Sci Fi Bi

Media Sci Fi or Literary Sci Fi?

Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

For decades, there has been a clichéd question within the sci fi fan community – which is better: literary or media science fiction?

I have been to conventions (including a Worldcon) where it was commonly asserted that stories in books contain greater depth, nuance and detail than the superficial action-adventure on the movie screen – and that this made literary sci fi better.

I have also been in movie theatres watching cosmic vistas, and sorry, but a written page cannot convey the excitement or immediacy of a space battle in glorious technicolour. For sheer visual spectacle, media sci fi might claim the prize.

I have actually observed the sci fi community divide itself into two distinct camps over this question; where literary fans have distanced themselves from Star Trek, Star Wars or Doctor Who fan clubs. They have enjoyed their literary sci fi conventions with 120 participants; meanwhile down the road some 20,000 cosplayers were attending a local Comicon and mingling with Wolverine or Spiderman or Wonder Woman.

I consider myself bilingual: I love both forms of sci fi.

I grew up watching the visual poetry of 2001: A Space Odyssey and reading the books in order to further understand the plot. I read the comics of the Planet of the Apes franchise, and they helped me to understand the alternative time streams implied in the movie franchise. I watched Star Trek and Star Wars but read the books in order to get a bigger ‘fix’ of these universes.

I even attended a Harry Potter movie where the theatre contained teenage students on a school-excursion. To my astonishment, I realised that the discussion they shared in excitedly hushed whispers during the movie was all about analysing the differences between the book and the movie – right in the middle of scenes where dialogue had been changed from its original written form.

Today, of course, some of the most commercially successful movie franchises are those that have taken characters from comics or graphic novels and translated them to the big screen. Just ask DC or Marvel.

George R.R. Martin, in Game of Thrones, stated: “Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.” By extension, different rockets can launch us into space and different forms of storytelling can help us share the visions and dreams of the storytellers. It can all be wondrous.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Hey Boomer

To commemorate the anniversary of the Human Be-In (14 January 1967)

Image by David from Pixabay

Rarely a day seems to pass without some comment in a letters column or a social media thread where someone is complaining about the baby boomer generation, who are apparently all affluent, privileged, self-absorbed, and selfish.

It seems somewhat puzzling that ageist generalisations about baby boomers come from subsequent generations of adults who appear to largely abhor racism, sexism and homophobia. Why is this other form of discrimination acceptable?

As a tail-end baby boomer myself, I was born towards the end of the era and so I just made it into the generation, but many of these people – older girls and boys when I was a child but who seemed so grown up to me – ultimately became my mentors and heroes in my youth and adulthood. In response to ageist criticism of these people, I would like to say to my role models:

Hey boomer, thank you.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Thank you for once being young and idealistic and full of dreams and naive hope.

Thank you for taking the world of Robert Menzies and Joseph McCarthy, and turning it into a world of Rosa Parks and Gough Whitlam.

Thank you for the hippies who turned the nuclear arms race into flower power and pacifism that stopped the Vietnam War.

Thank you for taking the empathy of Dr Spock, who raised your generation; and contributing to the modern-day mythology of Mr Spock, who encouraged us all to think more logically and rationally.

Thank you for questioning and challenging the establishment – everything from institutional Christianity to the Vietnam War draft – and inspiring a wave of independent thinkers.

Thank you for the civil rights movement which established the equality of people regardless of race or skin colour.

Thank you for ending racial segregation and apartheid.

Thank you for the 1967 referendum in Australia which recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australians.

Thank you for contributing to the space program and Moon landings, helping to create the biggest non-military scientific program in history which led to much of our modern-day science and technology.

Thank you for advancing the environmental movement and many animal liberation causes.

Thank you for the second-generation women’s lib movement.

Thank you for the gay liberation movement and its subsequent LGBT+/queer rights momentum.

Thank you for all your activism during the era of HIV/AIDS, when millions of people were dying in a double epidemic of AIDS and homophobic stigma – yet you cared for them, changed the world for them, and became heroes.

Thank you for starting the world-wide trend towards abolition of the death penalty.

Thank you for promoting women’s sexual autonomy via the pill, abortion, the right to say no, and granting women some power within marriage instead of treating them like the property of their husband.

Thank you for advancing many of the human rights that subsequent generations of adults enjoy, including their right to criticise you.

Thank you to those of you who, even in retirement, continue to lobby hard for human rights, equality, and uplifting the underdog: refugees, indigenous people, and others who are oppressed or disempowered.

