Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Classroom Upgrade

I think the classroom needs an upgrade


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Children of God Reflective

Apologies for the late post, my capstone temporarily ate all of my time.

Going along with Liz's and Phil's posts, I agree that the revolution would not have happened without outside influence, but I think it was Sophia's assimilation into Runa society which kept the revolt going. In class, I mentioned the connection I saw between Sophia and liberation theologists in Latin America, and on reflection, I think that it is a relatively apt comparison. One of the most basic reasons that liberation theology took such a strong hold in places like El Salvador was because it introduced leftist ideas as a part of the pre-established Catholic culture. This is not to say that leftist ideals about class equality and labor equity would not have caught on eventually, but by couching it in theological terms it became much easier to make liberation ideas a part of every day existence. Likewise, I believe that Sophia's shout of "we are many they are one" might have eventually sunk in for a few Runa and maybe someday there would have been a revolution. However, the fact that Sophia became stranded with the Runa, and learned their cultural ways, meant that she was able to adapt her idea of justice to fit within their cultural framework. I believe it was because Sophia became an accepted member of the Runa culture that she was able to become an effective proselytizer for justice. I think this goes along with what we discussed in relation to the Spanish in Mesoamerica. It was not the priests and conquistadors who viewed the indigenous populations as essentially Spanish in nature who were successful at converting and conquering, but rather the one who took the time to understand the culture which they were trying to interact with. Granted, Sophia's efforts were ostensibly more moral, but the principle behind them, I believe, was the same.

Look to Windward Substantive

Before reading the book I was really interested with the cover, so when Kabe, Tersono, and Quilan were introduced I tried to find them on the cover. Turns out that I could only find the Hub's avatar. While reading, I couldn't shake this feeling that this book was different from the others we've read. Like Lindsay said, Banks did just drop us in the middle of this book--actually he left us hundreds of years after the Iridian War. But it's not a new feeling or entirely exclusive to science fiction. Throughout the book, the story is told through the points of view of non-humans. It's not as though Banks left out humans-- there are 50 million humans on Masaq'. But here we're looking through the eyes of a Chelgrian or Homomdan at the humans and Culture. I thought it was interesting how the contact in this instance is a non-human reaching out to humans, which we almost get at the end of Children of God. That being said, I really liked Banks' novel as an ending to this course. It was a pleasure reading these books (mostly the science fiction) and having class with everyone.

Children of God Reflection

Sorry this is last minute. I didn't have any complaints about the writing or parallel ways of Russell's book, but I guess I'm in the minority on that one. Going off what others have posted, I think that the Sofia brought the revolution to Rakhat. I don't believe that it would have happened without her. She was the one so insistent on bringing "justice" to Rakhat. If she had actually died during the uprising, like we all thought in The Sparrow, a revolution still would have occurred, thanks to the Runa mimicry, but it would not have reached the same level. But could any of the other members of the Stella Maris caused a revolution like this, or would Sofia, given her background, have been the only one to start the uprising? Had she lived, would Anne have done the same thing? I'm not sure, but I think Anne would have acted differently than Sofia. In Sparrow, Sandoz relates Sofia's action to a Hebrew phrase meaning woman of valor, somehow linking it back to religion. I'd like to think Anne would act differently causing a whole new chain of events, maybe preventing Sandoz from suffering. I can't help feeling sorry for him.

I relate Sofia living among the Runa with vegetarianism, kind of. She began to empathize with them, without understanding the social structure among Runa and Jana'ata. We sort of discussed what separates pets from breakfast. PTJ posed the question "does talking mean they are no longer prey?" My answer would be yes but only if the talking prey tells me to stop eating them. In the case of the Runa, some would still offer themselves up to the Jana'ata.

Windward Substinative

Natural vs. Unnatural

Unlike Tim I was not a huge fan of look to windward. I can't place my finger on anything specific--I just felt like the weapons pornesque descriptions of people things places (people that are places and things occasionally) could go on forever--and I tend to forget those parts of books pretty quickly anyway.

Back to my post. I hinted at this idea in my last post (below), but there is a certain unnatural assumption made about humanity--we, for some reason or another, view our selves as supernatural, able to manipulate and destroy that as it should be. This is a trait we seem to uniquely identify with ourselves and tend to remove from the other (even, often, when the other is human). Look to Windward had, to me, the most reasonable others because his others seemed capable of this same act of a supernatural nature. Yes, they are also unique in both their culture and physiological makeup (I will admit a giant living aware plant dirigible is pretty unique other), but unlike so many other examples of alien species we have explored the species of the Culture's universe are uniquely unnatural--they manipulate the world around them, ostracize members of their society, and have a knack for being destructive towards one another.

