Second Empire vs Galaxia: Was Trevize Right?

The Foundation series ended unsettlingly, and slightly anti-climactically, with “Foundation and Earth”. The constant debate between Trevize and Bliss over ‘Gaia vs Isolatism’ was interesting and gave much food for thought, and the technical explanations littered throughout the rest of the book were ingenious and worthy of appreciation. However, I am not entirely happy with the logic advanced by Trevize for his final decision.

A summary of his argument is that in the debate of ‘Gaia vs the Second Empire’, Seldon’s Plan, in discounting the possibility of other, non-human forms of intelligence, would fail. Therefore, to ensure the survival of humanity against threats from outside this galaxy, it would be necessary for human beings to unite and form one Galaxia to stave off external divisive attacks.

This argument, albeit with its merits, seems to take an entirely different tack from Trevize’s main refrain throughout the book: that it is one’s individualism and free will, enabling dissonance, debate and rebellion, that sparks reform and advancement of the species; also that human beings are human beings mainly by virtue of their free will, and to rob them of this would not necessarily be a good thing.

I can understand that when Trevize discovered the looming threat of invasion from other galaxies, possibly by more advanced forms of intelligence, he resorted to humans’ inherent instinct for strength in numbers, and saw the merit of Galaxia. However, the question is, is it worth sacrificing your free will and humanity while humanity lasts in order to guarantee survival? Isn’t it better for humanity to perhaps risk dying out earlier (in the grand scheme of things) in exchange for retaining their free will, what makes them most human?

Finally, I’d like to share my deepest mistrust of Fallon and abhorrence of the cliffhanger Asimov finished “Foundation and Earth” on. My dear man, the sequels were supposed to give us closure – not leave us more unsatisfied than “Second Foundation” left us! In hindsight, I preferred the comparatively neat ending of “Second Foundation”, with its calming implication that the Seldon Plan would run its course, putting humanity back on track.

While this may be societal “inertia”, as Pelorat may have said, I like the idea of human beings remaining, in the most fundamental sense, the way we are. In essence, in the “First Foundation vs Second Foundation vs Galaxia” debate, even though I think the Second Foundation as ultimate rulers might have been less than ideal, I would much prefer it to Galaxia, where people are happier but in a sense opiated. Although, it may be that as the Second Foundation developed we may have ultimately come to a crossroads where the idea of Galaxia was thought of independently. So maybe what I resent is its external enforcement? I’m beginning to feel that I’d be happier with the decision (happiernot happy) if it had been made by the Second Foundationers, who after all represent a gradually evolving humanity rather than human-robot bastards (meant in the standard dictionary definition – no profanity intended). This would mean that we had made the decision for ourselves, rather than having someone – even if in consultation with a (single) human like Trevize – force it upon us.

Why is this difference important, you may ask? Well, mainly because robots possess only an external view of humanity – they of necessity focused more on the literal survival of Homo sapiens than the propagation of humanity with the essence intact – free will.

It can be argued that Trevize decided in favor of Galaxia mostly as a result of the sudden realization of the threat of annihilation in the future. He may not have been able to really weigh the philosophical and finer points of the decision he made.

Anyway, this is what makes me uneasy about, and unhappy with, Asimov’s conclusion to the Foundation series. If you have any points to add, or a different perspective to offer, I’d love to hear from you, so please drop a line in the comments section.

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Ender’s Game: Opposing Opinions

As some of you may know, one of my all-time favorite books is “Ender’s Game”. Whenever I’m asked for a book recommendation, EG always pops up. Recently though, I recommended it to one of my best friends, and she didn’t like it. And not a mild dislike either – apart from finding a few parts “interesting”, she out-and-out disliked the book and took away a message completely different from the one I did. She also thought the book was given to me too young. (EG was introduced to me through a book club at school at age 11.) As always, in book-related things, I’m going to now issue a spoiler alert. If you haven’t read the book, this article will probably spoil some parts for you – not many, but some. If you have read the book, or don’t mind, welcome aboard.

First off, what really impressed me about EG, as I’ve said in other posts, was this: Orson Scott Card gives the children in the book real voices – he portrays them as actual people with intellect and opinions, people a child can identify with, instead of the typical adult’s view of children – as ignorant dependents who parrot adults’ words, easily influenced and tantrum-prone. It gives older children a chance to explore conflicting viewpoints about important things by putting themselves in the shoes of various characters who think and act as they might do – the same privilege most fiction books afford adults. I therefore maintain, adjusting for the maturity of individual children, that the age at which I read “Ender’s Game” was the exact age at which the book could have the maximal effect on me; the age at which I was old enough to comprehend the points of debate, and yet young enough to take that journey through the protagonist’s eyes.

“Ender’s Game”, to me, was always a no-nonsense book about human motivations and capacity for good or evil, and an opinion piece on the grey area. Although it highlights the use of empathy as a tool for war, the end result it had, at least on me, was an increase in my estimation of the importance of empathy as a character trait. The “Ender’s Game” series gave me my first lesson in politics; it taught me the importance of the internet and free speech; taught me that age is just a number; taught me that grey areas exist, and the consequent importance of putting the power of decision in the right people’s hands. “Ender’s Game” also, now that I think about it, echoes Ayn Rand’s philosophy of ability and efficiency, and the command that springs from it.

My friend, on the other hand, thought the book was racist. She thought several of the plot points could have been corrected by introducing sci-fi norms such as hyperspace travel and better communication systems. Frankly, I always thought the racism made it a more plausible portrayal of Earth’s future. I read an article somewhere in which the author finds it strange that most plots based in the future show humans no longer divided on the issue of race, but instead working on a new problem. While accounting for the fact that we would bind together in the face of a new enemy or problem, I find a situation in which some remnants of passed-down racism remain to be a much more believable version of the future.