For those of you who are still active and empowered and educated, and who keep your finger on the pulse of a younger world, I say please keep working hard to create an even better world for posterity. To those of you for whom the spirit may be willing but the flesh is becoming weak, I respectfully suggest it is time to graciously pass the mantle to a younger generation and enjoy a well-deserved rest. Those who follow will be grateful and capable in continuing the work of changing the world in newer ways of which perhaps we can only dream.

Thank you, boomers, for your lifetime of work. I’m not saying that you got everything right, but you did your best to make the world a better place for your having been in it. May subsequent generations learn from your example, agitate to change the world for the better, and enjoy their own well-deserved retirement after a lifetime of hard work and activism.

(These same young people in this video would now likely be in their seventies or eighties. Grandma and Grandpa were young once – boomers in their heyday enjoying being alive, carefree, and full of potential to change the world. Let’s see subsequent generations do the same.)

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

UFOs and Other Lunar Visions

The Apollo 11 astronauts were not the only people to report observing strange lunar phenomena. Fortunately, science and common sense can plausibly explain the sightings. The truth may be out there, but it is even more exciting than we imagine.

The Moon from Mansfield (c) 2020 Kirsten Trecento (Used by permission).

It sounds like a sci fi story: a UFO (technically an ‘unidentified flying object’ because it remains officially unidentified) trailing the Apollo 11 spacecraft as it flew towards the Moon for its historic landing. Was it a vehicle carrying aliens who were observing humanity’s first steps offworld? Or perhaps it was a space bus full of time-travelling tourists who wanted to observe what was, for them, an historic event from humanity’s past?

Sadly, neither possibility seems likely. In his book No Dream Is Too High, astronaut Buzz Aldrin reports this sighting by the Apollo 11 crew as they flew Moonward, three days and 200,000 miles (over 320,000 km) away from Earth. The object (or light) in question was visible but too distant to be identifiable to them, and Buzz reports they were reluctant – in the glare of the world’s media – to simply ask aloud: “Hey Houston, we have something moving along beside us, and we don’t know what it is. Can you tell us what that might be?” They concluded that it was either the final stage of the Saturn rocket that had launched them on their lunar trajectory two days earlier (somewhat implausible because that was reported to be 6000 miles, or just short of 10,000 km, away from them), or – more likely – was one of four panels from the casing that had been discarded when they had extracted the lunar module. This panel, flying its own lonely trajectory alongside them and reflecting sunlight, would appear to be a light or a vehicle following them at some distance.

This was not the only strange sighting these astronauts experienced on the way to the Moon. Time magazine (25 July 1969) includes in its Apollo 11 report that the astronauts were asked to investigate a strange sighting near the crater Aristarchus: “Astronomers in Bochum, West Germany, had observed a bright glow on the lunar surface—the same sort of eerie luminescence that has intrigued moon watchers for centuries. The report was passed on to Houston and thence to the astronauts. Almost immediately, Armstrong reported back, “Hey, Houston, I’m looking north up to ward Aristarchus now, and there’s an area that is considerably more illuminated than the surrounding area. It seems to have a slight amount of fluorescence.” Aldrin confirmed his observation.”

This latter sighting was a transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) or lunar transient phenomenon (LTP) – which Wikipedia summarises as comprising a short-lived light, color or change in appearance on the surface of the Moon. These events, reported for over one thousand years (at least since monks in Canterbury reported such a sighting on 18 June 1178) are attributed to possible outgassing, geologic, or meteorite activity. Even NASA notes these sightings:

“If you stare at the Moon long enough, you start seeing things. “82 things to be exact,” says Bill Cooke, leader of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Group. That’s how many “transient phenomena” the group has video-taped since they started monitoring the night side of the Moon in Nov. 2005.”

So while staring upwards and yearning for excitement, it may seem exhilarating to ponder whether alien cities, UFOs, portals to other dimensions, or other exciting possibilities exist within plain sight. However, such possibilities are best consigned to exciting sci fi stories, while the reality is more plausibly explained by solid science and critical thought.

Aldrin, in his aforementioned book (subtitled “Life Lessons From a Man Who Walked on the Moon”) quotes Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Let’s remember that and accept that reality can still be as breath-taking as our imaginings. Sure, the Apollo 11 crew may have missed the chance to be stalked by aliens or time travellers, but hell, they walked on the Moon. Sagan’s quote provides its own challenge. While sci fi might provide inspiration for future dreams, it cannot compete with the excitement of real life. If you think that your life is only half as exciting as an episode of Star Trek, chances are you’re reading this blog article on a piece of technology that was inspired by – and closely resembles – the tech represented in that imaginary future. We are here already, folks.

