Category ►►► Science Fiction
August 9, 2012
The New True Levellers
The mid-seventeenth century True Levellers (or Diggers) were anti-private property anarchists who believed in strict, enforced, economic equality, where everybody is given equal access to land and "property" (none of which is privately owned in True Leveller theory), regardless of talent, effort, ingenuity, or even luck. But the New True Levellers -- my nickname for contemporary Progressivists and Occupiers -- are much worse: They believe in leveling everything to one uniform level.
The New True Levellers bring to mind Kurt Vonnegut's chilling story "Harrison Bergeron," which begins:
The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
(And which you can read in toto at the link -- and should. Instanter!) In that story, everybody who has any talent or ability beyond the average is given a cruel handicap, to drag him back to the level mean. Thus, the strong are constrained, the swift are hobbled -- and most horrific, the overly intelligent have a device installed in their heads that buzzes loudly at random intervals, completely disrupting the intelligent man's thoughts, dragging his effective IQ down to the norm.
It's a scalpel-precise filleting of the central premise of liberalism: Forced equality of outcomes. Vonnegut is saying, Here is the only way such a totalitarian goal can be achieved; does any sane human being truly want this?
Yet the New True Levellers would indeed enforce "equality" (of results) across an all-encompassing morass of human endeavor: equality of money (the "millionaires'" tax); equality of medical service (ObamaCare); equality of marital relationships (same-sex marriage, polygamy, plural marriage); and equality of private property (by abolishing it all, along with all individual buying and selling). That way, everybody will be exactly the same as everyone else... except that the favored few will be more equal than others.
And now, the New True Levellers even demand equality of voting rights... where all and every must have an equal vote, regardless of age, registration status, criminal record, incarceration, having already voted, or even citizenship. (Except the central-government elite will have a "more equal than others" vote.)
Yes, the anti-American Left now demands that non-citizens, or those who won't even say what nationality they are, have the same right to vote in U.S. elections as Americans:
Some voters were reportedly turned away from the polls on Michigan’s primary election day for refusing to fill out the new “citizenship” box on their ballot application.
Jocelyn Bensen, Director of the Michigan Center for Election Law, said they’ve been taking calls from confused voters across the state regarding this issue. She’s criticizing the Secretary of State’s office for failing to remind clerks that voters who decline to fill out the citizenship box must still be allowed to cast a ballot.
So it's not enough to forbid any requirement of official identification to vote, thus mandating that anyone can vote simply by claiming to be a citizen; the New True Levellers now insist that voters needn't even claim citizenship, nor even check a box saying that they are legal citizens of the United States. One's citizenship is literally irrelevant; vote early, vote often!
The next steps are clear: How can we infringe the voting rights of the dead? Or of animals, plants, computers, Magic 8-balls, or even animated characters? (Toons! How can we deny toon voting rights? If you cut them, do they not bleed -- ink?)
Why not ballots for a vague memory of a lost love? Or for colorless, green ideas that sleep furiously? Can a sigh vote? How about last Thursday; should last Thursday be given a ballot?
Why not just resurrect ACORN and instruct them to concoct a vote total for each district? It would be no less authentic (or more risible) than what Ms. Bensen seemingly demands.
And she appears to be litigation-bound on behalf of the "voter rights" of the class of folks unwilling to declare their citizenship:
Benson said they took calls from citizens in Wayne County, Oakland County and Macomb County as well as in Lansing and on the west side of the state – including some from people who weren’t allowed to vote....
Benson said it may be a constitutional as well as voter rights violation. She’s asking anyone who had problems at the polls to call the center at 1-800-R-VOTE [sic -- either Bensen or CBS doesn't appear to know how many digits are in a telephone number. -- DaH].
She does offer one actual argument, sort of, other than pure Levellerism:
"We know poll workers in the city of Detroit were trained to withhold ballots from people who didn’t complete the check box, and we know clerks in other parts of the state did not even have it on the application at all," said Benson. "So, there’s an absolute inconsistency to how this was approached and it’s something we are looking into for legal recourse."
But does anyone believe that if only the law was made universal across the state, so that every precinct had that same requirement to declare oneself to be an American citizen before voting in an American election, Ms. Bensen would be satisfied?
Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
I drew attention above to "Harrison Bergeron." It's a brilliant story: Its author, Kurt Vonnegut (1922 to 2007), was a deeply committed man of the Left; but he was also a science-fiction and speculative-ficiton author, able to look beyond the cliched sloganeering of his fellow travelers of socialism and speculate about things that never were but might be in the future. For that reason, his books are rarities to be treasured. Well, most of them.
Others who fall into that same skimpy category include "George Orwell" (Eric Blair), Robert A. Heinlein, and the granddaddy of them all, H.G. (Herbert George) Wells; each of these three chose to couch many of his ideas in a speculative-fiction or fantasy mode, whether paeans to, or brickbats hurled at, the dreams from our socialist fathers.
Two eventually renounced socialism altogether: Heinlein during or shortly after World War II, and H.G. Wells in his last book, Mind at the End of Its Tether. (Contrary to some claims, Wells did not denounce his faith in science in that book, just his faith in socialism.) The other two, Vonnegut and Orwell, appear to have remained men of the Left lifelong -- but also frequent critics of that same Left.
Science fiction and speculative fiction (let's adopt a cowardly compromise by using the initials sf) demand clear thinking; if an sf author's thinking is muddled, quotidian, banal, and derivative (as with J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter phenomena), most critical readers of sf would pronounce him (or her) a very bad sf writer; in other genres, especially "literary" fiction, authors can get away with uncreative murder. For a lark, compare Rowling's best with random passages from the great fantasists, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Jack Vance, or Michael Moorcock. You can easily play "one of these books is not like the others."
You can especially compare Rowling unfavorably to Jane Yolen, who published Wizard's Hall in 1991 -- the book that Rowling swears, upon a stack of Daily Prophets and Quibblers, that she never, ever saw. Assuming she is truthful and accurate, as of course I must, it's a remarkable example of pandery recapitulating plagery.
Yet another leftist copycat, a man who appears never in his life to have questioned a single tenet of the First Church of Fudamentalist Progressivism, is Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy (the Golden Compass, the Subtle Knife, and the Amber Spyglass) -- and the even darker (and insipider) material in the "Sally Lockhart" tetralogy of extreme feminism, Communism, and Flavor-Aid atheism, comprising the Ruby In the Smoke, the Shadow In the North, the Tiger In the Well, and the Tin Princess; it should have been titled the Tin Ear, for Pullman's preachy and excessive didacticism, paucity of imagination, and enough message-sending to qualify for a bulk discount from Western Union.
And no, I won't bother linking to any of these wretched rip-offs and bitter attacks on the writings of C.S. Lewis: In the trilogy, Pullman pompously attempts an all-atheist perversion of the Chronicles of Narnia that is about as persuasive as an all-stooges version of the Tempest. Pullman himself is about as believable as Richard Nixon with a watermelon-sized hangover. And this critique from me, a militant agnostic! ("I don't know whether there's a God, and neither do you, confound it!")
Contrary to the New True Levellers, when leftists are cursed with functioning brains and lashings of fairness and justice, you get... well, you get "Harrison Bergeron," among other examples. These socialists, Communists, and assorted reds are the anti-Progressivists -- Regressivists? -- and they carry a very precarious presence within their movements, being constantly in danger of denunciation, show trial, and exile to the Z-list party zone.
But for that very reason, such a free soul is the only kind of lefty worth cultivating.
April 30, 2010
Building on the Feet of Ozymandias
In an earlier post -- The Religion of Fear Itself, or Why I Despise Modern Liberals (reason 334) -- I proposed that modern, "New Left" liberalism has become utterly dependent upon inducing terror of the future and the unknown in its adherents. Quoth I:
Why is Hawking so frightened? And why does he think should the rest of us be afraid? Because liberal ideology -- and in particular disgust with Western civilization and unthinking acceptance of all the environmenalist myth-making about the unnaturalness of humanity -- leads many liberals into despair and terror....
