Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

End of line: Seldon's Gate, signing off

Santa Cruz County, Arizona, June 1972.
Photo by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Preserved and stored by
the National Archives and Records Administration
of the United  States.

To quote the less than memorable near-final words of Captain James T. Kirk: it was fun. Except for when it wasn't. Life is like that.

This blog has come to an end. I might leave it up for a while, although I don't really know why. The number of regular readers has dropped to about two. The words fall in the woods and no one hears them, so for practical purposes they don't exist.

Not that they should. Somewhere along the line I lost my voice. Maybe that's not a bad thing. There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

Or listen to voices that aren't mine, until I remember again how to write something that's true. And worth listening to for a while.

From Ursula K. LeGuin:

   Only in silence the word
   Only in dark the light
   Only in dying life
   Bright the hawk's flight
   On the empty sky

From the Joss Whedon that was, before The Avengers:

   You can't take the sky from me.

From memory: the ones who are lost. Maybe part of a voice to be found, now that the old one is dead.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Things to come, in voices of the ghosts

Click the above to hear a 15 minute audio recording of various radio broadcasts from the Second World War. They cover roughly the second half of 1941. During this period, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. And the American arsenal of democracy began gearing up -- not only to annihilate the Axis governments but to achieve military dominance over the entire planet. That dominance continues to this day.

Radio broadcasts from 1941 chronicle the passage that resulted, of a whole civilization into a history-wrenching storm. There have been many such storms in the time of the human species on Earth. Few affected every human being in existence immediately, all at the same time. The fall of the Romans, for example, did not immediately unleash its consequences upon the cultures across the Atlantic. It took a thousand years for those consequences to unfold, in the genocidal gunfire and plagues brought by the ships of the Roman successor states, which one historian called "the Mongols of the sea."

The Second World War was different than the earlier storms, because it unfolded in the period when human civilization had become a single, world-spanning entity. Still divided culturally, but increasingly integrated by technology and economics, to a degree never before imagined. The war brought a global maelstorm that immediately affected the lives of almost every society on Earth.

The radio archives of that period give an unmatched sense of the drama and reality of world-shaking events now regarded as dull facts to be memorized by school children preparing for Leave Our Child Behind. Or: to be used as mythology, justifying choices made today, by people with the power over war and peace.

The broadcasts are useful not only as a reminder of things past. They can give us a harbinger of what it will be like when the current crisis of planetary ecology finally breaks in its full fury upon the global culture that required 200,000 years to make. There will be anxious voices in the air, with tidings of the unimaginable made real and loss too great to bear and readiness for a stand.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The largest fire in New Mexico history: year 2

Gila National Forest, New Mexico, May 25, 2012

For the second year running, a wildfire in the forests of New Mexico has become the largest ever in the history of the state. The Whitewater-Baldy Fire Complex, the firefighters call this year's epic foreshadowing of Wyrmwood. It has burned an area of the state larger than New York City and shows no sign of slowing down. The entire American West faces another inferno summer of horizon spanning flame, with record forest fires expected as the region enters a period of long-term drought.

Meanwhile, government officials and business leaders, near from the smoke or far, routinely assume that disappearing water supplies, incinerated ecosystems, and accelerating climate change will naturally fail to hinder their plans for indefinite expansion of cities, commerce, and population.

Congress, for its part, stands ready to implement budget cuts that will shrink national firefighting resources in the face of drastic increases in fires. Funding for carrier battle groups, counter-insurgency troops, and drone armadas may or may not be subject to cuts of their own.

The lead story on Yahoo News declares: "Diff'rent Strokes star to divorce." Young amateur baseball players in towns gutted by WalMart prepare for the major league draft. Superheroes on screens made of silver save New York from an alien armada thousands of times before the weekend is done. And, we are told by the grave intoning of a foreign policy web site, that Obama's drone war has not gone far enough.

Toward Bethlehem, to be born.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ecocatastrophe and the final frontier: 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

I haven't read it yet, but one of my top items for scheduled summer reading is the new science fiction novel 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Robinson is best known for the novels of his Mars trilogy, which trace human settlement of the Red Planet through the early twenty third century.

Thinking about today's global ecological crisis, my working assumption has been that climate change and resource depletion will put a permanent end to space travel sometime in the next few centuries, and possibly in this one. It's hard for me to imagine how the coming permanent exhaustion of fossil fuels and strategic minerals would permit future societies to build the massive, energy-intensive, raw-material-hogging infrastructure necessary to launch and sustain human colonization of the solar system. The virtual inevitability of runaway climate change and ecosystem collapse, it seems to me, seal the coffin even more tightly on dreams of future space colonization. Thus, over the last decade I came to believe that the future Robinson described in his Mars books was just about as feasible as traveling to Middle Earth.

2312, apparently, stands for the proposition that I'm wrong. Which, frankly, would make me very happy. From perusing various reviews, I can tell that Robinson's book postulates a near-collapse of civilization in the twenty first century, thanks to the various eco-horrors I just referenced. But in KSR's future, space colonization gets underway even so. By the early twenty fourth century, human societies are well-established throughout the Solar System, from Mercury to the asteroid belt and outer planets. From what I can tell, Earth itself remains a broiling, desert-wrapped hell hole of super-storms and rising oceans, embroiled in its ancient plagues of racism, hierarchy, and violence. But humans on other worlds flourish, branching out into new pathways of cultural experimentation -- and technology-enhanced biological and cybernetic evolution.

That's a long winded way to say I'm going to buy this book and scrutinize the underlying assumptions about how its imagined future polities and cultures came to be and how space travel enabled humanity to transcend the ecological devastation of its home planet. This intention of mine creates some personal irony, because the author once told me (in a face-to-face interview that I incompetently and unforgivably never managed to publish) that he did not intend his books to be read in this fashion. In so many words, he said that the technological and social speculation in his novels are simply stagecraft, not to be taken as academic commentary, serving strictly dramatic purposes. They are not the point of his books. They simply enable him to tell stories about interesting characters. And so they do, and so the characters are. But I can't help but read his books for my own purposes, even so.

My purpose is to imagine the future not of individual, imaginary characters but of our species as a whole. For some reason, it is emotionally important to me to imagine that the possible future histories of humanity that might unfold after my death are not uniformly apocalyptic. A human future out among the stars has always been part of those dreams. It's my own personal religion, and I seem to need it (not by bread alone). Perhaps especially now. One year of law school has left me, to be frank, desolate. Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and in all other ways empty. I've been to that place many times, in a lifelong cycle between hope and despondency. Somehow my esoteric personal religion always helps the cycle return to hope, along the trails through imaginary worlds and all the wonders that could be.

One more time.

* * * * *

Early reviews of KSR's book are positive, hinting at greatness. One of my favorites is here.