Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Man in the High Castle: Alternative History as Moral Katharsis

Recently I found myself thinking about the 'meme' I see frequently on AltRight Twitter accounts expressing a desire that the Axis powers had won WWII. It amounts to a lament about what America has become, and I feel a good bit of sympathy with the sentiment. The idea of alternate, fictional accounts of history-or what is sometimes referred to as Uchronia-is not a recent novelty. As early as the 1st Century B.C., Roman historian Livy provides us with the first known specimen in his Ab Urbe Condita, which contains a conjectural digression on what might have occurred had Alexander the Great lived longer, and turned his armies West to attack Rome.

It occurred to me as a sort of intuition that the Left has been busy for some time trying to control the understanding and use of alternative history by the broader public. Unquestionably, the political and social Left dominate the genre, with the tacit goal of administering it as a sort of Blue Pill that erases history and blurs facts into insignificance. What is important about World War II, to take an example, is not what actually occurred, of course, but how we ought to feel about what occurred. All of modern education theory rests on this lone principal, first introduced by philosopher John Dewey in the mid 20th century. By a process of reductionism, the events of that war have been boiled down to a simple morality play about the goodies vs. the baddies -the latter being those who wantedtokillsixmillionjews, certainly. But the process is also seen in the the perpetual and infinite stigmatization of the idea of a nation -that is, a group of people who are more-or-less biologically related, who share a past, and behave in self-interested ways to defend and invigorate themselves, and by extension their culture. This, as we know, has come to be 'the love that dare not speak its name.' Even thought of it is under a dreadful edict by Really Nice People -but just to be certain, it is also occulted by Anathemas and Curses of  a Very Serious Nature.  Witness if you will the recent television program The Man in the High Castle, of which I watched a few nauseating minutes, until my gag reflex overwhelmed me. The series paints for us a dystopian future in which the bad guys of WWII are victorious, and commence immersion of the world in their badness: the Nazis their diseased cult of the Übermensch, and the Japanese their horrifying Shinto religion and xenophobia. Shiver. Followed by Two Minutes Hate.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Pixelized Meditation

From The Frailest Thing - Electrification, Refrigerators, and the Social Construction of Technology:

The history of technology is full of similar stores about social factors conditioning the adoption of new technologies. In a post titled “How the refrigerator got its hum,” science writer Alice Bell briefly recounts the story of early refrigeration and the adoption of electric over gas refrigerators. It’s a quick and interesting read if your are not familiar with the story. She notes near the end that, “In many respects, the history of technology is a history of failed machines; of routes we didn’t take, not the ones we did.” And she cites David Edgerton’s Shock of the Old to the same effect:

The history of invention is not the history of a necessary future to which we must adapt or die, but rather of failed futures, and of futures firmly fixed in the past. We do not have a history of invention, but instead histories of the invention of only some of the technologies which were later successful (Edgerton, 2006: 184. Emphasis as original).

She then ties it all up with the following conclusion:

And there’s the moral of the story: the possibilities around technology are multiple. They are not limitless, but they aren’t singular either, and they certainly are not linear. There are choices when it comes to the technologies we choose to take on, and choices about how we make use of them, when and if.

This is very well and succinctly put. I would only add that these choices later constrain and condition future choices yielding what Thomas Hughes has called “technological momentum.”