[L]iberalism has metastacized into the philosophy of catastrophe, where every way we live brings about our gruesome death: Eating, drinking, exercising, heating our homes, cooling our heels, and now even exhaling. From the Center for Science in the Public Interest to the IPCC to ELF and ALF, liberals warn that we must fear everything.
But there is yet another reason I despise modern liberalism -- or actually post-modern, or "pomo" liberalism; I despise it for what it has done to science fiction, the most quintessentially American literary form.
Science fiction, as a distinct literary genre set apart from fabulism and fantasy, began in France in the 1860s, as Jules Verne penned such masterpieces of science speculation unfolding within a narrative as Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. (The latter two have been "overtaken by events," but we have yet to send humans to the Earth's core.)
The field continued to develop in a continental way as the mantle passed to Herbert George Wells. H.G. Wells took on much more challenging and controversial themes in the Time Machine (time travel), the Island of Doctor Moreau (genetic engineering and creation of hybrid "manimals"), the Invisible Man (duh), the War of the Worlds (interplanetary warfare), and Men Like Gods (parallel universe), along with his movie, Things to Come, which depicted a radically changed future Earth -- itself quite shocking to movie-goers of the 1930s (admittedly Fritz Lang paved the way with movies like Metropolis; but that silent classic was more of a socialist parable than real science fiction).
But around this time, the power and impetus of "scientifiction" shifted to the New World, as publisher and rip-off artist Hugo Gernsback began pushing pulp science-fiction magazines to the masses. The first was Amazing Stories, which began publication in 1926; it was soon joined by numerous other competing science-fiction magazines, of which the most important for many decades was Astounding Stories (original title, that), which began publication in 1930.
American science fiction was distinguished from its European counterpart by:
- The muscularity of plot and characters;
- An optimistic, forward-looking perspective;
- The "normality" with which the abnormal was handled -- people in the 22nd century don't wander about talking about the marvels of the 22nd century; it just seems normal and natural to them;
- The celebration of science, technology, and change, rather than seeing it as a dire portent of terrible things to come;
- And the elevation and promotion of the original science-fictional idea, which subsequently drives the rest of the story.
It's the latter I'm most concerned with in this post... for it is precisely that original SF idea that makes good science fiction a more useful, more optimistic, and yes, more American genre than any other literature.
And it is precisely that original SF idea that liberal publishers and editors have nearly succeeded in driving out of the genre, thus transforming the perfect American literature into an anemic parody of Euro-decadent "literature of the fantastic."
What's an original SF idea? I define the term to mean an original idea so interesting that we can discuss it for hours -- without even referencing the story whence it came. My favorite example comes from Poul Anderson's most important early work, Brain Wave (1953):
How would the sudden, radical increase in intelligence affect human civilization? How much of daily interaction between people, government, commerce, and even love depend upon each person having imperfect information about other people? Would that situation still obtain in a world of geniuses beyond what any of us could possibly imagine? (And on a more po-mo level, how does a writer with high-normal human intelligence write convincingly about people many times smarter than he?)
What of the relations between humans and dogs and horses, our closest symbiots with CNSes? (Our digestive bacteria are not affected by the change.) What about people who really just don't like thinking... wouldn't being so dreadfully intelligent and unable to turn it off be sheer torture?
The point is that we could sit in a room and discuss the ramifications of several billion people with IQs in the 500 range for hours, even days, without ever getting to the events that unfold in the novel.
Such original ideas used to be the core of the definition of science fiction.
They needn't be "hard science;" Ursula K. LeGuin's novel the Left Hand of Darkness (1969) posits a race that is neither male nor female but cycles to one or the other "gender" once a month or so. Yes, it's a liberal feminist book by a liberal feminist author; but her liberalism is older than the New Left... before the former lost its ability to think, to create, and to imagine radical change that wasn't necessarily towards either socialist utopia or capitalist dystopia. Clearly, if we did not have static, defined genders, our society would be profoundly different.
Original science-fictional ideas are often short-handed to "what-ifs": What if we could travel forward in time and bring back a report of what we saw? What if we could travel backward in time and alter the past?
A what-if can also be an original "riff" on a previous original idea: What if so many people were traveling backward and forward in time, changing events higgledy-piggledy in a never-ending "change war," that reality itself was crumbling around their ears? That last is the original SF idea Fritz Leiber used in his "change war" stories, including the novel the Big Time (1957) and several short stories.
Another non-hard-science, original SF idea forms the basis of Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy (1975): What if every imaginable conspiracy was literally true -- and all at the same time?
What-ifs train our minds to be more flexible and tolerant of differences, to look for solutions in unlikely places, to think "sideways," to accept the inevitability of change, and in general, to prepare us for the future -- which is always different from the past, but more recently has become more different at a faster rate (cf. Alvin Toffler's Future Shock series of nonfiction sociological speculations).
They also put severe constraints on the author, because he is forced by the game rules to make his speculation plausible within what is currently believed to be reality, whether science, sociology, politics, or any other venue for speculation. That is, even the most phantasmic what-if must be handled by the author in as realistic a way as possible... unlike magic in a work of fantasy, such as the Lord of the Rings (at the high literary end) or the Harry Potter stories (at the pedestrian and juvenile end).
While I have no objection to fantasy -- I have probably read thousands of fantasy stories and published two fantasy novels myself -- and while I wholeheartedly agree that Europeans (especially Brits) have contributed many original SF ideas to the field, spearheading the "New Wave" of science fiction in the late 50s and through the 60s... nevertheless, we have lost something terribly important and very American from the literature over the last few decades; and I want it back.
But how did liberals get such power to thoroughly remake science fiction?
The problem with traditional publishing is the huge up-front cost of typesetting, printing, binding, stocking, distributing, and promoting books. It literally takes tens of thousands of dollars to make copies of a single title available in a Borders or B&N bookstore; for a book expected to be a bestseller, that cost jumps to hundreds of thousands of dollars per title.
It takes a giant corporation willing to invest beaucoup bucks to bring a book to the normal market (as opposed to small presses, speciality presses, give-aways, and vanity presses); and whether corporation or government, control follows funding as corruption follows liberalism: The editors and publishers, who must part with the money, dictate to the authors what they may write, by the simple expedient of rejecting any manuscript that does violence to their liberal sensibilities.
Too, the larger the corporation, the more closely it acts like a government, and the more intimate and incestuous are its relations with the State. That is why CEOs and BoDs of big corporations are so often liberals and socialists: The last thing in the world they want is a free market where they must actually compete for market share. They would much rather belly-up to the pig trough of private-public "partnerships" -- that is, conspire against the general public. Simply put, huge corporations attract liberals because "rent-seeking" profits multinationals far more than Capitalism.
So liberals took over the publishing industry many decades ago; and when the New Left took over liberalism, they recreated science fiction in their own uncreative image. In the front door went political correctness and sucking up to post-modern trends like gender-feminism and conservative-bashing; out the back door went those pesky (and dangerous!) original ideas.
True, SF sales in the standard model of book production are drastically down; but it's easier for lefties to explain that away -- too much unrestricted competition from movies and TV, literacy is in decline, the economy is bad, it's all Bush's fault -- than actually to analyze the problem and solve it. SF books used to give readers something they couldn't get from sci-fi movies and spacy TV series: serious speculation about original science-fictional ideas, what-ifs. Absent that bonus, more former readers prefer the visual media to a denuded literature of absent ideas.
Not all publishing falls into the standard model; so-called "print on demand" books are cheaper, because you don't print the book until someone orders it, then you mail it to him. But that has never been a very large component of the total book-selling market. Most readers want to see the book and flip through it before deciding; then when they decide to buy it, they want to take it home on the spot.
So how to break the liberal stranglehold on the publication of putative "science fiction?" Alas, there are only two ways for the what-ifs to return:
- The New York SF publishing Mafia loses control of the literary genre (and corresponding marketing category), allowing real capitalists to restore the original idea to its former centrality. (This should happen shortly after Hollywood turns Republican.)
- Alternatively, some new means of publication allows authors to bypass the New York SF publishing Mafia entirely, making titles available to customers without first having to pass the liberal Cerberus at the gates. Thus could we build a new edifice upon the crumbled feet of Ozymandias.
