Recommended Reading 11

This week’s reading covers: social, political, economic, and cultural craziness and breakdown in America and Europe; a dystopian view of smartphones; an official CDC denial of a zombie holocaust in the wake of horrific incidents flooding the American media; the possible action of quantum effects in the macro-world; a cogent criticism of scientistic materialism in light of psychedelic experience and the mystery of consciousness; stories about and interviews with several leading figures in the new philosophy-spirituality-consciousness movement; a deep look at the economic imperialism of Amazon and the future of reading; thoughts from C.S. Lewis on why it’s always important to read old books along with new ones; and thoughts on the death of Ray Bradbury.

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War is America’s new stimulus policy
Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch, June 5, 2012

Teaser: Why are we still throwing extra billions at Pentagon?

Wake up folks. Something is wrong in our thinking. From the beginning we were in a trance, pretending the Iraq War would be short-lived, cheap and self-funded by oil revenues. Yes, from Day 1 the Iraq War was handled more like an economic stimulus program. Remember, after 9/11 we were urged to focus on the economy, to spend, go to the mall shopping. Draft was unnecessary. And thanks to bonuses, we built a volunteer army, backed up by mercenaries, tens of thousands of private contractors. We even hid photos of war casualties from the public, to sanitize the public’s brain…Why does the public tolerates such absurdities? Why do we hide this insanity deep in our collective conscience? Why are we planning new wars?…The Iraq-Afghan wars were huge foreign policy blunders, wasted too many lives, added trillions in debt and squandered our nation’s integrity. Some few got very rich, are now pushing for new wars. A crazy, dangerous ideology has taken over America’s collective conscience. This mind-set is extremely dangerous. Our nation’s lost its moral compass. Our new capitalism has been so distorted that accumulating personal wealth means you can do virtually anything no matter how destructive to the public good…Remember Kevin Phillips, former Nixon strategist and author of many classics including “American Theocracy” and “American Dynasty”? Writing in the early days of the Iraq War, in “Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich,” he warned that “great nations, at the peak of their economic power, become arrogant, wage great world wars at great cost, wasting vast resources, taking on huge debt, and ultimately burning themselves out.” Are we the next one?

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Northern Light
Chris Hedges, Truthdig, June 3, 2012

[NOTE: See my previous Recommended Reading installment for more about the protests in Canada.]

The streets of Montreal are clogged nightly with as many as 100,000 protesters banging pots and pans and demanding that the old systems of power be replaced. The mass student strike in Quebec, the longest and largest student protest in Canadian history, began over the announcement of tuition hikes and has metamorphosed into what must swiftly build in the United States—a broad popular uprising…The Quebec government, which like the United States’ security and surveillance state is deaf to the pleas for justice and fearful of widespread unrest, has reacted by trying to stamp out the rebellion. It has arrested hundreds of protesters…The importance of the Occupy movement, and the reason I suspect its encampments were so brutally dismantled by the Obama administration, is that the corporate state understood and feared its potential to spark a popular rebellion…If these mass protests fail, opposition will inevitably take a frightening turn. The longer we endure political paralysis, the longer the formal mechanisms of power fail to respond, the more the extremists on the left and the right — those who venerate violence and are intolerant of ideological deviations — will be empowered. Under the steady breakdown of globalization, the political environment has become a mound of tinder waiting for a light…Those of us who care about a civil society, and who abhor violence, should begin to replicate what is happening in Quebec. There is not much time left. The volcano is about to erupt.

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Right-wing Greek politician assaults two left deputies on Greek TV
Euronews, June 7, 2012

[NOTE: Read this and watch the video below in light of Chris Hedges’ comments above about the volatile, explosive, tinder-box nature of the current political and cultural moment.]

Irritated, Ilias Kasidiaris got up out of his chair and tossed a glass of water over one woman, than he hit another one in the face, three times. The soap opera scenario occurred on the Antenna television station during a political debate in the run-up to Greek elections on June 17. A spokesman for a far-right party, Kasidiaris, got angry when a radical left deputy, Rena Dourou, mentioned a court case pending against him. He then turned on prominent Communist Party member Liana Kanelli, who stood up to protest, and slapped her in the face three times, before leaving the studio. A judicial source said an arrest warrant has been issued for Kasidiaris, a member of Golden dawn (Chrysi Avgi), a far right party flirting with neo-Nazism. The incident provoked strong reaction in Greece where the far right party won nearly seven percent of votes in the inconclusive election held on May 6. Recent opinion polls show they could keep their seats in the Parliament, with almost four percent of the vote in next Sunday’s election.

