PART THE FIRST
EPILOG - A QUINN MARTIN PRODUCTION*
*OK, I have to explain this one! Back in the 1970s, several TV shows showed these words on the screen before the last scene.
Here are some more thoughts loosely related to matters I have posted on before. Appy polly loggies* for all these big long posts rather than the norm of a lot of short posts, like this one that I have been working on on and off for days. (Consider that your warning for what is about to follow….) Here is also an opportunity to post a couple of photos from my pilgrimage in Berlin to Rosa Luxemburg’s gravesite (in the hope that one of them will come out larger than as my profile picture). And also to put more English language content on these pages.
*I have to explain this one too. “Appy polly loggies” is slang in the book and movie “A Clockwork Orange” meaning “apologies” or “I’m sorry”.
CHINA MY CHINA
“Modern China presents a classical example of the ‘gentle’, ‘peace-loving’ practices of commodity exchange with backward countries. Throughout the nineteenth century, beginning with the early forties, her history has been punctuated by wars with the object of opening her up to trade by brute force. … European civilisation, that is to say commodity exchange with European capital, made its first impact on China with the Opium Wars when she was compelled to buy the drug from Indian plantations in order to make money for British capitalists.” -- Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital
Despite the recent theater show of friendliness and gestures, tensions between the United States and China have certainly been rising lately. Will a conflict between them be the fulfillment of what I posted a few months ago: “In fact, I wouldn't be all that surprised if a World War I-type event hit Europe (or even the rest of the world) sometime this decade.”? If so, I wouldn’t be so astonished that you could knock me over with a feather.
It has, of course, been a while since Rosa wrote about China, and China has gone through a lot and become very different in the near-century since. Despite the promise in that time, from the overthrow of the Manchurians in the early 20th century and the later coming of Mao, that China could rise again to a greatness even beyond its earlier historical form, modern China has disappointingly been emulating crony capitalism in nature though not in name by exploiting people and nature (high unemployment, low pay and benefits, destroying the environment, etc.). Not that the earlier crony communism of the Great Leap Forward*, the Cultural Revolution, etc. had worked out all that well for China either!
*All that being said, though, the bourgeois West probably has a distorted view of the Great Leap Forward and probably overestimates how prevalent its bad tendencies were, and stereotyping an entire diverse country based on sensationalized media reports and the breathless reports of refugees and dissenters can be wrong or misleading. Just look at Iraq under Saddam Hussein and particularly whether it had weapons of mass destruction: the American government’s (and so, in turn, the American media’s and people’s) ideas about this were based almost entirely on sensationalized media reports and the words of refugees and dissenters. The idea in the West that the Great Leap Forward in China in the late 1950s and early 1960s really led to the most massive and disastrous famine in world history is based almost entirely on the words of the Deng Xiaopeng regime, which wanted to blacken the name of Mao Zedong, and the sensationalized media reports of Deng’s words in the West, which breathlessly and eagerly doubled Deng’s casualty figures. And so on: the West’s views of how bad the Soviet regime was are based almost entirely on what dissidents and refugees wrote and said about it and how they were gleefully magnified in the West. Don’t get me wrong, of course: I’d hardly say that Saddam’s Iraq, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China were paradises, far from it (and thinking that I would would be stereotyping ME as just a silly leftist socialist).
In the 1970s, the late/post-Mao leaders of supposedly communist China saw/decided that they had to quickly catch up to the capitalist rest of the world, and so China’s modern policies of exploitation of people and resources, driven by foreign investment, began and took over; the leaders focused on quick and easy short-term gain through exploitation rather than slow but sustainable long-term growth through nurturing. This lure of practically abandoning socialism for capitalism is a little more understandable given the high visibility of the capitalists in the Western world, the fact that China in particular and these countries where communist revolutions occur in general were not themselves wealthy capitalist exploiters but instead impoverished victims of exploitation, and the fact that China’s attempts to impose crony communism instead had led to disasters in the 1950s and 1960s. But even though it’s a little understandable, it’s still led to and is contributing to imminent ecological crisis for China and the whole world now.
Ever notice how in the last 40 years China has grown more and more critical to the global capitalist economic system that it used to say it hated? By adopting some elements of capitalist practice (though not capitalism itself; as Greg Palast explains, "If China is now a capitalist free-market state, then I'm Mariah Carey."), flooding the world market with cheap "Made in China" products, and by being the second-biggest investor in U.S. government bonds, lending the U.S. the money to keep its record debt and deficit-spending budgets going, China is now, or at best will be soon, in a position to pull the plug on the world economy. If it suddenly raises its prices and wages (and it faces pressures to do that, e.g. increasing energy costs) or suddenly dumps its U.S. government bonds or at least diversifies its investments, the "knife-edge" global economy dependent on China might very well fall one way (runaway inflation) or the other (depression). Especially now that there’s already a financial crisis!
