midnight oil…

Growing up I was not introduced to worship and faith in what I would describe as a helpful manner. That having been said, several members of my extended family were quite religious. The manner of their practice focused on the prohibitions and consequences rather than anything that could be described as love or virtue. I did get the lesson that we – human beings – were to oppose evil but there wasn’t any clear indication of an effective methodology.

Early on my experience with God distilled to an unrelenting and judgmental view of humans, in which they were essentially worthless, while giving them the loftiest of assignments. It isn’t remotely logical even to someone in grade school.

By the time I was twelve years old I divorced myself from attending church although, at that age, that wasn’t the phrase I used. I just stopped going. Theology became a cerebral, philosophical matter for me. For a time I dismissed faith as belonging to the same category as superstitious belief in fairies or magic. I did not embark on a life of deplorable behavior or debauchery. That path seemed dangerous; avoiding it was not based on the avoidance of sin. The concept of sin was also grouped with legends and fables.

As a subject theology (in a number of ways in which humanity has approached it) has stayed with me as an object of fascination. The notion of “evil” remains an idea that I’ll spend time pondering. A worthy handbook on the subject would, I think, provide 1. a concise but through definition of evil, 2. training on how to recognize it, and 3. procedures for to do when it found. Scripture and religious texts are actually fairly vague on these points – apart from praying to and praising the divine.

I have from time to time asked people how they address the first point. The most frequent answer is that evil is defined as “anything that causes harm”. On face value that makes sense but razor blade can cause harm. I wouldn’t call them evil. Given the assignment to resolutely stand against evil, usually no matter the cost – to attack it continuously until it is banished – it seems to me that evil has to be something so universally heinous that most people would agree, “Yeah. That has to go.”

From an intellectual stance and for more than a decade I used a formula in place of “evil”. What almost everyone else used that term to describe I would evaluate as a combination of stupid, crazy, and/or cruel. That does cover a wide range of objectionable behavior and wretched results. Were I to include a fourth element it would probably capture the willfully contrary and/or ignorant.

Stupidity does not require endless war; it can be “cured” with ongoing education. Insanity can be mitigated including by the hospitalization of those beyond treatment. The correction of cruelty falls in part within our education system and, failing that, our justice system. History has many example of how to correct those who deliberately oppose truth: shame, guilt, and other forms of peer pressure – resulting in exile as a last resort.

Evil would therefore be something outside those categories. I’m afraid I cannot provide Article I of a Moral Constitution. The above, I think, accounts for some of the things that evil is not. Recent research does, however, remind me that there are a few hundred named demons in past. There are fewer than 20 named demons in the Bible. Renaissance fascination with the occult provides most of the rest of the roster.

I once read that “public belial” used to be a crime. Unfortunately, I cannot find any proof of that now. Rather than working on the three-point handbook I may gradually add to a list of which demon represents what societal sin.

Belial – assholes generally; Mammon – unrestrained capitalism and obsessive greed; Baphomet – obstinate know-it-alls (à la “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”); Dagon – anything that teaches, glorifies, or encourages poor behavior; Moloch – those who oppose and obstruct another’s effort to do an agreed upon good; Abaddon – fearmongers and those who foster enmity instead of amity; Pythius – peddlers of alternative fact and those who obscure truth.

sin-sign

In these times it is interesting to note that in 1818 Jacques Collin de Plancy gave Rimmon as the name of the demon ambassador of/to Russia. There’s another point of trivia from esoterica that I can no longer connect to a source. The above image of a symbol for sin. It is identical to one of the alchemical symbols for sulphur apart from the “rocker” at the top. Use it in good health.


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fill in the blank makes the world go round…

Not being an economist suggesting an alternative to existing answers to the problem of unlimited want v limited resources would very likely not provide a utopian blueprint. With that in mind, ideal societies are probably best left as part of the domain of satire and/or fantasy. Astral – the working title for my science fiction novel in progress – does not attempt to paint a grand and perfect future for humanity the setting. Nor is the setting a dystopia.

Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick, K. W. Jeter) mentions off-world colonies and the supposition is that they are not all people might hope. In Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity we’re told, “Earth That Was could no longer sustain our numbers; we were so many.” There’s a streak of disposable planet in science fiction that my first love in the genre – Star Trek – avoided almost completely. The inhabitants of Earth had, in fact, abandoned a dangerous courtship with self-extinction and Starfleet’s mission to seek out strange new worlds was not just about mineral rights.

better-worlds

As mentioned in prior entries here, the world(s) of Astral spans about 60 solar systems. The motivation for expansion splits the difference between Earth being used up and something Neil deGrasse Tyson said about a year ago (Oct. 2015): “If you have the power to turn another planet into Earth then you have the power to turn Earth back into Earth.”

Most science fiction does not concern itself with the cost of putting fleets of ships in space and terraforming exoplanets. Again, not being an economist, I’m not planning on making any estimates in that regard. However, just as I’ve been musing on alternative political structures, the future on Earth’s colonies is not mute about the downside of capitalism and its contentious cousins.

There are at least half a dozen private entities reinventing space travel and while that’s thrilling it also based on some aspect of a profit motive. That has certainly been part of the equation in all exploration – from Magellan and before to NASA and beyond. This is probably not going away but it could actually get us into space even in the sci fi sense.

A friend of mine once observed that the utopia of Earth in Star Trek was not – could not be – based on some flawless ideology and the logical consequences of implementing it. Someone prior to the career of Mr. Spock had invented a machine that turned energy into matter. The cornucopian replicator solved all the quandaries of what to produce, in what manner, and for whom.

I wanted to argue with him at that point and part of me still does. Pointing to the problems in Star Trek has always bothered me and quite a bit of my thinking over the years has gone over the same steeplechase as others in fandom to mend plot holes. With Astral that’s a reminder to avoid some of them during the making of.

The Federation is not faced with the riddle of a used-up planet somehow still able to build enough ships to colonize and exploit strange new worlds. The philosophy of “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” is a direct and natural result of technology solving major sources of waste, class-based tensions, petty behaviors and so on.

The first human colony in the world(s) of Astral was Mars. There are at least four links in a chain from there to α Fornacis/Dalim where the story opens. That chain is not a disintegrating set of broken and corroding links. There is without doubt satirical value in suggesting any human destiny in space will be a series of strip-mined worlds under runaway greenhouse atmospheres but I remain more hopeful… still.


ѱφ

reductio ad absurdum…

In 1996, long before Dennis Miller became a spokesman for conservative points of view, he released a book and associated CD – both titled “The Rants”. One track in particular discussed the tendency of people to demonize and seek to marginalize to the point of exclusion any opposed group. While this behavior is not the exclusive domain of any political persuasion, Miller did – 20 years ago – target the criticism on the Right.

The rant in question traced the tendency to its (il)logical result: a kind of societal attrition. If one faction did manage to fully suppress a perceived rival, and unsurprisingly real or imagined woes do not abate, a new source of such troubles would be designated for the same tactic. Shockingly civilization would find itself confronted with the same problem. Lather, rinse, repeat. Cleanse.

Miller concluded that eventually there’d be one person left and that hateful soul would attack his own reflection. Although his ideology flipped five years later, his observation remains true. Blaming “everything that’s wrong” on ethnic, religious, or other groups never can alleviate our shared difficulties. Scapegoats and straw men could be said to have a common ancestry in this regard. (This change happened roughly the same time Miller was picked as a new commentator on Monday Night Football (ABC) but was not the cause of it.)

The world-building for Astral has prompted some speculation about political structures, economic structures, and human nature. The last of these, it is probably fair to say, will likely never change; very little in all of recorded history unfortunately does not seem to support another prediction. In the story, there is a presidential campaign in progress. (I’d decided on this plot element many months before the Brexit decision or the recent election in the United States.) The partisan rivalry is no longer between conservative and progressive views. Capitalism has been replaced though not if favor of socialism.

But there is not a homogeneous philosophy. With apologies to Gene Roddenberry, an idyllic human government seems a bit further off than 350 years. (Human nature notwithstanding, I count myself among the group who share Mr. Roddenberry’s hope.) The population on a planet in orbit around α Fornacis has a wing that some would prefer had not been included among the colonists. I’ve been calling them Kels.

In their staunch desire to be recognized as part of the Fornacid culture the Kels have adopted an emblem that reflects but is not derived from Dennis Miller’s rant in question.

split

If two circles with equal diameter overlap based on adjacent, inscribed hexagons — follow me on this one — the resulting lens could be used represent a minority, which the Kels are. A circle with the same area as this lens would be about 5.77% of the original whole. After just 25 such schisms the “majority” would be less than 50% of its original size.

About two months ago, I presented here the flags of three other factions in Astral. The Kel flag – if and when they fly one in protest – might make use of this geometric symbolism.

kel-flag-xl-anim

Fractures in community do not follow a mathematical progression and, using this formula, such situations would never reach a hermit’s confrontation with a reflection. It does, however, help make the point that we are – now and in any future, under any flag – in this together.

— If we make that choice.


run it up the flagpole…

With apologies to Oskar Pernefeldt and anyone who has imagined a flag for planet Earth, in Astral the banner for M.other E.arth is based on vexillology, the study of flags. Symbolism in a wide range of forms has fascinated me at least since the mid-70s. Relevant to this post, I recall an illustrated dictionary that devoted to pages to “Flags of the World”.

Rules and preferences for flag design share a heritage with heraldry. To a degree, the process for describing of a coat of arms (i.e., blazonry) can apply to flags. The proper display of a flag is based on the orientation of shields.

Given present international law, national flags will only appear offworld under certain conditions. The Outer Space Treaty† provides that “outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” The treaty does not limit businesses and private citizens but a flag with a logo on it is not a flag – it’s an ad.

uespa

Fictional flags do not have to follow such laws either so we’re free to imagine what we’d like. Star Trek imagines a Unified Earth and Gene Roddenberry modeled his United Federation of Planets on the United Nations. The flags of United Earth (and its Space Probe Agency) reflect this inspiration. It’s often easy to see the sources of other Earth banners.

fict-flag

In Astral, while imagination permits anything, I’ve attempted to stay close to good flag design and a little heraldic knowledge.

flags

The flag of the Hamarchy of Keid, which includes the principal world on which Astral is set – Dalim, is sky blue and black with a silver crane and at least eight stars in the center. In heraldic terms the colors suggest a society that values wisdom, aspiration, and peace. The crane refers to an early Roman view that cranes enjoyed a cooperative society and took turns at watch at night. I like this because, although T. H. White came long after Pliny the Elder, this theme is echoed in White’s Arthuriana.

The Ophiuchid Cantons are almost two separate governments and will likely grow further apart. During the story, however, they share a flag. It is blue and silver with an ermine canton, or field, in the upper left corner. The fictional designer of this flag meant to demonstrate independence from M.E. along with a love for truth and innocence. There is subtle defiance in this.

Initially a part of the Cantons, Federalist Arcadia’s political emblem stands for a sincere and dignified demeanor while its citizens have little connection or allegiance to M.E. The linked angles toward the right show additional values of efficiency and pragmatism. In some heraldic traditions and in the opinion of M.E. the red-violet blush on the flag stands for treason.

me

The final term for the “Solar Empire” or the territories of M.E. hasn’t come to me as yet. Commonwealth is the leading contender but we’ll see. The coat of arms for the original human homeworld and her extended family of colonies is a golden sun in a green field meaning life and fertility with a black chevron representing prospect in and ever widening reach into outer space. The symbolism here being a mind elevated in hope – with protection and generosity for all new settlements.

How all societies present themselves in their best light will show up in well-designed flags. These four in Astral (and one other without an official flag) will try to live up to the values and virtues outlined above. How close they come to their own ideals is part of the story.


The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.

What’s in it for M.E.?

A destiny in space for homo sapiens is certain – or at least I’d like to think so. What form it takes is a matter for debate. The sociopolitical part of world-building for the far future of Astral prompts questions of how humanity will change they it fits and starts toward its fate.

