Friday, August 31, 2018

Back Again

I'm back again after several weeks with my family. My uncle died while I was away. He had lived a long life and was a veteran of the Korean War and a teacher in the Indianapolis Public Schools for thirty years. He specialized in American history but claimed to have known more about its Irish counterpart. He was also a devoted Catholic.

I don't think my uncle was especially interested in science fiction and fantasy, but he was a great fan of Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown. It's no coincidence as far as my uncle went that Arthur Conan Doyle was of Irish-Catholic descent and that G.K. Chesterton, though falling short of Irishness, became, nevertheless, a Catholic. While Conan Doyle went in for nonsense in the Cottingley Fairies affair, Chesterton was, by virtue of his faith, more well grounded. We have him to thank for an idea that has been paraphrased thusly: "When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything." The American Chesterton Society traces that paraphrased idea to the research and conclusions of Chestertonian Robin Rader of  Zambia, who believes it came from two quotes found in the Father Brown stories:
"It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense." (From "The Oracle of the Dog," 1923.)
"You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief--of belief in almost anything." (From "The Miracle of Moon Crescent," 1924.)
I have written before about weird fiction against materialism. I think you could make an argument that weird fiction is against other kinds of belief as well, those that have displaced a belief in God, or at least in the supernatural. Many of these beliefs are based, I think, in Scientism, that bastard-child of science and religion. In my view, Scientism is not about science but of the perceived supremacy and worship of what some people call science, or what has lately sometimes been called "settled science," that is, an unquestioned and unquestionable dogma more characteristic of religion. One bit of "settled science" is that the world is overpopulated, in other words, that there are too many of us and that it would be better off with some us--meaning you--gone. (Have you ever noticed how people who believe in overpopulation never talk about getting rid of themselves?)

As a supposedly scientific idea, overpopulation would have entered science fiction at some point, perhaps not long after it had become a concern in the real world. I'm not sure when that was. The online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggests that the starting point was in the 1950s, but that overpopulation as a theme in science fiction really took off in the 1960s. That's my sense, too. Here's a quote from the Encyclopedia:
The most powerful attempt to confront the issue squarely and in some detail was Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! (1966), a novel whose thrust was entirely lost when it was filmed as Soylent Green (1973). 
I don't agree so much with the comment about Soylent Green, but it's clear to me that overpopulation as a theme was pretty well established in science fiction by the end of the 1960s. Witness "The Mark of Gideon," an episode from the final season of Star Trek, broadcast on January 17, 1969. Witness also the publication in 1970 of The World Outside by Robert Silverberg.

Overpopulation was big in the 1970s. Even otherwise sensible people believed that the world was or soon would be crawling with humanity and that, as a result, there would be disaster, or, alternatively, dystopia (as in Soylent Green [1973] or Logan's Run [1976]), which is only another kind of disaster. If anyone foresaw that we would actually face in the twenty-first century a different kind of disaster, that of demographic collapse, I don't know who that would have been.

Implicit in all of the talk of overpopulation is an anti-human sentiment. But in giving up on a belief in God, and in transferring our most fervent religious beliefs to materialism, atheism, Darwinism, socialism, and so on, many in the world today have become so thoroughly anti-human that they despise humanity and wish for us to be extinguished. My sense is that they despise themselves, but that, because self-hatred is a psychically unbearable condition, they transfer their hatred to the rest of the world. They also, I think, transfer it to God. (My question is, why are they so angry at somebody they don't even believe in?)

Another variation on this anti-human attitude is expressed by people who have elevated animals to the level of people (or have demoted people to the level of animals), in the process casting their pets into the roles of surrogate children and lovers. How long will it be before we can mate with genetically modified pets to produce hybrid dog-people who love us as dogs love us, without reserve, unconditionally, and beyond the imperfect love of our fellow human beings? I suspect it will happen, sooner rather than later. Who in science fiction, as unquestioning of the dogma of overpopulation as the writers of the genre have been, foresaw that we would do these things? Who, in or out of science fiction, envisioned that we would face not overpopulation but demographic collapse partly because we love only our animals and no longer our fellow human beings? 

A perfect and indestructible love--where have we found that before? We seem to remember something like it in the far-distant past, before Scientism became the faith of choice. What was its Source? Who offered it? The difference is that the love offered by a hybrid dog-child is perfectly manipulable. We are its masters. We need not be humble or submit to Anyone's will, because it is our will that is being expressed. Our dog-children will come from our own image of ourselves--those will be our genes in there after all. In other words, our dog-children will be perfect, three-dimensional, organic, hybrid human-canine selfies.

My uncle understood the anti-human attitude of the believers in overpopulation, and he understood it decades ago, shortly after the theme had entered science fiction but before it had taken off in the 1960s. I doubt that he was aware of these developments, but he knew of parallel developments in the real world, for in a long letter to the Indianapolis Star, published on August 26, 1961 (p. 10) and in response to a previous newspaper item, he wrote:
The problem [of population] is not to be solved by impoverishing the earth of the greatest of its riches, "the life and intelligence of man."
I don't know the origin of the quoted phrase. Nonetheless, he saw that the implicitly anti-human policies of the believers in overpopulation were (and are) likely to prove disastrous. And he didn't just dream that up. His faith and his love for his fellow man were behind it. He lived that faith, and he acted out that love, perhaps nowhere so much as in the classroom, in front of the students who attended Harry E. Wood High School in downtown Indianapolis, with its broken windows, darkened brick walls, and run-down facilities. This was an inner city school of the 1970s, when inner cities were polluted, abandoned, and falling apart, like in a scene from Soylent Green. But my uncle, a scholar like Sol, kept faith and served his students. He was pro-human. He chose love over hate, peace over war, freedom over slavery. And because of the things he valued, thus lived, he was remembered by his students, one of whom graduated in the year that letter was published in the Indianapolis Star and who came to the funeral home fifty-seven years later to see him and honor him one last time.

Copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley