Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Trek Realities

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No official Star Trek image; alas.

There are quite a few eras in the Star Trek world, depicted by full-length feature films and the various series.   Fiction, of course, but there are elements of it that have always made people think about different viewpoints in a more easily accessible way.   The first series had The Devil in the Dark, with a supposedly malevolent creature that was, in the end, simply defending its young.  If there is a series that has brought up the realities of the world as we know it most often (rather than the idealized version that Gene Roddenberry depicted), it probably has been Deep Space Nine (some fans have stated, “…in the question of Kirk vs. Picard, the answer is actually Sisko!”)

In one particular episode,  The Siege of AR-558, a very non-warlike character states something very close to the ‘thin ice’ comment of Prelude To Axanar:

Take a look around you, Nog. This isn’t the Starfleet you know…Let me tell you something about humans, nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon.

This probably hits home more than one would like; when things get tough, humans can get very, very aggressive.

Questions:

  • What is the point at which people get as “violent as Klingons?”   One source says we are “nine meals away from anarchy.”
  • Is this nationality or ethnically dependent?  Does a cohesive national culture reduce the chances, or change the onset of anarchy?
  • What are other Trek episodes that have relevance in our current world, of climate change, resource depletion, and financial shenanigans?

Decency

800px-Decency_and_order_in_publick_worship_recommended_in_three_discourses,_preached_in_the_Cathedral_Church_of_Hereford_Fleuron_T032178-4.png

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Decency_and_order_in_publick_worship_recommended_in_three_discourses,_preached_in_the_Cathedral_Church_of_Hereford_Fleuron_T032178-4.png; Public Domain.

My worldview isn’t quite pollyannish; read enough of this or any related blog in the blogroll, and you find that dark days are coming (If there was an editor for these posts, you’d get the obligatory “[ed. OK, yes, we get it].”)

Occasionally, when things seem miserable, there are still signs of decency and civil behavior.   The recent US government shutdown screwup has a lot of people working (the Coast Guard, the TSA, and others) who aren’t getting paychecks.   Across the country, people and companies are kicking in to help these folks.   The folks they are helping are generally like many of us, trying to get by, and trying to do sometimes thankless or behind-the-scenes jobs that nobody cares about (until, of course, something goes wrong).   This, in and of itself, won’t help the climate issue, the debt problem, or other freight trains of predicaments rolling our way.  But it does make you think that even when things are miserable, certain human decencies still remain.

For a daily dose of this sort of thing, check out reddit, HumansBeingBros.

What are examples of ordinary decency you see in your daily life?  Why do you think some people, in spite of everything, are still decent?

 

 

John Boyd

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Boyd_(military_strategist)#/media/File:JohnBoyd_Pilot.jpg, Public Domain

Occasionally, you find out about someone who has toiled in obscurity, and has passed away, but in retrospect has had an enormous impact on the world.  The late Colonel John Boyd (USAF) is one of those folks.  The biography by Coram is a good start; there’s another discussion of his work by the Marine Corps University.  He was a no-nonsense sort of guy, and told a lot of people (including his superiors) that they were doing stuff wrong, and were going to get a lot of people killed if things continued the way they were going.  He was instrumental in the design of the F-15, F-16, and his philosophy was part of the success of the A-10, and of the ‘left hook’ strategy that was used in the first Gulf War.   He was responsible for the E-M theory used to compare aircraft for combat, and was the person behind the deceptively simple (but actually quite complex) OODA loop.   His commentary on the Pentagon way of doing things has been talked about by many.

Given our current landscape of future probabilities and predicaments, one wonders what a John Boyd would say about things.  Reading his biography, there was no mention of climate change, financial catastrophe, or the possibility of near-term human extinction, but what would a mind like his have thought, if he had been tasked with the mission of figuring out what to do, or how to handle these conundrums?

Boyd was an always prepared sort of person – he always said you have to “do your homework,” and many who have a different take on the future hawked by the techno-elite know that combating these fantasies requires a good grounding in engineering, science, finance, and mathematics.  Boyd seems like the person who would have easily mastered these topics, given his drive and success in becoming an expert on a wide variety of specialties.

Boyd was part of the ‘Fighter Mafia‘, a group of thinkers who thought differently, and (according to a few footnotes, not immune to criticism), were probably a good counter to the sclerotic bureaucracy of the Pentagon, all told.   There are criticisms of every person on the blog roll to the right, in every corner of the Bates collapsnik chart, but the questioning of the status quo is certainly desperately needed.

Boyd has a lot of great quotes; most telling perhaps, which relates to more than warfare:

“Machines don’t fight wars, people do, and they use their minds.” He also preached, “People, ideas, hardware – in that order.” Thus, machines and technology must serve the larger purpose.

