I’d (foolishly) hoped I’d be able to blog from WisCon, but I lacked not only a single spare moment in which to write about my thought and experiences there, I also found it impossible to process most of it. (The exceptions, I think, were the occasional one-on-one conversations, which are a special pleasure of WisCon.) In situations like this one, where I’m being bombarded multifarious stimuli, I often seem unable to fully take in what is happening in the moment it happens. I usually spend the travel day and the first few days home reviewing, remembering, and mulling over it all. Yesterday was my travel day, but rather than spending it sifting through the jumble of fresh memories crowding my mind, I mostly tried to catch up on my email. This morning I woke with a sore throat and running nose and the realization that I had a lot to do before leaving town again, on Sunday, to attend the Rio Hondo Writers Workshop. I did, though, spend some time yesterday (in the air over
Ashifa Kassam has a piece titled “South Americans Wage Battle Against Economic World Order: Continent’s People Optimistically Continue Fight Largely Abandoned by Western Activists” that was originally published on the CBC News site and is reprinted on Commondreams.org. I want to a few bits from it:
South Americarages the battle the rest of the world forgot.
It’s a battle for a change in the way that the world does economics. Its symptoms mark the beautiful cities of the continent: In
Quito, Ecuadorians protest daily against a proposed free-trade agreement with the , while Colombians graffiti their cities’ walls with slogans decrying privatization. United States
, roads are blocked daily by Bolivians with strong opinions on foreign-owned oil companies. In La Paz , factory workers flaunt a world without bosses as one factory after another is turned into a co-operative. Buenos Aires
Their battle isn’t confined to the streets. It’s manifested itself in the politics of
South America, as left-leaning leaders continue to dominate and be broadly supported.
And, since she’s writing for North Americans, Kassam notes:
Two years after their first appearance in
Seattle, the same groups brought down . They stunned the meeting of the Free Trade Agreement of the Quebec City Americaswith the largest protests has ever seen. Canada
From their movement stemmed the World Social Forum, an annual conference where the people behind the movement gather to plan international campaigns, formulate strategies and articulate their issues.
But while a few Western activists continue to be involved in the movement, the bulk of them have moved on. The recent World Economic Forum in Hong Kong was protested by people from
Korea, Indiaand , but Western protesters were far and few between. Brazil
South Americans are well aware that they have lost many of their allies in battle. Far from dampening their motivation, the loss has made them more adamant in their struggle. They have turned to new strategies, from political leaders to natural resources, to accomplish the changes they want to see in the world.
The specific instances mentioned above (and in the article) merely scratch the surface. The southern portion of the Western Hemisphere is seething with activist-driven change—not “revolt” as we commonly think of it, but sustained, determined movement pushing back hard against “late” (or “global”) “postmodern” capitalism.
Now, to the panel:
In authors ranging from Heinlein to Macleod, Spinrad to Cordwainer Smith, the revolution is glorified -- sometimes a violent one, sometimes (but far more rarely) a peaceful one. How do we avoid making the same errors of glorifying violence and hero worship when coming at things from a revolutionary perspective in fiction? (Some people may not find these to be errors -- they're welcome to come discuss that POV too. ;)) Lyn Paleo, Chris Nakashima-Brown, L. Timmel Duchamp, M: Paul Kincaid
Perhaps I ought to begin by saying, for those who have never attended such discussions, that they tend to be passionate and even urgent rather than detached, academic (in the sense of being without personal consequence to the discussants). For certain readers, science fiction of political change (where the political change is not merely one rather trivial aspect of the world-building that is not particularly well thought out, which is common in run-of-the-mill space opera, for instance, or in hard sf in which the author does not consider political, economic, and social systems of real extrapolative importance) is not simply entertainment, but rather an emotionally and intellectually engaging way to think through current realities and future possibilities: a way, in fact, to affirm that what is is not what must be. Late capitalism in general and the post-Reagan US political regime in particular have promulgated the belief that what we have now—the commodification of every aspect of our lives, the privatization of every social and governmental function, the insistence that every choice and decision should be determined by “market forces” regardless of the dehumanization and degradation that necessarily follows when human life itself is openly subordinated to the entitlement of the wealthy to make every buck there is to be made—is the only choice since nothing else, according to the dominant voices in US society, “works.” (Shall we ask the people driven out of
Rather than try to reconstruct the panel’s hour and fifteen minutes of discussion (which I don’t think I could do, since I didn’t take notes or record it), I want to focus on what I see as three critical nodes around which much of the discussion knotted up or, conversely, flowed (in order to go around and skirt it).
