There are only two kinds of plots in true science fiction: Science is a Hero, and Science is a Villain.
In Science is a Hero, there is some problem or other — an asteroid is going to hit the Earth, the Galactic Empire is falling, there’s a Plague IN SPACE!! — and the heroic characters unabashedly use Science to deflect the asteroid, restore Galactic civilization, cure the plague, and, not infrequently, have sex in zero-G. Ain’t Science great?
In Science is a Villain, Science itself is the problem. Science unleashes dinosaurs, Frankenstein monsters, unstoppable robot armies, murderous computers, super-soldiers, atomic horror, etc., and humanity has to fight them off. Sometimes humanity barely wins, at great cost. Other times we lose. Science makes a nasty Villain. Moral: Science sure can be dangerous, kids!
These two kinds of stories echo our ambivalent attitude towards technology, of course. Real life science has cured countless social ills and brought previously-unimaginable wonders, but it has also caused social upheaval and brought previously-unimaginable horrors. It’s no surprise that the stories that are most famous, the ones that keep us up at night, are the villain ones: HAL 9000, velociraptors, Terminator, the Matrix… The villains, the nightmares, echo most closely the demons we’re wrestling.
Continue reading “Man vs. Machine: John Henry, Science Fiction, and the March of Progress”
A Guest Post by Ali, of Meadowsweet & Myrrh
Jeff’s last post illustrated very well the kind of divisive rhetoric utilized in most political speeches these days, language that takes for granted an implicit superiority of American citizens and soldiery, and that rejects understanding, compassion and forgiveness for fear that such things will lead to acceptance of and complicity in violence (that is, those forms of violence deemed unacceptable by the State). His post, by reversing the target of this rhetoric, raised a lot of hackles and provoked a lot of feedback, through comments and email, about the basic immorality of justifying violence and excusing killers. Now, with his gracious permission, I would like to try my hand at rewriting Obama’s speech, not by reversing its aim, but by turning the rhetoric itself on its head, and speaking in terms of inclusion rather than exclusion, connection instead division. This is the speech I wish Obama had given, though for reasons that will become obvious, it is not one I ever expect any political leader in this country to give.
A tragedy like the one that claimed the lives of thirteen people at Fort Hood, indeed any tragedy of sudden and senseless death, challenges us to reevaluate our priorities, as individuals, as a community, and as a nation. In our grief, we reach out for meaning, for reassurance and comfort, and for a sense of peace and goodness in the world. During such times, it would be so easy to turn like those before us have done, to familiar words of patriotism and national pride. It would be easy to give these deaths the meaning of noble sacrifice in a greater cause — and to name that cause with words like “freedom” that we have claimed as exclusively our own, though truly such things belong to all people, inalienably, as the founders of this country knew so well. Continue reading “On Grief and Connection: A Response to the Fort Hood Deaths”
Obama’s speech at Ft. Hood, honoring the dead in the recent shooting, is being hailed as a masterpiece of rhetoric. Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic says:
“I guarantee: they’ll be teaching this one in rhetoric classes. It was that good. My gloss won’t do it justice. Yes, I’m having a Chris Matthews-chill-running-up-my-leg moment, but sometimes, the man, the moment and the words come together and meet the challenge. Obama had to lead a nation’s grieving; he had to try and address the thorny issues of Islam and terrorism; to be firm; to express the spirit of America, using familiar, comforting tropes in a way that didn’t sound trite.”
And yes, it’s a moving speech, worthy of recognition alongside some of the best ever given by American presidents. For me the strongest parallel is with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, not only in its power but in its aim: to soothe the pain, to give meaning and context to the senseless killing, to re-energize the nation to continue the work.
And just like Lincoln’s address, the speech is full of obfuscations, distortions, spin, and propaganda.
So I offer below an alternative speech: the speech Obama should have given.
Continue reading “Obama’s Best Speech Never: What the President Should Have Said”