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American Caste
Kay S. Hymowitz, City Journal, June 2012

Teaser: Family breakdown is limiting mobility and increasing inequality.

[Y]ou can’t grasp what’s happening at the lower end of the income scale without talking about family breakdown. In fact, the single-mother revolution, as I’ll call it, takes us a long way toward understanding the socioeconomic problems on everyone’s mind these days: poverty, inequality, and the inability of those at the bottom to move up…[T]he single-mother revolution has left us with the following reality. At the top of the social order is a positive feedback loop, with kids raised in stable, high-investment, and relatively affluent homes going to college, finding similar mates, and raising their own children in stable, high-investment, and relatively affluent homes. At the bottom is a negative feedback loop, with kids raised by single mothers in unstable, low-investment homes finding themselves unable to adapt to today’s economy and going on to create more unstable, single-mother homes. Not only do we have more poverty, inequality, and immobility; we have the makings of a caste society, with an inherited elite and an entrenched proletariat. That’s not an America that anyone finds very attractive.

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Michael Sandel: ‘We need to reason about how to value our bodies, human dignity, teaching and learning’
Decca Aitkenhead, Guardian, May 27, 2012

Teaser: The political philosophy professor on his new book, What Money Can’t Buy, and why economics needs to be seen not as a science but a moral philosophy.

“We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold,” the Harvard philosopher writes. “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society,” in which the solution to all manner of social and civic challenges is not a moral debate but the law of the market, on the assumption that cash incentives are always the appropriate mechanism by which good choices are made. Every application of human activity is priced and commodified, and all value judgments are replaced by the simple question: “How much?”…To Sandel, however, the two important questions we should be asking in every instance are: Is it fair to buy and sell this activity or product? And does doing so degrade it? Almost invariably, his answers are no, and yes…[His book’s] central argument is harder to make in the US than it would be here. “It is a harder sell in America than in Europe,” he agrees. “It cuts against the grain in America.” This is truer today than ever before, he adds, for since he began teaching Sandel has observed in his students “a gradual shift over time, from the 80s to the present, in the direction of individualistic free-market assumptions”…A fascinating question he addresses is why the financial crisis appears to have scarcely put a dent in public faith in market solutions…Sandel makes the illuminating observation that what he calls the “market triumphalism” in western politics over the past 30 years has coincided with a “moral vacancy” at the heart of public discourse, which has been reduced in the media to meaningless shouting matches on cable TV — what might be called the Foxification of debate — and among elected politicians to disagreements so technocratic and timid that citizens despair of politics ever addressing the questions that matter most…”[I]t’s connected to the way economics has cast itself as a value-neutral science when, in fact, it should probably be seen — as it once was — as a branch of moral and political philosophy.”

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Real cost of the smartphone revolution
John Naughton, The Observer, June 2, 2012

Teaser: The smartphone market is expanding at an astonishing rate, but is it damaging creativity and innovation on the web?

[T]he prospect of a world in which most people access the internet via smartphones and other cloud devices is a troubling one. Why? Because smartphones (and tablets) are tightly controlled, “tethered” appliances. You may think that you own your shiny new iPhone or iPad, for example. But in fact an invisible chain stretches from it all the way back to Apple’s corporate HQ in California. Nothing, but nothing, goes on your iDevice that hasn’t been approved by Apple. And even if you’re not an Apple fanboy and sport an Android-powered mobile device, there is still the problem that your access to the internet is regulated by a company — your mobile network provider — which is free not just to charge prohibitively for access but also to decide what you can access and what you can’t. This might not seem a big deal — after all, it’s just capitalism doing its thing. But what it means is that with every new smartphone subscription we take another tiny but discrete step towards a networked world dominated by powerful corporations that can not only “regulate” the system in their own interests, but also control the speed of technological innovation to a pace that is convenient for them rather than determined by the creativity of hackers and engineers. This kind of dystopian outcome has long worried observers such as Harvard academic Jonathan Zittrain who saw the rise of the tethered appliance as a threat to the creative “generativity” of the internet. Up to now, critics have pooh-poohed these fears as unduly fatalistic. The data in Meeker’s latest report, however, tell a different story: they point towards a tethered future in which we are the goats. Except that we will be the first goats in history who loved their tethers.

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Zombie Apocalypse: CDC Denies Existence Of Zombies Despite Cannibal Incidents
Andy Campbell, The Huffington Post, June 1, 2012

Over the years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a couple of tongue-in-cheek “zombie warnings,” which really are just disaster-preparedness stunts. But on Thursday, the agency made it official: Zombies don’t exist. “CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms),” wrote agency spokesman David Daigle in an email to The Huffington Post. Nevertheless, recent incidents in which humans reportedly ate human flesh have the Internet in a firestorm, with “zombie apocalypse” being Google’s third most popular search term by Friday morning. The zombie craze seemed to start with an attack in Miami on Saturday, when Rudy Eugene, 31, was killed by cops while in the process of eating almost the entirety of a homeless man’s face off…Then, on Tuesday, 21-year-old Alexander Kinyua of Maryland allegedly admitted to dismembering his roommate and then eating his heart and brain. Cops in Canada are also searching for a low-budget porn actor who allegedly killed a young man with an ice pick, dismembered the body and then raped and ate flesh from the corpse.

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Weird World of Quantum Physics May Govern Life
Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience, June 5, 2012

Teasear: The bizarre rules of quantum mechanics may in fact enable many of life’s fundamental processes, scientists say.

[NOTE: Although this article obviously doesn’t “go there,” I simply can’t resist a lateral thought process that leads me to recall Robert Anton Wilson and all of the other writers who, being very knowledgeable about quantum mechanics, have suggested that its mind-blowing paradoxes and weirdnesses may well have a significance for life at large, here at the macro-level, in ways bleeding out into the liminal, daimonic, and paranormal.]

Evidence is growing for the involvement of quantum mechanics in a wide range of biological processes, including photosynthesis, bird migration, the sense of smell, and possibly even the origin of life…Quantum mechanics refers to the strange set of rules that governs the behavior of subatomic particles, which can travel through walls, behave like waves and stay connected over vast distances. “Quantum mechanics is weird, that’s its defining characteristic. It’s funky and strange,” said MIT mechanical engineer Seth Lloyd. These oddities generally don’t affect everyday macroscopic objects, which are thought to be too hot and wet for delicate quantum states to withstand. But it seems nature may have found ways to harness quantum mechanics to power some of its most complex and vital systems. “Life is made out of atoms and atoms behave quantum mechanically,” said cosmologist Paul Davies of Arizona State University. “Life has been around for a long time — 3.5 billion years on this planet at least — and there’s plenty of time to learn some quantum trickery if it confers an advantage”…Physicists are probing more and more unsolved mysteries of biology, hoping that quantum mechanics may provide the missing piece of the puzzle. They even have hope that it could shed light on one of the most intractable questions in all of biology: How did life get started? “We want to know ‘How did non-life turn into life?'” Davies said. “Life is clearly a distinctive state of matter. What we would like to know is if that distinctiveness is fundamentally quantum mechanical.”

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Physicalism: A False View of the World
Peter Meyer, Reality Sandwich, January 4, 2012

Teaser: Physicalism asserts that only that which is the subject of physics can be held to be real. If physical reality does not comprise the whole of what is real, then it is possible to accept the truths of physics while asserting the falsity of physicalism.

A major objection to physicalism is that it cannot explain the existence of consciousness. Since consciousness indisputably exists (as shown by the fact that you are now conscious of reading this) physicalists can only assert that somehow consciousness “emerges” in “sufficiently complex” physical systems from the atoms, subatomic particles and electromagnetic radiation which is all that a physicalist allows to be real…Physicalists can talk as much as they like about neural structures, resonant patterns of brain activity and the like, but in fact they have no explanation for the “emergence” of consciousness from “complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain”…Attempts by physicalists to explain consciousness are actually attempts to explain it away. “Consciousness explained” by a physicalist is really “consciousness denied”. Physicalists must accept the dilemma that either consciousness does not “really” exist or that the existence of consciousness is inexplicable. Neither horn of the dilemma is satisfactory…Galileo pioneered the foundation of physics upon observation, and he developed an early form of the telescope to view the mountains of the Moon and the moons of Jupiter, whose existence was denied a priori by the Aristotelian philosophers of his time. In this dispute two of these philosophers, Cesare Cremonini and Giulio Libri, refused even to look through Galileo’s telescope. Similarly, most if not all contemporary philosophers refuse to look through the lens provided by psychedelic substances so as to perceive a reality which physicalists deny exists (just as the philosophers of Galileo’s time denied the existence of the moons of Jupiter). Observations resulting from the use of DMT absolutely refute the conventional physicalist view of the world, but at present this is known only by a relatively small number people – who are the true gnostics of this age.