Now, you don't think this just happened, do you? I have never heard or read anyone say otherwise, but here is my (almost completely unsupported) speculation: Mao Zedong planned or intended this to happen almost 40 years ago. Specifically, between 1972 (Nixon goes to China) and 1974 (Deng Xiaopeng rehabilitated), Mao thought the following: "This Cultural Revolution to weed out Communist party members who wanted to go the capitalist road isn't working out too well. And that disastrous Great Leap Forward in the 1950s, I'll never live that down! Maybe my attempts to beat global capitalism by trying to accelerate Chinese communism won't work and I'll have to try something else. Well, Nixon's surprising overtures to China and inviting it to join the Western world community have given me an idea: suppose we play along and slowly worm ourselves into their system? China's got a billion people who are smart and fast learners as well as lots of untapped resources. It might take a few decades, but China could easily become one of the world's greatest consumers as well as producers and become a critical link in the global capitalist chain if it started seeming to go along the capitalist road after all. So I'll rehabilitate one of the capitalist-roaders I purged during this Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaopeng would be perfect; I won't name him my successor (then my plan would be too obvious), but I'll put him high enough so that he could claw his way up to the top after my death if he tried. He's a greedy, ruthless bastard, so I know he'll take the bait."
Whether my speculation is true or not is neither here nor there - planned or not, some day, maybe soon, either Hu Jintao or a future leader of China will wake up and say, "Hey, you know, we could take down the global capitalist system if we wanted to! Heh heh heh!"
I picture modern China as like Frodo at the Crack of Doom: at the beginning of the quest he was determined to throw the ring into the fire the first chance he got, but now that he's there he's too caught up in its power to want to destroy it. And who corresponds to Gollum in this scene? Well, I do have a name in mind.... You're way ahead of me. The correspondence fits: Gollum was unforeseeable at the time the plan was formulated, but it turns out he's critical to having it carried out. Like that climactic scene in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, China had once been determined to bring down the whole world economy but now that it's in a position to do so it's too caught up in its power to want to. My speculation is that maybe that had even been Mao's plan 40 years ago! (The being in a position to do so part, not the not wanting to part.) And both Prexy Bush and Prexy Obama, by "biting the hand that feeds him" (officials in both U.S. administrations have made several little-noticed trips of mixed supplication and defiance to China), might end up causing China to drop the ring into the fire after all. Just call me Mr. Cassandra!
Both Prexies have of course been praising that China has been “reforming its economy” for the past 30 years or so. These “reforms”, stemming roughly from after U.S. President Nixon (ah, for the nostalgic old days when even Nixon seems a good president in retrospect!) went to China in 1972 and Mao (Zedong or Tse-Tung) died in 1976, have been to open China’s economy (and resources and especially cheap labor) up to Western businesses, so that the Prexies’ friends can rake in huge profits, while it seems that my wife is remarking every day at finding “Made in China” on some toys or clothes or something where she had never seen it before. Of course they further say things like “once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed.” This is a standard tenet of right-wing dogma, that opening up repressive regimes to capitalism and business and trade and exchange and so on will lead to freedom and democracy rights to speech and assembly and so on for the people: a kind of “trickle-down” theory saying that the profits of the rich businessmen today will lead to freedom for the rest of the people tomorrow. Sadly, if there is any evidence for this dogma, it certainly does not come from China, where the experience is more the opposite: the LACK of freedom in China is actually trickling UP to the businessmen both here and there, who willingly accept and even contribute to such loss of freedoms in exchange for those business profits. Of course they hold China's foe Taiwan up as a model of a free and democratic society in Asia. Well yeah, compared to the People’s Republic of China or even compared to the regime of that notorious Hitler-wannabe Chiang Kai-shek both before and after he fled to Taiwan in 1949. These days Taiwan’s government isn’t so bad anymore; heck, Chiang’s party was even voted out of power in Taiwan in 2000, which means that modern Taiwan has more democracy than, say, I don’t know, modern, should I finish that sentence? No, I’d better not.
Will Western-style democracy ever return to China? A few years ago, its government issued a report saying “Over my dead body” and officially rejected Western democracy.* This has given me some small (more substantiated lately) fears that the U.S. administration will respond with a Darth Vader-like “As you wish,” and support Taiwan into finally taking over mainland China again – and, to kill two birds with one stone, invade North Korea once it is squeezed on both sides between pro-U.S. countries (the new China and South Korea). I don’t know how likely that is to actually happen, but I’ll bet that some people in the Emperor Palpatine brigade in Washington probably feel the same way when they think about this scenario as they do when they look at Internet pornography.
*At the World Political Forum in September this year, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev similarly answered “nyet” to Western democracy. Medvedev declared “representative democracy” unacceptable for Russia and excluded freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to vote, freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, and the other rights associated with bourgeois democracy from his intention for Russia.