The backstory of space travel in Astral sees the first steps in this regard with ten colonies (between 4.39 and 19.92 light-years distant). A second tier of expansion is launched from those initial settlements and not Earth herself. By extension, through these “grandchildren” colonies, her reach grows from 11 worlds (M.other E.arth† included) to 28.

fade-reach

Globalization on one world may be inevitable. Stretched through interstellar space it becomes imperialism. There is a Chinese saying‡ that suggests a family’s great wealth should not be expected to last through three generations. The proverb is often used as a reminder that a meritocracy is better than honoring tradition and legacy. Some of M.E.’s grandchildren will declare independence particularly where greater prospects derive from looking forward rather than back.

wealth

After settled planets divide into factions, M.E. and her remaining loyal worlds would seek to safeguard her dominance. Laws designed to limit rival colonial “families” would be imposed. From the moment they were enacted, however, the decline of the “Solar Empire” would have begun. Tier III of expansion, during which the events of Astral take place, would bring the count to 63 worlds and the range to 39.26ʟʏ from Earth. The original homeworld would exercise control (directly or by extension) over just 52.38%. The next jump in adding new worlds would see M.E.’s control slip below the halfway point.

With a somewhat unsafe, difficult manner of faster-than-light travel and each world using genetic engineering to make up for shortfalls in terraforming, the definition of human and the proper use of homo sapiens as a description will – of necessity – change. Evolution in isolation is known to create a wide divergence of traits, ultimately leading to entirely new species.

cats-awayAnother Chinese maxim equates to, “While the cat’s away the mice will play.” But it’s more poetically transliterated as, “Heaven is high and the emperor is far away.” Strange new worlds will raise new ideologies and new approaches to the economic problem. The more distant and different the world the more likely influence of any kind from M.E. will be subject to a metaphorical inverse-square law.

The culture of an extra-global humanity will grow ever more diverse. Over time, there will be a family resemblance but that will fade with M.E.’s importance. Any Terrestrial alliance will depend on keeping the extended family loyal, embracing many forms of adaptation, and implementing an active program for innovation: better genetic designs and more efficient terraforming.

Clutching to a status quo, let alone any irredentism, would require FTL capacity that was significantly better than other “humans” were using and an ability to revert to conventional warfare, an inconvenient practice between any two planets in this construct. There is in this a subtle nod toward the Earth-that-was in Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity. Unlimited want and limited resources will eventually use up any world. Improvement of FTL travel may be beyond M.E.

If a human presence in space involved civil war M.E.’s side would likely be much smaller than 51 of 111 worlds in the projected Tier IV. The range in that event would probably not extend to 67.16ʟʏ. And, as it happens, we don’t have to wait hundreds of years to be concerned by hyperbolic ideology, reflexive sectarianism, or economic obsessions. There’s room for evolution there too without altering the meaning of human.


† Is this proverb used when discussing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (김정은) or a present presidential campaign in the US?

‡ “M.other E.arth” and “M.E.” are part of the copyright of Astral (working title).

 

 

out of all knowledge…

History became legend, legend became myth…”

— Galadriel, Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

It is unfair to myth to let it become a mere synonym of error and/or antiquated, foolish notions. Joseph Campbell includes the following in description of term and its true function: “A ritual is the enactment of a myth.”

Rites serve civilization as on-the-job training for establishing the connection of individual to the social environment. Ritual dramatizes recognition – in the sense of both comprehension and the act honoring. Such practices serve as a foundation to assess our culture and, hopefully, to understand our talent and role within it. Myth is instructional metaphor intended to build sameness and community not bring it to raze and ruin. Ritual and mythology are far from absent in today’s society.

The word and its importance are being abused. At least half the time it is seen on the internet it is pressed into service as part of clickbait. “Ten Myths About…” is, more often than not, the beginning of an attempt at indoctrination – leading the reader away from genuine truth. This usage is propaganda not a mechanism that may imbue a person with effectiveness.

Myth and ritual used this way is exploitation of the trusting souls and their beliefs. Those who engage in this misuse view their targets as dupes and rubes; that’s exactly the strategy of a cult.

There is a dichotomy in how we view ancient civilization. In terms of their religion we represent them as naïve primitives without the sophistication to understand plainly stated morals given after highly stylized tales. Yet at the same time we laud the same people as the inventors of our celebrated ideas of republic and democracy. “Behold the gullible genius!”

The larger-than-life tale is best used as mnemonic device or as an attention-getting preface. In contrast the hoax and the bold-faced lie depend on reaching the impressionable.

For both the individual and society resisting indoctrination depends on enough introspection to know what we believe and why. We must maintain our memory (and history) properly fit and exercise due diligence to confirm new information before writing it into our memory as actual fact.

Critical thinking is our best tool after domesticated fire and the wheel. Healthy skepticism, however, is not the same as ineducable suspicion. Willful opposition to new data is deplorable embrace of ignorance. As a practice that is certain to earn us a reputation as superstitious post-Neanderthals.

taprobane

In 139ᴀᴅ Ptolemy is said to have produced a map of the demi-continent called Taprobane (Ταπροβανῆ). There is no evidence that he traveled across the Indian Ocean nor any account of his having been asked to describe any such journey. Still, for centuries others copied the gigantic island onto newer maps and expeditions hoped to find it.

Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds is famous due to the panic it caused. Following a similar dramatization in Quito, Ecuador on 12 Feb 1949 the aftermath was greater. As many as twenty people were killed. There is no record in either case of people simply changing the station.

Myth is not error or falsehood. Mistakes are mistakes and lies are lies. We are the vanguard against the latter armed with the former when properly understood and utilized.

Or else —

Five centuries from now will John McCain be on his way to being regarded as the builder of the Panama Canal and began construction of the Great Wall on the southern border of The United States of New Laurentia. Will the senator’s maverick nature eventually inflate his image to the equivalent of a Trickster god?

And how much truth will be salvaged about McCain by any euhemerism at the end of the next millennium?


ex metum…

It seems to me that any thinking, rational humans have decided for themselves that life is precious and good – perhaps without knowing this choice has been made. An alternative view, that our sense of survival and self-preservation derives merely from instinct, would mean that none of us are more than creatures.

The universal view of how wonderful having a life and living it for as long as possible is best represented in legend by the world’s various Flood myths. Noah’s story and that of Utnapishtim (in the Epic of Gilgamesh) are the most well known but the concept is a worldwide and long-standing one – appearing in the lore of at least a few dozen cultures.

Most involve the construction of a boat; those that do not indicate that survivors climbed tall trees or the highest mountains to reach safety. In Greek mythology, there was a deluge of incredible magnitude at least three times, two of which marked the end of a specific Age. The first of the three was considered an ancient event by those we now call the ancient Greeks.

After the second the line of Deucalion and Pyrrha to the end of the Heroic Age consists of ten generations. The chronology of Archbishop James Ussher places the Genesis Flood at 2348 ʙᴄ. This can’t be made to match timelines of Greek myth as the end of the end of the Bronze Age is estimated somewhere between 1480 and 1450ʙᴄ. It is interesting to note that the 2nd Christian Age also lasts ten generations – from Noah and Emzara to Abraham and Sarah.

generation

I don’t mean to suggest here the Flood myths and traditions are all the same. Further, I do not support the claim that a very widespread myth is in and of itself evidence of an otherwise unsubstantiated event in prehistory. The dates can’t be forced to match. Hesiod’s list of Ages does not align with that of St. Augustine.

What all the world’s epic disasters do seem to have in common is the reaction to the perception that things are getting worse all the time. The philosophy of “life sucks and then you die” and the complaint about “these kids today and their haircuts” are nothing new but they become amplified when society is seen as being in decline.

The notion that might makes right also has a long history and gains strength in such times whether the decline is real or not. In essence, the diagnosis of social woe is: “The Divine has forsaken us for we have lost our righteous way.” From this point the reaction in myth and sociology follows a similar pattern.

realmyth

This is all shockingly familiar in today’s political climate – but really not the point of these stories if life truly is precious and good. Not to be too cute about it but I think we’ve missed the boat.

Hesiod did not suggest what Age would follow his own times. And the implied 7th Age of St. Augustine starts with the End of Days. In the first formulation one might expect something worse than the Dark Ages but even that would be preferable to the prevailing current meaning of apocalypse.

Since Hesiod is silent and we believe life is so precious and so good we’ll go to heroic lengths to preserve and maintain it, let’s not assume that the best days are behind us in an ever more remote Golden Age. Such an Age should be held as an ideal to strive toward rather than a long-ago lofty perch from which we’ve fallen (and continue to fall). If we can’t actually reach Ages of Silver or Gold, I’d settle with joy for a new Heroic Age.

Rather than paint the sort of heroism required by who is condemned and who is spared I’d prefer to define righteousness by who best points the way and lights the path.