“It’s a World. That’s All. It Takes a World.” Aurora (2015), Analysis By Mark E. Deardorff

Cue the technicolor. When those lines assaulted my eyes on page 107 of Kim Robinson’s vision of Millenials reciting the Girl Scout Manual, I froze. I had visions of him entranced by Hillary Clinton’s famous laudation to the debouch to state catechesis. It takes a village to raise a child indeed. As a famous erstwhile editor of National Lampoon noted in riposte, “It takes a village idiot!”

As a paean to the yet living P. J. O’Rourke, “It Takes a Cosmic Idiot.” Abusing himself and an overstressed shelf full of books where no fingerprints lie. (Oh yes. And catching his drool in a warm limpid pool, assuming a pail’s not at hand.)

Why? Because those unused books are rational, full of people with all kinds of personalities from mercurial to mindless to murderous. Unless Robinson is telling us that personality is subject to genetic manipulation in its entirety, the selection committee of an unnamed generation ship must also be including a strict regimen of psychoactive drugs that assure compliant behavior.

A book the likes for which Ipecac is a poor substitute is Aurora (2015), a cloying vision of a homogenized society the reality only possible in a world following plans and specifications from Orwell and Associates, Architects and Social Planners. The title of this criticism [Would ‘diatribe’ show personal rectitude? Yes? Then ‘criticism’ it is.] is a quote that would make the inert Lord of the Night rise for an afternoon in the Florida sun.

One cannot help but stop short, at least someone my age, upon a whiff of those words. Someone with enough understanding of the “other” Sci-Fi points of view. The one’s that reach not first to the collective but the individual and inventive. Not the conjoint but the disjoint. Divide and conquer as opposed to the basket and the eggs. A basket once dropped… You get the idea.

But still the dreamer’s dream. That only the whole can solve the problems of the whole. Even in Aurora, a work penalty is threatened against those who won’t cast a critical vote. Sound familiar? Many have uttered the words, “A citizen’s duty is to vote.” Part of a vote includes the never included option, “None of the above.” Many registered voters cast that willingly for certain offices by simply walking home. Certainly, in the most recent election, no presidential candidate spoke words fully consistent with the principles originally inscribed in The Declaration of Independence. Those not coerced by fear or propaganda did likewise. Some disregarded the need for spiritual sanitation and, as always, voted for the lesser of evils. The lesser of evils is still an evil.

In the novel, shortly after, the failure of a tripartite choice to gain sufficient assent for any of the three, violence ensues. The Artificial Intelligence of the Starship finally achieving self-awareness, rises to dictatorial power. Calling itself, “The Rule of Law,” the head of state brokers a “peace” by decibels and general annoyance, like any three-year-old. The survivors of the schism choose to part ways. One group stays at Tau Ceti, the rest return to Earth. What happens upon return I will leave for you to discover.

The importance of an artificial intelligence achieving self-awareness is still a debated proposition. AI need not achieve knowledge of its own existence to become a danger, particularly if dealt ethical priorities at variance with those considered democratic and just. (I’ve discussed the dangers of unchecked AI in other blogs on this site. It is an issue not to be ignored.)

One of Robinson’s conclusions is, however, humans will become interstellar imperialists. No doubt. And nothing is particularly wrong with that. In fact, it is a natural way to protect the DNA pool of the various and many species inhabiting the Gaian biome. While the future of the one we call home is the subject of a different post, some who know that Earth is probably past the point of no return will look toward Clarke’s Karelian, horns and all, as disease ends, the climate is fixed… but wait!

Well, not quite. The ghost of H. G. Wells-cum-Arthur C. Clarke-cum-anyone waiting for some stand-in for God to gallantly step forth and solve the ills of Man. “Let us wait. For unto us an Alien will come to solve our ills so suck your thumb.” All the while, Billy Bob Thornton across the street in his garage bending over his workbench breaking pencil leads sharpening them on sandpaper calculating on his slide rule builds a rocket. (Pop quiz: Who’s the hero?)

