Science Fiction Studies

# 16 = Volume 5, Part 3 = November 1978

Joanna Russ

SF and Technology as Mystification

Talk about technology, long familiar to science-fiction readers and writers, is getting popular in Academia too. Particularly interesting to humanists is the connection between technology and whatever their own particular subject happens to be; I've attended three such formal symposia in the last five years, six including SF conventions, and including informal discussions among students, in writing classes, SF classes, and elsewhere, somewhere between fifty and sixty.

Technology is a non-subject.

That is, "technology," as it finds its way into almost all the discussions of it I have been unfortunate enough to participate in in the last five years, is the sexy rock star of the academic humanities, and like the rock star, is a consolation for and an obfuscation of, something else.

Talk about technology is an addiction.

The model of addiction I wish to use in this connection is hyperinsulinism, better known as hypoglycemia. It's a clear model and without social stigma. Like all addictions, hypoglycemia is probably extremely rare without the presence of a specific supernormal stimulus, and these occur rarely in nature. The supernormal stimulus at fault in the case of hypoglycemia (according to the medical theory I'm following here) is refined white sugar, or sucrose, and even sugar-cane itself was pretty rare, say, fifty thousand — or even fifty — years ago, while Twinkies and Mallomars abound not in nature, but in supermarkets, that is to say, in culture.

Refined sugar tastes sweet. Refined sugar and refined starch also have the virtue of lasting longer on supermarket shelves than unrefined sugars and starches found in vegetables, fruit, and unrefined grain. People buy the stuff because it tastes good and manufacturers like it because it makes food last; put the two together and we seem to have found a chemical angel. But heroin was also thought to be a chemical angel, as its discoverer thought he had found a cure for morphine addiction; hence the name. Sucrose turns out to be another angel of the same sort.

People who eat large quantities of sucrose over long periods of time (and modern Americans consume phenomenal amounts of sugar) are eating a sugar whose chemical structure makes it very quickly digested. Only glucose, or blood sugar itself, goes from stomach to bloodstream quicker than sucrose. Moreover, it's possible to ingest enormous quantities of the stuff while having to deal with very little bulk (or protein); people who try to get an equal fix on apples or wheat sprouts will probably be stopped by indigestion before they reach anywhere near the amount of sugar used in glucose-tolerance tests — an "insult" dose equivalent to about two candy bars.

Thus the theory goes: caught in the toils of the supernormal stimulus, the victim eats too much of it, too often. The victim's blood sugar rises too fast, too often. Too often and too fast this poor soul's pancreas is called upon to send out large quantities of insulin to metabolize all this sugar. Eventually the prodded pancreas goes into a sort of organic tizzy; even a moderate rise in blood sugar triggers off too much insulin, the person's blood sugar drops steeply, he or she feels ravenous, and disdaining unrefined sugar and starch (which by now no longer taste potent enough) she or he gobbles more strawberry shortcake or another Mr. Goodbar and the whole business starts all over again.

Presumably if the process continues and the person is susceptible enough, the highs become briefer, the lows worse; eventually you have someone exhibiting the effects of mild insulin shock: sweating, flushing, headache, irritability, exhaustion, and by a more complicated organic process, terror, rage, adrenalin exhaustion, trembling, and in extreme cases greying-out.

What price yummies!

Notice: this model is a true, physiological addiction. If the word addiction is to make sense at all, it cannot label simply the state of needing something intensely or needing it all the time. Such a definition could apply to the human need for oxygen. An addiction is a situation of constantly escalating need — in short, of insatiability. Not only that, but the cause of the escalation is the satisfier of the need. Addiction is what people call a vicious circle — really an increasing spiral. The more you need, the more you get; the more you get, the more you have; the more you have, the more you need, and so on.

This model of addiction may be over-simple or questionable when dealing with hyperinsulinism, but applied (by analogy) to certain economic and social phenomena, two things become strikingly apparent.

First, the addict is the ideal customer.

Second, addiction is a beautiful and effective method of social control. It is especially good at obfuscating and confusing — in political terms, mystifying — what it is that the addict really needs.

From the point of view of profits, the perfect stimulus is one which satisfies a human need only briefly or partially, and at the same time exacerbates the need. If the stimulus didn't satisfy the need at all, the customer would quit buying it out of frustration and disgust. If the stimulus fully satisfied the need, the customer would buy no more. (Certainly not beyond the recurrent biological demands of hunger, for example.)

