Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: basic human rights

Universal human rights

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Yesterday was Human Rights Day, when this post was originally supposed to go live (many apologies!). But human rights are important every day. My theme for the December Quotes is homelessness. I think this excerpt from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rightsratified 70 years ago in 1948, is fittingly consistent with that theme.

IMAGE: I created today’s image. The background photo is one I took last September in Dallas, TX; the words, as credited, are from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25(1). Please feel free to use the quote image if you wish, but kindly include an attribution to me (Jan S. Gephardt) as the creator and a link back to this post. Thanks!

Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 4. You say you want a revolution?

My mid-week posts this month have been a series of meditations upon what I think are outmoded science fictional tropes, be they ever so time-hallowed. There are just some times and settings in which I can’t suspend my disbelief of these extrapolations.

The series was inspired by my thoughts while reading Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey. Let’s get this straight, right off the top: I have some issues with it, but it’s still a wonderful space opera, well crafted and thoroughly worth reading.

So worthwhile, in fact, that the SyFy Channel has turned it and the other books of the highly successful Expanse series into a TV show, also called The Expanse, which is in its third season as I write this. In particular, my comments center upon Ceres Station, its population, and its governance, as portrayed in the book.

I compiled a short list of outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres:

  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty.
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate.
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don’t need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.

Last week I examined the reasons why I think a highly educated and intelligent work force of relatively few people, supervising lots of robots, were a far more realistic and likely extrapolation than a dense population of “expendable” humanity.

I also said I thought that Silicon Valley and the current aerospace industry–not the coal mines and textile mills of yesteryear–were the likelier model for ideas about what you’d find among workers in space.

Granted, the tunnels of Ceres do bear something of a resemblance to the visual effect of this Industrial-Revolution-era coal mine. And the leadership’s disdain for the denizens of this world seems about on par with this era. But I think it’s a misleading extrapolation.

Today I want to take on the questions of human rights and quality of life issues–and explain why I think the government of Ceres, as portrayed in Leviathan Wakes, wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as it apparently did, even with Star Helix Security activating in its most fascist mode.

It was never clear to me exactly what sort of governing system Earth supposedly had set up on Ceres (don’t look to the wiki for help, either), but it clearly wasn’t a representative democracy. Why not? Apparently, we readers weren’t supposed to ask or care, and the residents certianly weren’t supposed to weigh in on the matter.

Which means it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why there might be unrest. Seriously, people! Nobody needed a gang problem (although the form of government certainly might foster one) to foment unrest on Ceres. Heck sake, the quality of the food alone probably set off riots! (remember: fungi and fermentation only. Yeep).

The food alone ought to set off riots on Ceres. Given the abysmal governance, no wonder the locals got restless!

But given the realities I foresee for the “immediate to intermediate future” of space, whether the governing body is a corporate overlord or a government, the days of the “company store,” debt bondage, and indentured servitude would either be a non-starter or at the very least won’t last very long in a realistic future setting.

Rational human beings will recognize those ideas for the royal shafting they are (as they always have, truth be told), and they will sooner or later find a way to overturn it.

I’m extrapolating that only the bright and well-educated will make it into space–the career-driven, who wouldn’t know what do do with a baby. But they certainly will know what to do with anyone who tries to mess with their freedom of speech or assembly. How long did the Gilded Age last? Two decades? And they didn’t have the Internet. I’m betting on much, much sooner than later.

But if Silicon Valley is a more likely model than a coal mining company town, we’re still not out of the woods–and in that way, the Ceres of Leviathan Wakes is all too realistic: the misogyny in this world is at times breathtaking. I’m writing this on the other side of #MeToo, but this is one battle that is very far from being won, yet.

I haven’t read the whole series, so I don’t know if the misogyny changes later on–but changing science fiction culture itself to stifle misogyny is not for the faint of heart. If you remember Gamergate, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t click on that link!

All I’m saying is, The Expanse series is supposed to begin a couple centuries on from now. Sisters, if we haven’t raised consciousness and kicked some butt by then, God help us!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover image; to Fact File for the coal mining photo;  to Vox, for the photo of a riot on Ceres from The Expanse; and to Shout Lo, for the “Equality Loading” imageI deeply appreciate all of you!

What do we value?

My theme this month is “working toward a better future.” That probably is a pretty common and predictable topic at the turn of the year, when it seems as if we have a new chance to “get things right.” 

NOTE: every day actually is a new chance. Every hour. But many of us do tend to think about it more around New Year’s.

How “right” we can get things depends in part on the cards in our hand, however. Last year at this point, for instance, certain decisions already had been made. Votes had been cast, and irrevocable changes set in motion. We dodged a few bullets in 2017, but some dies already had been cast by this time last year. In this context, I’ve been thinking about a pair of “takes”  on current events, by two commentators whom I respect.

4-27-08 Al DIAZ / MIAMI HERALD STAFF — Leonard Pitts Jr. Miami Herald Staff.

The first is a recent column by the ever-perceptive Leonard Pitts, Jr., a columnist based at the Miami Herald. He wrote that “our sense of what is allowable and acceptable on the public stage, have been eroding for years, but 2017 saw the process accelerate like Usain Bolt. It was the year things that are not supposed to happen happened all day, every day.”

He goes on to lay out the argument that we’ve come to a place in the public discourse where “anger, coarseness, political destabilization, and a trickle-down nastiness [is] visible both in anecdotes and in hate-crime statistics.”

But he doesn’t leave it there. He’s one of my favorite columnists because he always takes it to the next step. He ended his column, not with a groan of despair but with a call to action: “civil society is not something you take for granted. It’s a choice you make, a thing you have to fight for. Which will be a fitting mission for 2018 and beyond.”

Resisting the tide of discord and “trickle-down nastiness” is an honorable goal, and it is our daily choice. I’d like to echo Pitts’s challenge as well as respond to it in my own life. We also were treated in the last few days to another ringing call fo a better future, when Oprah Winfrey was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes. In case you haven’t heard her speech, or even if you have, but want to hear it again, I’ve embedded a YouTube video of it here.

Even if some things look bleak as we move into 2018 and beyond, let us “maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights.” Let us all affirm together we “know that a new day is on the horizon,” because we are working to make it so.

Let us never lose hope, and never allow our weariness to keep us from continuing to fight for “the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again,” and we live in a civil society where  the dignity and value of all persons are respected, basic human rights are demanded for all, and where we cherish the well-being of this fragile globe that we call home. It’s only too late if we give up on the values we hold most dear.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Jeremy Graham, Sr. on Ingrum, for the “Working towards a better future” image, and to Al Diaz and the Miami Herald for Leonard Pitts’s photo, via his profile on Speakerpedia. Many thanks to CNN for the transcript of Oprah Winfrey’s speech, and to NBC via YouTube for the video of Oprah’s acceptance speech.

For Food Security

Day Five: For Food Security

I feel more conflicted about this one than I have about my previous gratitude topics. Not that food security is not a marvelous blessing–it truly is, in every sense of the word. 

But I’m aware that all around me–in my community, across my nation, and around the world, there are many, many people who do not share this blessing.

To express public gratitude for it, in the knowledge of such widespread lack, almost feels like gloating. That’s not my intention at all. If I could, I’d extend this blessing to everyone in the world, so that no one anywhere has to go to bed hungry, or wonder where their next meal will come from.

Here in the USA, today is Thanksgiving. Everyone in the country is presumed to be eating their fill, then waddling into the next room to zone out in a “food coma” while watching American football games. However, despite the best efforts of community charities, not everyone will be able to do that. Statesman Jacques Diouf put it well:

Everyone alive should be acknowledged to have a basic human right to adequate, nutritious food. That this is ignored, pushed aside as inconvenient, left to the vaguaries of climate change, governmental style or unregulated capitalism, or even actively subverted so hunger can be used as a weapon is inexcusable. Yes, people have been doing it for millennia; it’s a crime against humanity every single time, in my opinion.

How can persons of conscience work to fight food insecurity? Acknowledging that we who can eat well are blessed, we can make charitable donations on both the local (link to find US agencies) and international (this link: UN) level to help fill immediate shortfalls.

But we also must advocate for longer-range goals: 

Creating systemic improvement is a large, difficult goal, fraught with practical difficulties, cultural pitfalls, and unintended results. It also is desperately necessary, as long as people anywhere are hungry.

Creating changes in public opinion is a way to begin. Funding empirical studies by unbiased researchers is a reasonable step forward. Involving all involved parties in design of solutions is a reasonable, respectful necessity that is likeliest to result in the best solutions. Many initiatives have already begun. We all must work together to bring the best ones to fruition.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “Food security definition” quote by Pattie Baker is from Quozio, via Pinterest; her book Food for My Daughters is available from Amazon Smile and other fine booksellers. The Jacques Diouf quote is identified as sourced from Live58, though I couldn’t find it on their site; I did find it on the website for GRIID (the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy). The quote from Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam America is courtesy of The Huffington Post, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

How sick are we?

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

I find it difficult to understand how people can disagree with this, but there’s a whole bunch out there who apparently do. And who also manage to sleep just fine at night. There’s got to be a better way.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Charlie Gaines’ “Union Stuff” Board on Pinterest for this image. Also to the late Cesar Chavez.

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