Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Funny story

I never told anyone this. At first because I would never have thought I needed to tell anyone since I assumed it was common knowledge, later because I was embarrassed, and for the last ten years or so because I wasn't sure I'd be able to explain it in words. But let's try.

When I was young I believed that the world made sense. I believed in authority. I believed it earnestly, based on nothing more than my reasonable assumptions of how stuff should work. I believed there was organization. That the grown-ups, who had been doing this job for longer than I could easily imagine, had figured it out.

I'm being vague. To be specific, I imagined when I graduated school and walked into the employment office the people there would know everything. They'd know what I wanted to do, what I liked to do, what I was good at, what I should do. They'd know what work needed to be done and who would be best for it, and they'd put me to work according to my ability and reward me according to my need, just like every other adult in the world.

It's hard to understand just how I came to believe this. I guess it was the same way most people come to believe in God. Not having the slightest idea how much stuff there was I didn't know, I just made crap up that would soothe my sheltered sensibilities decided I was right, and sought evidence to support my theory and ignored evidence that didn't.

And let me tell you, walking into the employment office with these preconceptions was very confusing for everyone.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Let's do this once and for all

One time I had this dream. For the one out of ten readers who didn't check out at that preceding sentence, here's a story.

I was fifteen years old, a lonely little egg. I had just learned of the concept of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and, failing to understand anything about the energy involved in that process, pictured myself solving the world's fossil fuel problem, possibly after running and hiding from the big oil lobby's death squad and unexpectedly publish my theories in Rolling Stone Magazine. (1990s kids will know exactly what Stephen King book I had just read.)

But anyway, with this background in mind, it's not very surprising I dreamed I got drafted to Earth's cake baking team the first time we were invited to the Interstellar Olympics.

Somebody got sick, they tell me, so you're the best choice we have left. It doesn't matter you don't know a thing about baking, you're just there to fill the seats, we don't really need you.

I don't care. I leave the team to their warm-up batter after a half-hearted attempt at stirring that leaves my arms feeling like noodles and just walk around. I'm in space, walking around in a vast space ship. The steel walls of the corridors are artless, utilitarian, giving a reliable impression. And the windows are large and I can't get enough of looking at space.

Then there is a girl standing next to me, looking at a potted tree in a corner shedding a heavy rain of green leaves. I don't know how she got there. She's a thief, she says, representing Alpha Centauri. She does a little run over the walls with a sword in her hand to show off. I'm not sure what it has to do with competitive thieving, but it's a stunning display of physical skill. She looks human, though very pale, with long black hair. Probably two or ten years older than me. I can never tell these things. She says her name is Stella and I feel like I'm in a bad sci-fi movie. Yeah, it would sound that way to someone from Earth, she says, laughing. It turns out her parents are massive Earth nerds.

For some reason this inspires me to invite her to visit my planet. To begin with I have no idea how that would work. We're borrowing some cheap ferries to get here and back, and I'm under the impression the trip still costs a lot. Indeed she says it's probably impossible even if she should bring in a bunch of prize money. But she still appreciates the thought. Says she does have some inherited interest, and it would be cool to be the first alien to visit Earth.

Through some chain of events so unlikely I'm not going to be able to remember it clearly, Stella and I become friends. We seem to spend days and days drifting around the stadium-ship, staying away from people, talking idly, just enjoying each others' company. I have no idea when or if she's competing until at one point she tells me she lost. Her final score is one of the lowest ever seen on the IO stage. She just laughs it off. It feels to me we have something in common being the biggest losers on this ship. Being unwanted.

It does seem to bring us closer together. I wonder if I want to kiss her, if she wants to kiss me. It's possible we're both equally clueless about these things. Most of the time I don't even think about it. I'm just happy to have a friend.

And then it gets strange. Someone in the Earth delegation has won a grand prize, a blueprint for - who would have guessed it - a combustion engine that runs on water. This is all very secret. I only find out when I'm taken to a room filled with spies who tell me they want me to take this paper scroll home in secret, to present to the recipient - some government-sponsored research group who can put it in action - under great publicity. That way the oil companies won't have a chance to stop it, which they will certainly turn over Heaven and Earth to do. They won't see it coming because I'm the least remarkable person here, you see.

Stella can come with me, that'll work out nicely for everyone and it won't hurt to have someone akin to a bodyguard of considerable skill on the job, just in case. Especially since nobody will care about her either. I can't argue with that logic so off we go on the next shuttle to Earth.

And well, somebody screws up and it's not me or Stella. When we enter Earth's atmosphere a couple of cruise missiles are headed our way and the shuttle blows up. Things get chaotic at this point, but it's clear Stella and her thief tricks is the only reason this priceless treasure gets down to Earth. She puts up some kind of force field that protects the two of us from the explosion, she pulls some kind of rocket-powered parachutes out of her pocket - Stella's "pocket" is a portable pocket dimension that looks like a steel armband, containing the blueprint and who knows what else - and she takes my hand and pulls me away from any panic, as hundreds of people without parachutes fall screaming into the clouds below us.

We're mentally preparing to fight our way to the press conference as soon as we land, taking aim for the streets of Stockholm, but then I wake up.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A scary hypothesis

This is a highly hypothetical scenario since only one third of the population of a country at most will fight in support of fascism. But if you're a humanist you should have an answer to what happens if they become the majority, such as if they get to the point of killing everyone different.

If we picture a world made up of two billion fascists and three billion collaborators, and you fighting for democracy in this world, then you're killing people to defend an ideology. You're not saving more people than you're killing, unless you really believe you can restore order to the world and save more lives in the long run, and even that is a questionable proposition. From a humanist standpoint, I cannot figure out a way to defend this. You'd have to fight fascism nonviolently, argue against this ideology strategically constructed to defeat arguments, protest for human rights and get executed, sad because this world apparently has no place for humanity in it.