Gipsies, tramps and... socialists????

Hi. My name is Sarah and I'm (strongly inclined towards being) a libertarian. The last time I ate a baby for breakfast was yesterday (eggs count, right?) and I spend my days oppressing the poor and persecuting minorities (imaginary characters are minorities, right?) when I'm not off stomping on the downtrodden (how in heck could they be downtrodden if no one treads down on them? I'm just holding up the side) when I'm not committing acts of unimaginable depravity, laughing as the helpless sink into hopelessness or greedily refusing to share any of the money I earn.

Right. Now that we've disposed of the stereotype, let's get serious. At least as serious as I'm capable of being, since -- paraphrasing Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land -- laughter is what happens when a situation is too tragic to cry over.

One of the most tragic alignments of the last two centuries is the lockstep unity between the oddballs, outliers and creative minorities and the most oppressive statist regimens (or, when that choice is not available, the more oppressive of two regimens). Mind you, this alignment usually lasts only till the statists achieve their goals. The oddballs, weirdos and misfits - my people, broadly speaking - are inevitably the first ones against the wall in the regrettable and always unexpected purges needed to achieve the glorious utopian future.

This post started brewing in my mind with something that either Eric wrote here or one of my gay male friends put in an email. It went something like this "Why should I be a socialist just because I want to sleep with guys?" It decried the automatic alignment of anyone of odd sexual orientation under the hammer and sickle banner, whether colored deep red or somewhat pinkish.

That is a pervasive but odd fact of politics since any socialist country - heck, most totalitarian countries, look at Iran - either denies the existence of sexual minorities or tries to make them disappear. (Hey, children, where do you think the pink triangle came from? I won't break Godwin's law, but you might want to consider the name of that regime. The full name.)

But the sexually different are not alone. Oh, no. Anyone who is odd, different, anyone who sticks out, anyone who thinks differently - the kids picked last for every sports team, the girls never invited to the prom, the boys who thought quadratic equations made good small talk, the girls who read Camus in elementary school (hi there! Guilty as charged.) - all the shambling crowd of oddities that give the human race flavor, the harbingers of innovation, the ones who tend to think outside the box... fall neatly into the totalitarian box of support for oppressive regimens -- at least until those regimens win.

I always knew I was different, even if I was - in late highschool and college - one of the popular kids. I could fake fitting in. I could act "average" - though it took me a while to figure it out - but I was always aware I was different. The places I could decompress and be myself were gatherings of science fiction and fantasy fans and, later, writers.

But I did not realize we were a visible and distinguishable minority till after 9/11, when I was flying back from World Fantasy in Montreal. In a busy airport, I could pick out everyone who had been at the convention. No, I didn't know all of them by sight. But, trust me, even those who were wearing their editor-best were easily distinguishable. I made a game of watching someone till they pulled out a book or a souvenir from the con to confirm my suspicion. With flights delayed, it wasn't hard. And I was always right. I could identify one of "us" with almost infallible certainty. There was just that odd look about them - us - of... for lack of a better word, someone who thinks too much; of being both the one who does and the one who watches.

That is because Science Fiction/Fantasy writers, editors and to an extent fans are psychological minorities. Odd in a way no one has defined. Yeah, some movies and tv series have popularized the concepts, but no more would the average person spend time contemplating magic or thinking of what life will be like five hundred years from now, than they'd consider braiding their eyebrows. In fact, when talkin to normal people, we try to pretend we're being allegorical and "socially relevant." But for us that's rarely the point.

So, why are we fascinated with these topics? What makes us different? Who knows? Genetics? Maybe, though I hate the fad of ascribing everything to a genetic program. I think it's the delusion of our age, just like Victorians thought the cosmos was clock work. (Maybe we saw naked pictures of rockets when we were two. Or perhaps we were seduced by an elf at ten.) But the difference is there, undeniable.

SF people are a "psychological minority" and they are, for lack of a better word, "My people." The ones who do spend time thinking of the improbable. The ones who live on the far outward edges of sanity. We fulfill an important function in these days when reality gives the average person a serious case of future shock. We're the pioneers moving ahead into the mine field, clearing the ground, so the rest can follow safely. This makes us odd, and more than a little scary.

Also both pros and fans in the field are, almost to the last one, generous, caring, accepting. Other minorities easily find haven among us. You can be as different as you wanna be. No one cares. We are a shambling caravan of oddness, and like most such, we are family. No, not in the gay sense - though our percentage of gay people is probably higher than the average population (at least our out of the closet percentage) - but for the same reasons gay people call themselves "family".

If you're one of us in distress, the community will lend a hand. If you're a stranger in a new town, you find the SF readers group or go to a con, or join the local sf/f fandom and you're guaranteed to find friends or at least friendly acquaintances. If you fall, we pick you up. If you embarrass us we cringe, but we won't deny you. We can disagree with every word you say, but you're still family.

And we are to a man, woman and those who are unsure- always excepting the rare black sheep like yours truly and a few other brave souls - absolutely and outrageously leftist. You can write a novel in which Lenin is the incarnation of a GOOD angel and be assured of a good reception (no, truly. The book exists. Did well.) You can write endless stories in which the Soviet Union were the good guys. We won't even go into the stories glorifying Castro. And the utopias we write... Oh, the utopias... If tried out in real life most of them would make the North Koreans look like they're living in Earthly paradise. There is no fringe statist idea we don't embrace. No crazy totalitarian scheme we don't think worth throwing our weight behind.

So, how can bright, educated, sometimes brilliant people, with a satiric eye and a skeptical view of everything else fall so uniformly in the statist camp? Or, to put it another way: Why should I be a socialist just because I want to write rockets and robots? Or even ghosts and vampires?

I think I know the reason. You see, many of my people - I won't make guesses about other outlier-groups because I don't know them from the inside but I do know sf/f people - are the fractured, re-glued, sane- by-the- skin-of-our-teeth remnants of the vertiginous twentieth century. We went to schools designed to turn out a uniform product - which were more likely to scar us for life - were born to families where our... outlier parents were unevenly integrated into society; we stood outside; stood apart; felt like square pegs in a round hole. There's a good chance a high percentage of us are the product of what used to be quaintly called broken homes, even if the families remain together. We are, as someone whose name I can't remember said when referring to a leftist movement in the US, each and every one of us some respectable family's tragedy.

Most of us have managed to be at least walking wounded, supporting each other along the way. Maybe everyone is like that to an extent - how would I know? We're all prisoners inside our heads - but it's worse for the outliers, the ones who stick out.

So... Why would people like that yearn for a strong, all powerful state which promises peace on earth and that everyone will be equal?

It's the combination of the discomfort most of us feel with reality-as-is and the current order of things and of a dirty, rotten evolutionary trick.

What trick? The fact we are geered to do our best to fit in. The fact each of us feels uncomfortable as odd man out. Humans, as a whole, are geared to want to belong to a family-like tribe. The cohesive tribe did better in competition, so that type of person passed on his or her genes.

So what do you do when you're an outlier but you want to belong? What do you do when the tribe -- starting probably with the kids in preschool - stands aside and points fingers at you (an experience quite well remembered even if you later learned to pass)?

Why, you support a state that will do what Teacher did so long ago - come in and by gum make those mean kids stop pointing and start playing with you, that's what. Communists, socialists and - do I need to point out OTHERS throughout history - all statists enjoy and have enjoyed the enthusiastic support of my kind.

Those regimens are "compassionate" see? They care for those left out. Daddy will take care of us and make the hurt go away.

Do I need to point out it doesn't work that way? Just like Teacher could make other kids play with the odd ones, but couldn't prevent the slurs and the practical jokes, the state can't make you normal by fiat. It can't make anyone LIKE you.

