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Monday, September 14, 2009

Quick links.

* At a newly revitalized Bitter Laughter: 73% of American Medical Association doctors want a public option.

* In the New Yorker, two takedowns of GOP insanity and obstructionism.

* Wal-Mart: actually not so great. Via MeFi, which includes a bonus link to a nice take-off on Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced capitalism is indistinguishable from socialism Soviet-style state capitalism.

* Also via MeFi: The New York Times's Toxic Waters: "A series about the worsening pollution in American waters and regulators' response."

* And the thing from my lists I most enjoyed reading today just happens to be online: Thomas Pynchon's "Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?" (UPDATE: My drive towards procrastination compelled me to write a brief HASTAC post on this.)

By 1945, the factory system -- which, more than any piece of machinery, was the real and major result of the Industrial Revolution -- had been extended to include the Manhattan Project, the German long-range rocket program and the death camps, such as Auschwitz. It has taken no major gift of prophecy to see how these three curves of development might plausibly converge, and before too long. Since Hiroshima, we have watched nuclear weapons multiply out of control, and delivery systems acquire, for global purposes, unlimited range and accuracy. An unblinking acceptance of a holocaust running to seven- and eight-figure body counts has become -- among those who, particularly since 1980, have been guiding our military policies -- conventional wisdom.

To people who were writing science fiction in the 50's, none of this was much of a surprise, though modern Luddite imaginations have yet to come up with any countercritter Bad and Big enough, even in the most irresponsible of fictions, to begin to compare with what would happen in a nuclear war. So, in the science fiction of the Atomic Age and the cold war, we see the Luddite impulse to deny the machine taking a different direction. The hardware angle got de-emphasized in favor of more humanistic concerns -- exotic cultural evolutions and social scenarios, paradoxes and games with space/time, wild philosophical questions -- most of it sharing, as the critical literature has amply discussed, a definition of "human" as particularly distinguished from "machine." Like their earlier counterparts, 20th-century Luddites looked back yearningly to another age -- curiously, the same Age of Reason which had forced the first Luddites into nostalgia for the Age of Miracles.