In fact, that constitutes the majority of my counter argument – EG illustrates human progress at a realistic rate. We still have problems with intergalactic travel and we still have problems with each other. My friend thought that fighting off the buggers just to ensure they wouldn’t attack again was stupid, and that an intergalactic treaty would’ve been smarter. The latter point would have definitely made sense if we could have communicated with the buggers; the fact that we couldn’t makes it a moot point. As to the former, while I don’t support xenocide, I understand it in an “it was either us or them” scenario where no communication could take place and the future of the human race was potentially at stake.

Lastly, my friend thought EG ended on a kind note with the whole “Speaker for the Dead” thing, but that kindness should be all-pervasive, and that, in her words, “all this rubbish about Ender not wanting to hurt them, why don’t they just leave him alone, is a pathetic attitude. You hurt because you want to hurt.” I understand where this point of view comes from, but I feel like the book already addresses this: Ender isn’t in denial about his capacity to hurt – he’s afraid of it, afraid to become like the image he has of Peter. He wants to be kept away from a position to inflict pain like a recovering alcoholic wants to be kept away from drink. Ultimately, she says that mostly what hurt her was the mistreatment of kids; that I can get on board with. I remember my anger towards “the teachers” still today. But. Although I don’t believe that the ends always justify the means, I also understand where Graff is coming from when he says, “Human beings are free except when humanity needs them.” I don’t like it, I would hate it if it was me, but I understand it.

I began writing this piece because I hold my friend in good esteem, and her immediate dislike of a book that has shaped me shook me. I guess I wanted to find out what my own counter arguments were. I always say that when I write, my opinions come pouring out from my brain to my fingers without passing through a filter; I write to know what I’m thinking or feeling, and now I can rest knowing why, reading this book, I came to the conclusions I did, and not the ones she did. If you have a point of view you’d like to share, or a question to ask, I’d love to hear it, so drop me a line in the comments section, and we can talk about it. Thanks for listening!

EG - 85

Prosaic License

Monday, August 5, 2013

Trifecta: Week Eighty-Nine

1: lacking strength: as
: deficient in physical vigor : feeble, debilitated
: not able to sustain or exert much weight, pressure, or strain
: not able to resist external force or withstand attack
: easily upset or nauseated <a weak stomach>
2a : mentally or intellectually deficient
: not firmly decided :vacillating
: resulting from or indicating lack of judgment or discernment
: not able to withstand temptation or persuasion <the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak>
3: not factually grounded or logically presented <a weak argument>

“Hey, so should I go for something that tastes rich or something that’ll keep me awake all night?”

“Can’t you get one that’s both? I think I’ll go with the generic one – much cheaper.”

“Okay, I think I’ll get this one.”

“Which one’s that?”

“Awake-all-night coffee. Obviously. It looks like it’s pretty easy to make too.”

“Looks weak to me.”

“Huh?”

“The coffee beans are not, factually, grounded. And since you’ve been overworked recently, need sleep, and are only buying that to be able to stay up and watch TV, your choice of coffee beans was presented to me without the application of logic. Your illogically presented coffee beans that are not factually grounded are, therefore, weak.”

“Oh Lord, you’re working on a Trifecta post again, aren’t you? Also, it’s ground. Coffee beans are ground, not grounded.”

“Pfft. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. And so what if I am?”

“No, levi-oh-sa, levio-sah. Especially given that you think language is your forte.”

“Bah, humbug.”

“Hmm, is that an admission of defeat I hear?”

“No. I’m just trying to remember what else was on the shopping list. Which you forgot at home.”

“Mhm. Sure.”

“What? I am!”

“Weak argument, Bro. Real weak.”

“…”

Brave vs. Beauty

I read in this morning’s newspaper that Disney’s been taken to task about “touching up” their Merida (princess in Pixar’s “Brave”) doll in their new toy line. Apparently the doll is curvier and more conventionally pretty and “princess-like” than the character from the movie.

This, of course, sparked off the whole debate about beauty being something from within, and not what society sets as an ideal. Disney was also blamed for perpetuating stereotypes and setting impossibly high and narrow standards of beauty for young girls to aspire to.

Although technically the point is correct, I feel the need to ask when toys became such an important focal point in the war on stereotypes. When I was a child, a toy may have initially influenced my ideas about beauty, but it definitely is not the root cause for my insecurities. It seems to me that the people fighting this war are focusing on the little things and blowing them out of proportion, rather than spending time fighting the more important battles that they seem to think they can’t win, such as the popularity of body slimming commercials, hair bleaching and skin lightening commercials, consumer plastic surgery commercials, and many more. (Although I think everyone has the right to look the way they feel most confident, the popularity of this begs the question of why so many people all feel beautiful looking a particular way.) Women’s magazines, with all their skin-and-bones, 5’10” Caucasian models aren’t any less to blame either. In fact, neither are you, for admiring and attempting to emulate “beautiful” people. Or chasing after them.

The debate about dolls reminds me of a saying I heard somewhere a while back: that creating a debate about something, or attempting to disprove a discriminating stereotype, usually only ends up perpetuating it. The saying was originally used in conjunction with an article about a study which “disproved sexist stereotypes regarding intelligence”, but it works in this scenario just as well.

One way to fix this? Start by opening up your mind to new, wider definitions of beauty first. Then expose others around you to your new views – if you can’t convince those closest to you, how can you expect strangers, making money off of our insecurities, to listen?

I admire celebrities such as P!nk (“Stupid Girl”) and J. K. Rowling (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/454548-fat-is-usually-the-first-insult-a-girl-throws-at), who speak out against society-imposed ideals of beauty, and although they, you might say, don’t need their looks to earn either love or a living, the point remains that neither do we.