That such stimuli abound in modern industrial society is an open secret. So is the fact that large numbers of people are paid large sums of money for inventing them and spreading them about. In the physiological realm we are presumably protected against this by the Food and Drug Administration (save for sugar, nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine, anyway) but in the cultural realm it's sauve qui peut and watch out for flying best-sellers.

Consider, for example, Star Wars. I was dragged to see this film past a bookstore displaying the sword-and-sorcery novel a friend of mine has rather unkindly nicknamed The Sword of Sha Na Na. What is important about coupling these two in one sentence (and one event) is not that the film is as bad as the book, but that both are bad in exactly the same way. This is not to say that neither is without some interesting or seductive elements. For no addictive stimulus is simply bad or dull; if it were, nobody would want it at all. What such artifacts do is follow the formula for physiological addiction in the psychic, cultural realm: they satisfy a need partially, and at the same time they exacerbate it. Publishers and movie-makers' formulas for a "real hit" are obviously those of an addiction: not just enjoyment or desire but intense craving (lines stretching around the block), not just intense craving but sudden intense craving which must be satisfied at once (opening in sixteen million theatres tomorrow, a theatre near you!), not just sudden intense craving but insatiable craving; thus people see the film many times and — this is a dead-giveaway — a minor industry grows up about the film: buttons, sweatshirts, TV programs about how the film was made, TV programs (possibly) about how the first TV programs about the film were made, and so on. These are what the trade calls "spin-offs."

Please note that addictive culture is not identical with what we like to call "escapist culture." Perhaps there is no way of escaping in art from one's society, as any social product will of necessity embody the society's values and pressures, and the less these values or pressures are confronted and examined in the work, the more in force they will be. Thus Star Wars — which is being sold to the public as "fun" — is in fact racist, grossly sexist, not apolitical in the least but authoritarian and morally imbecile, all of this both denied and enforced by the opportunism of camp (which the youngsters in the audience cannot spot, by the way) and spiced up by technical wonders and marvels, some of which are interesting, many of which are old hat to those used to science fiction. Addictive culture, to succeed, can't be all bad. (Perhaps somebody, some time, will cotton to the fact that the most interesting film form for SF is the travelogue — although even travelogues cannot be made without moral and political assumptions.)1

Let us for a moment compare Star Wars with Star Trek. The latter has certainly generated an immense paraphernalia around itself, but the minor industry around Star Wars is part of a commercial advertising campaign; that around Star Trek originated in the audience itself and commercial exploitation of the paraphernalia came later, probably when the reruns (shown earlier and earlier in the day) attracted a much younger audience than the original one.2

Why the difference? I suspect that, although Star Trek is addictive (to judge from its audience and my own experience), it is also, relative to Star Wars, politically liberal, morally serious, and in its best episodes so much less addictive than most of the TV competition that the idea-men of the industry — the front office producers — almost instinctively distrusted it. Those hooked on the show not only wanted to watch it, they also wanted to talk about it and think about it. In "The Russian Point of View" Virginia Woolf writes of a passage in Tolstoy "which so conveys the feeling of intense happiness that we shut the book to feel it better."3 At times even the most addicted Trekkies "shut the book to feel it better" (at least the grown-up ones). At times Star Trek generated not a desire to see more, but a desire to sit still and contemplate, to sit still and be moved — to my mind, sure signs of nonaddictive culture.

What adult person, after seeing Star Wars, wants to sit still and be moved? Star Wars generates only one desire — the desire for a sequel — for which purpose large pieces of the plot were left hanging in mid-air at the end of the film. Indeed, even as this is being written, the current issue of Locus arrives with the following information:

Leigh Brackett is writing the script for the sequel which will start pre-production this coming fall for a January 1980 release.... The question among SF fans is not "Have you seen Star Wars?" but, "How many times have you seen Star Wars? The novelization ... sold 3- million copies.... The calendars, blueprints, portfolios, toys, etc., are still selling phenomenally well.4

One might draw from the contrast of Star Wars and Star Trek a definition of the stimulus and the cravings involved in cultural addiction: addictive culture deals with issues people feel to be crucial in their lives, but instead of confronting these issues, addictive art merely re-confirms the values and internalized pressures that produced the issues in the first place. Addictive art is briefly palliating; the relief lasts only as long as the art does and one is left more needy than before, i.e. the cravings that were promised relief are now worse.

Star Wars , I think, addresses itself to a dim but powerful desire for "fun," i.e. excitement and self-importance. These are human desires and not bad ones, but the film satisfies them by simplifying morality, politics, and human personality to the point where they can all safely be ignored in the interests of the "fun." However, morality, politics, and human personality are most of the world and the film cannot actually do without them without renouncing drama altogether. Thus we have a work in which the result of the simplification isn't to banish morality, politics, and human personality (which is impossible) but to present them in their most reactionary — and dullest — form. Thus monarchies are better than republics, slavery is noble (the machines are conscious personalities endowed with emotions and free will but it is still unquestionably right to own them), everyone human in the film is white (with the possible exception of one extra in one scene), and after the hero's mother (disguised as his aunt to avoid the real parenticidal wishes no doubt present in the teenagers in the audience) dies, there is only one woman left in the entire universe. This universe then goes into terrific plot convulsions to aid, nurture, and glorify one very ordinary white, heterosexual, male, buck-toothed virgin. To judge by the film's last scene, which is modeled on Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will (a Nazi propaganda film made of the Nazi Party Congress held in Nuremberg), the director intended Star Wars as a half-hearted comment on the whole genre. I believe that his recent allegation on television that the film is "wholesome" is simply dishonest. Of necessity addictive art must be bad art, or at least half-bad art; that is, in order to concentrate on the adventures and special effects, we simplify politics, economics, history, personality, morality, and human relations (which otherwise tend to get rather badly in the way, just as they do in life). But drama — and fiction — is what happens to people, i.e. fiction is politics, economics, history, personality, morality, and human relations.

Star Trek addresses itself to different desires, ones often explicitly stated in the series itself. They are: worthwhile goals, a clear conscience, peers whom one can respect, love, and be loyal to, a chance to exercise one's skills, self-respect, a code of conduct which can be followed without disaster — and excitement and self-importance. All these good things are to be gained by self-control and adherence to a morality which, although fairly simple, still transcends the official code handed down by Starship Command. I believe that the issue of ego control is central to the series; time and again the crew's fragile but valuable system of command and self-command is undermined by something coming from outside the ship, only to be re-established by somebody's heroic personal efforts (often Captain Kirk's) just before the drama ends. It is noteworthy that the show's special effects were few and (in comparison with SF in feature films) often unconvincing (probably because of the economics of series television), the best of them being imaginative but physically simple like the "beam transporter"and the automatic sliding doors.5 The moments fans cite with greatest pleasure are not special effects, but rather moments of character-revelation, especially moments of deep emotion between the characters. The series was mildly liberal, mildly feminist (within narrower limits than Gene Roddenberry wished, if one can trust the pilot film, which was incorporated into the series as a two-part show set in the past), internationalist, with at least some non-white characters (e.g. Uhura and Sulu), and it presented its characters as adults with explicitly limited powers, not fourteen-year-olds presented as rulers of the universe. Unsurprisingly, Star Wars began life as the subject of a large advertising campaign and Star Trek — if gossip is to be trusted — was disliked by the front office, which changed its director/producer in its third (and final) year in order to get rid of the show.

Addictiveness is probably a matter of degree. It may be impossible to create a work of art that fully confronts the issues which make people miserable. On the other hand, there is a real difference between, say, the modern Gothic romance, which mystifies, re-confirms, and thereby exploits the situation of women in a sexist society, Charlotte Bronte's Villette, which confronts and analyzes it, and George Eliot's Mill on the Floss, which partly does so and partly shrinks from the pain and immorality of doing so. We feel the difference as a difference in complexity or dramatic value, or a difference in the riskiness of the work, or the difference in the amount of work demanded of us readers, but the fundamental difference is the thoroughness with which the work deals with certain crucial issues.

What does all this have to do with talk about technology?