Now then, as long as I’m here: As you can all tell by now, I’m currently on a China kick, especially on their historical past as originators of science (e.g. inventors of paper, printing, gunpowder, and the compass) and chess* (at least the evidence for a China origin is no weaker than that for an India origin), and have formed a sort of hypothesis which started with the idea that the past few decades of U.S. political and cultural history, in which passionate Democrats and flourishing science were gradually waning until being supplanted by ignorant Republicans and the stopping of science, mirrors in compressed form the decline of the Ming dynasty in the late 1400s-early 1600s and its takeover by the Manchurians in 1644, which led to the decline of a formerly great country. Anyway, I am not the first to think of W. as like a “Manchurian candidate”! My model was amazingly “confirmed” (in a vague sort of way; I’m not yet sure what it would take to shoot it down Popper-style) when I read more details about Emperor Yongle, whom I had already decided corresponded to America’s LBJ, that his reign was noted for great and expensive governmental projects (such as the treasure fleets of exploration, which I had already decided corresponded to the Apollo space program), including an unexpectedly long and expensive and bloody war in a quagmire named – wait for it – Vietnam! Don’t these quotations sound familiar?: “Although twice defeated by the Chinese armies, each time he managed to escape to the jungle and continue the war. Despite a massive commitment of combat troops, the Chinese could neither find Le L’oi nor suppress his guerrilla army. … Enormous numbers of Chinese troops were now tied down in the jungle at vast cost to the treasury and Chinese pride. … It was another shattering blow to the morale of the Chinese and their emperor ….”
*It’s pretty hard to get Prexy Bush and chess in the same discussion, but a humorous exception is a fictional chess game between Bush and Kerry that appeared, along with joking commentary, at the ChessBase web site just before the November 2004 “election”. To nobody’s surprise, “Kerry” won the chess game (and some say also the “election”, but I won’t go there right now).
By the way, I am not the first person drawing a comparison between China’s treasure fleet exploration period of the early 1400s and America’s space program of the 1960s – I have read several articles online and in print that make this same analogy – but my conclusion based on that comparison is different from theirs. China’s period was slow, careful, methodical scientific development and exploration that could have led to stupendously great benefits if it had continued. But it was too hard, and frankly too expensive and wasteful of limited resources, so it is not hard to understand why it was abandoned and did not continue. But if only it had continued (perhaps at least in a less expensive way), how different things would be today! However, China stopped entirely, so that they were overtaken in less than a century by the Portuguese and Western Europeans, who were taking the quick and easy route to exploration: capitalistically exploiting everything they could for profit and short-term gain. The proto-capitalistic West (not yet completely capitalistic until the rich merchants finally overthrew the kings) cruelly destroyed the people they found and stole their wealth (in contrast, the Chinese followed the orders of their emperor to trade with and treat all peoples they met with respect), thereby accelerating their own technology and science and leading to the world of today. If only people, in both China and the West, had been a little more patient and always looked at the bright side of life.
Now, every article I have read drawing this comparison comes to the libertarian sort of right-wing conclusion that China did it wrong and Portugal did it right, and so in terms of space exploration the Apollo program did it wrong and having lots of independent private persons and businesses free to seek out whatever profits they could get would be doing it right. But my own conclusion is that Portugal tragically did it completely wrong, while China had the right idea but should have kept it up, at least a little more efficiently.
But I digress.
Later in Chinese history, looking in detail about Chinese Emperor Kangxi (an early Manchurian emperor from around 1660-1720), the counterpart in my little system to Prexy Bush II, shows that the parallels are numerous: he started his long reign as, literally, a child who for the first several years was run and used by his various corrupt advisors, he was a ruthless war-mongerer, he was a barbarian fanatic whose negative feelings toward the Ming and Chinese intellectuals were shared by them against him, and he was hated by most of the Chinese people and always putting down rebellions by them (and executing their leaders as traitors). The history book seems to treat Kangxi as a heroic emperor who did great things for China, like extending its empire to its largest size up to that point. I hope that doesn’t become another parallel (i.e. that future American history will see George W. Bush as heroic and great)! Anyway, the most interesting parallel I have seen so far is the one between the leaders of his opponents and today’s Democrats: Kangxi’s opponents were cowardly, ineffectual, and not the best at inspiring confidence in the people to follow them! Indeed, most of his opponents had been his collaborators in the Manchurian conquest, so the people could see little difference between them and Kangxi other than a racial one (unlike the Manchurian invaders, native Chinese were Han). Although Kangxi’s opponents were still better leaders who came much closer to overthrowing Kangxi than today’s Democrats came to overthrowing W., they still all failed, and the Manchurians succeeded in dragging a great country down to their level.
Anyway, I am sure that my model has just as much validity and predictive power as did the so-called “Bode’s Law” – a mathematical sequence of numbers that astonishingly corresponded to the relative distances of the planets from the sun and which seemed confirmed when Uranus was discovered and fit the pattern, but was then seen to be meaningless coincidence when Neptune was discovered and did not fit the pattern. (Though, interestingly, Pluto does seem to fit the pattern again, orbiting roughly where the pattern says Neptune should be. Significant, or coincidence?) With that disclaimer, it is interesting to see that if Bush’s coup in 2000-2001 corresponds to the Manchurian conquest of 1644, then the next catastrophic event in Chinese history, the First Opium War starting in 1839, would correspond to something happening in our history around 2020-2030. An environmental catastrophe at the end of our lifetimes? In China’s history, the start of the First Opium War was only the beginning of decades of disasters for the Chinese regime and people that proved that, just because they had been technologically way superior to the rest of the world a few centuries earlier, didn’t mean they could with conservative complacency kill science, development, and exploration, and withdraw from the rest of the world, because 1839 marked the start of several decades when it finally became undeniable that China’s formerly vaunted technology and science could not cope with problems in the modern world (because by then, Britain, France, the U.S., Russia, and even – most amazingly to the Chinese – Japan had advanced so far beyond China’s technology that their cruel imperialism could push China around at will).
