Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Advice for Folks Doing Political Research

I've seen some remarkably one-sided books about political movements lately. For the benefit of those writing such books, fiction or nonfiction, here are some notes on the characteristics of groups.

Every group has:

Some foundation idea or ideal.
You may have to dig for it; it may be repulsive to you; but it will be there. If you can't figure out this ideal or constellation of ideals, you will never understand the group in any real way.

Extremists, moderates, and somebody who joined up because his friends did.
An extremist group will have real loonies on its fringes and a moderate group's extremists be hard to pick out, but they're always there. The uncommitted may have interesting things to say.

Members of different groups: different churches, cultures, etc.
The more homogenous the group, the more its tiny differences matter to its members.

Intra-group politics.
There are always at least two factions and an out-group, even if the group was just formed five minutes ago.

Members with enemies within the group.
The more prominent, the more enemies.

Gossip and criticism.
The more idealistic the group, the more criticism of failures, whether public or personal. The more tight-knit, the more other people will know about these failures.


The weekend before last, I attended Confluence in Pittsburgh. It's a wonderful convention if you love written science fiction and fantasy. There are more writers there than you can shake a stick at, and they do wonderful panels. (James Tenn is still alive and feisty? Hal Clement snarking on Arthur Conan Doyle? Oh, yeah.) There are also some great booksellers in attendance. British imports? Advance Reader Copies? Small press? You can get them all, along with a nice selection of used books. Filking was great, with a good selection of Easterners I seldom or never see. (Yes, I realize that's my own fault for not going east....) The concerts were also good, especially since they featured some folks whose lyrics had been somewhat hard to make out at OVFF or Marcon venues but which came across perfectly through Pete Grubbs' sound system. The art show was small but interesting, and the anime room well-stocked. The hotel is pleasant, too. It was too far away from restaurants -- but the hotel provided a free shuttle to the nearby mall and surrounding shopping centers. So I had no complaints, except that I myself was too tired and wired to take full advantage of the wonders of the con.

The real highlight of the con was the musical version of Asimov's sf mystery The Caves of Steel. It was done as a farce, but many real sfnal elements (the Medievalists being played by folks in SCA garb, the simulation of slideways by song and mime) came across very strongly. The small cast also helped make certain elements of the mystery seem more plausible, such as the way R. Daneel Olivaw was supposed to look exactly like his creator. Or rather, her creator in this version, as Daneel was played by a woman in an unusual bit of casting which worked perfectly in this setting. (A more serious adaptation would have to deal with the implications of changing this aspect of Asimov's male-heavy setting, but here that could be lightly passed over.) Lije Baley was also perfectly played. The songs were mostly new lyrics set to songs from famous musicals, but both the parodies and the few originals (such as the slidewalk song) were mostly pretty good, with the uneven bits easy to blame on the short time available for rehearsals and rewrites. Randy Huffman and his crew should be commended, their musical produced at other cons, and a videotape of this production sent to me. ;)

I do have to say that this con featured more people who assumed everyone of goodwill was a liberal than any con I've ever been to. And I've been to cons in Ann Arbor, kids. Unfortunately, these folks were slightly -- make that extremely -- ill-informed about people on the right. (Jerry Pournelle as a member of the Republican faithful? When he's been mourning the Death of the Republic as killed by Republicans for as long as I can remember? And he's not conservative; he's some kind of conservative libertarian as far as I can figure, and the drug legalization columns were not my first clue.) The amusing thing is that that kind of person always thinks the right is a monolith, and has no clue what any member of the monolith believes. I suppose I shouldn't be smug, as the liberal media takes good care to feed me the left's party line; learning more about beliefs on the other side is easy for me. But the liberals I know and respect as political pundits do know a good bit about conservatism, and it is distressing to find that many of my fellow fans do not. How can you have a good argument when you don't know what the other side believes?

On a happier note, I was able to go to Mass at Midway Airport in Chicago. (And yes, I know it's stupid to go from Dayton to Pittsburgh by way of Chicago....) Our Lady of Loreto Chapel was centrally-located, pretty, and featured a half-hour Mass. The priest did a heartfelt homily which threw an incredible amount of doctrine into five minutes or so. Many of the attendees were folks who worked out at the airport, and I heard them talking afterward about how airport folks had been married there, and how the post-9/11 security changes made it difficult to bring their families. It's a real little parish, however small. There are three Masses on Sunday and one on Saturday, as well as Protestant services and many interfaith facilities, and they do the same thing out at O'Hare. So check it out! At the moment this webpage has a nice picture of the altar, btw.