by guest writer Kris Schnee
©2008 Kris Schnee
Lux the Raccoon floated aboard the space colony, grinning. Since hed stopped being human, his cybernetics let him in on everything that was going on. The interstellar expeditions, the terraforming, the gengineering that was curing the last major diseases and uplifting a dozen new specieshe felt like he could understand it all.
And then suddenly, it all went away
Do you dream of a future with anthropomorphics in it? If so, your dreams are in danger. This community spins exotic visions of worlds that have never been, but some of them might become real in the future. Bringing some of those ideas to life is going to take more than wishes. We need wealth, science, and freedom to do that. All of those things are under assault. Unless this community is willing to help fight for the future it wants, it may well find that everything it hopes for is nothing but a fantasy.
Whats this alert about? Consider the usual speculation about how anthro-people might one day get created. We would need genetic engineering, nanotechnology, cybernetics, or some other technology not yet imagined. But technology doesnt pop into existence from nowhere. Realistically, it comes from some combination of entrepreneurs, scholars, and other people whose business it is to study reality. All branches of that coalition are under attack. From one direction is the easy target of religious extremism. In America there is an ongoing movement to replace science with fundamentalist Christianity, especially to get rid of evolutionary theory. For instance, a think-tank called the Discovery Institute is the major supporter of crypto-Creationist dogma known as Intelligent Design; it made its long-term plans clear in a leaked Wedge Document. This tract explained that the Institutes goal was not so much to attack evolution as to promote supernatural explanations of reality. Nor are Christian fundamentalists the only people who support such a goal. For instance, apostasy against Islam is punishable by death even in the new, freer Afghanistan. Religion in general is not necessarily hostile to sciencebut there is a substantial subset of religion that makes the rest look bad. That subset would stifle the kind of thinking that we need for improving our technology.
Then there is the less obvious, secular attack on rationality. At its best, religion encourages us to look for some kind of objective truthbut these days, we have people rejecting the idea of truth altogether. Weve been trying to be so tolerant of other cultures that were not willing to stand up for our own, even when faced with people who want to murder us. In science, last century there were several discoveries (like quantum physics) that encouraged people to think of knowledge as relative, subjective, and unreliable. In historical studies weve been focusing on the negative, teaching kids that America is a downright mean place thats done nothing but enslave Africans and massacre Indians. All of these thingshard to define and proveadd up to a kind of cultural sulk that makes it hard for us to collectively have confidence in who we are. With this hesitancy to speak up for science, or to speak boldly and expose our ideas to criticism, how can we ever develop all the cool technology we see in storybooks?
Even if we have a culture that values knowledge and science, we still wont get far if we dont also value economic freedom. Today weve lost confidence in the power of free markets to create wealth for a larger and larger number of people. Capitalism is an imperfect system, but its the one that helped create the modern world. Were been throwing it away in favor of tight control, statist bureaucracy, and unconstitutional laws. We blame our economic problems on our having too much freedom. We even have some of our gloomier economists telling us to gear up for a future with zero growth, a dead and static world to be managed as a zero-sum gameboard until the end of Time. What does any of that political griping have to do with how soon we make raccoon-people to colonize Mars? The answer is that the kind of wild, joyous experimentation we need comes from an environment of growth and willful prosperity.
Capitalism is not about getting rich. If the whole point of it were profit, then wed want to pick an economic system by comparing all the statistics that economists fuss overand capitalism wouldnt win by every possible measure. No, the point of it is to respect peoples right to make their own decisions, which is not just moral but practical. It puts ingenuity and initiative in everyones hands, instead of some planning committees. Its no coincidence that much of the modern worlds technology was invented in the West, and especially in America. Would the Wright Brothers have done what they did, had they lived under some grey fascist/socialist state that aimed to control every aspect of their business? Where are the entrepreneurs going to come from in an anti-intellectual, anti-individual future? Zero growth means no profit, no resources free for new ideas. Fearful world-ruling bureaucrats will never allow such dreams as ours to happen.
Finally, bringing dreams to life requires freedom in general. Theres no sharp distinction between the freedom involved in being able to vote, to run a radio show, to buy a cigar, to put dirty pictures online, to not be subject to forced labor or to do the kind of research that can create an anthro-creature. There needs to be freedom of both thought and action. We need to bring up educated, creative researchers with the resources to do strange and amazing things. People need to know that their ideas arent subject to majority vote, that its okay to pursue their own interests, and that no one has the right to order them around.
Unfortunately, were losing that independent attitude. Getting it back starts at the individual level, with us. Maybe the things we write about are just literary devices, metaphors, or random silliness. If were content with that, then none of the above mattersso long as we dont ever try to make our dreams into reality. Because any attempt to create something new will be subject to social approval, too. If living in a fantasy world isnt good enough, though, we of this community need to get motivated to create the kind of future where our desires can become real. Each of us can contribute to that goal in some way. The question is, what are we willing and able to do to improve the world?
We could just say lets fund more science research and write better school curricula, but that position would be missing the point: We need freedom, intellectual and personal, to accomplish something as unusual as our vision. As well, that position doesnt take advantage of the ideas this community brings to the table.
To understand what we can add to the debate, it would be helpful to look at what the appeal of a world full of anthro-critters would be. There are plenty of dreams out there for a strange and interesting future, but this one is ours. Why? The appeal is universal: People are fascinated with the relationship between humanity and the rest of nature. Stories and art from ancient cave-paintings to modern nature-shows make that appeal obvious. We find that the otherness of animals is endlessly fascinating. They are kin to us, yet strange; understandable, yet wild and uncontrollable; useful, yet dangerous. What we think about them, and imagine in our stories, tells everyone about our attitude towards life itself! We who think seriously (well, usually) about anthropomorphics see difference, intellect and a little wildness as things to be happy about, not feared like Frankensteins Monster. Lets show future humanoids as beings with human rights, valued for having new ideas instead of taking orders. If we do that, were expressing the same kind of optimism and morality that led to the age of science, and to what political and economic freedom we have. The things we do for fun in this community can be used to tell a parallel story, not just about animal-people but about ourselves.
We dont need to attach deep significance to everything furrysometimes a skunk is just a skunkbut we can use the genre to talk about what we aspire to in real life. We can use our work to encourage the free world we need to make the dream possible. Then, we can look beneath the surface of what were creating here, and take action to build that world ourselves. That action means stopping anyone who wants to manage the economy or our personal lives, or who thinks its their right to take our own rights away, or who wants to subsidize failure and punish success. We need to promote decentralized power, freedom to experiment with different ways of living, tolerance towards others, the use of science and reason, and the courage to fight against genuine threats. These needs are real and important, if we care about our specific dream or about the general vision of a free, exciting future. With its unique perspective that values nature, difference and individuality, this community has a special role to play in the struggle. Lets get to it!