How Science, Technology, Science Fiction and Progressive Politics are All Related
If you read this blog regularly, or follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that science, science fiction and progressive politics are regular topics. To me though these are not unrelated topics. Good science fiction is based on science. Science is what separates science fiction (Star Trek) from fantasy (Lord of the Rings).
Fantasy, like religion, relies on magic. In science fiction things may seem magical but it is based on scientific principles and theories. Science fiction speculates about the future of technology but it also often inspires those who develop technology. Those with a talent for science and tech will look at something in a film or a book and wonder whether it is possible and how.
As Ray Bradbury once put it:
““I think it’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality. There’s hardly a scientist or an astronaut I’ve met who wasn’t beholden to some romantic before him who led him to doing something in life.I think it’s so important to be excited about life. In order to get the facts we have to be excited to go out and get them, and there’s only one way to do that — through romance. We need this thing which makes us sit bolt upright when we are nine or ten and say, ‘I want to go out and devour the world, I want to do these things.’”
I won’t spend much more time on this as the links between science and science fiction are fairly well established.
The other thing science fiction does is look at the future, or rather at possible futures both good and bad. It explores the impact that science and technology may have on society and civilizations. The history of technology and its impact on human society is the same as the history of human society. Humanity’s tools and inventions have completely shaped our history from the beginning. To list just a few examples: fire, basic tools and weapons, the wheel, the domestication of animals (especially horses), agriculture, constantly improving building methods, boats and ships, the printing press, firearms and gunpowder, manufacturing, motorized vehicles, modern medicine, airplanes, computers, robotics and automation, space vehicles and satellites. Our history is the history of our science and technology and the impact it has had on us and the world around us.
So to prepare for the future, it is vital to look at emerging science and technology and contemplate the impact it is going to have. Only by doing that can we shape society the way we want to rather than be shaped by it. That is where science fiction and speculation about technology and the future are vital to society.
In 1984, George Orwell presents us with a world where individuals every move, every thought and every word are monitored by government. Government presides over individuals, forcing everyone to play a particular part in a well oiled machine and that machine is in a constant state of war. By contrast, in Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry presents us with a world in which human want and need have been done away with, there is no poverty and the primary goals of society are to explore and learn. Individuals follow their passions and their interests without any fear of poverty or homelessness. They explore their world and the universe and create new societies on new worlds.
Both of these worlds are currently possible. Orwell’s world is currently the closest. Wars over scarce resources are already being waged and show signs of becoming permanent conflicts. Government monitoring of individuals activities, including private conversations and behavior have reached a level that would have frightened even Mr. Orwell. However a world even more utopian than Gene Roddenberry’s is also becoming more and more possible.
New energy technologies could offer cheap, renewable power without greenhouse gasses. Robotics and artificial intelligence may someday take over every menial job on the planet, and some that are not so menial. DNA research, cybernetics and other advances in medicine could end disease and expand human life expectancy, even to the brink of immortality. 3D printing and related technologies could satisfy every human want and need including food, shelter, clothing and more. NASA is working on technologies that with the potential to make traveling the stars a reality and the internet promises to be more and more a means of easy communication but also a library of all human knowledge and ideas.
So, politics for me are about trying to shape the future I’d like to see and not immediate selfish gratification. That means toward science and away from fantasy and magic. (Sorry, but there is no more evidence to support the Bible as factual, literal history than there is to support Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.) It means that I do not mind ‘big government’ so long as that government is under the control of and operates for the benefit of people, and doesn’t simply rule over us. It means that I believe in promoting science and technology for the benefit of everyone and not just a wealthy few and it means that I frequently look to science fiction for speculation about the way the future may take shape.