The Reversal Game: Finding Dystopian Sci-Fi Futures in the Present-Day World

Here’s a social dynamic you can use to create the “corrupted paradise” structure in dystopian worldbuilding for science fiction stories.

This is hard sci-fi — meaning that this dynamic will result in a future world that plausibly extrapolates from present-day reality.

Ongoing controversy surrounds admissions to Harvard University. A group of Asian-Americans — demographically “recent immigrants from mainland China who are highly educated” — are fighting against affirmative action in the Harvard admissions process.

From the beginning, the idea sounds strange: members of a minority group are fighting to reverse policies designed to fight discrimination against minorities? The dynamics themselves, however, are more widespread. As usual, racism is only an intermediate step.

The protestors who want to destroy affirmative action at Harvard have co-opted civil rights-era slogans — “judge people by their character, not the colour of their skin.” Sounds a lot like rhetorical games used in racist slogans like “all lives matter”, doesn’t it? Yes, it’s the same game.

Fighting Against Ourselves

Plot twist: highly-educated, recent Chinese-American immigrants are, in the short-term, pushing a perspective that, until now, has served the interests of wealthy white Americans. Dismantlement of affirmative action harms all non-white Americans. So why support its destruction?

The dystopian game in play can be called “reversal”. In the reversal game, a concept designed for one purpose (civil rights, in this case) is propagandised to embody its opposite (oppression). Real outcome: the rich get richer. Everyone else dehumanises each other and destroys their own rights.

In the Harvard case, recent Chinese-American immigrants are aware that Harvard has used discriminatory policies, and are fighting against them. The nuance is that the earlier policies favoured white students. Affirmative action has the same goal: rectifying discrimination.

The impetus behind (preferences for legacies and athletes) was what scholars now refer to as “negative action,” the preferential treatment of white over Asian-American applicants, rather than affirmative action, the consideration of race in admissions to boost underrepresented minorities and foster diversity. As Poon wrote in the book Contemporary Asian America, “The experience with negative action in the 1981s contributed to a collective memory for Asian Americans and wariness of possible anti-Asian quotas.”

The phrase “recent Chinese-American immigrants” is used here as a distinction to emphasise diminished comprehension of historical context, creating susceptibility to racist doublespeak. Similarly, “all lives matter” sounds fine for those who are unaware of its cultural background as a dogwhistle for racism.

In the Harvard admission case, reversal leads members of one minority to prey on members of other minorities. The final outcome is the destruction of policies designed to fight against income- and race-based discrimination. The rich get richer. The doors close for everyone else.

Crazy-Rich Everybody

Where else do we see the reversal game?

Super-wealthy individuals and groups create a doctrine that preaches a particular gospel of financial deregulation and anti-taxation. Politicians are universally corrupt liars who can’t be trusted. Mainstream media are “biased enemies of the people”.

More reversal games: Immigrants steal jobs from hard-working citizens. White Americans are an oppressed minority. Masculinity is under attack by “the matriarchy”. Education and healthcare must be privatised since the “invisible guiding hand of the market” is the only fair determinant of real value.

Racism is a proxy upholding corrupt institutions. As more people feel socioeconomic insecurity, they push down (bigotry) instead of up (at the super-rich). Now consider what “Crazy Rich Asians” stands for, in this dystopian context. Crazy Rich [Everybody]. That’s the game.

The (Illegal) Aliens Are Coming! We Need a Spaceship to Mars!

Dystopian outcomes of reversal games: institutionalised racism as well as gender- and income discrimination lead elite universities to remain open only to those who are wealthy or game the system. Deregulation creates a boom-and-bust superstar economy of extractive investors and real-estate vultures.

Corporate tax exemption drains society of infrastructure funding and social services. This results in neglect of infrastructure (roadways, the power grid, industrial control systems), unaffordable healthcare, inadequate education, and “do-it-yourself” disaster relief in a time of climate change. Schools in low-income neighborhoods become a zero-tolerance doorstep to corporate-run prisons.

Hypercapitalist religious dogma leads to public obsession: imitate reality-show consumer lifestyles of “A-list” celebrities. Hire “alpha” billionaire CEOs for president instead of personally running for office, participating in representative democracy (i.e. voting), or exercising critical thought in “political” art.

Immigrants are demonised to the point that thousands of Spanish-speaking Americans are left to die after natural disasters because they are not “pure” enough, despite being full-bloodied citizens.

The term “illegal alien” becomes synonymous with “subhuman entity to be thrown away.” Their families are torn apart indefinitely; children are psychologically and physically abused in detainment centers. Some are lost in the system and simply disappear, while others may be adopted in a scenario that only separates them further from their real parents.

Every twenty-four hours, a new raft of clickbait headlines wash the memory of their lives away, enabled by surveillance capitalism via “free” social media run by billionaires whose only truth is the destruction of privacy.

Mainstream media is replaced by sensationalism and extremist quasi-state propaganda, clothed in familiar cliches: racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious hatred, xenophobia.

This genre is “science fiction.” If you want to create hard sci-fi stories that begin with our real world, the reversal game is one place to start.

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10 Everyday Information Warfare Tactics You’ve Already Fallen For – and the case of the AltSciFi zine project.

Over the past year, information warfare tactics have increasingly infiltrated into everyday life on social media.

Early this year, the AltSciFi indie cyberpunk/scifi zine project was targeted by a group of copyright trolls that bizarrely called itself “The Artist Community” on Twitter. That group was a few hundred heavy Twitter users who give each other likes and retweets in order to appear to have more social-media “clout”. They also use copyright trolling to harass anyone who “reposts their work without permission” (truly horrifying acts of copyright infringement that form the basis of most Tumblr blogs, many Twitter posts, and the majority of the content posted to various Reddit communities).

Your can read more about the slander/libel attack against the AltSciFi project here (click here).

The attack even spread to the creator of a popular cyberpunk webcomic who based her public person on being shy and trusting, and has been targeted by scam artists more than once in recent years. The same person who instigated the attack against the AltSciFi project also gained the confidence of the webcomic creator and now is using that creator’s popular comic by convincing her to start a “sympathy scam” — begging for financial “support” from fans, while the scam artist puts her name above the original artist on new issues of the webcomic.

Aside from the trail of destruction left by that one person, that behaviour is more and more common across social media. Artists use the viral popularity gained by copyright trolling in an attempt to elevate their status among other artists. More generally, bullies use similar tactics in acts of small-scale information warfare every day. The strangest part of it is how such tactics seem to be accepted as part of daily life now, when the effect is to help corporations pass laws that could effectively destroy the world wide web by worsening copyright restrictions on everyone.

This post is describes ten everyday information warfare tactics, with examples.

Tactic #1. Role Reversal — Playing the Victim

Bullies love playing the victim. If you can convince yourself you’re actually the victim, there’s no need to stop bullying.

