"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 90
-- Michael Crichton
This is the final Book Club meeting for Michael Crichton's State of Fear and a spoiler-free post on the Author's Message, appendices and bibliography. Thanks so much to Amy, Bat, Bob, Christopher, Jess, LTG, Melanie, R, and Sheila for participating in previous meetings, and to Brandon for including Meeting 88 among one of his Notable Notes and Linkable Links! Thanks also to the commenter who admitted that he has been staying away from the blog precisely because he doesn't want to have to deal with this book: he has managed to become the most intriguing element of this whole experience. I mean, WHY???
There are so many more things about State of Fear to discuss, but if I touched on everything worthy of mention, I'd probably take half a year to get through the novel. And the abstaining commenter would never come back to my blog. =P So I hope that this final post on the matter will do.
Pages 624 to 672
Oh, if only I had found State of Fear three years ago, when I told my brothers that global warming was just a theory and not a fact . . . and they came home from school telling me that they had said so to their Science teacher, who replied that anyone who thinks it's not really happening should "look around" and see the truth.
After that, my skepticism became a running joke with them. Cue-card Boy was especially tickled when I told him that one reason I had lost enthusiasm for a certain MG/YA series that I had started with Camera Man was that someone had spoiled the ending for me: it turned out that the great mission that the young heroes were given was . . . you guessed it . . . to slow down global warming. And not even by using their superpowers, which would at least be half-assedly cool (Pun subconsciously intended), but by giving a speech to the US congress. Even
While it's nice to know that Michael Crichton could have had my back, had I decided to go head to head with Miss Science Teacher, I admit that global warming isn't a hill I want to die on. It's enough for me to learn that
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Appendix I also provides great food for thought, as Crichton lays down the parallels between the modern environmentalist movement and the eugenics movement of one century ago.
. . . in retrospect, three points stand out. First, despite the construction of Cold Springs Harbour Laboratory, despite the efforts of universities and the pleadings of lawyers, there was no scientific basis for eugenics. In fact, nobody at the time knew what a gene really was. The movement was able to proceed because it employed vague terms never rigourously defined. "Feeble-mindedness" could mean anything from poverty and illiteracy to epilepsy. Similarly, there was no clear definition of "degenerate" or "unfit."
Second, the eugenics movement was really a social programme masquerading as a scientific one. What drove it was concern about immigration and racism and undesirable people moving into one's neighbourhood or country. Once again, vague terminology helped conceal what was really going on.
Third, and most distressing, the scientific establishment in both the United States and Germany did not mount any sustained protest. Quite the contrary . . . German scientists adjusted their research interests to the new policies. And those few who did not adjust disappeared.
Does it seem like an over-the-top comparison? The idea that we should take steps to reduce the number of "feeble-minded" people in society ultimately led to the gassing of millions. Next to it, the idea that we should take steps to reduce our carbon emissions seems rather benign. But something else Crichton tackles in State of Fear is the connection between high-minded environmentalism in developed countries and crushing poverty in the "feebler" parts of the world. The former has "the effect or preserving the economic advantages of the West" and can be considered "modern imperialism toward the developing world." The whole idea is that it's better to force millions of people to live in mud huts than to allow them to engage in activities that would cause pollution. The effects are a little slower than those of gassing, but that doesn't make it less of a human sacrifice.
Yes, that human sacrifice thing again. (No, I won't let it go.) Crichton sums up the environmentalist movement in the line, "We got ours and we don't want you to get yours, because you'll cause too much pollution." I would respectfully amend that to read, "We got ours and we don't want you get yours because we need you to pay for our past sins of pollution."
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Another point of comparison is the acceptance of both eugenics and global warming in the children's media of their respective periods. A few months ago, after enjoying a reread of Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs, I thought I'd make a project of her novels the way I had done with those of Frances Hodgson Burnett, continuing with the sequel Dear Enemy. I got halfway through it when I made myself stop, not because I was feeling disgusted at the narrator's attitude toward "feeble-minded" people, but because I wanted to read a complete edition that included Webster's own illustrations. And it will take some time before my local bookstore can get me a copy. If I'm going to study the propaganda of a philosophy I disagree with, then I'd like it to be good propaganda.
Which reminds me that several critics have argued that State of Fear is bad propaganda. Indeed, there are more articles explaining how Crichton got things wrong than articles corroborating his footnotes and conclusions. (Think: the Catholic blogosphere's hysterical response to Dan Brown's DaVinci Code.)
Now, I know that I promised, in a previous post, that we'd eventually discuss "the science" . . . but I find that I'm really not up to it. Lacking both scientific training and a desire to conduct my own review of the data, I admit that I'm mostly trusting our esteemed novelist--and that if someone else were to write a readable book with good rebuttals to the points made in this one, I'd revise my thinking. But you know what? I think Crichton would have, too. For the point really isn't the data, but the moral. And it hasn't escaped my notice that the criticisms of State of Fear steer clear of its moral that "the intermixing of science and politics is a bad combination."
Even if all the unbiased data in the world supported the global warming theory, it would still be a non sequitur that certain policymakers and not others should have greater political power.
Many thanks again for reading along . . . even if you didn't! =P
1) What other social movement of our age do you think future generations will consider with equal parts embarrassment and disbelief? Conversely, which social movement do you think they will be glad we started?
2) If science doesn't (and indeed can't) decide what the policies should be, then what does?
3) Which of the books Crichton recommends in the bibliography would you be most interested in reading?