These are my notes from the first panel on Sunday at MidMoot 3.
Neil Ottenstein: Dreams and Prophecy in Babylon 5
I usually think of myself as a science-fiction fan. Compared to Neil, I am not. When I want to quote a work, I type out the words on a screen. When Neil wants to quote from Babylon 5, he comes to the front of the room with a stack of bound quarto volumes of scripts, opens each one in its turn, and reads passages to us with a reverent tone. That’s a true fan.
This was another in his series of talks about prophecy. It was orders of magnitude smaller in focus than his presentation at MidMoot 2. B5 doesn’t have a radical concept of prophecy. “We create the future with our words and our deeds. Prophecies are possible futures, not certainties.”
The Centauri seem to be able to make prophecies and confine them to things that are fixed. Unlike other characters who talk about things that may or may not happen, depending on people’s choices, the Centauri seem to be able to perceive “constants of the motion”, making prophecies that are going to turn out to be true no matter what.
Margaret Ann Mendenhall: The Borg: Is assimilation Fertile?
First question: is Star Trek’s humanism patriarchal? It certainly privileges Western values.
Margaret projected the text of the Prime Directive (non-interference with other cultures) up on the screen, and proceeded to slice it to ribbons. Nearly every phrase in it comes from mid-20th-century American ideology. Our perspective, here and now, isn’t that far removed. We’re in the same country, just 50 years later, but those words no longer look to us like a statement of a principle to live by. We now see terms like “healthy development” or “normal cultural evolution” as bags that carry a lot of prejudice in them.
(I’d point out here that those ideologies are honored more in the breach than the observance. Roddenberry may have been writing them down explicitly to get the US to recognize how far short of them our actions in (e.g.) Vietnam were. Which doesn’t disagree with Margaret’s thesis in any way.)
Of course, this gets taken to extremes in the show. Captain Kirk violates the Prime Directive every chance he gets. As Jon pointed out, the Prime Directive is a plot generator, not an actual law to live under. Life would be very stressful under a code that was designed to maximize the frequency of exciting events. Possibly recognizing this, newer incarnations of Star Trek have replaced the Prime Directive with an ideology of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”.
On to patriarchy. The presentation of the Borg in “First Contact” shows a feminized twist. The Borg Queen is a Great Goddess figure. (I hadn’t seen this movie – apparently the Borg have been transformed from a mechanical assembly to an insect hive.) It’s a gylany rather than a patriarchy. It works by horizontal linkages, not a command hierarchy.
Now, by assimilating other species into their collective, the Borg is perfecting them. I got whiplash at this point, because if you say “market” instead of “collective”, it sounds like the attitude of global capitalism.
Q: Aren’t the Borg and Starfleet both making decisions for other people. What’s the difference? A: They’re both symbolizing the unconscious. (The subspace network the Borg use to communicate is the Jungian collective unconscious. Fascinating, to coin a phrase.)
Q: (from VF) are the theories you’re working from applicable to western fantasies at all? A: Yes. Her dissertation is about how the Hero’s Journey has been taken over by monotheists to mean pefection of the soul. She’s instead balancing Artemis, Lilith, and Isis in a lemniscate. (MM didn’t say “lemniscate”, but she laid “gylany” on us and I must have revenge.)
Kris Larsen: Mad Scientist Alphabet Soup
Mad scientists aren’t all lone wolves. Kris is talking about three organizations of mad science. Their common features: obsession with experimental design (she says this like it’s a bad thing); Population-control mission; and complete disregard for informed consent.
First, the DHARMA initiative from “Lost”. Numerology – terms in an equation to predict the number of years left for the human race. The initiative is trying to change one of the parameters and lengthen our existence.
WICKED from The Maze Runner: plans to eradicate half the population with a virus, because we’ve overloaded the planet. The virus didn’t work as planned. Natural immunity became a valuable commodity. WICKED used immunes to generate a cure.
NICE from That Hideous Strength: There’s been a decades-long debate about whether this is an attack on science, or just scientism. Their goal is to “Make man a really efficient animal.” NICE will “take charge of Man”. Direct manipulation of the brain is their goal. Same as Wicked. Wither and Frost are two definite mad scientists. (How about Glitter and Lost?)
Lewis’s bitter observation: to parents, “Experiment on a child” is a bad thing. But offer them a seat in an “experimental school”, and they’ll sign right up.
Kris ended with an exhortation to science not to forget that we might be working from immoral principles. Fascinating exchange at the end of this talk:
- Q: Why are there mad scientists, but nobody ever denounces mad theologians or literati? A: We scientists are highly respected.
- Prof Olsen: do scientists have a proclivity that way? Philostrato isn’t mad, though he’s a dupe. A: Nobody wants to read a novel about normal scientists.
- CO: it’s a compliment to scientists – in order for them to do evil, they must be insane.
- Jon: science stripped of humanity leads to these effects.