Re: Anti-extropianism in the new Star Trek

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Tue Mar 06 2001 - 21:55:30 MST

"J. R. Molloy" wrote:
> Because the entertainment industry has for its purpose the making of money
> by entertaining people, this may have an entropic cultural effect in that
> people come to prefer cheap entertainment to [doing something useful].

This is a rather large and bothersome question, and unlike some other
large questions, has been something that many of the people I know,
especially those with kids, have had to deal with personally.

The brightest person I know, who is now in the first half of his
seventh decade, has, since long before I got to know him 25 years ago,
held the opinion that industrialized entertainment (in particular
movies, TV, and the recorded music business) is nothing less than
a legalized form of drug pushing, like the cigarette industry. It
gets people hooked on its product at an early age, robs them of the
capacity to produce their own entertainments (because its high-gloss
professionalism, like the taste of refined sugar compared to that
of a piece of fruit, cannot compete with the cruder product), siphons
money from its users all their lives, and ultimately rots their
brains. This gentleman grew up in a household in which parental
opinion was that movies are only for people who are too stupid
to read books, and he has never owned a television set. For the
past 15 years, "Internet" for him has meant "Usenet" almost
exclusively; he only switched from Lynx to a mainstream browser
last year, and he still finds the Web rather off-putting because
of what he perceives as an uncomfortable similarity to commercial

Two other friends, of my own generation (and who have themselves been
best friends with each other since childhood), each have a son and
a daughter. One of these gentlemen has an opinion of mass
entertainment similar to that of my older friend. His kids will
probably read Homer in Greek before they ever see an episode of
_Star Trek_. The other friend is a great aficionado of the media,
loves old movies and vintage TV shows, and delights in sharing these
pleasures with his kids. Those kids are well versed in _Trek_

So what would *I* do if I had kids? Major dilemma. I have a fair
amount of sympathy for my older friend's drug-addiction model of
high-tech entertainment (though I was myself hooked long before I
ever thought about such things), but I have no idea what could be
or should be done about it, apart from a personal choice of
"relinquishment" for oneself (and one's kids? I don't know!) such
as he has made. In a free-market economy, given the average
human's sweet tooth for storytelling and music, and the technology
that makes possible the high-gloss production and mass replication
of entertainment, you get Hollywood et al. In Britain, where the
government has more control of these things, at least there's the
BBC (though the BBC is often a step above what Dwight MacDonald called
"masscult" in his 1960 essay "Masscult and Midcult", see
it certainly doesn't rise above the level of "midcult"). If I
had kids, I would probably adopt a laissez-faire approach just to
keep life livable, sharing with them as many of the things I liked
as they showed a taste for, and leaving the rest to chance and
the public school system. But not without a twinge of guilt.

People on this list sometimes speculate about intelligence
amplification in terms of enhancing memory to facilitate rapidity
of learning, or quickness and reliability of recall, and so on.
However, it occurs to me that if a technology were ever developed
of directly and effectively controlling human **motivation**, it
would have an equally enormous effect. Creating a specific
"mania" in a schoolchild for the current item in the curriculum,
eclipsing all other interests for an arbitrary duration, might
have the effect of shifting the entire Gaussian IQ curve upward
by 50 points (imagine what we'd all look like if we jumped out of
bed each morning just itching to get to the gym). I guess such
a technology would be similar to the fictional "Focus" technique
which Vernor Vinge imagined in _A Deepness In The Sky_. Perhaps,
post Singularity, we'll all spend much of our time in a state of
blissfully preoccupied Focus (but not all of the time --
there will no doubt be a recognition of the need for undirected
play and "timewasting" simply as a source of spontaneous variation
and creativity).

In the meantime, there's a huge amount of unharnessed intellectual
potential and wasted productivity in the human noosphere, and
a good deal of this is due to people's motivational hooks being
left free to latch onto such timewasters as football and
_Star Trek_ :->.

Jim F.

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