#134 Bashing the Ecology in Fiction (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

Way back in my simple youth, one of my favorite science fiction authors was Michael Crichton.  One of the things I like the most about Crichton was his ability to write straight-up science fiction while avoiding the dreaded "spaceship" tag in libraries.  Other than a couple of mediocre social statement books, Crichton has always written SF but he's never been pigeon-holed into that demeaning little corner of our local libraries, next to "detective," "romance," and "western" novels.  I think that's a fairly amazing achievement.  Other, far more technical, more consistently excellent writers, writing far more scientifically and socially valid books, have languished under that nasty space ship curse while Crichton has flourished on the general-fiction best seller lists as straight fiction. 

I still find time to read Crichton's books, within a few months of publication.  I don't enjoy them as much as I did when I was a lot younger, but he usually provides an interesting diversion.  Crichton's newest book may be a little too revealing of from whence he comes.  In State of Fear Crichton releases a moderately scientific ire upon environmentalists.  Somehow, he has decided that environmentalists, who have been mostly irrationally pacifist in their actions to date, are about to become well-heeled, large-scale eco-terrorists.  Is this more evidence that as men age they become timid conservatives?  Maybe, maybe not.

As usual, Crichton's hero is a geek; an MIT-academic who saw the light and fights against the terror of environmentalism.  Somehow, this geek has become an action hero in his spare time, something Crichton is typically short in explaining.  In his most recent books, Crichton has grown short on anything other than lecture space.  In fact, Crichton books feel considerably shorter in page length and seem larger in text size than the average detective novel.  The upside to this tendency is that his books don't take long to read.  The downside is that I often feel a little cheated about the time I am spending on the pages of a Crichton novel; in the same way that I feel cheated when I have the flu, can't read, and waste a day watching television.  The best description I can provide is that it feels like I've allowed someone to pop the top of my cranium and take a dump in the vacant hole. 

If you'd like to read some of the contradicting info to Crichton's fable and pseudo-science, check out The Earth Institute News' "Michael Crichton's State of Confusion."  Take a look at RealClimate.org, while you're in a research mode.  Science isn't Crichton's bag in this book.  He's really writing in the ever-popular liberal-dissenter-bashing genre that's always popular in conservative literature.  Which is interesting because he is a fairly scientific sort of writer and, on general principles, has been about as conservative as Ralph Nader.  In fact, he recently said "When did 'skeptic' become a dirty word in science? When did a skeptic require quotation marks around it?"  In a recent speech defending his position opposing global warming and other environmental issues, Crichton went so far as to compare environmentalism to religion, stating that religion has been notoriously useless as a problem-solving tool throughout the history of humanity.  Not a very conservative position, unless you're supporting the primary conservative position that opposes the majority of the evidence science has accumulated. 

The critical flaw in Crichton's logic is that he argues that the majority of folks are tree-huggers.  Therefore, an environmentally conservative position is the "safe" and ordinary position.  His anti-environment position is the "skeptical" and more revolutionary position.  Imagine G.W. Bush as a scientific revolutionary and you'll be able to "feel" Crichton's argument.  However, the overwhelming majority, the consensus, in the United States is far from environmentally concerned.  In a high-energy-consuming, SUV-driving, urban-territory-expanding, corporate-driven-government nation, the average citizen thinks of everything but the environment, first.  "Fear" makes the dubious claim that the national consensus is that the world environment is in danger and that governments should do anything necessary to protect us from eco-catastrophe.  How Crichton derived this conclusion in the face of reality escapes me.  Americans, especially, appear to be less interested in the world ecology and the fate of their children in a world of vanishing resources than any people in the history of the world.  We, in fact, do everything we can to hurry the end of the world's natural resources, including air and water. 

This strange fiction doesn't really seem to be Crichton's personal belief.  Once escaped from the confines of a fictional world of his own creation, he's considerably less conservative.  In a lecture at CalTech ("Aliens Cause Global Warming"), Crichton keeps pounding at religion and faith, calling SETI  ". . . unquestionably a religion," for example.  Defining the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and ecological conservation as flaws in logic, which he defines as "faith" rather than science, Crichton makes a useful point or two.  And he defines faith "as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof."  The CalTech lecture is especially interesting, because Crichton takes on a lot of his pet peeves.  He also sounds more rational than he did as the author of "State of Fear." 

In fact, most of Crichton's CalTech rant could be read as a condemnation of all sorts of religion, including various scientific specialties that approach religious conviction.  He attacks global warming (as he did in "State of Fear"), nuclear winter, SETI, over-population, and Scientific American magazine for their religion-like dedication to limited facts and lack of scientific rigor.  Maybe his real reason for writing a piece as inflammatory as "State of Fear" was to be allowed a forum to express his real irritation, which isn't with environmentalists at all, but with scientists and their false articles of faith.  Unfortunately, he's taken on a collection of his own religious fallacies as evidence against the scientific establishment. 

April 2005

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