In the physiological model of addiction there is an increasing spiral of physical need; in the cultural model an increasing spiral of what I shall call (for want of a better term) emotional need. In hypoglycemia the need is for an elevated blood sugar, but the means used to achieve it (refined sugar) only leads to a less elevated blood sugar. In Star Wars the need is for self-worth and pleasure (I believe this is what the "fun" represents). The means used to achieve these are, roughly, sexism, racism, heterosexism, competition, and macho privilege. But this kind of privilege is exactly what is producing a world in which most of the viewers of Star Wars do not have the self-worth and the access to excitement and pleasure that they need. In Star Trek the need is for community and morality; the means offered to achieve these ends are self-control and adherence to a fairly simple established morality. Anybody looking at the real world can tell that these means do not work (I have heard the show called "Civics 101"). Viewers know it; otherwise they would not have to keep watching the same inadequate solution played out again and again. Star Trek is a very muddled and partial utopia. Yet it is utopian and I believe that if anything lifts the show out of the class of purely addictive culture, it is the series' utopian longing and the consequent sense of profound tragedy that hovers just under the surface of that longing. In this connection I would like to mention Alice Sheldon's story, "Beam Us Home," a poignant short story about Star Trek and the only Trekkie spin-off I know of that achieves the status of non-addictive art. "Beam Us Home" may make you want to weep, but the last thing it will make you want is a sequel.6

Talk about technology is cognitive addiction. That is, such talk (like much in academia) purports to satisfy certain cognitive cravings which spring from issues central to all of us in our own lives, but it does not do so. Instead it follows the pattern of brief palliation followed by increasing dissatisfaction and — usually — the academic equivalent of spin-offs: books proliferate, papers are given, journals are edited, other symposia are planned, but somehow nothing gets settled and eventually people drift on to other concerns — not because the subject has been exhausted, but because it has somehow disappeared.

Twenty years ago the "history of ideas" was the sexy subject in the humanities. It seems to have quietly faded away. Yet I remember the scholars who talked about that were intelligent people; and certainly, when I recall my three experiences with formal symposia on Technology And (usually the humanities or literature), nobody involved in those was stupid. Yet what is striking about the formal and informal occasions alike is the exclusions of both subject-matter and people: there was no economics, there was little sociology, there was little real history, there was no political analysis of any kind. There were almost no women and there were few references to works by women, literary or scientific, and no references at all to women's work. And as in Star Wars, there were practically no non-white faces.

I believe these exclusions have a good deal to do with the choice of "technology" as a subject and the way in which non-discourse about this non-subject keeps occurring. That is, in all these discussions the conversation occurs as if we were in a heaven of abstract discourse in which ideas develop autonomously and influence other ideas without the slightest connection with the real conditions of the lives of the people who are having the ideas, in short without economic class or sex caste or racial caste. It is what I think Marx would call ahistorical talk. It is certainly talk that pretends to be apolitical. And of course the one thing left out all these discussions is real technology. I remember one symposium which digressed into "standards of excellence" until the one Marxist present quietly vanished, another in which most of those present deviated into attempts to find a watertight definition of "technology," Talmudic bogglings which could have continued until the maximization of entropy. I should add quickly that at that occasion the organizer of the event did not do so, being a man notably free from nonsense, and that the only other two people present who fretted were myself and the only other woman in the group, a poet. I think it was no accident that two of the three of us were women. Lunacy, as Mary Ellmann speaks of it,7 is masculine, and when you insist on talking about a non-subject, you're bound to end in academic lunacy.

By lunacy I mean the attitude of those who consider abstractions apart from the specific conditions of people's lives. Lunatics do this because they are insulated from the solid, practical details of their own lives by other people's labor; they therefore begin their thinking about life by either leaving such practical details out or assuming that they are trivial. West also labels a corresponding feminine defect as "idiocy." Idiocy is the refusal to go beyond the specific details to any larger pattern. Idiocy is what happens to those who have been told that it's their God-given mission to mend socks, clean toilets, or work in the fields, and nobody will ever let you make the real decisions, anyway. Idiocy debars people from entering academia. Lunacy is a qualification. To be blunt, lunatics do not have to clean up after themselves, either materially or in the realm of emotions and social relations; and their views of life are, therefore, bound to be a playing with false abstractions. In a sexist, racist society the people who clean up not only after themselves but after others are exactly those people remarkable by their absence from Star Wars and most of the discussions about technology it has ever been my misfortune to get trapped in. Middle-class white men are not the only people capable of producing political mystifications about the world, but they do seem to have something of a corner on the process.

What is technology?

My own definition is on the modest side. I mean by "technology" a rational, systematic, taught, learned, and replicable way of materially controlling the material world, or parts of it. This does not include animal technologies, except as metaphor; that's stretching the word (though a few species, like chimpanzees, may have a few kinds of simple behavior which might be looked at this way). This use of technology likewise excludes the control or organization of the non-material world; if language, for example, is talked about as "a technology," the word becomes meaningless and can be applied to anything.

