Treason To The Future

No, I’m not going off on some political rant.  At least, I don’t think so.  (I was accused recently of using my blog as a soapbox…well, I thought, isn’t that what it’s for?  The question is, how good is the soap.)

At our recent Dante session I was reminded of a quote I’d forgotten all about.  One of the best philosophical thinkers of the 20th Century was Alfred North Whitehead.  I recommend him.  Even where I disagree with him, there is plenty to stir the imagination and encourage new thought.  One of his better books, quite short and to the point, is The Function of Reason.  In the chapter three or thereabouts, we find this little gem.

“To set limits on speculation is treason to the future.”

By that, I read him as meaning that we must be free to speculate about where we’re going, what we hope to do, how we’ll make it happen.  All ideas are welcome, even bad ones, as long as we’re only speculating.  But more than that, it’s kind of one of those notions that ought to go without saying—all thinking is speculation, even problem solving, and to arbitrarily set limits, to say “You can’t talk about that,” is to shut the door on possible solutions to problems we may not even know we have yet.

I’m using that quote in a talk I’m doing tomorrow night in Columbia on What Is Science Fiction.  I think it answers a century-worth of ridicule and criticism toward the form that ought not to have come up to begin with, but which was predictable.  People are uncomfortable with change.  (Here’s a little bit of politics coming up.  Sorry about that.)  When you look at the current wrestling match going in the country—indeed, around the globe—there seems to be one basic demand from people with regards to the problems we face:  fix it but don’t change anything.

Science fiction is all about change.

There are two ways to look at change—as an inevitable force impossible to avoid or as a fate we seek to hide from.  Change is coming regardless, so hiding does no good, but it does do harm, because in hiding we surrender any say we might have in how change happens.  And when you do that, then whatever happens will probably be something you won’t like.

Preparing this talk reminded me why I’ve always liked science fiction in the first place.  I’ve never been afraid of the future.  The future, to me, has always been a place where the best could happen.  It might not, things might go sour, but it’s not inevitable, and even if we do go through a bad time, the future is still there, with potential.  When I was a kid, Today was always pretty much dull.  Tomorrow—and by that I mean TOMORROW! —held all the really cool stuff I knew would make life better.  By and large, I haven’t been terribly disappointed.  In spite of things transpiring that rather annoy, irritate, and anger me, there is much more that I find generally wonderful.

The trick is to be open to that part instead of stockpiling a list of complaints.

Pretty Good July So Far

If anyone is interested, July has been a good month to this point.  I’m working on the line edits of a novel, which I hope to have finished by August, and I’m feeling good about the results.  The new agent is working me and to good effect.

This past week has been filled with good stuff.  We had company for two days, Donna’s sister and her husband, up from Florida, and we ate at an excellent restaurant (The Shaved Duck, should anyone be interested, which I unreservedly recommend) and had good conversation.  Friday night Donna and I went to see Tim Minchin at the Sheldon and that was very fun (with the added pleasure of viewing, in the Sheldon Gallery, a showing of photographs by Larry Fink).  Last night I played at the coffeehouse, something I do purely for fun once a month, and we tried something brand new that came off fine.

This morning we did our Dante group—we’re on Canto X of Paradiso—and that was pleasurably dense.  This after a morning session at the gym where I learned to my pleasant surprise that I’d been pressing (legs) above my all-time heaviest because I underestimated the base weight of the platten.  (Leg press at 810 lbs, if anyone is interested.)

This coming week I’ll be doing a talk at the Daniel Boone Regional Library about the nature of science fiction and spending the rest of the weekend in pleasant company.  We may be watching Game of Thrones, which I haven’t seen yet, not having cable.

Then the following week I’ll be conducting a teleconferenced interview with Ursula K. Le Guin, which I am anxiously enthusiastic about.

I cannot complain about July.  It has been a good month, even if the heat is oppressive (close to hundred today, maybe tomorrow).  Oh, and I received the new YES album,  Fly From Here, which I’ve now listened to about four times.  I think it is fine and I will be writing a long piece about it here, but I have to think about it a little more.

There’s other stuff I know I’m overlooking, but I’ll save it for the end of the month.  Instead of complaining, as I often do here, I just wanted to say things are pretty good at the moment.  Hope things are well with you, whoever you are and wherever you may be.

