Sunday, November 07, 2004

science friction

nehemiah scudder. someone on ginmar's livejournal mentioned him in a recent comment. she didn't know who he was, and it only rang the vaguest bell with me -- yet another thing i should know, but really don't.

he is a character from heinlein, him what brought religious rule to the united states. who believed himself above the rule of law b/c he was god's chosen leader. from what i've learned, he never actually appears in a heinlein story as a character; he is only referred to, as in stranger in a strange land and some other things, "if this goes on-" and "coventry."

it made me think. not only about the spectre of theocracy rising (although, ha ha! rove is already backing away from giving the religious right credit for winning bush the election), but also, more broadly, about the truth and insight contained in speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. i have always loved such stories, mainly b/c of the way they illuminate our own world. sometimes they cast a different light on history, other times you find relevance for our own times, or for the future. often my favorite tales are suffused with the author's own delightfully novel perspective and/or personality: from harlan ellison to philip k. dick to mick farren to howard chaykin to brian k. vaughan. but more than that ... you know how people point to science fiction as a sort of proof that anything humans can imagine, can exist? like how jules verne "invented" a submarine (or was it da vinci?), or how spaceflight was envisioned long before it was enacted. what's amazing is not just that people could attempt something that was previously only imagined, but that they could succeed in making it actually happen.

the social/political aspects of speculative fiction seem to work the same way. it's obvious -- we talk about orwell and 1984 so much now. kerry even referenced them during the debates. even the dark "history" (which is closer to our own reality) of the idyllic sphere of "star trek," full of hints at nuclear conflagration and DNA atrocities and all sorts of bleak shit endured on the path to a more utopian universe. (which, of course, still has tons of problems.) i never really equated the two types of predictions before, never really considered that, if it's likely we can make a rocket go into space once we've imagined it (however long it takes from concept to execution), the same may also be said of the governments and societies we conjure up. for better or worse.

er, i'm not saying that humanity's fiction-writing visionaries have been creating hell on earth with their bleak stories (although that would be a fun concept to explore ... and someone doubtless already has) ... just that they have been startlingly able to extrapolate from what feels like a far-distant point. eh, i suppose it's not that incredible to imagine a megalomaniac arising and bringing the world under his sway via some sort of rigid belief system. you just have to know your history and be able to see the signs. after all, the masses are always willing to follow ... or they can always be convinced to.

i'm not sure where i'm going with this, except to say i feel like i'm starting to crystallize a response to the reality of bush having a second term. i don't think i can lead anything, but i don't have to follow, either. i plan to pay better attention to as much more of everything as i can. try to stay as vulcan as possible, be cold and logical. let the anger turn into fuel to keep me going. speak out at all times. never let a lie pass unchallenged, even if it's only to strengthen my understanding of my own position. i feel like i have a good basis for my beliefs, and that they are generally enlightened and altruistic and hopeful -- despite my tendencies to expect the worst, i still wish it didn't have to be that way. (hence, "star trek" fan.) but i want to be better able to articulate my position, which i don't think is always the case. i'm smart, but lazy, as they say, and i could coast forever on that combination. but it's not good enough anymore, for reasons running the gamut from personal to political.

mostly, i don't want to despair. which means not expecting victory or change, but only to fight b/c fighting is the right thing to do. the expectation of instant gratification is very damaging; i do sense a current of "we worked sooooo hard and we still lost!" whinginess amid the genuine dismay on our side, and that's just self-pity, a luxury we cannot afford. this struggle goes beyond one election, one party, or even one nation or, perhaps, planet. what we are fighting, and what we believe in -- justice, tolerance, equality, enlightenment -- belong to a larger realm.

if events unfold slowly, taking longer than a lifetime, and even if they happen to march inexorably toward dystopia, we have to keep the long view in mind. it sounds dramatic to think like this, but in a certain way i feel like i've been seeing this coming since i was a teenager during the reagan years. (and yeah, i ask myself, what the fuck did i do to try to change it, huh? not bloody nearly enough, it would seem.) the choices we make today do affect the future -- and these choices being made by this population seem to be leading us into a darker world. if that's to be the near future, then what we're seeing now will only get worse in our lifetime. maybe it won't be "fixed" any time soon, no matter what we try to do to change things. maybe tyranny will rule for generations. (in a way, we're lucky, then, b/c we won't see how bad it's going to get. we will only see how bad it becomes.) and still we have to find a way to continue the fight, keep alive our principles and perpetuate them. to not let the victors -- who usually write history -- write us out or misrepresent us.

there's a lot more on my mind, but if i don't post this now i'm going to end up blathering forever. one more, very important point, however: i resolve to fill my flask. but, what to put in it? i'm a gin drinker, although i like irish whiskey too. yet somehow brandy or cognac would seem more appealing. it's a quandary. suggestions are welcome.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

I've had the idea of a real live Scudder-as-Bush in my head since we went to war. It's kind of frightening actually. FYI, the "Scudder-verse" is mentioned in several Heinlein books when discussing his myth-as-reality multiverses.

Oslowe was telling me a week or two ago that he wrote a short story back in college about the use of specialized mercs in modern warfare, something he thought he'd never see. But here we are in the present with it staring us in the face.

If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. Personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon.

Small batch bourbon always works for me, or oooh! Tequila! Viva la Revolution!