couldn’t put it into practice any more than we can. Instead we invent machines to use against each other, including machines of war. Justin said he agreed with me that men are essentially warlike, which is not what I meant.
He believes in essences. Man is essentially warlike and competitive, and Woman is essentially nurturing. I find binaries, such as Empedocles’ Love and Strife, useful for ordering my thoughts, but I don’t make the mistake of reifying them, much less conflating them with other binaries, such as the supposed essences of Manhood and Womanhood. I told him so, and of course he agreed with me. Justin agrees with most everything I say because he doesn’t understand it.
The latest issue of the LRB arrived today, with an article by Fredric Jameson on Science Fiction.
Ever since we became aware of the world, we’ve thought of ways to change it. Jameson said the essence of SF is not science, as those not familiar with the genre assume, but the imagining of alternatives to the status quo.
Imaginative fiction has always had a problem locating its alternative societies. Originally they were in the past, a lost Golden Age. Later, during the age of exploration, they were set in some as yet undiscovered country in the present, like Erewhon or More’s Utopia. When the myth of progress took hold of peoples’ imaginations, they were set in the future.
At first narrators travel to the alternative society by falling into what Jameson calls ‘a magnetic sleep’ and waking in the future. H. G. Wells provided a more plausible means of travel with his time machine. The machine personified the industrial revolution, and therefore progress, until it was superseded by political revolution and the bomb.
But revolutions, industrial and political, changed society less than people expected. The wheel revolved, rulers and ruled changed places, but the structure of society hasn’t changed in any significant way since the Greeks. Wage slavery differs from chattel slavery only in degree, not in kind. Even worse, the revolutions had unintended consequences whose evil seemed to many equal to the good they achieved.
Justin said communism failed because it’s unnatural. Human nature is, in essence, competitive, not co-operative. Even women compete for men.
Everyone thinks this now. Everyone has lost faith in the machine, the supposed engine of progress, and can imagine nothing other than the status quo, however unsatisfactory, because they believe in an essence called human nature that can’t be changed. Even Justin, who has faith in machines but not in people, would probably agree with this argument if he understood it.