Who do we want to be?
What I love the most about science fiction and fantasy is the ability to imagine. Imagine what else the world could be, or who else we could be in it. Imagine what if, in endless combinations from deeply silly to deeply deep to the place where silly and deep exist in the same space.
The novels that stick in my head – and get me to read, oh, thirteen sequels – are built around a moment of change for the protagonist and often for their whole society. Normalcy teeters over a cliff into the unknown, the magic squid invasion or rampaging evil empire or invading alien ships threatening all our heroes and heroines have ever known.
We’re in a moment like that right now – sadly slightly less magic battles and a whole lot more Twitter arguing – but real and present. Unprecedented is a word that’s getting thrown around all over the place. In part, it’s true; a lot of this feels uncharted. And so also in part…it’s not true. Upheaval is part of the pattern of human life in reality and in fiction.
When I read stories I love, I think ‘what would I do in the face of a world-saving quest or exploration to distant corners of the universe? Who would I be if magic suddenly sprung up around us?’
Who would I be?
What would I do?
I liked the safe distance imagination of it, if I’m being honest. Where would I be bold? Where would I hide in a village? Where would I round up my most talented friends to survive and thrive?
So here we are, dangling from the cliff. Regardless of whether you think this is mass hysteria or the need for appropriate caution, elements of what’s lacking in our society and our world are being highlighted in a way we can’t ignore. We’re at that point, before leaving to toss the ring into the volcano or embarking on an adventure as the earth breaks up around us, where we get to decide.
Who am I?
What will I do?
We’ve been told, and told ourselves, stories about who we have to be, how we have to behave, how things have always been. We’re seeing now…that doesn’t have to be true. So much of what we accepted as reality is an illusion we commonly agreed to. The economy falls apart when regular people can’t and don’t engage – regular people, not billionaire individuals who are inseparable from their corporate identities. Shift workers and truck drivers and healthcare professionals and teachers are vital to our economy, and have not been compensated appropriately for the work they do. The rich aren’t better than us. Work can be done in so many different ways. That meeting could have been an email.
After WWI, through the depression, leaders of countries decided who they wanted to be – creating a middle class that privileged one slice of the population, creating a safety net that allowed the rise of a middle class, focusing on manufacturing, focusing on art, focusing on history, focusing on the future.
Societies are breathtakingly complex. They’re also breathtakingly simple – they’re made of people. Some people are protected, some are thrown away, in some systems you are made to believe you can do better only if someone else does worse. I don’t want to live in a world like that.
I genuinely believe a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe we’re in this together, and we do better, together. Richer conversation, revelatory art, ideas that work for way more kinds of people. I believe we should be aiming for something better than survival. I believe in people over corporations, real opportunity over bias, and that we are capable of amazing things when we care about each other.
I believe we’re in a moment where we can keep doing what we’ve been doing and hope for a better result – or we can choose something else.
So in this moment, where I’ve been holding my breath, I need to decide.
Who am I?
What will I do?