Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sometimes We All Feel Ineffective

When presented with issues that really matter, when presented with true human suffering, like genocide in Darfur the shipbreakers in India, or the downtrodden in Afghanistan, it's tough to know how to react. You may, like me, develop a literal ache in your gut.

Frankly, what is happening to so many of these people makes me angry - angry at those who have destroyed these people's lives, and angry at the rest of the world for not doing something.

And right there I stop in my tracks.

What, exactly, am I doing to aid these folks? Well, I've written letters to my representatives and I've always made a point to raise awareness, much to the annoyance of my peers. But really, what action have I taken that prevents a child from starving to death?

I haven't done one single thing to put food in the mouth of a child, or to provide clean water to a refugee. And, frankly, the amount of money I could donate is pitiful. While my $25 donation might make me feel better, and it might keep a child alive for a few weeks, it's really a drop of water in the desert. I'm not just fighting a losing battle, I'm fighting a hopeless battle. How, HOW do I make any long term difference?

Well, I came across something today that gives me a little hope. A company called Kiva is giving you and I the opportunity to fund entrepreneurs in the developing world.

This is all done by offering microloans. In this case, the loans are financed by you. That is, you provide as little as $25 in capital for a poor entrepreneur, and you will get that money back. Can you put 50 bucks on hold for a little while? Excellent.

The best thing about this plan is that it moves people toward a sustainable future, not continually based on aid or charity. My $25 might be part of making a family stable for years to come, and that, I think, is an admirable goal.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tales of Ascension

I've been reading Forever Peace, by Joe Haldeman, and I've been continually assaulted by the feeling that I've read something much like this before. No, I'm not thinking of The Forever War, by the same author, though that was an excellent novel, and one I heartily recommend.
I've realized that it reminds me of Technogenesis, by Syne Mitchell

As always, it's entirely possible that I am being far less original that I imagine, and far more derivative, or at least repetitive. However, an idea, new to me, at least, has been developing slowly in the stew of my consciousness. As usual, the idea relates to an unexpected commonality between disparate things. I suppose, as science fiction novels, the subjects of my stewing aren't really terribly disparate... but enough of this. Let me actually get to the point.

The Forever War, Technogenesis, and others (perhaps Childhood's End by Clarke, or Blood Music by Bear, and certainly The Changeling Plague, also by Mitchell) are what I would like to call "tales of ascension". Generally these novels could be considered singularity fiction, but I contend that these examples are something else as well, and something worth keeping in our collective mental libraries.

I call them tales of ascension because they are hopeful but deeply frightening stories of the future of the human race. The mechanisms are different, from disease to gengineering, to AI, to alien races, but the result is the same: a fundamentally changed human race. A changed humanity, and one that is greater than that which we currently experience. Often there is an ascension to a higher or group consciousness. Sometimes humanity becomes one undifferentiated unit. Sometimes we are provided the opportunity to move beyond the current boundaries of our bodies and brains. Regardless, the hopeful tone of this huge accomplishment is always tempered by the sheer scariness of the new. One real problem with ascension is that in order to move up, you must abandon your current position. Most of us experience that fear of change (regardless of its apparent positive impact) in our own lives, and I think it is this personal anxiety about change that informs our visceral emotional reaction to a species-wide change on such a high level.

When expanded to the species, however, the issue takes on philosophical overtones. What, for instance, can we call this post-ascension species? Are they still human? In many cases, the ascension is not presented as a sudden event, but rather as something gradual, affecting some before others, or phasing in through our natural generations. In these cases, how do the unchanged react to the ascended?


Well, I'm not a writer. YOU go write it. Let me know how it goes.