To follow up on themes of the Interplanetary Festival, have you speculated on the distribution of media on an interplanetary scale? Will it emanate from the mothership out? Will culture be anew?
We have to start with the question of whether we’re describing something allegorical when we talk about interplanetary civilizations. Are we reflecting on our current society by thinking about this potential future society, or are we trying to come up with a rigorous A-to-Z road map there? The problem is, with the second question, you’re assuming a bunch of stuff. Effectively free energy, infinitely abundant material. The idea that capitalists would give money to artists to give work, which is kind of the story we have now—in a world of abundance, why would we have that? People make art for intrinsic reasons. People will make culture, and culture is always made out of other culture. Originality consists of unilaterally declaring all the stuff that you stole to be of no creative value. The only implication that interplanetary life has is really what it says about material abundance.
There's this idea called fully automated luxury communism; that under conditions of material abundance, rather than manufacturing make-work jobs to satisfy our sense that we only have value insomuch as we suffer by working hard, is maybe everybody makes art. Maybe they create new exotic forms of interpersonal relations or sport or weird sexual relations. The internet's ability to both find people who share your interests, and do so under a cloak of relative anonymity, has allowed people to pursue a lot of interests that were heretofore considered deviant. So there is this vision, and maybe the endpoint is that we rationalize production, until the people who till the soil do so for the same reason we play hockey. I don't know. If science fiction writers knew the future, we'd be stockbrokers.
And you could hate yourselves and your jobs.
One opportunity for coming forward on the internet is with sexual harassment allegations. You wrote your book Information Doesn't Want to Be Free before #MeToo began, but there's an analogy to the way gatekeepers control artists' distribution. How do power structures like gender affect digital gatekeeping?
I had lunch at a science fiction convention with a bunch of friends who are women known as feminist science fiction writers, who travel in circles where academia and feminist theory are prominent. This was six years ago, and they were marveling at this debate that had arisen, of personableness privilege; that some people deserve the unearned privilege of being nice to hang around with. It intersects with arguments about neuroatypicality, but they were like, 'This is a bridge too far.' Once you start interrogating things through that lens, you can take it a bridge too far. It doesn't mean the lens has no use.
Do you think the role of science fiction has changed over the past 20 or 30 years alongside the impending climate apocalypse?
Science fiction has always been concerned with eschatology and the end of the world. There has been an overwhelming swing from a reactionary and relatively monolithic view to a much more diverse and progressive view, and it has splintered. You know, science fiction incubated Gamergate, in something called the Sad puppies and [Rabid] puppies. That streak of science fiction was a good harbinger of the eventual emergence of the alt-right. But the movement for diverse voices was also a big piece of this. #MeToo has early precedence in science fiction. Prominent editors and writers being barred from conventions, fired from their jobs—that started in the field.
How much is your principal goal aesthetics versus influencing policy? And do you feel a pressure to align yourself with a certain realm of science fiction? Like, 'I'm not one of the 4chan puppy guys, I swear!'