How To Put This As Delicately As I Can…

Governor Rick Perry, who may or may not be running for president on the Republican ticket (any day now we may—or may not—get an announcement) has put out a call for a great big Texas style get-together prayer meeting.  He has a passel of preachers coming to harrangue about the problems of America.

There’s only a couple of problems with the guest list and what it says about Perry.

He has one preacher who said that Hitler was sent by god to force all the Jews back to Israel (part of the Grand Design).

Another insists that not one more permit be issued for another mosque anywhere in the United States.

We have another who claims that the reason Japan’s stock market crashed was because the Emperor had sex with the sun goddess.

Still one more claims that demons are being released through the good works of people who are doing those good works for all the wrong reasons.

And still another claiming that the Illuminati are still extant and that the Statue of Liberty is an idol to a false god and that the Illuminati seek to reduce the population of the world to half a billion and that Obama’s health care program is the start of the purge.

Perry himself has claimed that this meeting is important for policy reasons—that here the nation will learn what to do to set ourselves back on track.

Hmm.

How can I say this without offending anyone…

I can’t. So I’ll just say it.

This is balls out insanity, absurdity carried to the level of national circus, religion administered like fluoride in the water but with the effect of morphine.  People who swallow this nonsense are—

Careful there now, everyone is entitled to their beliefs, no one’s point of view is superior to anyone else’s, we have to be tolerant and allow people who hold their opinions as they see fit.  This is after all a country that holds with freedom of religion.

Except that another of the invited preachers has stated quite forcefully that only christians should have freedom of religion, that the Founders never intended it to extend to any other group.  So much for tolerance on that end.

No, it is time we collectively began calling this what it is.  Bullshit.

But dangerous bullshit.  All the jokes aside, the possibility of directing national policy based on what some crackpots have gleaned from the Bible, as if there were no other way to see the world, is infantile and potentially destructive to the planet, since many of these folks are panting for the Apocalypse.  They hunger for Armageddon.

And those who sit in their audiences and lap this up as if it were intellectual ambrosia—of course it must be, look at the signs, it was prophesied, look at the state of the world—validating their apparent revulsion for the things they see around them.

It is, simply, the politics of bigotry, of intolerance, of ignorance, of fashion, rhetoric designed to trigger emotional responses based on shock and fear and, let’s be honest, stupidity.  And all of it packaged with the imprimatur of a holy book, as if by claiming it all comes from Genesis through Revelations the vitriolic condemnation of whatever one happens to find offensive or simply incomprehensible is justified and actions based on that condemnation are mandatory if we are to “save” the world.  Or just America, as I’ve noticed most of these folks don’t seem to have much use for anything outside our borders.

It is possible these politicians that dally with this cultural miasma believe they can play with it, a mongoose dance with a venomous cobra, and, after winning the election, can act according to their possibly more rational inclinations.  But it seems that there is a gravitational effect they have failed to consider, and the longer the GOP plays with this nonsense the more distorted and irrational their direction becomes.

And I hear the defense that these folks are not “real christians”, as if that is somehow encouraging.  If true, then they are mounting an assault on “real” christians, but the problem is, since they base much of this on a belief in the same ideology it’s difficult to attack them on how they’re in error.

August 6th is the date for this national prayer gorge.  If Rick Perry achieves the nomination, I think we should all be very afraid.  He may think he can control the tiger he’s riding, but he’s likely to get eaten along with the rest of us.

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p.s.  There actually is a Republican candidate this time around that I find I could vote for.  It might be worthwhile to talk this man up a bit.  Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico.  Check out his Issues section.  He sounds like a conservative with a brain who is not afraid to use it.

Not Very Plain Black & White

I sometimes get so caught up in all the cool things I can do with color now I forget the simpler yet often deeper pleasures of good black & white.  I’ve mentioned often enough that, photographically-speaking, my influences all spring from the pool of talent surrounding and comprising the f64 Group, a legendary coterie of pioneer photographers from the 1930s and 40s.  I’ve spent many a lazy afternoon in a dark room with trays of chemicals and an enlarger and a selection of negatives, reveling in the creation of textures and tones.  There is still something magic watching a white sheet of paper “grow” an image in solution, the latent photon-affected silver salts tarnishing in a couple of minutes into the order and definition of a photograph.  It’s not something you could ever do in color and now that the digital age in upon us it is a treat a great many people may never have.

But I spent almost forty years in a lab, I’ve had my share of watching that kind of magic, and for the time being I don’t miss it a bit.  But I would miss new black & white images.  In many ways, I still regard black & white as the superior medium.  Opinions vary, naturally.

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Independence Day

It’s the Fourth of July.  I’ve been pondering whether or not to write something politically pithy or culturally au courant and here it is, almost noon, and I’ve made no decision.  I think I pretty much said what I had to say about my feelings about this country a few posts back for Memorial Day, so I don’t think I’ll revisit that.

Last night we sat on our front porch while the pre-Fourth fireworks went off in the surrounding neighborhood.  Folks nearby spend an unconscionable amount of money on things that blow up and look pretty and we benefit from the show.  Neither of us like large crowds, so going down to the St. Louis riverfront for the big explosion is just not an option.  The older I get the less inclined I am to squeeze myself into the midst of so much anonymous humanity.

We’ll likely go to bed early tonight after watching the rest of our neighborhood go up in brilliance, starbursts, and smoke.

I suppose the only thing I’d like to say politically is a not very original observation about how so many people seem to misidentify the pertinent document in our history.  The Declaration of Independence is often seen as more important than the Constitution and this is an error, one which leads us into these absurd cul-de-sacs of debate over the religious nature of our Founding.  Because of the reference to Our Creator, people with a particular agenda seem to take that as indicative that this was founded as a christian nation.  Creator is a fairly broad, nondenominational label that encompasses any and all descriptions of gods or nature, but I won’t argue the idea that the men who wrote it were, if anything, more or less christians.  It’s a statement, though, that is intended not to establish that there is a god or that we are beholden to such a thing, but that there are some birthrights we all share that no mortal can blithely assume we don’t possess.  The only thing at the time higher than a king was a god, so, when you read the rest of the Declaration, it is clear that the intended meaning is that a power transcending kings grants us these rights.  They had not yet hit upon establishing a representative democracy, not insofar as every official was to be elected—they may have intended that a constitutional monarchy be used as a model, and Britain already had a history of putting constraints on its monarchs.  But to make the point absolutely clear that no monarch had the authority to take certain rights away, the went one step up.  The use of the term Creator is sufficiently vague and universal that any formulation of Natural Law is covered, even and including a Spinozan construction that makes Nature and God one and the same thing.  Essentially, the fact that people are here, part of the world, should automatically accord them certain status and rights that no one has a legal right to remove.

But it is a document of intent, namely intent to separate one people politically from another.  The form of the new republic is not addressed in the Declaration.  That work was left for the Constitution, and the way it was originally formulated there was not one mention of god or churches.  It dealt entirely with a secular formulation and I do not believe that was unintentional.  The Bill of Rights was included later, as a deal-making document that certain states insisted on before they would ratify the Constitution, and that’s where you find the establishment clause.

But the Constitution is a complex, legal document.  There are fine passages in the Bill of Rights, but in the body of the Constitution itself there are few phrases even close to the poetic heights of the Declaration.  The Preamble has some nice things, but we can perhaps understand why most people actually don’t know what’s in the Constitution.

A shame, really, because it would make things clearer to most folks if they did.  Why are things run the way they are is not explained by the grand polemical declarations of the Fourth of July document, but in the closely-reasoned blueprint of the Constitution.  There is also a reason soldiers swear an oath to uphold the Constitution—not the Declaration—and likewise why politicians are sworn in the same way.

Namely, it is because we have dedicated ourselves to an Idea.

Not a person or persons, but an Idea, and this ought to put paid to all this nonsense we’re about to hear about how this country is a christian nation dedicated to god.  It is not.  It is a nation dedicated to the idea that we are free to choose.  And sometimes what our neighbors will choose will run counter to what we may think is right or appropriate or pleasant or…but it’s their choice, just as it is ours to believe as we wish.

The Constitution is first and foremost a framework antithetical to cults of personality.  You want to see what cults of personality do to a nation?  Look at the old Soviet Union.  Or look at Libya.  Or North Korea.

I don’t give a damn what kind of “character” my representatives possess—I want to know that they will obey the law and do their jobs.  That’s all.  If they do that, they can be a bland or odious as they may.  If they don’t, I could care less what their character is like or their personal qualities.

Okay, so maybe I did have a few things to say of a political nature.  Must be in the air.  It is, after all, the Fourth.

Be safe.