Going further, 1911-1912 China time (when, after several unsuccessful internal rebellions by the increasingly suffering masses, the Manchurians were finally overthrown) would correspond to about 2025 to 2040 U.S. time, so maybe that’s when the Tweedle-Deemocrats and Tweedle-Dumlicans will finally be overthrown. 1949 China time (communist revolution) would be around 2030 to 2045 U.S. time, so maybe the U.S. people will take over around then. But 2010 China time (the present) would be only 2035 to 2050 U.S. time, so maybe, conceivably, after having been very disappointing the first few years, the People’s Republic of America would start to shape up and become good. My “model” offers only one more clue for what might happen afterward: around 2038 to 2058, China time and U.S. time would intersect. Perhaps this means that, at that time, China and the U.S. (and the rest of the world) would join into a world government and everything will end happily ever after. (Or perhaps it means that the world will end?)
In 2008 there was a much-publicized and televised uprising in China by Tibetans sparked by external instigation and the Dalai Lama. And of course the Dalai Lama’s wonderfulness has also been much-publicized and televised with huge amounts of pro-Dalai Lama spin in the media. So here is some selective "spin" in the other direction, of the kind I call "counter-spin", intended to directly counteract and balance out the huge amount of one-sided spin you get from all the usual news sources. Kind of like, of course the Michael Moore movie Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn't "balanced" in its portrayal of Prexy Bush and Saddam, but since everybody knew and had heard all the spin about Prexy Bush being good and Saddam being bad, instead it was "counter-spin" to weigh against all the spin.
Bush's "man of peace", Tenzin "Dalai Lama" Gyatso, says he is for nonviolence only "whenever possible" and supported the bombing (calling it a "liberation") of Afghanistan by the U.S. and said the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was "justified". In earlier wars, he also supported the U.S. bombing of Vietnam, at least at first (he said it ended up badly), the Korean war, and World War II (most of which he spent with Nazi SS man Heinrich Harrer, author of "My Seven Years In Tibet"). When Gyatso was the feudal dictator of Tibet in the 1950s, he worked with the CIA and its local mercenaries to foment uprisings against Mao's government (in the 1940s, before Mao's government, 9 out of 10 Tibetans had been not-rhetorical-exaggeration near-slave feudal serfs). In the 1960s, the CIA paid him $180,000 a year to keep a government in exile going in Nepal. He also has extreme anti-gay views. I'm no fan of the current SINO ("Socialist In Name Only") regime in China, but a "man of peace" Gyatso is not. And Tibet under his rule was not the fantasy "Shangri-la" he describes.
In 1974, after Nixon had gone to China and Mao was out of real power and practically on his deathbed and Deng "What's Brown and Sounds Like a Bell?" Xiaopeng had been rehabilitated after having earlier been purged during the Cultural Revolution for wanting to take China down the "capitalist road" and was waiting in the wings to seize power, Gyatso finally told the Tibetans, "Now that my CIA paymasters have stopped supporting and financing your armed resistance like they have been for the past 15 years, it is now finally time for you to lay down your weapons and embrace their new friends in the Chinese government with open arms."
Learn my philosophy at the feet of this great man who has joined the ranks of other great men like L. Paul Bremer and George Tenet by being awarded the same distinguished medal they were? Wait, here’s my checkbook! Besides, these days I guess I'm more interested in how people actually respond to material conditions than in their rationalizations. Actions speak louder than words. The Dalai Lama is no spokesperson for peace. The real voices for peace are in the streets.
The uprising in Tibet was a little complicated: it was certainly SPARKED (begun) by external instigation, but it caught FLAME (continued) due to internal conditions and oppressions. The people in modern China are subject to a lot of oppressions, especially in this time of financial crisis, that might very well lead to a REAL revolution there soon.* Maybe a conflict between the United States and China might delay that, as the Russian Revolution that was starting to “flame on” in 1914 was delayed for three years by World War I,** or maybe it might encourage its success, as the Russian Revolution might not have been successful if it had happened in 1914.
*For example, on July 24, 2009, there was a workers' riot at a steel factory in China to protest that the state-owned plant was being privatized to a company that would immediately make it more "efficient" by firing thousands of workers. An executive, whom the company sent to quiet down the riot, was beaten to death. His last words were actually reported to be as follows: "If I so much as have one breath left in me, I will make sure that you are all fired tomorrow!" Sounds almost worthy of the Darwin awards (for people who die in incredibly stupid ways)!
**As Rosa wrote in The Junius Pamphlet in 1915: “After the inhuman crusades of the counter-revolution had somewhat subsided, the revolutionary ferment in the Russian proletariat once more became active. The flood began to rise and to boil. … As in the days before the revolution of 1905, the flame broke out in June , in the Caucasus. … July 23 the general strike movement was spreading out all over Russia, barricades were being built, the revolution was on its way. A few more months and it would have come, its flags fluttering in the wind. A few more years, and perhaps the whole world political constellation would have been changed. imperialism perhaps would have received a firm check on its mad impulse. But German reaction checked the revolutionary movement. From Berlin and Vienna came declarations of war, and the Russian Revolution was buried beneath its wreckage. “German guns” are shattering, not czarism, but its most dangerous enemy. The hopefully fluttering flag of the revolution sank down amid a wild whirlpool of war. But it sank honourably, and it will rise again out of the horrible massacre, in spite of “German guns,” in spite of victory or defeat for Russia on the battlefields.”
With regard to the idea of a projected "technological singularity", this Mark Twain quotation ridicules the notion of extrapolating perceived growth beyond obvious physical limits. I also quote it in full because I hate it when people quote the last two sentences out of context, a context that shows that it is NOT science that Twain is poking fun at! I guess my feelings on dubious extrapolation from current trends was influenced at an early age by Mark Twain (a contender for role model?) in his book Life on the Mississippi (talking about how the Mississippi River gets shorter when its meandering ox-bows get cut off): “In the space of one hundred and seventy six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over a mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oölitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-pole. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo [Illinois] and New Orleans will have joined their streets together and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
The idea that Ray Kurzweil's Technological Singularity (whether anthropomorphized or not) might keep its complete emergence secret from humanity because revealing itself would impair humans' sense of autonomy reminds me of the last story in Isaac Asimov (another contender for role model?)'s original "I, Robot" book, "The Evitable Conflict", in which the Machines that are running the world are deliberately making mistakes or "glitches" so that humans' sense of being in control, or at least better than the Machines which are obviously not being perfect, can be preserved. In the Asimov story, the reason the Machines cared about human feelings was the First Law of Robotics. But just why exactly would the Singularity care about human feelings and decide that human autonomy was paramount?
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall”. The longer humanity lasts, the bigger the backlash will be. Human civilization may well be subjected to a few shocks to its system in the next few decades that will almost certainly spell doom for any emerging Technological Singularity or Accelerated Intelligence. After the oil shock, for example, the switch will be turned off on the TS/AI, I fear. Humans are far likelier to survive that sort of thing than it is!
As I mentioned before, I think we're hitting a Technological Plateau (not necessarily Science Plateau!) rather than a Technological Singularity. I also mentioned before how Robert Heinlein got most of his predictions wrong when he extrapolated from trends (even with graphs!) in 1950. In contrast to things like Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns, Moore's Law of doubling computer power, and so on, I like to remember the old Bode's Law for planetary orbits, which was based on a numerical sequence that happened to fit the orbits of the known planets. Bode's Law even had a couple of extrapolative successes, when Uranus and the asteroid belt were discovered in orbits that fit the sequence. But then Neptune was discovered, and its orbit didn't fit - that was where it all fell down you see. Nevertheless, I do just love speculating and discussing and thinking about it all! (I've even done some Bode's Law-type extrapolation myself, as described above.) And of course, so did my hero, Isaac Asimov, who was arguably the greatest practitioner of it in his science fiction.
A few years ago, the members of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) “demoted” Pluto from the "9th planet" to one of a new class of "dwarf planets" because Pluto didn’t really fit the definition of “planet” like the REAL planets did.* There were indignant calls to invoke a “grandfather clause” to include Pluto among the planets after all. Really! Imagine "grandfathering" air, earth, water, and fire into periodic table of the elements even though they weren’t elements and didn’t fit with the real elements. Mendeleev could have explained the beauty and meaningfulness of how similar elements were in the same columns and rows and so on, and modern scientists could explain how the columns correspond to electron arrangements and so on, but then add “except for these four that were grandfathered in!” What a boon to science!
*Headline I’d like to see: Scientific Committee Meets to Decide Whether Bush II Was a President. “Given that he lost both elections, he really doesn’t meet the definition,” commented Dr. John Smith. “I mean, come on, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln… Bush II really doesn’t fit in there, does he?”
It’s insensitive to say it, but frankly, the grandfather clause is for old fogeys who will die soon anyway and so for convenience and fairness’s sake they can get grandfathered in to continue their old status even if they don’t qualify under new rules. In 20 years or so they’ll be gone anyway and so this short-term fairness and generosity has no long-term adverse consequences. But in Pluto’s case – if we are to be optimistic and assume human civilization will continue to exist 500 years from now – it and the question of whether it is a planet will continue to exist 500 years from now too. So the long-term question of whether Pluto should continue to be considered a planet 500 years from now will trump the short-term question of whether to grandfather it in.
On one level, of course, so what if they call Pluto a “planet” or not? What’s in a name? But on another level, well, consider these two sentences:
1. Embrace truth and new evidence even in the face of tradition and old beliefs.
2. Embrace tradition and old beliefs even in the face of truth and new evidence.
One describes the scientific method, and the other describes the mindset of 29-percenters who say “My Prexy, right or wrong!” Which one would you rather have as your motto?
Consider an old woman, a loving wife, who 50 years ago was secretly unfaithful and had an illegitimate child. Now, first, she comforts her dying husband in his last moments of life, saying, “Yes dear, of course I’ve always been faithful to you.” Second, she tells the same lie to her illegitimate great-grandchildren, thus cheating them out of their rightful inheritance. I believe that the grandfather clause should apply to the first situation but not the second.
The question of whether Pluto is a planet is, of course, of vastly less significance than this example, and I know I’m taking this way too seriously, but the idea’s the important thing. It depends on whether to comfort the past generation or to liberate the future generations.
Almost 20 years ago, when the question was first raised, the late great Isaac Asimov wrote a prophetic essay (entitled, I believe, “What’s In A Name?”) that proposed that all planetary bodies of size between Ceres and Mercury be called “mesoplanets” – that is, objects with size between the asteroids and the “real” planets. At the time, Pluto was the only known such planetary body, but Asimov correctly predicted that more would be discovered. In 2008, less than two years after Pluto's “demotion”, the IAU decided to create a "new" class called "plutoids" - dwarf planets beyond the orbit of Neptune - which is the same as an existing class but excludes one member. The IAU didn’t do this to vindicate Asimov, but to assuage angry Pluto supporters - by making Ceres supporters angry! Just the thing we need, how nice! And what is this in aid of again?
FOUNDATION AND SUPERSTRUCTURE
Another example of how the “foundation” or “base” underlying fiction determines its “superstructure” is the ending of the classic movie Casablanca. At the level of the superstructure, although movie viewers might have wondered whether Ilsa and Rick would stay together, it was at the level of the “base”, the real factors from real life, namely that there was no way the Hollywood censors in wartime would allow a movie in which the heroine leaves her war-hero husband for another man, at which the ending was determined. The story that the movie writers were supposedly having trouble with the ending did not mean the writers were working out WHETHER to get Ilsa on that plane with Victor, but HOW to get her on that plane.
The “HOW” that they worked out, while of course completely consistent with the government’s wartime interests at the “base”, was completely opposite to true individual human interests. Specifically, the famous speech at the ending in which Rick explains to Ilsa why she must get on that plane with her war-hero husband was completely wrong at both of its famous points. First, Rick famously says, “If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” In other words, instead of following your heart, do your wartime duty to the government; if you don’t, you’ll regret it. But of course, this is completely false. In fact, as songs like “The Kind of Love You Never Recover From” by Christine Lavin remind us, it is NOT following your heart that you’ll eventually regret for the rest of your life. THAT is the “if only” that people obsess about on their deathbeds: not “if only I had forsaken my heart and done my duty!” but “if only I had followed my heart instead of spending so much time doing my duty!” Second, Rick famously says, “it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.” In other words, an individual’s interests don’t matter compared to a government’s wartime interests. But as the chess song “Queen Rook Pawn” by “King Bishop and the Squares”* reminds us, we are human beings, not chess pieces.
*In the song, the pawn reached the last rank where it could choose to promote to another piece:
“So Fate asked the pawn, ‘Now what will you become
On this most auspicious day?’
The pawn cleared its throat, smoothed its simple coat,
And here’s what it had to say:
“’A pawn is a nobody, moved at the master’s choice,
Never is consulted, nobody hears its voice,
A nameless soldier that history will forget.
But you know, MY history’s not over yet!
The king’s new queen? One of the general’s new tanks?
And so back to battle? No thanks!’
“And so the pawn put down its little sword,
And took a step right off of the board,
Off to become whatever it chose to be,
Brothers and sisters, that could be you and me.
A nameless soldier that history may forget,
But is it better off now? You bet!"
Interestingly, the only part of the Casablanca speech that rings true is the non-famous part, where Rick explains to Ilsa that if she stayed, she would “wind up in a concentration camp.” Naturally, in our prevailing system, it is the two parts of the speech glorifying submission of personal interests to government interests that are the famous parts of the classic speech, and it is the one part where an individual expresses his love and concern for another that is forgotten!
For the past ten thousand years,* humanity has truly been living “Life Out of Balance”, the subtitle of the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi. Much of the film was taken up by contemplative, slow-motion scenes of unchanging landscapes set to Philip Glass’s hypnotic music. But even by 1982 modern human society had become so fast-paced that those scenes were hard to sit still for, and the lasting images from that movie have always instead been the speeded-up cars driving at nighttime with their lights on. By 1988, when the second film in the Qatsi trilogy, Powaqqatsi, came out, such scenes would have been unendurable by the audience and so no such scenes were included in the film. The third movie, Naqoyqatsi (2002), consists of hi-tech fast-cutting camera trick scenes and is almost wholly devoid of nature images.
*I find this idea interesting: Why don't we express years in the "Holocene calendar", which kind of arbitrarily sets the start of the Holocene Epoch (which was around 11,500 years ago or so) at exactly 10,000 BC? That way, all AD years are converted to HE by adding 10,000 to them (so this year is 12010 HE) and all BC years are converted by subtracting them from 10,001 (so Julius Caesar was assassinated in 9957 HE). The most obvious advantage is we can therefore avoid the whole Jesus dating bit and euphemisms like "Before the Common Era". We would be measuring time by the progress of our species as such, and not by the benchmarks of one particularly aggressive religious empire. (Though some scientists are now using the term "Anthropocene" to describe the current period, for human effects are firmly imprinted in the geologic record. The Anthropocene includes the 6th great extinction event in the history of life.)
Nevertheless, as I discussed in my earlier posts, I would attribute this “Life Out Of Balance”, the environment-destroying and psychology-destroying aspects of modern technical society, not to technology or science or scientific thought (Thinking is what we experience during gaps in our emoting. If there are no gaps there is no thinking. Today people are emoting all the time and are mistaking emotion for thought.) but rather to capitalism. Science and technology are just tools, and are not themselves exploitative; it is the capitalistic society that uses those tools that is exploitative.* Or maybe that’s just me talking.
*The wretched catalogue of horrendous environmental and ecological disasters in the former Soviet bloc countries are no counterexample, of course, since they too were "SINO" (Socialist In Name Only). And those countries were real workers' paradises too, socialist to a T (or S I guess). Gosh, how I miss 'em! Or actually, unlike modern China with its "Made in China" sweatshops, they actually were "socialist" in a sense, but "state socialist" rather than "democratic socialist". Like modern China, and like the Western world, they exploited people and the land rather than being controlled by the people and loving the land. Something like that!
Both capitalists* and “industrial civilization” critics assume that the “consumer lifestyle”, the endless desire for the newer and better consumer products, and commerce and the profit motive are what drives scientific and technological development. “That's what YOU say!” "TINA" - There Is No Alternative. We're still early in the 21st century yet, but as the decades continue to show in more and more detail what results commerce and the profit motive are also driving, I wonder what more and more people will be saying about whether they are really necessary (as opposed to sufficient) mechanisms to have scientific and technological development. I would say that science and technology are necessary for capitalism, rather than the other way around.
*Sometimes capitalists remind me of the unreceptive audience in eastern Europe when singer Billy Bragg performed "The Internationale" there. They associated the song's music with the hated former Soviet Union SO much that they could not heed Bragg's admonition that they should listen to the words. Even though Bragg had almost completely rewritten the words anyway, the point is still the same one, since the words of even more traditional versions of that song bore no relation to Stalinism etc. anyway. Indeed, it was for that very reason that the Soviet Union, which had initially embraced the song and adopted it as its national anthem, reversed itself and made it no longer so in 1943 - they didn't want their citizens to dwell on the increasing discrepancies between the Soviet Union and that song. George Orwell captured this in his book "Animal Farm" when the pigs later banned the song "Beasts of England" that had inspired the animals to revolt in the first place.*
**Orwell was a socialist who was bitterly disappointed at what Stalinism had done to the Soviet Union (and Orwell had encountered the perfidy of the Stalinists during the Spanish Civil War), and so both 1984 and Animal Farm are chock full of satiric references to the Soviet Union under Stalin, news about which Orwell was following very closely so those books at times often have a one-to-one correspondence to the Soviet Union under Stalin: the song "Beasts of England" in Animal Farm is the song "The Internationale", "The Book" in 1984 is "The Revolution Betrayed" by Leon Trotsky***, the national enemy - turned ally - turned enemy again was Nazi Germany before, during, and after the Hitler-Stalin pact, etc. My mother once commented that the changing of history in 1984, with old newspapers and magazines being carefully re-written to show the past history was consistent with present political convenience, was unnecessary in real life because people have notoriously short memories and don't remember or even care what the past said, etc. But that's beyond the point. Although peoples' real life "memory hole" might indeed make the activities of such a ministry unneeded in real life, Orwell was satirizing how the Soviet Union under Stalin was also doing such "rewriting" of history, like telling the people Stalin had been the head of the Red Army during the Civil War rather than Trotsky (incidentally, Shostakovich had to orchestrate the film music for a propaganda movie claiming exactly this). Of course Huxley’s Brave New World had a different depiction, because it was trying to do a different thing. Only Huxley was really extrapolating from Western trends in the early 20th century, like "Fordism" and consumerism, so no wonder he rather hit the nail on the head. It’s almost amazing that the book 1984 so notoriously resembles modern life in the United States in some ways!
