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Saturday, June 12th, 2004

Time Event
Danger! Thoughtcrime warning!
One reviewer posts a word of warning before his reviews. He is reviewing SF from the 40's, 50' and 60's.


I feel a frisson of horror when I come across these words in Dani Zweig's
Belated Reviews: " You may find yourself having to make allowances for writing
you consider shallow or politics you consider regressive."

"Politics you consider regressive" …? Savor the implications of that phrase for
a moment. Zweig expects, and perhaps rightly, for the current generation to be
so alienated from books written only twenty or forty years ago as to require a
caution to make allowances.

The alienation has entirely to do with politics. The politics have become
central to life, affecting everything, so that even a book written for light
entertainment comes under political scrutiny for political messages. Zweig does
not caution, for example, readers of THE THREE MUSKETEERS or KNIGHTS OF THE
ROUND TABLE to hold in check their disagreement with the political and
religious system of the Catholic Monarchy. No such warning is needed. Readers
can enjoy the adventures of D'Artagnan or Lancelot without suffering a choking
wrath and disdain at the political systems governing their kingdoms. "Politics"
in that sense of the word—the art of government—is not meant. "Politics" here
refers to an all-embracing system of opinion and belief.

Note the use of the word "regressive." Charming word. Notice what it implies.

Zweig does not caution readers to tolerate books whose politics the reader
might hold as the opinion of honorable and loyal opposition. The idea that one
could disagree with another political party, and still hold it to be a worthy
and honorable party, is forgotten in modern thought. The operative word
here, "regressive", is one that the conservative would not use. The word means
that the political opposition comes from an earlier, more primitive (and hence
inferior) stage of the evolution and progressive enlightenment of man. As men
stand to apes, so (in the mind of the Progressive) the Party stands to the old

Zweig's caution is repeated on another page: "The mores and prejudices of the
writers will rarely match our own. Their books may strike today's readers as
racist or sexist or intolerant or naive. Fair enough: Ours could as easily
strike them as godless or obscene or pornographic or naive -- and I'd love to
know what faults people half a century from now will find in our favorite

Note, again, there is no mention of the art of governing. "Politics" these days
is taken to include a set of attitudes and beliefs about relations between the
races, between the sexes, the moral stance of toleration and related
(progressive) beliefs.

In additional to being central, politics is also more divisive than before.
Previously, a book was written in for an audience that could be fairly assumed
to agree with the author on a number of basic, unquestioned, assumptions and
values. At that time in America, the two political parties agreed on the
basics: both were patriotic and religious, honoring God and Country. The
disagreements, with few exceptions, were about means to achieve agreed-upon
ends: the preservation of the civilization of the West, the American Way of

The disagreements these days not as deep as before the Civil War, but they are
deeper than postwar America. The disagreement now centers around whether morals
are objective or subjective, whether the West merits preservation or
destruction. There can be no rational debate and no compromise where
disagreement runs so deep: small wonder our political debates these days are
little more than name-calling shouting-matches. The common ground needed for a
civilized debate of issues is absent.

I am not disagreeing with Zweig, by the by. I am merely horrified that politics
has taken all the all-embracing aspect of a religion and a culture, and that
two cultures, mutually incompatible, now exist in America.

When the children can no longer understand the thoughts of their neighbors, or
read the books their fathers wrote, something barbaric has happened.

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