Dystopian Future?

Note: this post was started several weeks ago, was stopped because I didn’t have access to the books I’m going to be talking about (being away from home at the time), and took a while to start back up again. So the events that inspired this post are a few weeks old, just bear that in mind.

I don’t make a secret of the fact that one of my favourite genres of novel/movie is Science Fiction – and I have a keen interest in those stories that present a Dystopian picture of the future (i.e. 1984; Brave New World; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner; V for Vendetta). So when John Carmack (One of the Founders of ID Software – one of the oldest game developers) tweeted recently that he’s been reading both of them (and comparing them – for reasons unknown), it got me seriously thinking (as my brain just decides to do around 1am while I’m trying to sleep) about both books (and the genre as a whole).

Warning: The following post may contain traces of Literary Deconstructionism, which will make my English Teachers very proud of me, and may cause me to cry myself to sleep tonight – since I have previously declared I would never use the skills taught in High School English, and am now proven wrong.

The first thing I did was respond to Mr Carmack, saying that both books are amazing (which they are, not recommended for younger readers, but good books), but I wonder whether society (Western, First-World, society in particular) has learnt the lessons that both books sought to teach – important lessons that they are.

Brave New World paints a picture of the end result of the never-ending search for happiness that many seem to be on today. It paints a world where everyone is kept supplied with a narcotic that functions as a sleeping pill, stress reliever, ‘personal “holiday” pill’, etc – all with no side effects – and no-one ages past 20, a society where people are bred to perform specific tasks in sterile laboratories, and conditioned in a way that not doing those jobs (or the set of predetermined tasks/activities they are bred for) is unthinkable. Those that are bred to be part of the upper classes (the thinkers, managers, scientists, etc) are given more freedom of choice, but are still heavily regulated by the government to prevent ‘tampering’ with the way society is set up. When a character from the outside is brought in, the criticism that he makes of the world created to supply endless happiness to everyone in the book’s climax is particularly scathing:

Mustapha Mond (Member of ruling government): We prefer to do things comfortably.”

John the Savage (not born in ‘civilised society’): “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

Brave New World is a book that is supposed to make you think ‘what are we as a society, as a people, giving up when we seek only our own comfort and happiness?’ I think the answer to that question is that, in giving up the ability to be unhappy, we give up the opportunity to find joy – a much deeper and more fulfilling emotion than happiness.

In contrast, 1984 paints a view of the world where the government has gone crazy with control. A society where at some point all the checks and balances that keep governments accountable to the people they represent are torn down. The government spies on its citizens (through mandatory listening/video devices in every place of residence), and tampers with any and all records – either to retroactively prove that they were right about an event (such as the forecasts for how well the economy will do), or to fabricate evidence against those who have become too troublesome to keep around (government members who have outlived their usefulness, or pre-revolutionaries). The only rebellion against this regime that we see the main characters (Winston and Julia) engaged in is minor – as minor rebellion is really all that they are capable of achieving – while there are only dreams of a major revolt on the part of the main character, nothing concrete ever happens, and the main antagonist of the story dismisses Winston’s fantasies outright. It paints a bleak picture (as does Brave New World, although I don’t want to spoil too much of either book), which was inspired by events in the past, and it is echoed still in one country today. While I don’t think that we will see a radical change in our society at some point in the future that brings us closer to the world of 1984, it does bring into focus a possible endpoint for our society’s obsession with security – personal, societal and national. If we already possess the ability to spy on people through their phones, etc – what is to stop people from using that same technology to prevent possible threats to their own power or way of life? Where is the line drawn now, and what prevents people from stepping over it?

In any case, this is feeling like it’s turning into paranoid raving, so I’ll just leave you all with the following quote, and some questions to think about:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture….In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.”  – Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death)

Have we as a society learnt the lessons that Aldus Huxley and George Orwell left in their writings? Are there lessons that the rest of the Utopian/ dystopian genre can teach us that we are forgetting? Are they lessons that everyone should learn? What do we stand to lose if people forget them?

Children and the Internet

I’ve written before on the dangers inherent in using Facebook – especially for Teenagers/Young Adults – but I think that there is more to say on the subject, and on the subject of Children (that is, those under 18) using the Internet as a whole.

