Posts tagged ‘Religion’

SCOTUS

How will the Supreme Court’s decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning affect democracy?

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

When Pope Francis named 19 new cardinals to be installed in February, it underscored the efficiency of a nondemocratic government. The elevation of Les Cayes Bishop Chibly Langlois (at 55 the youngest of the appointees) from Haiti, shows how much can be done very quickly by an autocrat, in this case, to implement Francis’s agenda of ministering to the poor of the world. Bishop Langlois’ youth makes likely he will still be around and under age 80 when the time comes to vote for the next pope. All this in less than a year since Francis became the pontiff.

I likewise saw how efficient the totalitarian government of China could be in clearing the roads blocked by a landslide after a great rainstorm in 1991, when Fred and I were stranded for an extra day in the Tibetan foothills while visiting the Panda Breeding Station.

With us were Charles Brown, Brian Aldiss, Brian Stableford, Malcolm Edwards, and a couple of dozen others from outside China for the occasion of the World SF meeting in Chengdu, Sichuan. The authorities were not going to let their honored guests be inconvenienced one more day than absolutely necessary!

It’s an old joke that at least Mussolini got the railroads to run on time during World War II.

Contrast this with our seemingly dysfunctional Congress in the United States where democracy rules. Well, actually we have a representative democracy, which means we have established checks and balances that are supposed to preserve the basic rights of minorities and prevent too hasty decisions from being implemented by well-meaning people who fail to see potential unintended consequences of their agendas. But for the sake of brevity, we call it “democracy” and are quite proud of it.

Democracy as we practice it is, undeniably, a much slower and more cumbersome way to reach decisions and implement change. And it’s an equally self-evident logical principle — sorry, those who want to maintain the old ways no matter what — that situations can not ever be improved without making changes. But democracy (we’ll call it that for shorthand) has one big advantage over totalitarian, top-down management. That is, when everyone can have his or her say before a decision is finally reached, the decision is likely to be fairer and last longer before it too needs to be changed. Americans don’t like having stuff shoved down our throats.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the question of whether the president has the right to make interim appointments to key positions, including judicial appointments, which in turn may lead to appointments to the Supreme Court itself. We do live in interesting times!

Rubik"s Cube

He was English, the fellow in the lobby. He had come from London the day before to see some kindred enlightened souls in Cincinnati, Ohio. Now he was on his way to certain other centers of adepts before reaching the Grand Canyon focal point of the Harmonic Convergence. (Not, thank God, on my flight.)

This flake was the kind I like least. He had learned every buzzword there was in every discipline known to man — his conversation was full of Descartes and expert systems and quarks — and had managed not to understand any of them. And when I managed to point out to him, for example, that “Cogito ergo sum” did not imply the existence of a Divine Being, he responded every time by shifting the universe of discourse to another subject, from molecular biology to Rubik’s Cube. (Lots of people, he told me loftily, could solve Rubik’s Cube; there was nothing remarkable in that. But when you had evolved as far as he had you could do it in your head. Actually, that sounded like a pretty impressive feat to me. But when I asked him if he could then take a real cube and quickly match up all the colors so other people could see, he looked at me with pity. Of course he could do that. But he would never bother. It would simply be too boring to him.)

There was another odd thing about him. I had noticed he was wearing earphones. In those pre-iPod days, I assumed it was some kind of industrial-strength hearing aid. It wasn’t. After a while I saw that he kept fumbling with some sort of gadget in a pocket, and discovered that he was taping everything we said. But before I could find out why he was doing that my transportation arrived, and I was out of there.

Of course, all of this is nonsense. I am not about to believe that when the ancient Mayans devised their calendar they were somehow able to foretell that a hot, wet Sunday in August would be the turning point for mankind. (If they were so smart, why did they let Cortes wipe them out?) I think the whole thing is pretty blackly, depressingly comical.

I also think it’s sad, though, because, my God, here are all those people who believe this nonsense, What’s more, they act on it. According to the papers some hundreds of thousands of people took anywhere from a few hours to a couple of weeks out of their lives simply to chant and relate to each and go, “ooooom.”

And if it happened again today, they’d do it again.

These aren’t bad people. They don’t blow up abortion clinics or sell handguns to teenage gangs. They don’t even put “Sarah Palin for President” bumper stickers on their cars; a lot of them don’t even drive cars, because they don’t want to add to the burden of carcinogens and acid rain.

All they want is to make the world peaceful, loving and as nearly stress-free as a human world can get and, gosh, I’m for all those things, too.

Even the airhead and the Brit, although their grasp on reality was tenuous, seemed sincere in saying that they wished no human being any possible harm at all, only the best of all that’s possible for everyone in the world. And if you add to them the Scientologists and the ests, the Moonies and the Hare Krishnas, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the transcendental meditators — all the people, in the aggregate the many millions of people, whose deepest desire is to clean up the mess in their own heads and then go on to help others to do the same — what a dedicated work force we are allowing to piddle away its energies on fantasies!

Just imagine what it would be like if each one of them would, say, expend all that energy on some worthwhile social project (by which, of course, I mean one I approve of) — for instance, teaching remedial English to American high-school graduating classes, so that the kids would learn how to spell, punctuate and parse and my wife wouldn’t spend her time swearing to herself as she corrects their freshman compositions. Illiteracy would disappear overnight.

And we’re letting them go to waste.

Do you see what I mean about reality being less plausible than science fiction? None of us would dare make up a race as lunacy-prone as Genus homo for a science-fiction story. No editor would buy it. No reader would believe it.

The Harmonic Convergence wasn’t the only thing of interest in that summer’s Chernobyl. book tour.

Continue reading ‘Through the Harmonic Convergence, Part 3’ »

chernobyl

A book tour is wearing enough all by itself. I didn’t need any extra aggravation.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid it. I could tell something was up right away. It wasn’t only that the famous Harmonic Convergence of 1987 converged with my book tour for Chernobyl.

My very first radio show of the tour was on a nighttime program on WGN in Chicago, which also broadcasts the Cubs games. Sure enough, that night the Cubs and the Phillies tied it up in the eighth and went into extra innings. The Cubs managed to lose it in the thirteenth, all right, but by then the airtime for the show was long gone by. So I sat in the studio for a few boring hours and then went home. We never did get on that night.

Then we took to the road, and it was Wednesday, Washington; Thursday, Detroit; Friday, Cleveland — and Saturday, still Cleveland, because the Harmonic Convergence was nigh. It caused all its thunderclouds to converge right over O’Hare airport (so all flights were canceled and I spent the night in a Cleveland Holiday Inn). Then it dumped all the moisture out of those clouds right on my house, a dozen miles from O’Hare (so some books and papers that were stored low-down in my basement were rebound in slime). Nine and a half inches of rain in twelve hours.

It was the worst rainstorm in the history of Chicago, and it was all my own fault, of course. I didn’t remember to say, “ooooom.”

Nor was that the worst of it.

See, I live a pretty sheltered life. I spend most of my time either sitting before the keyboard in my office or in the company of my peers at science-fiction cons. So, although I’ve met a lot of pretty weird people (well, didn’t I just say that?), until this tour I actually hadn’t reckoned on the number of loopies going around in what is, for some reason, called the “normal” world. Every city I visited turned up somebody — my airhead driver-escort in one place, a guy who buttonholed me at the hotel registration desk in another — who was not only certain that the Age of Something was upon us because of the Harmonic Convergence, but could not be stopped from telling me about it.

I don’t like to get into conversations of that kind. The principal reason is that I’m tenderhearted; I don’t like to be a killjoy. It gives me no pleasure to try to convince a transcendental metaphysics addict that astrology is a fraud; Uri Geller is a faker; there were no Ancient Astronauts and every single flying-saucer story I have been able to investigate (which adds up to a lot of them, over the years) has turned out to be a mistake, a delusion or a plain damn lie.

But I don’t have any moral objections to someone else’s beliefs. If it gives them pleasure to have their horoscopes, tarot cards or palms read, why should I object?

So I dislike arguing any subject with a True Believer, but what I dislike even more is sitting silent while I am told that unless I believe in some preposterous fantasy I have doomed my hopes of achieving the Age of Enlightenment, or my aura, or my soul. Probably I should appreciate their concern for my welfare, but the fact is that I don’t.

So after the first few mad dashes from radio station to newspaper office in the company of my temporary in-house guru, I stopped trying to change the subject. I took the bit in my teeth and did my best to explain to the airhead that, see, there are only a certain number of long-distance forces that can allow an extraterrestrial body to influence anything on our planet — electromagnetic and gravitational just about wraps it up — and, really, neither one of them has anything to do with whether or not people on Earth start thinking pure thoughts.

This was a mistake. She was a tender-hearted soul, too. She could not bear to see me lost through all eternity because of my pitiful ignorance, and so all the rest of that long day, until finally she let me out at the airport and my ears began to stop throbbing, I heard why the Grand Canyon, Mount Shasta and the corner of 83d Street and Central Park West in New York were “power points” for the universal energies, and how, if I had any sense at all, I would change my ticket and head for the “planetary Woodstock” at one of them right away.

I argued for a while. Then, when the intensity of her convictions led her to run a red light in heavy traffic, I finally shut up and just let her talk.

Honestly, that was one painful day.

She was the worst, if for no other reason than simply because I had no way of getting away from her until it was time for my flight. She wasn’t the only one, though. Fortunately, most of the other harmonicists I ran into were of the tolerable kind who are at least willing to give up about it when I said I’m wasn’t interested.

Not the chap in the hotel lobby.

 
To be continued.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Science Fiction Chronicle in 1988.
Related posts:

  • Peddling Books Through the Harmonic Convergence, Part 1, Part 3
Victor J. Stenger

  Victor J. Stenger
 
 

“I would like to comment on the folly of faith. When faith rules over facts, magical thinking becomes deeply ingrained and warps all areas of life. It produces a frame of mind in which concepts are formulated with deep passion but without the slightest attention being paid to the evidence. Nowhere is this more evident than in the U.S. today, where Christians who seek to convert the nation into a theocracy dominate the Republican party. Blind faith is no way to run a world.”

Victor J. Stenger

Richard Dawkins

  Richard Dawkins

 

“God is arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Richard Dawkins

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan

Back in April many U.S. Congressmen got a letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops urging the legislators not to institute Paul Ryan’s budget reducing the “safety nets” for those who need them and asking them always to “put the poor first.”

Those are the letters that were sent, but we wonder. Did, say, the Tea Partiers even bother to open them?