Serdar’s recent blog post on the importance of skepticism and “not being sure” struck a chord in me. We need skepticism, yet we don’t leverage it and work against it – until our lack of skepticism creates a disaster. As he notes
“There ought to be room for the development of a whole sub-discipline of public relations that uses what we know about behavior on a mass scale to constructively leverage doubt. We have thus far used fear and greed and delusion, but we’re not stupid; we can use compassion and generosity and insight if we choose to.”
Later, he wonders if this can be explored in fiction. I have, to an extent, and had an insight I wanted to share.
My Avenoth novels take place in a techno-fantasy world that survived a devastating war. In turn, this setting was based on an unused science fiction novel I had in mind, looking at how we might survive and prosper after our many challenges. I learned a lot in theorizing the latter and creating the former, even if the themes aren’t always apparent.
(Perhaps making them more subtle means they affect people more . . .)
In the current Avenoth setting, the population is well-educated, aware of the past – and taught to be skeptical. Society is a complex dance of unions, churches, professional organizations, neighborhoods, governments, grounding people in oft-harsh reality. It is a society deliberately remade to ensure it can survive – and skepticism is part of it.
Contemplating that society taught me several things about the hope for a society where skepticism is valued:
- Society that values strong ties, truth, and skepticism is easy to visualize. We know we want it – it seems we don’t want to work on it.
- Society has to confront and deal with unsurety to have functional skepticism. Too many people sell the drug of certainty to those who want it.
- A society that wants functional skepticism has to ask for it deliberately. It must be valued.
- Many people know how much bullshit they believe. They don’t want to admit it.
- A skeptical society must be skeptical of the past. Too often want the past to bless us with approval, meaning we see it with distorted vision.
Ironically, the Avenoth series, which started as a kind of fantasy/sf deconstruction, took me in this direction. It was educational, even if it wasn’t the exact point of the stories when I started.
I’d like to think that humanity can learn without a massive disaster. I fear it may be too late considering COVID-19, climate change, and economic problems. What we can’t avoid, may we learn from.
At least writing this series, I can see how it’s possible to learn. That is one of the virtues of fiction, but I do wish I could find more, as Serdar does.