I'm back from Florida, where I only barely survived, as you can see in this photo. Florida has a lot of indigenous prehistoric reptiles and you have to be careful not to get too close to them. Luckily this one spit me out just after the photo was snapped.
My next stop is a return visit to sassy Saskatoon. The appearances I have lined up there are as follows:
Thursday, March 17:
7:30 pm - Reading at McNally Robinson.
Friday, March 18:
11:30am-1pm -Talk on Sex, Sin and Zen/intro to meditation, ARTS 146 on U of S campus. (Note Room Correction! That's ARTS 146).
2:30pm - meditation at the Multi-Faith Centre at Rugby Chapel, the old church on the west side of St. Thomas More College on College Dr.
7:30pm - introduction to meditation at
Ken Sailor's house, 422 10th St E.
For more information please contact Jan or Ken at 665-3430 or
Those of you with Facebook can check out this page for the events.
Oh and I gotta show you the birthday cake the fine folks in Florida fed me for my f-f-f-freaking birthday. Isn't it adorable? I kept the dinosaur. He's on my window sill now.
What can I tell you? How about I present you an article I put together for Suicide Girls and then decided not to send them? Special thanks to Brian Gilman who sent me a bunch of old articles of mine that I had deleted from my original webpage. This one probably came out less than a year after 9/11/2001. So I updated it a lot.
The Prime Directive
I've been thinking about the Prime Directive lately. For those of you who aren't regular viewers of Star Trek, it's a science fiction TV series set 300 years in the future. In the show there is a U.N. type group called the Federation that governs the activities of the intelligent beings on various planets throughout the galaxy who have developed space travel and enjoy exploring other planets. The Prime Directive is the Federation's law that says that none of these explorers must make contact with, or give advanced technical knowledge to planets whose inhabitants aren't sufficiently developed socially to handle such contact or such technology.
Although it’s science fiction, this law makes very good sense. We usually don't think about it this way, but the development of advanced technology is very much dependent upon a society's ability to abandon traditional views based on superstition and baseless speculation, and embrace a more realistic outlook based on straightforward, dispassionate observation of the real world.
On September 11th 2001 a group of religious fundamentalists used jet airplanes to destroy two of the world's largest skyscrapers. For the past ten years we’ve wondered and speculated about why they did this. Some people have talked about the various elements of economic repression wielded by Big Oil and the anger this creates. I don’t doubt that this has a lot to do with what happened. But I’d like to put forth my own speculation, which I think gets more at the heart of the matter.
The very existence of jet airplanes and skyscrapers stands as undeniable proof that the worldview these religious fundamentalists held dear is utterly wrong. In fact the existence of these things is proof that all forms of religious fundamentalism are wrong. It is tangible proof that neither the Qu’ran, nor the Bible, nor even the Buddhist sutras are literally true.
You'll recall from your high school science and history courses that there was tremendous opposition by the Catholic Church towards the scientific theories regarding the Earth's position relative to the sun and stars when they were first proposed. Scientists who supported these new theories did so at the risk of their careers and even their lives. If the traditional view of the cosmos with Hell somewhere underground and Heaven way up in the sky was not true then the Bible, or at least the church's very literal interpretation of it, was wrong. If the population at large accepted such a view the church knew its days of power and influence were numbered. In this at least, the church was absolutely right.
The construction of a jet airliner or a skyscraper takes a very sophisticated understanding of scientific theories that stand opposed to fundamentalist beliefs. Only a society that has abandoned such fundamentalist ideas can produce jets and skyscrapers. The proof that scientific humanism is true is right in front of you. The computer you're using couldn't possibly exist if it were not. Furthermore, only a sufficiently humanistic society can produce the kind of resources needed to justify luxury items like computers. If a fundamentalist terrorist really wants to be true to his beliefs he should never use any type of advanced technology.
For a very long time I embraced the idea that societies around the world are held back by the unfair material and economic resources of the West, that if only they had these advantages they'd be able to stand on their own. I do not believe that any group of human beings are in any way fundamentally more or less intelligent than any other.
But recently I've begun to suspect that the thing that holds many societies back more than any other is their inability to abandon their cherished ideas about the world.
Economics is an important factor, but not the decisive one. One of the reasons Japan can compete with the West on its own terms is that the Buddhist worldview that underlies their society has allowed it to abandon its previously cherished ideas upon seeing that these ideas were mistaken. Sure there was a massive amount American money pumped into that country after World War II. But money wasn't really the key. If money alone was the decisive factor, the oil-rich nations of the Middle East would all be first world countries by now.
This is, of course, a very complex situation. But one really important factor that seems to be overlooked in all the talk about these matters is the inability of most human beings to admit when they are wrong, to admit that reality is at odds with their ideas and to be sensible enough to side with reality instead of fighting it. We'll go to any length, it seems, to avoid owning up to the fact that we've made a mistake.
I have no idea what sort of civilizations may exist on other planets. But I agree with modern scientific thinkers who say the chances are very good such civilizations do exist. It's entirely possible some of them are more technologically advanced than us. If they are it is because they have a worldview that is more realistic than the one our society has. Maybe there are intelligent aliens out there exploring space right now. If so, I hope they have something like the Prime Directive. Whatever technology they use to explore space might be so at odds with our current worldview as to make us a threat to them should they allow it to fall into our hands. We might try and use their technology to destroy them in a futile attempt to preserve our own mistaken ideas. And if we did we'd be as blind to our true motivations as our terrorist friends are.
If you’re basically a liberal like me, it’s very difficult to think in terms of civilizations here on Earth that are more socially advanced than others. I always want to give everyone their due and be able to see the beauty in any culture. I know that there is much that a society like ours can learn from the seemingly primitive ways of other cultures. I also know that the idea that some societies are more advanced than others has led to all kinds of tragedies, like slavery or the slaughter of the Native American and Australian people just to name a few obvious examples.
But I also feel that humanity as a whole is moving in a certain direction, and that direction is toward a higher and more rational civilization. We have a long way to go. And there are ways in which our own society is very advanced in some ways, yet positively retarded in others. Still, this movement toward rational humanism is real and cannot be stopped.
It is impossible for us to adopt a kind of Prime Directive when it comes to our dealings with cultures on our own planet that have yet to adopt a humanistic outlook. They've already been contaminated. Technological knowledge is spreading across the globe at a rate never seen before in history. It may take thousands of years for a society to develop sufficiently to be able to create a jet airplane. But because human beings are all basically equal in intelligence and ability, a fanatic from a far less developed society can learn to fly one in a week or so.
It is imperative that this un-stoppable spread of technological knowledge be paired with the spread of a more realistic and humanistic worldview. And this worldview is, itself, highly threatening to fundamentalist religions.
Some people get pretty upset at the suggestion that what is seen as the Western worldview should be pushed upon people who have their own worldviews. But I don’t really see the humanistic realistic worldview as fundamentally Western. It is the worldview that the West has used to get as far as it’s gotten. But it isn’t our view. It isn’t one viewpoint among equals.
I know some people recoil in horror at the suggestion that any viewpoint is fundamentally better than others. But it seems to be to be undeniably true that some worldviews are actually better. Humanism and realism work because they are more in line with how things actually are than with how we might wish them to be.
Captains Kirk, Picard, Janeway and all the rest of the starship commanders and their crews from Star Trek represent a fictionalized speculation about what a society that has taken the humanistic and realistic worldview several steps further than we have at present. I’m sure they’ve gotten a lot of details wrong. But I think the producers of those shows are on the right track. Or Trek.