Real or Artifice?

What are the features we would find most remarkable in my 2309 Iskander Earth? I would suggest that the present unstable economic foundation will only get worse – at least for a century. I have no expectation that the present lip-service paid to the idea of reining in the catastrophic derivatives markets will take place during the current depression, but perhaps it will happen after the one after the next. The Iskanders’ expedition does not take place for two hundred years – perhaps enough time for the economists of the last 50 years to be forgotten.

The present beggar thy neighbour form of international interactions may be moderated by a more representative and influential United Nations. If we are supposed to be paragons of democracy why do all citizens not get to vote for the people who represent us there? The present European Parliament could become the model on which the UN’s development is based. I believe that institution has proved itself and outpaced the same kinds of sniping that the aristocrats of England aimed at the first universal parliaments. Let the backward dictatorships and royal rulers scream and drag their feet but they can eventually succumb to the power of the people.

I’m not a particular fan of science fiction that paints the future as a technological utopia. Perhaps I see the present technological free-for-all as too trivial and ephemeral. Something like 90% of the technological toys on offer at any one time are not only destined for an early visit to the landfill but are less than essential to a socially adjusted human society. We need to learn to value the good and laugh as those which turn out to be mistakes, like the airship, while they tumble into their graves.

Aviation offers a good analogy. When I was young and stupid I worshiped speed and jet fighters. The romance of the creation of safe and stable supersonic aircraft filled my earlier years. To me then, helicopters were nothing but dull and boring ‘egg-beaters’.

I actually worked and studied at Farnborough – Britain’s NASA – and saw as well as worked on wind tunnel models and full scale experimental aircraft that were a part of the project that led to the Concorde. I crawled under the FD-2 to watch a problematic fuel pump removed by the test pilot, Peter Twiss, who held the world speed record in that aircraft at the time – 1132 mph. Beside it was parked the first prototype of the aircraft that became the Lightning, a Mach 2 interceptor. Heady stuff for 19 year-old aeroplane enthusiast.

In my later years as a contract surveyor and advance man in oil exploration I spent many more hours in helicopters than fixed wing – and now they clearly have my preference. An example – I had to pick out a route up and over a spur of Thunder Mountain, one of the peaks in the Livingstone Range near to my home. I went up with the pilot of the Gazelle we were using at the time to take a look. I soon needed to get onto the ground to inspect more closely and mark my intended route but the pilot decided there was no ground flat enough up there to land.

“I tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll hover with one skid on that big rock while you climb out.” That big rock was poised on the brink of a 1000 foot precipice. So we did just that, he hovered with one skid on the top of the rock while I gingerly climbed out onto the skid and then made a quick transition to the top of the rock. I ducked down and waved the pilot away, but he of course already felt my weight leaving the aircraft. I did my work up there and when finished he came back and hovered over the same rock for me to get back in.

Now to the point I was going to make with the example. The supersonic jet exemplifies our forever accelerating technological innovation and the social changes it plunges us into – one after the other before we have had time to adjust to the first. The fixed wing aircraft is always in a race against an inevitable crash that will happen when and if the fuel runs out. The helicopter is that sane and stable carrier of humanity that allows us to put a foot on the ground and reconnect with the real world when necessary. When is this crazy contest to turn the largest possible volume of resources into landfill garbage going to end? When the ‘fuel’ runs out and we crash – as inevitable as the succession of Bull and Bear in the stock markets.

By ‘fuel’ I do not necessarily mean an actual fuel, although all are finite, but could be economic, political or social. I have my own take on that in the next novel in the Iskander series, “The Wildcat’s Burden”. Our Gisel makes a very human journey in that novel and sees that the meaning she looks for is within her.

It has taken a lifetime but I finally accept that all our mastery of the endless succession of technological developments merely carries us farther and farther from our real nature. If you master the most arcane of physics theories or mathematical procedures you are still no more than a mere mortal doomed to a mysterious existence without solid reason or destination. Extending our present trajectory, we could eventually become nothing but wide-eyed passengers in a runaway vehicle we no longer understand and no longer control. Perhaps we already are. Certainly the so-called economists who pretended to understand the mechanisms and innovations of the financial world but who almost all failed to see the coming crash are our most recent examples of egotists who substitute loud voices and arm-waving for solid understanding.

My 2309 Earth the Iskanders left must surely be founded upon sound social principles rather than the overheated experiments we are the white rats for today.

The engineering I learned was founded upon a solid understanding of first principles, but today the young are introduced to devices and procedures they have no understanding of and could not work around them if they failed. Just the other day I saw the question asked, “If every installation in the world is controlled my Microsoft software, what happens to society when a brand new, fatal glitch manifests itself?” We are led by people who are fixated upon the artificial and the complex, when once we were served by trained people who understood the wisdom of KISS. Keep it simple, stupid.

The medieval churchmen had an image that fits our world – we are surely a ship of fools.

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2 Responses to “Real or Artifice?”

  1. joylene Says:

    Usually, I can’t even phantom what the future will hold. Until the other day. My MIL is living with us, and the poor thing forgets everything. I think there will be a computer set up in whatever room you like to list off your schedule for the day. Say it’s attached to the bathroom light. You turn the light on first thing in the morning and a few seconds later, your voice comes over the PA announcing what you need to do for the day.

    I could really use that too.

  2. kester2 Says:

    tut tut. You should make your memory do twice as much work to keep it sharp. Use it or lose it.

    Now, where did I leave my car keys?

    Chris H.

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