Amoeba’s Lorica: Indistinguishable From Magic

… all the things Science had promised us in filmstrips and black and white movies seen in grade school and junior high hadn’t come to pass. Disease was still a problem. Starvation was still a problem. Violence and crime and war were still problems. In spite of the advance of technology, things just hadn’t changed the way everyone had hoped and thought they would.

Science, the largest religion of the twentieth century, had become somewhat tarnished by images of exploding space shuttles, crack babies, and a generation of overweight, complacent Americans who had allowed the television to raise their children. People were looking for something—I think they just didn’t know what. And even though they were once again starting to open their eyes to the world of magic and the arcane that had been with them all the while …

             – Butcher J. 2000. Storm Front, ch. 1.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba is a Muggle. His Quilly is magic.

No, that doesn’t mean that, if you wander over to YFNA and Quilly’s place on the western slopes of Hawai‘i Island, you’ll find casting circles on the sewing room floor, pentangles on the lanai windows, or jars of eye of newt in the kitchen cupboards. Thank goodness – YFNA worries enough about hanging on to what’s left of his science card without having to deal with that stuff.

What you are likely to find is electronic and even paper evidence of a devotion to wizardry and urban fantasy.

The diving into bookstores after Harry Potter was an early clue. Another was the complete works of urban fantasy writer Ilona Andrews on the dresser. Quilly did a lot of copy editing for the first two books of the Kate Daniels series, before the Gordons (Ilona and Andrew, hence “Ilona Andrews”) hit the big time and could afford pros, and got her name in the credits as a result. Quilly had the technical mastery, but they could tell stories …

The current craze is over urban fantasy writer Jim Butcher and his (ahem) hero, Harry Dresden, “the world’s first consulting wizard”. Butcher, who wrote the first of the Dresden Files series, Storm Front (quoted up top there), to show his creative writing teacher just how godawfully bad formulaic hack writing could be, and has been hacking his way to fame and fortune ever since. Whose wizarding creation is a back-alley mating of Sam Spade and Obi-Wan Kenobe, who has (of course) a supernatural knack for getting into more grief than you can shake a blasting staff at. Especially if you don’t have, ah, a lot of subtlety wielding the blasting. YFNA occasionally has wondered whether the debt Butcher owes to prior art in conjuring up Harry Dresden is less to Sam Spade and more to Sledge Hammer.

YFNA read Storm Front. And yes, Butcher tells a story better than his wizard handles the niceties of his magic.

“One down in the series, Amoeba. Fourteen more to go.”

Yeah, well, um, thanks but no thanks.

For one thing, YFNA can’t think of the name Dresden without thinking of another Dresden that, ah, didn’t get to do any blasting, magical or otherwise. Rather, the reverse. Perhaps Butcher’s next series will feature the miss adventures in the Chicago Mortuary of the forensic witch Nancy Nagasaki …

For another – that crack about science. “The largest religion of the twentieth century.” And how it collapsed in the Dresden universe … because it failed to fix things, on time and under budget. And, therefore, because it failed to fix things, science must be bogus and magic must exist.

“Oh fer crissakes, Amoeba, lighten up! It’s fiction!

Yeah? YFNA might go for that dodge if it weren’t for the world in which we’re currently living.

A world in which half of the US population believes in a supernatural created rather than a natural evolving world. A world in which each and every authentic debate about how evolution works is reworked into a damning case against evolution itself – and since evolution is false then God must be true. A case – a story – written and woven by master storytellers, against whose tales facts bounce off like BBs against a tank, or an ark, and have for decades.

A world in which half of the US population believes that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by scientists – who have, in YFNA’s opinion, fatally hurt themselves by failing to act in their own lives as their data should have compelled them – in which master storytellers have convinced people (again with the unwitting collaboration of the scientists themselves) that the hoax was a scientist power play, and since that’s false, the stories of the sellers of Big Energy must be true.

A world in which, just three years ago, a democratically elected government engaged in massive destruction of scientific documents which it considered inappropriate to its story – and another democratically elected government is poised to make the actions of three years ago look like pattycake.

Over and over, more and more, scientists are being told that, for their work to be “influential” (note that the word is “influential”, not “novel” or “advanced” or even “correct”), it must make a good story. Complete with cleavage and other spectacular scenery. Consultants are doubtlessly hard at work trying to convince scientists, who are famous for being the only persons with something to say and the only ones who don’t know how to say it, that they can somehow catch up with master storytellers with a large lead in experience and a complete absence of concern about whether their stories actually fit the facts. And, doubtlessly, those consultants are funneling already hard to earn research dollars into their own pockets rather than those of the scientists.

How long will it be, if the time is not already here, before the ‘scientists’ are fitting their stories to make the sale, rather than their reports to the data?

How long will it be, if the time is not already here, before the scientists are peddling magic? Because magic is what the customer demands. And the customer is always right. Even when the customer is wrong.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

In his Foundation series of novels, Isaac Asimov explored this idea in the forms of the Tech Men of the Galactic Empire, to whom technology, which they no longer understood, became magic to themselves, and the scientist/priests of the Foundation, who presented their science (which they did understand) as magic to others.

The Foundation stagnated, because the nations surrounding them saw the ‘religion of science’, correctly, as a stratagem of conquest (cf. European missionaries of ‘God’ to first peoples around the world), and the Foundation did not resume expansion until it found a path that did not disguise its science.

The Galactic Empire collapsed in ignorance.

If our civilization is to suffer the Galactic Empire’s fate, it will do so without the aid of YFNA’s time or coin.

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2 Responses to Amoeba’s Lorica: Indistinguishable From Magic

  1. Nathalie Hoke says:

    Most excellent.

    When I was a child everyone looked up to scientists. We trusted them. I still trust them. What happened?

    • Amoeba says:

      Thanks, Nathalie. Tell a friend …?

      What happened? I think, scientists lost control of their stories.

      Consider Robert Oppenheimer. He got the Bomb invented, won the war, and became (so the story went) a hero. Then he tried to take the Bomb away from us, dang near lost the next war (or so the story went), and became a goat.

      Scientists are fine when they tell us we can do something – new cars, rockets to the Moon, iPads – but lose it when they tell us we can’t do something – burn gasoline in the cars, keep rockets to the Moon from blowing up, keep a functioning iPad for longer than a week without an ‘upgrade’.

      The environmental movement, championed by scientists, cost Maine its pulp and paper mill industry. In the 1970s. The state’s economy has still not recovered, especially for its working class, for whom the service industries that replaced the high-paying mill jobs pay too little to keep up with the rent but pay too much to get assistance. And when the workers complain, the scientists sneer and call them names, “what kind of an enemy of the planet are you, buddy?” The governor of the state is now Paul LePage – Trump Junior. The former mill workers might not make any more money, but at least they get to tell the scientists exactly what they think of them.

      I used to be married to this attitude. Crede expertum.

      The trouble, of course, is that, now that scientists have lost the ‘bully pulpit’, they can’t really get it back unless either they sell out (making their stories fit the customer rather than the facts, in which case they cease to become scientists and become, through inexperience, second-rate storytellers), or become associated with a big (on the scale of ‘war winning’) win. For the latter, you need a war … on like a WWII scale. Which we may not survive …

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