Sixty years or so ago, science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon got fed up with being asked why so much science fiction was so badly written. Rising to the defense of his field, he responded by saying it wasn’t actually any worse than any other. “Ninety percent of everything is crap,” he said.
It’s an adage now enthroned as Sturgeon’s Law. In any field you can name, the vast bulk of human endeavor is, at best, mediocre. The cream rises to the top, and, comparatively, there really isn’t a lot of it.
It’s also an adage that might go along way toward explaining the sorry state of American politics—not because so much of what is said is crap, but because so few of us realize that this applies to both sides.
In a polarized society, it’s extremely easy for each side—let’s call them Yellows and Indigos—to focus on the worst of what those on the other side say. Yellows pick out a comment from an Indigo and use it to show how Indigo thinking is sexist, racist, or some other kind of bad type of –ist. Indigos turn around and do the same thing to Yellows, albeit with a different list of moral failings. Each side winds up convinced everyone on the other side is, if not the spawn of Satan, at least his second cousin.
But what if Sturgeon’s law also applies here? I.e., that ninety percent of what’s said by either side is crap, and that in order to make each other look bad, each is picking out the crappiest of the crap and presenting it as typical?
Most of us would probably agree that this is indeed what is happening. But at the same time, we fall victim to it. “Oh my gosh, did you just hear what the Yellows/Indigos just said?” Except, that what we’re reacting to is the type of crap that, according to Sturgeon’s Law, can be used to make anything look bad.
Is there a solution? Who knows. But it begins by realizing that Sturgeon was onto something important–which means that the things that most incense us may be things that the wisest of our opponents also recognize as crap.
Once we realize that, maybe, just maybe, we can progress beyond name-calling and actually engage on the pros and cons on each other’s issues. Because—and here’s the nub—if Sturgeon’s right, ninety percent of what’s said on our own side is also crap.