The world is getting bigger. By that I mean, of course, that the ability we have as people to learn more and understand more about other people of other cultures and other mindsets is growing massively more prevalent every year. Perhaps this is the root of so much of our polarization in the US and across the world. Perhaps it is only natural that when we human beings face things we don’t understand so well, that we draw circles and defend our positions. But given that we are able to crash into each other more often in this growing world, it seems inevitable that we will crash into each other more often.
* Interesting, isn’t it? We say the world is getting bigger when what we really mean is that our perceptions of the world are expanding. The world has always been the same size, but when I was a kid we never really thought about a kid in China, or what people were actually doing in Africa, or whatever. We did, of course, hear about the starving kids in Korea who would give their right hand for our broccoli, but that is a different beast all together. So, no, the world is not getting any bigger. It is we, the human society on this planet that are getting bigger, and who need to get even bigger still if we are to survive well together (and no, I’m not talking population, here)
The past few science fiction conventions I’ve gone to have either included or been followed by a discussion of the expansion of the SF world, and by definition, the fandom that surrounds it. It seems interesting to me that there are two different takes on the subject.
From inside the existing old guard, the question is generalized down to “how do we attract more young folks and people of other cultures to our party?” This is a natural question to ask, but look at where it comes from. The mere phrasing of the question in this fashion says “we have the magic key, we are the holders of the party.” While the question is a natural one for most human beings to ask, it can really annoy the very people it is intending to bring into the group. When phrased in that fashion, the question assumes that there is nothing else out there–that the “known world” is the core, that it would only be natural for everyone to be drawn to this “standard” mindset.
But, you know, SF and fantasy and mythology and mystical stories have existed everywhere for as long as there have been people. And while people are interested in expanding their horizons, they are also interested in being valued for who they are and where they come from.
This is (generalizing greatly) the second perspective, the perspective of the people that the US-centric core of Science Fiction is struggling to absorb.
It’s in this light that I read Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay’s essay on Strange Horizons titled Recentering Science Fiction and the Fantastic: What would a non-Anglocentric understanding of science fiction and fantasy look like?. It is a great read, even if I struggle a bit with pieces of it. Note, when I say “struggle,” I don’t yet mean I disagree with it. I mean that I need to read it again and think about it some more. I am in the middle of the Anglocentric center that Chattopadhyay is commenting on, after all. So it’s only natural that I will need to take some time to really understand a different perspective. And only when I understand that perspective can I truly say that I agree with or disagree with the framework elements the article proposes.
That’s the thing about difference. Rather than pause and understand, confusion with new perspective often results in disagreement rather than a quest to understand. This is as natural as human nature itself. I see it across cultures at work. I see it in politics at any level, and I see it in so many ways in the world of science fiction. It reminds me of the story of Flatland. We don’t care to take the time (or have the time to take) to realize that the world we know and think is so comprehensive, is really just a small portion of the truth.
But one thing still seems to ring true to me. And that is that the way to bring people into the fold of your club is to expand the interests of the club to include the things that your fellow humans think are interesting, or important, or that they think are just flat cool themselves.