In this modest definition, every known human society has a technology; there's the digging-stick technology, the animals-domestication technology, basket-weaving, pottery, and so on.

Most people who talk about technology don't talk this way.

First of all, they mean something modern; the xerox copier or the railroad are technology; the hand loom or the potter's wheel are not. Modernity appears to be located during or after the Industrial Revolution.

Second, they mean something ubiquitous. Technology is all around us. One statement I can find about "technology" says "technology is in our time almost indistinguishable from the urban environment of West countries.8 In my definition of the word, such a statement would be absurd, since it would imply that the urban or village environment of non-Western countries is non-technological, i.e. something that arose spontaneously from nature. The use of "technology" here is clearly not mine.

Third, technology is not only everywhere; it's autonomous. It acts. It threatens our promises. It influences. It transforms.

Fourth, technology is often spoken of as uncontrollable. "Things are in the saddle and ride mankind." It controls us and is dangerous; it can threaten change or destruction.

What is this entity that began during the Industrial Revolution and continued thereafter, that is uncontrollable, autonomous, all around us, and both threatening and promising?

Hiding greyly behind that sexy rock star, technology, is a much more sinister and powerful figure. It is the entire social system that surrounds us; hence the sense of being at the mercy of an all-encompassing, autonomous process which we cannot control. If you add the monster's location in time (during and after the Industrial Revolution) I think you can see what is being discussed when most people say "technology." They are politically mystifying a much bigger monster: Capitalism in its advanced, industrial phase. Such mystification is easy to spot when silly people do it; I recall a student of mine who said that technology was evil and then hastily excepted his stereo set. When intelligent people do it, the mystification is harder to see. Yet technology, so used, is a non-subject and talk about it is bound to be non-discourse. Either the talk becomes digressive and serves as a pretext for everyone displaying his or her academic specialty (the most harmless form non-discourse can take) or it is downright false. For example, one cannot make connections between technology and literature because neither exists as an autonomous force. Artists, like other people, respond to the day-to-day, moment-to-moment specificities of life which they, like everyone else, must live out. Nor is it possible to talk about such topics as "sensibility" (long a favorite in literature classes) and be anything but trivial without reference to the social and economic system that surrounds us and is inside us, as the fish is in the sea and the sea is in the fish. Nobody responds to an abstract view of the universe, whether in physics or theology, unless that abstract view metaphorically embodies a social reality with which the responder is intimately familiar. But avoiding social and political realities by the appeal to false universals is an old habit of the humanities. One of my students recently expressed surprise when I mentioned that George Bernard Shaw was a socialist. He told me that he had studied Major Barbara in another literature class and never received that information. I asked the student, rather baffled, what the class had made of the discussions of poverty and class which abound in the play and was told, "Our professor said that didn't matter because the play was really about people." I also have a dim but horrible memory of hearing the same kind of thing from another student about, of all people, Bertolt Brecht.

It is because technology is a mystification for something else that it becomes a kind of autonomous deity which can promise both salvation and damnation. I might add that all the technophobes and technophiles I have ever met are men, a good argument for Ellmann's theory of lunacy. I know of no woman whose attitude to technology (however "technology" is defined) is either the goshwow school so common in the SF of the 1930s and 40s or the technophobia (coupled with hatred of the "modern world") of a D.H. Lawrence, a Norman Mailer, or a Ken Kesey. And "the women I know" include two mathematicians, a computer specialist teaching in University, a biologist, a failed biologist, and a raft of science-fiction writers. The lack of technophobes is fairly simple; return to an idyllic, non-technological past is simply not an option open to women. Some few feminist SF writers (like Sally Gearhart) may appear to want such a return, but they are always careful to replace industrial technology with a "magical" one of their own, rather as André Norton does in her Witch World books. More typical is one frame in The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp, in a feature called "Mei-lin Luftwaffe, Aerial Infant." Industrial society has broken down; one woman's horrified reaction is, "Oh my God! No more tampax, ever?"9

There are at least two reasons "technology" is substituted for political realities in academic discussion and one is common to both sexes. Money is such a frightening subject for most of us that we have to pretend it doesn't exist. In the 19th century not talking about money was supposed to be a sign of gentility; nowadays it's a sign of intellectual pretension and academic respectability. Academics become symposiaddicts and conventionmaniacs not only to get tenure; at conventions and symposia we can feel like the free intellectuals we want to be instead of the petty bureaucrats we unfortunately are so much of the time. The wealthy (I suppose) can afford to think clearly about money and power; the poor although (perhaps) not able to think clearly about them, at least can't afford to ignore them. Middle-class people, the people who largely populate academia, are both frightened enough to want to ignore the subject and relatively secure enough to be able to pretend to — at least once in a while.

The second reason is masculine. Both technophilia and technophobia are owner's attitudes. In the first case you think that you have either power or the ear of the powerful, and in the second case, although you may feel you have lost power, you at least feel entitled to it. Hence the scapegoating of modern industrial society, which ought to be controllable (by you) and knowable (ditto) and is neither. Those who believe themselves powerless (and are so)-women, non-whites, the poor — do not become technophiles. But they do not become technophobes, either. I think it no accident that our great modern literary technophobes — Norman Mailer, D.H. Lawrence, Ken Kesey — go beyond institutionalized sexism into the personal bigotry of gynophobia (and in Mailer's case, gynocide). Men like Gandhi and Tolstoy also combine disapproval of the industrial world, an advocacy of a return to pre-industrial virtues, and the hatred and fear of women, whom Tolstoy saw as embodying sexuality, i.e. his own sexuality. Technophiles, on the other hand, according to Gérard Klein, tend to be upwardly mobile members of the lower middle class who believe that their knowledge of "science" and technology will give them the ear of those in power.10 Klein's classic example is H.G. Wells, but his thesis fits too many of our famous American SF writers to be a comfortable thesis. Klein argues that the earlier technophiles (before the 1960's) and the pessimists of the post-1960s — in short, the entire science-fiction community — is a sub-group of the middle class, excluding "the ruling classes (middle and high bourgeoisie) and the working classes (industrial, farm, office workers, and similar)," which is distinguished by its "scientific and technical culture." Klein mentions one "Black writer" (though not by name)as evidence of the limits of this class subgroup.11 He mentions only one woman, Ursula Le Guin, and although she is mentioned as an exception to specific tendencies, Klein's excellent article never states explicitly that the group of which he speaks enjoys not only relative social privilege as middle-class people, but relative social privilege as men. Interestingly, the descent of SF into pessimism, as Klein calls it, is not shared by a recent group of works (beginning in 1971): classless feminist utopias, all written by women.12 As Klein argues, the expression of anxiety is a result of "the absence of any utopia, any social project."13 Both technophobes and technophiles demonstrate, to my mind, a kind of megalomania: the imperial nature of Capitalism, the desire to own and control everything, whether in its ascendant or disappointed phase. The technophiles certainly embody the fallacy that more is better and the thingification of people and social relations.

Talking about technology is asking the wrong questions. An example comes to mind for which I cannot find the reference, but no doubt readers can recall examples of their own. Some years ago I read a technophilic book in which the author speculated delightedly about how many sex organs human beings might acquire via surgery. The writer was, of course (and I mean that "of course") male. He was even "daring enough (his own word) to propose that men be given female organs and women male organs. The male friend of mine who had recommended the book (another technophile) thought this an excellent idea; in this way men and women would understand one another better, he said. Now to believe that the misunderstandings which occur between men and women occur because men's penises and women's clitorises are shaped differently or because fucking feels different for each sex is the grossest kind of mystification. It is certainly clear to me (and any other feminist) that men's and women's misunderstandings of one another, far from being due to the differences in their sexual organs or their experiences in sexual intercourse per se are carefully cultivated in the service of sex-caste positions in a very nasty hierarchy, and that one cannot dissolve the hierarchy by giving people double the triple sexual equipment, even if we could get over the anatomical problem of where to place the extra goodies. Tinkering with the genitalia when the social structure is the problem is like the common science-fictional device of "solving" the quality of life by giving people immortality (e.g. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love and I Will Fear No Evil, Blish's Cities in Flight series, Anderson's Tau Zero, or Niven's Ring World). Another one is the New World Or I-mucked-this-one-up-so- give-me-another approach (e.g. Bradbury's Martian Chronicles or Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky).

If talk about technology is an addiction, how do we cure it? I would go back to the physiological analogy. What the hypoglycemic craves is refined sugar; what the hypoglycemic must avoid at all costs is refined sugar.

The technology-obsessed must give up talking about technology when it is economics and politics which are at issue. But the addict cannot simply be left bereft; a sugar addict so treated would starve in short order. Instead, just as the offending addictive is taken out of the victim's diet, something else is put in — in this case protein, which is digested slowly and therefore slowly metabolized. In the case of technology, I suggest that politics and economics take the place of the kicked technology-habit until the victims' intellectual taste buds recover and they find themselves capable of thinking in more practical terms, especially about money and power. When they do this, they will find interesting historical evidence pointing to the non-autonomy of technology and its subordination to economic and political uses. For example, in Japan the ruling classes banned and then for several centuries successfully ignored that extremely seductive machine, the gun, because they realized that the maintenance of their class position depended on its non-use. This is a lovely example of how particular people, with particular interests of their own at stake, can pick up and drop technology as they please. There is also the illuminating fact (if it is a fact) that "the atom bomb was in manufacture before the first automatic washing machine."14

Just as the hypoglycemic, under stress, may find the fascinations of the chocolate bar returning, so the technology-obsessed, under conditions of cognitive confusion, may find that they begin again to yearn for the evasive gyrations of that sexy intellectual rock star, technology. The cure is similar. The hypoglycemic listens to the little voice that says, "Eat a little protein. You'll feel better." The technology-obsessed — including those who read, write, and study SF — must cultivate a similar little voice: "Eat a little economics. Eat a little political analysis. You'll think better."


1. In "The Lost Continent," a piece on documentary films in Roland Barthes' Mythologies (US 1975), p 94ff, Barthes deals with just such questions.

2. To give one example, the "tribbles" or little furry creatures sold in various SF bookstores, were made by the writer of the "tribble" episode, a popular one in the Star Trek series. The amateur status of many of the creators of blueprints, etc., is one of the most endearing things about the whole Trekkie craze.

3. Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader (1923-1948; here US 1953), p 186.

4. Locus, 10,x(Dec 1977);1.

5. They are explained in The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry (US: Ballantine pb 1968), the "beam" (matte shot), p 372; the doors, pp 199-200. The sliding doors, which produced a letter of admiring inquiry from an apartment-complex builder were simply worked by an off-camera stage-hand.

6. James Tiptree, Jr. [pseud. for Alice Sheldon], A Thousand Lightyears from Home (US: Ace pb 1973).

7. Mary Ellmann, Thinking About Women (US 1968), p 108.

8. Prospectus for the MLA forum on "Technology and the Literary Mind," April 25, 1977. The forum was held in December 1977. This paper, in altered form, was presented there.

9. Lee Marrs, The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp (Hayward CA: Star Research Productions, 1977), p 32.

10. Gérard Klein, "Discontent in American Science Fiction," SFS 4(1977):3-13.

11. lbid, pp 5-6.

12. The earliest of the group in Monique Wittig's Les Guerillieres, translated into English in 1971; the most recent, as of this writing, is Suzy McKee Charnas's Motherlines [sic], to be published by Putnam's in 1978.

13. Klein (see Note 11), p 12.

14. Tillie Olsen, "Women Who Are Writers in Our Century: One out of Twelve," College English 34(1972):13.



"Technology," as it finds its way into almost all the discussions of it I have participated in lately, is the sexy rock star of the humanities, and like the rock star is an obfuscation of something else. Talk about technology is also an addiction, as may be seen in the reception of such popular film and television series as Star Wars and Star Trek. (Star Wars generates only one desire--the desire for a sequel.) In popular and academic discourses alike, hiding behind that sexy rock-star, technology, is a much more sinister and powerful figure: the system that surrounds us. If you add the monster’s location in time (during and after the Industrial Revolution), it is clear what is being discussed when most people say "technology." They are politically mystifying a much bigger monster: capitalism in its advanced, industrial phase. Some years ago I read a technophilic book in which the author speculated delightedly about how many sex organs human beings might acquire via surgery. He was even "daring" enough (his own word) to propose that men be given female organs and women male organs. The male friend of mine who had recommended the book (another technophile) thought this an excellent idea. In this way, men and women would understand each other better, he said. Now it is clear to me that men’s and women’s misunderstandings, far from being due to the differences in their sexual organs or their experiences in sexual intercourse per se, are carefully cultivated in the service of sex-caste positions in a very nasty hierarchy. One cannot dissolve the hierarchy by giving people double or triple sexual equipment. Tinkering with the genitalia when the social structure is the problem is like the common science-fictional device of "solving" the quality of life by giving people immortality. The technology-obsessed--including those who read, write, and study SF--must study economics and political analysis.

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