Besides statists always shrink resources. And no matter how beautiful fictional depictions of poverty and solidarity are, there is another dirty, rotten evolutionary trick built into mankind. When faced with scarcity, the tribe binds closer together and outliers had best fit in or they will be eliminated. Outliers in love with big brother miss the part where all being equal means all being equal, not just monetarily but in all things big and small - at gun point if necessary.

The oldest part of the human brain doesn't understand this, of course. To the monkey brain those who promise the great family who will take care of you always are the good guys. And us, independent and rebellious black sheep who stand in a corner of our outlier playground and scream out "Yeah, I'm different. What are you gonna do about it? You and whose army?" are the enemy.

At best we are scary because we're insiders and yet not. We don't conform even to the rules of our own outlier group, and we are defying the big boys. We will bring down vengeance upon our weird little group. At worst, we are unfeeling monsters who want to oppress others and ignore those who can't make it. Our very strength seems a threat to the weak and scared. And we're selfish. And we don't care who suffers for our defiance.

Do I need to point out this picture also isn't true? The libertarians and Libertarians I know all do untold hours of volunteer work, whether with official charities or just helping friends and neighbors; they are, by and large, the most generous, giving and civilized people in the world.

Just because you don't like to support strangers, at the end of the government's guns, it doesn't mean you won't lend a hand to those truly in need. Yes, even the "undeserving" addled ones in need. Just because you don't like being robbed, doesn't mean you don't share. Just because you refuse to judge or circumscribe the actions of others, doesn't mean you don't chart a course for yourself or don't deem some actions "unthinkable." (The difference is you judge YOURSELF and give others the benefit of the doubt.) Just because you don't want others forcing you to give deeply, it doesn't mean you don't give till it hurts.

What can we do about that image difference and the fact that our people (our various peoples) cling hysterically to the very regimens that would destroy them? (How do we know it's hysterical? Because any challenge devolves to name calling and screaming.)

D*mned good question and d*mned if I know.

Several things would help - such as not stigmatizing outliers and oddities as evil, but that's not something we can do. That's something the great majority can do. Will they do it? No.

Uniformity is what works for the tribe -- or what has worked historically. We can't require the tribe destroy itself for our sake (Even if that mechanism is no longer true).

A pr good campaign pointing out you can be a good human and not a big-government-fiend might help, except that... what's the punchline of the old joke? "The individualists failed to organize"?

So what can I suggest? Well having the courage to stand out as what we are - outliers' own outliers, weird but free - might help. Either that or it will get us killed. Who knows? Guess I'll find out, now, won't I?

But most of all, most of all, if you're an outlier's outlier - if you belong to one of these groups and don't think big, powerful central government and normalcy by fiat is a good idea -- tread lightly around your fellow outliers who cling to daddy-government. Understand they're in a bind not of their own making. They're not, by and large, stupid. They're not, by and large, evil.

They're just people who are terrified and alone no matter how much they try to be part of the great society. They're people looking for family and acceptance in all the wrong places. And they're our people. Our brothers and sisters, just perhaps not as bloody-minded.

Speak softly to them of the vistas of liberty beyond their longing to fit in. Make them understand they will not be alone.

And show by example that they can be free.

Who knows? It's a million to one chance, but it just might work.

posted by Sarah on 10.09.10 at 02:09 PM


the boys who thought quadratic equations made good small talk

We lose a LOT of the quadratic guys when the talk veers to partial differentials or whose infinity is bigger.

A computer in every home is the ultimate revenge of the nerds.


The trouble of course is a quality control problem. You can't make uniform rules for a non-uniform product.

M. Simon   ·  October 9, 2010 8:02 PM

They're not, by and large, stupid. They're not, by and large, evil.

But by and large they lack courage. It is such a cliche that there is a cliche to support it:

"Evil triumphs when good men do nothing."


I had a social conservative friend ask me if I didn't fear the 3 AM knock because of my anti-prohibition stance.

Let them come. If I live through it I will make a bigger stink.

