The Luddites are Winning
I came across an interesting article earlier that sparked my thinking. It seems that the President of the European Commission usually has a chief scientific advisor. The role of this office is to advise on any topic having to do with science and technology. However, bowing to pressure from groups like Greenpeace, the EC has done away with the position entirely. The reasoning behind this? The former advisor spoke in support of data, versus emotion, when it came to genetic modification.
What is our scientific world coming to? Climate change debates rage on, over whether the science of it is settled, and how much should be dictated by sociopolitical expediency. Does climate change? You bet your booties. Do humans influence that change…. Ah, now there’s where the wicket gets sticky. But when it is ‘cool to be green’ and certain lobbies get huge government monies for their research or alternative energy plans (dare I say Solyndra?) then yes, of course humans must be to blame. Sadly, with massive computer programs needed to predict what the climate might do, it’s all about the data that is fed in, and how it is massaged to get the results. As time goes on, it’s clearer and clearer that those results are pretty much what the lobby that paid for them wanted to hear. And the global economic impact is stunning.
And the scientists? They are doing what they have to do survive. Publish or perish. You can’t publish on certain topics unless you have the ‘right’ credentials, I’m told by a classmate who is studying geology. And that brings me to the next thing. The invisible thing. Which actually has to do with why the EC no longer has a scientific advisor. It’s about the children. No, not for the children. Rather, it has to do with the little things, the words, which we never see and think about, but which subtly alter the perceptions of the very young until they don’t ever think to object when they hear them. Science is bad, they learn. Technology is to be feared. Then they grow up and join Greenpeace and PETA and…
I can remember the first time someone told me that water was an endangered resource. I was more than a bit boggled. Water doesn’t just vanish. That would violate the law of conservation of matter, which I already knew about. Now, as an adult I can say, well, maybe water could be broken down into the component atomic elements of hydrogen and oxygen, but I also know a lot more about the energy involved in that decomposition, too. So… water? Just vanishes? No. But this is what children are taught, and they never think to question it, because it’s something they’ve always been told.
Like my college Spanish class, where we are learning all about el medio ambiente, and !el peligro! Our world is in. Most of the students in class don’t even question it. Of course all factories pollute, except the one that is handily labeled la energia de sol, and has no smoke emissions, unlike the other sort of factory. Of course recycling will solve all the ills of the world. Don’t ask questions, just do what you are told.
The Green Revolution not only goes untaught in schools, but genetically modifying plants to use less fertilizer, less pesticides; that is demonized at the same time the use of fertilizer and pesticides is decried. How many people do they want to starve to death to get their way? I remember the horror I felt, just a short time ago, as a professor casually mentioned that perhaps the millions of deaths every year due to easily treatable parasite loads (specifically to worms, like Ascaris) was how the world keeps from being overpopulated. And yet… we don’t need to die of starvation, nor does anyone outside our prosperous little bubble. But the accepted answer is that GMO isn’t safe, and mustn’t be allowed. With technology a better life is possible, has already been improving for well over a century, but I still see people who claim much education espousing that a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is so much healthier, body and soul. The myth of the noble savage is perpetuated, and modern science suffers.
What does all this have to do with writing? Well, I think most of us read and write science fiction. I suspect most of us saw the article in Wired recently about dystopia and the rising fear of technology that it fosters. I submit that fear of technology is being fostered in far more places than literature, and that fear in media such as games and television has a far greater impact. In places like textbooks at the elementary level, where flawed and false concepts are presented to children who are not yet capable of critical thinking.
I’ll quote Michael Solana in that Wired article again, because he says it beautifully. “Our fears are demons in our fiction placing our utopia at risk, but we must not run from them. We must stand up and defeat them. Artificial intelligence, longevity therapy, biotechnology, nuclear energy — it is in our power to create a brilliant world, but we must tell ourselves a story where our tools empower us to do it. To every young writer out there obsessed with genre, consider our slowly coalescing counterculture, and wonder what side of this you’re standing on. Luddites have challenged progress at every crux point in human history. The only thing new is now they’re in vogue, and all our icons are iconoclasts. So it follows here that optimism is the new subversion. It’s daring to care. The time is fit for us to dream again.”
What happens to us, should we stay here on Earth, with no adversity, no new frontier to conquer? We run the risk of our children and children’s children becoming like the students at UCLA, who make up things to have temper tantrums about. Perpetually caught at a child-state of development, with no incentive to grow up and develop calluses, they become “what tort law calls “eggshell plaintiffs”—preternaturally fragile individuals injured by the slightest collisions with life.”
So for me, I will write fiction that conveys a sense of wonder, of counting one’s blessings to find what can be rejoiced over even in the depths of despair, because to fall into the abyss of depression lies madness, and the diminishing of the human race. For all that every other animal who shows the least sign of intelligence is held up and crowed over, humanity remains the different one. We are not animals. We have hope, and dreams, and can plan and think for the future. If we need water in a place, then we can look at the problem and draw up plans to desalinate the ocean water from the nearby coast. Or to colonize the asteroids.
After all, despite the red rag of a shirt being waved to obscure our vision, we did, after all, discover what is on the comet, and before it, the hydrated minerals on the asteroids. What do organic molecules there mean? Well, we need to keep launching ourselves fearlessly outward if we are ever to discover the answers.