Abroad, for a human being in an inhuman tyrannical social system, has a particular and rather radiant sort of definition. In her article “The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy,” Ayn Rand defines the word as conceptualized by a person in Soviet Russia:
“The meaning of the word for a Soviet citizen is incommunicable to anyone who has not lived in that country: if you project what you would feel for a combination of Atlantis, the Promised Land and the most glorious civilization on another planet, as imagined by a benevolent kind of science fiction, you will have a pale approximation.”
Abroad, as in Europe or the United States, is both a utopia (Atlantis) and the land of opportunity (the Promised Land). But the reference I found most interesting was her connection of advanced technology or high culture not only to science fiction, but in particular a “benevolent” kind.
She’s right to imply that a kindly, optimistic science fiction is a lot less common than the darker variety. Just a few examples: Mervyn Peake’s Titus Alone is downright disturbing, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is about as pessimistic as you can get, and while Isaac Asimov may be less dark his Foundation series is undoubtedly creepy. Not to mention that absolutely nothing Philip K. Dick writes is ever pleasant.
Admittedly, I don’t read much hard science fiction (I’m a Humanities major, for God’s sake)– but “soft” science fiction (which deals often with social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, anthropology, etc.) tends toward the distinctly dystopian. Think 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451. Paranthetically– Ayn Rand’s Anthem is a bit sci-fi itself, and not in the least “benevolent”… but then that’s the point, isn’t it?
In any case, science fiction which doesn’t involve human beings destroying the planet, the galaxy, the universe, the species, or alien species is a bit rare these days. “Benevolent Science Fiction” would, on the other hand, present an optimistic vision of human ability and the future: freedom, not a security state, or technology as advancing the quality of life rather than enslaving its creators.
The Green Movement today tells us that industry and technology is killing the planet; that humans are hopelessly destructive and should be quarantined to their single globe and not cause any more damage. Environmentalism isn’t, after all, opposed to pollution or killing baby seals– it’s opposed to technology.
Doubt me? I was horrified a couple days ago to find a trailer for the upcoming documentary “No Impact Man” on the Apple Safari homepage. I will not put the link to the trailer up here because it feel it would pollute my blog environment, but here is the description and summary provided:
“Author Colin Beavan, in research for his new book, began the No Impact Project in November 2006. A newly self-proclaimed environmentalist who could no longer avoid pointing the finger at himself, Colin leaves behind his liberal complacency for a vow to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year. No more automated transportation, no more electricity, no more non-local food, no more material consumption… no problem. That is, until his espresso-guzzling, retail-worshipping wife Michelle and their two year-old daughter are dragged into the fray. Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein’s film provides a front row seat into the familial strains and strengthened bonds that result from Colin’s and Michelle’s struggle with this radical lifestyle change.”
Welcome to the Dark Ages, friend. (And with no electricity, that’s quite more literal than flippant on my part.)
But let’s think about this– is electricity evil simply because it makes an “impact” on the environment? Even the earliest humans used natural resources for tools, or altered the environment with agriculture. We can only survive by making an impact on the environment.
So if technology is evil, so is what makes it– the human mind. This movie sounds like science fiction to me, and more specifically, the malevolent kind.
Modern culture is telling us that progress is evil, so today, on the National Space Society’s “Space Settlement Blog Day,” the idea of a benevolent view of science, technology, and the future seems both relevant and important. Space colonization and settlement still sounds like science fiction to most people, even when we had men walking on the moon forty years ago.
And honestly– at the rate that some fields of technology are advancing, how does the accomplishment of half a century ago still stand as the summit? Looks like technology-haters are getting what they want.
Even today, and even in the West, the idea of going abroad (this time from the planet) seems like an improbability (if not an impossibility). It’s an idea pulled from a genre of benevolent science fiction– except, now, with technology the new bogeyman, there’s no such thing.
For more information on Exvironmentalism and how conservation and space colonization can mesh, I direct you to Dr. John Bossard’s blog, the Plasma Wind. He has posted a copy of the keynote speech at a recent Exvironmentalist conference, where I was happily in attendance.