Left Curve no. 23
1999. Last year of the twentieth century. The TV series "Space: 1999" comes to mind. It was a science fiction serial that aired in 1970's. As I recall it, earth's moon with it's colony, "Moon Base Alpha," had been set adrift into interstellar space through some catastrophe and the episodes revolved around the colonist's always futile attempt to navigate the moon "back to earth." They had spaceships and some kind of technology with which they could steer the moon. From the perspective of today, the actual 1999, it's amusing to think that only a few decades ago the series' writers imagined that space technology would evolve to an extent as to make such fanciful imaginings seem probable to their audience. I guess the explanation is that it was the time of the Apollo moon landings and the media-feed euphoria about the "giant step for mankind" and who could know what would be possible in a couple of decades. On the other hand, if we forget about the very difficult engineering and bioengineering technological required for space colonization and just how far we are from any practical realization of the series' presumptions, there is an aspect of "Space: 1999", albeit a psychological one, that we could say has come true. And that is, in some very fundamental sense, we have been set adrift from the "earth" and a very unsettling, subterranean yearning festers beneath the surface: cast off colonists (or in more acceptable contemporary terms: nomads, migrants, homeless) unable to take root in an alternatingly seductive and inhospitable, strange unfamiliar world searching for a way "back home." It's today's version of the ago-old quest for reconciliation, unity, harmony, being-in-the-world after our "expulsion from paradise": the knowledge of our finiteness - death's inevitablility- in the context of unimaginable infinities, whether of our own accidental making and/or that of some mysterious superior external force. Human history's answer has been the relentless march of the Ratio, the rational mind, mind over matter, technê, technology. And now the chasm between our inner worlds and external economic and technological development is wider than ever. The code of life (DNA) has been deciphered, artificial organisms created. Probes sent throughout the solar system and beyond. Computerization and telecommunications has revolutionized work, leisure, interpersonal relations, and on and on. There are those who even presume that we are on the cusp a major "evolutionary leap" into some supra-electronic neural consciousness, a "post-human" identity. Yet, at the same time, the leader of the most powerful country in the world is put on trial for lying about his inappropriate use of a cigar and what a good friend of mine has called "the most expensive blow-job in the history of the world." And in the midst of all the digitalized spectacle, malnourishment, plague, poverty exists side by side with the worst forms of lavish waste and extravagance. By way of illustration, let me cite some statistics from a table, "World Priorities," that accompanied an article, "Gap between rich and poor nations widens," originally published in The Guardian (UK) and printed in the S.F. Examiner on Sept. 9, 1998:
World Priorities (Annual expenditures in U.S. dollars):
What it would take to provide:
· Basic education for all: $6 billion
· Water and sanitation for all: $9 billion
· Reproductive health services for all women: $12 billion
· Basic health and nutrition: $13 billion
What money is spent on instead:
· Cosmetics in U. S.: $8 billion
· Ice cream in Europe: $11 billion
· Pet foods in Europe: $17 billion
· Business entertainment in Japan: $35 billion
· Cigarettes in Europe: $50 billion
· Alcoholic drinks in Europe: $105 billion
· Narcotic drugs in world: $400 billion
· Military spending in world: $780 billion.
1999, last year of the twentieth century, a time for reflection, summation: "What has happened, where are we, where are we going?" A new millennium. Visions of apocalypse this time around take form not only in traditional ways (15% of the U. S. population believe the world will end in the new millennium, 72% believe the prediction of the Book of Revelation that "the world, as we know it, will be drastically changed by an act of God.") ["15% in poll believe world will end soon after millennium," S.F. Examiner. Dec. 10, 1998], but also in more real down to earth forms ( the Y2K computer bug, global warming, species extinction, etc.).
All this is mentioned here as a way of expressing the awareness that informs the selection of the material in this journal. The aim is to nurture a critical historical consciousness that refuses to surrender to the commodity specticle and recognizes the necessity to struggle for a better world. We welcome comment, critique and contributions.
- the editor
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