I want to riff upon some common drug-highs that most people partake-of. One is the alluring condition of despising our pitiably stupid neighbors. Another is the temptation to believe that history comes and goes in "cycles."
Are your neighbors all stupid?
This topic came up last time, flowing out of my observations about the recent movies, Surrogates. And, while I have groused about the obvious - even blatant - overlaps with both my novel Kiln People and the widely distributed Leslie Dixon screenplay, that was not what bugged me moist about the Bruce Willis film. Rather, it was the dismally uniform premise -- shared by far too many Hollywood productions -- that all new technologies are inherently evil and that they will automatically be horribly misused by nearly all human beings.
Look, any sensible person is of two minds about "the masses," recollecting Churchill's line that democracy is the worst form of government... except for every other that's been tried. We have seen how flawed popular government can be. I am mindful of what happened to Periclean Athens and to Republican Florence.
Indeed, when Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had erected on the White House - and got adulation for calling upon his followers to "think only of this morning!" - I knew that we'd be in for a generation of spendthrift foolishness. Thirty years of delays in doing much about energy independence coincided with virtual abandonment of ambition in science or space, while we spent ourselves into deep debt, based upon a Supply-Side theory that made no sense, even before it was disproved. The left did chime in, with idiocies of its own. And then came a high-treason madness called Culture War...
Oh, no question that our neighbors have given us plenty of reason to suspect them of -- ahem, at best -- shortsighted and parochial thinking.
But note that this reaction spans all boundaries of politics, whether or not the facts support your particular prejudice. Surface rationalizations differ, from left to right, but we all suckle the same, deeply smug fantasies from popular culture. The underlying inclination is too common to ignore, flowing from movies into real life.
If the shared theme that drives most Hollywood plots is Suspicion of Authority (SOA), then the most common background assumption is that the majority of people around the hero (and hence, around you) are nincompoops.
Of course, that ninnie majority never, ever includes you.
Defending the masses
Of course, I am human. Indeed, this very screed reflects a meta-irony... that I feel contempt for the masses, because they give in to this blandished hypnotic trip so easily!
And yet, since contempt for the masses is the most common reflex, I am forced, out of sheer contrariness, to stand up for the other side. The "people" after all, have repeatedly been polled as much more willing to invest in new energy
than our aristocracy ever was.
Moreover, there are plenty of counter-examples that suggest the opposite. For example, recall the era of the "Clinton Surplus?" Members of Congress salivated over spending it all on favored programs. Others promoted giant tax cuts, especially for the wealthy classes. Amid all of this, only two groups spoke up for using the surplus instead to retire the national debt. Those two groups were economists and ... the general public.
It was the middle class "populace" who wanted to pay off the debt before getting a tax cut! Their forward-looking citizenship was far greater than the "gimme!" attitude of most of the aristocracy.
This runs diametrically opposite to the cynics' favorite quotation, variously attributed to "Tytler" or to Alex Tyler --
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years.
These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to
complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage."
As it happens, this spurious "quotation" has also been repeatedly proved to be utter and complete drivel. It has taken an unprecedented propaganda campaign to drive wedges into and between components of the middle class, in America. And even so, it is still the bourgeoisie that not only puts up most of the taxes but also relentlessly proves to be the caste the least interested in "largesse" and the most willing to pay for the civilization that they live in.
... next time... Contemptuous Memes Part II: Cycles of History"
--Read more about the Tytler Calumny
finally some news...
Looking for something to help you through the long commute? Or to listen-to while basking under the sunlamp? Recorded Books has just issued the full book-on-tape version of BRIGHTNESS REEF read by George K Wilson. This will soon be followed by INFINITY'S SHORE and HEAVEN'S REACH.
H+ asked David Brin, Ben Goertzel, J. Storrs Hall, Vernor Vinge, and others: "Is a Terminator-like scenario possible? And if so, how likely is it?"
See a Planetary Report on the discovery of a likely "skylight" opening in a volcanic lava tube on the moon. It suggests that such lava tubes currently exist and offer large subterranean spaces for possible human use as shelters, in future colonization.
"Albedo Yachts" and Marine Clouds: A Cure for Climate Change? A proposal to create 1500 robot ships that use wind power to inject micron sized droplets into the atmosphere. Sounds better than most forms of geoengineering because it ivolves no toxins and can simply be stopped at any time. But I wonder, might these wind powered vessels be combined with wind powered STIRRING of shallow sea bottoms (as depicted in my novel Earth? This stirring would fertilize desert ocean areas the way nature does it, instead of through the proposed method of dumping powdered iron (which has unintended consequences like acidification.) In contrast mud-stirring has no conceivable way to do harm because it replicates nature's own method.
Two Victoria University professors who specialize in sustainable living, say pet owners should swap cats and dogs for creatures they can eat, such as chickens or rabbits, in their disturbingly titled new book Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living. The couple has assessed the carbon emissions created by popular pets, taking into account the ingredients of pet food and the land needed to create them. "If you have a German shepherd or similar-sized dog, for example, its impact every year is exactly the same as driving a large car around," Brenda Vale said