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Epiphany #4

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

I'm stealing one from my daughter.  It isn't the first time.

So we're walking out of Ender's Game, the film version of Orson Scott Card's sci-fi classic about our civilization, having been nearly destroyed by an alien invasion, turning to brilliant children as the ones who can best strategize the ways to beat the aliens next time around (see current commercials with the tag line, "So Easy An Adult Can Do It" for verification of this thinking in relation to technology), and my daughter says, "Ok, Dad, but what's the basic flaw in this movie, like so many other science fiction movies?"

I think about it and come up with nothing.  "I don't know.  What?"

"Think about it.  The aliens want to leave their planet and inhabit ours.  Why would anybody want to do that?  This idea that our planet in the condition it's in is so desirable is ridiculous."

Well, okay, there are a number of ways to think about that.  First, her comment about this theme in science fiction is certainly true.  From The War Of The Worlds to The Man Who Fell To Earth, the alien desire to invade Earth for conquest, destruction, or, particularly, natural resources is a prevalent one, so much so that, at least in the back of our minds, we as a species carry a fear that someone or something out there may want what we have, or want us.

At the same time, our speculative writers offer the exact opposite idea: that our planet will become so crowded or polluted or just plain used up that we need to find other places to continue our existence.  In works as diverse as Wall-e and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, not only is mankind on the move, but also, it is only the unfortunate, leftovers from the technological Rapture who are still stuck here.

So which is it?  Is our world a prize or fool's gold?  And why does a bright young adult lean towards the latter--our planet as a place of future desolation?  When did the "unthinkable" become not an alien invasion, but instead the idea that any advanced species would waste their time on such a spent sphere?

I suspect that our children, who are likely seen as the most consuming, immediate gratification-demanding generation to come along, understand full well that their world of new toys and pretty things cannot last much longer.  Certainly global issues like population, poverty, disease, pollution, genocide, warming, extremism, and scarcity of resources are too ubiquitous to feign ignorance.  

Their reaction to those circumstances (fault them, if you must), seems to be to enjoy what they have while they can.  I hear our leaders sometimes telling them that it will be their responsibility to try to fix the things that we screwed up.  Has it been human nature to this point for them to say, oh, okay, we'll forego the pleasures you had so that we can serve the greater good?  Not in a capitalistic society anyway.

The key to Ender's Game is that the desperate adult world, to get compliance, taps into what children enjoy most--group play toward a goal with a chance to win prizes and admiration.  When it comes to this tired planet, our young people, on the other hand, may not initially see a game that they can win, or even worse, may believe that the game is already over.

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