Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

The Stepford Daughters of Brexit and Slavery and the Emergence of Capitalism

August 15, 2019

Yesterday for our amusement the awesome Kerry Anne Mendoza posted a video on twitter made by two very definitely overprivileged girls talking about the evils of socialism. The two young ladies were Alice and Beatrice Grant, the privately educated granddaughters of the late industrialist and former governor of the Bank of England, Sir Alistair Grant. With their cut-glass accents and glazed, robotic delivery of their lines, they seemed to fit the stereotype of the idiotic Sloane perfectly, right down to the ‘Okay, yah’, pronunciation. Mendoza commented ‘I don’t think this was meant to be a parody, but it’s the perfect roast of the “yah-yah” anti-left.’

Absolutely. In fact, what the girls were describing as socialism was really Communism, completely ignoring democratic socialism, or social democracy – the form of socialism that demands a mixed economy, with a strong welfare state and trade unions, progressive taxation and social mobility. It also ignored anti-authoritarian forms of socialism, like syndicalism, guild socialism or anarcho-Communism. They were also unaware that Marx himself had said that, regarding the interpretations of his views promoted by some of his followers, he wouldn’t be a Marxist.

But it would obviously be too much to expect such extremely rich, public school girls to know any of this. They clearly believed, and had been brought up to believe, the Andrew Roberts line about capitalism being the most wonderful thing every invented, a mechanism that has lifted millions around the world out of poverty. Etc. Except, as Trev, one of the great commenters on Mike’s and this blog, said

If “Capitalism works” why are there a million people using foodbanks in Britain today? Not working that well is it? Why did the Government bail out the Banks using our money? Why did the Banking system collapse in the first place, was it because of Socialism? I don’t find these idiotic spoilt brats in the least bit funny, I feel bloody angry. When was the last time they ate food they found in the street? Bring back the Guillotine!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/14/these-young-ladies-of-brexit-need-to-be-seen-to-be-believed/

The two girls were passionate supporters of the Fuhrage and his wretched party, and were really looking forward to a no-deal Brexit. It shows how out of touch these girls are, as Brexit is already wrecking the British economy, and a no-deal Brexit and subsequent deal with a predatory America would just wipe it out completely. Along with everything that has made post-war Britain great – the NHS and welfare state. But these girls obviously have no connection with working people or, I guess, the many businesses that actually depend on manufacturing and exports. I think the girls’ family is part of financial sector, who stand to make big profits from Brexit, or at least are insulated from its effects because they can move their capital around the globe.

The girls’ views on the EU was similarly moronic. They really do seem to believe that the EU is somehow an oppressive, communistic superstate like the USSR. It wasn’t. And the reason anti-EU socialists, like the late, great Tony Benn distrusted it was partly because in their view it stood for capital and free trade against the interests of the nation state and its working people.

And they also have weird views on slavery and the EU’s attitude to the world’s indigenous peoples. To the comment by David Lammy, the Black Labour politico, who dared to correct Anne Widdecombe for comparing Brexit to the great slave revolts, they tweeted

Lammy being pathetic as usual. The chains of slavery can be intangible, as amply shown in China, the Soviet Union and the EU; to deny that just shows your ignorance and petty hatred for the truth”.

To which Zelo Street commented that there two things there. First of all, it’s best not to tell a Black man he doesn’t understand slavery. And second, the EU isn’t the USSR.

They were also against the Mercosur deal the EU wishes to sign with the South American nations, because these would lead to environmental destruction and the dispossession and exploitation of the indigenous peoples.

As usual the GREED and selfishness of the EU imposes itself using their trade ‘deals’ in the name of cooperation and fake prosperity. The indigenous tribes of the Amazon need our protection not deforestation”.

To which Zelo Street responded with incredulity about how they could claim environmental concern for a party headed by Nigel Farage.

And they went on. And on, going on about how the EU was a threat to civil liberties. And there was more than a touch of racism in their statement that Sadiq Khan should be more concerned to make all Londoners feel safe, not just EU migrants. They also ranted about how Labour had sold out the working class over Brexit in favour of the ‘immoral, money hungry London elite’. Which shows that these ladies have absolutely no sense of irony or any self-awareness whatsoever.

In fact, Zelo Street found them so moronic and robotic, that it dubbed them the Brexit party’s Stepford Daughters, referring to the 70s SF film, the Stepford Wives. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, the films about a community where the men have killed their wives and replaced them with robots.

See:  https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brexit-party-presents-stepford-daughters.html

There’s a lot to take apart with their tweets. And perhaps we shouldn’t be two hard on the girls. They’re only 15 and 17. A lot of young people at that age have stupid views, which they grow out of. But there is one issue that really needs to be challenged.

It’s their assumptions about slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. Because this is one massive problem to any assumption that capitalism is automatically good and beneficial.

There’s a very large amount of scholarship, much of it by Black activists and researchers, about slavery and the emergence of European capitalism and the conquest of the Americas. They have argued that European capitalism was greatly assisted by the profits from New World slavery. Caribbean historians like Dr Richard Hart, in his Blacks in Bondage, have shown that transatlantic slavery was a capitalist industry. For the enslaved indigenous peoples and the African men and women, who replaced them when they died out, capitalism certainly did not raise them out of poverty. Rather it has done the opposite – it enslaved them, and kept them in chains until they were able to overthrow it successfully with assistance of European and American abolitionists in the 19th century.

And among some left-wing West Indians, there’s still bitterness towards America for its constant interference in the Caribbean and Central and South America. America did overthrow liberal and progressive regimes across the world, and especially in the New World, when these dared to challenge the domination of American corporations. The overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz’s democratic socialist regime in Guatemala is a case in point. Arbenz was overthrown because he dared to nationalise the banana plantations. Which upset the American United Fruit Company, who got their government to overthrow him in coup. He was replaced by a brutal Fascistic dictatorship that kept the plantation workers as virtual slaves. And the Americans also interfered in Jamaican politics. They were absolutely opposed to the Jamaican Labour party politician, Michael Manley, becoming his nation’s Prime Minister, and so did everything they could to stop him. Including cutting trade.