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
I don't see online reading as that "new means of publication"; too many people (such as myself) cannot find pleasure in reading fiction on a CRT, or even an LED or LCD screen. It makes my eyes ache. But I hold out great hope for "smart paper" or "electronic paper" devices, like the Amazon Kindle or the Sony Book Reader. These technologies more closely mimic the experience of reading words printed in ink on paper that has defined a "book" for millennia, long before Gutenberg hurriedly invented the printing press to pay off the loan sharks on his tail.
Of course, in order to be just as comfortable on the eye as high-quality printing, e-paper needs to get a much higher dot-density -- more in the 2500 pixels per inch (ppi) range, or at least 1250, than the pitiful and myopia-inducing 167 ppi of the Kindle 2 (150 ppi for the Kindle DX), or even the 200 ppi of the Sony Reader Pocket Edition. And it needs a lot more than sixteen shades of grey; better yet, the same spread of full color found in contemporary monitors. But these are just engineering details, easily worked out. The main point is that e-paper has all the advantages of online text (storage capacity, the ability to make notes, hold bookmarks, link to other passages in the same work or other works), plus the ability to read it in broad daylight at the beach without your eyeballs dropping out of their sockets.
Being well-trained in science-fiction reading protocols, I can easily envision a future in which such e-paper readers become the standard means of "publishing" (disseminating) books. In such a world, my task as an author would be...
- Write the novel
- Put it into the format necessary to display on the e-paper reader
- Make it available for downloading
- And last, the biggie: Find some way to publicize the book so potential readers know it's available.
Somewhere in that muddle I must find a business model that puts money in my pocket for writing the book in the first place. My best guess for step 4 is that well-known amateur book reviewers would receive a dozen books a month, each author hoping his book makes the cut and a prominent place in the next online review column.
Too, companies, organizations, or groups of respected individuals could form book clubs to filter books by quality and orientation. Thus if you went to the Conservative Book Club's website, you might see a list of fifty or so books published the last year that the club mavins think conservatives would particularly like. Each book listing would include a download link.
As for the author's money, either the download or decrypting the file beyond the first couple of chapters would require payment, or perhaps the download site would sell adverts and pay the authors directly based upon frequency of (free) download. But by some means, money must flow to authors, or authors will be forced to quit writing and find honest work.
Either way, liberals will have their own lists; but they won't get to control everybody else's list. The chokehold will be broken, and proper science fiction will flourish once more; a huge, untapped market for it still exists, and to quote a much misunderstood phrase, "information wants to be free" -- meaning not that information wants to stiff its writers, but that information cannot be shackled for long.
I hope to play a role in bringing about that Millennium, but I don't know exactly when it will commence; I don't have any secret deals I'm working on; I'm just waiting for the technology to catch up with the vision. Keep watching, as they say, the skies.
April 26, 2010
The Religion of Fear Itself, or Why I Despise Modern Liberals (reason 334)
Rarely do I get such an opportunity to opine on my two favorite topics, politics and science fiction, simultaneously!
Physics idol Stephen Hawking is quite convinced that life -- and intelligent life -- exist elsewhere in our galaxy:
The suggestions come in a new documentary series [beginning Sunday, May 9th, at 9 pm, on the Discovery Channel -- DaH] in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.
Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.
Works for me. The chemical processes that produce the building blocks of life are entirely natural, and indeed many might not even need a planet on which to form; analysis of the data is not conclusive, but some simple amino acids may be able to form spontaneously in space.
The next step will produce a few howls of outrage; but one must accept that much good evidence points to life arising from non-life on this planet due to entirely natural, thus repeatable processes. Indeed, biologists and science writers have written entire books on the subject of abiogenesis, e.g., Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins, by Robert Hazen. There are so many models and hypotheses, so much experimental and observational data, so much creative science being published monthly, that the intelligent, well-read student simply cannot dismiss the possibility without months or years of research. That is, unless one is willing to...
- Reject virtually all modern science along with the scientific method;
- Adopt the a priori and unfalsifiable assumption that life requires a "Creator" who is cagey enough to deliberately hide all evidence of his (sorry, His) presence;
- And insist upon referring to contemporary evolutionary biology as "Darwinism" -- thus smarmily implying that it's just a cult of personality like Stalinism or Scientology.
For the 80% or so who are still with me, as life arose here through natural processes, it's a good bet that there are other planets elsewhere in the galaxy (and in other galaxies) where similar natural processes produced forms of life that we could at least recognize as such.
The penultimate step is that like life itself, intelligence -- that is, animal cunning -- is clearly a biological advantage; thus the chain of life will necessarily produce smarter and more sophisticated animals (shorthand for animated forms of life)... unless freakish local conditions preclude, e.g., the development of multicellular organisms. In any event, some planets with life will evolve cleverer life.
The last step is the one about which we know least. Does self-awareness arise spontaneously? Is it part of the implicate order of cleverness? Or does it require the breath of God to create the spark of a soul? If the former, then clearly we should assume there is intelligent life elsewhere in the void until proven otherwise.
But even if the latter situation obtains, what hubris would we exhibit were we to assert with confidence that God would never strike that spark anywhere but on this particular planet where we happen to live! Who are we to tell He who made Leviathan that Earth is the only planet "zoned" for self-aware, moral beings?
I believe as much as ever before that the odds favor a universe populated with many, many civilized cultures; but of course, nobody can know what civilization, morality, or even communication means to creatures which evolved on a completely different planet... or in a gas cloud or the surface of a somewhat coolish star, for that matter.
Hawking agrees with that point as well:
Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.
“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”
But what's all this about modern liberals? Why should I despise someone with whom I fundamentally agree on such a vital issue? Because in his next breath, Hawking proves himself a coward; and I despise poltroonery:
The aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist -- but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.
Note that my main dispute with the eminent Hawking stands, even if the reader of this post rejects evolution: Hawking obviously believes in evolution by variation and natural selection, and he believes that will ultimately produce alien civilizations; but he is clearly terrified of the prospect of contact. Contrariwise, all my space-nutter friends and I desperately hope to see human-alien contact during our lifespans. That is one major difference between New-Left liberals and true libertarians: Whether one dreams of alien contact -- or endures an agonizing nightmare about it.
Why is Hawking so frightened? And why does he think should the rest of us be afraid? Because liberal ideology -- and in particular disgust with Western civilization and unthinking acceptance of all the environmenalist myth-making about the unnaturalness of humanity -- leads many liberals into despair and terror.
Such scenes [of imaginative and extraordinary alien life that might exist] are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.
He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”
He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
So many Eco-Left bugbears bubble up from this ill-considered froth! If only Hawking would apply the same faculty for critical thinking to the potential of alien civilizations as he applies to physics problems.
Let's start with the scenarios he himself presents. Why would aliens travel dozens of lightyears (at least!), hundreds of trillions of miles, just to "raid Earth for its resources?" Which resources would those be... hydrogen, the most common element in the galaxy?
Oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor, and carbon dioxide, easily obtained from any Earthlike planet much nearer to the aliens than Earth? Pure water, as in the original TV series V -- which can be melted from any water-ice asteroid in our asteroid belt without us ever noticing its "theft?"
Gold, silver, uranium, or any other precious metal -- which can be mined anywhere?
And why would the aliens even need to dig minerals out of the rock? Assuming they're smart enough and technologically sophisticated enough to cross interstellar distances, wouldn't it be likely they could artificially produce such elements in nuclear manufactories in any quantities they needed, and with a fraction of the cost and none of the danger?
There is no vaguely logical reason why a civilization in search of resources would trundle across the vastness of space to tussle with some squalid alien Neanderthals (that would be us by comparison) for what they can obtain or create by lifting their smallest tendrils. "Invasion for resource raiding" is complete nonsense as a plausible reason for violent attack. Christopher Columbus may have stumbled upon the New World and enslaved the natives, but that's because he lived in a universe of scarcity, where mechanization could not yet replace human labor.
What else could aliens want -- territory? But planets that can support life, on which life evolved, where intelligence reached a critical peak, where that bright life awoke into self-awareness, where science was discovered and technology invented, and where practical spaceflight was developed... such planets would be an occasional fleck of diamond in a vast beach of ordinary sand. Why fight for territory when it's all free for the taking, as much as you want?
