American spring

The meaning of life is not somewhere out there, but right in between our ears. In many ways, this makes us the lords of creation.
--Stephen Hawking
Many years ago I read a book entitled Russian Spring by the science fiction writer Norman Spinrad. It was published after the fall of the Soviet Union, but written while it was very much alive. In it the Soviets have joined in European prosperity and scientific advancement, while still maintaining one-party rule which became increasingly untenable.

The US, meanwhile, had defaulted on its trillions of dollars of debt and become an isolated, inward-looking country. Needless to say, the GOP was the dominant party, liberals a distant memory save in enclaves like San Francisco. The state was ruled by an oppressive National Security Act, which made nearly everything a threat to that security.

You can still pick it up on Amazon, so I won't spoil the story. I will say that the end isn't as bleak as my short synopsis would indicate it would be, and the book is, in the end, a very hopeful work.

I mention this as I've just finished watching the first episode of "Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design" on the Science Channel, from whence I've taken the quote that begins this essay. Towards the end of the episode the narrator speaking for Prof. Hawking talks about how science has extended our senses to glimpse into the farthest reaches of the universe. And the thought hit me at that very moment: if the GOP had its way, we'd be the America of Russian Spring. Sure, we'd want technology -- in the book, one of the things that bankrupted the US was the building of a workable missile defense system, which plays a role in the novel's ending. But we wouldn't much care about the "why" of life, which is the whole purpose of science. There would be no telescopes peering into the secrets of existence, merely ones looking for threats from outside.

If you look at today's GOP, at least at the base, it is dominated by a population that cares not a whit for why things are the way they are. It has no curiosity about the world around it. The world exists because God created it in 6 days, and that's all they need to know. This is not to say that this demographic has been untouched by the scientific revolution of the 20th and 21st centuries; it's been touched, and has run away screaming into the comfort of the old time religion. The GOP base wants a 21st century state with a 16th century mindset. You can see that in its attitude towards education, science, the role of intellectuals in society. If someone asks them to think, they look with measured suspicion on that person; if they are told what to think, they parrot it gladly, under the impression that they had arrived at that opinion independently, with absolutely no prodding by powers beyond them.

Think about the quote from Prof. Hawking, which concludes the first episode of his series -- an episode entitled "The Meaning of Life". Ultimately, any meaning we give life resides within ourselves. We may think it comes from some outside doctrine, but in the end we choose what to believe and what meaning to assign our lives.

It's this choice which is central to humanity, and to the hope for a better future. If we choose wisely, we are on the verge of our own American Spring. With the troubles in Europe aiming to spill across the globe, that choice becomes more imperative. On Christiane Amanpour's CNN International program, IMF head Christine LaGarde doubted whether the euro could last another three months unless drastic measures were taken. As one of my friends who saw the interview said, the look on Ms. LaGarde's face betrayed a belief that it might not last three weeks, much less three months. What happens in Europe -- and then the rest of the world -- will impact us in the most visceral way in this country. How we react -- the choices we make in November -- will go a long way towards deciding which kind of future we will live in, and leave to our descendants.

We are the lords of our own creation. The choices we make this year will speak down the generations. Hopefully they won't curse us.

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