Sunday, April 08, 2012

There is Madness on the Other Side Too: The Left's War on Optimism

Is the bold future of our youth being killed by gloomy science fiction?  Or has Sci Fi grown more dour as a reflection of our mood?  Glenn Reynolds interviews authors Neal Stephenson and Vernor Vinge in a thought-provoking inquiry: Why We Need Big, Bold Science Fiction: "While books about space exploration and robots once inspired young people to become scientists and engineers—and inspired grownup engineers and scientists to do big things—in recent decades the field has become dominated by escapist fantasies and depressing dystopias."

(Hey... I'm TRYING, dammit!)

Almost as if deliberately proving the point, TED speaker Paul Gilster rails against techno-optimism in a desperately wrongheaded essay that really should be read in order to understand the problem with today's well-meaning left.  Paul does us all a disservice by conflating a multidimensional landscape with a digital, either-or choice - confusing "optimism" with complacency.

Yes, we all know the types he refers to as techno-optimists - fools who shrug off looming water shortages, energy deficits and climate degradation, blithely assuring us that "humanity and/or science and/or markets and/or God will find a way."  Such people are dolts, often driven by a political wing that has done horrific damage both to the U.S. and the world.

Nevertheless, in taking the reflexive opposite point of view, many folks on the left wind up being very little better.  Their sense of urgency to save the world is laudable.  But it gets wrongheaded when the message becomes "Let's do something!  And by the way, nothing ever works!" 

That was the calamitously awful, guilt-tripping meme conveyed in James Cameron's otherwise worthy film - Avatar.  The notion that our society is not only dismally greedy and stupid, but the very worst culture ever.  The worst civilization conceivable.

This despite being the very same civilization that paid James Cameron billions to help enthusiastic audiences want to be better. Ah well. Ironies are lost on those steeped in finger-wagging lecture mode.  We have experienced waves of such finger-wagging since the sixties, all of it lusciously indignant and satisfying to the finger waggers.  But helpful?

Sure, in the beginning, films like Soylent Green used the raw-guilt-trip approach effectively to shake people into awareness.  I call such tales - along with Silent Running and Silent Spring - "self-preventing prophecies" in that they roused millions not only to look up (and ahead) but to become actively involved in working against disaster.

Which is, in fact, the point! Doomy-gloomy guilt trips have served their purpose!  Everyone who can be recruited into environmentalism (for example) by guilt-tripping already has been!  Everybody else is simply repelled by the message.  Forced - by either-or logic - into the other camp. At this point, overbearing chiding is completely counterproductive.

 Today, we need more sophisticated legends, that show us not only possible failure modes, but humanity buckling down to get things right.  Overcoming errors and dastardly-plots? Sure! But balanced by other trends, like a civilization filled with citizens eager to do better. And that - the stunning power of enlightened citizenship - appears to be almost completely absent from Hollywood, these days.

== The New Puritans ==

Solutions are possible.  They will require investment, thought, negotiation and endless hard work, just to squeak by.  But that's exactly what we can do.  A trait that our parents burst with. Can-do.  A can-do spirit that (alas!) dismal reflexes on the left associate only with complacency.

Take Jared Diamond's fascinating and important book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. By all means get and read it.  Diamond overstates (by far) the case that all past civilizations declined for reasons of environmental neglect. But his examples edify and warn, about where we'll wind up, if we don't pay heed!

On the other hand, his prescription - renunciatory ecological fascism - is yet another example of the primly dour puritanism of Paul Ehrlich and so many others - the truest heirs of Cotton Mather. Indignation junkies who finger-wag dire proclamations that salvation can only come from retreating to "ancient wisdom" and shivering in the dark.

Never, ever, is it avowed that we might get past this dangerous era (as I suggest in Earth and Existence) by moving forward.

== Anyone for Plan C? ==

Are these our only choices?  Between chiding, prune-faced, lefty-puritans and giddy rightists who proclaim that either God or some vague corporatist market-innovators will save us out of the blue?  Will anybody note that both groups are vociferously, fanatically anti-future?

Is it any wonder that can-do science fiction - suggesting that hard work and goodwill and ingenuity and negotiation might achieve wonders - has fallen on hard times?

Our root problem today is not obdurate denialism coming from the right.  That insanity is part of Culture War and can only be treated as a mental illness. Blue America must do what it did in every previous phase of the U.S. Civil War.  Simply win. Answer the Tea Party's tricorner hat nonsense with the Union volunteer's kepi.  We will stop resurgent feudalism and know-nothingism. Tell the troglodytes and oligarchs they cannot have our renaissance.  Our enlightenment.  Our proudly scientific civilization.

No. What I find far more worrisome is the left's mania to confuse ALL optimism with complacency, proclaiming any zealous, can-do enthusiasm to be part and parcel of the right's madness.

It is a baseless and dismal reflex, inherently illogical, anti-technological, demoralizing, and - above all - truly destructive of hope, undermining our ability to actively and vigorously save ourselves and the world.

85 comments:

Carl M. said...

Fiction in part allows us to exercise our primal urges in ways unsuitable in modern life. The natural man is a nobleman: a hunter, a fighter, an explorer, a gambler. Civilization has its many advantages, but it is unnatural, and portions of our minds rebel.

Old fashioned SF extended the pioneer mentality into the future. It was a continuation of an America which is now dying. In many respects, space opera has more in common with Conan the Barbarian and Lord of the Rings than it does with Avatar and PC SF. There are the bad guys! Blast them!

So much modern SF is about a post human future vs. an extension of the human future. Alastair Reynolds' utopia is a dystopia IMO. It's enough to make one retreat back towards fantasy -- if only most modern fantasy wasn't so horribly edited.

I dare say your novel Earth was quite dystopian, and I'm not talking about the nature die-off. The idea of having to get permission from billions of other people to do much of anything is unpleasant indeed. Prophetic perhaps. But it's enough to make one an ostrich.

Ian said...

"Answer the Tea Party's tricorner hat nonsense with the Union volunteer's kepi."

I've often thought this flag should be far mroe celebrated in america than the Flag of Treason.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/16/Fort_Sumter_Flag.svg/300px-Fort_Sumter_Flag.svg.png

Even if it does look like a Space Invader.

Wayne Eddy said...

I guess I must be a fool/dolt, because I do think that humanity & science will find a way overcome water & energy shortages, and the effects of climate change. I definitely haven't formed that opinion through the influence of a politician though. I am pretty confident that a combination of one or more of solar, LENR, thorium fission & nuclear fusion will solve our energy problems, and that sufficient cheap energy in combination with open knowledge sharing will go a long way towards solving the other problems we face.

bobsandiego said...

I think, Dr. Brin, that this is a situation on the left that does really annoy me. I have always referred to it as people who mistake cynicism for wisdom. It is a deep-seated belief that people en masse cannot be trusted. Where on the right the authoritarian impulse is usually from a desire to return to a perceived simpler time with a clear appeal to authority figure and rules handed down on high, from the left I often perceive a sense of ‘enlightened’ authority. The common people really don’t know what is best for them and it is the ‘enlightened man’s burden’ to take care of them. It is an insulting worldview and one at odds with evidence, facts, and history. It was the common man that threw off communism in the east, and forged the great American spirit of independence.
I believe we will survive into a bright and shinning future, but I agree with you it will not be a gift from some selfish Radnian demi-god, but a slow hard slog made possible by intelligent, educate, and scrappy people insisting on a fair game, a fair shake, and a civilization that is not built just for the lucky few.

