Monday, April 13, 2009

Week 12: Red Mars, part 2

Given the chance, would I choose to terraform Mars? Should the technology come available and I fell into a position where opportunity allowed me to go, would I do it? The fear of leaving a comfortable home put aside, the question is about the creation of a society, the restructuring of a planet, and the shaping of a new humanity. Robinson responded to this question on, ambiguously stating only that the reflection of this question is what drove him to write the trilogy and that he believes we should, in fact, terraform Mars (assuming there is no life there) if we would only leave the higher elevations in their natural state. His response is an environmental one, a comment on the ability to live in a place and not destroy its “sublime” qualities and “its own intrinsic worth,” he says. But the issue, certainly is much larger. The question reminds us of the early North American colonists who, in their own way, terraformed a new land. Of course, those early colonists disregarded the life—the societies and culture of the Native Americans—already existing in this new land, and reshaped a world for both democratic and financial prospects.

When Marian talks to John about the establishment of a Mars treaty under the rule of ‘dictators’ from Earth, John argues that the new Mars inhabitants have the right to frame their world in their own way. Referring to the American Revolution, he says “it may not be 1760, but we have some of the same advantages: we’re at a great distance and we’re in possession” (348). While a major driving force for the establishment of a new land in 1760 may have been for the freedom of religion, it is easy enough to argue that today, should we terraform a new planet and a society were to form, it would be less about religion and more about political, environmental, and moral ideologies. Distance may allow a people to separate themselves from the ideological traditions of the past, but that is a physical separation. When John then states “the important thing is not to fall into their way of thinking, into the same old violent mistakes,” he is raising a much more humanistic question about the nature of the human being. Would we really be able to distance ourselves from the violence and moral and ethical decline of a world fighting between capitalism and communism (and all the other social and political ideologies)?

Sure, with the right people, a generation or two may pass with a new perspective, but hasn’t history taught us that when large groups of people assemble together, governments form, laws are passed, and criminals, dictators and power mongers are born? What is it that a new place would offer? Perhaps, even if Robinson says he thinks we should terraform, we can learn from Red Mars that the grass isn’t always greener (on another planet). Part of the human struggle is battling through opposition that will unfailingly exist no matter where we choose to land. Red Mars shows that humanity, in all its attempts to improve is, after all, still humanity. And in that one very sure thing, nothing will ever change.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Week 11: Red Mars

I start by saying that Red Mars has been, by far, the most interesting and engaging read of the semester for me, primarily because I have a sort of weakness, I guess you could say, with imagination. I must find myself grounded in “the real” or “the possible.” Red Mars, in many ways, has made me engage in a very real set of political and hierarchical value systems that the other science fiction books have not been able to do. Plus, the characters seem tangible and realistic, which I feel should be at the heart of any well-written story. If an author can’t emotionally connect the reader to the characters, something very, very important is lost.

What I would like to discuss in this post is historical reverence—and perhaps arrogance—to the historicity of America’s hierarchical value system. As is the case with most organizations, unique respect and attention is given to the “firsts.” In America, we reverence people like Cristoforo Colombo, our revered explorer; the pilgrims who founded the first colonies; and the Forefathers who established the Constitution. Red Mars similarly establishes the lives of the first 100, who are shown in what is a future history of the colonization of Mars, those to later be recognized as the pilgrims of a new planet. Red Mars, however, functionally demonstrates and exploits character flaws within these first 100, flaws that are shaped by political history, language, and personality. While in recent years, perhaps, the character blemishes of persons Americans have worshipped now for over two centuries—like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Christopher Columbus—have come forth (about the way they treated slaves, their sex lives, and their political pitfalls), ignorance is preferred. When we make statements like “that’s unconstitutional!” we are falling into the hierarchical bandwagon that assumes a document created 230 years ago meets our current needs. The reverence we place on people and documents tends to be founded in a modern arrogance of the accomplishments of these historical persons. I believe Red Mars is able to effectively show the arrogance that is built from historical people and traditions. America, especially, is shown as the arrogant nation—one that has grown to see itself as the world leader, the archetype for all to adhere to. English is shown as the language used to “accommodate the Americans,” purportedly because Americans are unwilling to learn other languages. American characteristics are said to be “big, loud, maniacally energetic, confident, and restless.” In other words, bombastic. But, America is also presented as a country of sheep, followers who blindly—and egocentrically—follow the traditions of what has worked in the past. Even, for example, the “Puritan streak in Americans, that sense that sex was wrong and something that men had to trick women into.” Red Mars shows, I believe, an incredible perspective into the way which our future histories are written by the pilgrims of today.

The question is then, of course, raised: who are the pilgrims, the metaphorical colonizers of today? Who is it that Americans will be calling the “first 100” 100 years from now? Certainly, the forefathers fall into that description, but I’m talking about modern political, economic, and social figures—people like Obama—that are perhaps, in their own way, shaping the way we will perceive the shaping of a country, a people, and a planet that people will revere years down the road. What are their flaws and what will they lead us into? What have people like Henry Ford done, after all, in this past century and what might be different if they were shaped by different “first 100s” of their time?