This morning I found a link to a news article – linked here – concerning the charging of two pre-teen girls over the ‘hacking’ and malicious vandalism of a classmate’s Facebook page. The majority of the vandalism was concerned with the defamation of the victim, and the article raises many questions about Internet Security, Cyber-bullying, and several other issues.

Internet security is a major issue for many people – the sheer number of people that fall for various scams is a clear indicator of this – and it isn’t made easier by the fact that every Internet browser has an inbuilt option to save passwords for less secure (i.e. non-bank related) websites. There are three main settings for this function – always ask (normal setting), never save, and always save. It’s not hard to change this setting by accident (since it’s often an easily ticked checkbox), and once you’ve set your browser to automatically save user-names and passwords you have to open (and often really look through) the options menu to turn it off. This can often mean that when you use a friends computer (or more scarily a public one), your password is saved, and anyone who wishes to can then log into your account. This is most likely what happened with the girl in the news article, she logged in once on a friend’s computer, and the web browser saved the password.

This brings us to the issue of Cyber-bullying – which is becoming more and more prevalent as the years go by. This is one of the hardest forms of bullying to combat, as many parents are still not aware of many of the dangers inherent in using the Internet – and often aren’t aware of what their children are doing when they’re online. It’s also one of the most damaging, as there can often be no way of telling how far the words said will travel – things posted on the Internet have a strange ability to find their way to other websites – often to a surprising degree – and even when the original statement/post/etc is removed, it’ll often live on somewhere else.

I know this isn’t the most in-depth treatment of either topic, but entire blogs have been dedicated solely to both of these issues, so anything I place here will never be in depth, but I do want to restate something that I’ve said before, and will probably say many times:

Parents, be aware that the Internet can be a dangerous place for anyone – doubly so for children. Be aware of what they are up to, teach them how to use passwords well, and teach them about the dangers that the Internet holds.

Giving Offence

One of the subjects I’ve been doing for college this semester is an exegesis on the Gospel of John. This weeks passage included John 8:31-58, and I am once again surprised at exactly how offensive Jesus is – particularly in two of the discussions contained in this section. In the first (John 8:31-47), Jesus turns over the religious preconceptions of the time, proclaiming that everyone in his audience is a slave, and in need of being freed. Considering that his audience has just finished celebrating one of the festivals commemorating their freedom from Egyptian slavery and the 40 years in the desert, it doesn’t seem like Jesus is off to a good start with here. His audience replies ‘we are descendants of Abraham’ – something very important for Jews even today – and that, because of this, they ‘have never been slaves to anyone’. After some discussion, Jesus’ audience repeats their statement that ‘Abraham is our father’. Jesus’ response to this is highly offensive, stating that ‘if you were sons of Abraham, you would we doing what Abraham did’, he explains that since they were trying to kill him – someone who was telling them the truth of God – they were not doing what Abraham did, rather they are following in the footsteps of their true father – the one who’s character they emulate – Satan.

The second discussion (John 8:48-59) follows on from this one, with the Jews giving the retort ‘are we right in saying you have a demon?’ -a grave insult. Jesus responds to this by saying that he does not, and by all his actions he is giving honour to God. He proclaims that he seeks only God’s glory, and that anyone who keeps his word will never die (a common theme in John). This sparks more controversy, with his audience asking whether Jesus considers himself greater than Abraham or the Prophets, all of whom died. this leads into some discussion about the Abraham and the Prophets, which prompts his audience to ridicule him, saying the Jesus ‘is not yet fifty, how can you have seen Abraham?’ Jesus’ response, which was enough to cause his audience to want to put him to death, was simply ‘very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ The reason that this statement caused Jesus’ audience to want him dead was simple – he used the same words that God had used to describe himself in Exodus 3, and by doing this, he declared himself equal with God.

Both of these things flew in the face of everything that the religious leaders of the day taught, and offended his audience to the core. Imagine you were in Jesus’ audience. Imagine he called you a child of the greatest evil imaginable, when you were sure you were following God – and in fact, everything you’d been taught up till this point told you that you were. And then imagine if he then claimed equality with God – who you were taught was completely sovereign and all powerful – something which is incredibly blasphemous and heretical to your ears. Jesus was incredibly offensive.

I should point out something here: Jesus is not being maliciously offensive. All he is doing is speaking the truth – the truth as God has told him to speak (as Jesus affirmed).

And we turn to today, where we live in a world where many Christians are afraid to talk about their faith, or about what they know to be true, for fear of offending people. I’m not saying that we need to go out and maliciously offend the people around us, and I’m definitely not saying that offending people is the best option for every situation (some of them actually require some tact and kindness), but I am saying that we need to start speaking God’s truth, and realise that, as a great Christian comedian once said, ‘if you’re offended by the truth, good! That means it’s working!’.

The dangers of Facebook

If you’re remotely connected to technology news, or know any teenagers on Facebook, then you’ll probably know about the most recent ‘viral party’ that’s hit Facebook, which, as of this morning, achieved over 200,000 people attending.

Now, I do feel sorry for the girl who was holding the party,  especially with how out of hand it’s gotten off Facebook, but this brings to mind something that I think people need to realise.

CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS NEED TO BE TAUGHT ABOUT THE INTERNET!!!!

This has been something I get angry about that pops up from time, starting from around the time people in my year at school were insulting teachers on myspace, and then complaining when they found out that the teachers could see what they had written, and continuing to this day when I read about people who didn’t pay enough attention to privacy online. So now seems like a good time to rant about it. Here goes…..

It should go without saying that everything you put on the Internet (unless you specifically have great security measures – like the kind banks and such have) can easily be found by almost anyone. As such, common sense would dictate that you don’t put confidential information up on any website (i.e. Phone Numbers, Addresses, etc), and this is especially true of social networking sites, where nearly everyone can see what’s going on. This party is a perfect example of a public event being found on the pages of her friends (by people she probably didn’t know), and the chain being followed until everyone and their dog knows about it. It’s not even that hard to make an event private (invite only) – only ONE check box – and it doesn’t take too long to invite everyone. If you have time to plan a party, and write up an event on Facebook for it, you have time to invite everyone you want to come. And even if you do create a private event, don’t put your phone number or address on it, if you know the person, write it in a Private Message or E-mail – or better yet, tell them in person how to contact you!

This is an important issue, because not only do you get these kind of viral parties – which can cause personal and property damage up to the tens of thousands – but because not being careful about what you put on the Internet can be downright dangerous. If you publicise where you live – even if it’s just to Facebook – you are telling the world – everyone who doesn’t like you, every ‘enemy’ that you’ve ever made, and every jerk who thinks it might be fun to trash your yard.

So please, think about what you’re writing before you commit it to the Internet, and educate your children about responsible Internet use from an early age. Thanks.

Oh, and to all you jerks who created pages making jokes about this sort of thing, could you please stop? All you are being are a bunch of trolls and jerks, all of whom are ruining my hope that my generation can grow up into a mature, reasonable bunch of people – the kind whom society wouldn’t want to disown. Thanks.

The Internet

There’s been a large amount of stuff in the news and around the internet lately about Wikileaks, and I’ve found this of enough interest to me to decide to put my two cents worth in on the subject.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Wikileaks – a non-profit organisation that publishes leaked documents online – has recently begun publishing 250000 diplomatic cables from the US (the statistics for which can currently be found here). Since then, they have come under a great deal of political persecution from both the US and Australia – which has involved the shutting down of their original site (which is now maintained on several ‘mirror’ sites), and threats against their director (Julian Assange) – despite the fact that they have done nothing that can be classed as a crime in either country. This, in my opinion, it tantamount to censorship.

I’ve got some fairly strong views on censorship that have been discussed briefly in the past, which I still hold quite strongly. While I agree that many of the documents that are the current focus of this have been (and will continue to be) embarrassing to America, there has been nothing in the leaks so far that is a threat to national security (and they even gave the US an opportunity to name files that they considered a threat – which they would not have published) – in fact, the people behind Wikileaks believe that the leaking of these documents to the public could help being about peace in various areas of the world. I believe that the goal Wikileaks holds (to bring important news and information to public attention – particularly information that Governments are deliberately hiding [their slogan is ‘we open governments’]) is a valid goal, especially in this world where all other information can be sent instantly around the world – and in this world where many important (worldchanging even) events happen behind closed doors. I hold to the view that a government should be open about issues, and what they are doing about them – and provide full public disclosure of items that do not affect national security. Ironically, this was also a view held by one of the founders of the very nation that is attempting to shut Wikileaks down.

Whether or not you hold the same views about this as I do, it is still a disturbing fact that there are governments around the world that will do anything to hold onto it’s secrets (even old ones – the cables stretch back to 1966), even if it means shooting the messenger to do so. If they are so caught up in protecting their secrets, they should be investigating the people in their own departments – who are actually leaking this information – rather than the people reacting and distributing it.

Christianity Vs. the World

One of the interesting things about living on campus at college is that I live very close to Macquarie University, and since I live so close to a Uni, there are posters on every street light advertising various events that different groups are putting on (i.e. the Socialists; the Atheists; the New Agers, etc). The most recent of these is a poster from the Socialist group that meets at Macquarie, this poster is advertising an event where they will be discussing the ‘raunch-society’ of the first world nations today, the degradation of women (along with the gains of feminism), and along with it how Marxism views women. I’ve seen similar posters advertising political information sessions (asylum seeker issues, etc), war protests, and many other groups ‘solutions’ or views on different issues on people’s hearts and minds today.

Something that’s been on my mind for a while about this is ‘Where are the Christians? Why aren’t they advertising similar events expressing their views? ‘ and I have to say my conclusion is that we’re too comfortable sitting in our churches to be in the world spreading the news of the kingdom.

WAKE UP CHRISTIANITY!!!!! There are people out there searching for the answers to life’d questions, and we have them! Why are we not letting them know that?? We are forcing people to turn to these philosophies, when we are sitting in our churches keeping them from finding the Way, the Truth, and the Life! We are moaning about the fact that no-one is coming to churches when were are not giving them a reason to turn up! We need to be looking at the questions that the people around us are asking, and thinking ‘what does the Bible have to say about that?’, and once we have our answers, share them with the world! You’ll be surprised how many people will listen to you if you take the time to sit and answer their questions, and engage with them seriously.

My challenge to you is to find out what the questions the world is asking are. Go to your churches and tell them that these questions are being asked, and that Christians sitting in their churches are not going to help them find the answers. Get the people in your church outside the building, into the world, and encourage them to answer these questions. I don’t deny that this is something I need to do as well, so feel free to follow me up on this if you want.

God Bless.

Election

So Australia’s finally got a government, and I’d like to take some time to talk about what I’ve noticed from my first experiance at the polls.

This was a fairly disappointing election from the start, I didn’t think either major party was really worth my vote, and I consider voting for the minor groups and independents to be a waste of a vote (especially considering the strong seat I live in). The only issue that caused me to vote for the Liberal party was the question of the proposed internet filter that I’ve mentioned before, amoung other minor things. And I think that the people’s voice was a resounding garble of unintelligible sounds.

Also, during the whole event I’ve noticed that very few people were paying  attention to the issues at hand, or even who’s running for the seat. Between being asked ‘who should I vote for?’ by several people, watching the people around me in line studying the papers given out by the volunteers outside like they were cramming for an exam, and the various comments about not voting for such and such because they look strange. As one of the people that did pay attention to the issues (at least the ones that were important to me) I find that really offputting, and I think that a democracy doesn’t truly work unless people are educating themselves (or are being educated) about the issues. I’m sure that there are some people in the country that voted for one side because they always have voted for them, and so have their parents and grandparents right up until the formation of that party. Democracy doesn’t work like that either!

I don’t know how anyone could change the current system so that people interact with the issues, and vote according to their position on those issues, but I don’t think that the current set up works as a reflection of the voice of the people. (which can also be a reflection on people as a whole – not the system – as people can generally talk a lot of crap).

So while I don’t agree with the decision of the 4 independants who currently hold the swing vote in the lower house (3 of whom sided with Labour [nominally] with their vote), I’m looking forward to what will obviously be an interesting few years on the political level.