Sam Harris and the ideology of reason

by Henry Farrell on March 30, 2018

There’s lot’s that has been said in the last couple of days about Sam Harris, and not much to say about Charles Murray, race, and IQ that hasn’t already been said over the decades. But the whole tone of his writing in this exchange, aggrieved postscript and all, is worth noting briefly as a specific example of a broader phenomenon. One of the minor plagues of our time is a specific flavor of Enlightenment Man Rationalism – see Harris, Dawkins, Pinker – in which the Enlightenment Man (gender specificity intended) casts himself as the bold-honest truth-seeker, who is willing to follow reason wherever it takes him, even if (and perhaps especially if) this upsets the vulgar prejudices of the right-thinking herd. Quite often (as in Pinker’ recent book) this is linked to a particular ideal of the Enlightenment, some of the rhetorical aspects of which do support the image of the lonely man of truth standing against the mob. [click to continue…]

There Are Walls

by John Holbo on March 30, 2018

Another installment in my series of attempts to source tropes and themes in SF and fantasy. Help me find examples of what I’m looking for!

A very standard fantasy trope is ‘there are doors’.

In “On Fairy Stories” Tolkien implies why this must be. “The definition of a fairy-story — what it is, or what it should be — does not, then, depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country.” Every bit as important as the atmosphere is the border. Travel between realms is restricted and a lot of dramatic tension revolves around difficult passage. Ergo, fantasy contains fun doors, from Narnia to Monsters, Inc. to … what’s your favorite door in a fantasy novel? And the architectural inverse of ‘there are doors’ – ‘there are walls’ – is also a highly respectable trope.

That’s what I want today. Not the doors so much but the walls. Weird walls. Stories that revolve around the reality of weird, often unaccountable barriers that appear, perhaps rise up, unexpected. They challenge and provoke protagonists to go around or get through somehow. I’m happy to get fantasy examples, but I’m looking more for SF analogs of what is, originally, a fantasy – fairy story – trope. SF is full of weird doors, just like fantasy. Often these don’t come equipped with attendant walls – they’re wormholes or black holes or transporters or whatever. But sometimes you get walls. Often these are ‘pocket universe‘ stories, in effect. The protagonists bump against closer confinement than they were expecting. Hollywood has produced very memorable, evocative scenes and images: Truman bumping his boat against the painted wall of his world in The Truman Show; that scene in Dark City where the protagonists finally get to Shell Beach, find the brick wall, go to work on it; that scene in The Matrix where Mouse frantically pulls back the curtains, sees the brick wall where none should be, realizes he’s fucked. [click to continue…]