Example: a citizen is murdered by police while waiting at a traffic stop. Immediately, attempts are made to smear the victim’s public image as a “criminal”; therefore, they “deserved” to be executed by police; thence, any discussion of brutality is actually “discrimination against police for doing their jobs and protecting the public against criminals”.

Tactic #2. Use Abusive Tactics While Claiming To Be “Protecting Yourself” From Abuse

Tactics include: complain about being “gaslit” while claiming that another person is “desperate”, “obsessive”, “vindictive” or “probably mentally ill”. Rally a group to bully others after pretending that a minority is somehow “bullying” the majority.

Example: Gamergate, Comicsgate.

Tactic #3. Abolition of Context

Use emotionally charged, persuasive imagery and ignore the context surrounding the image. Then provide your own story for the image as suits your purposes.

Example 1: CNN versus Fox News versus Brietbart

Example 2: In the case of the AltSciFi project, images were circulated along with the claim that AltSciFi “stole art” based on an incomplete web store prototype posted to Github. The claim was plainly ridiculous if you thought about it, but very few people bother with thinking once they’ve seen “evidence” and heard a persuasive story, even if the story is obviously wrong.

Tactic #4: Reduce Facts to the Level of “Opinions”

As the old saying goes, opinions are like… mouths. Everybody’s got one.

Facts, however, can be shown as true or false. If someone can be persuaded that facts are opinions, then facts themselves disappear.

Example 1: The AltSciFi zine project — after the libel/slander attack began, the entire months-long bullying attack was extensively documented as it happened. Given the sheer number of people who repeated the garbage as gospel, however, the facts of the situation quickly became drowned out as “just another opinion” subject to the endless cycle of commentary by people who had no idea what actually happened.

Hot takes and instant reactions from instant pundits, self-appointed “judges” and armchair psychoanalysts replace any form of intelligent thought based on fact.

Tactic #5. When You’re Caught in a Lie, Double Down and Call the Truth “Fake News”

This is noteworthy since the term “fake news” first arose from those groups and individuals who lie pathologically. This tactic gains power from its ability to minimise the truth (based on facts) into “fakery”, which itself implies dishonesty or even conspiracy.

Example 1: “The mainstream media is ‘fake news’ — you should really believe this extremist propaganda instead!”

Example 2: Although the entire libel/slander attack against AltSciFi was extensively documented in realtime, attempts to warn the cyberpunk webcomic artist (mentioned above) that she is being scammed were met with “no! The scam artist is my ‘friend’ (she’s not — she’s a freelance employee who befriended the artist in order to scam her). So what you’re saying must be ‘fake news’!” That’s also known as being in a state of denial, which is sad since befriending and manipulating a vulnerable person is one way that con artists keep their victims from seeking help.

Tactic #6. Substitute Real Motives for more Socially Acceptable Explanations

Blatant racism and misogyny are generally not well-tolerated. In order to subvert social norms, pretend that racist/misognist/homophobic/etc. motivations can be explained in more acceptable terms.

Example 1: transphobia becomes “being gender-critical”. Genocidal racism becomes “ethnic nationalism”.

Example 2: Actress Loan (Kelly Marie) Tran is hounded off of Instagram by racist hatred. The racists are nowhere to be found after the fact because they claim to be criticising her for being a “bad actress” instead of an Asian lead actress in a Star Wars film.

The strangest part of this tactic is that it doesn’t really fool anyone — but it is a useful way to avoid blatantly breaking rules. That way, if a bigot’s account is deleted on the grounds of bigotry, they can hide behind “free speech” since they weren’t blatantly breaking any rules.

Tactic #7. The “Free Speech” Ruse

Free speech absolutism: “I can say any violent, bigoted or abusive thing I want because I have the right of free speech.”

In the real world, absolute free speech does not exist. If you claim that the Earth is flat, most people will laugh at you until you stop making that claim. If you claim that Jews are inferior, or that black people are apes, or that latinos are rapists, most people will shout you down until you shut up or go away. Online, though, the “but you’re destroying ‘free speech'” ruse is used most often by people who want an excuse for their worst behaviour.

Example: a president constantly tweets about how a free press is “the enemy of the people”. After months of this, several people are shot to death in a newsroom. The president’s Twitter account is not deactivated, however, “because free speech”. Hate speech continues to spread across social media because the operators of social media sites refuse to recognise that words change beliefs and inspire actions.

Tactic #8. Any Change Will Be Worse, So Let’s Keep Things Exactly The Way The Are

“Any attempt at fixing problems will be a slippery slope to hell, so there’s no other answer except the status quo.”

This is the default reaction of everyone who has something to gain from keeping things the way they are. This is also called a “slippery slope” fallacy.

Example 1: Gun control? No, that would lead to the destruction of all freedom for all citizens, forever! We must allow mass shootings! It’s “the price of freedom”!

Example 2: Ban violent racists and misogynists from social media? No, that would destroy all free speech for everyone, everywhere! We must allow bigotry! It’s “the price of ‘free speech'”!

Tactic #9. The Reframe

Take an entire category (“Behaviour X”) and demonise it. From that point on, any discussion that is labeled as similar to Behaviour X will also be considered “evil”.

Example 1: Anyone who has a sense of morality that disagrees with the majority is reframed as an “SJW”. From that point on, any discussion of right and wrong is demonised as “bad” and instantly dismissed without further consideration.

Example 2: The rise of neonazii propaganda is reframed as “free speech” and protected. Anyone who fights against neonaziis are “as bad as them”, which is completely nonsensical — also known as Orwellian doublethink (“war is peace”, etc.).

Example 3: Someone could write a TL;DR for this post that deliberately mischaracterises its content, since more people will probably read the comments section than the post itself.

Tactic #10. Use Ridicule and “Humour” As A Distraction

If an argument requires any intelligent thought to understand, destroy it by reverting to “witty” sound-bytes and misleading jokes that distract from the real issue.

Example: Read the title of a post on Reddit, and ignore the text itself. Instead, post a snarky remark in the comments section in order to seek upvotes from others who are similarly illiterate and never read anything longer than an article title or a tweet.

Here are three (update: four five) bonus tactics.

Tactic #11. Majority Illusion

“We all know [x] is true (so I don’t need to show any evidence).”

Example: any item an accusation is made on social media, then repeated virally by thousands of people before evidence is presented, or before the accused can respond.

Tactic #12: Gender-baiting

If someone is a woman and thinks you’re a man, they’ll use misandry (hatred of men). “[Person X] is a dude and therefore a stalker. I’m sexually rejecting them and that’s the real reason why they dare to disagree with me.” If you’re calm, it’s because you’re one of those creepy “Nice Guys”. If you show any emotion, you’re an “abuser”.

If someone is a man and thinks you’re a woman, they’ll use misogny (hatred of women). “[Person X] is a girl and therefore a neurotic weakling. I’m more rational and reasonable them and that’s the real reason why they’re hyserically disagreeing with me.” If you show any emotion, you’re patronised for being “very passionate”. If you’re calm, you’re “frigid” and likely just need to “smile more” or “be nicer”.

Tactic #13: Victim-blaming

If someone notices a problem, reverse roles and blame the victim for the problem.

Yes, you’re right — this is related to tactic #1.

Examples: Anyone who legitimately mentions racism (in science fiction, for example) is blamed for being “a ‘race-baiter'”, or having a secret “political agenda”.

Notice that “baiting” is the use of exaggeration. Someone who wants to dismiss this post in the comments section could use any of the tactics above as a form of “baiting”. They would then proceed to distort, distract, conflate, minimise or fabricate with a wall of text in order to confuse readers and score cheap points. Entire groups of Reddit (and Twitter) users thrive on that type of “baiting” behaviour, although it’s only clever if you fall for it. Now that you’ve seen what these tactics are and how they work, hopefully you won’t fall for them so easily.

Tactic #14. Reversed Burden of Proof

Someone advances a claim without evidence. When questioned, the person who advanced the claim tells everyone else to do the research to prove or disprove the claim. This allows conspiracy theorists and other peddlers of misinformation to thrive by crowding a given space with unfounded claims that often have no basis in demonstrable/provable fact.

— Added 30 September 2018 —

Tactic #15. Refusal to Argue Endlessly is Admission of “Defeat”

One person advances an argument — usually some sort of accusation against another. The other may make some good-faith effort to address the arguments’ points and refute them. The accuser, however, is operating in bad faith and drags the argument into petty bickering and character assassination. When the accused realises this and decides not to waste further effort in bad-faith arguing, the accuser declares “victory” and gloats the accused is silent because they are “guilty” (or “weak”, unable to refute the claims and therefore a “loser”, etc.).

Example:

– Accuser [A]: Here’s evidence that you did this thing!
– Accused [B]: That’s not “evidence” at all. This is what I was doing (insert explanation of relevant facts and context).

– A: Yes it is! It’s evidence because I said so!
– B: No it’s not. Because you weren’t even there. Besides, [insert logic, evidence and context here.]

– A: You must be deranged! I’m not going to read all that! The fact that you wrote so much means you must be making things up! [Insert any of the tactics from 1 to 14 here, or several at the same time]
– B: Okay. I’m not going to waste my life arguing with you, keyboard warrior.

– A: Ha! Just as I thought! You’re guilty, weak, and a loser! I win! I win! I win! Ha!
– B: *sigh* (Thinking silently: nope… and you’re just an idiot who desperately needs a hobby.)


P.S. The gang calling itself the “(Twitter) Artist Community” attack against the AltSciFi zine project even went so far as a libelious/slanderous DMCA takedown request. The request was filed by a makeup artist, regurgitating the same bilious garbage circulated across social media, at the instigation of the same “(Twitter) Artist Community” social-media con artist who started the attack. This makes the case of AltSciFi a perfect example of how copyright trolling works. You can read more about that here (click here). Unfortunately for that makeup artist, the legally binding nature of DMCA requests puts her in legal jeopardy for making false claims (i.e. libel). Bad idea.

Dystopia 2018, Cyberpunk Year Zero: When (personal) information is free and (copyright) trolling is art. And we did it all to ourselves, with a bloody-mouthed smile…

Redefining social engineering as the greatest con in the history of humankind — for us, against us.

Scene 1: (Personal) Information is Free

Advertising on the Internet is actually user surveillance. We all know that by now.

But how many people still use Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, handing over a lifetime
of personal data so corporations can make billions while destroying the idea of personal privacy?

“Big Brother is evil”, right? But do you really believe that social networks aren’t
selling your data to any government who is willing to pay?

In the meantime, we all spout the mantra “information wants to be free”,
so we can keep pretending we’re not bleeding data to companies that
only care about making themselves rich. It’s a perfect con — greedy users think
they get something for nothing. Greedy multinational corporations literally own our digital lives
and blatantly manipulate our behaviour to make even more money.

Sounds a lot like cyberpunk, doesn’t it? Only it’s not a cute fashion statement
or a cool Japanese/Korean/Chinese skyscraper lit with neon kanji/hangul in the rain.

This is here and now, and you’re feeding it.

And their software is eating all of us.

Scene 2: (Copyright) Trolling is Art

Creators should be paid for their work — especially independent artists and writers.

The world wide web, however, is built for sharing data. Artists try to use the web
to increase their visibility, posting art to portfolio sites and social media. Fans re-post, often without attribution. Neither activity hurts anyone, since it’s easy to find an artist by performing an image search using any of the larger search engines. It’s as easy as finding the source of quotes like “the sky was the colour of television, turned to a dead channel”.

Sharing art doesn’t really work the way artists intend, though. People share, but artists don’t get paid. Social media recognition doesn’t lead to riches. The typical artist then naively gets angry at the entire web for doing it wrong, but most artists learn that this is how the web works. The rules are different here.

Some artists, though, never get the difference. Or maybe they see a different kind of opportunity.

So they become copyright trolls, white knights seeking to enforce the old world’s
rules everywhere they see Copyright Injustice. **Here’s the twist:** the connoisseurs of copyright trolling don’t target the multinational corporations who are making
billions and building empires. The trolls target smaller groups and individuals,
and other independent artists. They leverage social media’s proudly illiterate outrage culture, combined with copyright laws designed for a long-gone world where the internet didn’t exist, using legalistic threats to raise their own status and silence those who are unlikely or unable to fight back.

Social media itself is a playground where the winner’s trophies are Biggest Bully
and Best Narcissist (see also: the current American president). On a lesser scale,
Trumpian rhetorical gamesmanship works just as well when “fake news” means any
opinion one group doesn’t like and wants to weaponise against an easy target.

Who does that benefit? Who’s left standing? The massive mega-corporations, of course.

Naive artists (and narcissistic bullies who create art) use copyright trolling as a form of white-knighting and virtue-signaling.
Instead of targeting the malignant corporate monsters, trolls only make them stronger.

Ultimately, now we have similarly inspired legislation that will extend copyright
trolling to the corporations themselves
. Now the dream of the trolls has the power to destroy information-sharing
across the world wide web itself. It’s a potential death blow dealt against the core purposes and values that the web was built for.

This is the reality of dystopia in 2018. Cyberpunk starts now. Where do you
see yourself in these scenes, and what are you going to do about it? If the answer is “nothing”, your true response amounts to complicity in what may be the greatest con ever perpetrated in the history of humankind — by us, against us.

Inevitability of Dystopia? Finding Sci-Fi Inspiration in the Stark Irony of Orwell versus Huxley.

If you want to build plausible dystopian fictional worlds, a useful habit may be to step away from social media for a few days at a time.

The old debate seems never-ending: was Orwell right, or will Huxley’s vision become reality? One answer is “yes”. It’s a question of timing.

Nation-states have attempted to control citizens since the beginning of centrally governed societies, but brute force inspires resistance. After World War II, mass psychological manipulation (the “pleasure principle”) delivered mainly via television became manifest in a phenomenon called “consumerism”. Here we trace a path from the birth of the Web to our present-day predicament.

Circa 1994, the World Wide Web arrived. Advertising morphed into banner ads, popup windows, and marketers’ new mantra: “information wants to be free“. What was once a resource for hackers and scientists became a tool for consumerism. Thus was born the Silicon Valley hype machine.

In the late 2000s, network effects shifted the Huxleyan engine into a higher gear. Facebook became omnipresent. Google became a monopoly. Social norms began to shift. At first people complained about oversharing and TMI. Soon everyone was playing the Internet popularity game, as Facebook surfaced relatives you wouldn’t bother to call and peers you barely remembered. Tumblr spurred GIF collecting as form of a mainstream meme culture; Twitter was for ranting at sympathetic strangers.

Silicon Valley’s confidence game hides in plain sight: free = surveillance. Every tweet and conversation is recorded, saved, bundled, sold.

“Building an internet where we didn’t have to pay for anything, because our attention was going to be the commodity that was traded, is one of the most destructive and shortsighted decisions that we could have made.” – Ethan Zuckerman

Social networks are broken. This man wants to fix them.

Circa 2011, another shift occurred. Web 2.0 meant that modern web pages became “asynchronous” — they send and receive data without needing you to refresh the page. This also means they can run programs and collect data without your knowledge or intervention.

Soon after his passing, Steve Jobs’ mythical legacy began. A generation of kids’ parents — and crucially, young girls — became convinced that they needed iPhones. By 2015, seventy-three percent of teens had access to a smartphone. Where young girls run, young boys follow; an entire generation of teenagers has been indocrinated into living through social media.

At the same time, nation-states commenced cyberwar.

In 2013, Edward Snowden released a cataclysmic cache of documents about government surveillance. Yet Facebook, Google and Twitter grew apace.

Between 2013 and 2016, government contractors and research-based firms like Strategic Communication Laboratories Group and Cambridge Analytica quietly amassed information on millions of Americans, mainly via Facebook and Internet advertising data.

The presidential campaign that led to victory in 2016 openly engaged in an information operation named Project Alamo. It wasn’t a political campaign as much as marketing and persuasion on a national scale. The campaign’s themes were emotional pushbuttons of the advertising industry: fear, greed, and narcissism. Invading our screens primarily through social media for the first time in history, we all witnessed a new evolution of the pleasure principle, designed to appeal solely to a specific demographic niche. Issues themselves were a sideshow. Every tweet and headline further polarised, multiplied and amplified the opinions of millions, yet rarely ever changed minds.

Orwell creeps back in: Project Alamo was well-known for using Facebook advertising to engage in several voter suppression attempts, mainly profiling and targeting young white liberals, young women, and African-Americans.

Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.

Inside the Trump Bunker, With Days to Go

Side note: the same groups that designed the Brexit campaign were also key architects of the winning 2016 American digital strategy.

2018: the current U.S. president has attempted several nationwide Muslim bans, and is using all possible means to deport Mexican-Americans. The current Department of Justice has decriminalised hate groups, oversees a boom in the private prison industry, threatens and harasses African-Americans, and menaces immigrants under the rhetorical pretenses of “law and order”, “pacifying gang violence” and “cracking down on drugs”.

From Day One of Trump’s campaign, he pushed heavily for a crackdown on undocumented immigration, and once in office, Trump ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ramp up its enforcement efforts.

For years, ICE has outsourced the bulk of its detention operations to the private sector.

Last year (2016), then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson followed the Justice Department’s footsteps by asking his department to look at its own use of private prisons. What resulted was a sweeping assessment of their use and an accounting that showed some 65% of people ICE detained were kept in for-profit facilities.

Private prison industry sees boon under Trump administration

The current occupier of the American White House is a known sexual predator, as are several members of his administration. He spent the entire 2016 campaign gaslighting and attempting gender-based shame tactics against his female opponent, using Twitter as his megaphone. “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing… Twitter for Mr. Trump. And Facebook for fundraising” said Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale.

He is also in perpetual re-election mode. In addition to wielding personal social media data of over 240 million Americans, the former reality star and real-estate vulture bilionaire presently has powers of quasi-state media, immigration authorities, technologically sophisticated hate groups, police and military force at his disposal.

If you’re not white, male, Christian, and a sympathizer to Dictator 45 — now is the time to delete your Facebook account; cease using social media as a personal diary.

This is for all women, non-conservatives, Jews, African- and Asian-Americans, Latinos, and LGBT people.

Those with Native ancestry already know not to trust any American government or anyone who operates in its name. The same is true for Middle Eastern and South Americans. The future of U.S. and U.K. may in some ways be their alternative history.

Look a little way down the road and write the story before it happens.

Orwell and Huxley have now joined hands.

Huxley was right, and Orwell was right, in that order; but they’ve joined hands now, and the old dystopian vision is just the beginning.

Recent events involving AltSciFi — an informal group of artists and techies building an independent sci-fi zine project — show how old arguments about “Orwell verus Huxley” no longer even ask the right questions. It’s no longer rebellious artists versus the authorities, or the people versus The Government.

It’s now artists versus artists, and “the people” versus anything that isn’t a massive corporate brand.

This internalisation and weaponisation of opinion arises due to a noxous blend of narcissism, carelessness and gullibility that can be considered the dark triad of social media. Here our scope tightens from the international level to the scale of small groups, private individuals and independent artists.

Hostility to Self-Published Work, and Gratitude for Empty “Success”

Over the past three years, and especially this past year or so, you may have seen prototypes for an indie sci-fi project posted on Reddit.

It’s fascinating to see how essentially any self-published or independent work is downvoted and/or trolled, whereas Hollywood press releases are happily posted and received hundreds (or thousands) of upvotes.

Every now and then, someone comes to Reddit to thank “you guys” (as women are clearly nonexistent on Reddit) for helping them get reviews or sales on Amazon. But no one ever posts actual numbers. It’s almost like Reddit is a self-confirming echo chamber where you go for attention — then go back “thanking” people in order to get a second round of attention. The best echo chamber is a hollow one, as are most “success stories” posted there.

Irrelevance: How Frustrated Artists Become Copyright Cannibals

In the “attention economy” of social media, artists have fallen prey to two dynamics: the idea of “staying relevant”, and the urge to become mobs of pseudo-legalistic copyright trolls.

“Relevance” is a quasi-marketing term that describes artists’ obsession for keeping “top of mind” awareness in others. Do people think of you when they see pretty-yet-redundant Blade Runner 2049 fan art? Do they remember your username when you post cute new anime sketches on Twitter, or remind them about your painfully earnest Youtube art tutorials and struggling Patreon account?

In reality, “relevance” is meaningless for independent artists. It’s a marketing metric for celebrities and giant corporations that saturate multiple media (TV, radio, etc.) to gain “mindshare” using million-dollar ad campaigns.

On the Internet, we’ve been indoctrinated to become complicit in two parts of a confidence game: 1. Everything should be free; and 2. Attention is as good as payment.

1. In a capitalist world, nothing is free. “Information wants to be free” ultimately means the only people who make money are the biggest corporations that can survive with razor-thin profit margins. In other words, Amazon/Google/Apple/Facebook/Twitter create a de facto cartel that controls practically all consumer information flows across the planet. And literally any government or group that wants your personal data can easily buy it. Big Brother and Big Friend are now one and the same.

2. Attention doesn’t pay for bread on your table and a roof over your head. Artists live in a trap of their own creation: they react blindly against the idea of “working for exposure”, and then burn thousands of hours playing the social media game in order to stay “relevant” (in other words, throwing away time and effort in exchange for “exposure”).

The Dark Triad of Social Media: Narcissism, Carelessness, Gullibility

The “best” narcissists cultivate a carefully designed persona and use emotionally manipulative tactics to mobilise their followers. Rather than corruption and suppression from outside, this is corrosion and repression from within. Struggling artists frustrated by their own irrelevance can thereby “win” at social media by acting like copyright trolls; they “protect” their gullible flock against independent projects designed by artists, to help artists. This happened recently to the AltSciFi project.

Here’s the short version. See if you can spot the pattern:

Narcissism

“If there’s an opportunity to look good, get attention, to appear attractive and to gather followers, it’s going to draw narcissists,” Campbell says, “whether it’s politics, media or social media.”

One malevolent egomaniac didn’t like that her artwork was re-posted on Twitter with attribution, rather than retweeted as she preferred (her original tweet contained perhaps-racist wording that was probably unintentional). Instead of asking for a retweet, she tried to send a mob of her Twitter followers; that was denied by blocking her and anyone who tried to pile on in her “defense”.

So she waited for months until another artist on Twitter found our project, and thus was born a slander campaign about “stealing art” that nearly destroyed the project — before it was ever marketed or promoted to the public (outside of requests for feedback on Reddit).

The entire slander campaign centred on three or four pages on a Github test site that had functioning PayPal links — out of at least twelve pages. On Github (a site for web development and programming projects). That few outside of Reddit had probably ever seen. And we have no inventory to sell. We exist to help artists sell their work; that’s explicitly how our site is designed.

We even had a few links out of hundreds of Tumblr posts, and most of those didn’t even work yet. If you clicked on them, they literally didn’t work. The project has a few paying subscribers from Reddit (“thanks guys!”), but the project won’t be “profitable” for at least a few years based on subscription revenue.

We’re an informal group of artists and techies, obviously not some nefarious “art stealing” operation. But the very fine people of Twitter and Facebook ran a lovely slander campaign anyway, like a bunch of overcaffeinated, malignant tweens cosplaying a proper group of grown-up copyright trolls.

Carelessness

Everyone involved knew GitS2017 was an exercise in exclusion. Early special effects work was tested to make Scarlett Johannson look “Asian.”

The entire backstory of the main character, whose name is 草薙素子, was changed so that the original Japanese character was murdered and brain harvested to make a plausible excuse for the white actress’ “non-racial cyborg body”.

It sounds like a joke, right? Like someone decided 1920s Charlie Chan didn’t go far enough. It’s the 21st century. Add robots.

The main excuse racists made for Ghost in the Shell 2017 was “Japanese people like it” — intentionally ignoring Asian-Americans who are directly affected by Hollywood racism and exclusion.

Those few Japanese who said they liked GitS2017 were likely engaging in a form of politeness called “tatemae”, separation of acceptable public opinion and true private sentiment.

Until recently, a goal of AltSciFi was to amass artists and fans to fund and produce an independent, authentic Ghost in the Shell film. You can find several blog entries on AltSciFi WordPress that describe various scenarios in which we can make this happen.

In 2017, Hollywood released a bastardisation of Ghost in the Shell’s source material that whitewashed the main protagonist, who is Japanese. Perhaps in a moment of foreshadow, it was dismaying to see many artists on Twitter praising the 2017 film’s visuals while ignoring its blatant racism.

It was particularly harrowing to see one artist’s work on the film in particular. That artist will not be directly mentioned here; needless to say, their name will forever be attached to the $110 million Hollywood disaster that is now a hallmark in the Asian-American fight against racism.

Art and politics are intertwined. Asian-Americans made it clear that Ghost in the Shell 2017 was racist and wrong from the start. The artists involved turned a blind eye, and in doing so, chose racism. Now, which artists spread false social-media rumours about AltSciFi and made threats? Surprise! That Ghost in the Shell 2017 concept artist was one. Mister Moral Outrage.

The other artist, who began the Twitter rage-mob, has a beautiful and unique illustrative style (this is a mild overstatement: her approach combines loud colours, fashion sketches and video-game character design). Unfortunately, that style includes painting dark brown skin on anime characters who have stereotypically white features, and clothing them in Japanese-style kimono.

A pattern emerges. Yes, you’re right: the pattern is problematic source material that appropriates Asian imagery without regard for the culture itself.

The mob-starter’s excuse when confronted for believing and spreading false rumours was: “it’s your job to contact me. It’s not my job to check facts.”

Remember the malevolent egomaniac from a few paragraphs ago, the one spreading toxic gossp? Well, the easiest way to end a gossip campaign is to look for facts before making any conclusions. Instead, the gossip grew with each repetition, hardened and ossified into a bona fide art-stealing conspiracy theory.

So, no, darling, it’s always your job to check facts, known as “basic adult critical thinking.” Likewise, it’s always an artist’s job to research and talk to people of the ethnicities whom the artist wants to portray.

Gullibility

The combination of narcissism and carelessness is turned into a weapon by the average person’s gullibility. In the first incident, the sign of a toxic narcissist was the failed attempt to unleash a Twitter mob, followed by months spent licking a wounded ego while waiting for another opportunity. The telltale sign of a second narcissist was the willingness to immediately feign “abuse” (as you can read about here) when she obviously and embarrassingly didn’t even know what the terms mean. Her malleable and gullible Twitter followers were thus transformed into a mindless horde. It really is that easy for a narcissist to do — and far easier than focusing on creating great art that anyone actually wants to pay you for.

Now, one of her unfortunate followers even filed a spurious DMCA takedown notice, thereby exposing herself by lying in a publicly posted, legally binding document. That is the true dark side of this scenario and many similar ones: the malevolent egomaniac and toxic narcissist keep their hands clean, and their gullible social media “friend” (or sympathetic stranger) is placed in an unfortunate and precarious position.

This situation clarifies the reality that the AltSciFi project isn’t about social media popularity, indie artists’ profit margins or even a particular aesthetic (and definitely not Twitter-level anime art).

AltSciFi isn’t about “inclusion.” It’s about using science fiction to imagine a future where human beings are no longer excluded by racism, homophobia, religious hatred or xenophobic violence. And one in which egomaniacal narcissism, tribalistic gullibility and weaponised carelessness are no longer seen as a viable alternative to basic critical thinking.

All humans are human. Art is political. So is science fiction. And so is AltSciFi.

Information wants to be free, but…

The lesson in all this is that the core purposes of the Web have been inverted. “Information wants to be free” said Stewart Brand famously, but now, a handful of companies control practically all expression on the World Wide Web. Artists are now playing copyright troll against other artists. Fans are now either mouthpieces for giant entertainment companies, and/or gladly hand away their privacy and personal data to surveillance programs disguised as advertising. Meanwhile, everyone is desperately distracted by panhandling for Likes, Retweets, Reblogs and Upvotes.

This is the inevitability of dystopia, and it’s happening right now.

If you want to write plausible near-future fiction, here is a great place to start. Orwell and Huxley could never have imagined a reality in which the civilian population would so thoroughly internalise their own oppression and regurgitate it as entertainment.

Now ask yourself what role you play, and what you intend to do about it.

“Information wants to be free,” said Stewart Brand.

“…but your time should not,” replied Steve Wozniak.

Hologram Steve Jobs steps from the shadows of the afterlife to address throngs of fans and journalists at CES 2020. Faded blue jeans and black turtleneck appear as real as the whispered revolution that has obsessed the imaginations of all who eagerly await the fulfillment of their dreams.

You’ve seen the demo.” The inimitable voice of Hologram Jobs easily commands the world’s undivided attention, ghostly pale hand gesturing to a giant projection screen playing silently in the background. “Now, we’re bringing sci-fi to reality.”

A hush falls over the voices and minds of all who strain to hear each syllable in the standing room-only congregation.

The presentation is brief. Hologram Jobs has taken on the full strength of a messiah in post-corporeal form, looming over the audience, conjuring futuristic illusions in the auditorium’s resonant space. “The future begins now,” Jobs concludes, triumphantly holding the iPhone Air aloft. Its activated backlight leaves the crowd awash in pure white illumination as the holographic apparition dims in return to the enlightenment of nothingness.

Steve Wozniak rolls out on his Segway and stands in the front row, gathering the faithful. “My new iPhone Air is insanely great!” Woz proclaims, tugging the transparent rectangular slab from a worn-out old jeans pocket. Tapping ice-blue buttons, sliding fingertips across the slippery-smooth surface, the phone comes alive under the ancient wizard’s touch. “Jony says we’re going for holography in the iPhone 11s, and Tim wants to put them in your contact lenses.”

The enthralled crowd breathes in unison: “Revolutionary.” Online orders for the iPhone Air break all sales records.

AltSciFi DMCA Response: 2018-01-18 Github DMCA Takedown Notice for altscifi.github.io

We are an informal group of artists and technologists online who collectively go by AltSciFi.

This message is long. It is easy to repeat unsubstantiated rumours and lies mistaken as facts. It takes substantially longer to write explanations that adequately refute those assumptions and misstatements. This blog post addresses specific mischaracterisations and unfounded claims as clearly and thoroughly as possible.

The DMCA request was a result of a mistake (not a misidentification). The content has already been removed, and the artist will be blacklisted from this project unless she requests to be included from this point onward.

The incident here seems to be an honest mistake by the artist based on incorrect information, rather than purposeful misuse of Github’s DMCA system due to bad faith or malicious intent.

The worst comes first:

This part in particular, quoted verbatim from the original DMCA request, is simply a paragraph of lies based on slanderous rumours that began on Twitter and circulated via social media sites like Tumblr and Facebook:

Other artists have also commented that [AltSciFi] has taken their work and is selling these works as prints on this website – while I cannot obviously file a DMCA takedown on their behalf, you should also be aware [AltSciFi] is trying to make money off prints as well.

This is a blatant falsehood. Again, it was probably an honest mistake, but the lie is now on public display. This blog post is a response to it.

The lie quoted above began as a petty whisper campaign on Twitter after a completely unrelated disagreement with an uninvolved individual that ended months ago. As such issues tend to become a form of entertainment for some people on social media, the petty whispered lies aroused an exaggerated response of tribalistic rage among a small group of heavy Twitter users. It quickly snowballed into the culmination that is this DMCA complaint.

At no point in time did anyone contact AltSciFi for clarification. The typical excuse was “it’s not my job to contact you! You have to contact me!”

Yes, when the project is officially ready for the public, AltSciFi will make a reasonable attempt to contact all artists.

And no, if the intention of a person who feels wronged is to bully or slander others based on unsubstantiated rumours, it is always necessary to contact the potential target for clarification first.

What began as a misunderstanding based on false rumours became a Twitter slander campaign. It then transformed into a face-saving attempt at rage-filled bluster after contradictory facts emerged, and finally resulted in a full-blown mindless Internet gang attempting to destroy a project by artists, designed to help artists.

Yes, it is always your job to hear both sides of a story. There are no exceptions, especially when the only “facts” you have are rage-filled rumours (ones that ultimately turned out to be mistaken assumptions and lies in this case).

You can read more about how events unfolded in three blog entries on the topic. The blog entries were written as an attempt to clarify and counteract the bullying and slander as it was happening in realtime, over the course of more than a week. Hopefully anyone who stumbles upon this series of blog posts will read more and decide for themselves:

1. The real reason why most indie artists are starving: overcoming (and preventing) community drama as AltSciFi evolves.

2. How Artists Starve, Part 2: Lessons to Draw From Ongoing Drama

3. AltSciFi Drama, Part III: How Distorted Language Transforms False Rumours into Bullying and Harassment

The so-called “offending material” was contained on one page, not several pages.

The DMCA notice incorrectly inflates the apparent number of pages by citing several regions (called “anchor tags”) on a single page. The mistake is understandable, but it still makes the allegations of “illegal (for-profit) use of work” unnecessarily inflated, on top of being false in the first place.

The artist is right to reserve permission for use of her work. That’s not in dispute here.

Here are the relevant facts that no one bothered to find out:

– the AltSciFi project began several years ago as a hobby for finding inspiration and sharing with others online. Over time, it became an idea for helping artists using the principles of the open web, and as an alternative to intrusive advertising models prevalent on most websites today. The concepts and designs for the site, and the project itself, have changed over time. What you might dig up online from seven months or three years ago likely does not represent the project today.

– the site, as of 2018.02.06, is not yet complete, and has never spent funds toward marketing or promotion to the public as a completed business or professional entity. AltSciFi has always been an informal project by artists, for artists and fans, and will continue this way for the forseeable future.

– of those few artists and fans who were asked for feedback during development of this project, all pre-subscriptions were offered on the basis that the project is incomplete. Subscriptions help defray the hundreds of hours of skilled work necessary to build this project thus far, and toward expenses necessary to officially launch. Pre-subscriptions were always received as a vote of confidence and investment in an idea — not “profit from a business.”

– What exists at Github, as of 2018.02.06, is a test site for web development only. Artists’ pages were not listed on the first page of search results using the DuckDuckGo search engine (a popular privacy-oriented search engine), as the site was not optimised or intended to be found by search engines. Search engine optimisation and visibility are questions that will wait until the site is complete.

– we will contact artists when the project is complete. This project is not a typical approach that fits as “weblog” or “store” or “artist management”. From past experience, having visible examples to show artists tends to be easier to understand — with explanation as well — rather than using description or example alone. This is why our test/development site exists on Github in the first place, and why it’s important to communicate rather than blindly assume.

The Github site contains three or four pages with functioning PayPal links. Those links were for testing purposes only. AltSciFi was not “selling these works as prints on this website” for the following reasons:

1. AltSciFi does not maintain inventory of any kind. After we officially open, our system will enable artists’ existing sites to connect to our site, or we will help them open their own store elsewhere. This is literally the entire purpose of our “store” concept, as reflected in its structure and design.

Again, we literally can’t sell anything because we have no inventory to sell.

AltSciFi has never, and does not currently have, any interest in dealing directly with anyone’s inventory, and will not for the foreseeable future.

2. AltSciFi has not officially launched yet. A miniscule number of people have ever seen the site. If you look at the source code, the site is clearly not optimised for search engines. And if we were “selling” anything, we certainly would not keep an incomplete store website hidden away in a corner of Github where practically no one would find it on their own.

3. Of all the galleries on the site, only a few pages had any links at all. This is because they were used for testing purposes only. If we were “selling” anything, we would have created functioning links for all pages, not an apparently random few. Nor would we try to sell images copy-and-pasted from Instagram or anywhere else on the web.

Our intentional obscurity, current in-development status, and lack of printing-quality images, makes notions of “selling art” logically nonsensical and empirically unsupportable. It simply doesn’t make sense. We are not selling artists’ work without their permission, because that violates our core philosophy and more importantly, we quite intentionally have nothing to sell (ironically, this decision was made in part to help avoid entanglements about who sold what to whom).

If you were an artist or writer, ask yourself:

Would you spend years creating a project designed to help independent artists, only to throw it all away by trying to sell low-quality prints from an incomplete, hard-to-find website without the artist’s consent?

It’s mind-boggling that anyone could believe that, even for a moment.

Rumours, lies and misplaced rage are very, very powerful things, especially in combination.

Again, the incident here seems to be an honest mistake by the artist based on incorrect information, rather than purposeful misuse of Github’s DMCA system due to bad faith or malicious intent. This blog post seeks only to clarify and correct the rumours and lies on which the artist unfortunately based her DMCA notice. Now that you know the other side of the story, you can make up your own mind.

AltSciFi Drama, Part III: How Distorted Language Transforms False Rumours into Bullying and Harassment

Since the social media harassment campaign against AltSciFi began, one hurdle facing this project has become increasingly clear.

(The storm seems to have mostly passed now. These three blog entries serve as documentation and a guide for the future. 1 2 3)

Artists are just people. Like any group of humans online, many artists suffer from weak or absent critical thinking skills. This often combines with high fluency (loves Twitter) and low reading comprehension (rarely reads anything longer than an tweet). The problem only grows when narcissism and cynical “positive thinking” are added to a tribalistic mentality. This results in a babbling pseudo-logic such as “we special good artists against all the mean bad people who steal our art and make us poor victims get really mad.”

And yes, in this case, the behaviour involved was as petty and childish as it sounds.

This entire episode of cyberbullying began due to a false rumour about AltSciFi “stealing art.” The rumour was repeated and gathered steam the more people talked about it, spreading across various social media sites.

No One Asked A Single Question

The most frightening aspect is that, throughout the entire course of bullying and harassment, not one single person thought to ask, “wait — is this true or not? It might be a good idea to directly contact the people being harassed. Maybe there’s another side of the story.”

No one questioned the rumour. No one looked for evidence. Not a single person. Everyone fell for the lie, and hundreds of people thoughtlessly repeated it.

That’s pretty scary, especially in the age of social media where an entire ecosystem is designed around passing emotionally charged information among peers at dizzyingly high speed.

Textual Harassment By “Visual Thinkers”

Visual artists might not like to read. There’s a reason why they’re not writers, after all.

That’s written half-jokingly, but many people believe the false pop psychology concept of learning styles. No matter how naively true it may feel, the idea of a “built-in learning style” or sensory modality isn’t real (dyslexia is an obvious exception). Learning styles are a myth, one step less credible than the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and your “emotional intelligence quotient.”

There’s no such thing as a visual learner; you probably just need to read more. But for most adults, it’s too late. If you believe a falsehood and it’s repeated enough times, it eventually becomes true and real to you. In that sense, false rumours and discredited urban myths work in much the same way.

Artists have no excuse for spreading misinformation and engaging in harassment due to poor reading skills, or “I’m an artist; I don’t need to read. I’ll just ask my art friends on Twitter for their opinions.”

Under the Spell of Distorted Language

During the worst of the cyberbullying campaign, three language patterns stood out. They remain memorable for their ability to preclude and defeat basic critical thinking. These tactics were highly effective in ensuring that the harassment exploded exponentially and lingered for days, rather than being extinguished and forgotten within hours.

Pattern 1.

“If you had done y, I would have done z. But you didn’t, so I’m going to keep doing x.”

“If you had contacted me before creating your website (which was in fact a test version of the site that was never marketed or promoted to the public), I would have thought it was a great idea and helped you promote it (although promotion wasn’t even an issue yet, since the site was an incomplete test version, not for public consumption).

But you didn’t contact me (although there was no reason to do so, since the site hadn’t launched yet), so I’m going to continue slandering you using rumours and false accusations (because I need to save face after making a fool of myself in front of thousands of people on social media; I can never apologise because my ego commands me to be right at all times).

Notice how item “x” can be any arbitrary action that didn’t take place. This pattern is nothing more than rationalisation for continuing to do more of the same, while appearing to have been open-minded in a past that never happened at all. This also called arguing a counterfactual, one of many arguments better known as bullshit.

Pattern 2.

“Regardless of everything you’ve said, written and shown that you’re doing the opposite of x, I just know you’re doing x.”