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Spiritual Seeker’s Quest, from Blondie to Swedenborg
Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times, April 13, 2012

[NOTE: This timely profile of Gary Lachman, the former bassist for Blondie who now writes about spirituality and esoteric matters, does a nice job of reinforcing what I discovered a few years ago: that he’s one of the most interesting writers and thinkers working in this vein right now. Plus, his idea, mentioned below, that “reading and research and contemplating [can constitute ] a spiritual practice” in their own right, has emerged as a foundational belief and experience in my own life as well.]

After Mr. Lachman left Blondie, he formed his own short-lived band, then toured with Iggy Pop. He retired from music at 26, then got an undergraduate degree in philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles. He started a doctoral program in English literature, then dropped out and worked as a science writer for U.C.L.A. After he lost that job and his marriage dissolved, Mr. Lachman moved to London and began to write about mysticism and the occult. He has since written books about Carl Jung, the educator Rudolf Steiner, and now Swedenborg: all figures with powerfully rational minds who nevertheless speculated in the irrational. They might be seen as the thinking person’s mystics…Right now, Mr. Lachman, who is single but has two sons, does not follow the spiritual practices of any guru, teacher or historical figure. “I consider all the reading and research and contemplating a spiritual practice, not to sound pompous.” It does not sound pompous. The idea that research can be a spiritual discipline — and spirituality the subject of rigorous research — has been a commonplace among theologians at least since Thomas Aquinas. And it would have met with assent from, among others, the scientifically minded Swedenborg himself.

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Edgewalker: An Interview with Jeffrey J. Kripal
Erik Davis,Reality Sandwich, May 14, 2012

Teaser: Jeffrey J. Kripal is one of the most unusual scholars of religion working in America today. His interests include superhero comics, the paranormal, UFO research, the human potential movement, and the mystical experiences of religious scholars.

[NOTE: In the past year I’ve become authentically fascinated with Kripal’s work, and also with his very person and presence. I mean, come on: a mainstream religion scholar (head of the religious studies department at Rice University) who overtly asserts the reality and importance of the paranormal and traces its prevalence throughout American pop culture, especially in fantasy, SF, and horror entertainment? Who couldn’t love this guy? This interview with him, conducted by Erik Davis — himself a major figure in contemproary consciousness culture — strikes me as the perfect introduction to his fascinating thoughtworld.]

Your recent book, Mutants and Mystics, uncovers the paranormal and occult dimension of modern comic books. What happens to the sacred in the era of modern publishing and the collapse of traditional religious narrative?

It migrates into popular culture.  The paranormal is rejected by the elite scientific establishment and by the traditional religious institutions, so it goes where it can go — right into film, science fiction, and comic books, where it can be beautifully displayed and explored.

Sure, the paranormal is good subject matter for fictions, which is how most people who produce and consume popular culture think of it. In what way does the paranormal trace in popular culture point to something more than a good yarn?

The paranormal is such a popular subject because it is real, that is, because people actually have these sorts of experiences all the time.  It is not simply a good yarn, as you say. This is not to say that paranormal events are entirely objective or simply measurable.  They are not.  They in fact work a lot like stories.  The fact is usually woven right into the fiction, and vice versa.  It’s a both-and, not an either-or.  A paranormal event is a real yarn.

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DMT, Creativity, and a Philosophy of Psychedelics
Terra Cronshey, Catalyst Magazine, June 2012

After his first DMT experience, [film director Mitch Schultz] found himself inspired to create a series of four documentaries about the substance. Though much of this work is still in production, the first film, DMT: The Spirit Molecule was completed in 2010 and introduces Rick Strassman’s research work and the concept of DMT as a conduit to our understanding of psychic dimensions beyond those familiar to us…[He says,] “Science continues to discover ways that our entire being is networked on multiple levels of reality, and this becomes very apparent with altered states of consciousness connected to an interactive biological matrix. My sense is that the brain opens up its range of sensory awareness, bringing insight into our minds, but at the same time we experience a variety of other energetic forces that remain hidden in consensus reality and play a role in our everyday life…All ideas are open source, if we believe the source of inspiration is infinite. Through this open sourcing and idea sharing, we redefine our mythologies, incorporating the quantum physical realm. We are constantly connected and related to a heavenly presence and source. Additionally, data is prolific throughout the world, and the Internet makes all this information broadly accessible, allowing for the discovery and rediscovery of lost traditions. This process is illuminating a clearer understanding of new and emerging tribal beats, new stories, new technologies and innovations, and new mythologies created and shared.”

