Sunday, January 31, 2010

"It's the thinking that makes most things wrong, not the thing itself"

io9's Josh Wimmer has been reading through the Hugo award-winning novels chronologically and writing about them every couple of weeks or so. It's a great idea, one I'm thinking about stealing before too long (not necessarily the blogging aspect, just reading the books). Wimmer's a great writer, and the essays have been fairly interesting, often dealing with things I'm not 100% interested in, but usually having at least something worth going "huh!" over in them. I recommend them if you're interested in sci-fi.

Most recently he got to Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, which I have not actually read. Mostly I bring it up to quote this instant message exchange (which he quotes in the essay) between himself and another io9 personality, about Heinlein's concept of "grokking," of taking the time to understand something from all possible angles before taking action or forming an opinion:
me: yeah, but what I like is that it's not the relativism that I think gets associated with Buddhism so much — "everything is OK"; you can grok a wrongness in something. you just have to grok it all before you know for sure.

Chris: Right it's just that there's more and different things that are okay than we think there are. And it's the thinking that makes most things wrong, not the thing itself.
This is a nice way of expressing what I was getting at in the Sexual flâneur post (and the follow-up), particularly if we take "wrong" to mean both wrong "morally," or from a societal standpoint, and personally, or from an individual standpoint. We should always keep in mind the possibility that our concepts are wrong (now in the sense of "incorrect"), that something we dismiss may have value, that something we consider bad--something that perhaps actually is bad, in society as it is now--may only be bad because we think it so. I tend to think that if we were actually able to wipe clean all of our preconceptions, the world we would see would be completely unrecognizable to us.


Rachel said...

Conversely, it's also fun to speculate on what the next thing is going to be that, like slavery/women as chattel/etc., is in retrospect really obviously horribly morally wrong, but something that everyone currently accepts because it's taken for granted and no one's thought of it that way before. Stephen Fry thinks it's zoos. He might be right, at least to the extent that we'll wake up to that before we do to "humanitarian interventions" by the military.

Ethan said...

I think about that sometimes, too. The humanitarian interventions one is a nice dream but I doubt we'll see that anytime soon. I like to think it could be prisons but I'm almost as doubtful of that.