Friday, June 08, 2007

We Are Children

During the past few days, there has been a confluence of events and of thoughts that have provided me some amount of focus for writing. In my last post, nearly two weeks ago, I described some of the questions that I am trying to answer about where to go with my writing here, and some of the thoughts that contributed to this present smidge of inspiration relate to those questions. But in many ways, the subject is much broader, and the route that I will take to describe it is a bit circuitous.

To start, I should back up to, say, junior high or so. I read a fair amount, and it would have been about that time that I started to pick up science fiction by Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, two of the classic authors of the genre. Naturally I have read far more since then, but I never did get around to reading any novels by Ray Bradbury or Arthur C. Clarke, two of the other most well-known science fiction authors of its early years. (Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke have been called the ABC's of science fiction.) In some ways it was almost embarassing not to have read anything of Bradbury and Clarke other than a few short stories, and that embarassment was most pronounced when, toward the end of April, the local libraries put on a "Big Read", a week focusing on a single book, in this case "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury. The final event of the week was a talk by Bradbury's friend and biographer, whose name now escapes me. I went with a friend of mine, but still had not read that book or any other of Bradbury's novels, and according to a show of hands, I think I was one of only two people there in that apparently despicable condition.

So, I picked up a copy of "Fahrenheit 451" and read that a few weeks ago. More recently, I checked out "The Martian Chronicles" from the library, which I finally started to read earlier this week. The library had several copies, but I picked the one that looked the oldest. It was printed in 1958; the book was first published in 1946. In this particular edition, there is a Prefatory Note by a Clifton Fadiman (I have no idea who he is) who describes Bradbury as a moralist, and says of the book that Bradbury "is telling us ... that human beings are still mental and moral children who cannot be trusted with the terrifying toys they have by some tragic accident invented."

I think I read that on Tuesday. On Wednesday, a woman I with whom I work, whose stepson is deployed in Iraq, found out that four men from his unit were killed last week. The total number of US servicemen killed broke 3500, a number dwarfed by the number of Iraqi civilians killed by us or, sometimes after having been tortured, by other Iraqis. Regardless of your views about how this situation came to be or how it might now be addressed, it must be acknowledged that the situation is tragic, and that the tragedy is the result of human action (not natural disaster). Nor should we forget Darfur, or honor killings, or secret prisons. We are not yet a century past the Nazi Holocaust, the rape of Nanking, and genocide in Rwanda, to name just a few of the most obvious horrors.

This week also brought the G8 summit in Europe, where President Bush, on behalf of the United States, again refused to participate in any meaningful commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Representatives of the US automotive industry met with senators, urging them not to raise fuel efficiency standards which are already the worst in the developed world. Even China has higher standards than we do. Michael Griffin, the head of NASA, made waves last week for statements made in an interview with NPR where he expressed doubt about whether we should bother to do anything about global warming, despite the dire projections of his own researchers. But, he later clarified, understanding Earth's climate is not part of NASA's mission. True — they removed the study of Earth itself from NASA's mission just last year. Meanwhile, Greenland's ice continues to melt, apparently faster even than predicted by the climate models so maligned by climate change skeptics. Somebody forgot to tell the coal industry, which is pushing for government subsidies for coal liquefaction plants, a process that might ease the demand for oil, but only by doubling CO2 emissions.*

I could go on, of course. In fact, I had originally planned to address just one of the many factors that contributes to problems such as these (and to religious questions), but perhaps later. Instead, let me agree with Jeffrey Spender, a character from "The Martian Chronicles":

We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things.

We are mental and moral children.

* There is, apparently, more than one way to turn coal to liquid fuel, and not all produce double the carbon emissions. However, the cost of the less damaging processes is prohibitive.

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