Introverted Delights

I’ve been watching Westworld. It’s my favorite show at the moment. That is saying a lot, considering it’s competition. The second season of The Man in the High Castle is about to come out, based on a novel I love by my favorite fiction writer. And the always entertaining Game of Thrones will be returning soon. But neither of those shows competes with Westworld.

Westworld is popular. But even though it has higher viewer ratings than Game of Thrones, it has much more mixed reviews. It’s such a complex show. The plotlines of Westworld are immensely more complicated than the sprawling narrative world of Game of Thrones. This makes it all the more impressive that it is so popular.

For some people, they see it as too cerebral. I wonder why that is. There is more emotional depth to this show in many ways than a show like Game of Thrones that is focused so much on physical action of fighting, on political machinations and worldly power. The inner experience of Westworld characters is conveyed to a much greater extent. Maybe that is what is difficult for some people, specifically extraverts.

Westworld, despite the outward action and adventure of the virtual world portrayed, is ultimately a show maybe best appreciated by an introvert. So many of the main characters on the show seem rather inwardly drawn and guarded about their most personal experience, which is unusual for mainstream action-oriented sci-fi. The point of the entire show revolves around growing self-awareness and the strengthening of an inner voice, the kind of thing that preoccupies introverts.

Some people wonder what is the point of all the convoluted plotlines, multitudinous cultural references, and in-show commentary of obscure ideas. Also, there is the simultaneous celebration and questioning of genre tropes. Is it embracing “guns and tits and all that mindless shit”? Or is the entire show a criticism of that, an exploration of what it means for our humanity? Maybe both. From my perspective, that just makes the show more interesting. But the basic show can be enjoyed on a much simpler level, even ignoring the sex and violence, as much of the character development is fairly straightforward. The motivation of characters is revealed as the show goes on, assuming enough imagination and curiosity pulls you in to follow the characters on their path of emergence.

The tricky part is that the identities of characters isn’t immediately apparent, only being revealed as their pasts are revealed. This is a slow reveal with glimpses of a murky past gradually coming into focus. The exploration of motivation is a learning experience as much for the characters themselves as for the viewers. We are meant to identify and empathize with the characters as individuals and not merely to be caught up in their actions and relationships with other characters.

This requires of the viewer both patience and immersion, along with suspension of disbelief about the entire fictional world. It’s an act of imaginative speculation taken to an extreme degree, an attempt to bring we the viewers into the borderlands of consciousness and of humanity. Some people have more tolerance than others for that kind of thing, but this is what the best sci-fi is able to achieve. That is what the producers of the Westworld show have been attempting, it being fair game to argue over how well they achieved it. Still, no matter how well done, these themes aren’t exactly of mainstream interest. Most viewers probably just want to see robots revolting and, for those folk, this show does deliver on that promise.

Still, Westworld is constrained by the sub-genre it belongs to. There is a central element of dark mystery and claustrophobic focus that is typical of gritty neo-noir, always leaving certain things unseen and unexplained. Take the slow burn of Blade Runner, exaggerate and complicate it, spread it across an entire show series with no linear plotline or single dominant protagonist, and that is what you get with Westworld. This isn’t a world-building exercise like some traditional fantasy and space operas where every detail is articulated and the background fully described. Everything in the narrative revolves around the characters and about what it means to be human.

This season introduced the individuals and their place in the world. The exploration of the larger world, if it is to happen, will be developed in the next season. The hosts, having gained consciousness, will no longer be trapped in voice commands, character scripts, and narrative loops. The inward focus likely will turn ever more outward, as the hosts try to grasp what kind of world they find themselves in. That is the natural progression of emerging consciousness, whether for a child or an android.

A Buffet of Stories

Here is a funny thing about major newspapers. It’s really about all MSM, but it is most apparent in newspapers where it is easy to flip around and quickly peruse numerous stories.

All of the MSM are known for having particular slants, besides the general bias of a mainstream mentality and echo chamber. Yet in any given newspaper there isn’t necessarily a consistency of views, between sections of a newspaper or even between authors in the same section. I’ve read articles that directly contradicted another article from a week before, either offering different evidence or interpretation, as if the writers don’t even read the newspapers they write for.