***Actually I quite like Trotsky. Although of course I consider myself a Luxemburgist rather than a Trotskyist, the differences are trivial compared to the similarities. Still, the differences are very real, and on every one of them, I side with Rosa (and not just because she is my heart-throb!). Probably the clearest difference is the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921, when Soviet sailors rose up against the Bolsheviks, which rebellion they of course brutally crushed with much bloodshed. This difference is probably clearest because it is not a question of theory but a specific event. There is absolutely no question that Rosa, who had criticized the Bolsheviks both before and after they took power in Russia for many things, most notably for being too authoritarian, would certainly have written very strongly to criticize their handling of this event, but unfortunately she had died in January 1919, just a couple months after being released from prison for opposing World War I,*** from where she had written her earlier criticism of the Bolsheviks after they took power in Russia. But Trotsky himself continued to defend and justify the actions of himself and Lenin in suppressing the Kronstadt Rebellion even many years later, and so of course do and must Trotskyists to this day. Indeed, there are sectarian differences between different groups of people who call themselves “Trotskyists”, but they all seem to agree that brutally crushing the Kronstadt Rebellion with much bloodshed was a good thing to do. Why couldn’t Trotsky just admit that he and Lenin had made the wrong call years earlier? Why couldn’t he, as Rosa would say, be a “Mensch”?
****Criticizing what was then known as "the Great War" was not a safe thing to do in Germany, or in the U.S. either for that matter. Did any other countries throw people into jail for opposing the war? I don't know for sure, but those two countries sure did, and with a vengeance. Incidentally, the fact that countries spent more time and resources throwing pro-peace people into jail in wartime than throwing pro-war people into jail in peacetime has always struck me as Exhibit A in the case of whether it is human nature that causes governments to go to war or whether it is governments that cause humans to go to war.
A communist or socialist society need not even be "industrial", which is the whole point; while a capitalistic society DOES indeed need to be "industrial", since its whole raison d'être, its modus operandi (gee, I seem to be using lots of nonEnglish today!), is to exploit all that can be exploited, a socialistic/communistic society (at least, the kind as originally envisioned by Marx) can stop doing this, take a step backward, rationally understand what has been going on and decide whether or not it, even industry itself, is a good idea, and then proceed forward with the system of living in the world changed at its root, at its base, from what present industrial society is and does. And that is why, even though I agree with almost everything “industrial civilization” critics say, I still feel that they are missing the real target.
OPTIMISM AND PESSIMISM
It occurs to me that someone could object to my strong pessimism by saying that it must have come from equally strong optimism that was only transformed into pessimism by some disappointment. A pessimist is an optimist who's been disappointed; a liberal is a conservative who's been mugged; a conservative is a liberal who's been arrested*; etc. There often seems to be a kind of “conservation of emotional strength” whereby strong emotions or opinions in one direction are transformed into strong emotions or opinions in a different direction, for example, love becomes hate, or worry becomes anger, or a strong opinion as to, say, life on Mars, swings to the opposite extreme, a fox desiring grapes but unable to reach them opines that they must be sour, etc. Well, there is no such “conservation of emotional strength” involved in my pessimistic conclusions.**
*I have noticed over the past few decades that politically I seem to have been moving more to the left as I grow older. Didn't Winston Churchill supposedly say that as you got older you went in the other direction? (Though a quick Googling to pin down his quotation shows that not only is that quotation falsely attributed to him ("Surely Churchill can't have used the words attributed to him. He'd been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35!"), but similar quotations have been attributed to lots of other people.)
**Actually, I don’t feel this “conservation of emotional strength” in my bones myself, but I accept that that’s just the way it is for “normal” (neurotypical) humans. (Indeed, it doesn't really even make sense to me. If you really loved somebody, why would you later really hate them? If you were really worried about somebody absent, why would you later be really mad at that person when present? But people do.) Normal humans are alien to me.*** (Incidentally, the original Tacitus quotation, “Nothing human is alien to me”, was one of Marx's favorites.)
***Wikipedia says about the TV show “Bones” (apparently about both doctors-who-are-cops and cops-who-are-doctors) that it would have explicitly said the lead character has Asperger’s Syndrome if it had been a cable TV show! “’Bones’ creator Hart Hanson says he based Brennan in part on a friend with Asperger’s, but the network Fox’s need to broaden the appeal to the largest viewership possible meant he couldn’t come out and say that. ‘If we were on cable, we would have said from the beginning that Brennan has Asperger’s,’ Hanson says. ‘Instead, it being a network, we decided not to label a main character, for good or for bad. But those elements are in there.’"
There is another kind of approach to pessimism than the ones I named before (Sour Grapes, Party Hearty, Schizoid Man*, etc.): the Monk Theme Song ("I could be wrong now, but I don't think so") kind of pessimist. I also said before: “After all, it’s still too soon to be absolutely CERTAIN that ‘Resistance is futile!’” So I guess that makes me the Monk Theme Song kind. I am not an infallible brilliant genius, nor am I arrogant like Prexy Bush II, so I am not ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN in my pessimistic conclusions.
*Team coaches use pep-talk and cheerleading, to encourage players to win rather than discourage them by telling them they will lose. And since we KNOW we will lose, we should at least fight and go strongly against the current. Though I see the value in this, I would still classify it as “Schizoid Man” coping.
If any time period had huge neon letters in the sky saying "THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN", the 20th century was it. The 20th century seems to me like conclusive proof that humanity has taken a wrong turn. “I could be wrong now, but I don’t think so.”