(urth) Predictions Re: The Politics Of Gene Wolfe

Ryan Dunn ryan at liftingfaces.com
Tue Jul 31 22:07:14 PDT 2012

On Jul 31, 2012, at 10:36 PM, David Stockhoff wrote:

> On 7/28/2012 8:52 PM, António Pedro Marques wrote:
>> No dia 28/07/2012, às 15:18, Gwern Branwen <gwern0 at gmail.com> escreveu:
>>> On Sat, Jul 28, 2012 at 9:45 AM, Fernando Gouvea <fqgouvea at colby.edu> wrote:
>>>> I'm wondering why you care so much.
>>> I have a long-standing interest in predictions and what they reveal,
>>> which would alone would justify my interest, but besides that...
>>> I care because I wish one of my favorite authors to be an
>>> intellectually respectable author, perhaps along the lines of
>>> Chesterton or Buckley or Charles Murray who I also enjoy reading, and
>>> it's disappointing to me to see that it's not a few allusions or plot
>>> twists that I perhaps was simply misinterpreting or being overly
>>> sensitive to.
>>> And also because people here seem to have a hard time accepting it, so
>>> additional data is welcome; witness the previous attempts to explain
>>> it all away, or in this thread the suggestion that maybe he was joking
>>> or trolling!
>> I've read it again. I can see no connection between the predictions and your comments on them. You even say all of them are wrong, except most of them. About the only thing wrong there is the one on sex, which is so alien that people are justified in seeing it all as mere ideas to play with. More than the missing fall of the SU, the two important things no one had predicted are the rise of islamic fundamentalism and the Russian mafia.
>> Unless you mean that the vision of controlling government is bonkers. Well, sorry, but you'll have to look very hard to find an sf writer who doesn't share that view.
> But they are all wrong. Taken as a whole, they are way, way off. Of course I would not expect much "accuracy" so I don't care. Maybe they are in fact better than others' predictions.
> I think Gwern is suggesting that they work better as predictions of "what cranky, ill-informed old people will believe/fear/desire in 2012." I take the point. You have heard of the, er, "Red Rose Brigade"?
> (hint: they're a potent cup of tea!)


Personally, I took the whole essay as a bit of a lark on the part of Mr. Wolfe. I did like how he associated each finger with a facet of our human nature, though, then used it as a platform for his societal predictions.

. . .

"The Thumb—Power: America and the U.S.S.R. preserve an uneasy accord, each testing the other's will within well-defined limits. No major nuclear war has taken place. Soviets are more like Americans (and Americans more like Soviets) than anyone else."

- I dunno, besides the nuclear war (correct) prediction, I don't see much of a commitment one way or another here.

"The Index Finger—Learning: Vestiges of reading, writing, and spelling remain in the curricula of the public schools. Those who can read a few hundred common words are counted literate. The schools train their students for employment—how to report to computers and follow instructions. (Called interaction.) Fifty million adult Americans are less than fluent in English."

- Feels hyperbolic bordering on sarcastic.

"The Fool Finger—Entertainment: Sports and televised dramas are the only commonly available recreations. The dramas are performed by computer-generated images indistinguishable (on screen) from living people. Scenery is provided by the same method. Although science fiction and fantasy characterize the majority of these dramas, they are not so identified."

- The dramas performed by CG humans who replace actors? Come on. Even CG characters need Andy Serkis!

"The Ring Finger—Love: There is little sex outside marriage, which normally includes a legal contract. A single instance of infidelity is amply sufficient to terminate a marriage, with damages to the aggrieved party; this is a consequence of the two great plagues of the past 25 years. (I do not include the one we call AIDS, because it began well before this was written.) The population of the planet is below six billion. People live in space and on the moon, but their numbers are not significant."

- I felt some seriousness in PART of this prediction, but even still, the front half feels fictional even in his own words. World population indeed above 6B. It was 5B when he predicted that, and it is just under 7B today.

"The Little Finger—Minority: A literate stratum supplies leadership in government and most (though not all) other fields. Its members are experimenting with sociological simulations that take into account the individual characters and preferences of most of the population. Its aim is to increase the power of the literate class and further limit literacy, without provoking war with the U.S.S.R. or alienating the rising powers—China and the Latin American block. A literate counterculture also exists."

- Literacy was a big paranoia back then, eh? Even still, half of this prediction could be interpreted as totally true. Or that same half could be interpreted to be completely false. It seems to me like Gene was giving non-predictions as much as predictions.

Maybe that's just me.


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