Tokyo (SPX) Jul 05, 2004
Kim Stanley Robinson, in an address to the Mars Society, cautioned against the disease of Freud's "narcissism of petty differences" This is the tendency, among those feeling relatively powerless in their pursuit of an ambitious, long-range agenda, to descend into factional bickering over minutiae.
Who was listening? Sometimes I think only John Carter McKnight. That's Google's verdict, anyway.
And what has been the use of this observation of Robinson's? Only to make any ensuing fracas all the more amusing to some of us. It's nice to have a theoretical framework for observation when you're stuck in the peanut gallery.
Far be it from me to rain on this parade. >From here on out, let's be careful: let's never read carefully, when there's more grist for the opinion mill in misinterpretation. And let's never coolly assess our opponents' positions when name-calling would be much more fun.
Take the title of my op-ed as as a starting point. It's a paraphrase of Robert Heinlen's story title, "Columbus was a Dope", an actual accolade, albeit slyly couched in skateboard thrasher slang. (Dated slang, no doubt, but anyway). However, some of you may have already jumped to the conclusion that I meant, literally, that Columbus was a dope. Surely, some sloppy editor just forgot to supply the indefinite article 'a' that I must have left out, idiot that I am.
Among those conclusion-jumpers, there will be many who skip merrily on to the next stone in the stream, hoping to cross the Rubicon into the land of invective. They'll assume that I'm agreeing with Jeff Bell, in his recent op-ed "Queen Isabella's Ghost".
And among those, there will be a large subset who believe it automatically follows that I should, as Sam Dinkins suggested to Jeff Bell in his response, "Columbus And Isabela Are Pretty Good Role Models" ... "join the Luddites and Bin Ladens of the world and do your best to turn back the clock to the 15th century."
So do it! Insinuate that I'm a Luddite. Smear me as an Al Qaeda sympathizer. Hurray for our side! What fun!
Let me take all this as an opening for what I - just another relatively powerless space enthusiast, frustrated in his own dreams - can contribute to this discussion: precision in political terminology.
These differences may seem petty, but remember: in the absence of any real prospect for vacationing on the Moon in the foreseeable future, pettiness is the point. You got a better idea? I haven't seen it.
So let's be precise. What better uses do we have for our time, after all? Jeff Bell is not, as Dinkins insinuates, a Luddite. Nor is he a dogmatic opponent of social progress, much less of the Al Qaeda persuasion. (Bear with me here. It's fun once you get the hang of it.) Jeff Bell is demonstrably knowledgeable and excited about technology, so it's hard to pin 'Luddite' on him so easily. He is, after all, a scientist. And a rationalist. Hard to compare with religious fundamentalists.
However, there is some hope of a minor adjustment to Sam Dinkin's characterization. Dr. Bell is a scientist on the government payroll, pursuing government-funded research. Those funds come out of our taxes, including the taxes of some who believe that we never landed on the moon, and that we already have all the starships we need parked underground at Area 51. Taxation is confiscatory, coercive, statist - it takes us down the Road to Serfdom. In short, Jeff Bell is better understood as a ... wait a second, let me think now ... ah, I've got it: he's a Stalinist.
Stalinist. Not bad. But it sounds so ... flat. I need to do better here. I need to spice it up a little.
What else do we have to go on? Well, Jeff Bell is notoriously unhappy about what he considers an overemphasis on the manned space program. He feels like it's a waste of money that might be better spent on scientific research. He and his Stalinist roommates in college even felt that the magnificent Hubble telescope, motivated from scientific research, was worthy only of the dartboard. Even within his narrow scope, his vision is too small. So his mind must be too small. Therefore ... wait ... wait ... it's coming to me ... ah yes: his head is too small!
QED: Jeff Bell is a Stalinist pin-head.
See? This isn't so hard. And believe me, it's worth it for the added accuracy.
Now, there's room for further factional schism even in this conclusion, I'm afraid. Beware of the dangers of that. Factionalism is fine, but you don't want to split too far. Remember, this is about having an US vs a THEM, and you've got to have at least two to tango to be an US.
For example, those who reject Dr. Bell's arguments because they sound pompous and arrogant might prefer "Stalinist fat-head." But believe me, it's not worth fighting over. There is a happy compromise, a synthesis: just agree that he's microcephalous but with a higher brain-fat ratio than your average pinhead. You'll be singing in harmony again in no time. How to co-opt the holdout minority for "Stalinist bonehead", for those arguing that only a dense calcium barrier can explain why he is so impervious to reason? Split the difference: bone, fat, but no grey matter, in a head that's still very small. There is no contradiction in these three epithets, properly understood. If anything, the picture only gets better. All it takes is a little clear thought on the matter.
Try it out on me. I straddle the fence sometimes, sounding like I'm in favor of a manned space program at times, against it at other times. (Never mind what I really said, just think in terms of what you thought I said.) Who does this remind you of most? Well, how about Neville Chamberlain, who is still frequently (but inaccurately) characterized as an infamous Hitler-appeaser. In fact, Chamberlain was a loyal British government servant buying time for a Britain that still didn't have America as a dependable ally, and returned from Munich to help defeat political opposition to building Britain's defenses against what, even then, was thought to be an inevitable Nazi invasion. Hair-splitting distinctions, what a bore: he was virtually a Nazi! More pithily: a crypto-Nazi.
I'm a fence-sitter, Chamberlain was a fence-sitter, Chamberlain was a crypto-Nazi, and therefore: Michael Turner is a crypto-Nazi. Why, Michael Turner even lives in Japan, a former axis power. Slam-dunk.
Furthermore, only a bit of searching with Google will reveal that, while I disclaim being a liberal, I have certain opinions that do sound very liberal, which makes me a traitor. (Sorry to skip some steps - filling in the chain of reasoning should be taken as an exercise for the alert reader.)
Cutting to the chase: I'm a treacherous crypto-Nazi.
Now that you've got the basics, apply your improved rhetorical arsenal to some other space issues commentator you love to hate. Certainly there must be more of them out there. Do you doubt the theoretical underpinnings of this technique? Then you'll have to take it up with an esteemed professor of sociolinguistics, AKA Mom. And my Mom can beat your Mom any day of the week. Don't mess with Mom.
Best of all: enemies will multiply, the more you apply this technique. Which takes us back to the point: since we can't go anywhere in space right now, we should keep busy doing the next best thing: flying at each other's throats.
And if you don't think so, all I can say is: you must be a shrieking islamo-fascist imbecile. Go join the genocidal fundamentalists in Sudan.
Michael Turner is a computer programmer living and working in Tokyo since the early 1990s
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Contrasting View: Columbus And Isabela Are Pretty Good Role Models
Austin TX (SPX) Jun 29, 2004
Isabela and Columbus were recently discussed by Jeffrey Bell in Space Daily. Bell's dissection of Columbus's business plan is interesting reading. Isabela and Columbus, however, achieved something great together that will not soon be forgotten. Isabela and Columbus were not such bad people. I got the skinny on them from the resident Columbus expert in my family, Professor Emeritus of History, Dr. Robert J. Dinkin, aka Dad.
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