Joy in Science Fiction

Caution: Serious Post Ahead

“There is no joy in [ideology].” Said by any number of political, religious, and other fanatics in the 19th-21st centuries.

No one ever depicts Marx, Engels, Lenin, Brezhnev, Gromyko, Erich Honecker, or the Ayatollah Khomeini smiling. I’ve seen posters of Stalin with a benevolent sort-of-smile, and Mao smiling at children or happy industrial workers, but there’s a reason most people over a certain age do not associate the Soviet Union, P.R.C., or the Islamic Republic with happiness, despite the propaganda. Nor do the words “environmentalism” and “pleasure” usually appear in the same sentence. It seems that among individuals or nation-states, first thing that disappears when a great ideological cause is embraced is the sense of humor. Because revolution and bringing about paradise on earth are serious business, and there is no room for laughter or joy in [ideology.] Or in some kinds of fiction, it seems.

I discovered this first hand in college, when a newly-converted social justice fighter informed me that she was a person of color and I was a European-American. Having a broad streak of mischief (some might say borderline cruelty) and an audience, I proceeded to help her make a fool of herself, while keeping a straight face. The other people in the room were fighting back laughter, and she did not catch on what they might find was funny about our conversation. Because there is no humor in Great Causes. Nothing over the passing 20 years or so has changed my mind about the lack of laughter among supporters of the Great Cause.

Several reasons for the failure of mirth come to mind. First, some people just have serious temperaments and no sense of humor. They cannot see what is funny, and could not, even before they took up the cause. Marx strikes me that way, as did Khomeini while he was alive. And once they took up their Great Cause, it burned out any trace of laughter they might have had remaining. Not the laughter of exultation over fallen enemies, or at the suffering of those who opposed them, but the laughter of the absurd, of the gentle day-to-day humor many of us share.

Second, the Cause is too all-consuming for laughter. And if others find it amusing either they are not serious enough and do not recognize just how critical, actually how truly existential, the struggle is. This is a life-or-death (and life-after-death) matter, and there is no time or room for laughter until the Struggle has been won. Jokes and diversions take time and energy away from the Cause, and reveal the remaining impurities of those who indulge in such frivolous things. The time for laughter, if there is any, comes later, after the last battle, after the victorious workers have taken over the means of production and established the perfect communist state, after achieving Paradise. Until then humor is a distraction and a hindrance.

There are no happy warriors in Stalinism, Maoism, or the competing forms of Islamist fundamentalism that we see today. The stakes are too high to permit acknowledgement of the contradictions and follies of life, or of their opponents’ arguments. Ditto among the hard-core environmentalists and those currently called social justice warriors. The struggle is all-consuming, the Cause too important to permit frivolity.  If something does not support the cause, it has no place in these people’s world. And they cannot understand why others are standing around, pointing, and laughing.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a happy warrior. I’m not a Larry Correia or even John C. Wright, who seem to delight in the absurdities of the Cause and all its folly, and who bring it out in their books. Happy Warriors are also more forgiving of honest weakness and ignorance, even when they are as devoted to their own Cause as their opponent is. Their laughter is open, not nasty, and they don’t rely on entrapment like some Cause-centered “humorists” do. I am not that fast on my feet or as thoughtful as Wright and Correia are. I’ll fight for what I believe in, using dry wit and doing my best to help the over-zealous dig their own holes. I’ll gleefully push the dirt in after them and saunter off, whistling “The Bells of Hell” or something appropriate. But I’m not a Happy Warrior.

I do believe in joy and laughter, and in recognizing the absurdity of, oh, trying to get the individualists to organize. The EDS cat-ranching commercial makes my sides ache from laughter even today.

That’s why message fiction and ham-handed propaganda in textbooks backfires on me, and others. There is little or no joy in message fiction, in stories that pound the Cause at the expense of story. If I want message, I can get any number of sermons and lectures on-line, or in non-fiction works from certain organizations and individuals. I read fiction to get away, to have fun, to be entertained. Propaganda may be inadvertently amusing, but it is never entertaining, except in long hindsight and then, again, inadvertently.  Give me joy.