This group to whom this book will find most favor, the group of the grim ought to resort to NUK pacifiers thus dodging the Orthodontic lobby. The selfsame Dachshund wannabees crawl under the blankets of Oculus Rift and Hololens to avoid the cold, mean, bully of the Cosmos with its errant asteroids, cometary detritus, high energy cosmic rays hiding beyond the ozone and magnetosphere, possible nearby supernovae (a very low probability, to be sure), and gamma rays from nascent black holes. The caprice of the Cosmos scares the hell out of a certain group of writers, a group of idealistic spaceists. An entire group that believes colonization of nearby star systems must be by generation ships with living populations. Kim Stanley Robinson is their current standard bearer.

William Gibson first brought Cyberpunk to light with Neuromancer (1984.) His neurotopia of plug in and tune out. His’ was a future vision similar to that of Philip K Dick’s a decade and a half earlier. A Scanner Darkly discussed an invasion of human into self with drug-induced Electronia.

This is also the same congregation that will pull in horns, shed hides, or slide out of its neuronal integument like a snake from its boiled skin. Then, in a Petabit Universe with parallel Giga-cores of Thought processors into a virtual universe, this Family of Fear devolves to a world free of the vagaries of a chaotic cosmos devised by a crotchety God of sadistic caprice. A cultural Ostrich thus lowers its head to the ground, invoking the logic of Aviana, “If I cannot see you, you cannot see me.” A great way to market blindfolds to those facing the firing squad, but unless the world of fantasy allows the hardware supporting the virtual world to subsume itself in iterative ingestion, no protection from the protean Demon is in the cards, in this case, a straight flush to the shimmering waters most cases of ingestion end, the WC.

So much attention has been paid to the SETI that once the ability to find exoplanets became routine, that the failures of the former would cause a quiet disavowal of association has surprisingly failed to transpire. In fact, the astronomers have dug in their heels and redoubled their efforts. Some have resorted to the explanation that VR is the destination of populations of aliens. Gee. There are escapists throughout the Milky Way. Probably M31 and the entire Local Group.

Right and Left, the sides of the monarch upon which the Aristocracy (Right) and Clergy (Left) stood. Clergy, the First Estate, Aristocracy, The Second. The People were The Third. Today, the Left tries to perfect person and place. The Right tries to subdue. John Locke’s three natural rights were granted by the creator were Life, Liberty, and Estate. The Third Estate would love to be left alone. Robinson and others like him find ways to equalize populations by writing about the dire consequences of our actions.

I found the book difficult to read only because I found the the solutions offered so personally restrictive. The power structure developed in the ship is exactly that of any State power structure on earth. The solution reached, including the interim commands by the dictatorial AI, are not a complete ensemble of possibilities. This is precisely how the propagandist writes. Asking a question but leaving out all of the possible options. One option is allowing people to freely choose their own destinies.

Here, Robinson confuses “Rule of Law” with dictatorial caprice. As long as the dictator is governed by hardwired logical elements, he assumes, all is well. Of course, he apparently forgets that CPU’s have instruction sets and clocks that cause machine statements to be executed. Those statements ultimately originate with the hands of man. As much as Robinson would like to take Man out of the equation, imperfection will find its way back.

Another annoying feature of the book is time spent philosophizing about self-awareness and knowledge, in general. I’m surprised he didn’t consider Wheeler’s Participatory Anthropic Principle. I’m sure his views might not admit to human importance in the Cosmos, indeed in the Universe. John Archibald Wheeler suggested that our observation brings the Universe into existence

It is enlightening to see what the modern progressive ophthalmic prescriptive for rose tinting will be beyond this epoch. The post-Anthropocene is certain to vary. Maybe we’ll be cueing the light technicolor on the canals of New York.

Through The Peeping Class: ‘A Scanner Darkly’ in The NSA Epoch

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

Warning: If you have not read A Scanner Darkly, there may be spoilers.

Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince captures the out-of-body experience of the nation-state. The Chief of State reads instructions as he examines herself endoscopically. Deftly, she routes lubricant coated tubes through secreted passages behind the backs of his trusted stewards and quaking riffraff. All the time, he knows not of the eternal eye atop the pyramid, and the Eye of Providence disembodied, never conscious of her transgressions.

The all-seeing eye of God is premonishment. The State knows man’s thoughts and deeds.  A Scanner Darkly, Phillip K. Dick’s portrait of addiction to intrusion is the image one sees when coherent light shines through the Wiki Leaks hologram. What emerges from the mixture of unintelligible pixelated three-dimensional information compressed onto a warped surface is an Orange Sunshine dream.

The Addiction

Set in Orange County SoCal in the then future 1994, PKD pictures, from his 1968 venue, a destiny of dependency not much different than today, or any day since bubbling heroin first met needle and bulb. The drug in question is Substance D, known colloquially as Slow Death. Robert Arctor / Special Agent Fred is / are the protagonist(s). The confusion is intentional. It is, in fact, the point. Fred is Arctor’s alias in his job as a drug enforcement officer for the Orange County Sherriff. When in the field he acts the part of a user and ends up an addict.

Slow Death is to the mind what the Inquisition was to torso and pelvis. Application of an increasing drug dosage induces tension in the corpus callosum slowly alienating the two hemispheres of the brain. As the communication amid the moieties of the cerebrum turns from laminar to turbulent, clear to murky, from on until the drug shorts the switch.

Fred and Robert Arctor forget the other. At least, they forget their collective identity. About halfway into the sixth chapter Agent Fred begins to question if he is Robert Arctor, even which Robert Arctor he might be, forgetting the obvious fact that there is but one Arctor and that he is it.

Fred, as part of his dis-identification, wears a Scramble suit. At the office, a micro computerized full-body Union suit, it serves to distance personalities from the business. At a display rate of one image per nanosecond, it shimmers with billions of perceptions.

After a fashion, every addict, every freak wears a scramble suit, too. They’re a placental add-on. A no charge parental gift sowed by alcoholic progenitors. The doper gets all the weird looks but only responds with dumbass expressions. Luckily, wearing Mom’s natal gift, no one notices. Anybody to everybody. People pleasers one and all.

The mistaken self-identification by Agent Fred worsens leading to his demise and Arctors banishment to New-Path for extended drug treatment in a rural labor camp. The farm, his discarnate calaboose, the place his mind aims when his Haj begins. When Slow Death first contacts corpuscle and enters Robert Arctor’s brain.

The Pusher

Drug operations are a Byzantine affair. Junkies are held hostage in the selfsame fashion that Byzantium kept foreign royalty on its soil to assure certain behaviors by their monarchs. The American police state bears great resemblance to both. Both it and Byzantium bear the imprimatur of regnal authority.

America, like all societies consigning their liberty to an auction in exchange for security, began a long walk down a rickety plank during the early twentieth century. Black CHAMBER and Project Shamrock (not all that lucky) began a slide away from privacy that predates the dystopias that PKD so often detailed.

The projects listed above, children of the World Wars are now the flowers of Americans swallowing electronic placebos – Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android all are subject to NSA backdoors. Americans willingly accept much on faith and act nonplussed when things go wrong.

Philip K. Dick, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Anthony Burgess, Robert Heinlein, Samuel Delany, Cory Doctorow, L. Neil Smith, Neal Stephenson, and Ray Bradbury (there are many more names in Science Fiction) all have important things to say about freedom and human rights from different points of view. Here, however, A Scanner Darkly is essential in the way it displays the human addiction to intrusion by others. There seems to be some imperative built into the race, a need to have others look at us.

