Not in general, just in this post.
The gist of it is not without value: That to force protagonists to go it alone, storytellers create a world in which authority is automatically dysufnctional. Bureaucrats obstruct, police are ineffective, government is corrupt, or to sum it up, Society Never Works and Everyone Is Stupid (Brin’s summation).
Lord knows, that is a popular cliche. Dirty Harry and countless other loner cop stories hinge on the premise that cops are tied up by that stupid Bill of Rights shit, and only a Real Man who knows what can be done will save the day. And one of the things that I hated about the latter part of Chris Claremont’s X-Men run was that average humans were shown as utterly, irredeemably prejudiced toward mutants (except the few character Claremont approved of)—endless bigotry was all the team would ever see.
But I disagree that it’s a universal law of fiction. Just look at TV: The CSI, Law and Order and NCIS franchises, along with Bones and Castle, show heroes working within the system, as part of the system. James Bond is very much part of the British intelligence system, even though he’s often alone in the field. John LeCarre shows a British spy system that works—it gets the job done—but does it by morally questionable means and works through less than admirable people.
Which raises the question what exactly constitutes a working society or system? By what standard do we judge whether our police system is working, say? Lots of people get put in jail for crimes they commit. But people have also ended up in prison because someone falsified forensic evidence or lied on the witness stand. Sure, I’d call the cops in a crisis (which Brin claims is proof my suspicions of authority are groundless) but I’d be scared as hell if I were ever charged with anything serious, because I know damn well truth does not always win out.
What about the justice system? Brin mentions The Fugitive as an example of a story where the system works, but as Amnesty International pointed out when the film came out, Harrison Ford could still be put to death (courts are not required to hear appeals based on “I have fresh evidence!”). There are multiple cases where prosecutors have argued that yes, the convicted felon is actually innocent, but that’s no reason to let him out (I’m not kidding on this, though I wish I was).
We’ve had accounts of foreclosure firms that routinely falsify documents.Mortgage lenders approving mortgages they knew the homeowner couldn’t afford. CEOs routinely get mega bonuses even when they tank their companies. Our government has locked up several American citizens without trial—a very small percentage of the population, sure, but I do not consider that a sign of a working system.
Same principle with people. Here, for instance, we have Egyptians uniting to protect rape victims. But there are also those large mobs doing the rape. And multiple cases, past and present, where the system covered up rapes (or other types of molestation as the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church did for years) or the community sided with the rapists and accused the victim of ruining good men.
I agree with the legal philosopher Edmund Burke that assuming everyone to be corrupt is an error, and says more about the person judging than human beings as a whole. But we have shown ourselves capable of great and tremendous depravity, so I don’t think cynicism is out of line.
Like I said, it’s hard to judge what Brin considers crossing the line from realism to cliché. But based on the content of his article, I don’t think we’d draw the line in the same place.
Not in general, just in this post.