It was in the course of discussing rates of change that one of the most unsettling moments of the discussion occurred. I’m not quite sure what led up to it, but I believe it originated in a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s proposal that we totally reinvent government every twenty years* because,
[E]very ten years or so, new laws should be promulgated at a constitutional convention. A grown man, he noted in his best biblical parable style, should not be forced to wear a boy’s jacket. —Gore Vidal, Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson
Chris remarked that the most effective way to change the way people think is the Paul Pot method—killing every adult in sight and starting with a blank slate with the children remaining. An awful silence descended on the room in the wake of this remark. I remember thinking to myself, he’s probably being ironic, but I don’t get in what way precisely. Is he suggesting that the idea of changing how we think is tantamount to massacring millions and brainwashing the remainder and therefore critiquing the entire idea of changing how people think and interact and thus is arguing in favor of changing only the forms in which we are governed? Or is this an expression of despair and hopelessness, based on the belief that humans are immutably awful? Or is this supposed to be funny? Or can it be that there’s something I’m not getting because it’s too subtle for my feeble feminist brain? After a beat, Lyn turned to him and said, “I hope you’re joking.” I don’t exactly recall his response, but whatever it is, it didn’t clarify my confusion over what it was he was actually intending to convey by that remark. I still don’t know. And I have no idea what anyone else was thinking, because after a moment the discussion flowed on around it as an object standing in its way. Although such conversational objects must sometimes be gone around to keep from sidetracking the discussion, it seems to me in retrospect that attention to the remark would not have been a sidetrack at all and might have taken us to places we needed to go. Chris, if you are reading this, I would appreciate your explaining exactly what (if anything) you intended by the remark.
Another uncomfortable (and for me unclarified) area opened up when Paul, talking about revolution in colonialist and post-colonialist contexts from his educated British perspective, made the firm assertion that revolutions succeed only when rulers are weak or allow the revolutions to succeed because they don’t have the will or heart to crush them. He casually tossed out the example of the American Revolution (which rather bemused me, partly because I thought that this view would be a surprising one to most Americans) and then, in more detail, the revolution on the Indian subcontinent led by Gandhi and others, implying that the British would still be running India if the US hadn’t pulled Britain’s loans after World War II. As the discussion continued, I spent the next five minutes trying to decide what I thought of the idea, then had to put it aside to get back into the discussion.
It often happens that chasms of comprehension open up in conversations I have with certain (though not all) Brits, usually, I think, where on one side the received educated opinion and perspective is so taken for granted and on the other side that same opinion and perspective is so foreign and new that I’m thrown off balance and need time to find my footing, at least partly because where an opinion and perspective is received, it carried far-reaching implications and contains layers and layers of underlying assumptions that are largely invisible and therefore impenetrable to the outsider. Surely, I thought, he doesn’t mean to dismiss all successful revolutions as coming about simply because the oppressors let it?
The first counterexample that popped into my head was
*I have an essay forthcoming this summer in Margaret Grebowicz, ed., Sci-fi in the Mind’s Eye exploring how sf writers might use
I’ve much more to say about WisCon (and of course there much more that could be said about the “Romance of the Revolution” panel) and hope to do so—providing I can find time to write about it before the weekend. In the meantime, I hope other members of this blog will post on their WisCon experiences as well. And to everyone else: I welcome comments and guest posts.