Tag Archives: Mythbusters

“Science” Culture

Now that’s a lousy title, so let me kick things off by immediately clarifying what I’m talking about. This isn’t academia, or the world of contending theories and thirty-page papers on the finer points of psychopharmacolgy in relation to the mating habits of the Atlantic bluefin tuna. While this kind of world certainly does exist, it’s not what we’re talking about here. This is the culture not so much of scientists, as it is of science fans: those who are becoming increasingly invested in the idea that advancements in our knowledge is not only inherently awesome, but the solution to many, if not most or all, of the world’s problems.
“But Gordon, you striking portrait of wisdom and nobility,” you may be asking, “don’t we all fit that category?”

And to some extent, yes, we do. Even the most hardcore Luddite or primitivist will applaud the polio vaccine or HIV medication, but even so, there is a growing number of people who take things to the next level entirely. Check out this trailer:


Kind of a crazy premise- guy transfers his consciousness into a machine body. But still not too far off from the way many people believe we’ll eventually be living. “Transhumanism”, they call it, which, to grossly simplify it, is the general idea that the best (or even inevitable) course of human existence is to “evolve” beyond the confines of our biology. That with the progression of science and technology we’ll stop the effects of aging and be capable of improving upon our own minds and bodies. If you wanted to find a decent illustration of this kind of issue, try watching Battlestar Galactica (the new ones), or better still, Caprica. Now this is an extreme element of this culture, but a contributing element nonetheless. Major advances in prosthetics over the years, as well as films such as Surrogates, GamerAvatar, The Matrix, I, Robot (heck, any film or media dealing with the whole “what makes a person a person?” question) have all been instrumental in introducing transhumanist ideas. But of course, it’s more than just that.

It also has a lot to do with these guys:

These guys right here are arguably responsible for popularizing this entire culture, breaking down even dry subjects and making them compelling and (relatively) easy to grasp, even if only on the most basic level. You probably won’t go off to revolutionize the world of astrophysics after a few episodes of Cosmos, but chances are you’ll come away amazed. Would the recent Mars landing have had the same widespread popularity as it did without these guys? Would the cutting of manned space-missions have been met with the same outrage? Almost certainly not.

To some extent, the decline of religious adherence in the West may also be a factor in this culture. A growing number of individuals in the US are simply reporting themselves as being “without religion,” and the “science culture’s” emphasis on altruistic humanism (more on that in a minute) and skepticism offer a sympathetic atmosphere. The fact that many leaders (or at least, poster boys) for the culture are atheist (Mythbusters’ Savage and Hyneman, for example) or agnostic (Neil Degrasse Tyson) is also certainly a factor.

And perhaps the most fundamental element of all in this culture is the concept of “post-scarcity.” Quite simply, it’s the idea that we have progressed to a point where we no longer have scarcity of resources. E-books are typically used as an example, with adherents of the idea pointing out that with almost everything ever written in human history accessible in digital form, we could potentially give access to everything ever written to every man, woman, and child who will ever live without ever cutting down a single tree. The same logic is applied to film and music as well.

All of this combined creates and fuels a culture based ultimately on values of human welfare. In many respects, it’s the polar opposite of the “manly” culture discussed last week, emphasizing interdependence rather than independence, cooperation rather than competition, and progressive and postmodern social norms rather than traditional ones.

So what are the pros and cons of the culture?

Positives:

  • The fundamentally altruistic and humanistic elements of the culture are certainly something to be admired.
  • Money goes into scientific research, and cures and advancements come out; you can explain that.
  • Quite simply, the idea that we, as individuals and societies “aren’t done yet” creates a great atmosphere for experimentation, advancement, and general optimism about our conditions.

Negatives:

  • We could talk about playing God and paternalistic big-government and all that, but ultimately, the issue of the “science culture” is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way things actually are in the world. While it’s certainly true that there’s enough to go around, we simply aren’t a “post-scarcity” world. The vast majority of the planet is desperately poor, and their needs have to be met. The culture’s basic tenets also have the issue of seeming to assume that science is the answer to everything- that we can maintain our (general) levels of consumption and simply have our decadence off-set by the latest, greatest advance in clean energy. Now even if you assert that our problems can be solved by a use of technology to give us a surplus of everything we could ever possibly need, the same fact of the matter is that those technologies do not yet exist. The entire outlook is, quite simply, utopian, and while optimism should be applauded, it desperately needs to be tempered with realism.

And that’s it for today- be sure to check out Tuesday’s “Shame Day” post, and check in next time for our look at “internet/free information culture.”

Stars Earn Stripes (Is a Terrible, Awful, Idiotic Abomination)

When I was watching the bad acid trip that the Brits were passing off as the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, I saw an ad for an upcoming NBC reality show called Stars Earn Stripes.