I found an example in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, from the same section A. I first read on page A11 the article “Why This Recovery Is So Lousy” by Phil Gramm and Michael Solon. They solely and entirely blame Obama with no mention of the previous administration or the Republican wins in 2010:

“In his capacity to implement his program, Mr. Obama stood as a colossus wth the fates on his side, the vast power of government at his disposal and no one—not Congress, the Supreme Court or the Federal Reserve—willing or able to deny his will. No resources were spared.”

(The comments section from the article, of course, makes for a more interesting read.)

Some pages back on A2, there is a less melodramatic article by Greg Ip, “Older Demographic Poses Double Whammy for Economy”. His piece is more narowly focused on a single set of data from a new research paper by Nicole Maestas, Kathleen Mullen, and David Powell. Ip describes the paper’s conclusion and implication:

“rapid retirement deprives companies of critical experience and knowledge, which undermines productivity across the entire economy. Demographics may thus be a critical factor in why the current economic expansion, which began as the first baby boomers qualified for Social Security, is the weakest on record.”

So which is the right explanation? Is it all Obama’s fault, taking the economy down single-handedly? Or should we blame the excessive number of old people selfishly retiring?

I don’t really care about scapegoating Obama or not. He is the president and obviously bears some responsibility. But there are obviously many factors involved, some unique to this period of history such as the long term consequences of a baby boom.

Anyway, the explanations themselves aren’t what interested me. It was just the oddity of two articles so close together with each seemingly oblivious to the view of the other. It amused me.

I sometimes have serious doubts that the purpose of the MSM is to inform the public. They are businesses, closer to the entertainment media than anything else, and so they need to make a profit. It’s the advertising that is the product and the stories are there to sell the product.

As such, each article tells a story, some slightly more substantial and others mere fluff. But it doesn’t matter if those stories present a consistent worldview or explain all of the available data. It’s like a buffet with many options. You take the story that fits your opinions and worldview while leaving the rest.

Meanwhile, the real money is being made by advertisers with proven records of influencing the buying habits of readers, although most readers think they are too savvy to be influenced, if they ever give it any thought. The articles are largely just distraction, not entirely unlike watching a mindless sitcom.

More Metaphors of Madness

I first likened being a US citizen to being run over by a car. I then used a simple comparison to describe the prospective presidencies in terms of the boiling frog scenario. Here are three more metaphors for your cynical amusement.

This one is a more detailed metaphor for the candidates this campaign season:

The body politic is ailing. Hillary Clinton is a symptom of the corruption that has compromised the immune system. Trump is a secondary illness like pneumonia that is potentially life threatening.

The secondary illness wouldn’t be dangerous if the immune system wasn’t already compromised and the patient were willing to seek medical treatment. But for some reason the ailing patient refuses to go to the doctor who is Sanders.

The mainstream media is the hospice worker administering pain drugs that puts the patient to sleep, as death nears. Then the patient’s eyes open and rallies some strength asking for something in a voice too quiet to understand, either asking for the doctor or Jesus.

Is all hope lost? Or can the patient still be saved?

The next metaphor is me being plain silly:

Clinton is a monkey in a banana experiment. The monkey’s hand is stuck in the hole, unable to get the banana out and unwilling to let go of the banana.

Sanders is the scientist observing the monkey and taking notes. The scientist goes on lunch break so as to eat his banana and peanut butter sandwich that he made himself.

Meanwhile, Trump is a banana plantation tycoon. He is inquiring about buying the laboratory where the experiment is happening, as he thinks that further banana research might be good for banana profits. He is also inquiring about maybe even buying an entire banana republic while he is at it.

The voting public sees a news report about the ongoing research. It makes them hungry for a banana.

And the best metaphor saved for last:

This campaign season is “Monte Python and the Holy Grail.” Clinton is King Arthur. The mainstream media is the guy following along making clopping noises with coconut shells. Trump is the Frenchman taunting King Arthur and his entourage. Sanders is the peasant complaining that he never voted for King Arthur. The voting public is the killer bunny.

That should clear everything up for you. I’m glad to be of service.

“How awful for you! By the looks of it, you’ve developed a soul.”

From the boundless green ocean behind the Wall, a wild tidal surge of roots, flowers, twigs, leaves was rolling toward me, standing on its hind legs, and had it flowed over me I would have been transformed from a person—from the finest and most precise of mechanisms—into . . .

But, happily, between me and this wild, green ocean was the glass of the Wall. Oh, the great, divinely bounding wisdom of walls and barriers! They may just be the greatest of all inventions. Mankind ceased to be wild beast when it built its first wall. Mankind ceased to be savage when we built the Green Wall, when we isolated our perfect, machined world, by means of the Wall, from the irrational, chaotic world of the trees, birds, animals . . .

That is from We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (pp. 82-83). It’s a strange novel, an early example of a futuristic dystopia. The author finished writing it in the 1921, but couldn’t get it published in Russia. An English translation was published years later.

In the above quote, the description is of the Green Wall that encloses the society called One State. It is an entirely independent and self-sustaining city-state, outside of which its citizens do not venture. The government is authoritarian and social control is absolute. The collective is everything, such that people have no sense of individuality and have no souls. They don’t even dream, not normally, for to do so is considered a symptom of mental illness.

There was a global war that killed most of the human population. The citizens of One State are aware that human society used to be different. They have no experience of freedom, neither social freedom nor free will. But they have a historical memory of what freedom once meant and, of course, it is seen as having been a bad thing and the source of unhappiness.

Like Julian Jayne’s theory of bicameralism, these people are able to maintain a complex society without an internalized sense of self. The loci of identity is completely outside. But unlike bicameralism, there are no command voices telling them what to do. The society is so ordered that few moments of the day are not occupied by scheduled activity. Even sex is determined by the system of authority. Mathematical order is everything, including how citizens are named.

What fascinated me about the novel is when the protagonist, D-503, gains a soul. It is an imagining of what this experience would be like, to gain a sense of individuality and interiority, for long dormant imagination to be awakened. Having a self means the ability to imagine other selves, to empathize with what others are thinking and feeling, to be able to enter into the world of another.

If bicameral societies did exist, this would have been similar to how they came to an end. A bicameral society would have required a tightly ordered society where the social reality was ever-present and all-consuming. For that to breakdown would have been traumatic. It would have felt like madness.

* * *

We
by Yevgeny Zamyatin
pp. 79-81

With effort, a kind of spiral torque, I finally tore my eyes away from the glass below my feet—and suddenly the golden letters “MEDICINE” splashed in front of me . . . Why had he led me here and not to the Operation Room, and why had he spared me? But, at that moment, I wasn’t thinking of these things: with one leap over the steps, the door solidly banged behind me and I exhaled. Yes: it was as though I hadn’t breathed since dawn, as though my heart hadn’t struck a single beat—and it was only now that I exhaled for the first time, only now that the floodgates of my chest opened . . .

There were two of them: one was shortish, with cinder-block legs, and his eyes, like horns, tossed up the patients; the other one was skinny and sparkling with scissor-lips and a blade for a nose . . . I had met him before.

I flung myself at him as though he were kin, straight into the blade, and said something about being an insomniac, the dreams, the shadows, the yellow world. The scissor-lips flashed and smiled. How awful for you! By the looks of it, you’ve developed a soul.

A soul? That strange, ancient, long-forgotten word. We sometimes said “heart and soul,” “soulful,” “lost souls,” but a “soul”

“This is . . . this is very grave,” I babbled.

“It’s incurable,” incised the scissors.

“But . . . what specifically is at the source of all this? I can’t even begin . . . to imagine.”

“Well, you see . . . it is as if you . . . you’re a mathematician, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, take, for instance, a plane, a surface, like this mirror here. And on this surface—here, look—are you and I, and we are squinting at the sun, and see the blue electrical spark in that tube. And watch—the shadow of an aero is flashing past. But it is only on this surface for just a second. Now imagine that some heat source causes this impenetrable surface to suddenly grow soft, and nothing slides across it anymore but everything penetrates inside it, into that mirror world, which we used to look into as curious children—children aren’t all that silly, I assure you. The plane has now become a volume, a body, a world, and that which is inside the mirror is inside you: the sun, the whirlwind from the aero’s propeller, your trembling lips, and someone else’s trembling lips. So you see: a cold mirror reflects and rejects but this absorbs every footprint, forever. One day you see a barely noticeable wrinkle on someone’s face—and then it is forever inside you; one day you hear a droplet falling in the silence—and you can hear it again now . . .”