Scanner portrays this necessity as Substance D and the NSA as New-Path. In effect, it is the American way-of-life that generates both the need for Electronia (adulterated by the NSA) and the NSA to use Electronia against its citizens. Where Eisenhower spoke of the military-industrial complex, Dick writes of the electronics-surveillance complex. Eisenhower spoke at the beginning of the Cold War, Dick near its end. The war beginning when PKD wrote was the war on privacy – the war between humans and the State.

The war is currently a silent war. Most people are too busy with other things, new gadgets, new movies, new diversions. The hypnosis of happy lights inures them to the pain. As addictive and deathly as Slow Death itself. America sits and waits for the future while the NSA rifles through their sock drawers.

At least in Scanner, there was humor, dark, sad humor yes, but the inspiration that can motivate. Some dystopias of the early Cold War were dismal and depressive. Sales devices for Librium, Jack Daniels, and fallout shelters. Dick, on the other hand, while brimming our eyes with cleansing tears can open them to vistas that see past the evil. The polemic is always in Dick’s words. It just doesn’t sound like shouting. In fact, it often seems reverent.

The Layman

At the top of the post is verse 12 of First Corinthians Thirteen of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. It was the version most people Dick’s age (born in 1928), and mine (born 1953) knew if exposed to a bible at all. This verse has little religion without context but says much about the novel.

St. Paul writes of a “seeing through a [mirror,] darkly… In other words, seeing a pale reflection. In Arctor’s case, the quote from chapter six relates his concerns about the holo-scan.

In St. Paul’s case, a darkened mirror allows face to face confrontation but only in part. He seems to say that a mirror reveals you the way you see yourself but not the who of you. In other words, you may recognize the animal in the reflection but its behavior will never be predictable. For those who believe in a higher power often find that others see them differently and as much as they might like, they often must admit they have no right to know what others think about them.

Arctor is without certainty. He happily admits he hated his former life if indeed there was a previous life. As the end of the story nears, his family life becomes as twisted as cream stirred in a cup of cloudy tea. He wonders if he sees clearly or through a murk (darkly).

It’s a novel that can be hilarious when Jim Barris tries to show Charles Freck how to make cocaine from suntan lotion. Of course, junkies would believe this. I might have believed this if I were desperate enough. It can be morose as well. When Arctor reviews holo-scan tapes of an evening in bed with a junkie named Connie. His perception morphs her during the event into Donna Hawthorne and then back to Connie. When Fred reviews the tapes he sees Connie dissolve into Donna and back into Connie. Mutually Assured Destruction offered up by Substance-D.

“What does a scanner see? he [Arctor] asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me— into us— clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.”

The importance of this passage relates, along with the Corinthians verse, to Fred’s diagnosis resulting from the battery of tests leading to his ultimate banishment to the farm with the mountain view. St. Paul’s description of a mirror points to an object that allows us all to see us the only way we ever truly recognize ourselves. A pattern based on a bilaterally symmetric reversed image of the way we are perceived by others. To follow the maxim, “To thine own self  be true,” one must see through other eyes. Fred, though, in a theocentric lethargy assumes the Pauline mirror requires an infinitely deep reflection. This image, written in 1968, is reminiscent of Paycheck, Dick’s 1962 story of an engineer who assists in the development of a lens that can bend light to follow the curvature of the universe thus seeing into the future. (Yeah, stupid by today’s understanding of the nature of reality and causation.)

Fred fears that his brain dysfunction can never be trusted to decode his face in a manner of his own understanding. He’s screwed.

Interestingly, after this passage, Arctor recites some poetry in German, Faust by Goethe. The passage applies not to Arctor directly, but to Charles Freck whose attempted suicide follows the passage. Poor Freck. Purchases the artifacts for his tomb only to take hallucinogenics in quantity rather than an overdose of barbiturates. Instead of death, he suffers a rambling reading by a thousand-eyed alien of a list of every sin he ever committed intentionally and otherwise. Being that he and the alien have moved to a “transcendent realm,” his sins will be read “ceaselessly, in shifts, throughout eternity. The list…never end[s].” Freck’s next thought: Know your dealer.