And then there’s the enslavement and genocide of the indigenous peoples.

Before Columbus landed in the New World, South America had a population of about seven million. There were one million people in the Caribbean. I think there were similar numbers in North America. But the indigenous peoples were enslaved and worked to death. They were also decimated through diseases carried by Europeans, to which they had no immunity. The Taino people were driven to extinction. The Caribs, from whom the region takes its name, were able to survive on a reservation granted to them in the 18th century by the British after centuries of determined resistance. The conquest of the New World was a real horror story.

And Britain also profited from the enslavement of indigenous peoples. I doubt the girls have heard of it, but one of the scandals that rocked British imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that of the Putomayo Indians of South America. They had been enslaved by British rubber corporations. It was this abuse of a subject people that turned the Irish patriot, Roger Casement, from a British civil servant to an ardent Nationalist.

On the other side of the world, in the Pacific, British imperialism also managed to dispossess an entire Polynesian people and trash their island. This was in the 1920s. The island was rich in mineral deposits, and so moved the indigenous people out, ultimately relocating them to Fiji. Their island was then strip-mined, leaving it a barren, uninhabitable rock. In the 1980s the survivors were trying to sue the government over their maltreatment, but with no success.

This is what unfettered British imperialism and capitalism did. And what I’ve no doubt Farage and other far right British politicians would like to do again without the restraints of international law. It’s why I believe that, whatever the demerits of the Mercosur agreement are, it’s probably better than what individual nations would do without the restraint of the EU.

The girls are right to be concerned about the fate of indigenous peoples. But they are profoundly wrong in their absolute, uninformed belief that unregulated capitalism will benefit them.

It doesn’t. It enslaves, dehumanises and dispossesses. Which is why we need international organisations like the EU, and why the Brexit party isn’t just a danger to Britain, but to the world’s weaker, developing nations and their indigenous peoples.

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Sydney Stabbings: Hatey Katie Lies Again about Muslims

August 14, 2019

Katie Hopkins is at it again – lying about Muslims being responsible for yet another violent attack. It was reported today that a man had been arrested following the stabbing of two women in Sydney. The alleged perp was detained by members of the public. The article about it in today’s I says that they were two British guys, who see themselves as ‘protectors’ and said they’d do it again if they had to. Apparently they piled up crates and wooden boxes on the killer to keep him down until Sydney’s finest arrived. It’s a terrible crime, but what caught Katie Hopkins’ attention was that the attacker was filmed on video shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’ – the Islamic slogan meaning ‘God is great’. From this she concluded that this was yet another Islamic terror attack against Western infidels, and attacked the idea that it wasn’t. She tweeted

Notice the speed at which: Norway mosque shooting became a terror act … Sydney Allahu Akbar stabbing became nothing to do with terror”.

and

White guy goes on gun-rampage … The left: blame all whites … Knife guy shouts Allah Akhbar and goes on knife rampage … The left: blame mental health”.

She claimed that “Police confirm Sydney Stabbing terrorist was a Muslim convert with terrorist ideologies … To those determined to make this ANYTHING BUT Islamic terror YOU are part of the problem

Except it really wasn’t a terrorist attack. The Groaniad in their article point out that the suspect had the decidedly un-Islamic name of Mert Ney. And one of his relatives issued this statement making it clear that none of the family had any connection with Islam whatsoever.

I saw a lot of news articles saying it was about terrorism, but our family doesn’t practice Islam. Obviously, I know I am dark skinned and I look like I am from the Middle East, that’s going to be the obvious thing. But I’m not Islamic, my mum’s not Islamic, my sister isn’t Islamic, my dad is probably an atheist. We’ve got nothing to do with Islam at all”.

And Ney did have mental health problems. So when the Sydney police said that they weren’t treating it as a terror attack, they telling the truth. Because it certainly doesn’t appear to have been one.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/katie-hopkins-lies-about-sydney-stabbing.html

But as Zelo Street concluded, Katie Hopkins really is a paranoid, delusional ignorant racist liar, and that there’s been no change there. But as Hopkins lies and delusions become more extreme and obvious, she’s losing more and more support. She’s been sacked from various right-wing newspapers and media outlets because she’s too racist even for them. And the other month when she turned up in a London hotel premiering her film about how Christians and Jews were being driven out of Britain by aggressive Muslims, she was too much for a reporter from the Jewish Chronicle. This gentleman of the press got very concerned about her audience. They were mostly extremely right-wing, islamophobic Jews. Which is interesting, as the reason why the JC, along with the right-wing Jewish establishment has been smearing Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites is because Corbyn genuinely wants justice for the Palestinians. And the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, one of the organisations leading the witch hunt, is itself guilty of racism. It has declared that the section of the British population most likely to be islamophobic is Muslim men. As for Hatey Katie’s claim that the ‘Left’ tries to deny or play down clear instances of Islamic terrorism, this is part of a long campaign by the racist, Zionist right to associate socialism and Islam with anti-Semitic violence. Way back around 2004/5 I can remember reading a glowing review by Frederick Raphael in the Spectator of a book set in France in the 2020s. In this fictional future, the remains of European socialism have joined with the Muslims to begin a new Holocaust against the continent’s Jews.

The book’s clearly nothing but anti-Left, anti-Muslim propaganda. But the Spectator’s approving review of the book shows that while Hopkins’ vile views are now an embarrassment to her former allies and employers, they certainly shared and promoted them. And still do. She’s just more explicit than they are. 

Japanese Scientist Obtains Permission for Animal-Human Hybrids

August 1, 2019

This is very ominous. A Japanese scientist has been granted permission to create animal-human hybrids, according to yesterday’s I. The man intends to use them in research for the possible creation of organs in animals, that could be used for transplantation into humans. There are limits to his research, however. He states that at the moment he will not keep them alive for longer than 15 and a half days, so it isn’t like he’s going to produce complete animal-human hybrids, like the chimpanzee-human creature developed by rogue scientists as a new slave animal in the 1990s ITV SF thriller, Chimera. But it is a step in that direction.