One can always wave one's hands and warn that the aliens might have some cockamamie religion that requires them to conquer and enslave humans. But it's equally valid to speculate that their cockamamie religion might drive them to help us gain the scientific understanding and technological powers they themselves enjoy. The same Western powers that claimed entire continents in the name of king and country centuries ago have more recently used their blood and treasure to raise up the Third World to First-World status (or tried to do, anyway).
Abstruse and obtuse reasons
When my pal and worthy co-conspirator Brad Linaweaver and I wrote the Doom tetralogy, we wanted (for plot reasons) to have an interstellar war (we were writing a subluminous, Einsteinian space opera, which I think is unique in science-fiction history). My goodness, how we struggled to come up with a reason that was not preposterous on its face, that was vaguely plausible, why alien races would ever go to war!
We finally settled on a long-ago dispute between competing schools of literary theory, the Surrealists and the Post-Modernists, each trying to analyze a fistful of fragments left behind by the first race ever to achieve spaceflight, billions of years earlier. These academic disputes erupted into a war that, due to lightspeed limitations, still continued after thousands of millennia. But that took us days of teleconferences to concoct.
Simply put, logic implies there is simply no reason for beings of one stellar system to attack beings of another. And while it's true that alien logic might be very different, we don't have any to study; so we're stuck with our own logic. To be frightened of the prospect of contacting aliens is to yield to xenophobia and the mortal sin (and bleak helplessness) of despair.
And that brings us, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to contemporary eco-nut liberalism. As we have seen, liberalism has metastacized into the philosophy of catastrophe, where every way we live brings about our gruesome death: Eating, drinking, exercising, heating our homes, cooling our heels, and now even exhaling. From the Center for Science in the Public Interest to the IPCC to ELF and ALF, liberals warn that we must fear everything.
Is Hawking a liberal? He tries not to talk about it, but enough has seeped out to make it fairly clear: He was a member of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats when he was at university; he "appeared on a political broadcast for the United Kingdom's Labour Party," according to his Wikipedia biography; and like most scientists who don't specialize in climate-related research, he is a fierce proponent of global-warming hysteria -- "globaloney chic."
He's either an agnostic (if you believe him) or atheist (if you believe his first wife). And of course, he hails from England, where even the so-called Conservatives are far to our left on the political spectrum.
Everything fits; it's all of a pattern. Hawking is clearly a liberal, and he evinces the same terror of the unknown that liberalism propagates as its primary recruiting tool. And for what the wretched ideology of left-liberalism and eco-nuttery has done to such a fine intellect, I despise modern liberals.
February 6, 2006
Bam! Pow! To the Moon!
When President Bush first proposed a "return to the Moon" program at NASA, I was a bit skeptical. It's traditional for presidents to propose grandiose plans for space exploration, only to forget all about them moments later.
But today, when Bush's budget hit Congress, I was very pleasantly shocked to discover that Bush is making good on his promise: the budget realigns NASA's priorities to throw a lot of monetary and personnel resources into the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV, the Shuttle upgrade), which will be used as part of a manned return to Luna.
President Bush's budget proposal released Monday seeks to give the National Aeronautics and Space Administration $16.8 billion for fiscal year 2007, a 3 percent increase from the year before. Of that, about $5.3 billion in funding will go toward the space agency's science missions.
NASA is trying to fulfill Bush's space exploration vision to build the new Crew Exploration Vehicle that would replace the aging space shuttle fleet and enable a return to the moon by 2018. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told a news conference that the budget reflects that priority.
Naturally, this being the Antique Media, they had to toss in the obligatory quote from one of the space-sciences guys at JPL, berating NASA for wasting all that money on human exploration when we could just send a bunch more AI toasters into space and collect all the data we would ever need; Geoffrey Marcy played Grinch this time.
But I don't care. We're going back to the Moon! That's the important part. And eventually, we'll have a permanent station there, then a colony, and finally the human race can move some of its eggs, at least, out of this fragile basket we're in.
Besides, Sachi and I want to go. As the Cocoa Beach Boys might sing, "Luna City, here we come!"
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