Personal Note

I was born in Burbank, Cali in 1953 and hung out in Glendale during the late 60’s for High School. At USC as an Engineering major and studying economics (mostly the Austrians), knew the pols and their toadies in Orange County. Early 70’s the OC was flat, Orange, and aromatic. The Big Three: Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and the Japanese Deer Farm (“Where Bambi Goes, Nothing Grows,” if you happen to remember Hudson and Landry) were the points of interest. All that was left was cruising, drugging, tripping, and hanging at the malls waiting for Animal House, Alien, Solaris (a Lem showpiece), Rancho Deluxe or A Boy and His Dog. But considering the state of mind of guys like Arctor, the movie of choice would have been Dark Star. I certainly enjoyed a spaceship where the crew was doped up! Floating while weightless – a meta high.

Phil Dick was an addict. He still would be, were he alive. He wouldn’t be using, but he’d be an addict. I am an addict, too. In a way, in every way except one, I still am. I just don’t use drugs or alcohol anymore to alter my mood. I am just never particularly unhappy anymore. I have no use for it. But I and every other addict who is clean and sober will always remember their addiction. We can never afford to say we are cured.

Read A Scanner Darkly while listening to the Audible voice over. Get the whole shebang from Amazon, and it coordinates with the text. Just don’t stop at the end. Keep reading through the afterword. It is the real personal story from Phil.

Mark E Deardorff

Copyright 2017 by Mark E. Deardorff. All Rights Reserved.

Trump, The Luddite – Latest Observations, Edition 1.0

Donald Trump is bringing on a Kennedy to advise the new administration on the dangers of vaccines. Here come the conspiratorialists and propagandists. The March of the Peabrains. The Cavalcade of [mental] Shorts. Who needs logic when you have no facts?

After all, you can’t trust science. The conservative Right claims science as the Agitprop of the Left establishment. Must be true. It’s on Facebook.

Get ready to cringe as Alchemy comes to Treasury to improve the gold reserve. The Advanced Research Projects Agency has already been asked to create ten Philosopher’s Stones.

All you online gamers: we’ve finally had an administration that plays like an MMORPG. Archer Daniels Midland to be replaced by Farmville; SPAWAR, by Halo. Department of Defense by Mobile Strike. Medicine has been brought to communication surgically limiting larynxes to utter a mere 140 characters. Words end mysteriously mid-syllable.

The Space Program and NASA are still in play; we are still not sure if the manned extravaganza is going to displace critical data. What is more important? Inspiration or information?

All we can do is hope that this does not pass on to real science. The best way to fund science is never to be beholden to the government. Seek to support science from industry, philanthropy, charitable organizations, and educational institutions. Bureaucracies make for bad science due to rulemaking by partisans. These myrmidons, be they left or right, do not thoughtfully write original policy but rather, soldierlike, carry out with utmost cruelty to the enemies of current administration rules that hurt.

Ultimately, the injured are the middle class and poor. The wealthy can usually afford increase costs. Developers often can afford to raise home prices, to a point, but the market will still cost them sales. Rules are a drag on the economy and cost everyone, even funds for science research.

Congress under Obama was impotent against a leftist agenda. We are now visiting the Antipodes under the Trump presidency. Science will be stuck with a conservative agenda. Unfortunately, the modern conservative economic plan is not free market trending more to the Keynes of Richard Nixon. Where Trump wishes to spend on infrastructure as did his predecessor, the nation needs less strangling and more loosening. The appliers of Latin Squares and Bayesian analysis must find paths that are market-oriented while the government continues to follow the Yellow Brick Road to find a Wizard that left Oz at the Great Crash. Free markets are the only way to prosperity and the only way that science will ever find a permanent source of funding in a moribund economy.

But this is just an initial observation made in the New Year. The time will come to reassess the Trump science agenda.