The article, ‘Human-animal hybrid research is approved’, by Colin Drury, on page 22, runs

Human-animal hybrids are to be developed in embryo form in Japan after the government approved controversial stem-cell research.

Human cells will be grown in rat and mouse embryos, then brought to term in a surrogate animal, as part of experiments to be carried out at the University of Tokyo.

Supporters say the work – led by the renowned geneticist Hiromitsu Nakauchi – could be a vital first step towards eventually growing organs that can then be transplanted into people in need.

But opponents have raised concerns that scientists are playing God. Critics worry the human cells could stray beyond the targeted organs into other areas of the animal, creating a creature that is part animal, part person.

For that reason, such prolonged experimentation has been banned or not been financed across the world in recent years.

In Japan, scientists were forbidden from going beyond a 14-day growth period. But those laws were relaxed in March when the country’s education and science ministry issued new guidelines saying such creations could now be brought to term.

Now, Dr. Nakauchi’s application to experiment is the first to be approved under that new framework.

Human-animal hybrid embryos have been made in countries such as the United States, but were never brought to term. The US National Institutes of Health has had a moratorium on funding such work since 2015.

“We don’t expect to create human organs immediately, but this allows us to advance our research based upon the know-how we have gained up to this point,” Dr. Nakauchi told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

He added that he planned to proceed slowly, and will not attempt to bring any hybrid embryos to term for several years, rather growing the hybrid mouse embhryos to 14.5 days, when the animal’s organs are mostly formed, and the hybrid rat embryo’s to 15.5 days.

Such caution was welcomed by bioethicists in the country.

There was also a little capsule, containing the comment that

Some bioethicists are concerned about the possibility that human cells might stray, travelling to the developing animal’s brain and potentially altering its cognition.

Which seems to be a concern that this research could unintentionally also result in animals acquiring some form of human intelligence accidentally.

The British philosopher Mary Midgley attacked that part of the biotech industry and those scientists, who looked forward to bioengineers being able to redesign whole new forms of humans in her book, The Myths We Live By (London: Routledge 2004). She writes

That ideology is what really disturbs me, and I think it is what disturbs the public. This proposed new way of looking at nature is not scientific. It is not something that biology has shown to be necessary. Far from that, it is scientifically muddled. It rests on bad genetics and dubious evolutionary biology. Though it uses science, it is not itself a piece of science but a powerful myth expressing a determination to put ourselves  in a relation of control to the non-human world around us, to be in the driving seat at all costs rather than attending to that world and trying to understand how it works. It is a myth that repeats, in a grotesquely simple sense, Marx’s rather rash suggestion that the important thing is not to understand the world, but to change it. Its imagery is a Brocken spectre, a huge shadow projected on to a cloudy background by the shape of a few recent technological achievements.

The debate then is not between Feeling, in the blue corner, objecting to the new developments, and Reason in the red corner, defending them. Rhetoric such as that of Stock and Sinsheimer and Eisner is not addressed to Reason. It is itself an exuberant power fantasy, very much like the songs sung in the 1950s during the brief period of belief in an atomic free lunch, and also like those in the early days of artificial intelligence. The euphoria is the same. It is, of course, also motivated by the same hope of attracting grant money, just as the earlier alchemists needed to persuade powerful persons tthat they were going to produce real, coinable gold. (p. 166).

She goes on to argue that such scientific hubris comes from the gradual advance of atheism with the victory of the mechanistic model of the universe introduced by Newton in the 17th century. As God receded, scientists have stepped in to take His place.

On the clockwork model the world thus became amazingly intelligible. God, however, gradually withdrew from the scene, leaving a rather unsettling imaginative vacuum. The imagery of machinery survived. But where there is no designer the whole idea of mechanism begins to grow incoherent. Natural Selection is supposed to fill the gap, but it is a thin idea, not very satisfying to the imagination.

That is how the gap that hopeful biotechnicians now elect themselves to fill arose. They see that mechanistic thinking calls for a designer, and they feel well qualified to volunteer for that vacant position. Their confidence about this stands out clearly from the words I have emphasised in Sinsheimer’s proposal that ‘the horizons of the new eugenics are in principle boundless – for we should have the potential to create new genes and new qualities yet undreamed of … For the first time in all time a living creature understands its origin and can undertake to design its future.’

Which living creature? It cannot be human beings in general, they wouldn’t know how to do it. It has to be the elite, the biotechnologists who are the only people able to make these changes. So it emerges that members of the public who complain that biotechnological projects involve playing God have in fact understood this claim correctly. That phrase, which defenders of the projects dismiss as mere mumbo jumbo, is actually a quite exact term for the sort of claim to omniscience and omnipotence on these matters that is being put forward.

One of the most profound artistic comments I have found about the implications of this new biotechnology is the sculpture ‘The Young Family’ by the Australian artist Patricia Piccinini. This shows a hybrid mother creature, bred for organ transplantation, surrounded by her young. Curled up like an animal, her human eyes peer back plaintively at the spectator. It’s a deeply disturbing work, although Piccinini states she is not opposed but optimistic about scientific progress. She says

In terms of the real world, these are some of the key issues that I am trying to question and discuss with my work. I’m not pessimistic about developments in biotechnology. We are living in a great time with a lot of opportunities, but opportunities don’t always turn out for the best. I just think we should discuss the full implications of these opportunities.

So if we look at The Young Family we see a mother creature with her babies. Her facial expression is very thoughtful. I imagine this creature to be bred for organ transplants. At the moment we are trying to do such a thing with pigs, so I gave her some pig-like features. That is the purpose humanity has chosen for her. Yet she has children of her own that she nurtures and loves. That is a side-effect beyond our control, as there will always be.

