Dancing on Monday was rather man heavy but good fun, although I’m still not sure about the tango from the second lesson. CDC Needs Women! Better yet, ones who won’t sacrifice me to the Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Middle Class (Heterosexual) Dating Club which is Her Body on Earth. But that’s just a weird personal preference of mine. I digress.

More Babylon 5 season 2 on Tuesday. They seem to be getting into their stride a bit now: the bit about Londo’s wives was actually funny, and the foreshadowing is coming along nicely. Bode bode bode…

terriem accompanied me to dinner last night. Thanks to Terrie’s educational skills, I now know the proper definitions of “passive-aggressive” and “perineum”, both of which will stand me in good stead in later life. The conversation turned to religion, and why religions generally regard sex as so significant, how religion is used to oppress women, and so on.

<lj-cut text=”Pens and feathers and all other instruments”> I reckoned that sex is seen as so significant because of the (at the time) almost unbreakable link between it and children. Today I got to thinking about societies where sex is viewed as much less significant, and whether I’d want to live in them. Because of disease and pregnancy, it’s usually science fiction where you’ll find them. (It’s possible some existed in isolation in the past before Europeans turned up with their guns, germs and steel, I suppose). I was thinking specifically of the Culture, the civilisation envisaged by Iain Banks. The Culture’s humans are genetically modified: they don’t get pregnant unless they want to, they can change sex, and they enjoy sex more (there was a great interview with Banks where he said that SF was too geeky and so hadn’t come up with some of the obvious things you could do with GM on humans). Sex isn’t meaningless in the Culture, but it doesn’t usually have the weight attached to it which remains, even today, in our culture.

There are hints in the later books that some parts of the Culture itself think that things are getting too easy for the Culture’s inhabitants (who are the mysterious entities who helped in the attempt to blow up the Orbital in Look to Windward?), but I’d like to disagree with Agent Smith and say that we don’t need suffering to give our lives meaning. If a lot of that significance is because of pregnancy and attendant considerations of disease, hunger, power and inheritance, then if it fades away as we progress away from those considerations, that’s all to the good.

That said, there’s some residual unease in me about such an idea. Remnants of evangelicalism, possibly. I’ll be interested to see where Banks takes the Culture in future books, anyway.

3 thoughts on “”

  1. I remember having a protracted argument with my father once about a similar idea (vis suffering = significance), and our test case was Bangladesh, where thousands of people die every year in monsoon floods and lose their homes and possessions and crops and suffer water-borne diseases (travellers to the subcontinent, beware the onsoon rains – they cause sewage to flow into the main water supply, and then you really don’t want ot drink that.) My dad’s point of view was that this lifestyle was “more life-affirming”. I argued that could only be the case if you happened to stay alive. I guess my dad was angling for a woolly liberal “we are in no way superior just because our houses stay up all year round and we don’t get typhoid” take on things, amd I agree. In fact, the severity of the monsoon rains in Bangladesh is largely not natural, it’s because of heinous land reclamation projects and terracing higher up the valleys made by people who want to sell cash crops to big western nations who don’t care about whether the crop growers get anything to eat while they grow sugar, rubber and tobacco (formerly indigo, now synthetically produced) and whether this causes soil erosion and flood damage on the plins below, which it does. So I therefore think the “life-affirming” angle is a bit of a cop-out from western responsibilities. Sorry, that’s probably very neo-colonial of me….;-)

    Paul, you’ve confused me totally with the Invisible Pink Unicorn thing. I recognise the reference, and understand the idea, but what is she doing in your post?

    1. I argued that could only be the case if you happened to stay alive.

      Well, yes. I’m quite resistant to the idea that being closer to humanity’s earlier forms of society is somehow better.

      Thinking about it some more. Even in a society which has banished disease and natural death (or rather, has made that only optional, in the Culture’s case), unless you retreat into some sort of solipsistic virtual world (which again, is an option), there’ll always be some tension between how you’d like the world to be and how it is, because you’re in a place where there are other people with different ideas and where the physical laws don’t arrange themselves for your convenience. Whether that’s enough to stave off ennui, I don’t know. The Culture’s people are portrayed as going on long holidays, having complicated social lives, love affairs, playing board games 🙂 and mucking about with less advanced civilisations to make them better places.

      you’ve confused me totally with the Invisible Pink Unicorn thing. I recognise the reference, and understand the idea, but what is she doing in your post?

      It was a reference to the large number of Christian ladies at dancing, which I think you’d remarked on previously. I was making the Christian God = IPU equivalence, in a ranty kind of way. I don’t actually think there should be fewer of them, since they’re usually quite nice.

      1. Well, yes. I’m quite resistant to the idea that being closer to humanity’s earlier forms of society is somehow better.

        You and I, we belong in the mid-19th century along with our felow humanists and utilitarians and general world-better-place builders….

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