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The Electric Jesus
Terra Cronshey, Catalyst Magazine, April 27, 2012

From Gnostic Christianity to space aliens, author, activist and visionary Jonathan Talat Phillips (author of the new book, The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic) has an interesting tale to tell. Jonathan Talat Phillips is a bioenergetic healer, Reiki master, psychonaut and modern-day shaman. He cofounded the cutting edge web magazine, Reality Sandwich and the related Evolver Network and is also creator of the Ayahuasca Monologues storytelling show…”Energetically speaking, we as a civilization are a house divided. Parasitic, hierarchical systems — political, financial, medical, economic — suck up most of our resources for the top few percent, creating vast amounts of scarcity and human suffering. Our role is to resurrect the warrior spirit of humanity, to re­mem­ber our divine inheritance and internal and collective power as sons and daughters of the di­vine, to re­claim our lives and the sanctity of the natural world, to restructure our communities and re­source distribution systems and to heal ourselves and our planet…I believe society itself may be suffering from a larger form of spirit possession and we currently lack the the healing technology of the shaman or mystic to liberate ourselves. That’s what part of this awakening process is about — it’s taking the red pill to illuminate the Matrix around us.”

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The Amazon Effect
Steve Wasserman, The Nation, May 29, 2012

[NOTE: Wasserman, in addition to being director of a major literary agency, is a former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and “a principal architect of the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.” If anybody has what counts as an informed opinion, and in fact an expert one, about the book industry, it’s him. This means we should take to heart the combination of optimism (about the future of reading and literary forms in general) and pessimism (about Amazon’s totalitarian turn and the death of bookstores) that he expresses in this nuanced and information-rich essay.]

From the start, Jeff Bezos wanted to “get big fast.” He was never a “small is beautiful” kind of guy. The Brobdingnagian numbers tell much of the story…As the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, I had watched Bezos’ early rise with admiration, believing that whatever complications he was bringing to the world of bookselling were more than compensated for by the many ways he was extending reader access to a greater diversity of books…Bezos was then, as he has been ever since, at pains to assure independent bookstores that his new business was no threat to them. He claimed that Amazon simply provided a different service and wasn’t trying to snuff bricks-and-mortar stores. Independent booksellers weren’t so sure…[Today] the bookstore wars are over. Independents are battered, Borders is dead, Barnes & Noble weakened but still standing and Amazon triumphant. Yet still there is no peace; a new war rages for the future of publishing…Not very long ago it was thought no one would read a book on a computer screen. That assumption is now demonstrably wrong. Today, whether writers will continue to publish the old-fashioned way or go over to direct online publishing is an open question. How it will be answered is at the heart of the struggle taking place between Amazon and traditional publishers…Amazon [is intent on] bulldozing any real or perceived obstacles to its single-minded pursuit of maximum clout. It is big enough to impose increasingly harsh terms on both its competitors and its clients…[A high view of the importance of physical bookstores to civilization] is likely to strike today’s younger readers as nostalgia bordering on fetish. Reality is elsewhere. Consider the millions who are buying those modern Aladdin’s lamps called e-readers. These magical devices, ever more beautiful and nimble in design, have only to be lightly rubbed for the genie of literature to be summoned. Appetite for these idols, especially among the young, is insatiable. For these readers, what counts is whether and how books will be made available to the greatest number of people at the cheapest possible price. Whether readers find books in bookstores or a digital device matters not at all; what matters is cost and ease of access…The history of writing, however, gives us every reason to be confident that new forms of literary excellence will emerge, every bit as rigorous, pleasurable and enduring as the vaunted forms of yesteryear…Perhaps [Twitter, multimedia interpolations into hypertexts, and so on] will add to the rich storehouse of an evolving literature whose contours we have only begun to glimpse, much less to imagine.