Carl M. said...

@bobsandiego: if Elon Musk doesn't qualify as Randian demigod, no one does.

Guess who is making progress on global warming and getting mankind back into space?

Just saying...

Ian said...

Wayne,

I think David's point is that we can't simply assume that the invisible hand will solve all our problems.

Carl, where would Musk be without the NASA contract to supply the ISS?

bobsandiego said...

@CarlM
I would disagree with the idea that Musk is a radian style character. Musk is a vital, smart, capable, and driven man who has achieved enormous success, but that does not make him Ranian. I have never heard Musk utter the concept that greed is an ultimate good or that he cares only for himself.
There' smote to Randian thought than good healthy capitalism.

David Brin said...

Carl, I tried hard to make Gaia (in Earth) as mellow and pulled-back and easy going as a group uber mind could possibly be. Nearly everything was to be worked out among ourselves, though with some new processes to make discourse more efficient, and diversity was to be preserved as a matter of pure mental health.

I don't know what more you could ask...


Re the Ft. Sumter flag... Yipe! It's got my DIAMOND in it! I have long held that the diamond should be in our flag!

Wayne Eddy said: "I guess I must be a fool/dolt, because I do think that humanity & science will find a way overcome water & energy shortages, and the effects of climate change."

Were you even reading at all, Wayne? Seriously, wasn't the whole POINT of my missive here that solutions are possible?

What is utterly doltish is to blithely shrug shrug shrug shrug and say "I won't lift a finger or negotiate or feel any urgency, because I am sure the market (or God or the oligarchs) will find a way.

You badly badly need to read COLLAPSE. Solutions do not fall out of the sky or out of some whim of Ayn Rand. And if you think Adam Smith expected them to, then you have never ever read him.

In fact, it is going to take actual urgency, actual discussion and negotiation, and actual hard -designed interplays of the public and private sector to solve the problems we face. If you seriously think we can just kick back and let it just "happen" then I ask you to find a single example in human history when that attitude was rewarded. The societies who did that are dead. Doltish and dead.

Bobsandiego you got it. The crazy/surly grouches of right and left are more similar than different. Right now, 99% of the danger is from a mad right that has taken over an entire party and the whole nation for mong stretches, driving it off a cliff and damaging EVERY unambiguous statistical metric of national health. It's like bringing your car to the same mechanic every monday after it collapses in a heap every friday. Idiots.

But we moderate modernists need to keep a wary eye cracked leftward.

Elon is a hero of Adam Smith, not Rand.

Jumper said...

Funny you mention this at this moment. I just set down Oryx and Crake. I was re-reading it so as to pick up the sequel. My mind rebelled. "No more dystopia!" I muttered. "It's killing me!"

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

While I agree about "Avatar" being an example of pessimistic lefty preaching, I'm not sure about "The Hunger Games". My 10-yr old has read the first two novels, and I saw the movie with her, but neither of us has read the end of the trilogy. So I'm not yet qualified to comment on the trilogy as a whole. Yet the sense I got from the movie (of the first book) is that, to use a Star Wars quote, the rebels have socred their first victory against the evil (non-Galactic) Empire. I took the ending of the first book as cautiously optimistic for the forces of civility and enlightenment.

Now, if you want pessimism about then-contemporary (mid-20th Century) American society, try reading "The Crucible" or "The Grapes of Wrath". Both seem torn from today's headlines. And I say that as someone who would recommend both works.

I'm a little unclear where "Soylent Green" fits. What predicted future did we avoid? Global warming? The jury is still out. Disappearance of food sources? Seems well on the way. I guess we've managed to slow down the population bomb itself, but not sure about the predicted effects thereof.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Carl, I tried hard to make Gaia (in Earth) as mellow and pulled-back and easy going as a group uber mind could possibly be. Nearly everything was to be worked out among ourselves, though with some new processes to make discourse more efficient, and diversity was to be preserved as a matter of pure mental health.

I don't know what more you could ask...


I can't speak for CarlM, and Lord knows he doesn't need me to, but I suspect he meant the world you depicted BEFORE Gaia was a dystopia. Everything requiring deliberation and sign-off by UN bureaucrats.

Carl M. said...

LarryHart is correct. I was referring to the pre-Gaia scenario. The post-Gaia scenario struck me as rather Orson Scott Cardish. I was quite surprised, given many of the essays posted on this blog.

As for Elon Musk: I said Randian hero, not Rand follower. There is a difference. Keep in mind that Dagney Taggart resists Rand's ideology throughout most of the book, as does Hank Rearden.

But yes Ian, the NASA contracts and the government loan to Tesla Motors dilutes the image.

LarryHart said...

Jumper:

My mind rebelled. "No more dystopia!" I muttered. "It's killing me!"


I make a distinction between types. There's hopeless or pessimistic dystopia where the lesson is that "evil" can't help but win, such as "1984". Then there's the mirror image of that as seen in "Avatar"--that good can win over evil, but that WE, the readers/viewers are the evil ones, and that a happy ending requires us to root against our side.

I can see rebelling against a steady diet of either of those.

However, there is also the tales which take place in a dystopian world, but whose lesson is that "good" can indeed achieve its victories and (just as importantly) that we readers/viewers can still root for the good guys. Dr Brin's "The Postman" kinda/sorta fits this, as does "Soylent Green" and just possibly (though I don't know for sure) the full "Hunger Games" trilogy.

Tony Fisk said...

I am reluctant to partake in 'Hunger Games': from the cover, this is one dystopia that doesn't mesh with society as I see it, and any society I'd *like* to see! (mind you, what commentary I've read indicates there's a bit more depth to it than that)

I think you're a bit hard on Cameron's Avatar when you claim he portrays The notion that our society is not only dismally greedy and stupid, but the very worst culture ever. The worst civilization conceivable..

Granted, the frontier corporation mentality follows this, and it would have made for a more nuanced movie if it hadn't.

But, ah, the people...

First off, Sully mentions very early on that the security force weren't freedom fighters, like back on Earth, but hired mercenaries (which, to me, set up a distinction between US army and Blackwater & co.)

Furthermore, it is clear that not all of the the mining staff are happy with how things develop. One combat pilot even bails on the op. to bring down the home tree. (and I'd assume she had sympathisers back at the base, who didn't summarily ground her for desertion on return. That, or there was a big hole in security. Or plot!? Nah!-)

Why didn't they do more? Well, they were at the end of a 4-5 year supply line, and probably weren't too motivated to rattle too many cages. It also matches the insights into working on a big oil refinery that are given here:

"I learned that it is not because every man and woman who participate in industry are all evil, bad people ... there was this certain kind of ‘rush’ I felt. I felt a kind of new power within myself --being in a productive, hard working, problem solving environment Where there is grit, and dirt, and sweat, and mud and building and pumping and drilling and hammering and huge turbines at massive pressures doing crazy stuff. There is this feeling you get when you’re working with other professionals in a high-stake environment -- and on some very obscure and messed up level, I can understand how those who work in industry can get excited about growth and yet subsequently, can turn their eyes off towards any adverse impacts they are creating as a result.

Like I said, on a very obscure and messed up level.

And I just have to be fully honest and mention this, the feeling is addictive -- you can literally feel it in your veins. And this coming from just one month of experience, with a totally different ideological perspective."


Oh well, it will be interesting to see how the Avatar sequels go. Cameron may taken a few ideas from various sf authors. I'd like to see if he picks up the advice given to him by an Amazonian Indian elder (too much fighting!), and start the sides negotiating! That, or read Lloyd Biggle Jr's 'Monument'

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

My only optimism comes from a Michael Harrington sort of democratic socialism. As I read EO Wilson recognize the evolutionary benefits for ants and humans to cooperate, show altruism and support for each other, I smiled and said, Wilson is moving toward Gould in at least that aspect, but has more optimism than Gould that we can get to that next evolutionary level. I am now with Wilson, but current political events do make that difficult for an American at least, doesn't it?

Rob said...

Look, The Hunger Games isn't a dystopian science fiction story nearly as much as it's just satire: Mitchell took some immediate trends, such as the widening prosperity gap and the fact that we send our children to war in part for the news orgs to report something next to an ad.

Might not be the raison d'etre for all of that, but that's what she satirizes: how impressment into war can completely derail and render otherwise normal people insane, even if the reasons for volunteering are themselves noble.

A friend of mine is one such person. The PTSD she got from the experience, which the VA continues to deny for the disability benefit, but the Navy uses to deny her a reenlistment, while the economy denies her a job, is only the tip of a huge dirty iceberg.

David Brin said...

MJF... optimism that is absent a girded determination to reach out, learn from others and negotiate solutions, is not optimism. It is shrug-complacency.

==

Tony I disagree. Earth civilization is portrayed as completely evil and culpable simply because of its utter lack of control over the situation on Pandora or curiosity about the aliens. The couple of Sigourney scientists are a sop. There to wring their hands.

ALL of the moralizing and action plot could be there, almost exactly as-is... if the good governor and his top aides are assassinated by the vile company leech so he can proceed with his evil (and titanically stupid, counterproductive) plans.

Mind you it is still awful in another way, the staggeringly objectionable "sioux Problem" in most romantic films about Native Americans... the fact that Hollywood always picks the most OBSTINATE tribes to admire, instead of the adaptable, intelligent ones.

In fact, while there is beauty in the Na'avi way, it is also fundamentally a close-minded, smug, lectury, utterly incurious culture. And these traits are portrayed as ADMIRABLE! SIgourney and some humans want to learn from the Na'avi. The Na'avi could not be bothered to raise an eyebrow's interest in beings who can travel between the stars!

The Na vi are "warriors" and clearly have waged war on each other, and yet that's okay because it's "their way" and natural... is a direct parallel to how the Sioux were gruesomely cruel, but that's not significant in any film.

Note how in Dances with Wolves and in Avatar, the whiteman protagonist is almost killed by the natives several times for no reason and without a scintilla's justice, yet that part of the balance sheet is wiped clean. They are innocent's not to be held to our standards.

bobsandiego said...

also on the Avatar film, I agree with Dr. Brin that the cultural admiration is extremely galling considering all the benefit Cameron has reaped front his culture, I'm also deeply insulted by the admiration of the 'low tech' lifestyle.
When films like this are made they never show us that the price for giving up our technology is making lie, nasty, brutish, and short. We never seen the scads of babies and children dying from preventable disease. We never see that such societies have much higher murder rates than our own. We never see the starvation that occurs because of a little bad weather. We never see the all too often experience of dying in childbirth. (there's a reason fairly tales are often about step-mothers.)
It's maddening to have luddites who have always gotten their food from a store lecture us about the evils of this life while adoring such nonsense.

BCRion said...

Dr. Brin, you hit the nail on the head for how I feel about the heroic portrayal of the Na'Vi, how their "naturalness" somehow makes their warlike, capricious, hierarchical, and patriarchal culture admirable. The only excuse they have for their ways is they haven't had a few thousands of years of civilization to teach them the hard-earned lessons humanity learned. While their ignorance may preclude them from being evil, that does not mean we should emulate them, as the film implies.

Furthermore, the Earthmen are portrayed as cartoonishly evil, being motivated by sheer greed (just bad character development). Existentially, the dialogue strongly implies that the rest of the civilization is just as irredeemable as they are. Correspondingly, the audience is forced to sympathize with a very parochial anti-Enlightenment culture, because the alternative is much worse.

So yeah, I'm not a fan of such heavy-handed black and white propaganda, even if the intent of the message is good.

David Brin said...

Oh but the out is that Pandora is actually VERY high tech! they are post-singularity beings. All the coincidentally convenient and biologically expensive "extra-beauty-mravelicious" wonders,,, and the tribal-fun-mellow lifestyle without the usual cost... all of these were set up by godlike AI working in the background!

duncan cairncross said...

Hi David

Currently I think he has lost his way but Pournelle's - Survival With Style

Does a very good job of discussing what we could do - if we put our minds to it

This is where small C conservatism is dangerous
To go on doing what you have always done

I like Jared Diamond's
"I wonder what was going through the mind of the guy who cut down the last tree on Easter Island"

Was he a conservative - just doing what he had always done?

RandyB said...

bobsandiego,

"When films like this are made they never show us that the price for giving up our technology is making lie, nasty, brutish, and short."

That's an important point.

In that vein, a further problem with Avatar is that we know the people on Earth will suffer for the company's losses in the end.

Most audience members will probably think it's just the company's senior management that suffers. Maybe a few will say the stockholders take a hit. They won't know it goes beyond that.

Considering that the storyline says Earth is dying, in reality, those "scads of babies and children dying from preventable disease" will include those on Earth.

Tony Fisk said...

Hmm.

I could respond by saying that 'company towns' were very much a feature of history. I could offer a number of 'wriggle room' areas where the backing civilisation needn't be a dead loss.

What I'd really be doing, though, is rationalising and exploring how to rescue the situation rather than looking at what Cameron actually chose to put on screen.

Tony Fisk said...

I've a plotline that explains why the Na'vi don't follow the standard body type of other Pandoran creatures.

Again. Offering excuses. Fun to do but it doesn't get Cameron off the jaundiced left winger hook.

Sorry, James! You'll just have to hire our services for the sequels!

Tony Fisk said...

Heh! For bonus marks I think I can even explain why the plot of the original ran a bit like Pocahontas!

Erik Sayle said...

You make a great counter argument to Bill Joy......

RandyB said...

For those who haven't seen the Avatar/Pocahantas mashup:
http://youtu.be/sLcy53NgEq4

(and now you know how to shorten a YouTube url.)

Tim H. said...

A different sort of depressing:
http://www.garygoddard.com/blog/index.php/now-it-can-be-told-the-star-trek-attraction-that-almost-came-to-life-in-1992/

bobsandiego said...

@ Dr. Brin
Really? post singularity? I had just assumed it was magical evolution that produced the planetary network and all that jazz.
This conversation has helped me understand one thing about myself. I've called a 'tough room' when it comes to media SF, little tolerance for bad science, bad plotting, etc. Yet, thanks to my sweetie-wife I have become a real Dr. Who fan. I understand why now. The Doctor is the opposite of all those who mistake cynicism for wisdom. Yeah it's a fantasy show because there ain't no physics like the doctor's, but its a show that says we can all be better. As cultures and as individuals we can be better if we fight and strive for it. So bad science and all, count me in among the Who fans.

Carl M. said...

Avatar was bad on so many levels I was sorely tempted to walk out of the show.

* The evil corporate boss had no rationalizations for his actions other than money. Come now! Even street thugs rationalize.

* The floating mountain area's interference prevented audio communications but mind transferrence worked.

* The blue beanpole people talked like a cross between a New Age gathering and a bad PBS documentary.

* A warrior society couldn't be interested in a few high tech weapons.

* The earthlings couldn't come up with any fascinating baubles to sell.

