Ls&Cs: Engagement with the Universe

Two contrasting perspectives, today, both passages I just happened to read during my morning web browsing. Rival worldviews. One characterizing religious myths, the other about Kim Stanley Robinson.

The first is from a new (still partly under construction, it seems) website called OnlySky, a group blogging site where a number of the non-religious bloggers formerly on Patheos are migrating to. These include Hemant Mehta and Adam Lee, who’ve I’ve been following regularly for years (I even have their books). The reason for this migration is, apparently, a shift in Patheos’s policy that none of their contributors should post anything that might be offensive to any of the others. (Cue snowflakes on the right — apparently the religious bloggers on Patheos, a site that covers the full range of beliefs, are more upset by bloggers with no religious beliefs than by their fellow bloggers following all sorts of other mutually-contradictory beliefs.)

Beyond that, here’s a paragraph by Adam Lee that I will present without further context, from Science lets us tell better stories:

Many religious myths and folktales are strikingly small. They postulate a tiny universe, centered on humanity, no more than a few thousand years old. They assume that the most important events in history all happened to a single tribe or even a single person in one specific region of the earth. They assume that all knowledge worth knowing was revealed to a small, insular group of people a few centuries or millennia ago, or that one particular set of tribal customs should be the model for all humanity.

(This echoes a Carl Sagan comment, quoted elsewhere here.) This is why I’ve always never been impressed, let alone persuaded, by religion. Any of them, all of them. They are at core all about their own believers, placing them at the center of the universe and their creator’s concern (for those religions focus on a creator; not all of them do), as if nothing else exists, or matters.


In contrast is a paragraph from a very long profile of SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson in The New Yorker, online today and scheduled for the magazine’s January 31st issue.

Can Science Fiction Wake Us Up to Our Climate Reality?, subtitled, “Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels envision the dire problems of the future—but also their solutions.”

In part about Robinson’s climate change novel of 2020, The Ministry for the Future.

Robinson is often called one of the best living science-fiction writers. He is unique in the degree to which his books envision moral, not merely technological, progress. Their protagonists are often diplomats, scholars, and scientists who fight to keep their future societies from repeating our mistakes. Robinson’s plots turn on international treaties or postcapitalist financial systems. His now classic “Mars” trilogy, published in the nineteen-nineties, describes the terraforming of the Red Planet by scientists seeking to create a “permaculture,” or truly sustainable way of life. A typical Robinson novel ends with an academic conference at which researchers propose ideas for improving civilization. He believes that scholarly and diplomatic meetings are among our species’s highest achievements.

This is what science fiction should do, and does do at its best, and what religion conspicuously fails to do: be concerned with the world beyond one’s immediate tribe; and solve problems, rather than denying them.

–I admit the the last line of this para of this quote is a bit odd. I haven’t read the entire article, but I take this comment as Robinson’s thesis that different cultures, nations, and scholars can come together to reach global solutions, in a way rejected by MAGA America-firsters and anti-globalists, who by themselves will never solve climate change, or stop a global pandemic.


Soon: Some days I struggle to find an online article or essay worth commenting about; other days I have an abundance of timely ones. Next in line: a piece about the evolution of David Barton’s lies; a piece about climate change by Yuval Noah Harari in Time Magazine (2%); a piece in The Week that is a detailed response to the Rauch/Wehner essay about why conservatives think the left is worse than Trump; and a few more links about the current political situation, which I may or may not bother with.

–Oh, and letters in the NYTBR from both Jonathan Gottschall and Steven Pinker responding to the killer review of Gottschall’s book by Timothy Snyder, (blogged about here).

Meanwhile: Since finishing my cardio rehab sessions on the 12th, I’m dealing with a couple health issues which I will not discuss for now. (By my age, there are always lingering health issues, though in general, I’m fine!)

Otherwise, life is slow and steady.

Y is pursuing further career options. Grandson Nicholas is growing up, now almost 15 months old.

I am working updates to — another round and update to the ranked lists, thinking now to split them by 20th century and 21st century, you heard it here first.

I’ve been deep-cleaning my library rooms — two smallish “bedrooms” on the ground floor across from the garage — that have not been vacuumed or dusted in 3+ years. And installing our exercycle, that has lingered in the garage since we moved to Oakland now 7 years ago, into the front of those two rooms.

We’ve been catching up with the TV show “The Crown,” now into the 4th season when Diana appears. And occasional reruns of “Outlander.” Every time I watch an episode of these two shows, I think, why doesn’t everyone realize these are two of the best TV series of all time?? Well, because there are *so many* TV shows in recent years, no one can keep up, or keep up with more than a few.

And I’ve been reading, currently some of the critical nonfiction books of the past couple decades I still haven’t gotten through. Such as David Deutsch’s 1st.

I’ve recently finished three books with numbered contents, by Harari, Zakaria, and Snyder — 21, 10, 20 — and will blog about them soon.

And now it’s time to go feed the cats. Potsticker is sitting right here by my keyboard, waiting.

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