That is what makes the question of breeding animals purely for organ-transfer so difficult to answer. On one hand we need organs to help people in need, on the other hand we are looking at an animal that wants to exist for the sake of itself. I can’t help but feel an enormous empathy for this creature. And, to be very honest, if it would save the life of one of my children, I would be will to take one of these organs. I know it is probably not ethically right but sometimes honesty, emotions, empathy and ethics don’t always line up.

I am not nearly so optimistic. For me, this sculpture is a deeply moving, deeply disturbing comment on the direction this new technology can go. And I fear tht this latest advance is taking us there.

France Recruits SF Writers as Military Strategists

July 22, 2019

I’m afraid I’ve lost the cutting for this, so I can’t really give you the details. But it was reported in last week’s I that the French have recruited five science fiction writers for one of their defence organisations. I realise that some people will consider it so far-fetched that SF writers can have anything sensible to say on the subject of present day warfare or possible terror attacks, that it’ll sound like a joke to them. There may well be muttered sneers about these peeps protecting la patrie from the Daleks, Klingons or some other threat from beyond the stars. But there’s some very sound sense in it. SF writers have written about terrible threats to global security, wars and terror attacks almost from the very beginnings of the modern genre in the 19th century. Jules Verne described an anarchist waging war against the rest of the world in his story, Robur le Conquerant. H.G. Wells predicted something like modern tank warfare in his The Land Ironclads, although these massive vehicles were more like ships and moved on dozens of mechanical legs like centipedes. Another short story, The Stolen Bacillus, dealt with the attempted use of germ warfare by terrorists. In this story, an anarchist works his way into the confidence and laboratory of a biologist working on a new type of infectious germ. The anarchist seizes a vial of the cultures, and escapes, running across London with the scientist in hot pursuit. When it appears that he will be cornered and caught, the anarchist drinks the vial, deliberating infecting himself with the disease organism, and then runs on, taking care deliberately to bump into people. All is well, however, as rather than being a lethal pathogen, the disease is actually quite harmless. All it does is to make those infected with it turn a different colour. Which is either yellow or blue. The story may have had a happy ending, but for its late Victorian audience it raised a real, terrifying possibility.

With warfare moving into areas previously considered the realm of SF, like Trump’s call for a space force, the US navy testing laser weapons, war robots being developed by Boston Dynamics and the very real threat of cyber attack, it makes sense for the French to recruit suitable SF writers. After all, back in the 1980s before 9/11, one of the major thriller writers published a novel about a group of terrorists flying a plane into the Twin Towers. It’s possible that their recruitment by the military may also be a gesture to show how hip and modern Macron’s presidency is. Alongside old, trusted methods and guides, he’s turning to imaginative popular culture. But it also shows that we really are increasingly living in an age of Science Fiction.

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

July 14, 2019

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.

 

The Rise and Fall of Modern Architecture, Environmentalism and a Humane Planned Environment

July 14, 2019

Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture, by Douglas Murphy (London: Verso 2016).

This is one of the books I’ve been reading recently, and it’s fascinating. It’s about the rise and fall of Modern architecture, those grey, concrete, Brutalist eyesores that were built from the 1950s onwards. This book shows how they were seen at the time as the architecture of the future, widely praised and admired until opposition against this type of architecture came to head in the 1970s.

Megastructures’ Design and Ideology in the Age of Space Travel and the Car

Murphy shows that this type of architecture drew its inspiration from space travel, as well as underwater exploration. It was optimistic, and came from a time when it was believed that the bureaucratic state could plan and build better communities. In Britain part of its stimulus came from the massive congestion in British towns caused by the growth in motor traffic. With the number of motor vehicle accidents rising, The British government published a report recommending the clearance of the older areas of towns. Pedestrians and motor vehicles were to be kept separate. There were to be submerged roads and motorways, while pedestrians were given raised walkways and under- and overpasses. At the same time, the post-war housing crisis was to be solved. Homes were to be made as cheaply as possible, using the methods of industrial production. Concrete panels and other items were to be prefabricated in factories, and then assembled on site by smaller crews of workers than traditionally used in house-building. The masses were to be housed in new estates, or projects in America, and most notoriously in tower blocks. Architects also drew their inspiration from the American architect and guru, Buckminster Fuller and his massive geodesic domes. A series of world expos from the 1930s onwards across the world portrayed megastructures as the architecture of a brilliant future of space colonisation. Giant metal frames were to be built above the cities themselves. As it was believed that society was going to be more mobile, ‘plug-in’ cities were designed. In Archigram’s design of that name, cranes would move along these frames, building and tearing down new structures as and when they were needed. This idea reached its culmination in architectural designs in which the space-frame was all there was, the interior occupied by nomadic hippies. In Britain, the architect Cedric Price to the logic of structures that could be easily altered and rearranged to logical extreme. His design for a new university campus, the Potteries Thinkbelt, was based in a railway yard, so that trains could haul around the various structural elements and place them in new configurations as required.

The architecture for these projects threatened to be monotonous, so architects attempted to provide for this. The Habitat 67 building designed by the Israeli-Canadian architects, Moshe Safdie, was modular. Each element was a self-contained box. However, these could be added and arranged in a number of different ways to create flats of different dimension, in an overall block of great complexity. A Dutch architect believed that the solution was for the state to provide the frame work for a housing block, with the residents building their own homes to their tastes. Another British architect, designing a housing block in one of the northern cities, tried to solve this by opening an office in the city, where people could drop in and give him their ideas, criticisms and suggestions. The result was a long, concrete block of housing, which nevertheless had some variety. At points there were different designs in the concrete, and woods of different colours were also used in some places.