* There was no mention of what unobtainium was used for.

The ability of the natives to fight back seemed a bit incredible, but I was able to fill in a rationale: a much higher pressure atmosphere. Such would allow humanoids riding on flying beasts and would reduce the usefulness of bullets substantially.

LarryHart said...

BCRion:

Correspondingly, the audience is forced to sympathize with a very parochial anti-Enlightenment culture, because the alternative is much worse.


I suggested this last night, but thought it out in a bit more detail. Similar to the way Dr Brin likes to map political affiliations in two dimensions (such as personal freedom-authoritarian and private property-commons), I'm thinking we could map dystopian stories over two orthoganal dimensions as well. One dimension would be thematic optimism vs pessimism from the reader/viewer's point of view. The other dimension would be something along the lines of "enlightenment-romanticism" describing the point of view that the reader/viewer has to cheer for or identify with.

In one quadrant, we'd have "1984" - We root for the enlightenment protagonist, but he's inevitably crushed. "The Crucible" and "The Grapes of Wrath" would occupy that quadrant as well, but increasingly closer to the center of the "optimism-pessimism" dimension.

In an adjoining quadrant would be the likes of "Avatar", with a happy ending but we're rooting against the enlightenment side.

Directly opposite the "Avatar" quadrant would be my personal favorite quadrant, the one where the enlightenment forces are shown to be resilient enough to win. "The Postman", "Soylent Green", even Harlan Ellison's "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said The Ticktockman." fall at various points in this quadrant. I hope that's where "The Hunger Games" ends up as well, because I want to like it.

Can't think of any examples from the fourth quadrant, which would have to be stories where we're rooting against the enlightenment side but they win anyway. Possibly there'd be no reason for such stories to exist, or if they do exist, then they're not "dystopias" in the first place?

Tim H. said...

Seemed extremely unlikely that there was no other unobtanium in an entire stellar system, but, like Star Wars, pretty pictures, as long as you don't think about it too much.

LarryHart said...

CarlM:

Avatar was bad on so many levels I was sorely tempted to walk out of the show.

* The evil corporate boss had no rationalizations for his actions other than money. Come now! Even street thugs rationalize.


Also, the evil military commander ended up reduced to a horror movie cliche--the monster who just keeps on coming no matter what is thrown at it until some deux ex machina at the end FINALLY finishes it off--after one last "surprise" comeback, of course.

Part of the problems with trying to do deep nuance in a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster is that the cliches naturally seem to take over the product. If "Avatar" had been a novel first, it would probably be one of those where "The book was better". But since it was written for the screen, it doesn't have that excuse.

bobsandiego said...

Don't get me started on the unobtainium. Let's see, it is a naturally occuring very high temprature superconductor. Yes that would make it very vaulable if you cound not creat it artifically and it is not found in our own solar system. It is reason the floating mountains float. (Because Pandora has a very powerful magnetic field. I'll leave it to more educated minds than my won - like our good host -- to illuminate if this works or not from a physics point of view.) So the evil corp, sitting in their evil corp offices, doing evil corp things, decide to strip mine mountains and start religoius wars to get to the unobtainium. BUT there are litterally mountains of the stuff just floating there for the taking! Just strap on some boosters and accelerate taht crap to orbit! It's already floating for christ' sake, just how stupid do you have to be to be a company man?

LarryHart said...

I'm on the same page with most here about the foibles of "Avatar", but questions about the science didn't especially bother me. I just took it as given that the film was fantasy with some sci-fi trappings rather than real sci-fi. More "Star Wars" than "Star Trek" as it were.

The characteristics and availability of unobtanium are defined by its role as a plot device rather than by any kind of real science.

That fact would have bothered me 20 or 30 years ago, but unfortunately now it's just par for the course for big-budget Hollywood blockbusters.

rewinn said...

By pure coincidence, I read OP just after belatedly reading "Island In The Sea Of Time", and was struck by the similarity in their argument about technological primitives. Attributing romantic virtues to them is a highly attractive proposition but probably not helpful when it comes to solving actual problems; as the native american side of my family sometimes points out, it's also a classic excuse for not doing the difficult and messy work of actually trying to understand what they want and need.

IRL I'm an optimistic progressive; much as I would like to, I can't deny that the Fairy-Tale Legion is usually no help at all. Sometimes all you can do is hand them a shovel and say, "You can lecture me all you want about historical trends, as long as you're shovelling compost while you're at it."

As for Avatar specifically and fiction in general, it seems to me that romanticizing the exotic is massively entertaining, regardless of the underlying politics. This may be why Hunger Games is proposed by both Left and Right as an argument for their ideology: by neatly poses the romantic hero("heroine" if you insist...) against a Big Bad Government that (A) can be hated by all sides but (B) doesn't actually exist, it lets us have our Two Minute Hate without the inconvenience of having to actually solve the underlying problem. All the romance; none of the effort!

Such romances wouldn't be a problem if they didn't lead to confusing them with actually solving problems.

locumranch said...

Interesting that Dr. Brin used the terms 'renaissance' and "enlightenment' to refer our current period of intellectual exploration.

The term 'Renaissance', which literally means 'rebirth', refers to a time period immediately following the Big Black Death, when all pre-existing social & technological conventions were swept aside by the cataclysmic extermination of more than 50% of the European population.

In this sense, the term 'Renaissance' can be considered dystopian in the extreme, just as the term 'Enlightment' can only be used to describe a time period that immediately follows a depressingly 'Dark' Age.

Best.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Tim, our family are all dyed in the wool Trekkers. We are even considering an expedition to Jordan if the Star Trek theme park actually gets off the ground there. It would have been about the ONLY reason I might have considered a return visit to Vegas, aside from the annual JREF meeting. It's sad that it never came to pass, considering how many people around the world appreciate Star Trek's realistic optimism (warp drive and transporters aside).

TheMadLibrarian

derha mendspe -- traditional Andorian beverage

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

Interesting that Dr. Brin used the terms 'renaissance' and "enlightenment' to refer our current period of intellectual exploration.


Dr Brin has written before (most particularly in "Foundation's Triumph" of what he termed "renaissance worlds" being doomed to spectacularly flame out. It's one area where my sympathies tend to be against his stalwart protagonists who are charged with strangling such movements in their cradles. I always want the renaissances to succeed, no matter the consequences!

Robert said...

Why would the Renaissance be considered dystopian? Compared to what came before, it was actually a period of improvement for Western civilization in a number of ways. Likewise, the Enlightenment was a period of scientific advancement in that this was emphasized, despite the fact the "Dark Ages" had scientific advancements of their own that were not as well documented due to the fragmented nature of civilization and nation-states during that period of time.

Rob H.

Robert said...

I also have to say I would love to see Dr. Brin write a sequel to his Foundation novel, set after Asimov's "Foundation and Earth," in which the Foundation has to deal with the appearance of Chaos Worlds once more. I especially would love to see the Recording of Hari Sheldon explain about the Chaos Worlds of the Galactic Empire and how they couldn't find a cure... and his belief that the Foundation would find a cure due to its advances in technology and the drive of its people. (Especially if the resistance of some people to Chaos, and the majority of those being on Terminus, has bred true.)

But then again, I always thought that the greatest threat the Foundation could face would not be of Chaos... or of extra-galactic aliens... but from humanity itself... from alternative dimensional human explorers.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

I also have to say I would love to see Dr. Brin write a sequel to his Foundation novel, set after Asimov's "Foundation and Earth,"...


