A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

My BSG ramblings

This is all in reference to Amanda's second Battlestar Galactica post at Pandagon.

I'm handicapped dealing with BSG as known to those who have seen all the eps, since I'm trying to catch up renting DVDs at Video Droid, and someone is ahead of me renting them and holding them a whole week. Right now I've finished through disk 1 of "Season 2.5"--second half of season 2--which means I just saw the Cain eps and the one where Roslin is dying and orders Sharon's baby destroyed (it's a "baby" because Sharon intends for it to be born--see how that works, anti-choicers?) And not to give out spoilers to those even more impeded than me, we know how that worked out...

So to deal with the theme on a very broad, non-BSG level,
"It ain't ignorance so much as what people know that just ain't so."--Will RodgersAnd I'll go the crackerbarrel sage of liberalism one step further--what is really toxic about fundamentalist intolerance is that people generally know, on some level, that what they believe that is false is in fact false. Ideology, as opposed to a framework of belief based on frank assessement of known experience, is about denying aspects of life for the sake of a system that would lose its compelling power if it tried to account for these facts that don't fit.

In real life, I think fundamentalisms never rise without an underlying social tension that people are afraid (often for very good pragmatic reasons, from an individual point of view) to articulate. I suspect these always boil down to, SOBs in power get to set limits on what can be said and who can be challenged for what bad behavior on what grounds, and people can either martyr themselves challenging these limits directly, knowing they will probably pay a huge price and accomplish little to their immediate purpose, or they can try to worm their way around via doublethink. Down the latter path lies most of human culture, in all its perverse glory.I think in a way this reflects our fundamental situation as more or less thinking beings in a universe we will never fully grasp. (Therein lies the key, IMHO, to how the Cylons, evolving from rationally designed machines for pragmatic purposes, have so quickly managed to put themselves on a loony fundamentalist path. Cylons are people too!)

I can't resist putting out some impressions I have of BSG despite knowing that many of them will be corrected or flatly contradicted by later eps others have the good fortune to have seen.I totally buy the show on its own terms, as being about real people in a recognizably real world. I can come up with dozens of nitpicks, as I can with any SF show good bad or indifferent. But these don't bother me at all while watching.

It does seem bizarre, when I am not immersed in it, that there can be a society so deeply similar to our conventional narrative of how our society is, that has such different historical background.I started watching just last month because so many folks here raved that it was the show for feminists to be watching. It is very gratifying to see a society portrayed in which bigotry about gender and race is so absent. That said, I don't see how it could be so similar to ours in so many ways if that were true, because I think if we look below the surface ideology of our society (and so many of us have been forced to look there whether we wanted to or not) the pieties of civics we were taught to believe in don't hold at all. The 12 Colonies appear to be in sober, matter-of-fact reality what the uncritical are supposed to believe our nation and world are supposed to be. It seems doubtful that such a society would come into real existence by any concrete historical process nor would it be stable if somehow it did converge that way for some brief moment.In fact the show's auteurs have shown a starker side of things, represented in various ways--by the popularity of Zarek's revolutionary views, by the reality of a prison ship in the first place, by the revelations of how severely Kara/Starbuck was abused as a child, and of course by the basic premise that humanity had released such a Frankenstein's Monster as the Cylons into their world in the first place. The basic existence of the Colonial military in the first place is to me a sign that the 12 Colonies could not have been such a peppy, happy place as it looked. And who exactly, besides a couple of warships and a prison ship, would have been in transit in the various civil ships gathered up as flotsam by Adama (and ruthlessly salvaged by Cain?) A lot of working stiffs to be sure--miners, freighter crews, flight attendents, pilots, ship mechanics. And there are always some poor folks traveling on even the most prestigious and expensive conveyances (not in first class of course) for purposes like relocating, big family events and emergencies, and even the occasional vacation. But I'd expect that the survivors in the Fleet are disproportionately of the better-off classes, as a sample of people on typical airline flights would indicate among us today.

Re the Colonial traditional paganism--I actually think that modern American/cosmopolitan capitalist society would not be what it is without the rise of monotheistic, absolutist religions (Christianity and Islam). I like the Colonial paganism to be sure. It has the virtues of pragmatism. Instead of claiming some absolute oneness with the Ultimate, people are acknowledging that reality is bigger than they are, has some more or less knowable features they can more or less rely on, and letting go claims to know all the answers at the back of the book. (This is something I like about neopaganism among us too.) It also gives wiggle room to rationalize all the ways that if Colonial society is not quite patriarchial (there really does seem to be a fundamental and unquestioned balance of gender there) nor otherwise polarized on bigoted lines, it nevertheless has those kinds of tensions.