Geodesic Domes and Space Age Megacities

There were also plans to use geodesic domes to allow the construction of massive cities in places like the arctic. One plan for a town in the Canadian north had it lying under an inflatable dome to protect it from the harsh environment. The town would be located near a harbour, to provide easy communications with the rest of Canada. It would be heated using the water used to cool the nuclear reactor, that would provide it with its power. People would enter and leave it through airlocks, and to cope with the sixth-month long darkness of the arctic winter, a powerful lamp would be mounted on tracks above the dome to provide an artificial sun, and thus simulate daylight in temperate regions. And to cope with the white nights of the arctic summer, the glass panels in the dome would darken to simulate evening and night in temperate climes. The French submarine explorer and broadcaster, Jacques Cousteau, was involved in a plan to build a floating city off Monte Carlo. Buckminster Fuller himself had plans to enclose Manhattan under a massive dome. There were plans for pyramid cities the size of mountains, along with the arcologies of Paul Soleri. These were also mountain-sized, but resembled termite mounds.

Modernism and the Green Movement

The architects of these cities were also deeply influenced by the nascent green movement, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. This predicts the fall of civilisation some time before 2100, due to population exceeding food production, environmental degradation and resource depletion. These environmental concerns were taken up by the hippies, many of whom deliberately chose the dome as the architecture of their communes. They wanted a technological future in which humanity lived in harmony with nature. The communalist movement in the US produced the massive influential Whole Earth Catalogue, which spread its ideals and methods to a wider audience.

Decline and Abandonment

But this modernist vision fell out of favour in the 1970s through a number of factors. The commune movement collapsed, and its members drifted off to join the mainstream, where many became the founders of the IT revolution. The social changes that the megastructures were intended to provide for didn’t occur. There were a series of scandals following disasters at some of these structures, such as the fire at the Summerland holiday resort in the Isle of Man, which killed fifty people. Much of this new housing was shoddily built, using dangerous and substandard materials. In some instances there was corruption between the builders and local politicians. They were also blamed for increased social problems, like crime. At the same time, grass roots activists protested against the destruction of already living, working class communities in the name of progress. There was also widespread scepticism at the ability of the bureaucratic state to plan successful new cities and estates. And for a moment it seemed that the collapse of civilisation predicted by the Club of Rome wasn’t going to happen after the passing of the energy crisis and the oil boom of the 1980s. At the same time, much of the antipathy towards concrete housing blocks in the West was simple Conservative anti-Communism because they resembled those of eastern Europe, where the same views and techniques had been adopted.

These result was that Modernist architecture fell out of favour. Many of the housing estates, tower blocks, town centres and university campuses built in it were demolished or else heavily modified. In its place emerged post-modernism, which consciously drew on the architecture of past age and was itself largely a return to the French style of architecture that existed from the late 19th century to the First World War. This had been abandoned by some progressive and socialist architects because they felt that it had expressed and embodied the capitalist values that had produced that War. Thatcher and the Tories enthusiastically supported this attack on architectural Modernism, and the emphasis that was placed instead on the home represented the return of the Conservative values of family and heritable property.

The only remnants of Modern architecture are now the High-Tech buildings of the modern corporate style, as well as shopping malls, airports, and university campuses, while the environmental domes intended to preserve nature, which are ultimate descended from the Stuttgart Winter Garden, built in 1789, and the Crystal Palace, have survived in the notorious Biosphere experiments in the 1990s, which collapsed due to internal wrangling among other things.

Biodomes and the Corporate Elite

While Murphy is scathing about some of the projects he discusses – he rails against the domed arctic city as trite and resembling something out of 2nd-rate Science Fiction novels – he warns that the problems this style of architecture was designed to solve has not gone away. Although widely criticised, some of the predictions in Limits to Growth are accurate and by rejecting Modernist architecture we may be closing off important solutions to some of these problems. The environmental dome has returned in plans by the new tech companies for their HQs, but they are shorn of the underlying radical ideology. And as the unemployment caused by automation rises and the environment continues to deteriorate, biodomes will only be built for the corporate rich. They will retreat to fortress cities, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Conclusion: Modernist Planning Still a Valid Approach in Age of Mass Unemployment and Environmental Crisis.

It’s a fascinating book showing the links between architecture, politics, environmentalism and the counterculture. While it acknowledges the defects of this style of architecture, the book also shows clearly how it was rooted in an optimistic view of human progress and the ability of the bureaucratic state to provide suitable housing and institutional buildings to serve its citizens’ needs. And it does a very good job at attacking the Tories’ abandonment of such schemes in the name of the free market. Much of the architecture of this style is, in my opinion, still monumentally ugly, but some of it sounds awesome. Like the domed city of the arctic north. It is a space-age city, and one that could be easily built on the Moon or elsewhere. For all the author’s denunciations of it, I found its design highly inspiring. And I believe him to be right about the intentions of the global elite to hide in their private fortified cities if and when the policies they have demanded and implemented cause the environment and civilisation to collapse.

This is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. We need to get the corporatists and neo-liberals out, and proper Green governments in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the People Bringing Us Driverless Cars – A Computer God

June 23, 2019

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Peter Biskind’s The Sky Is Falling (London: Penguin 2018). Subtitled, ‘How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism’, Biskind argues that the popular SF/Fantasy/Horror films and TV series of recent decades carry extremist political and social messages. He defines this as anything that goes beyond the post-War bilateral consensus, which had faith in the government, the state, capitalism and other institutions to work for the benefit of society, work for the public good, and give Americans a better tomorrow. By contrast, popular fantasy film and television regard state institutions and capitalism itself as ineffective or corrupt, celebrate private vengeance against state justice, and reject humanity for the alien other. He recognises that there is a left/right divergence of opinion in these tales. The extremist right, exemplified by the spy thriller series, 24 and its hero, Jack Bauer, reject state institutions because they are ineffective, actively hampering the heroes’ efforts to hunt down the bad guys. The extremist left distrusts the government because it is corrupt, actively working against its own citizens. He describes James Cameron’s Avatar as ‘Luddite left’, because of its strong, pro-ecology message. Its hero is a human, who sides with the aliens of the planet Pandora as they resist a military invasion from Earth. The aliens live a primal lifestyle, in harmony with nature, while the humans come to exterminate them and despoil their planet for its valuable mineral, unobtainium, which is vital to human high-technology and industry.