One of the failings (to me, anyway) of the post-Asimov trilogy (of which Dr Brin's was the final book) and even of Asimov's own late revisitings of the "Foundation" series was that they all took place around the lifetime of Hari Seldon. Which meant, as you just said, that the roughly 500 years following the essentially-cliffhanger ending of "Foundation and Earth" is simply never seen.


...in which the Foundation has to deal with the appearance of Chaos Worlds once more. I especially would love to see the Recording of Hari Sheldon explain about the Chaos Worlds of the Galactic Empire and how they couldn't find a cure... and his belief that the Foundation would find a cure due to its advances in technology and the drive of its people. (Especially if the resistance of some people to Chaos, and the majority of those being on Terminus, has bred true.)


You should write that book! :)


But then again, I always thought that the greatest threat the Foundation could face would not be of Chaos... or of extra-galactic aliens... but from humanity itself... from alternative dimensional human explorers.


Oy, you had me till you lost me.

To me, the "Foundation" series more than just about any other sci-fi series is strictly ABOUT humanity. Non-humanoid aliens, extradimensionals, and time travelers simply don't belong. I know it's just me, but I don't want to read stories in other genres set in the Foundation universe. I want more "Foundation" stories.

David Brin said...

1- I have some scenes from EXISTENCE  that might do well on Tor.com. Possibly the scenes with Mei -Ling fleeing to Shanghai Disneyland. Especially if I add a little.

2- It's pretty clear there are nests of SF fans at both Jon Stewart's DAILY SHOW and the Colbert Report. 

Especially John Hodgeman on Daily Show recently did a whole riff on Philip K Dick and George RR Marti. Also, Stewart had Greg Bear on, a few years ago.  Having said that, you should know that they almost never have fiction authors. That was an exception. 

Avatar... those floating island things... aren't THEY made of antigravity stuff?

"Can't think of any examples from the fourth quadrant, which would have to be stories where we're rooting against the enlightenment side but they win anyway."

That might be Dances With Wolves, right? Little Big Man? Almost any modern Injun Pitcha

bobsandiego said...

Ahh Dr. Brin, John Hodgeman shortly after the 2008 election had a presentation/routine where he comapred Bush rupports as Jocks and Obama supporters as A/V geeks. He then compared oabma to the Kwisatz Haderach and at the scattered clapping and laughter remarked that those people had just 'outed' themselves.
BTW it was a pleasure sharing a pnale with you at Condor 2012.

Lars said...

Dr. Brin, Diamond's book Collapse doesn't get a fair hearing here. He gives examples of civilizations which degraded their environmental bases and collapsed as a result. But he doesn't say that all societies that proceeded ours followed this trajectory, and he gives examples of some which achieved long-term sustainability.
As for "renunciatory ecological fascism" - well, I thought better of you. Sounds like the sort of stick used by cornucopians to beat anyone who even suggests that unrestricted human growth might not be the best of all possible things for us and our descendants. Unfair to Diamond, and it doesn't even take a careful reading of the last chapters of his book to see this. As for Ehrlich, he has written on environmental issues since the publication of The Population Bomb, and his views are far more nuanced, and far more reality-based, than those of most of his knee-jerk denigrators. He certainly deserves better than to be referred to as one of "the truest heirs of Cotton Mather"

sociotard said...

I hope that's where "The Hunger Games" ends up as well, because I want to like it.

I really wish blogger had spoiler tags, because I'd love to discuss the book's ending.

LarryHart said...

sociotard, I was actually referring to the Hunger Games TRILOGY when I said that. I know how the first book ends (at least how the movie ends), and I see it as a first hint that the good guys can score points. That they have "scored their first victory against the evil [non]-Galactic Empire", as it were.

Jumper said...

More expensive "Ferngully" wasn't it? Didn't I read that here some time back?

sociotard said...

I was talking about the trilogy as well. Do you know how the 3rd book ends?

David Brin said...

In case any of you happen to be in the San Diego area April 29, I'll be speaking about Who's Afraid of the Singularity at TedX DelMar.  http://www.facebook.com/#!/EnvisioningTranshumanity


"I also have to say I would love to see Dr. Brin write a sequel to his Foundation novel, set after Asimov's "Foundation and Earth," in which the Foundation has to deal with the appearance of Chaos Worlds once more."

Funny you should mention this. I just read a piece of fan-written fiction that's about half of the novel you are looking for. If the guy improves at the rate he's going, there may someday be something consistent and well -enough written...

David Brin said...

Lars, I appreciate your defense of Jared Diamond. Indeed, do you see me doing anything other than urging everybody, in all directions and repeatedly, to get his book, read it and let him speak for himself?

On the other hand, I think I am right on target about his grouchiness. Look at the societies he idolizes as ideal role models... the Japanese Tokugawa Shogunate and Polynesian Tikopeaia... both of them among the most ferociously oppressive, fascistic states in human annals. One of them banished all progress and the WHEEL! The other would club you to death if you cut a tree without permission.

He and Ehrlich have performed innumerable polemical excesses and diminished their own credibility, handing over to the mad right excuses to degrade the credibility of ALL progressive, world-saving efforts. We deserved better from them.

SteveO said...

I think Hunger Games (the trilogy) is mostly about the terrible effect of violence on children culturally habituated to violence. It is also partly a "self-preventing" prophecy, I think.

At a third level (minor spoiler ahead), there is the "and we can take it back" plot, but it follows the more historically typical (and less uplifting) direction of revolutions, as opposed to the historically unusual American experiment. It is what might have happened if the American revolutionaries did not have the Enlightenment to guide them. And given that education in the novel seems to have totally obliterated the Enlightenment and the old US by design, probably a realistic extrapolation.

Alex Tolley said...

In 50 years the "right" has gone from conservative to radical, and the "left" has gone conservative.

What we need is rational discourse to decide issues, not sound bites and epithets. As you say, technology can help, but we should be rational about it's capability, neither steering towards the "magic bullet fix" nor denying new technology as the 2 order effects are unknown.

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

I was talking about the trilogy as well. Do you know how the 3rd book ends?


No. I only know the film. My daughter read the first book, and is currently in the middle of the second one.

sociotard said...

I'm reminded of a Piers Anthony novel, where A human space fleet and an Alien space fleet leave to do battle with each other, then pass each other. Each conquers the other's world to enact the tough reforms necessary to save each.

I think that a stable future might require a horrible, brutal, oppressive government, the way the Dominican Republic was saved by a dictator by preserving its trees.

Of course, those same dictators did a lot of oppression just to stay in power, plus a lot of theft to line their own pockets. And many oligarchies did the oppression without the conservation.

Even so, the truth is that we will not avoid the coming ecological apocolypse without a great deal of pain.

StrawBrin: No, we can do research, and the new technology will make us efficient

Irrelevant. Making something more efficient does nothing if consumption is allowed to increase to match it. You have often railed against the insatiability of Kleptocrats, but that same insatiability applies to everybody.

If we have super-efficient cars, people will drive more. Urban Sprawl is slowing down
now because gas is expensive and commuting is becoming prohibitive. Give us efficient cars and watch that trend reverse. Likewise, the common man is doing less leisure travel and not going as far to do it. A long car trip with friends is growing rarer by the year for young adults today.

So, by all means, step up the R&D and bring on the efficiency. Unless there is oppression, our consumption will rise to match. Perhaps that oppression will be kept minimal, with taxes being used to keep consumption low.

It'll still hurt. The family that lives in an apartment and wants to live in a house with the yard will chafe at its circumstances. That family will want more, more, ever more, and it will know that only those taxes and restrictions revent them from having just that.

That family will resent the Al Gores and Dennis Kuciniches that recognized the need to live on less and curb lifestyle, but don't have to do so themselves because they are wealthy. So, what's to stop those teeming insatiable masses from voting out farsighted repressive saviors of humanity and doing away with their oppressive salvation?

Brutality. Oligarchy. End of freedom.

Even that won't really be enough. Even if we started off with farsighted conservationist oligarchs (HAH!), we'd eventually get a crop that only cared about infighting and theft and oppression. And then the conservation will go away, and the ecopolypse will come.

There's really no avoiding it.

Lars said...

You forgot to mention that he had good things to say about Balaguer's Dominican Republic. Or at least, he did not gibber with outrage every time he mentioned it, which many on the anti-environmental right take to indicate approval of this tin-pot fascist state and its dreadful human rights record. Actually, a careful reading of the text suggests that Diamond is examining societies that, no matter how off-putting in other ways, no matter how indifferent to our ideas of justice, progress, intellectual freedom etc., no matter what oppressive, reactionary hellholes they may be, still manage to get it right when it comes to sustainability. And he is as even-handed when he examines societies that, whatever their virtues, don't get it right. In his final chapters, what he is concerned with is how our society can learn from these lessons without paying the costs that these previous societies paid, either for ecological stability or because they didn't value and understand it. Without, in other words, turning into dreary ecological fascisms (God, is there such a thing? Non-discretionary birdwatching every day, I suppose. Spot a lark for The Party).
Grouchy? He's an ecologist, a real one, I mean - not some unwashed whole-earth type, or the sort of red-blooded type who wants to keep lots of deer around so his kids can become red-blooded as well by shooting them, but a professional who has been publishing in the peer-reviewed literature for decades. As one who works professionally in that field as well, I can tell you that his work is considered to be of very high quality, and that he has managed to maintain this high quality in both his field work and his theoretical work, a difficult balance to maintain. And he, and people with his experience and knowledge, are constantly coming up against the idea that anyone who knows something about ecology has nothing to contribute to any debate about environmental issues, and should probably be run down as supporting repressive governments, or desiring to return us all to the Stone Age, or (my favourite) hating people, as well. So maybe he has a right to sound a bit tetchy. To be honest with you, I envy him his sense of optimism.
I know that you are urging people to read Diamond - you've shown time and again that you believe in examining the evidence. But I think that it's far too easy to dismiss people such as Diamond, and there are far too many, certainly in the SF community, who seem to consider it to be a doubleplusgood demonstration of intellectual soundness. All clear-minded independent thinkers, of course, trotting along in ideological lockstep. There's the real danger, to my way of thinking.

Tony Fisk said...

Sociotard, what you refer to is called the 'rebound effect' (aka 'Jevon's Paradox') It is real, but does *NOT* negate efficiency improvements through technology. This was being tried on by some efficiency opponents last year.. seems they've moved on to conspiracies about a new world (ie sosh-uhr-leest!) order

but that same insatiability applies to everybody. No, the majority of people do have a satiation limit.

There are several examples of oligarchic privilege inadvertently causing a conservation measure (Flannery cites a couple: Pere David's deer, preserved on the walled estate of a Chinese noble family, the PNG echidna: damn good tucker that was reserved for the top chiefs... until the missionaries arrived) It is a minor side-effect, though. If they were preserving eco-systems, OTOH...

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, I can give a counter example...
Sub-saharan Africa has been often described as a desert in waiting as the Sahara marches south. Government initiatives backed by UN have proved fruitless, and in the end they gave up.

So the locals, free from interference form above, started replanting trees. Surprise! Soil erosion slowed, and crop yields started going up.

Ian Gould said...

"One of them banished all progress and the WHEEL!" - David Brin

Not so much:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangaku#Steam_engines

David Brin said...

Sociotard you are taking your turn as top cynic. The Dutch and Japanese are more efficient that Americans by far and have NOT upped consumption to match. US cars ARE getting more efficient as driving has gone down.

Lars, Diamond clearly considers sustainability to only be achievable via limitation of democratic values and choice. But it is only in enlightenment democracies that words like "sustainability" were invented and embraced by millions. The possibility of moving forward by turning those millions into billions simply does not occur to the grouches.

Ian, I was aware of Rangaku and it seems impressive at first sight. Heck... any people who could make a steamship just two years after seeing their first ones (in 1855) are terribly impressive, and I speak of the Meiji Era adaptability in SUNDIVER!

Nevertheless, the behavior of the first two Tokugawa shoguns is exactly as I described... and it is the period that Jared Diamond holds up as an example-prescription for humanity.

locumranch said...

Cycling from death to enlightenment to darkness and rebirth,few writers have done a better job addressing the intrinsic connection that exists between civilization and dystopia than R. A. Lafferty did in 'Past Master', a tale of a golden utopian planet called Astrobe which hides a dark, corrupt and rotten core that can only produce seeds of golden light.


Lafferty was (is) one of the few great scifi authors who has dared to take the human heart where the enlightened mind has feared to go. Insightfully rude and elegantly mad, he possesses a wicked sense of humour. If you haven't read him, then your mind is poorer for it.

And a mechanical mind is a terrible thing to taste.

Best.

sociotard said...

No, the majority of people do have a satiation limit.

Citation or it didn't happen.

The only satiation I have observed comes clumped as economic strata; a person may be satisfied when they have successfully kept up with their neighbors (one reason insatiability seems more prevalent among the uber rich)

However, the neighbor benchmark keeps moving. Look at home size! Average in the US was 983 in 1950, 1400 in 1970, and 2700 in 2009. Just think of the energy savings if we lived in the same sized houses that were just fine for our grandfathers!

Unfortunately, people can't be satisfied. Not in bulk, anyway. One person might be satisfied with their house, but their class will crave more as a herd, always pushing for moremoremore. Bigger house! More yard! More rural! (what, all those people moving out to the rural place made it less rural? move further!)

Now we have some pushback. High gas prices are moving people back into smaller houses packed denser closer to the city. If we get better efficiency, watch it reverse.

duncan cairncross said...

Locum said -

"Cycling from death to enlightenment to darkness and rebirth,few writers have done a better job addressing the intrinsic connection that exists between civilization and dystopia than R. A. Lafferty did in 'Past Master', a tale of a golden utopian planet called Astrobe which hides a dark, corrupt and rotten core that can only produce seeds of golden light."

Back to your ZERO SUM GAME

In the real world some of us are working for positive sum games

I hate the - if its going well there MUST be rot at the core attitude

Was it Robert looking for Foundation Novels?

I would recommend Donald Kingsbury's Psychohistorical Crisis

In fact I would recommend everything he has written

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Sociotard

There has been a ton of work done on satiability

One of the clearest descriptions is Maslow's

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

And some recent work done on the insatiability of the "upper crust"

Besides - more is only better for a while - coming from the UK I wanted some land to spread out on (small UK houses, small sections)

I now have 7 acres - guess what its 6 acres too much!

sociotard said...

Sociotard you are taking your turn as top cynic.
I lost my job and it makes me grouchy. If you know a spot for an entry level chemical engineer I'd be obliged.

The Dutch and Japanese are more efficient that Americans by far and have NOT upped consumption to match.

Both have other constraints on consumption. Heavy taxes on gas keep people from commute heavy lifestyles. High land prices keep people from buying bigger and bigger houses.

