December 15, 2005


Diagnosis, Prognosis, and a SubGenius allegory for lack of a better ending.

The Atomic Revolution! Which kicks ass, by the way.

I'm not a huge poetry fan, but have always enjoyed T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" a lot. There's a section of "The Dry Salvages" that's stuck with me since the first time:

It seems, as one becomes older,
That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence—
Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy
Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,
Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.

...which showed me right there that Eliot may or may not have understood evolution itself--but he sure did understand one of the (deliberate, I suspect, even if not consciously understood as deliberate) misconceptions of it. Namely that it's purpose-driven, that it's upward progress--that now is always, as a given, better than before. Disowning the past.

That nifty comic up yonder brought that sharply back into my head. I came across the link on Metafilter, which is pretty good at throwing up the occasional really neat link (an earlier thing about an unofficial 1900 sequel to War of the Worlds involving Edison kicking Mars's ass with his steampunk genius, same provenance), but like most internet fora with delusions of community, it's packed full of precious twitterpated "personalities" who are just convinced they're very clever. This isn't a Metafilter-specific slam by any means; it's an inherent weakness in online fora in general. Many of the comments are driven by a largely-unstated "isn't that just quaint!" chortling. It's a part of kitsch, part of a past that's mere sequence, a development that we, much more more advanced now, have developed beyond. Disowned.

But there's an attitude in it that somewhere along the line, "the" culture's lost. Not just a clumsy sort of "optimism" that greasy politicians (or rather, their speechwriters, following suggestions from their handlers, the best of which are at least still bipeds) use as part of rhetorical arsenal. A determination that the world was going to be remade because that's what humanity was for--because that's what we can decide to be, decide that that's humanity's story.

"Human hate and ignorance, or human love and knowledge are the masters. The atom will serve either." Decide to be.

Certainly the positive promises of nuclear energy was happily whitewashed--atomic airplanes in particular seem a bit overreaching, and the nastier longer-term side-effects of radiation were a bit slow in coming to general realization. Actual fusion power as opposed to fusion BOOM! never materialized, due to pretty sizable engineering difficulties and also, I suspect, a certain amount of simple losing of the necessary will.

As a confirmed misanthrope, I understand very well the appeal of fatalism--I of course understand better the humanistic variety of it (see Vonnegut's early works, when his muse still had fire instead of ashes) far more than the religious, but I understand it. Matter of fact, I'd say it's the diagnosis; it is what is. Pithy little saying that pops up, I understand, in cancer wards as well as church signs: "Accept the diagnosis. Defy the prognosis." That defiance is the true essence of X-Day, for the Elect who have ears to hear and understand that particular analogy.

We need more defiance of that sort. It needs to stop seeming quaint.

Mind you, we don't necessarily need a fission pile in every back yard; MWOWM stones will serve that purpose better. But the defiance grounded in realism, yes.

posted by Gar @ 2:36 PM
Humanity may destroy itself, march steadily toward what I feel is the inevitable paradise on Earth, or stumble repeatedly along the way, enduring a sort of technological Purgatory from time to time with the final result being something we might not even conceived of yet. Either way, the Subgenius is indomitable.

I repeat. Indomitable. And that word means something.
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