“Yes, yes, exactly . . .” I grabbed his hand. I could hear the faucet in the sink slowly dripping its droplets in the silence. And I knew that they would be inside me forever. But still, why—all of a sudden—a soul? I never had one—never had one—and then suddenly . . . Why doesn’t anyone else have one, but me?

I squeezed harder on the skinny hand: I was terrified to let go of this lifeline.

“Why? And why don’t we have feathers or wings but just scapulas, the foundation of wings? It’s because we don’t need wings anymore—we have the aero; wings would only be extraneous. Wings are for flying, but we don’t need to get anywhere: we have landed, we have found what we were seeking. Isn’t that so?”

I nodded my head in dismay. He looked at me, laughed sharply, javelinishly. The other one, hearing this, stumpily stamped through from out of his office, tossed the skinny doctor up with his hornlike eyes, and then tossed me up, too.

“What’s the problem? What, a soul? A soul, you say? Damn it! We’ll soon get as far as cholera. I told you”—the skinny one was horn-tossed again—“I told you, we must, everyone’s imagination— everyone’s imagination must be . . . excised. The only answer is surgery, surgery alone . . .”

He struggled to put on some enormous X-ray glasses, and walked around for a long time looking through my skull bone at my brain, and making notes in a notebook.

“Extraordinary, extraordinarily curious! Listen to me, would you agree . . . to be preserved in alcohol? This would be, for the One State, an extraordinarily . . . this would aid us in averting an epidemic . . . If you, of course, don’t have any particular reasons not . . .”

“You see,” the other one said, “cipher D-503 is the Builder of the Integral, and I am certain that this would interfere . . .”

“Ah,” he mumbled and lumped off to his cabinet.

And then we were two. A paper-hand lightly, tenderly lay on my hand. A face in profile bent toward me and he whispered: “I’ll tell you a secret—it isn’t only you. My colleague is talking about an epidemic for good reason. Think about it; perhaps you yourself have noticed something similar in someone else—something very similar, very close to . . .” He looked at me intently. What is he hinting at—at whom? It can’t be that—

“Listen . . .” I leapt from my chair. But he had already loudly begun to talk about something else: “. . . And for the insomnia, and your dreams, I can give you one recommendation: walk more. Like, for instance, tomorrow morning, go for a walk . . . to the Ancient House, for example.”

He punctured me again with his eyes and smiled thinly. And it seemed to me: I could clearly and distinctly see something wrapped up in the fine fabric of his smile—a word—a letter—a name, a particular name . . . Or is this again that same imagination?

I was only barely able to wait while he wrote out my certification of illness for today and tomorrow, then I shook his hand once more and ran outside.

My heart was light, quick, like an aero, and carrying, carrying me upward. I knew: tomorrow held some sort of joy. But what would it be?

 

The Man in the High Castle: Amazon Pilot

Over at Amazon.com, they just put out a bunch of pilots. I only watched one of them, “The Man in the High Castle.” All the other pilots were either mainstream trash tv or kids shows.

I really want “The Man in the High Castle” to be made. It is based on one of my favorite novels by my most favorite writer, Philip K. Dick. There have been a number of movies based on his fiction, some better than others, but there has yet to be a tv show.

I was surprised to see the pilot. I hadn’t heard anything about it. I’m so freaking excited about it right now.

Please go watch the pilot. Then take the survey. Make your voice heard, if you like the pilot, as I’m sure you will. This show needs to be praised to the high heavens so that the Amazon gods will hear our plea for an awesome PKD show.

If the show ends up not being produced, I may throw myself off the nearest parking ramp or tall building. Lives are at stake. Take pity on us PKD fans. May VALIS have mercy on all of our souls!

Alternative Visions, Radical Imagination

When Science Fiction Stopped Caring About the Future
by Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic

Over here is Le Guin, taking a stand for science fiction on the grounds that “we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.” And over here is Star Wars, showing you more pictures of the Millennium Falcon. So much for Le Guin’s call to elevate creators who know “the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.”

writing & reading, democracy & despotism 
by Kenan Malik, Pandaemonium

Ursula Le Guin
‘Resistance and change often begin in art’

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

The full text of the talk was published in the Guardian; there is also a video of the talk.

Science Fiction and the Post-Ferguson World: “There Are as Many Ways to Exist as We Can Imagine”
by Mary Hansen, YES!

Again, this is why we need science fiction. We often can’t imagine that things could be different because we can’t imagine alternative systems. Ursula LeGuin just gave an incredible speech at the National Book Awards, where she talked about this and said people can’t imagine a world without capitalism. Well, there was a time when people couldn’t imagine a world without the divine right of kings.

But the writers, the visionaries, those folks who are able to imagine freedom are absolutely necessary to opening up enough space for folks to imagine that there’s a possibility to exist outside of the current system.

I think it’s been a concerted effort to erase those possibilities. These systems that we live under are incredibly unnatural. This is not the way we’re supposed to live. It takes indoctrination to get us to a point where we believe that this is the way things should be. When we take a small step outside that, we are able to break that indoctrination and see that this is not the only way, and in fact there are as many ways to exist as we can imagine.

 

 

The Stories We Know

It suddenly occurred to me where I might have first came across the idea of simultaneously knowing and not knowing.

This would have been almost two decades ago, sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s in the years following my graduating from high school in 1994. I probably was back in Iowa City, Iowa at the time and regularly visiting bookstores, in particular the famous Prairie Lights. I was reading a lot of weird stuff at the time, both non-fiction and fiction. Along with reading the likes of Robert Anton Wilson, I came across Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions. I then read some of Ellison’s own fiction collections.

In his book Strange Wine, he has his typical introductory comments that are typically entertaining. He told of an anecdote that had been shared with him by Dan Blocker, an actor from the show Bonanza who played the character Hoss Cartwright. Blocker pointed out that the incident was far from unusual and, based on that, Ellison explored the idea of knowing and not knowing, specifically in terms of the distinction between reality and imagination, between unmediated experience and media portrayals.

Here is Blocker’s anecdote as written in Strange Wine introduction (Kindle Locations 54-62):

“He told me– and he said this happened all the time, not just in isolated cases– that he had been approached by a little old woman during one of his personal appearances at a rodeo, and the woman had said to him, dead seriously, “Now listen to me, Hoss: when you go home tonight, I want you to tell your daddy, Ben, to get rid of that Chinee fella who cooks for you all. What you need is to get yourself a good woman in there can cook up some decent food for you and your family.”

“So Dan said to her, very politely (because he was one of the most courteous people I’ve ever met), “Excuse me, ma’am, but my name is Dan Blocker. Hoss is just the character I play. When I go home I’ll be going to my house in Los Angeles and my wife and children will be waiting.”

“And she went right on, just a bit affronted because she knew all that, what was the matter with him, did he think she was simple or something, “Yes, I know… but when you go back to the Ponderosa, you just tell your daddy Ben that I said…”

“For her, fantasy and reality were one and the same.”

Ellison sees this as representative of a change that has happened in our society because of the boob tube. He was writing in the 1970s and it was a time when nationalized mass media was really hitting its stride. He described all the hours people spent watching television and the state of mind it creates.

Before the Bonanza story, Ellison shared another story about a news reporter who shot herself in the head live on television. He sees this as indicative of how media has become our very sense of reality. Killing oneself during a live broadcast makes the incident more real. I think he goes a bit overboard on his diatribe against media, but he has a point. I would simply broaden his point and extend it back in time.

Mediated reality isn’t a new invention. Ever since written language and bound books, the world has never been the same. Christians were the first group to bind books. This allowed them to spread their mediated reality far and wide. Even though there was no evidence that Jesus ever existed, this messianic figure became more real to people than the people around them. Untold numbers of people killed and died in the name of a man who may have simply been a fictional character.

To understand the power of the Bible as mediated reality, take the experience of Daniel Everett. He once was a Christian who became a missionary living among the Amazonian Piraha tribe. These people didn’t understand Christianity because they didn’t understand reality mediated through books. They only trusted information they had experienced themselves or someone they knew had experienced. When they asked Everett if he had experienced any of the events in the Bible, Everett had to admit he hadn’t even met Jesus. The idea of blind faith was meaningless to the Piraha. Instead of converting them to Christianity, they converted him to atheism.

As a fiction writer, Ellison should understand the power of words to make the imagined seem real. It isn’t just about television and movies or today about the internet. All of culture and civilization is built on various forms of mediated reality. The earliest forms of media through art and the spoken word had a similar revolutionary impact.

We humans live in a world of ideas and beliefs, frames and narratives. We never know anything unfiltered. This is how we can know and not know at the same time. The stories we tell force coherency to the inconsistency within our own minds. Stories are what gives our lives meaning. We are storytelling animals and for us the stories we tell are our reality. A collective story passed on from generation to generation is the most powerful of all.

Dogmatism’s Not Dead

I watched God’s Not Dead with my parents. It was the quite the experience. I had almost no expectations. I just went because my parents wanted to go. I’ll watch almost anything, when in the right mood.

God’s Not Dead is a Christian movie and my parents are Christians. I was raised Christian, but not the Christianity found in the movie. God’s Not Dead is full-on fundamentalism. My mom grew up in that kind of religion and my dad in a more mild variety. I, however, was raised mostly in the Unity Chruch, which is uber-hippy, pansy-liberal New Thought Christianity.

No preacher ever threatened or even implied I might go to hell. No Unity minister would likely even mention hell, except to dismiss it. God loves you! Period. Full stop.

I have nothing but happy memories of my childhood religion. I’m a heathen these days, but I still don’t think of myself as an atheist. I largely don’t care one whit about arguments for and against God. On the other hand, while tripping on mushrooms once I saw the entire world breathe in unison, as if it were all a single being. Dude! The world is a crazy complex place, beyond the meager capacity of my human comprehension. Who am I to say much of anything about the mysteries of the universe? If someone wants to call this sense of mystery ‘God’, they are free to do so and I won’t complain.

Anyway, if God or gods or Star Trek Qs exist, I doubt they care about my belief in them or lack thereof. Do I care if tiny organisms believes in me? Not really. I choose not to step on ants and worms, but I don’t ask if they believe in me first. I won’t claim to be their savior if they accept me into their hearts and I won’t promise them heaven nor threaten them with damnation. I’m certainly not going to attempt to inspire ant and worm prophets to write holy scriptures about my greatness. I’m just a big galoot traipsing through their tiny world. That is all.

That may sound dismissive. I actually have little desire to be dismissive. Faith is a personal thing. The personal part is what matters. I can’t speak about someone else’s personal experience. I’m fine with other people’s religion, as long as they don’t seek to impose it on me or proselytize it to me.

Even a fundamentalist movie like God’s Not Dead doesn’t overly bother me. It seemed disconnected from reality, but that is to be expected. It’s not like anyone forced me to watch the movie. That said, fundamentalists are more than happy to force their beliefs onto others. If hardcore fundamentalists thought they could legally get away with it, they’d likely make watching this movie obligatory for every child in school.

Many of them are no more interested in genuine dialogue than is the radical left-wing activist I dealt with the other day (see my post: There Are No Allies Without Alliances). But most isn’t all. I wouldn’t want to broadbrush all rightward-leaning Christians. Most fundamentalists are like most people. They just want to be left alone to live their lives how they see fit. But the average fundamentalist isn’t the one I’m worried about. What worries me are the fundamentalist activists, lobbyists, and politicians.

The one thing that stood out to me about that radical left-wing activist had to do with his worldview. There were specified roles one could play, but one wasn’t free to be an individual. There is no place for someone like me in that worldview. Likewise, in watching God’s Not Dead, I realized there is no place for me there either.

The movie is full of caricatures and stereotypes. Everyone was an extreme. Either you are hard right-wing believer or else you are some secular bogeyman, the three main options being a clueless professor, a sociopathic businessman, and a Godless communist. In this worldview, there exists no such thing as a liberal Christian, a moderate Muslim, a moral pagan, an ethical humanist, a mild-mannered atheist, or a curious-minded agnostic; certainly, there is no such thing as an intelligent, fair-minded professor. It turns out the professor secretly believes in God, but just hates him, what every fundamentalist suspects about atheists.

A freethinking individual is not welcome in either of these worldviews from the left and right.

Conservatives Watching Liberal Media

Conservatives are always going on about the media having a liberal bias. They say the same thing about college professors and scientists. There is a sense in which they are right.

I sometimes watch older television shows when they happen to be on. I’m thinking of shows like The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie. Mash, etc. These shows regularly have liberal messages. My mom watches many of these shows and I think she is unaware of how liberal they are.

I remember the response my dad had when he found out that the MASH producers were intentionally trying to influence public opinion about the Vietnam War. He felt betrayed, as this was one of his favorite shows. Of course, my dad isn’t offended by all the shows and movies that pushed right-wing WWII and Cold War propaganda. Sure, everyone making media has their biases. More than left or right bias, the biggest bias of all is pro-corporate. Still, liberal bias particularly sells well in our society.

Liberalism sells for a number of reasons.

For one, liberalism as licentious behavior is fun to watch and freedom-loving liberal messages are inspiring. But a lot of liberalism in the media is more basic. The Waltons often had morality tales about treating people equally and fairly with particular shows focusing on prejudice against Germans, Jews and blacks.  Little House on the Prairie was about a sensitive father figure and many of the episodes were about helping the underprivileged or oppressed, from blind people to Native Americans.

Another reason is that most Americans are very liberal about most issues. Producers make this liberal-biased media because they are making it for a mostly liberal audience. In the US, even conservatives are relatively liberal compared to other societies and compared to the past of our own country. This relates to the corporate bias. Mainstream media is produced to make big profits. To a large extent, what is sold is what people will buy (although buying habits can be manipulated).

This isn’t anything new. From the early to middle of last century, liberalism was the dominant ideology. Even mainstream conservatives wouldn’t talk badly about liberalism and would even praise it, from Ike to Nixon. There always has been a strong liberal strain throughout the entire history of this country. Obviously, this isn’t a traditional society and so conservatism in the US has defined itself in relation to liberalism. It shouldn’t be surprising to find liberalism in media, education and science when most Americans, however they may identify, are for all practical purposes liberal themselves. I suppose it also shouldn’t be surprising that, complaints aside, even conservatives enjoy the liberal-biased media.

As someone who can be critical of both liberals and conservatives, I find the dynamic between them amusing.

Star Trek, Prime Directive, and Human Failure

I grew up on Star Trek, the Original Series and Next Generation.

The latter particularly captured my imagination as it began when I was eleven years old and ended when I was twenty-three. Unlike the original series, Next Generation attempted to fill out the Star Trek universe and form a plausible fully-fleshed set of societies (Deep Space Nine further fleshed out these societies and added some more). The original series was an action show projected into the future whereas Next Generation attempted to envision the future as an entirely transformed place.

A few years ago, I decided to watch every episode of every season from the beginning. I’ve finally made it to the most recent series, Star Trek: Enterprise. I’d never watched it before. Many people seem to hate it. I began to see why in the first season, but I want to offer a nuanced (although short) review.

I liked the premise of this latest, hopefully not the last, series. It’s nice to see how human earth society slowly begins to develop into the Federation we already know they will become. The merit of this series is how human the characters are. They are temporally and culturally far closer to us than they are to the far future Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (it’s only slightly more than a century into the future that is the setting for Enterprise whereas the other shows are a couple of centuries following that).

In watching the episode “Dear Doctor”, the conclusion of the story left me perplexed. It didn’t seem very like the Star Trek I knew. It seems many others agreed with me. After reading some online reviews and criticisms, I considered another perspective. But let me first say a few things about the episode.

Basically, the captain and the doctor are presented with a dilemma. The dilemma is worthy, but the ‘solution’ is beyond unworthy. As others have noted, their response is equivalent to genocide and their rationalization for it has more than a whiff of Social Darwinism about it. It is supposed to be the origin story of the Prime Directive (non-interventionism in less-developed species; i.e., not playing God) and, as some see it, this adds yet another doubt to the merits and hence justification of the Prime Directive itself.

I can understand that view, but maybe it misses a point. No one ever claimed Star Trek society is perfect. A major theme is how imperfect humans are and continue to be. It is what makes us so endearing, right? It makes full sense that humans would carry our cognitive biases and moral weakness into space, and it would be even less plausible to portray a future where this didn’t happen. The Prime Directive was something that evolved through actual interactions with other species and societies. Of course, mistakes would be made and some of them quite horrific.

What makes that episode especially horrific is that it reflects upon our own present society. Some people pointed out, for example, how many governments have refused to intervene in genocides since WWII such as in Rwanda. Is it so surprising that our collective behavior that has been going on for centuries would linger still for another century or so?