Friday, April 30, 2010

The Scorpion and the Fox


The Boob Tube


A few years ago, I gave up TV. I can’t remember why precisely; maybe I thought it would be good for my brain or perhaps I couldn’t afford to pay the cable bill. Whatever the reason, I know it was a very good thing to do. I was actually amazed at how much extra time and “cognitive surplus” I gained as a result. It seem I was able to do considerably more in the run of a ‘post TV’ day and I actually felt smarter somehow.


I can honestly say that I do not miss TV or cable programming for the most part, but occasionally I have an urge to watch the History, Discovery or Space channel. Lucky for me, I have access to a TV not far from my home when I need a fix, and last night I broke down and decided to watch a rerun of Star Trek Voyager (named after the starship which is central to the show).


Readers of my blog will see a pattern with my posts or emails. Namely that I always find an excuse to include a description of some movie or particular film scene I have recently watched, which I then use as a clever literary device to convey some important insight that occurred to me while watching it. This may seem a little predictable or dull to some, but my inner muse seems to come out of hibernation whenever I watch a decent show, and I rarely come up with any ideas outside of this method. This is probably a huge limitation as a writer, but since this is an obscure blog and I’m not a paid professional, I hope to get away with it.


At any rate, I enjoyed the Voyager episode and there was an interesting scene with some good lines between Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay that inspired me.


Warning: those unfamiliar with Star Trek might want to skip ahead.


A Deal with the Devil


The Voyager crew was trying to find their way out of the Delta quadrant, which they have been trying to do since the first episode after they ended up a zillion light years away from earth due to some weird space phenomenon (if I remember correctly), and as they were traveling along, they came across Borg space. In order to continue the long journey home, they needed to cross thousands of solar systems occupied by the half machine - half humanoid type hybrids known as the Borg, who are quickly assimilating (into its collective mind) any species it comes across, including humans.


There motto is, “Resistance is Futile”.


As the crew scurries around to avoid the Borg, they quickly discover that another species, some organic based life form with skin impervious to phaser fire or tractor beams, referred to as 8472, is at war with the Borg and they are winning. The only problem is, this new species is not only more dangerous than the Borg, but they are intent on killing everything in their path as well.


Their motto goes something like, “The weak shall perish”.


Honestly, were do they come up with this stuff?


As you can guess, these galactic insects are real charmers and since they have the capability to destroy the Borg, they pose an even greater threat to Voyager. Somehow, the ships Doctor (an artificially intelligent emergency medical holographic program) finds a way to kill the insects on a microscopic level, and in a move that would make the political leaders of our day proud, Captain Janeway decides to make a deal with the devil by offering to give the Borg access to this lethal technology in exchange for safe passage out of Borg space.


Commander Chakotay, a former “Maquis” resistance fighter, is understandably reluctant about this collaboration, and a very impassioned debate ensues between the two characters. In his attempt to convince Janeway that she is making a big mistake in trusting the Borg, Chakotay shares with her a story he heard as a child.


The story goes like this,


A scorpion was wandering along the bank of the river, wondering how to get to the other side. Suddenly he saw a fox. He asked the fox to take him on his back across the river.


The fox said, “No. If I do that, you’ll sting me and I’ll drown.”

The scorpion assured him, “If I did that, we’d both drown.”


So the fox thought about it and finally agreed. So the scorpion climbed up on his back and the fox began to swim. But halfway across the river, the scorpion stung him.


As the poison filled his veins, the fox turned to the scorpion and said, “Why did you do that? Now you’ll drown too.”


“I couldn’t help it,” said the scorpion. “It’s my nature.”


Now, it’s probably a little scary that a starships first officer would be debating the fate of solar systems by reciting a fairy tale, but in this case I think he was on to something.


The allegory of that parable could apply to many contemporary issues and topics, but for me it speaks volumes about the importance of values and the role they play in deciding the fate of our own starship, the organic based vessel known as Earth, vis a vis the limited intellect of our global leaders and the human species in general.