US cars ARE getting more efficient as driving has gone down.
Cars are not gaining efficiency as fast as fuel prices are climbing. (Passenger car 33.8 mpg vs 28.8 mpg 2011 to 2001, and $3.27/gal to $2.00 over the same frame. That gives 10.3 miles per dollar in 2011 and 14.4 miles per dollar in 2001)

So yes, you can drive down consumption at the same time efficiency goes up if there are other factors (expanding population, fewer discoveries) that keep the price going up. All things being equal, efficiency will lead to greater consumption.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

"Can't think of any examples from the fourth quadrant, which would have to be stories where we're rooting against the enlightenment side but they win anyway."

That might be Dances With Wolves, right? Little Big Man? Almost any modern Injun Pitcha


Hmmmm, I'll have to think about that one. DWW as a version of "Avatar" where the military-industrial complex side gets their way? Ok, it looks as if you have something there.

Are DWW and its ilk also adjacent to the "1984" quadrant? In "1984", Winston has an enlightenment sensibility and he's crushed by the evil "We're an empire now" government. To be "fourth quadrant", we'd still be rooting for Winston, but he'd be the romanticist savage and Oceania would be recognizable as our own civilization. That does seem to fit "Dances With Wolves". It also seems that this is where "Brave New World" fits into the picture, at least if one considers the Savage as the protagonist to root for and the one who loses. The recognized protagonist of that book, Bernard Marx, seems motivated mainly from cowardice, therefore bypassing both enlightenment-ism and romanticism. And the government of "Brave New World" may not have looked like "us" when the book was written, but it sure does now. So I wasn't sure where that book fell in my four quadrant system.

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

I lost my job and it makes me grouchy. If you know a spot for an entry level chemical engineer I'd be obliged.


Sorry to hear that. I mentioned before that I was outsourced, and I ended up taking (essentially) my old job from the outsourcing company. I didn't especially want to do it that way, and a very vocal part of me feels as if I failed a character test by not taking an obvious hint from the universe to move on.

But they offered a surprisingly-good compensation package (I was expecting to be lowballed) and I was not in a position (family-wise) to say "no" to continued employment and health coverage in this economy.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I think the standing joke was in referring to Avatar as Dances with Smurfs.

TheMadLibrarian

ecurr offou: French tripe curry

LarryHart said...


I think the standing joke was in referring to Avatar as Dances with Smurfs.


Because I have a daughter of the right age, I've been forced to sit through the new "Smurfs" movie as well as the new "Muppets" movie. As an adult who lived through the years when both concepts were popular, I find these films so depressing that they make "Avatar" look optimistic in comparison.

As kiddie concepts, both "The Muppet Show" and "The Smurfs" were supposed to be fun. Both movies make the point that their respective concepts no longer work in the real world. And they make you sit through a feature-length movie whose theme is that such a feature-length movie is pointless.

Paul451 said...

Hmmm, so to save Avatar, the Na'vi must be a post-singularity society? And the goddess "Eywa" is an AI...

Which makes Unobtainium a form of technology, a component or remnant of the singularity. Beyond nano-tech; pico-tech, atto-tech. Which is why it's found nowhere else. And the Na'vi, the smurfs, are the child stage of the immortal post-singularity "Adults" (collectively, Eywa). Tribal because that's the most fun/educational kind of society. The rituals, the sacred tree, the fighting, even the worship of Eywa, all just unstructured play that children engage in to explore ideas of fairness and empathy and loss. The humans are just a group of new children visiting, creating a new game: interplanetary war.

We, the audience, don't know this yet. So the second film has Sully learning to use Pandora's eco-magic, raising a child, and being frustrated by the Na'vi's refusal to develop advanced weapons (from captured human equipment) to prepare for the inevitable return of the humans. Meanwhile, on decaying Earth, political and eventually physical battles rage between the pro-mining faction and the protect-the-poor-Na'vi faction.

The third film reaches its three-way climactic battle, the two human factions and the Na'vi. Sully discovers a method of using the Pandoran magic to destroy the entire human fleet, but he has the growing realisation that the Na'vi don't really die; some of the previously killed come back. Explaining this to Sully (and the audience) leads the Na'vi "children" to realise that humans can't come back. Death is permanent. The Na'vi's loses were pretend, "bang! you're dead!", but the losses they caused were real. And Sully realises that had he understood the true nature of the Na'vi, he would have been able to do what he was sent to do, negotiate for the Unobtainium needed by Earth. And everyone is suitably appalled.

The Na'vi children decide to "withdraw" (physically die) back to the AI collective, to allow the humans to have Pandora and the Unobtainium. Neytiri is angry with Sully, "You made us murderers". Neytiri's mother (several "lives" older and wiser), reassures Sully that she will forgive him eventually. The "Adults", Eywa, wanted the Na'vi to discover their mistake on their own, to experience real loss. However, Sully cannot join them for now, nor remain a smurf; he is expelled back to his (recreated) human body. He is being sent back to Earth to uplift the rest of humanity, and the third film ends with him back on Earth teaching a group of humans (some of the anti-mining faction) how to use the unobtainium as the Na'vi use it.

Does that work?

Tacitus2 said...

"Because I have a daughter of the right age, I've been forced to sit through the new "Smurfs" movie as well as the new "Muppets" movie."

LarryH..so sorry to hear that. Nobody should have to endure the NewSmurfs, and the Muppets were a pale shadow of themselves. For the well being of your soul, avoid the new Three Stooges flick.

Ah, but the things we do for our children are many. You are a good dad.

Tacitus

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2,

Thank GOD she seems totally uninterested in seeing the new Stooges movie. I'm not a fan of the Stooges anyway, but even so I can see (by the trailers) that they're going to do the concept great injustice.

Because of my daughter, I also had to sit through "Yogi Bear" and "Chipwrecked". On the other hand, had it not been for her, I would never have gone to the delightful Pixar film "Up" or "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", or for that matter "Mulan" and "Aladdin". All of those were much better experiences than I had been dreading...I mean expecting. So sometimes, it evens out.

Rob said...

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" has the beneficial side effect of properly contextualizing Star Wars.

It's a cartoon for kids, folks, enjoyable only at that level (and very enjoyable *at* that level). Nothing else to see here, move on...

LarryHart said...

Rob:

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" has the beneficial side effect of properly contextualizing Star Wars.

It's a cartoon for kids, folks...


My daughter was maybe five years old when she insisted on seeing the film in the theater. Now, at twice that age, she remembers none of it. But every once in a while, she and her cousins still play a game they call "Two-year-old Master", without a clue as to what the reference is.

:)

David Brin said...

Duncan, Don Kingsbury is a great (if quirky) guy whose writing is a bit dense, but rewarding to the intellectual & patient.

Of course people should read Lafferty. I knew him. Strange & amazing fellow. "Nine Million Grandmothers" proves that he wrote straight out of his dreams... and ours.

A RIFF ON MASLOWE'S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS

"One of the clearest descriptions is Maslow's 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

I agree... though with cavils that add sophistication to Maslow. Movement along his slope requires certain conditions... not only SATIATION of lower level needs and desires, but also PREDICTABLE PERSISTENCE of satiation... in other words, a firm inner confidence that lower level crises won't recur.

If you starved often as a kid, it may be hard - even 50 years later - to take American abundance for granted, Hoarding by such elderly immigrants can even get worse with time. When you are eighty, your memories from 70 years ago can be more vivid than those from breakfast.

Another requirement is CULTURE that is friendly to movement along the Maslovian slope. A culture that despises curiosity and innovation may make it difficult to rise up to the "novelty" plateau.

Moreover, both cultures and individuals vary widely in the trait of SATIABILITY which is a whole different factor. How easily you can say "enough"... which is also related to your likelihood to suffer from an addiction.

My own contribution has been to relate Maslovian levels to HORIZONS of time, threat, curiosity, inclusion, exogamy etc. These horizons tend to spread outward as fear levels decline. Especially inclusion, as former "others" get included in the firelight of being considered fellow tribesman or human beings.

This process of horizon expansion is one of the defining traits of liberalism... and when it becomes an obsession, preached with ranting fury, then you get today's modern version of manic left-ism. (The left wasn't always hyper-inclusional!)

Today, the manic left's PC message is "expand your inclusion horizons relentlessly or I'll denounce you as an awful person!"

One defining trait of the right - beside being the depressive side of political bipolar disease, and focusing on three of Haidt's morality imperatives (purity and authority and in-group loyalty) - is that conservatives fear and despise the left's relentless hectoring! Their guilt tripping shouts to "expand your inclusion horizons relentlessly or I'll denounce you as an awful person!"

The left would have us denounce and reject all the old loyalties and former maslovian drives and make inclusion the sole priority! Race, gender, Earth, poorpeople, animals...

The right clings to old assurances and horizons. MY race, MY town, MY old ways... and FUCK those hippies trying to guilt trip me!

Liberals wince over both manias. They are loyal to the gradual, but relentless expansion of horizons while remaining firmly rooted in those older loyalties and institutions that proved healthy and supportive of our climb up Maslowe's hierarchy of needs.

David Brin said...

Guys! Spread the word that we'd love to help a young chemical engineer (Sociotard) get a great job! Geez. What kind of nation wouldn't be bursting with opportunities for that kind of guy.

Larryhart, Brave New World is a queer beast. A disgusting world, by our standards... and not immoral or stupid, by theirs. The hyper-alphas are raised without conditioning and free to argue any point they want. If they became abrasive or provocative in their argumentation, they are sent to islands where they can continue arguing and even do small social experiments.

It is a pain-free society that is capable of changing its mind, later on, and probably will. That makes it the diametric opposite of 1984. A loathsome opposite! A point that I would make in both societies. In one I would vanish within five minutes. In the other I'd spend 50 years surfing and writing and gradually winning converts to a better way.

Oh, ask the EARTH which it would prefer, Huxley or Orwell.

MADLibrarian" It its "Dancing with very very very very very very tall smurfs."

I think I left out some "verys".

David Brin said...

Paul451 - I absolutely love your notion for AVATAR sequels! It makes perfect sense... it is dramatic and yet mind-expanding... and there's no way Cameron will do it. ALAs! But may I store it and possibly use in in that long delayed article? you could email me your real name for attribution, via http://www.davidbrin.com

===

Tacitus welcome back... have you seen the three stooges flick? How was your journey?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Larryhart, Brave New World is a queer beast. A disgusting world, by our standards... and not immoral or stupid, by theirs. The hyper-alphas are raised without conditioning and free to argue any point they want. If they became abrasive or provocative in their argumentation, they are sent to islands where they can continue arguing and even do small social experiments.

It is a pain-free society that is capable of changing its mind, later on, and probably will. That makes it the diametric opposite of 1984...


I read both books in high school, already knowing they had similar themes. Because I read "1984" first, my reaction to "Brave New World" was along the lines of "What's so bad about THAT world?"

As I get older, I have more sympathy for the view that it sucks the soul out of individuals. Human beings as unflagging cogs in a world-machine is not really a utopia. Yet the book is quite nuanced in its presentation of why things are that way. Mustapha Mond is no chortling James Bond villain. One of the early chapters (I believe it is chapter 4 but it might be something else close to that) is from Mond's point of view, describing how the earth's population has grown from 1 billion to (gasp!) 2 billion since the beginnings of the industrial revolution--"since the wheels began turning"--and how the wheels may never stop or even falter without killing a billion people.

In fact, I put Mustapha Mond right up there with your Holnists in the category of "realistically-developed three-dimensional villains." And having read "Sundiver" twice, I already knew you have a bit of respect for Huxley's world.

David Brin said...

onward....

Ian said...

To return to our ealier discussion about parasites that alter their host's behaviour:

Researchers have identified variants of the genes for receptors for the hormones Oxycotin and Vasopressin that appear to predispose people to being "nice".

http://www.buffalo.edu/news/13340

The key wrod is "predispose" since as the researchers point out experiences can override that predisposition.

Now, imagine drugs or a virus that alter the expression of the genes in question.

Damien Sullivan said...

Brave New World also has the claim "we tried a pure Alpha society, and it went boom"; thus AuthorFiat closes out the most obvious ideal alternative.

That said, even with a friendly hedonistic view, the society seems rather tawdry.

Also, shades of _Cyteen_.


As for environmentalism and the left and optimism and whatnot... sustainability may not take dictatorship, but it seems clear to me that it takes strong governance, whether by a formal government or very strong social norms. And there's a basic conflict with market libertarianism, as you have to make sure externalities are accounted for with taxes and regulation -- and be able to cope with your probable failure to get them all up front -- as well as to counteract our tendency to discount the future. You can still have markets -- heck, my first act as dictator would be raising fossil carbon and water and pollution taxes while relaxing the more onerous regulations about specific usage -- but you need a government.

And for world sustainability, you need world governance. We managed it with CFCs and the ozone layer, so we can do it. But it's sure not easy.

And of course large democracies are very recent, so any past example of sustained environmental policies is probably going to have to be authoritarian, because that and near anarchy were the only games around.

David Brin said...

I'll answer in the next comments section...


onward

CJ said...

LarryHart wrote, about the movie Avatar:

Also, the evil military commander ended up reduced to a horror movie cliche--the monster who just keeps on coming no matter what is thrown at it until some deux ex machina at the end FINALLY finishes it off--after one last "surprise" comeback, of course.

To put it mildly, Larry. What's more, he was remarkably similar to the paranoid military character Coffey in Cameron's 1989 movie The Abyss, who attempts to destroy an underwater alien civilization with a nuclear bomb. Cameron's attitudes haven't evolved much.

ZZMike said...

In what way is "Hunger Games" science-fiction? It isn't about the impact of science or technology on life, it's about the effect of totalitarianism and big government on life.

Just like "1984" and "Animal Farm".

I think one commentor gets it right: "... we send our children to war in part for the news orgs to report something next to an ad."

Except that we don't send children. We send young warriors.

John57 said...

Paul451, your take on Avatar sequels is deeply disturbing. While one can critique the romanticization of early cultures, coming up with sci-fi storylines like yours that effectively just switch things around to justify genocide is a horrible thing. What has not been mentioned was that the people of earth messed their own planet up. Earth was dying because human beings allowed it to. What if alien creatures came to earth? Should we be required to trade with them? Let's say they were hugely technologically advanced, but we did not like their culture or their moral system? While I agree that we need more complex storylines, if what we're advocating is storylines that essentially say the deaths of native people are not as "real" or as "valuable" as technologically advanced people then I am not on board and I am deeply, deeply concerned that this is something that would be considered great and so much more complex than the current storylines. It's simply a kneejerk reaction that puts us on the opposite side. It doesn't take us to the rich complexity of these questions. Here's the thing: when native people die they are really DEAD. Let's deal with it and then tell that story of how we negotiate the clash of cultures.