Counterpoint: Tourism

My colleagues have spent most of this issue telling you all the conventional reasons why you ought to visit the Empire: the outstanding natural beauty, the many places of historical significance, the music, the food and wine culture, the chance to experience their literary, gaming, and entertainment culture up close, or even just to witness all the eccentricity on display.

I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t.

Firstly, it’s all so wretchedly anodyne. For a land notorious for its decadence – and it is decadent – it has all the bohemian credibility and counterculture of a consciously-designed theme park. Something about Imperial libertism has converted every imaginable vice from drug parlors to autophagy restaurants into friendly, commercial experiences that simultaneously defang the shock one might rightly feel at some, and robs the others of even the slightest frisson of transgressive pleasure.

Second, one of my colleagues mentioned, when discussing how safe the Empire is to visit thanks to its ubiquitous law enforcement, the to-be-avoided experience of collecting a half-dozen on-the-spot fines for littering on your first day there. Well, while the Imperial legal system is notoriously rigid, that’s not the true visiting-the-Empire experience. That would be discovering that due to the equally uncompromising use of reputation networks and the near-complete lack of any public-privacy or antidiscrimination laws, you’ve been deemed Officially Not Polite Enough to customer service staff and are paying 120% over market for everything.

Then there are the weapons. Yes, we know it’s just the local political climate – and incidentally, unless your idea of a pleasant holiday is a knock-down drag-out argument, don’t use that word or any of its derivatives; it’s almost reflexive – but everybody, everybody is carting a gun and probably a sword around, too! That they make a point of how low their rate of violent crime is compared to the Worlds’ average does not make this look any better; given that, why would well-adjusted people need to carry all that hardware around?

But most of all, it is the subtext of the entire experience. In small doses, it’s not so bad, but on any extended visit, the sheer flawlessness of the place starts to hurt the eye.

We all want to make our worlds better, our lives better, our selves better. But there’s a point beyond which further improvement is counterproductive.

And this point comes well before I start looking around desperately for any scrap of litter, any accumulated dirt, any stain, crack, or hole, any building – not acclaimed as historical – with some signs of wear on it, any traffic that’s not moving with exacting regularity, or just one single solitary person who is not one of the eldritch-beautiful people.

There’s no fuzziness to the Empire at all. No soft edges, no comforting blur, nothing that’s been permitted to be less than its idealization, and the result is a place that is profoundly disquieting for those of us from locales with more realistic expectations.

And if disliking that makes me an “entropist”, well, that’s why I won’t be going back.

– from the Empire-centric special edition of Worlds Traveler magazine

3 thoughts on “Counterpoint: Tourism

  1. In other words, the Empire is the complete exact opposite of the kinds of places that Chip Delany likes to write about and apparently likes to live in.

    • Afraid I couldn’t really speak to that, as I’m not really familiar with most of his work.

      (One of my main inspirations for this was actually Gibson’s Wired article, Disneyland with the Death Penalty, regarding Singapore.

      Of course, while the Imperials are much, much worse at conformity than the Singaporese —

      [Well, in their own special way. The writer above would make similar comments to Gibson on Singapore in re the Empire’s lack of what we’d recognize as alternative/dissident style, counterculture, et. al., but that’s because what our society tends to call nonconformity is all too often mere reactionary sticking-it-to-the-Man based on what would offend mainstream society.

      The problem is, unless you’re willing to come right out in favor of Default, violence, stupidity, ugliness and/or destructionism – in which case society’s unofficial (and occasionally official – after all, to become a citizen-shareholder, you do have to pledge to honor the Fundamental Contract under an alethiometer, so if you’re against their notions of life, liberty, property and contract, you can’t get in in the first place) self-protection mechanisms will chew you up, spit you out, and feel good about themselves for doing it – it’s really awfully hard to get a good rebellion going. It’s like punching fog. People are expected to be weird and obsessive and eccentric, too, for that matter, to the point that it’s considered somewhat odd not to be. So it’s a society, fundamentally, with millions of subcultures and no counterculture to speak of.

      (Another contributing factor is lifespan and demographics, inasmuch as the former means that you have dozens – hundreds – of different generational cultures all existing side by side simultaneously, which would make the average street scene a damn sight more colorful even before you take into account other divergent factors, and the latter means that the most rebellion-prone adolescent cohort is a trivially small part of the population everywhere and almost never has a peer group anywhere.)]

      — other parts of it, such as “Was it Laurie Anderson who said that VR would never look real until they learned how to put some dirt in it? Singapore’s airport, the Changi Airtropolis, seemed to possess no more resolution than some early VPL world. There was no dirt whatsoever; no muss, no furred fractal edge to things. Outside, the organic, florid as ever in the tropics, had been gardened into brilliant green, and all-too-perfect examples of itself.”, “neo-Gernsbackian metropolis” and so forth definitely seemed to convey the same feel. Except that in the Imperial version, it’s much more effortless – since it’s the armies of private and municipal robots bustling away under the surface that prevent so much as a misplaced leaf from disturbing the architect’s-drawing perfection of Your Shining Metropolis Of The Future.)

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