Again, I will grant that it was still the humans role to interfere in everything (as we love to do when serving as a hegemonic power), and the culture seemed (in a very human way) to suggest that they were solely responsible for the problems caused by this interference (you can read my previous post to see where I lay the blame for civil wars and revolutions supposedly caused by outside forces). This self as the only truly aware peoples is something we do even with other humans though, so I would not read much into it (Columbus describing the aboriginal americans along with the plants and birds--although after reading this novel you never know maybe the plants had names).

No, Bank's others are so oddly believable because they are so...well human...in that we use human to describe that odd woman folly we love to praise. They are human--disconnected with their environment, manipulative of the afterlife, destructive towards each other in a way the aliens of Alien, The Sparrow, Enders Game, and Just about anything else we covered this semester were not.

Reflection on God's Children

I seem to have a knack for doing these things at the last possible moment. This time I have a pretty good excuse though; I just had no clue what to blog about--reading Windward however, I came to reconsider a point that was brought up in class and reiterated by Kristen. This is the idea of outside influence as the cause of social turmoil/civil war/revolution/etc. In class I went along with the suggestion that ultimately without Sophia the Runa would have not revolted. While, as I will explore below, this may have been the case on Rakaht I am not sure this is the rule. The outside influence and or superior leader concept is one that is cited rather frequently to explain large shifts in civilizations and societies. I am becoming less convince (especially after thinking about this while reading banks) that these outside influences can ever be considered the cause of societal shakeups (I explain my reasoning with regard to the Runa in a moment), instead, I would argue that while the sudden presence of the other may serve as a catalyst to a specific reaction the actual cause of this reaction was already present in the society. I am not sure that the mere introduction of someone with a different perspective is enough to completely transform a society.

Admiral Perry/ the forced introduction of the west is largely credited with the shakeup of the traditional feudal system in Japan. Suddenly the Japanese realized just how "backwards" they were and felt the need to completely reinvent themselves. If we look more closely, however, the makings of an unstable society were already there--misapportioned wealth, a largely superfluous military class, and an emergent and increasingly powerful merchant class are all things that are also associated with the French Revolution and the slow demise of feudalism in Great Britain. Neither of these societies saw the sudden introduction of an outside force, yet both transformed (one rather quickly and violently) there is nothing to indicate that without Perry presence the Japanese would not have been set on a similar course.

A more extreme example is that of the overthrow of the Aztecs by Cortez. I will go so far as to suggest it was not Cortez's doing, but the internal characteristics of an unstable empire. The Romans, without the assistance of a funny looking god-like ruthless Spaniard managed to fall apart because of some of the same issues that were beginning to plague the Aztecs--Overreaching in conquest, a large number of seditious conquered peoples, and a system of ruler selection which was not designed to pick the best individual for the job (sound like any empires you can think of now). I again argue that if Cortez/Columbus/stupid spanish had not appeared the Aztec Empire may have fallen apart (either quickly or slowly) of it's own volition.

I realized that over the course of simply writing this post I have once again switched positions on my view of the Runa revolt I once again do not believe that it would have been possible without the Jesuit presence, but I believe this is because the situation was designed to mimic the ideal--the outside influence concept was taken to the extreme in this circumstance. The civilization created by Russel was so perfect for the scenario that it could have played out no other way. The VaRakaht civilization was so perfectly constructed as a ecologically feudal society that there seems to be no way of destroying it internally. It reminds me of the mistake so often made in assuming that the actions of Humans are "not natural" we assume we are somehow capable of destroying the balance of the planet because of our Moral ability to folly or something of the sort. In the same way she seems to suggest the runa and Janata are inhuman---truly other--in that they do not share this quality. Only humans were able to step in an disrupt this balance previously the society was perfect (exactly opposite of what things should really be or even how Banks portrays the Chel civil war). Not only that, but the society was also perfectly set up to be formerly balanced yet completely susceptible to outside influence. The social mimicry of the Runa makes the whole thing spread like wildfire. Yet in most earthly examples of the outside influence the civilization is already messed up enough that the slightest little disturbance from the other is enough to bring it down. THIS IS NOT THE CASE ON RAKAHT. THE SOCIETY GOES FROM PERFECTLY STABLE TO COMPLETELY INSTABLE IN JUST A FEW YEARS.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Look to Windward Substantive

I found similar things interesting as Jen. I'd like to add to the downloading memories a bit, call me obsessive, but Data from TNG downloaded all the diary entries from the colony he was in before it was destroyed. We kind of have a similar thing going on if things like Live Journal and other websites continue. Although it isn't at the point of downloading people's memories, yet. There is technology to move things with implants in your head on a computer screen, so maybe that is the next step. Although hopefully it won't be like the Borg hive mind with all the different voices. Good ol' white noise.

We have the Borg and the Culture, I wonder what's next?