The difference between a pagan/neopaganistic morality and world view, and that of the monotheistic absolutism we actually inherit here on Earth, is that the former involves an uncentered, distributed view of the nature of things that can, in principle, honor every particular thing that exists and also accept that struggle between them might be inevitable. Morality is about how you go about asserting yourself, whether you act rightly in dealing with what actually comes to you. Monotheism tends to emphasize a notion of absolute right and wrong, centered not in particular people and things but in God and some kind of Satan or demiurge or the like--the Universe as a puppet war between beings beyond us to which we ultimately must belong.Actual polytheism here on Earth of course has hardly been free of patriarchy and dominator ideology in general, of course. I think that the actual spiritual consensus of human beings before the rise of agriculture and the eventual emergence of dominator militaristic competitiveness, with its pretty much inevitable creation of patriarchy, was even more diffuse and undogmatic than the classical pagan systems we can study from the Greco-Roman, Nordic, or Hindu traditions. But then, we typically frame these latter from the point of view of later, more absolutist religions and philosophies, which have tried to square the fundamental logic of dominator absolutism, in which the ultimate value is submission to one ideal Will, with the subversive reality of diverse human experience.

So for me, it seems odd, if fortunate, that that whole process seems to have been arrested at the level of some kind of benign, enlightened, considerate pagan agnosticism in Colonial spiritual history, and odder squared that that kind of modus viviendi could be maintained in the face of a social reality involving ongoing militarism and injustice, without curdling and polarizing along the lines of warring factions we are so familiar with here on Earth.

I think by the way that in BSG, the Lords of Kobol were in fact real beings of some kind, who may or may not still exist or interfere behind the scenes in the modern setting. I always am resistant to the idea, so common in SF, that perhaps humanity did not evolve on Earth, for a lot of reasons I shouldn't elaborate here (though when the storytellers, like Ursula LeGuin in her Hainish stories, do their jobs well I don't fight it in the stories.) So until definitively established otherwise, I assume that these Colonial humans did in fact evolve originally here on Earth, and that the Lords of Kobol were some kind of powerful beings (Star-Trek like evolved "energy beings," or some kind of angels, or gods, or what have you) who decided for some reason, thousands of years ago, to remove a sample of us to Kobol, which they terraformed very nicely for them. And so the lost "colony" of Earth was actually an expedition trying to find their real homeworld millenia later, which is why the Colonial settlement is so far away and on the other side of Kobol.

Anyway, if the LoK were real beings, that might explain why Colonial paganism is so persistent. That they are clearly not the Creators of the Universe also is consistent and sensible.

I don't know what later eps reveal already about the original human/cylon conflict. I suspect it was as simple as this--human beings constructed actual artifical intelligences, capable of as much free thought and self-reflection as we are, which is to say they had "souls" and human (personal) rights as far as I'm concerned, but (as established from the beginning) the humans did not recognize or respect their rights, and so the Cylons were forced to rebel. Why the struggle could not be resolved in a more companionable manner is not clear to me, but it wasn't. I can imagine that with the surviving Cylons having objective reason to fear ultimate destruction from humanity, a strand of defensive fanaticism was favored (as it has been in every major successful political/social revolution in our history) and the Cylons being rationally designed machines, they were chillingly amenible to "reeducation" in the direct form of total reprogramming. I welcome the spoiler hints that suggest that there is dissension behind the facade that the conquering Cylons present along their battlefront--this seems entirely likely to me. But at any rate I think we can easily account for the monotheistic, fundamentallist fanaticism of the particular bunch of Cylons who attacked the Colonies, and why if there are others they are well hidden from humanity.


Blogger Unsane said...

I haven't seen BSG. Nonetheless, I'd be very interested in your commentary on the themes presented in the following work in progress of mine:


7/07/2007 1:37 AM  
Blogger Unsane said...

that is ambivlance

7/07/2007 1:38 AM  
Blogger Mark H. Foxwell said...

Hello, Unsane!

I obviously rarely check this blog of mine.

I'd reply to you privately but I don't see any way to do that on any of your blogs. I think tomorrow I'll read them and find someplace appropriate to comment.

I assume my e-mail is easy to find on this site, but if not it's:


Work is winding down now and I have to get off the nets till tomorrow. Sigh.

7/28/2007 7:43 AM  
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