Questions:

  • Boiling down the performance of a fighter aircraft to a single number is more likely easier than trying to distill a single number for an economy or ecosystem.   Could a reasonably understood metric be used to help sway public opinion on our various predicatments?  Or are things just too complex?   In the financial world, P/E ratios, and other metrics tell a compelling story that things are quite overvalued, but for many “it’s different this time,” and those things don’t matter.
  • Boyd passed away in 1997; what do you think his acolytes might say about our current situation?
  • Who in the collapsnik world is most like Boyd?  There are lots of smart and well read people in this sphere; who makes some of the best compelling arguments?

Beyond capitalism

Beyond the lightspeed, er, capitalism barrier! (own work, CC-BA)

JHK had a great podcast with Shaun Chamberlain regarding the late David Fleming’s Lean Logic, and it convinced me to check out both Lean Logic and Surviving The Future.  There is some overlap in the two books, but they are still both worth reading.  In the preface to the latter, the Editor’s Preface quotes Ursula Le Guin (writer of many well regarded SF stories) who said these possibly prescient words in 2014:

I think hard times are coming when 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. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite 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 ebook 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 and what to write.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. 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, and very often in our art – the art of words.

As we all know, SF folks have made some on the mark predictions, and have missed many others.  Who would have predicted we’d have supercomputers in our pockets?  Sociological change is something that seems even more fantastic.  Safe and legal birth control; legally protected same-sex marriage; gays and lesbians in the US military are all par for the course today, and these things would have seemed impossible even fifty years ago.

Modern capitalism and its handmaiden modern finance is built upon infinite growth, and with a finite planet, this isn’t a sustainable system.   This obvious statement isn’t popular, but anyone who knows a bit of math and and won’t handwave explanations of modern finance, fiscal policy and our monetary system knows this is true.  It seems like capitalism is inescapable, but as Ursula notes, so did the divine right of kings at some point in time.

There are other social models out there, and some have existed outside the mainstream from time to time; (pirates in the 1700s) and potlatch societies come to mind.   In the modern world, other ways of achieving social status (like Stack Exchange), exist, where your contributions to the community are given a numeric value, which gives you prestige and privilege.   Of course, any system can be ‘gamed’, but the key element here is that alternatives to capitalism might exist.  Even in spite of problems with the Burning Man world (as noted earlier), some of the tenets there might be part of a new way of running the world, sans capitalism.  For sure, modern capitalism does appear to truly unsustainable, so something else is going to have to replace it.

Questions:

  • What other alternatives to modern capitalism are there?   Modern “socialistic” countries may be only capable of being sustained with abundant fossil fuels (i.e. Norway), or with smaller and more uniform populations (see The Almost Nearly Perfect People for a summary of Scandinavian culture).
  • How might this change away from modern capitalism happen?  Will it go with a bang, or a whimper?
  • Can you build a complex society, capable of sending people the moon, building complex devices (such as microchips), and doing mega-projects (such as dams, bridges, etc.) without a financial system looking like the one we have now?   Would it matter?
  • The real question is when; how long before this all becomes a distant memory?

 

 

 

 

 

2019

1280px-Shibuya_Nights._(Unsplash)

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Shibuya_Crossing_at_night_in_the_2010s#/media/File:Shibuya_Nights._(Unsplash).jpg; CC0 (Public Domain)

Well, we are now here in 2019.   As astute readers may know, it is the same year that Blade Runner (1982) is set, and a few have commented on this.

In watching Blade Runner, the biggest impact for me wasn’t the possibility that limited life androids, space travel, off-world colonies, antigravity,  and voice-controlled image enhancement could exist, or that our entire world seemed to be perpetually drenched in bleakness.   Yes, that was some neat stuff, but when you’ve read and watched enough SF, this stuff can almost become mundane. Some of the most striking movements were just before and after the classic ‘tears in rain’ speech (tweaked the night before filming) by Rutger Hauer playing Roy Batty, an android on the cusp of death.   The speech itself is quite impressive, and rightly occupies a place in the pantheon of awesome SF monologues.

The bits before and after the speech, however, are quite excellent philosophical  brackets to it.  Seconds before saving “everybody’s punching bag” Decker from plummeting to his death from the top of the Bradbury Building, Batty says:

Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it… that’s what it is to be a slave.

A few minutes later (no matter what cut of Blade Runner you watch), there’s another deep statement, said by Gaff, Decker’s origami folding associate:

“It’s too bad she won’t live… but then again, who does?”

These philosophical points, on fear, and on death, might be two things to ponder in the coming year.  We are slaves if we live in fear; and we should know that we will die, no matter what sort of techo-promises we are told. Science fiction can show us some amazing worlds, but like all great art, it can also remind us of some basic truisms.

Questions:

  • What other truisms has science fiction been good at reminding us of?
  • What are some other metaphysically heavy SF films do you recommend?