Or as the Greeks said once upon a time. Molon Labe.

M. Simon   ·  October 9, 2010 8:09 PM

Yes, they do lack courage. I also left open the social "benes" of belonging. Agreeing with "the man" always brings monetary and social rewards. It's entirely possible I'm just too stupid to fall in line. I admit to knee-jerk contrarianism, at times. But I also happen to believe in souls, and I put a higher price on mine than some checks. Which by itself might also be idiocy, who knows?

Sarah   ·  October 9, 2010 8:39 PM


I also happen to believe in souls, and I put a higher price on mine than some checks.

Me too. It is not too profitable but I sleep very well at night.

M. Simon   ·  October 9, 2010 9:32 PM

I don't think it's just a matter of being an outlier; I think it's a combination of being an outlier while internalizing the idea that normality is good.

Joseph Hertzlinger   ·  October 10, 2010 1:16 AM

"Who knows? It's a million to one chance, but it just might work."

And, as we know, million to one chances crop up nine times out of ten. =P

Love the lead-ins from fantasy and sci-fi into politics - they make for very interesting and original posts to read.

Hortensio   ·  October 10, 2010 1:59 AM

for every asimov there was an anderson and for every scalzi there is a ringo

so is the sf crowd really that leftist?

konshtok   ·  October 10, 2010 9:54 AM

Facing my computer directly, if I turn ninety degrees to the left I can see two bookshelves. Each is seven feet tall and forty inches wide (I know because I built them), and they're mostly double-stacked with paperbacks. Five shelves total are tall enough for hardbacks, and they're full too.

Almost all of that is sf of one type or another, and almost all of the sf is somewhere in the "hard" to "firm" range. I reckon I'm "one of you", even though I've only been to one con in my life.

My present collection dates from about 1980, because the one from the three decades before that went away during a time of fairly desperate poverty. The earlier one ran heavily to Heinlein and Asimov and E. F. Russell; the present assemblage emphasizes Moon and Bujold, Ringo and Weber and Drake.

I would call almost all of it "libertarian-leaning", even the Gaiman and Stross and the Mack Reynolds I once had and no longer possess. At minimum it's all about people who can move freely in their societies, at least to some extent. The people who can so move are often depicted as extraordinary in that respect, but the focus is always on people with power and how it is used.

There are far too many libertarians whose understanding of things is more or less equivalent to Physics 101 -- point masses and frictionless planes. You have to understand those concepts, but you can't engineer a blender from them, much less a nuclear power plant. Reasonably well done SF, even from a Leftist perspective, examines diameters and friction and the real tensile strength of strings. As such it's always looking at liberty and the use of power, disapprovingly or otherwise, at least the stuff I've bought over the years.


Ric Locke   ·  October 10, 2010 10:17 AM


Yes. It takes maybe five minutes listening at any sf convention to realize where the sympathies lie. Fans of Baen books tend to be the highly visible minority, and conventions without a large Baen presence are rather... uniform in their opinions.

Kate   ·  October 10, 2010 10:23 AM

Sarah, that is a great post. All the more so because I can identify as a lifetime outlier who cannot and will not fit.

Anyone who is odd, different, anyone who sticks out, anyone who thinks differently - the kids picked last for every sports team, the girls never invited to the prom, the boys who thought quadratic equations made good small talk, the girls who read Camus in elementary school (hi there! Guilty as charged.) - all the shambling crowd of oddities that give the human race flavor, the harbingers of innovation, the ones who tend to think outside the box... fall neatly into the totalitarian box of support for oppressive regimens

Which means that the oppressed worship the oppressors -- who trick them into believing that only by supporting them can they oppose their oppressors!

What a racket!

Eric Scheie   ·  October 10, 2010 11:54 PM

Reminds me of Stockholm Syndrome. And it also reminds me that non-fiction scientists are also mostly lefties.

Donna B.   ·  October 11, 2010 11:36 AM

Post a comment

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits