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Rebelling Against the Rebellion


Branden Szabo

By Branden Szabo 


There’s an episode of the television series House, M.D. where House interviews a young doctor for a job.  The aspiring physician is not hired because he has a tattoo, prompting him to explain that he’s a non-conformist.  To this, House sarcastically responds: “Yeah, I can’t remember the last time I saw a twenty-something with long hair and a tattoo – you are one wicked dude.”


The take-away from this is that rebellion almost always becomes conformity and I dare say the science fiction and fantasy industry has reached this point.  Stories and arguments that once challenged society have become old and tired, yet we continue to see them, no matter how many times audiences reject them. 


The problem lies is ideology.  Liberalism is normally associated with rebellion in modern culture and many speculative fiction writers are left-leaning, at least in my experience.  They still think they’re challenging the norm – saying what needs to be said, but they fail to realize that they are the norm now.  There is virtually nothing left to oppose them in what I call Creative America, institutions like Hollywood, music, news and even sports are all heavily liberal.  These writers aren’t the plucky rebels they think they are; they’re an empire with total control of land, air and sea.


It wasn’t always like this.  Historically speaking, certain books and movies forced us to confront serious problems in society such as slavery, corporate corruption and institutional discrimination.  Not only did we confront them, we solved them, at least to within a negligible margin of error.  The amount of progress we’ve made would baffle our ancestors and continues to baffle many parts of the world.


… So why do we act like nothing has changed?


And why do writers continue to insult Middle America’s intelligence with their absurd cautionary tales?


Margaret Atwood’s novel A Handmaid’s Tale, which is being developed into a television series on Hulu, is a perfect example.  It’s about a near-future dystopia where men apparently have nothing better to do than oppress women and take away their rights.  The idea that the United States or Europe could even come close to this kind of society is foolish beyond comment.  It’s extremism masquerading as enlightenment. 


This kind of ham-fisted alarm sounding is hardly uncommon, Creative America is always trying to manipulate public opinion with their shoddy morality arguments and its failing miserably.  Look at some of the recent Hollywood flops.  George Clooney’s global-warming shaming movie Tomorrowland was a box-office disaster.  Elysium, Matt Damon’s love letter to Karl Marx, faced a similar fate, as did his other soapbox Green Zone.  The Ghostbusters remake speaks for itself.  I would argue audiences were able to sniff out bias in other disappointments like The Lone Ranger, White House Down and Happy Feet 2 as well.


This doesn’t mean a writer shouldn’t tell the story they want to tell but I think it’s time they realized they are in a unique position of power that is well protected in this country.  There’s no omnipotent force trying to censor them (isolated challenges to specific books and plays in public schools do not count, parents have a right to monitor what their kids watch and read).


So here we are, divided, and Creative America only has itself to blame.  Brexit and the 2016 U.S. election are clear messages, so clear only a writer could miss them.  This is 1776, not 1984.  The forgotten man is tired of being told what to think by artists whose zeal to enlighten the masses has turned them into everything they hate: dogmatic, reactionary and clueless.  It’s time to rebel against the rebellion; we need new stories that challenge the old and tired lectures we’ve been hearing for decades.


Or, better yet, we need stories with no lectures at all. 





2017-05-24 10:09:03
Wesson - Qdandrew72: Thanks. You made a good point about kids films and such. Say what you want about them, they certainly have people's attention.

2017-05-23 23:26:34
Ironspider - @GordonRowlinson - trouble is, if you're 'preaching to the converted' then any message you may wish to impart is lessened, you're simply reinforcing a commonly held belief or political viewpoint. While I personally try and avoid morals and messages, I think if you do wish to write in that manner, then go with whatever fits the concept of the story, whether that goes against a personal viewpoint or not. A good story should put you into the narrative even if you don't agree with the protagonist and end up rooting for the bad guys!

2017-05-20 06:22:06
dandrew72 - Excellent points. These days I find the most creative movies often are kid's films - especially cartoons. As writers and artists, it's up to us to challenge paradigms rather than to become absorbed by them. Take ideology out of what we do and that's where the best of our work emerges - absent ideology we have to focus on character development (and all the nuts and bolts that make people tick), and trajectories of technology that have nothing to do with politics (example, driverless cars). It's easy to go for the purely dystopian story complete by rote events and characters. Let's all aspire to shatter those molds and really create some great stuff. Standing by to collaborate with any and everyone!

2017-05-18 09:33:36
GordonRowlinson - I think that adding a political angle to a story is usually a bad idea as you alienate a large percentage of your readers. As folks here have already noted, a story is supposed to entertain. Of course I didn't take my own advice and wrote a story with a very anti-war political message. It's in the July 2016 QM. If you are doing a message story, I think it would be best to make message that most would agree about.

2017-05-16 04:45:58
Ironspider - @Wesson - I agree about things needing to be 'fun'. Whether it's gory horror, fanciful fantasy or hard Sci-Fi, I like stories that entertain me. If I want to be taught a lesson I'll sign-up for an evening class!

2017-05-14 07:21:39
Wesson - Thanks Michelle. I agree with you about stories needing emotion to be interesting. It all boils down to fun for me, it’s getting harder to find stories that are simply fun for the sake of fun.

2017-05-09 12:00:09
micheledutcher - I can definitely see Weston's main point here. A lot of sci-fi is: something is created and then everything goes terribly wrong. Whether it is a machine or a society it gets completely messed up. It is all the Frankenstein story retold over and over. I have grown tired of writing distopian stories but what is left? No hero no villain no hard choices no life changes no rage against the machine. I agree that moralizing in a story is tedious and repetitive but the story has to have some emotional movement to make it interesting.

2017-05-06 06:23:47
r.tornello - It's 1776 and 1984 together and then some.

2017-05-05 06:16:43

2017-05-04 10:31:48
Wesson - Look, I appreciate your enthusiasm but I’m not interested in discussing my personal beliefs here, you and I both know we’re not going to see eye to eye on this. Let’s try to call it quits.

2017-05-04 10:30:22
Wesson - Socialism is a collectivist ideology that treats people as a group rather than individuals. On the other hand, egoism, objectivism and other similar theories treat people as individuals with unique wants and needs that may be different from the wants and needs of their race, community, country, etc. That’s how I define my opposition to those writers: individualism versus collectivism. The trouble is, both liberals and conservatives have turned characters like Mao and Hitler into political insults they can hurl at the other side and the truth of who they really were has been washed away.

2017-05-04 06:39:01
Wesson, But I didn't understand what your preferred philosophy was. So I looked it up. I wanted to put it out there so maybe a discussion on your philosophy in relation to the editorial. This would give us a definition to work from. But, if you're not satisfied with the WIKI definition and related sources given there in, how about the OED definition which is stated as follows: A Solipsist. A systematically selfish person; a self centered or self opinionated person.

However as you might notice, it doesn't allow for the broad range of thought the WIKI definition does.

I'm not sure how that reflects on your opposition to the writers mentioned. By the OED definition I would think you're more inclined to that self-centered view, though while you express yours on a singular basis (yourself), they expressed in an a more universal sense.

2017-05-03 10:47:36
Wesson - @Ironspider: Thank you for reading. I like what you said about ‘outside the box’ becoming ‘the box’ over time. Even non-political themes like vampires and such are being done to death nowadays, guess that’s the nature of the business sometimes.

2017-05-03 10:47:02
Wesson - You quoted Wikipedia which isn’t exactly the Harvard Library. I only brought up my preferred philosophy to help illustrate my opposition to the socialism of Mao and Hitler, nothing more.

2017-05-03 08:44:45
I quoted a full but general description of your self proclaimed EGOIST belief. I just put what it is or is not out there to review.

Art augments history, art is history may visual or written, reflecting the time period, the world views and all that. Art is a part of history in addition to the "facts". The Art Of War reflects the Warring States Period as much as Lao Zi and The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights do. They pull from writings of the period and well as antiquity and propel the writings to the future.

2017-05-03 08:15:35
Wesson - -Let’s not over complicate things. I believe in self-interest, plain and simple. And I reject any notion that the pursuit of self-interest automatically means causing harm to others or the absence of cooperation – it does not. Capitalism is an amazing creation for this very reason: it allows people to peacefully cooperate for mutual gain (unlike the dark ages when most men had no other choice but to grow their own food or steal food from others). Don’t get me wrong, there will always be individuals who use force, fraud or coercion to get what they want but I don’t consider that true self-interest because it hurts others. Likewise, society has not right to use force, fraud or coercion to extract charity out of people. -You wrote something that’s rather alarming. Egoism causes the practitioner to fail to judge properly? Does that mean individuals shouldn’t trust their own judgement? If someone can’t trust their own judgement, then whose judgement should they trust? You don’t strike me as someone who would let others make a decision for you. -Regarding art as a history lesson, that can be hit or miss. Shakespeare’s play Richard III couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I think it’s better to keep history in an objective school setting.

2017-05-03 06:50:37
r.tornello - Now back to our story. Since civics is not being taught in schools and history is given short shrift in today's USA, then it can be posited that the arts play this role as did the theater in ancient Greece. I'll use two examples, LYSISTRATA and THE PERSIANS.

2017-05-03 05:51:29
@wesson:(WIKI)Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one's self-interest.[1] Ethical egoism holds that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical.

Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others. Egoism and altruism both contrast with ethical utilitarianism, which holds that a moral agent should treat one's self (also known as the subject) with no higher regard than one has for others (as egoism does, by elevating self-interests and "the self" to a status not granted to others). But it also holds that one should not (as altruism does) sacrifice one's own interests to help others' interests, so long as one's own interests (i.e. one's own desires or well-being) are substantially equivalent to the others' interests and well-being. Egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism are all forms of consequentialism, but egoism and altruism contrast with utilitarianism, in that egoism and altruism are both agent-focused forms of consequentialism (i.e. subject-focused or subjective). However, utilitarianism is held to be agent-neutral (i.e. objective and impartial): it does not treat the subject's (i.e. the self's, i.e. the moral "agent's") own interests as being more or less important than the interests, desires, or well-being of others.

Ethical egoism does not, however, require moral agents to harm the interests and well-being of others when making moral deliberation; e.g. what is in an agent's self-interest may be incidentally detrimental, beneficial, or neutral in its effect on others. Individualism allows for others' interest and well-being to be disregarded or not, as long as what is chosen is efficacious in satisfying the self-interest of the agent. Nor does ethical egoism necessarily entail that, in pursuing self-interest, one ought always to do what one wants to do; e.g. in the long term, the fulfillment of short-term desires may prove detrimental to the self. Fleeting pleasure, then, takes a back seat to protracted eudaimonia. In the words of James Rachels, "Ethical egoism [...] endorses selfishness, but it doesn't endorse foolishness."[2]

Ethical egoism is often used as the philosophical basis for support of right-libertarianism and individualist anarchism.[3] These are political positions based partly on a belief that individuals should not coercively prevent others from exercising freedom of action.

Ethical egoism can be broadly divided into three categories: individual, personal, and universal. An individual ethical egoist would hold that all people should do whatever benefits "my" (the individual) self-interest; a personal ethical egoist would hold that he or she should act in his or her self-interest, but would make no claims about what anyone else ought to do; a universal ethical egoist would argue that everyone should act in ways that are in their self-interest.[4][5]

Ethical egoism was introduced by the philosopher Henry Sidgwick in his book The Methods of Ethics, written in 1874. Sidgwick compared egoism to the philosophy of utilitarianism, writing that whereas utilitarianism sought to maximize overall pleasure, egoism focused only on maximizing individual pleasure.[6]

Philosophers before Sidgwick have also retroactively been identified as ethical egoists. One ancient example is the philosophy of Yang Zhu (4th century BC), Yangism, who views wei wo, or "everything for myself", as the only virtue necessary for self-cultivation.[7] Ancient Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics were exponents of virtue ethics, and "did not accept the formal principle that whatever the good is, we should seek only our own good, or prefer it to the good of others."[6] However, the beliefs of the Cyrenaics have been referred to as a "form of egoistic hedonism",[8] and while some refer to Epicurus' hedonism as a form of virtue ethics, others argue his ethics are more properly described as ethical egoism.[9]

Justifications[edit] Philosopher James Rachels, in an essay that takes as its title the theory's name, outlines the three arguments most commonly touted in its favor:[10]

"The first argument," writes Rachels, "has several variations, each suggesting the same general point:[11] "Each of us is intimately familiar with our own individual wants and needs. Moreover, each of us is uniquely placed to pursue those wants and needs effectively. At the same time, we know the desires and needs of others only imperfectly, and we are not well situated to pursue them. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that if we set out to be 'our brother's keeper,' we would often bungle the job and end up doing more mischief than good."[2] To give charity to someone is to degrade him, implying as it does that he is reliant on such munificence and quite unable to look out for himself. "That," reckons Rachels, "is why the recipients of 'charity' are so often resentful rather than appreciative."[12] Altruism, ultimately, denies an individual's value and is therefore destructive both to society and its individual components, viewing life merely as a thing to be sacrificed. Philosopher Ayn Rand is quoted as writing that, "[i]f a man accepts the ethics of altruism, his first concern is not how to live his life but how to sacrifice it."[13] Moreover, "[t]he basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification for his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue or value." Rather, she writes, "[t]he purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live."[14] All of our commonly accepted moral duties, from doing no harm unto others to speaking always the truth to keeping promises, are rooted in the one fundamental principle of self-interest. It has been observed, however, that the very act of eating (especially, when there are others starving in the world) is such an act of self-interested discrimination. Ethical egoists such as Rand who readily acknowledge the (conditional) value of others to an individual, and who readily endorse empathy for others, have argued the exact reverse from Rachels, that it is altruism which discriminates: "If the sensation of eating a cake is a value, then why is it an immoral indulgence in your stomach, but a moral goal for you to achieve in the stomach of others?"[15] It is therefore altruism which is an arbitrary position, according to Rand.

Notable proponents[edit] The term ethical egoism has been applied retroactively to philosophers such as Bernard de Mandeville and to many other materialists of his generation, although none of them declared themselves to be egoists. Note that materialism does not necessarily imply egoism, as indicated by Karl Marx, and the many other materialists who espoused forms of collectivism. It has been argued that ethical egoism can lend itself to individualist anarchism such as that of Benjamin Tucker, or the combined anarcho-communism and egoism of Emma Goldman, both of whom were proponents of many egoist ideas put forward by Max Stirner. In this context, egoism is another way of describing the sense that the common good should be enjoyed by all. However, most notable anarchists in history have been less radical, retaining altruism and a sense of the importance of the individual that is appreciable but does not go as far as egoism. Recent trends to greater appreciation of egoism within anarchism tend to come from less classical directions such as post-left anarchy or Situationism (e.g. Raoul Vaneigem). Egoism has also been referenced by anarcho-capitalists, such as Murray Rothbard.

Philosopher Max Stirner, in his book The Ego and Its Own, was the first philosopher to call himself an egoist, though his writing makes clear that he desired not a new idea of morality (ethical egoism), but rather a rejection of morality (amoralism), as a nonexistent and limiting "spook"; for this, Stirner has been described as the first individualist anarchist. Other philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes and David Gauthier, have argued that the conflicts which arise when people each pursue their own ends can be resolved for the best of each individual only if they all voluntarily forgo some of their aims—that is, one's self-interest is often best pursued by allowing others to pursue their self-interest as well so that liberty is equal among individuals. Sacrificing one's short-term self-interest to maximize one's long-term self-interest is one form of "rational self-interest" which is the idea behind most philosophers' advocacy of ethical egoism. Egoists have also argued that one's actual interests are not immediately obvious, and that the pursuit of self-interest involves more than merely the acquisition of some good, but the maximizing of one's chances of survival and/or happiness.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suggested that egoistic or "life-affirming" behavior stimulates jealousy or "ressentiment" in others, and that this is the psychological motive for the altruism in Christianity. Sociologist Helmut Schoeck similarly considered envy the motive of collective efforts by society to reduce the disproportionate gains of successful individuals through moral or legal constraints, with altruism being primary among these.[16] In addition, Nietzsche (in Beyond Good and Evil) and Alasdair MacIntyre (in After Virtue) have pointed out that the ancient Greeks did not associate morality with altruism in the way that post-Christian Western civilization has done. Aristotle's view is that we have duties to ourselves as well as to other people (e.g. friends) and to the polis as a whole. The same is true for Thomas Aquinas, Christian Wolff and Immanuel Kant, who claim that there are duties to ourselves as Aristotle did, although it has been argued that, for Aristotle, the duty to one's self is primary.[17]

Ayn Rand argued that there is a positive harmony of interests among free, rational humans, such that no moral agent can rationally coerce another person consistently with his own long-term self-interest. Rand argued that other people are an enormous value to an individual's well-being (through education, trade and affection), but also that this value could be fully realized only under conditions of political and economic freedom. According to Rand, voluntary trade alone can assure that human interaction is mutually beneficial.[18] Rand's student, Leonard Peikoff has argued that the identification of one's interests itself is impossible absent the use of principles, and that self-interest cannot be consistently pursued absent a consistent adherence to certain ethical principles.[19] Recently, Rand's position has also been defended by such writers as Tara Smith, Tibor Machan, Allan Gotthelf, David Kelley, Douglas Rasmussen, Nathaniel Branden, Harry Binswanger, Andrew Bernstein, and Craig Biddle.

Philosopher David L. Norton identified himself an "ethical individualist", and, like Rand, saw a harmony between an individual's fidelity to his own self-actualization, or "personal destiny", and the achievement of society's well being.[20]

Criticisms[edit] According to amoralism, there is nothing wrong with egoism, but there is also nothing ethical about it; one can adopt rational egoism and drop morality as a superfluous attribute of the egoism.

Ethical egoism has been alleged as the basis for immorality. Egoism has also been alleged as being outside the scope of moral philosophy. Thomas Jefferson writes in an 1814 letter to Thomas Law:

Self-interest, or rather self-love, or egoism, has been more plausibly substituted as the basis of morality. But I consider our relations with others as constituting the boundaries of morality. With ourselves, we stand on the ground of identity, not of relation, which last, requiring two subjects, excludes self-love confined to a single one. To ourselves, in strict language, we can owe no duties, obligation requiring also two parties. Self-love, therefore, is no part of morality. Indeed, it is exactly its counterpart.[21]

In contrast, Rand saw ethics as a necessity for human survival and well-being, and argued that the "social" implications of morality, including natural rights, were simply a subset of the wider field of ethics. Thus, for Rand, "virtue" included productiveness, honesty with oneself, and scrupulousness of thought. Although she greatly admired Jefferson, she also wrote:

[To those who say] that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most. Let him try to claim, when there are no victims to pay for it, that a rock is a house, that sand is clothing, that food will drop into his mouth without cause or effort, that he will collect a harvest tomorrow by devouring his stock seed today—and reality will wipe him out, as he deserves; reality will show him that life is a value to be bought and that thinking is the only coin noble enough to buy it.[22]

In The Moral Point of View, Kurt Baier objects that ethical egoism provides no moral basis for the resolution of conflicts of interest, which, in his opinion, form the only vindication for a moral code. Were this an ideal world, one in which interests and purposes never jarred, its inhabitants would have no need of a specified set of ethics, according to Baier. This, however, is not an "ideal world." Baier believes that ethical egoism fails to provide the moral guidance and arbitration that it necessitates. Far from resolving conflicts of interest, claimed Baier, ethical egoism all too often spawns them. To this, as Rachels has shown, the ethical egoist may object that he cannot admit a construct of morality whose aim is merely to forestall conflicts of interest. "On his view," he writes, "the moralist is not like a courtroom judge, who resolves disputes. Instead, he is like the Commissioner of Boxing, who urges each fighter to do his best."[23]

Baiers is also part of a team of philosophers who hold that ethical egoism is paradoxical, implying that to do what is in one's best interests can be both wrong and right in ethical terms. Although a successful pursuit of self-interest may be viewed as a moral victory, it could also be dubbed immoral if it prevents another person from executing what is in his best interests. Again, however, the ethical egoists have responded by assuming the guise of the Commissioner of Boxing. His philosophy precludes empathy for the interests of others, so forestalling them is perfectly acceptable. "Regardless of whether we think this is a correct view," adds Rachels, "it is, at the very least, a consistent view, and so this attempt to convict the egoist of self-contradiction fails."[24]

Finally, it has been averred that ethical egoism is no better than bigotry in that, like racism, it divides people into two types—themselves and others—and discriminates against one type on the basis of some arbitrary disparity. This, to Rachels's mind, is probably the best objection to ethical egoism, for it provides the soundest reason why the interests of others ought to concern the interests of the self. "What", he asks, "is the difference between myself and others that justifies placing myself in this special category? Am I more intelligent? Do I enjoy my life more? Are my accomplishments greater? Do I have needs or abilities that are so different from the needs and abilities of others? What is it that makes me so special? Failing an answer, it turns out that Ethical Egoism is an arbitrary doctrine, in the same way that racism is arbitrary. [...] We should care about the interests of other people for the very same reason we care about our own interests; for their needs and desires are comparable to our own."[25]

In other words, an ethical egoism is an oxymoron. Because it biases one's judgement, it causes the practitioner to fail to judge properly, to failure in the game of Prisoner's Dilemma--the failure to cooperate being fatal and bad for one's self interest.

So where do you place yourself in all of this? The definitions are wide and varied. To state I am X without a defining foundation leaves me open to questions as to what exactly you are or how the term reflects your thinking considering the varied hues given above.

2017-05-02 08:33:51
Let's try a different tack, sci as philosophical writing, taking the what is and contemplating the what may, be in all manifestations. With that comes some projection of "good" and "bad" depending upon the author's bias and subject to rebuttal.

2017-05-02 07:18:01
Ironspider - I try and avoid morals when I'm writing, as I agree that, over time, a message from 'outside the box' will find itself becoming the walls of the box if not the content. Ideology makes a good background, but I don't think it should be a message. I prefer stories to be just a wander through the imagination, not an invitation to a book-burning or a burning cross in a shanty town. Despite multiple attempts I still haven't finished Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' - while I like the concept, the narrative is just too much of a sermon.

2017-05-01 17:09:33
Wesson - I’m not sure I’m following you but Mao and Hitler certainly fall into the category of writers I don’t like. I’m an egoist – I'm no fan of socialism or any of its incarnations.

2017-05-01 14:32:50
r.tornello - You did state "artists who would turn their art into a weapon". re Mao and Hitler, they were writers, and in a fashion artist creating societies to their vision.

regarding who has control over what is another subject that requires a thoughtful response, though you mention both R&L extremes as distasteful, I would have to agree that dogmatic extremism is a danger to art and to creativity not to mention the self.

2017-05-01 12:57:57
Wesson - @ RT: My thoughts are directed at modern day SFF culture, Thomas Paine and Picasso are not relevant to this. Mao was a communist and Hitler was a fascist. Both ideologies are variations of socialism which would make Hitler and Mao left wing, not right wing (if we’re using modern definitions of the terms “left” and “right”). The collectivist theories they followed taught sacrifice over self-interest and community over the individual. I’d argue that both the American left and right are guilty of this kind of authoritarian thinking but it is the left that holds control of Hollywood, the media and virtually every other high ground in society.

2017-05-01 08:28:02
r.tornello - How about Thomas pain's writing? Or Picasso's use of science in his Cubist work?

Re lectures, some stories are just that, stories to be enjoyed as "science fiction Fairy Tales, and others do point out a concern.You didn't mention right wing writers like Hitler or Mao.

2017-05-01 07:11:57
Wesson - This is the author. I kind of let my mind wander when I wrote this editorial and I’m guessing it won’t be well received so I’d like to clarify my thoughts. First off, I’m not criticizing all writers out there, only those who would turn their art into a weapon to make some social statement or morality argument (often an old and tired argument that’s been done to death). I have a saying: “art is a poor vehicle for ideology” and I guess that’s the point I was trying to make, although I may have come off too strong in some areas. That being said, I’d like to thank Michele and Quantum Muse for their time and consideration, thank you for reading.

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