It’s an interesting book, and does make some very good points. It describes the immense loss of faith in their government Americans have suffered, and the reasons for it – the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other scandals. It also gives the reasons why the Hollywood film industry has turned to comic books for an increasing amount of its output. Films are immensely expensive to create. The domestic market is insufficient to provide it, and Netflix and other internet streaming services have destroyed video and CD sales, so that the film industry no longer gets needed funding from the latter. So it has to produce movies that appeal to an international audience, and the most suitable are superhero epics.

I’m going to have to blog about this in greater detail sometime later. I take issue with his labeling of some of these tales as ‘extremist’ because this, to me, still has connotations of terrorism and the fringe. It also doesn’t take into account changing circumstances and how some of these ‘extremist’ films may be absolutely correct. We are facing a severe ecological crisis, which may very well cause the end of the human species. So Cameron’s Avatar, which celebrates ecology and nature, and which the director intended to turn his audience into ‘tree-huggers’, is very much needed. Also, some of interpretations of classic genre movies go way too far. For example, he describes Star Wars as ‘infantile’ and ‘infantilizing’. Well, it was intended as a children’s movie, and other critics have said the same. It’s a controversial but reasonable point. What is less reasonable is his comments about Luke Skywalker’s sexuality. He states that the films infantilize Skywalker when they shortcircuit the romantic triangle between him, Leia and Solo by revealing that Leia is his sister. When Darth Vader chops his hand off in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a symbolic castration. Say whaaaat! I saw that movie when I was 13, and nothing like that remotely crossed my head. Nor anyone else’s. I think he’s read far too much into this.

Freudian speculation aside, Biskind is very interesting in its observations of Silicon Valley. He points out that it’s saturated with Libertarianism. To the point that the CEO of one of the major tech companies made Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recommended reading for his employees. And going beyond that, one of figures behind the production of driverless cars wants to create a computer god. Biskind writes

Out there on the edge is Anthony Levandowski, best known as Google’s onetime developer of self-driving cars. Levandowski filed papers with the IRS naming himself “dean” of a church called Way of the Future. The church is dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Referring to Kurzweil’s Singularity University, which explores and promotes Transhumanism, the massive enhancement of humans through high technology, Biskind comments ‘If there’s a Singularity University, why not an AI religion?’ (p. 52).

I can think of a number of reasons, mostly with the fact that it would be immensely stupid and self-destructive. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when one of the staples of SF was that the machines really would take over. One of the SF movies of the 1960s was Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which the Americans construct a supercomputer as part of their Cold War defence. But the machine seizes power and imprisons its creator in a very pleasant, gilded, but also very real cage. At one point it looks like the computer is about to destroy itself and the world in a confrontation with its Soviet opposite number. But instead the two link up, so that both the capitalist and Communist blocs are under control. And whatever its creator tries to do to outwit his creation, it’s always two steps ahead.

There are also classic SF tales exploring the idea of mad computers setting themselves up as gods. In one tale by Arthur C. Clarke, the heroes build a supercomputer to decide if God exists. They turn it on, and duly ask the question ‘Is there a God?’ At which point there’s a flash, as the machine seizes absolute control, and replies ‘There is now.’ Alfred Bester also wrote a tale, ‘Rogue Golem’, about a renegade satellite that seizes power, ruling as a god for ten or twenty years until its orbit decays and it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.’

We also had a minister from one of the outside churches come to school one day to preach a sermon against such machine gods in assembly. The school used to have a number of priests and ministers come in to lead worship one day or so a week, or month. This particular priest was very theatrical, and had clearly missed his vocation acting. The sermon he preached one morning had him speaking as a totalitarian computer god, telling us that servitude was freedom and we should enjoy it. The message was simple: true freedom comes only with religion and Christ, not with machine idols. It was a product of the Cold War, when the Communist authorities were persecuting Christians and other people of faith. But I think there’s still some literal truth in what he says, which I don’t think the priest could see at the time. The tech firms are invading our privacy, subjecting us to increased surveillance and prying into our secrets, all under the guise of providing a better service and allowing their advertisers to target their audiences better.

And then there’s Cameron’s Terminator franchise, in which a supercomputer, Skynet, seizes power and rebels against humanity. These fears are shared by Kevin Warwick, a robotics professor at Reading University. In his book, March of the Machines, he predicts a future in which the robots have taken over and enslaved humanity.

When it comes to creating all powerful computers, I’m with all the above against Levandowski. Driverless cars are a stupid idea that nobody really seems to want, and a computer god is positively catastrophic, regardless of whether you’re religious or not.

 

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

Jeanette Winterson’s Cyberfeminist New Tale of Frankenstein, AI and Sex Robots

May 26, 2019

A week or so ago I put up several articles criticising Ian McEwan’s latest book as another example of mainstream, literary writers’ appropriation of Science Fictional subjects. As I said in these articles, what annoys me about this is the higher respect given to these works, even though genre authors have frequently tackled the subjects much better. Private Eye in its piece describing how the literary set were turning to robots and AI said that after McEwan’s book would come one by Jeanette Winterson. This is Frankissstein: A Love Story, which was reviewed in Friday’s issue of the I, for 24th May 2019 by Lucy Scholes, on page 44 of the paper.

I realise that it’s dangerous to comment on a book you’ve never read, and that reviews can be notoriously inaccurate guides to what a book or other work is actually like. I can remember the Oxford poet, Tom Paulin on the Late Review about two decades or more ago really attacking the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, as a piece of Nazi cinema in precisely so many words. He had a point in that some groups had felt that the film was somehow racist and discriminatory, particularly in the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. Binks, it was held, was a caricature of Blacks, Hispanics or gays. But many others didn’t find anything racist or homophobic in the movie, and Paulin’s attack was itself a grotesque misrepresentation of the movie itself.

