June 25, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Dreams of a Humanist SF Writer, Fan, and Activist

Using first the Progress Reports of the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki Finland in August 2017 to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), and eventually the Program Guide, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of first the Progress Reports, then the Program Guide. This is event #. The link is provided below…

The Con Committee came up with a list of questions to kick off the Update. They asked all of the Guests of Honor four questions (question 3 was in two parts.) Question 1 was: “What is the greatest (scifi) idea, that you’d like to see invented/come into being in the next one hundred years? Why? (It can be social, technological, etc.)”

John-Henri Holmberg replied: “I’ve actually tried to take this seriously over a few days, keeping it at the back of my mind while following the daily news. Over the years, sf has offered us an almost unlimited number of realistic or fanciful innovations, ideas, and debates…Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave, published in 1954. In that story, our Solar system emerges from the cosmic cloud it has been traveling through for the last many thousand years, a cloud full of particles that have inhibited the speed of neural impulses. And since mammal life evolved before we entered the cloud, our bodies begin again to function in the way they were designed – and intelligence in all species is vastly increased, not least in humans. In the novel, this means that we can finally turn away from childish things: superstition and envy, racism and nationalism, war and the lust for power over others, narrow-mindedness and intolerance. What will happen then will be up to the different beings we become. But it would be a new beginning. And that seems
to be what is called for…”

According to Wikipedia, Holmberg is a “Swedish author, critic, publisher and translator, and a well-known science fiction fan…[having] published over 200 science fiction fanzines of his own…One of the fans with whom he worked was fellow Swede Stieg Larsson [author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the rest of that Millennium series].”

I don’t know Mr. Holmberg’s beliefs, but in the SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, he is characterized this way: “In his critical work, he has stressed the secular, rationalistic basis of sf literature and often discussed Feminist and Gender-oriented sf.” I would guess from the information above that his personal philosophy would tend toward Humanism, that is, “[the] philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values-be they religious, ethical, social, or political-have their source in human experience and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.– The Humanist Magazine”

That’s good for him. I’m sure he has no personal beef with me for being a Christian. I’m sure we could sit down for a drink and talk science fiction with little or no trouble. I’m sure both of us could behave just fine, and if we happened to hit it off, we might even be friends.

The issue I take, is that based on my personal view, it was Humanity that chose to irrationally disregard a clear direction and consequence for that disregard (“…from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not [n]eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. …”) from the Individual in charge. That led to the intended system falling apart.

Seems pretty simple to me.

A Humanist rejects any kind of supernatural explanation and appears (to me) to make the assumption that Humans possess the ability to, en masse, make rational decisions. It’s just that we haven’t grown up enough yet (at least not all of us seven billion have.) Growing up, we would (in a curious allusion to the Christian New Testament “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.   1 Corinthians 13:11”) leave behind such things as “superstition, envy, racism, nationalism, war, lust for power over others, narrow-mindedness, and intolerance.”

In Anderson’s novel, Humanity leaps into space there to discover that because we evolved in the energy dampening cloud, we are more intelligent that all of the other intelligences in nearby space. The main character remains on Earth to live with the newly intelligent animals and former Humans with mental disabilities while the others meet various fates.

This is the future that Mr. Holmberg hopes will come about (though he doesn’t see any real hope of that based on his brief ending remarks). Even so, it seems somewhat unrealistic that once everyone comes out of their “slow thinking” phase at some future time, our societies (which would disappear, I assume?) would grow to a point of dropping all religious, national, race, envy, tolerance, opinion, violence, and control issue.

Certainly Ada Palmer (who is planning on being at the Helsinki WorldCon) has made a stab at visioning such a society in her book, which I’m reading now Too Like the Lightning.

Hopefully they’re on a panel together! [If they are, Paul Foth, would you take notes for me?] I would love to hear some practical suggestions of steps for us to take now – a bit more concrete than “be more tolerant”... or “don’t be envious”.

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