In the world of Science Fiction there are two main traditions of storytelling: "What if?", and "If this goes on..."
The new TV Show "Revolution," asks what if the lights go out? And in the oft alluded to "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, we are confronted with a future in which women are prisoners of their fertility or lack thereof.
In homage to this tradition, I often wonder "what if," and "if this goes on." It's an interesting game to play, because it takes the conversation away from standard talking points. It leads to interesting questions. And in the questions, we might find a way to communicate with the folks whose identity is bound up in their tribal affiliation with the right.
So, you’re in an argument about Social Security. I would invite you to abandon logical debating as a tactic. The only people who care about debates are kids in speech programs where trophies are on the line. Give all the talking points up. Those are forms, a call and response that lead precisely nowhere. Consider, on the other hand, what happens if you meet a potential sparring partner aching for a win with a story instead of an argument. The idea is to not play… by playing.
“Social Security needs to be fixed to save it,” they might say.
“I always worry when they start tinkering with things. There are always consequences. I expect if Social Security goes away or changes too much… Mom will be okay. She’s 80 and worth a fair amount with a defined pension, so even if they cut at it bit by bit, she’ll do okay. But my brother? He is on the autism spectrum. He’s 52 and a diabetic with neuropathy and liver damage from chemical exposure in the Gulf War. I suppose he’ll move in with me or my sister when that time comes. What about your family? Who will be moving in with you?”
Your opening story shifts the debate from the abstract to the concrete. It ignores the gauntlet in favor of an invitation to personal exchange. Although, in the SF tradition the narrative form requires that once the point of view character is identified and given a problem to solve, the issue must be further complicated.
If your partner identifies someone, ask who they will press into service to care for that aging relative if there isn’t Medicaid to help with the costs of a nursing home and they need full time care. Would they or their partner stay home? Would they press an underemployed child into service? How would that work if family was far away? What happens if family isn’t speaking or doesn’t get along? What is the obligation of family if a social safety net doesn’t exist?
What conflict would drive that story? The sacrifice of one person’s desire to another’s need? The plight of the non-prodigal son, when the prodigal returns home?
Regardless of their answer, your final observation could be, “It would probably change things in some pretty fundamental ways.” And they would probably have to agree.
All you can do it plant a seed.
When the argument goes the other way… story also gives you way to weave through the discussion, a way to tread lightly but still engage. If you have someone who is vehemently opposed to marriage equality, you really can’t tell them what they believe, or how to feel. But you can carry them through a narrative. The idea is to baffle, befuddle and deflect, filling the silence with words that don’t quite give them anything to hold onto, without being confrontational. It only works if your tone is neutral, questioning or wondering… more a meditation than an answer.
“I believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” they might say.
“I always worry when they start tinkering with things,” you say, nodding. And you assume the conversation is secular… since that’s the way the assumption is phrased. “There are always consequences. But then I think about my cousin Carol and her partner Marsha. Did you know they’ve been together 23 years? I heard from her the other day. We figured out my granddaughter is her first cousin twice removed. Anyway, I’ve thought about it. And I would hate to know that Carol might not be allowed to visit Marsha in the hospital if she got sick. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I couldn’t see my spouse. That just seems unnecessarily hurtful to me. So I asked myself what happens, really, if Carol and Marsha get married? And it seemed to me that it would probably allow Carol to stay in the house if Marsha died, or vice versa. And it would allow them the opportunity to get insurance for one another. Or maybe benefit from one another’s social security. All the same sorts of things I anticipate would happen for me and my spouse. But really, I couldn’t think of anything bad that would happen.”
“But the bible says it’s an abomination,” they might say.
“Leviticus, yes,” you might agree, nodding affirmatively. “I’m sure there are priests and pastors and rabbis and imams for that matter who wouldn’t feel comfortable performing a religious ceremony for Marsha and Carol. Although, I know there are congregations here that don’t see that as an issue, so I’m sure if it came to it, they could find someone where they live to perform an appropriate ceremony, if they wanted one. ”
”But I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for that,” they might say.
“Can you imagine if we started down that path?” you might reply, amiably. “The vegetarians wouldn’t want to pay for farm subsidies for folks who have cattle. The pacifists would deduct for their portion of the $203.8 billion is for Procurement and Research, Development, Test and Evaluation programs for the Pentagon. We’d probably have to defund the public TV and Radio stations every year for a decade to allow all the folks who don’t want to give them money to get their buck fifty back, or whatever it is and feel good about it. The childless by choice could object to education. The Christian Scientists could object to the CDC. I could decide not to fund anything beginning with the letter R. We could all get a menu instead of a tax form, and check what we wanted to fund. Rand Paul could turn in a list with nothing checked. I’d probably check the bridge stuff twice. The one over by my house has stuff falling off the underside. Have you seen it? I’ll bet a bunch of rich people would be happy to have their money fund stuff that had their names on it. Instead of stadiums we could sell bridge rights. Or install trolls under all the bridges who can take tolls and who are responsible for upkeep. I kind of like that idea. But of course, they’d have to fund the folks who make the check list. Do you think it would look like a sushi menu? Do you like sushi?”
Let’s try this with the king of all Thanksgiving political discussion disasters.
“Abortion is murder,” they might say.
“I always wonder where that leads,” you might respond. “I mean, if it’s murder, then you have to lock someone up. Do you just lock up the doctor, or do you lock up the woman? And if you lock up the woman, do they have to have a D and C or does a chemical abortion count. No really. It’s kind of interesting. I mean it leads to such important questions. Do you lock up the pharmacist, too? If someone does something that doesn’t work, and you know about it, should they be locked up, too?
“ If you do a raid, and there is evidence of abortion going on and someone is in the stirrups, do you assume they are pregnant and arrest them? And if they are pregnant, do you hold them until they are a certain number of months pregnant, or until they give birth? Or do you assume they would have aborted and keep them in longer than that? What happens if you find someone in possession of RU46? Do you treat that like cocaine? Or crack? I mean there are harsher sentences for crack, I think, so maybe that.
“But once you decide it’s murder, what are your obligations, since you can’t tell if it took place. I mean, mostly you can’t tell by looking at someone if they had an abortion or not, right? Do you have to make emergency rooms report? I mean at that point you probably meet the requirement that a physician report suspected harm to a specific person. But does an OB have an obligation to report if someone answers truthfully about their health background? I assume we can believe all the reports that say that abortion rates don’t go down if it’s illegal, so I wonder how much enforcement we’re going to put on this? Will it be a war on abortion? Like a war on drugs? Where would it be on the priorities of law enforcement? There would probably have to be pregnancy squads like vice squads or robbery squads.
"That would be what we’re talking about? Right?”
In Revolution, I find the sets unrealistic and the clothing 10 years after to be really funny – as pristine as the costumes are. It doesn’t all quite hold together. Sometimes a true tale… helps clarify the chinks, or leads us to new thoughts.
I invite you to consider “what if” or “if this goes on” next time you choose to smite your foes with a verbal truth stick.