Some while back, I noted touched briefly on a profound subject, the unprecedented demographic changes that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries, in America and elsewhere, though I’m primarily focused on the American change for now.
The change is part of what we call “The Industrial Revolution,” where vast numbers of farmers first left farming, then left rural America for towns and cities. This demographic change first swelled what was called the working class, then the middle class. The vast majority of people in the U.S. at least say they consider themselves to be middle class, whereas even as little as a century ago, the major category would have been farmer.
So the path went farmer->working class->middle class, with that last transition being really important in the last half of the 20th century, post-Depression, post-War, post-GI bill. And “the bright child of working class parents” describes so many of us, especially science fiction fans, (and just incidentally, me).
This demographic transition coincided with the Baby Boom, and the transformation of science fiction from a genre among many other genres, to the genre, a dominating force in popular culture and indeed, many other parts of culture. Science fiction (and I'll toss in Fantasy, though in truth SF is a subset of F, not the tother way around) are now so dominant in popular culture that "realistic" dramas often slip into SF&F tropes without even noticing.
It seems to me, therefore, that a critical review of science fiction is necessary for an understanding of American culture in the last half of the 20th century, and the intellectual atmosphere that we all breathe. And I will try to make the case that you can’t really understand anything about our country without trying to understand the connections between science fiction and its readers and fans. The “bright children of working class parents” constitute the core population of technicians, engineers, and scientists who have created the modern economy, and this cohort also provides a great deal of the intellectual muscle that powers the present political conversation, for good or ill. The cohort is so massive its gravitational attraction affects everything.
The sort of criticism (in the literary sense) that this outlook provides makes many people nervous. It smacks of Marxism, deconstructionism, Freudianism, and a host of other “isms” that some find distasteful. Some of this distaste is legitimate, since deep analysis generally can be used as a club, a put-down, a sneering rejoinder: “You’re not really interested in space travel; you just want to escape from your boring, mundane existence.” “You don’t really care about the environment; you just hate business.” And so forth.
Nevertheless, my intentions are honorable. I think that popular culture, including pop philosophy and pop psychology can offer interesting insights into collective and individual belief and behavior. The ideas themselves can have intrinsic interest, but so can the nature of belief in those ideas, and what believers get out of that belief. Science fiction is a literature of ideas and a literature of belief. An analysis of the ideas that appeal to science fiction readers might very well offer insight into the nature or our current world.