For those of you too lazy to watch the YouTube video, Stars Earn Stripes is essentially a collection of B and C level celebrities (and Terry Crews) who are put through elements of basic military training and then tasked with carrying out “missions” (i.e. blow stuff up).

Naturally, the reaction of both myself and everyone I was watching with went a little something like this:

Ironically, this is one of the “missions”…

Despite the ad touting that “In the end, it’s all about understanding one thing… true bravery… It’s about honoring our veterans and our law enforcement officers…”.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a show where a bunch of people are given a couple months of watered down military training in an environment more or less free from danger and label it as comparable to the pain, sacrifices, stress, and general hardship of the actual military is about as far as you can get from honoring them. One of the guys I saw the commercial with had been in the military himself, stationed in Afghanistan, and he asserted that the idea of the show was offensive (as did everyone else in the room). Indeed, restoring some faith in humanity, the reaction of pretty much everyone to Stars Earn Stripes has been more or less this:

Marking the first time comments on a YouTube Video have been mostly intelligent and well-reasoned…

Let’s break it down here. Stars Earn Stripes is presenting:

  1. A Sanitized View of War
  2. A Glamorized View of War
  3. An Insult to Anyone who is or ever has Been Involved in War

First, let’s address the sanitizing or “white-washing”, as some critics are calling it. Stars Earn Stripes still has ten days to air, however, I think it’s safe to say that the actual decisions and consequences on the show are nothing like what they are in reality. The ad boasts that they will use “Real Explosions” and “Live Ammo”, as if this somehow adds weight or danger to the show. You what other shows have been using live ammo and real explosions for years?

Mythbusters

Deadliest Warrior (Sorry I couldn’t find a Gif for this)

…Or pretty much any show having anything to do with guns and explosions…

See, the celebrities might be in some danger- but hardly anything that you can’t find on other shows, and nothing on the level of what combat soldiers have to deal with. On top of this, I’m guessing that the celebrities aren’t going to actually kill anyone, or have to grapple with the moral and psychological ramifications of doing so. In fact, the celebrities will never have to worry about any of the basic aspects of military service that soldiers are expected to deal with- constant danger, the possibility of being disabled (if not killed or captured or tortured) for life, the possibility of killing and innocent civilian by accident, or (for the female contestants) the rampant problem of rape. Terry Crews is a tough guy, I’m sure, but I have my doubts as to how he’d react actually witnessing someone (on any side of the conflict) killed. Let’s face the facts, Stars Earn Stripes is not going to show you bodies in all their gory reality. This isn’t war- this is Hollywood.

Second, let’s talk about the glamorization we’re sure to see hear. Of course Stars Earn Stripes will present the celebrities having little breakdowns, or getting dusty or bruised, but even John McClane got pretty trashed in Die Hard.

But the military isn’t just concussion grenades and contusions- there’s plenty of… well- boredom to it. I’m not saying this to put down the armed forces, I’m just trying to offer an accurate picture here. There are toilets to be scrubbed, mess halls to be cleaned, uniformed to be creased and beds to be made. There’s paperwork and basic maintenance. Are we gonna see the Stars Earn Stripes celebrities get chewed out for not having left six inches between their blankets and their sheets? I doubt it.

Thirdly, the combination of the previously mentioned points creates a completely and wholly inaccurate picture of the conditions the men and women of the military find themselves in. Stars Earn Stripes isn’t about the military, it’s about a highly fetishized aspect of war. And make no mistake- we’re not talking about just the military here- we’re talking about war. Without the past decade or so of nonstop conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, it’s highly doubtful that Stars Earn Stripes would even exist, after all, what’s the point of doing a show about the military if you can’t jam it full of explosions? An almost assured side-effect of this lousy and poorly thought-out attempt to “honor” the troops (i.e. make money off of them and their hardships) is the glorification of war. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most dogged pacifist or hard-line advocate of “just cause”- we all know that war itself is not something that should be portrayed this way. Maybe you think war is wrong, maybe you think war is right- you never think war is pretty. As William Tecumseh Sherman, perhaps the most brutal general of the Civil War, put it “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all Hell.”

The guy who burned Atlanta to the ground just by glaring at it would know….

It cheapens war. In the off chance that you want to hear my full rant about this, here’s the link. The simple version is that this drastic level of ignorance when it comes to the bloodshed- you know, the actual war is not only an insult to the military, but to any and all victims of war, and a direct attack upon the basic decency and dignity of humanity at large.

I’d say that NBC’s heart is in the right place, only I don’t think that’s true. I think this show is a calculated plan to manipulate emotions and capitalize off of human suffering. This has nothing to do with honoring anyone- this is about lining wallets.

Again, to NBC I submit this as my closing remark: