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”
I don’t usually have posts that do nothing but link elsewhere, but I couldn’t resist pointing you over to Ali’s latest, The Group of Twenty and the Mythology of the Market. Ali’s thesis is that myths are not just stories that our ancestors believed back when the human race was young and full of childlike innocence, but are alive and well today. We don’t recognize them as myths because we think they’re true, and everyone knows that myths are false. Right?…
But if you step back and take a serious look, you can see that there are certain pervasive modern beliefs that have the same structure, function, and emotional punch that the myths of our ancestors did. They provide a meaningful worldview, giving our society a place in the universe, and holding up examples of heroes and villains to guide individuals toward ethical action. They even have “gods” and “priests” and “prophets” and “blood sacrifices”, though they’re not called that any longer…
- America the Free. This one comes complete with Creation Myth (the Revolution, with Washington taking the place of Zeus as he battles the insane Titan-like George III), prophets (Paine, Jefferson, Lincoln), high priests (presidents and other military commanders, pundits and politicians), idols (The Statue of Liberty, the Flag) and even human sacrifice (young people sent off to “die for freedom”).
- Science the Savior. Ironically enough, in this Creation Myth, Science the Savior conquers Myth itself to give order to the world and society, just like Zeus vs. the Titans, Odin vs. the Jotuns, and George Washington vs. George III. Prophets include Alhazen, Bacon, Descartes, and Mill; modern priests include Dawkins and P. Z. Myers. The Cult of Science does not generally demand human sacrifice, but it does demand animal sacrifice — in laboratories, by the millions.
- Humanity Rules the Earth. Read Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. No, really — read it.
- The Omniscient, Omnipotent Market. But this one is the subject of Ali’s excellent post. So get on over there and read it already!
On November 4th, 2008, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, and the stars noticed.
On that very day, the Earth was placed directly between Saturn and Uranus, creating an apparent opposition between the two planets. Astrologically, this planetary opposition indicated a conflict between an established authority and the forces of necessary change and upheaval. That was definitely a theme of the election. But this drama isn’t over yet: Earth will slide back between these planets four more times — on February 5th and September 15th of 2009, and then again on April 26 and July 26 of 2010. (Then it won’t happen again for 40 years.) Mark your calendars!
Actually, as an aside, this is part of a 20 year cycle of disruption. Twenty years ago, when Saturn and Uranus were conjoined, communism collapsed. Twenty years before that, when Saturn and Uranus were in opposition, it was 1968, an infamous year of assassinations, escalating war worldwide, etc. Twenty years before that, when Saturn and Uranus were conjoined, fascism came to an end; and twenty years before that was the beginning of the great worldwide depression…
So Obama will be president in very interesting times, and since time and custom and ambitious men have endowed the office of the presidency with powers far beyond what any one person can wield easily, it’s worthwhile looking at Obama’s name and astrological chart. What manner of man is he, and will he be up to the task?
Continue reading “Barack Obama: A Reading”
Immediately before the day of the 2008 US federal election, I posted this article in which I said I wouldn’t be voting, and listed three major problems with the Constitution. The gist of the problems were these:
1. Majority rule leads to tyranny of the majority over minorities.
2. Government should be by the consent of the governed — but I am not allowed to withdraw my consent.
3. The Constitution violates basic tenets of almost every religion — for example, the War Powers clause blatantly violates injunctions against murder.
Slavery by the Consent of the Enslaved
These flaws were literally on parade during the Civil War. The Constitution did nothing at all to help those who were bound to servitude, forced to live, eat, and work by the whim of the master; whose families were broken; who were abused, physically and emotionally, and packed on trains or forced to march hundreds of miles away, and told they were doing all this for the good of the country, and then lined up and shot. If they were lucky, they died quickly; if not, they were frequently captured and sent to prisons that would make Guantanamo Bay look like Club Med.
Yes, I’m talking about the draft, too. There are many kinds of slavery.
Continue reading “We The People”
In the previous post in this series, I discussed the Catch-22 we face in the 2008 US presidential race — two candidates that, in the overwhelmingly essential foreign policy arena, differ only in which kind of innocent people they feel it necessary to slaughter. It is possible to choose some other candidate entirely, and that would make it a lot easier to sleep at night. Unfortunately, because of the way the Constitution is set up, if everyone voted for the candidate they really believed in, the president would not be chosen by the people, but by the House of Representatives. That would be at least as horrible as the present system. In this article, I’ll point up some other difficulties with the US Constitution, and what it means for this voting season.
Continue reading “How I’m Voting II: Cracks in the Constitution”
Let’s assume you’re a US citizen, and let’s assume you care about the country. And let’s assume you plan to vote for the president this year — either because you think your vote might affect the outcome, or because you think it’s your civic duty as a citizen of a democracy.
Who should you vote for?
Well, the original field of 10,000 candidates has been winnowed down to just two that have any realistic hope of winning: Barack Obama and John McCain. Since one of the two will win, it should be simple enough to figure out which one would be better.
But in fact it’s not that simple.
Continue reading “How I’m Voting I: No Lesser Evil”
“You may say this to Théoden son of Thengel: open war lies before him… None may live now as they have lived, and few shall keep what they call their own.”— Aragorn, speaking to Éomer on the eve of the War of the Ring; from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers
A month ago, my wife attended a town meeting here in Hadley, Massachusetts, concerning prevention of war with Iran. The meeting was sponsored by a number of local organizations, including the Order of the White Oak. Given the events in the last few weeks, which appear to be bringing us closer and closer to war, we felt it essential to distribute this information as widely as possible.
These are the notes my wife took at the meeting.
Continue reading “A Crime in Our Names: Iran”
In the previous post, I outlined a model of prestige and stigma which predicts whether a language or religion will grow or wither in a society. Now let’s take the prestige/stigma model and look at Neopaganism today. By these measures, Neopaganism is in trouble.
Imagine trying to revive the Latin language. Imagine speaking it at home, teaching it to your children, seeking out Latin translations of modern works, and using it instead of English whenever you could. What would your friends and neighbors think? Do you think lots of people would jump on the bandwagon with you? Do you think that the revived Latin movement — “Neolatinism” — would have much of a future in your society? There are no celebrities speaking Latin on TV. There are no government officials speaking Latin in press conferences. Latin is stigmatized as a dead language with no future; why would anyone want to learn it?
If the analogy between religion and language holds, Neopaganism is in exactly the same situation as Neolatinism would be.
Continue reading “The Future of Neopaganism in the West, Part II: Going Organic”