A Question of Tactics


I recently had an interesting email exchange with an author who is highly regarded and respected by many, including myself. I don’t want to be accused of name dropping, so I won’t refer to his real name, so I’ll call him M for short.


M was an elite soldier turned explorer who stopped serving the military and is now fighting for Mother Earth. His advocacy has involved writing and speaking about issues related to our environment, among other activities, and he has championed the virtues of adopting a more sustainable lifestyle and attitude towards nature.


During our exchange, he emphasized the importance of values and insisted that people, as a whole, needed to abandon the current ones so prevalent in our global culture before any meaningful shift could take place in human affairs, the worst of which has introduced the industrial age and capitalism; the two chief architects of anthropogenic global warming and the ecological crisis threatening all life.


My response centered around a belief that people could not be forced to adopt values that may be alien to them without sufficient education, which in reality amounts to winning a propaganda war for world opinion, and that it was not realistic to think enough people could be recruited and convinced to create the critical mass needed to change the status quo within the short window of time humans have left before AGW and the ecological crisis reaches a “tipping point”, beyond which we lose the ability to stop the “positive feedback's” from accelerating the climate change/ecological disaster process beyond our control.


It seemed obvious to me that the biggest priority was to combine as many efforts as possible in order to stop AGW and the destruction of our ecosphere, regardless of the points of view or expressed values of the participants. We need all hands on deck for this fight, so demanding that everyone share the same values before any collective action or unity occurred seamed counterproductive, if not ultimately fatal.


In a pragmatic sense, I still feel that way, but I admit to being conflicted over the value question.


The Greed Creed


If I can invent a rather silly but instructive allegory from the Star Trek show, lets assume that the Voyager crew represents the Green movement. All they want to do is find their way back home and then save it. The Borg can represent the capitalist class, ready to assimilate all markets and enrich the shareholder collective, while species 8472 can be the Tea Party movement on steroids. Just for fun lets say they went viral and created a global epidemic of revisionist history right wingers who refuse to pay taxes or believe in human caused climate change.


Of the two choices of enemy, one being the status quo corporate elite with their huge stockpiles of transnational capital, and the other representing a global federation of angry musketeers with funny hats, I would probably stick with the devil I know, rather the one I don’t. That would save us from the Fourth Reich but what about the capitalist class? Can they be trusted to save us from Armageddon?


Is it really possible that our elite's can stop AGW from reaching another 2 degrees and preserve the environment, while at the same time maintain and profit from an economic system based on infinite growth and exploitation of a finite planet coupled with increasing extraction of nonrenewable resources, the wasteful consumption and burning of which is threatening to destroy the very life-support system they purport to be protecting?


And even if they did bow to public pressure and stopped CO2 emissions (and/or deployed Geo-engineering techniques) before the tipping point and retooled our resource based economic system to be “less” harmful to the environment, do we really want to continue living in a society who’s core values of Egotism, Selfishness and Greed remain in place?


Does a "green" Walmart really satisfy the soul and meet all of our social needs?


Corporations are legally compelled to maximize short term gain for the shareholders while externalizing the costs of doing business; the private corporate tyrannies have no mandate to enrich the stakeholders (that’s us) or to protect the integrity of our global commons. Even though these powerful folks and their families stand to lose like everyone else from the looming environmental catastrophe (immense wealth, fortress style enclaves and gated communities won’t save them from the inevitable) the system forbids them to act in any other way and after a lifetime of internalizing the capitalist doctrine, they are hardwired to act in accordance with the corporate creed, while ignoring abstract externalities like climate change, pollution, deforestation, species extinction, poverty, etc.


They can’t help it, being greedy and self-destructive is in their nature.


The system and the institutional values it advocates have become the scorpion to our fox. Maybe it’s better to part company with the scorpion now before taking the chance it will sting us later when we are halfway across the river of no return.


M insisted that we needed to abolish capitalism and it’s values or “we’re all dead meat”, irrespective of any other environmentally friendly action we may take.


Was he right? I just don’t know for sure, but the scary version of my opinion suggests Mother Nature will answer that question for us.


In that case, I hope resistance isn’t futile.


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