It’s been over a fortnight since my last Blog. I haven’t really had the wherewithal to come up with an entry, what with watching the world tumble down around us. Watching the organisations of authority buck against the calls of the marginalised for them to be held to account for their abuses of power. The roll-backs in social progressive legislation, the ‘revelations’ of nepotism, favouritism and widespread corruption taking place daily in the upper echelons of the western world.
This is all largely UK-centric, I’m trying to keep abreast of wider events in the States and Europe but ebb-and-flow of information can be at once overwhelming, misleading and draining. So, what I would like to do in this blog is touch, briefly, on various social factors and constructs that writers can use and, potentially, briefly visit those that are in play today with a few side-notes on how they are misused.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of Democracy. Elected bodies chosen by the population at large based on a plan of governance that suites the majority. Supposedly the system that we in the UK and the States live under. The emergent impression I have, though, is this. While the Conservatives and Republicans hold up this Democratic ideal as ‘what we have/you voted for’, it’s becoming more and more apparent that ‘Democracy’ is just a sham, a smokescreen that they use to hide the idea that they are manipulating the vote to retain power. Gerrymandering (that is manipulating the boundaries of electorate districts to control the outcome of a vote) allows these bodies to win any election on a minority under the ‘First Past the Post’ system as opposed to a proportional representation system. The very idea that ‘every vote counts’ hinges on everyone who is able to vote doing so, it doesn’t account for voter apathy and we haven’t even touched on vote rigging.
Totalitarianism, that is to say Communism, is supposedly the antithesis of the Democratic world. The idea that a government can do what it wants, when it wants to who it wants without regulation or opposition is horrific but, as we’ve seen with the institutionalised oppression of ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ communities and, even the inequalities between men and women in the workplace, isn’t that what we have? Dystopian fictions often feature brute squads of government or party Stormtroopers knocking down doors and dragging away dissidents or political opposition but, as has been made clear in UK politics in the last few years, you don’t need to go so far. The right-wing press acted as the Tories stormtroopers to undermine the opposition leadership. This manifestation of Totalitarian Idealism has blunted the social progressionist position of the Left, made it seem unpopular and pushed the opposition party back toward the centre. Totalitarianism is about total control and, whether by force or coercion (whichever suits your narrative purpose better) there are numerous historical and fictional examples to draw on. Starship Troopers was Robert A. Heinlein’s take on militarism and Paul Verhoeven’s film satirizes the Totalitarian/Fascist elements of the original work. Other well-executed examples are 2002’s Equilibrium by Kurt Wimmer and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta (A Totalitarian Theocracy, a two-fer).
Socialism, widely touted by Right-wing scaremongers as ‘Communism’, is an extension of Marxist Communism. In this case the ‘Commune’ before the ‘ism is a stateless, classless social organisation of mutual support and common ownership. The socialism we espouse today isn’t that. The NHS, a health body established to care for the entire population, free at point of use, paid for by individual tax contributions is rooted in a progressive socialist move by Nye Bevan and Clement Attlee. The idea that healthcare be provided to all regardless of wealth. Gene Roddenberry’s StarTrek is a socialist setting. It’s full of politics, intrigue, espionage and, from time to time, features stories of avarice and abuse of power but, importantly, the Earth that counts amongst the membership of Starfleet works on a moniless system where everyone is provided for. The ideal is that Healthcare, Education and Social Support for those that find themselves out of/unable to work is all in place, that corporations contribute evenly, which leads us to…
Capitalism. I used to number among those who believed that Capitalism was a system whereby you worked in order to earn a fair wage and, the harder you worked or the better your job/qualification the more you were entitled to earn. Oh how wrong I was. Here’s the Oxford Dictionaries definition;
“an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
Which runs hand-in-hand with Commercialism or the emphasis on maximising profit. I’m not sure there’s even a word for my belief beyond ‘boundless optimism’. Just to be clear, if you work a job, you’re not a capitalist, you just ultimately work for one. Capitalism itself puts no emphasis on morality. While Capitalism itself isn’t a system of government it is its interaction with government that proves most telling. Capitalist greed goes so well alongside political corruption. Only this week it has emerged a Tory housing minister used his position to alter planning allocation so as to benefit a party contributor to the tune of £50 million in tax savings. What did this cost the private citizen and construction mogul? A mere £14k. So, while a common citizen defying planning and erecting a structure without permission faces having the building demolished, court fees and a hefty fine, all a construction company has to do is drop a fairly megre donation into the government and they can do whatever they like. In 1993’s Demolition Man, Sandra Bullock’s character mentions the ‘Franchise Wars’ which resulted in all restaurants being Taco Bell’s, in Jason X there is a reference to the ‘Microsoft Conflict’ which always titillated me with visions of a story world where affiliation was not to country or party but to Brand.
Of course then there are options in fantasy worlds for Theocracies, a state run by Church, I’ve come across the phrase ‘Magocracy’ which is state run by wizards/mages and Monarchies. Possibly less-known but perfectly suited for Sci-Fi is the Technocracy or a state run by scientist/experts and that one has me at the moment.
How much better might it be if, rather than overstuffed products of the accumulation of hereditary wealth and privilege, our society was guided by people who actually study the aspects of society they are giver oversight of? The leaders of the Brexit Campaign loudly declaimed that ‘The People have had enough of Experts!’ well, guess what? Now one of those men is our PM and, in the face of the Covid19 pandemic, he’s flagrantly ignoring the experts. He doesn’t even attend the Cobra Meetings (safety briefings presenting expert advice) for the situation anymore. What if our economy was overseen by Economists? What if Health and Education was actually guided by people with experience in those areas rather than over-privileged Private School boys whose reason for becoming politicians was the prospect of an over-paid consultancy once they’d ‘served’ a few years?
At some point I might experiment with a story based within a Technocracy but, and this is important and a theme I’ve been struggling with recently, I wouldn’t want to reflect badly on the setting. I mean, currently I’m writing a property where the goal is to tear down the whole rotten, corrupt shooting match. The antagonists are (although not set yet) to my mind extreme left-wing fundamentalists. They’ve become sickened by the strangle-hold of Corporate White Privilege and decided that the only way forward is its absolute and rapid destruction. The arc is driven by my own frustration that, after more than a century of social progression we’re not in a better place. Inequality built on race, gender or economic standing is throttling our potential. How many advances in medicine, technology or ecological sciences have been missed because the mind that could have made them was Black, or Femme, or Poor? But what light does that cast Left-Wing, Socialist Progressives in? Am I hurting my position by writing a book that threatens complete annihilation on the Establishment? Am I over-thinking the entire situation because the book is only likely to attract leftist socialists? Very simply put, you can’t please everyone all the time and a little controversy can be good for sales but I don’t think it’s a sales route I want to go too far down.