Posted by: Fabius Bile | March 13, 2010

True Secularism

I won’t deny it, I am a very secular person. I feel that human society should be more concerned with its own betterment, than what exactly happens when we die, or how we came to be. What matters to me is that we are here, and that we must make the best of what we have, and do the best to improve upon our world as a whole. However, despite my own beliefs, I feel that forcing any such viewpoint on others is also inherently wrong, as we all have the right to our own opinions and worldviews.
That said, within The Telling, there is an extremely oppressive society(to say the least) that is “liberating” people of their age old traditions and in essence “Religions”. While living in a fully secular society could, COULD, be quite liberating, as there would be less quarrel between factions (or even inside factions), it is still denying a population their basic rights. So while a society free from religion could perhaps be more focused on the here and now, because in the context of the story, and our own world, there had been established traditions and religions, to suddenly deny a populace of their right to these would be wrong. So “secularism” in this case, would be an oppressing force rather than liberating.
To look at it from another perspective though, we as humans have no idea as to how a society free from religion, as in so free it has never existed before, even looks. Religion or theism of some sort has undoubtedly existed through all of recorded history, so to say that such a society(free from religion) could or could not work is somewhat of an unfair judgment. We can’t really base the claim off of any real evidence, just postulations through writing and philosophy. So in my opinion, a society in which secularism has been the only thing present, it could seem quite liberating. But when we have a background of religion, it seems oppressive, and since we only have evidence of one of these options, the common viewpoint is quite plain.

Posted by: Fabius Bile | February 27, 2010

Human After All

Defining humanity is one of our own favorite passtimes it would seem, as we create more and more advanced technology that can seemingly “think”, along with blurring the borders between animals being “sentient” or not, being human is a lot more difficult than it ever has been. The Stone Gods of course brings up this topic with Spike (the female scientist sex-bot) who is far more sentient than many people I have known. Her last interview with Billie is a moral churning adventure to figure out what we really define as being human.

Daft Punk rocking out

These guys are totally evolving into super awesome human-robot music machines.

This kind of thought is not uncommon really, as we drive closer and closer to creating humanoid robots, we have to start considering what rights we give them. We have this problem today even, giving the more sentient animals some basic rights (like making it illegal to keep them in zoos if they exhibit close to human intelligence). But we as humans don’t really like ascribing “human rights” to things that aren’t definitively human. It’s kind of like that we want to feel special. Some people justify this through religion (that their god created them above other beings or something, don’t really want to make this a religious discussion) and others just prefer to think that we are the dominant species, the most intelligent, and therefore we can deem other things what we want to, no matter what we are. So what happens when we create something so remarkably human, that the only thing it is missing are some of the same internal mechanisms? If they think and feel like us, what bars them from having the same rights?

In my mind, nothing should bar them from the same rights that we enjoy. Some may say “well we created them, that makes us their master, we decide what they are and are not”. That doesn’t seem exactly fair. If you parents said “we created you, and despite you being a fully independent being, we will choose whether you are allowed to have the right to live outside of a small box, or if you will be allowed to live at all”. Not exactly fair is it? Is giving “birth” (giving life effectively) to an intelligent robot any different than giving birth to a child then? Only in biology, and if something can think and feel as we can, they really aren’t that different (or as Daft Punk would put it, despite their robot exteriors, they are human after all).

Posted by: Fabius Bile | February 20, 2010

We Only Need Fear Ourselves, or Things that act Like us

It would seem common knowledge that humans enjoy the company of other humans. We enjoy being able to relate to those around us, to laugh and cry and feel the same as others. But beyond that we like those who look “normal”. The scariest thing to some people, are things that are humanoid, and yet completely hideous and fear inducing. That’s why we have so many stories of “boogymen”, hideous creatures of all sorts, that lie in wait to squelch out our lives.

Cthulhu rising

Scariest. Thing. Ever. Thank you Lovecraft

So what could possibly be any scarier? Well lets take the example of things that tend to be even more frightening to humans. Werewolves, vampires, necromancer, body snatchers. These stories of these creatures are even scarier, but why? It’s because they infiltrate our society, they integrate themselves into us, and this leads to set in paranoia. How are we to tell who is human and who is a monster? The idea that something can infiltrate our civilization and pose as one of us only to make us victims, is a pretty terrifying idea.

So in Butler’s Lilith’s Brood we have an alien species, that varies in looks vastly enough, from vaguely humanoid, to lovecraftian horror. So while they may not be able to infiltrate our society and undermine us that way, they have to have something else about them to make them scary. So instead, they have their own civilization, so akin to ours, that it is almost indistinguishable. But what makes this scary? Wouldn’t they then seem to be slightly disfigured but generally well meaning human-like beings?

That’s just it. Humans are innately xenophobic. We fear what looks different from us, it is an old instinct of sorts. Without which we may not have survived past our early stages of development, after all if we did not have this reptilian fear, we would possibly be attempting to make friends with dangerous predators (and that would probably not go so well). So with this xenophobia in mind, apply it to Butler’s aliens. They may be like us, but they also present the traits of all that of which we fear. Tentacles, disfigurement, the works. Even if they were the most peace loving beings, their mere appearance would be enough to strike fear into us from a mere evolutionary standpoint. Seeing this juxtaposed with traits we can identify with frightens us, as it questions our own ideas of humanity versus monstrosity.

Posted by: Fabius Bile | February 13, 2010

Exploring the Genderless Society, part 2

Cover of Brave New World by Huxley

Seriosly, has no one ever read this

So once again, we are taken to a world in which gender is basically nonexistent in The Female Man. And once again, we are taken to visit a Utopian society where the disappearance of men somehow leads to the creation of a society in which all problems have been eliminated. This time men vanished through a disease only affecting their sex (and the fact that no cure was found when it would eliminate an entire gender? Somewhat curious). So of course the women all band together to create a society and world better than that of when men existed within it. We then get to see it compared to other societies where men and women hold different positions, or the balance is different in some way. This way we get a great comparison as to why a world full of only women is the perfect world to live in.

Of course, any of you who have read my past blog entries know I have a major problem with this idea. Not just that I am a male and would rather not have my entire gender disappear from the face of the planet, but other reasons as well. Previously I have stated that all societal problems would not be solved by the removal of the gender bias, or the removal of any one bias for that matter. This time, I’d like to use another work to illustrate my point.

While not explicitly removing the genders as a whole, Brave New World removes the usefulness of gender, as humans are basically grown when the need arises. This combined with other certain advances in technology lead to a completely equal society where everyone is apathetic, and really just doesn’t care one way or another how things work out. It is the polar opposite of Orwell’s predictions in 1984, where mass control would be maintained and people would be slaves. It is the opposite extreme, where people could care less what happens around them, all stemming from the removal for the need to procreate (thus removing the “preserve the species” instinct).

How does this relate one might ask? While Brave New World does not deal with the removal of either gender, it deals with the removal of the roles of gender (which is effectively the same thing). So in a society that is all one gender, or no gender at all, some new problems arise. Why care about life or what happens around you? Your species is preserved through technology, no need to worry about living to procreate.  Then The Female Man also raises questions about a single gender or genderless society that I have already spoken about. It is hard to believe that an entire population of humans would cooperate for a betterment of their society, just because one gender was removed. We have a hard enough time cooperating to keep the same country untied, even less the whole world. Bias and discrimination are hardwired into our minds, not to say that we all discriminate, but we all carry feelings or desires to be superior. Otherwise, we would not have lasted this long.

Posted by: Fabius Bile | February 6, 2010

Apes and Racism, Plus a Dissapeared Woman

confused gorilla

"What would I possibly want with your women?"

Equals the short story What I didn’t See by Karen Joy Fowler. In this narrative, we are told the story of a small party of Americans (and a large party of African Natives) who journey into the jungle in order to hunt gorillas (and in turn then save them…by hunting them). While their motives seem a bit strange “Having a woman shoot one to show there isn’t and real manly sport in it” (actually that’s really strange) they are good in nature, as all they want to do is preserve and save these gentle giants.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry as they say, and it ends up that they (mainly Eddie, the one who had once shown little interest in hunting gorillas) kill upwards 40 of these creatures. Why do they do it? Well, because the gorillas took their woman (Beverly) of course! So it comes down to the men (as the main female protagonist is sent back to the mission) to get revenge for this poor abducted woman. Of course, things aren’t just that simple. It strikes the reader as it happens “But wait, why would gorillas take a woman? They don’t really have any use for them, after all they are peaceful herbivores!”. Of course we only know this from our modern day educated standpoint. Back then, these people may have thought that the gorillas actually did take Beverly. Who knows, maybe in this magical world of science fiction these apes did take the woman, only for her to serve them as they rise to take over the world (You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!!!).

Of course the reader is able to form their own opinions as to what exactly happened to Beverly. Is it much more plausible that the natives did something to her rather than the apes? Of course, in fact there would be evidence placed within the narrative to suggest that (i.e the native attempting to speak about Beverly at the mission). Is it also possible that she decided to run off and live among them as a wild jungle-person? Perhaps, and then we would have a female “Tarzan” on our hands. But ultimately it is up to the reader to decide. Though by our modern mindsets, it seems silly to think that gorillas took her, but then again, this is science fiction.

Posted by: Fabius Bile | January 30, 2010

Utopian Society: The impossibility

So once again breaking off a bit from reading and focusing more on what has been discussed in class and online, I decided to explore more into the idea of the Utopian society. It is by no means a new or unusual idea, and it is probably easy to postulate that sine humans have had societies, there has been the dream of creating the “perfect” one. So looking into the context of Women on the Edge of Time and basically every other Utopian society created in fiction, lets look at how these places come about.

First of all, some changed have to be made to either the environment, or humans themselves, otherwise there always ends up being some sort of conflict, whether it be overpopulation, under-abundance of resources, some part of the human interaction with the world around them needs to change. So how does Women on the Edge of Time handle this? I’d say that it is handled by both conflicting nations within the future timeline by some form of birth control, and modified genetics. So that seems to be in check.

In order for a society to be a true Utopia, all peoples must somehow achieve absolute equality. Some more famous ways to do this are with totalitarian based governments, mind control, or somehow eliminating every differing factor between humans (or eliminating the will for competition: aka creating apathy). So how is it handled in Marge Piercy’s novel? Well the more technological based society is obviously grossly unequal, with women being subservient etc. So looking at the breakaway society, we see that they have been able to remove gender.

Well that’s great! You have managed to remove a major discriminatory factor (along with a part of everyone’s identity, as I went over in a previous post). So that just leaves every other factor remaining right? Religion, race, ethnicity, appearance, all of those can suddenly become a way to be biased against one another. No matter how complacent a group of people are, there are always emotions making them jealous, prideful, egotistic, making them want to be better than those around them. This novel does not address any of these issues (race kinda-sorta’, but not in much detail). How can any society be a true Utopia without removing the ability to create superiority one way or another?

It is highly improbable, if not impossible for this to be achieved. Unless we all want to look the same, talk the same and feel the same all the time, or be completely apathetic to our surroundings, it just won’t happen. See, humans have this sort of drive in them (the human “spirit” if you will) that makes us want to be better. Whether we want to make one group better than the rest, or just ourselves as individuals, its a drive to become better. Why are we in college? To become better people so we can get better jobs than less educated people. Know what, that inequality right there couldn’t stand in a Utopia, because some people would be excluded. Pretty easy to see how hard it is to make work huh?

Posted by: Fabius Bile | January 26, 2010

Language: Liberation or Opression? (Hint, its the “O” one)

When we began our discussion in class on the use of different language in the novel Women on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, I hadn’t really yetformed an opinion as to weather the use of “Per” rather than “he” or “she” was a liberating or oppressing change in language. To be honest, I hadn’t given it much thought, as it seemed to me to be a minor detail within this future world, almost as minor as robots being in existence is to some novels. However, as the class discussions seemed to be increasingly one sided, I began to look at how this change in terminology could become oppressive, weather or not I was just playing devil’s advocate is somewhat unclear to me at the time, but now I stand by my conclusion, that the way the language had changed was in fact a negative effect.

Why? Because the removal of these terms may remove some effective bias (which I honestly have a difficult time seeing in the first place), but they also remove a part of our identity. Within the novel, these people identify themselves by what they are best at. I find this to be well, dull actually. It would be like me identifying myself as the ultimate Mario Kart 64 player. Not only would it be completely false, but it is such a small thing to attach to myself and say “this is who I am, the best Mario Kart player ever!”. I realize this is a dramatization, but how fulfilling is it to say “I identify myself as a painter, or a nurse or a …”. This just attributes you to one action. Just. One. I know some people may have single track minds, but I prefer to identify myself as a multitude of things. Know what one of those things is? Male. I am a “he”. Taking that away from me, is taking away part of how I define myself.  While I like to think I have individualistic thought, I’m sure that there are others who view their gender as part of their identity.

In fact, to prove such a thing, go call someone on the street who is obviously female a he (or obviously male a she) to their face preferably. Generally when you do something like that, it makes someone quite mad. Why? Because they identify themselves with their gender. To me, it is almost akin to walking up and referring to me as an animal. You just don’t do that.

So overall, I feel that the changes in language were not liberating at all, unless by liberating we mean “liberating individuals of ways to identify themselves”. I won’t even get in to the whole loss of the words father and mother, as that goes into a whole other level of loss of identity. Overall, these changes do nothing more that remove ways to identify ones self within society. And me? Well I’d say that’s pretty oppressive.

Posted by: Fabius Bile | January 5, 2010

The Light of Emotion

Wilhelm’s “No Light in The Window” made for a very enticing read, exploring the usefulness of emotion and the study of reactions that would be “safe” for prolonged space travel. Of course, when it was published in 1963 prolonged space travel was still a far fetched idea, only seen in the minds of the imaginative. Of course, it still is to some extent, though we have slowly made strides towards that goal. Wilhelm tells a story of a married couple preparing for this possible journey, and the story really separates into two parts, the husband and the wife’s experiences.

Of course no real divide exists, but the reader’s mind divides their experiences. As the plot unfolds and the tension of being selected for the journey unfolds, Connie and her husband Hank react incredibly differently. Connie takes on what could be called a stereotypical woman’s role, as she has emotional outbursts, or concerns, and yet can keep herself controlled so long as she has some emotional output. Hank on the other hand stays stone cold, keeping all of his thoughts and emotions bottled up, or what could be seen as a stereotypical male. This of course brings up the issue later as to which one of these mindsets will in fact be successful.

It would seem to be expected that keeping calm and withdrawn on this extensive journey would be imperative, but as is revealed at the end of the story, Connie is in fact the one who will be going, for exactly the reasons she feared she would not. This story really illustrates the advantages of being able to cope with emotions in an outward way, or having a sort of window that allows you to vent your pent up emotions. Hank is the figure that becomes an example of no light being in that window, and is inevitably left behind as being pent up in such a way is of course much more dangerous for later breakdowns than having the occasional emotional outburst. This story really illustrates a sort of superiority of this mindset that would generally be female, so in effect, expressing the superiority of women.