Sharing context: are we The Borg or Babylon 5?

by on Mar.17, 2014, under Observations

Recently we have seen renewed fervor in what is clearly a multi-generational discussion: “Have you read the classics?” I’ve seen some very odd conclusions about what this request is.

A request that someone read a book, or “the classics” for whatever value of “classics” the speaker intends, is a request for the other person to gain the same vocabulary/basis/perspective as the speaker so that a common base for communication can occur.

I think all of us have made this request of another constantly. I can’t tell you how many times a friend and I have agreed to put aside a debate until each of us has read some book or set of books that the other recommends. Phrased as a request in the pursuit of knowledge, this is a great way to participate in an enlightening conversation.

The problem occurs when one person rejects another person, their beliefs, or their tastes based on lack of sharing a common base. Excluding academic discussion of a tightly constrained period or style, this is utter nonsense. People should read what they enjoy, and what they enjoy is not a basis for an attack on the value of, well, anything.

Many people of a certain age had a limited amount of Science Fiction available to us to read. It is very likely that two people aged between 40 and 80 years old who grew up inside the United States and read science fiction are familiar with, if not deeply so, the Science Fiction available in libraries and for sale during that period. So yeah, we all knew about Heinlein regardless of whether or not we liked Robert and Virginia’s work.

Two people who are currently in their twenties could easily be reading twice as much Science Fiction as we did and yet have zero common basis. They could be entirely unaware of not just each others favorite authors, but each others genre identity entirely. I think this is fantastic. I feel ecstatic that it has grown this much. I’m glad that fandom is growing with them.

I do not feel that anyone must share my basis in Science Fiction with me. I do not feel that opinions from a different basis are any less valid. We are not The Borg. If we are going to use genre references, I think fandom is more like Babylon 5 — a place where you might sit down with a cup of your favorite poison, and just about anything could walk up to your table and say Hi. And it just might be the best conversation you’ll have that day.

I absolutely laugh in the face of any who attempt to stop and draw a line to define fandom as a safe space for only their kind. Keep standing there and some interesting new species will pave over you.

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