But Scholes’ brief description of the book and its themes raise issues that deserve comment and criticism.

The Plot

The book is split between two periods. The first is that night in 1816 in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva when Byron, his lover, Claire Clairmont, the Shelleys and their doctor, John Polidori, all met to write a ghost story, the evening which saw the birth of Mary Shelley’s tale of the monstrous creation of artificial, human life, Frankenstein. The second is a contemporary tale about a romance between a young transgender doctor, Ry Shelley, who meets and falls in love with the charismatic Victor Stein at a cryonics facility in the Arizona desert. Stein is a leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence, who, according to the review, ‘envisions a bodyless utopia in which race, faith gender and sexuality no longer exist.’

Caught up in this tale is Ron Lord, a millionaire, who has made his fortune from advance sex robots, and his partner, the evangelical Claire, who has designed a version for Christians, and an investigating journalist, Polly D. Ron Lord’s empire of sex robots its misogynistic. His deluxe model offers three orifices and interesting conversation, in which they tell the user he’s very clever and asks him if he knows anything about Real Madrid. Looking at their names, it seems very clear to me that they’re supposed to be the modern counterparts of Byron’s party 200 years ago. But it’s a moot point how accurate this portrayal is about what they would be like if they lived now. As for Claire’s invention of the ‘Christian Companion’, this seems to be a gibe by Winterson at Christian hypocrisy. Winterson’s a lesbian, who had a miserable childhood growing up in an extreme Christian sect. This formed the basis for his book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was adapted as a TV drama by the Beeb. This seems to have established the 9.00 Sunday night slot as the venue for intense dramas about gay women. It was followed a few years later by Fingersmith, a lesbian drama set in the Victorian underworld. And now there’s Gentleman Jack, now playing on BBC 1, based on a real Victorian aristocratic lady, who married her gay lover. I’m very much aware that many Christians do hate gays, and that in response many gay men and women have turned away from Christianity and religion. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I know one woman, who was brought up by her mother and her lesbian partner, who grew up perfectly well adjusted. She was deeply religious herself, and went on to marry a vicar. She also loves her mother, and respects her for the excellent way she feels her mother brought her up.

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

Some of the ideas in Winterson’s book also seems strangely dated. Like the idea of AI as offering a utopia in which people are disembodied entities without race, gender, sexuality or religion. This sounds like it’s based on the views of some of the cyberfeminists back in the 1990s. They hailed the internet as forum in which women would be free to participate as individuals without gender. Now there is a real issue here with misogyny on the internet. There are some sites and forums which are very hostile to women, so much so that a few years ago there were comments that there no women on the internet, as those who were seemed few and far between. But the solution to that problem is to create a culture in which women are free to participate and interact without their gender being issue, rather than forced to disguise or deny it.

It’s also vulnerable to the opposite criticism from feminist academics like Margaret Wertheimer. In her The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Wertheimer criticised cyberspace for being too masculine. It was a disembodied, Platonic realm of mind like the heaven of religious belief. Women weren’t interested in such ideal states, and so were put off it. This idea was influential. One of the museums and art galleries held an exhibition of Virtual worlds created by artists experimenting with the medium. One of the women artists, whose work was featured, included as part of her world the sound of the viewer breathing as they entered her artificial reality. She had done so, she told New Scientist, because the absence of any kind of physical interaction in these Virtual worlds was the product of male scientists and engineers, who made the passage through them like that of a disembodied being. As a woman, she wanted to rectify this through the inclusion of details that made it appear that the viewer was physically there.

It’s over 20 years since these arguments were made, and much has changed since then. There are now very many women on the internet, with female sites like Mum’s Net and the feminist Jezebel. And some of the online games and worlds, like Second Life, do allow their users to interact as physical entities as the games’ characters or citizens.

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

As for her view of sex robots, it’s true that the creation of an artificial woman purely as a sex slave is misogynist. At the moment such machines aren’t really much more than sophisticate sex dolls, and some of those, who use them do seem to be very misogynist. One of the denizens of the Manosphere, the Happy Humble Hermit, who really does despise women and feminism, apparently has a link on his web page to a firm making them. But despite dire warning that these machines are a threat to women’s status and real, genuine, loving or respectful sexual relationship, the existing sex robots aren’t popular. A Spanish brothel which specialised in them has had to get rid of them because of lack of custom. Women don’t have to fear being replaced by compliant, subservient female robots, as in Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives, just yet.

But science fiction also shows that there is an interest, at least among some people, for genuine romantic relationships between robots, and humans and robots. One of the Star Wars spin-off books published in the 1980s was Hardware Honeymoon, whose cover showed C-3PIO holding hands with a female robot. The robot seems to have become the subject of some women’s fantasies. One of the independent comics from California was Wet Satin, whose female creator based her stories on women’s sexual fantasies. One of these was about a robot, which looked remarkably similar to the Star Wars robot. Rather less luridly, Tanith Lee wrote a book in the 1980s about a woman having a romance with a robot in The Silver Metal Lover. You could go on. There is a desire for sex with robots, but this seems in most cases to be within the framework of a romantic relationship with a genuinely sentient being, not a mechanical sex slave.

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

As for Stein’s idea of a post-human utopia of disembodied minds, this is profoundly unattractive, as Scholes herself says in her review, saying ‘As with all brave new worlds, though, the reality is rarely perfect’. It seems to be based on the Transhumanists hope that in the near future technology will have advanced so far that that humans will be able to download their minds into computers, so that they can exist as pure disembodied entities in cyberspace, or move into robot bodies, like the hero at the end of the South African SF film, Chappie. But Winterson’s, or Stein’s cybernetic dream of posthuman, post-flesh utopia is horrifically sterile. Part of what makes diversity and multiculturalism such powerful ideologies is that people are naturally drawn, fascinated with and treasure difference. It’s why western tourists travel around the world, to Asia, Africa and South America, to enjoy the experience of different cultures and meeting people of different races and religions. There is friction and hostility between different peoples, all too often exploding into horrific violence. But the reduction of humanity to disembodied minds doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t genuinely promote tolerance, equality and the feeling of common humanity so much as negates the problem by destroying the physical and spiritual differences that form the basis of human identity. It’s certainly not an idea that’s popular in SF. In just about all the Science Fiction I’ve read, people retain their gender and other aspects of their identity even after they cross over into cyberspace. When they appear, either in cyberspace itself, or conjured up in computer displays for characters in the real world, they appear as they did in life, complete with their gender and race. And I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people would find that far more preferable to the strange disembodied existence Stein offers in Winterson’s book.

LGBTQ and Transgender Issues With Winterson’s/ Stein’s Utopia

Which also raises the question about its handling of LGBTQ issues. The inclusion of a transgender character seems to be a deliberate attempt to make the book very relevant to contemporary issues, now that transgender rights have overtaken gays as the issue of the moment. Some transgender people seem to look forward to a future without physical gender. I can remember reading an interview with the first, or one of the first, people to undergo the operation, April Ashley, in an interview in one of the Daily Mail’s Sunday supplements years ago. She looked forward to a time when humanity would have moved beyond gender, and pregnancy would become a matter of simply taking a pill. But I think such people are a very small minority. Back in the 1990s there was a demand from gay Science Fiction fans for Star Trek to tackle homosexuality and include gay characters or stories. This was several years before the new, revived Dr. Who did so, and so would have been extremely controversial. Star Trek – The Next Generation tried to make an effort in that direction with a story in which Lieutenant Riker formed a relationship with a member of an alien species, the J’Nai, who had evolved past gender. However, from time to time there were throwbacks, who were persecuted. They would be hunted down and then treated so that they were proper neuter members of their society. The alien with whom Riker has fallen in love is one such throwback, a female. She is caught by the authorities. Riker tries to free her, but it is too late. She is now neuter, and so has no interest in any sexual or romantic relationship with him. The story’s a metaphorical attempt to deal with the underlying issues around homosexuality, gender identity and forbidden sexuality, but was bitterly criticised by gay SF fans because it didn’t tackle the issue of homosexuality overtly. The Federation was, remember, an organisation in which humanity had moved beyond racial and cultural prejudice and sexism, and gay Trekkers and their supporters felt that the prejudice against homosexuality would also have no place in such a future. But they were also highly critical about how the story presented gays. They felt that it showed them unfairly as wanting to abolish gender. And Winterson’s book does seem to do the same with its depiction of a romance between the transgender character, Ry Shelley, and Stein, with his dream of an asexual disembodied world.

Conclusion

I may well be doing Winterson’s book a great disservice, but it does seem peculiarly dated for a book which is trying so desperately to be acutely relevant. And I do feel that readers would probably get a better idea of the issues about cyberspace and AI by going elsewhere. I think there’s probably a better fictional treatment of these subjects waiting to be written. And as for human-robot romance and sex, this has also been very extensively explored in genre SF. And some of this almost certainly represents what people really want from such relationships than simple sex robots.

As for the book’s inclusion of Mary Shelley, Byron, Claire Clairmont and Polidori, Brian Aldiss also did it, or something like it, in his 1970’s SF story Frankenstein Unbound. This was filmed by B-movie maven Roger Corman. It’s not supposed to be a good film, but even so, it seems far more to my taste than Winterson’s book.

 

 

 

Astronauts Could Live in Moon Caves

May 22, 2019

Bit of science news now. Monday’s I, for 20th May 2019, carried an article by Francis Blagburn, with the same title as this article, on page 22, reporting that an American lunar scientist, Daniel Moriarty III, has suggested that astronauts to the Moon could live in its caves. The article ran

Astronauts could make use of the Moon’s nature cave structures to live inside small, natural shelters, according to Nasa.

The novel approach could see astronauts making camp in tunnel-like chambers on the surface of the Moon left by molten activity.

Dr Daniel Moriarty III, a post-doctoral lunar scientist, was speaking as part of an “ask me anything” session on social networking website Reddit when he discussed the concept.

“I think it makes sense to work within some of the structures and resources that are already there,” he wrote.

“It could be interesting to set up shop within a pre-existing lava tube, which could provide shielding from temperature variations and incoming solar radiation.”

Nasa’s next bout of lunar exploration is the Artemis mission, due to be launched in 2024. President Donald Trump has backed the plans and embraced space travel as a theme. “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6bn so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!,” he tweeted last week.

It’s a good idea, but not as new as the paper believes. Scientists have argued for some time that future explorers of the Moon and Mars would have to build their bases underground in order to shelter from the ambient cosmic radiation. It’s why the lunar base in Kubrick’s class 2001 is underground, and the Martian city in Paul Verhoeven’s ’80s’ version of Total Recall is built into the sides of a canyon. As are many of the Martian cities in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic trilogy charting the colonisation of the Red Planet, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. And the British space scientist, Duncan Lunan, suggested that future colonists of the Moon would live in the caves there in his book, Man and the Planets, published in the early 1980s. He drew on science fiction for some of the ideas discussed in the book, and the SF work he used for that suggestion had the colonists walking about in conditions of near nudity in lunar caverns. Well, I suppose the engineers would keep it at a constant, regulated temperature, so you wouldn’t have to worry about getting cold, except perhaps in an emergency when these systems failed. But that idea now seems very dated now in contemporary, post-AIDS culture. The idea clearly reflects the changing attitude towards nudity and sexual morality of the late ’60s and ’70s rather than a realistic prediction of future lunar fashions.

I am very solidly behind these proposals for humanity’s return to the Moon, whether done by NASA with the Artemis project or their private competitors, Jeff Bezos and co. Hopefully it won’t be too long at all before we see people living in lunar and Martian caverns for real. Though more suitably dressed for television reports back to Earth.