The Myth of Your Decline

So my brother, who consumes much more sci-fi media than me, read a story I just finished. I have been trying to write about America and use it in sci-fi stories. So it’s interesting to see that were my brother and I disagree on the story is on how I use America.

In the story, America is a promised land. The narrator refers to certain privileges of Americans, notably that they enjoy tools/toys that the narrator and his community must share collectively. Also, Americans have innovations that the narrator realizes his community will not.

My brother says this is terribly inaccurate: America is, after all, in decline. He thinks it would have been far better to use Sweden, Norway, South Korea, or, best of all, China, because so much anxiety is generated over China’s succession to us.

These are all interesting choices, and I agree with his assessment in a general way, which is to say, yes, [maybe] America as a center of power is declining and so it behooves the sci-fi writer to project some other world power in whatever future world is being proposed by the story.

Except that it’s bullshit.

America is not going anywhere any time soon– we just like to imagine we are. I’m not saying this an Obama optimist or an America Firster: my husband and I often worry about the future, worry we won’t have jobs, worry about how to prepare now for unemployment later. I don’t think that America’s place is so much secure as I think that decline is slow. Real slow. And many Americans are doing great and their going to keep on doing great.

The point of using America in the story is as a placeholder; it’s possible that in this future world, America is not a world power. It’s possible there’s high unemployment, under employment, economic decay … but that’s only ever going to be the case for some of us. Plenty of people will be fine. Hedgefund managers, silicon valley tycoons: these people aren’t going to shed their passports just because America is no longer a majority middle class country. Right? They haven’t left yet [there’s still so much meat on this bone, after all]. They will continue to occupy [literal and figurative] gated communities.

And as such their/our world will continue to bedazzle others, just as is used in the story.

But the more important thing I gathered from this conversation with my brother is that the prevalent notion of “American Decline” is so strong that even referring to America as opulent/individualistic in a future setting disconcerts him. It’s like I’ve casually mentioned gravity is no longer in effect. What!? America continues to be [relatively] prosperous!? Inconceivable!

But I think there is an incredible lack of honesty in this. My brother’s wife and her siblings were adopted from other countries (all east asian countries, I believe). When people are talking in nervous tones about American decline, how soon do they think they will start migrating to China? How soon do they think their kids will be up for adoption by foreigners? My point is not that these things can’t happen to America, but rather that the obsession with our decline has everything to do with our wealth. We like America-as-dystopia precisely because we are doing fine: it’s escapism. We escape our comfortable chair, our fat ass, our obsession with weight and food and everything else. We escape into … darkness.

What this begs of me is to write a story that rather than casually mentioning America, takes this myth of America head-on.



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