Musings on worldviews, worldbuilding, and writing...
I was in a discussion a week or so ago, on Usenet, with a person who has recently made a habit of posting news about the anime industry and how it's DOOOMED, DOOOOMED I TELL YOU!
This person has consistently ignored counterarguments, or dismissed them with an insistence that the counterarguments weren't relevant, and it finally penetrated to me that all of his protests really proceeded from the logic that it simply was OBVIOUS that people would NEVER pay for stuff they could get for free, unless you held a gun to their heads. The idea that any significant number of people WOULD do so -- as they do with much of the Baen Free Library -- simply could not penetrate. He couldn't see what the reason would be, absent some kind of force being implied or directly applied.
It became clear that he was at least a complete cynic and possibly a latent sociopath. He truly believes that people are inherently nasty, evil creatures who are only kept in line by threat of force, by fear and intimidation.
I come from the opposite camp; I believe most people are basically decent, nice people. I think the very EXISTENCE of a high technology society is a complete and irrefutable PROOF of this, because the amount of voluntary cooperation -- any of which could be destroyed by "defectors", in the Prisoner's Dilemma sense -- necessary for the development of such a civilization is immense. I don't think you could get much above the tribal level in a species that had a basically sociopathic outlook. You have to have some capability, intellectual or emotional or both, for empathy and interest in the well-being of others beyond yourself.
This, of course, affects the worlds I want to read about, the worlds I want to write about, and the stories I want to tell. As those on my beta-reading list know, there is a story that could be told within the Grand Central Arena universe which would be a huge, challenging, fascinating novel in itself, but it's far too grim overall for me to want to write it, despite a dark fascination involved with it.
I like telling stories about heroes, about good people confronting evil and winning. Sure, you put them through hell first -- it's not very exciting if there's no major challenge, no real cost in effort, thought, pain, and other things to actually arrive at the final triumph -- but I don't write about futility, either. Some people think that's unrealistic, and point to the news (which I try to avoid watching, actually), but I think actually the news proves more my point than theirs.
News focuses on the unusual, on the things that happen that will be of interest because they're not normal to the listening audience. "Boy does homework, listens to parents, and tries his best" isn't news, because actually most kids DO, overall, try to do what they're supposed to do. "Postal worker delivers mail, jokes with co-workers, goes home reasonably cheerful" isn't news, because mostly they do. "No war breaks out between Country A and Country B" isn't news in most cases, because, well, most countries aren't at war most of the time.
In short, most people don't do rotten things all the time, even though there's infinite opportunity for all of us to be slimy nasty bastards in many ways.
And I like to recognize and promote this, not focus on a darker view of us as things that have a mask of shiny paint over blackness. (I have to wonder how people with the "people are rotten" worldview can explain us coming UP with concepts of honor, love, trust, etc.; a sociopath can't, and won't, come up with those on his or her own, and if they were living with a bunch of similar nutcases even if they DID come up with the idea, how would they get the others to play along?)
Of course, by this worldview I know I of necessity limit my readership to some extent. But I think the people who like MY kind of story are, hopefully, more numerous than the other group...