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C.S. Lewis on Reading Old Books
The City Online, January 2009

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook — even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united — united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century — the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” — lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books…To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

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[NOTE: An era ended when Ray Bradbury died this week. I offered my own tribute here. Of the many others that have appeared all over the Web, my favorite so far is this one by David Brin, which underscores the always-bracing corrective response that Bradbury has perennially given to people like me who have an emotional tendency toward accentuating the negative side of things (although in recent years my focus on the negative has become ever more inflected toward being grateful for apocalyptic-and-doom-like trends for clearing away the truly negative and awful aspects of our current culture and civilization). The video below it, which many have been passing around for the past couple of days, and which features Bradbury reading one of his poems at a 1971 symposium at Caltech (whose other speakers were Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and journalist Walter Sullivan), amply supports Brin’s thesis.]

Ray Bradbury, American Optimist
David Brin, Salon, June 6, 2012

Teaser: The science-fiction icon transformed the genre, but behind dystopian stories was real hope for the future.

[I]t was Bradbury who made clear to everyone that science fiction can be art. An art form combining boldness and broad horizons with sheer, unadulterated beauty. And love. Ray always spoke of it. Love of possibilities and imagination. Love of language, the rolling of phrases off tongue and pen. Also hope, without which, love is sterile…But there was another emotion that he would evoke, from time to time. One that always left a lasting impression on audiences, when he gave one of his popular lectures. Onstage, Ray Bradbury could wax eloquently and vociferously angry at one thing, at one human trait — cynicism. The lazy habit of relishing gloom. The sarcastic playground sneer that used to wound him, and all other bright kids, punishing them for believing, fervently, in a better tomorrow. Ray had one word for it. Treason. Against a world and humanity that has improved, prodigiously, inarguably, fantastically more than any other generation ever improved, and not just with technological wonders, but in ethics and behavior, at last taking so many nasty habits that our ancestors took for granted — like racism or sexism or class prejudice — and, if not eliminating them, then at least putting them in ill repute…Yes, Bradbury’s stories and novels often plunged fearlessly into dark, foreboding themes. The world ends in “The Illustrated Man” and we decline into Big Brother levels of dystopia by the unusual path of liberal political correctness in “Fahrenheit 451.” We are reminded of villainy in “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” After reading “All Summer in a Day,” the reader knows with utter clarity, how basic is the tendency toward cruelty, and that childhood is neither pure nor innocent. Could anyone reconcile this chain of chillers with overall optimism?  Ray did. Human beings are fretful creatures, he said. Our skulking worries often cause us to shine light in dismal corners, and thus help us to do better! To be better. Good literature has that power.  Indeed, science fiction offers writers a chance to create that most potent work, of which “Fahrenheit 451″ is a prime example. The self-preventing prophecy that so shakes up readers that millions of them gird themselves to prevent the nightmare from ever coming true. That’s power…Ray Bradbury saw optimistic progress and dark fantasy as partners, not opposites. On camera, during the moon landings, he could not stay in his seat! And he demanded that others get out of theirs. Long before Peter Finch did it in “Network,” Ray demanded that viewers stand up, step outside and shout!  Only, instead of cynical resentment, he insisted that we “get” what had just happened, how we had — all of us — just become a bit more like gods.


About Matt Cardin


Posted on June 8, 2012, in Teeming Links and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Even just hearing the name “All Summer in a Day” causes an intense emotional reaction in me. It is such a powerful story.

    • Indeed, it is. One of my favorites, and well worthy of being so widely recognized and anthologized as one of his signature tales. I love the way it has been referenced repeatedly in young adult education circles and widely incorporated into public school literature textbooks and anthologies. There’s nothing like a beautifully conceived and written story about a spontaneous uprush of adolescent cruelty in an other-planetary, science fictional context to strike right to the heart of kids everywhere.

      • Does SF do a better job of this? I feel like it does but I wonder if I feel that way because of my affinity for the genre rather than because it actually does this sort of thing better.

        • I tend to think that speculative fiction in general does this better, precisely because the point it to be speculative, i.e., to look beyond what we might call the “reality boundaries” of the present moment and its outlook. The decontextualization of the human sensibility and then recontextualization of it within this extra-cosmic context calls out all kinds of truths that otherwise remain invisible because of their intimate, and in fact subconscious, familiarity.

  2. Interestingly, we were considering the same physicalist issue yesterday:

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