“Even though you’ve written two extremely detailed blog entries documenting the events that took place, and have shown that you’re not stealing artists’ work, I just know you’re stealing artists work.”

Hopefully, the denial at work here is obvious to see. If someone demonstrates that they’re not standing on one leg, it obviously doesn’t mean they’re standing on one leg. It’s a self-contradictory statement; the statement eats itself if you pay attention to the pattern. This was probably the most popular pattern, and it’s also pure bullshit.

Pattern 3.

The fact that you defend yourself by saying and demonstrating that you’re not doing x only makes it more obvious that you’re doing x.

“If you say and show that you’re a group of artists who are trying to help other artists, the more you say and show that it’s true only makes it more obvious that you’re actually an evil middleman corporation stealing from artists.”

Instead of just re-asserting the wrong argument as in Pattern 2, this tortured syntax creates an imaginary cause-effect line between the two statements. “The more evidence you show me that the sky isn’t blue, that only convinces me more that the sky is blue.” This is a word game in which a person can say that any evidence against x actually is itself undeniable proof of x.

What’s the word for this one? It starts with a “b”.

These are all real language patterns that appeared as they’re shown here. The problem is that AltSciFi is doing something different; words are necessary to explain how this project works. There needs to be some way to communicate to artists, many of whom have weak critical thinking skills, high fluency and low reading comprehension. There’s no easy answer, but we’ll see. Maybe the average artist online is more capable of independent thought than many have recently shown themselves to be; hopefully that’s the case. The success of this project might depend on it.

What Did Ursula K. Le Guin Really Think About Dystopian Science Fiction?

Disdain seemed to overtake the voice of Ursula K. Le Guin in the passage quoted below about her life and work. The article by Zoe Carpenter suggests that Le Guin was disenchanted, or perhaps even bored, by the mere idea of dystopia.

For someone preoccupied with humanity’s ability to destroy itself and the rest of the natural world, Le Guin is notably disinterested in dystopias. Frankly, they bore her. “I think they’re just ground out,” she told me. “They’re just the latest way to write sci-fi novels. Don’t readers ever get tired of being told that the world is coming to a nasty, ugly end and only a very few people will survive, by luck and by violence?” Nor does Le Guin think much of the kind of shallow moralism used to justify invasions and torture. She has written through plenty of dark territory, but with an eye fixed on the constant stars of kindness and bravery.

Ursula Le Guin Has Stopped Writing Fiction—but We Need Her More Than Ever

This take on dystopia seems to completely miss the purpose of that story world. Is it possible Le Guin thought so little of dystopian stories as to dismiss the entire subgenre completely?

Dystopia isn’t necessarily a “fad” or “shallow moralism.” Some writers will jump on nearly any shiny new literary bandwagon, but Le Guin isn’t likely to have stereotyped an entire subgenre of science fiction just because she couldn’t imagine new stories to be told using that approach.

Based on the quote alone, Le Guin says that dystopia itself is “ground out” and “just the latest way to write sci-fi novels.” Dystopia is as old as science fiction itself, and is an integral part of the genre. Trends and fads don’t render an entire subgenre obsolete.

The quotation overgeneralises in a puzzling way. Anyone can write whatever they want, but it’s strange that Le Guin seemed to dismiss dystopias completely in the quoted passage. If she had focused specifically on superficial ways of writing dystopian fiction, the quote would have made more sense.

Dystopia, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is

1 : an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives

2 literature : anti-utopia · writing a dystopia

—dystopian \-pē-ən\ adjective

The definition of dystopian is not “and it all comes to a nasty, ugly end, and only a few people will survive, by luck and violence.” Dystopia is a state of society and/or the physical world, not an event in the story itself (‘a nasty, ugly end’). That’s what’s odd about the Le Guin quote. It doesn’t make sense.

Given that Le Guin was one of the most well-regarded figures in science fiction and fantasy, it’s not likely that she spoke carelessly. So what did Ursula K. Le Guin actually mean?

Two quotations might clarify her perspective. For Le Guin, the oppositions that create dystopia (and utopia) are gendered. Yang is male, and yin is female.

Le Guin’s approach is informed by Taoism, where opposing forces are interdependent.

She elaborates in No Time to Spare: “Yang is male, bright, dry, hard, active, penetrating. Yin is female, dark, wet, easy, receptive, containing. Yang is control, yin acceptance. They are great and equal powers; neither can exist alone, and each is always in process of becoming the other.” For Le Guin, there’s an overabundance of yang in American culture—one that’s reflected in its science fiction. She says, “Many contemporary dystopias provide such a great opportunity to wallow in gratuitous cruelty and mindless violence. Yin is for losers.” So much, then, for the philosophical cautionary tale.

Ursula K. Le Guin, the sci-fi giant, takes on dystopia and social injustice

In this passage, Le Guin doesn’t dismiss dystopia itself. Her rejection is of an opportunistic use of cruelty and violence. The excess of yang (male) destructive “penetration” energy overwhelms and drowns out the “receptive” yin (female) energy.

That’s a decent start, but does Le Guin offer any thoughts for how to escape the endless cycle of dystopian yang in science fiction — and perhaps in society itself?

Definitive elaboration on the question naturally comes the celebrated author’s unabridged thinking, expounded upon in the completed essay as published in a 2017 collection, NO TIME TO SPARE: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The essay is titled, “We keep writing dystopias instead of envisioning a better world—maybe what we need is balance“. Le Guin continues with the Taoist metaphor of yin and yang, ending on a perhaps-hopeful note (emphasis added):

Through psychological and political control, these dystopias have achieved a nondynamic stasis that allows no change. The balance is immovable: one side up, the other down. Everything is yang forever.

Where is the yin dystopia? Is it perhaps in post-holocaust stories and horror fiction with its shambling herds of zombies, the increasingly popular visions of social breakdown, total loss of control — chaos and old night?

Yang perceives yin only as negative, inferior, bad, and yang has always been given the last word. But there is no last word.

At present we seem only to write dystopias. Perhaps in order to be able to write a utopia we need to think yinly. I tried to write one in Always Coming Home. Did I succeed?

Is a yin utopia a contradiction in terms, since all the familiar utopias rely on control to make them work, and yin does not control? Yet it is a great power. How does it work?

I can only guess. My guess is that the kind of thinking we are, at last, beginning to do about how to change the goals of human domination and unlimited growth to those of human adaptability and long-term survival is a shift from yang to yin, and so involves acceptance of impermanence and imperfection, a patience with uncertainty and the makeshift, a friendship with water, darkness, and the earth.

Ursula K. Le Guin wasn’t just “bored” by dystopia. She wanted sci-fi creators to use it as a radical agent for change. Although Le Guin is no longer among us, her energetic words can continue to reveal new alternatives, undiscovered elsewheres that science fiction might describe in hopes that society might follow, before it’s too late.