Gene Roddenberry’s Sci-fi Solution to Racism

Let’s talk for a moment about Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi solution to racism. I know I’ve talked about Roddenberry before, but the guy is a personal hero and current events make it necessary to speak out again.

The NYT is talking about the worrisome trend of ‘racist science fiction.’ Being a person who loves sci-fi, it bothers me to think that my beloved genre could be co-opted to divide people. At the same time, one can see how powerful an idea can be when persons perceive that it’s time has come.

But what if that idea is horrible? What if that mindset can lead to hate, murder, and genocide? That’s what frightens me, and I think it disturbed yesteryear sci-fi creators like Gene Roddenberry and Rod Serling as well. ‘Superman,’ ‘Star Trek,’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’ dealt with anti-facist, anti-racial themes in their time. Rather than taking the issue head on, which would have resulted in failure, they spoke directly to people they knew would listen: The kids.

That strategy has power. Star Trek imagined a future where the Cold War was over, and American racism had died out. Rod Serling mercilessly mocked authoritarian logic in ‘The Obsolete Man’: “This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one […] But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace.”

Superman himself was responsible for a significant victory. In addition to defeating Lex Luthor, Superman defeated the Klan where normal, law-abiding citizens could not. He didn’t just leap tall buildings in a single bound, he jumped over impossible hurdles in human perspective.

The point that science fiction taught us is simple, and powerful: We can live without racism. We can treat each other with respect and dignity. We can eliminate imaginary boundaries to fellowship and kindness. We can use the power of the mind, and spirit, to create a decent world.

I’m not sure what this means for me, personally. What I do know is that my sci-fi is about a future that just *is*. Even if I’ve said it before, I’m going to say it again. And as long as it needs to be said, I’ll keep saying it. Maybe one day, we can move onto topics of greater interest.

World Leaders Go Full Dystopia

Just read a creepy article – about a recent conversation with the nervous 1%. How will they survive the coming collapse of society? For people who project a bright vision of the future in public, it’s alarming to see world leaders go full dystopia in private. What do you do when money goes away? How do you maintain your family’s safety, or its quality of life?

These don’t seem to be idle questions. As you read through the discussion, you can see that wealthy people have no illusions about how the rest of us feel about them. They also have no illusions on the stability of society as a whole.

The sad part is, where you’d think this would lead some to introspection, and self-realization, they continue to rationalize sociopathic behavor:

They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

It’s a sad, depressing piece of news to contemplate, but not surprising. Plutocrats have been saying for a while that this massive imbalance of societal power will eventually result in disaster. However, where is the natural “hey, we have to stop the Titanic from sinking!” mentality? If you know society is going to explode, and you wield massive amounts of influence, why aren’t you doing something about it?

I already know the answer to that question, and maybe you do, too. It doesn’t change the fact that the rich and wealthy could do something, even if they chose not to because of the realities of wealth creation and social power dynamics. It’s also why I have no interest in writing dystopian fiction. We’re already living there.

The message is: Start preparing for the future, because they are.

Star Wars Fans: Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

I hate to say I told you so, but … there it is. Star Wars fans – a very small and vocal minority of them – are continuing to push us down a path of self-destruction.

According to this article, ‘The dark side of “Star Wars” fandom recently reared its head when Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who plays Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” was run off Instagram by misogynistic and racist messages from fans who didn’t like her character.’

That’s not the only example. Over the weekend, I found myself in the middle of some Reddit-shaming in /r/scifi. A poor kid, improving his writing skills, had the temerity to ask /r/scifi with help on some science fiction. It doesn’t get any more clear than that: we need help.

Other people have already attempted to put these toxic actors in their place, but the damage is done. Unless a strong community message comes forth, firmly advocating for the inclusion and tolerance we all claim to represent, I fear that the entire science fiction community is at risk.

As you can see in the Steven Colbert clip below, the world is already preparing itself to take out the trash. Angry, racist, and misogynistic speech was not supposed to be a part of science fiction, or geek, but it’s happening. If it doesn’t get better, we might all find ourselves banished to the Phantom Zone.

Colbert makes the joke playful, but it’s a joke with teeth. There isn’t an A-List celebrity out there that’s more into Lord of the Rings than Colbert. He knows geek, he is geek, and unless you like finding yourself called out every night on national TV, it’s time to take a step back. So, please.

Please.

If you happen to be a toxic actor, or if you know one, please take this opportunity. Please take this moment. Please stand up for science fiction. We aren’t supposed to be like this. We aren’t supposed to be known for this. Science fiction rallied together to save Star Trek, in the late 60s. Science fiction rallied to name the first Space Shuttle Enterprise. We have been, and can be, a powerful force for good.

I said it before – let me say it again: “Sooner or later, history will allow us to look back on our time now with some candor and insight. Who do we want to be when we get there? How do we want to remember ourselves? How do we want the elder generation who entrusted this community and genre to us to feel? How do we want the younger generation to see us?”

Please folks – take a step back. We’re better than this. It’s time to show it.

Docking Sequence – Scifi Wallpaper for May

Docking Sequence - Scifi Wallpaper for May

I’m very pleased with ‘Docking Sequence.’ This started out as a simple experiment with photomosaics and comic art and ended up being one of my new favorite wallpapers. With May drawing to a close, it makes me happy to end the month with a new chunk of scifi to share with you.

Creating new scifi all the time – even if it isn’t as cool as other artists’ work – is important to me. Along with finding my voice, I need to learn how to use it. Struggling, trying, learning – that’s all part of the trip. Putting your stuff out there into the world is a valuable skillset for any creator to learn.

Hope your summer is as good as you deserve it to be.

 

What’s Wrong With Every User Community Ever

Whoa – I did not expect that. On a side thread about keto dieting, I stumbled upon an answer to a question I’ve been asking ever since the late 90s. In three paragraphs, a justifiably-angry Redditor outlines what’s wrong with every user community ever.

This Sub Has Really Gone Downhill

This doesn’t just apply to people on /r/keto, or Reddit. Forum trolls are a thing no matter where you go. User communites are designed to support an interest, and the benefits of welcoming new members should be self-evident. Not so, in the day and age of trolling. As the Redditor brings out, working for the greater good seems to be in decline, and toxic behavior leaves many communities with a bad name, as people leave discouraged, and defeated.

But you already know this.

This isn’t another point-at-the-problem post. God knows you’ve seen a ton of those. The real question we should be answering is, how do you avoid this behavior? How do you pull back from this reality? Good user communities are good tribes, and good tribes come from good tribal leadership. Let me share this Ted talk on Tribal Leadership with you, and I hope you find it useful in your community-building activities.

 

 

 

 

Mesh Update #8 – Inspirational Schools

Ran across this story about the Midland School in California, and fell in love. For over a thousand years, education has been the root of every civilization. But how do you teach young people to be good people? How do you teach them the skills necessary to be successful beyond business, in life itself?

Midlands seems to have found the answer. What makes a school like this stand out is the level of life skills they’re giving to each student. “The students more or less run Midland, which has no janitorial or maintenance staff. They plant and pick about half of the food they eat on a 10-acre farm. They clean the windows, maintain the landscape, and sweep the old chapel.’

“‘We know we’re different and we know we’re a little crazy,’ said Christopher Barnes, the head of school. ‘The question for each student and for each family is if we’re your kind of crazy.'”

How does this tie back to Mesh? Our protags, Roman and Zeke, are going to visit a school like Midland when the Mesh is discovered. A school full of tough nerdy kids, ready to do battle against the bad guys? I can see them having a lot of fun. My hope is that you will, too.

 

Elon Musk: Tony Stark Gonna Tony Stark

The news this morning made me realize that I needed to talk about Elon Musk, the universe’s answer to ‘What would happen if Tony Stark were a real person?’ Musk embodies many of the ideals behind Geekquinox, so let’s discuss what the non-nerd media isn’t getting about Tesla, Musk and innovation as a whole.

First, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the average guy in 2018: he’s struggling. He’s aware of the challenges facing life on planet Earth. Plus, he knows the increasing disparity between the needs of the many, and the needs of those in power. He’s rightly asking, where is all of this taking us? When will it start to get better?

Enter Elon Musk. Like Tony Stark, he’s been a maverick his entire career, disrupting industry after industry. Long before we knew what hyperlocal media was, Elon Musk gave us Zip2. Long before we understood the implications of e-commerce banking, Musk gave us Paypal. Any time institutions said ‘you can’t do that,’ Musk’s response was: “Hold my beer.”

Now flash forward to 2018. Tesla production, making cars people buy in California in the 21st century, it’s a tough nut to crack. It involves work, innovation and persistance. Wall Street starts acting like a spoiled teenager, and Big Daddy Musk is like “Uh, yah … no.”

Good for him! In the movies, we champion a maverick. Think about how crazy Tony Stark seemed to be in Iron Man in 2008 when he announced, ‘no more weapons.’ In the movie, as in reality (both including Jim Cramer, like the line between movies and reality isn’t blurry enough), the stock market reacted wildly to his announcement. We didn’t care. We loved that a powerful guy was willing to stand up for what is right. Why would you be surprised that we don’t care about Tesla’s stock price, either?

Let me clue you in: you don’t have a clue. Between Michelle Wolf calling the media out, and Elon Musk not caring if you buy his stock, it’s a heapin’ helping of justiceporn to anyone who despairs of the dystopian status quo.

Here’s another pro-tip – Musk knows you won’t get it. Like every great innovator, he’s prepared to be misunderstood. If you couldn’t understand why SpaceX was important in 2001, why would he bother trying to impress you in 2018? This guy is changing the world. This guy is saving the world. Musk makes things happen, while Wall Street wonders what happened.

In a way, it reminds me of a grandma trying to backseat drive her son. Everyone knows grandma can’t drive herself, but she yaks and complains because she wants everyone to pay attention to her. At some point, someone’s going to tell her: If Grandma don’t like how daddy drives, there’s plenty of room on the Senior Trolley. That’s what Elon Musk just did to the media.

Musk is here to save the world, not the stock market. He’s a geek, and for once in your life you’re dealing with a geek who doesn’t care what you think. If you aren’t willing to come along for the ride, then please make room for another passenger. It’s a positively refreshing response in an increasingly craven world, where the priorities of few override the needs of many.

Good for him, I say. Power is taken, not given. Musk’s comments send a very clear message to those that think human innovation and progress are only seen through the lens of a stock price. Those people are wrong, and it takes a guy like Elon Musk to point it out. Only a person at that level has the ability to say: “I don’t have to play your game. I can succeed without you.”

Elon is keeping his geek hand strong. More power to him.