Enjoy our dreams and visions, but also enjoy the real universe in which we live. Our grandparents walked on the Moon, dammit; where will our grandchildren tread?

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Previously published on ScienceSpaceandFiction blog.

Fanfic! The Reason for the Season

If you know where to search online, you will find me (or at least an incidental character named after me) appearing in fanfic. As we approach Christmas, I cannot help but think that such material is more ubiquitous than most of us realise. We are entering a time of year when fanfic has shaped our culture, traditions and holidays.

What exactly is fanfic? To answer that, maybe a good place to start is to ask what do Sherlock and Spock have in common – apart from a similar-sounding name that has led some fans to speculate that the former may be an ancestor of the latter, or that (via some time travel intrigue) they are perhaps both the same person?

Their biggest similarity is actually the fans themselves: both characters gave birth to legions of fans whose rabid support caused both fictional personalities to return from the dead, and – even more importantly – those fans wrote fan fiction (now commonly called fanfic or fic) that changed the face of literature, raising questions about copyright, and popularising terms like ‘cultural appropriation’ (which asks whether fans can claim some form of ‘ownership’ and ‘control’ of their favourite fictional franchises because they feel so passionately about the material and helped to make it so popular).

Fic is fun to write. It allows fans of any TV series, book, or film to create further adventures of their favourite characters. Some fic has been collected in paper fanzines (in the old days) or in Internet digital archives such as those for books or TV shows or anime or games. (But be careful – if you are copying a universe that is legally owned by others, you cannot make money from your stories, and you must take care to remain amateur and respectful and do nothing to violate their limits or endanger their profits. Stay within fan circles, be nice, and have fun.)

Fan fiction has a long and obscure history. In olden days, before writing was common and oral stories were more popular, it may be that myths and legends, and heroic tales such as those of the Trojan War, Atlantis, Robin Hood, Cleopatra and Hypatia may have included types of fic. In later times, Shakespeare and other authors created classic fic stories.

Some modern-day professional authors began their writing through writing fan fiction, while Fifty Shades of Grey and other novels are known to have come out of fan fic based upon the Twilight series or other original material. (This alternative is possibly a more rational idea about what to do with your fanfic other than keeping it backed up in some private computer file for nobody else to ever read – change your fanfic so it contains new characters, names, settings and plot. Bingo! New material free of copyright problems!)

What has all this to do with Christmas and the holidays? The answer should be self-evident: some of our earliest fanfic probably comprises religious stories where followers told and retold oral stories of their favourite religious figures and mythologies. Jesus and Hercules and Osiris rose from the dead just like Spock and Sherlock and Superman. Odysseus and Jason and King Arthur undertook quests just like Katniss Everdean and Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker. We approach the time of year when Christians celebrate their annual homage to one of the likely biggest sources of fanfic in history (the Bible) and its collected tales of life, death, and the power of inspiration. I do not intend to demean Christians with these comments: I also know the power of life affirming fanfic, even though my favourite fanfic is secular and science fictional.

One form of fanfic, called Mary Sue fiction, is a popular medium. This is where the author of the story (or in slight variation, their friends) become character/s in their stories. When I was much younger, I wrote myself into Star Trek and other sci fi fanfic stories, and in more recent times a friend had me (or a character named after me) appear in her fic about a wagon train convoy crossing the US plains during a past century. Mary Sue fiction has probably been around forever. Some of the early Biblical stories (and some more modern tales of religious experience) were probably originally Mary Sue tales of followers imagining themselves in religious settings interacting with their favourite religious figures. Such tales convey the power and passion of fanfic – but also warn us of the potential perversity if taken to extremes. Perhaps the biggest potential problem with religion (like any other form of fandom) is that while moderation brings motivation, more extremist forms put the cult into culture.

So happy Christmas, Hannukah, or Science Fiction Day. It’s all fun, imaginary, and it assumes whatever forms of inspiration that each of us needs in order to help shape our personal views, values and lives. Fandom is fun.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

The Lark Ascended

In Memory of Roger

Photo from the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt Project

On a quiet Sunday afternoon in December 2002, a small group of people gathered in a Melbourne park to have a picnic in memory of Roger, a science fiction fan activist whose fan picnics were apparently quite legendary. Roger was clearly very much loved, and very fondly remembered. This became apparent at the picnic to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, when his friends spoke of him with a smile in their voices and a tear in their eyes. They spoke of his active participation in Melbourne’s science fiction community, of his Ditmars and DUFF activism, and his variety of life experiences.

Roger died thirty years ago today, from a medical condition that was rarely spoken about then or now: AIDS. Had he lived, I have no doubt that he would have continued to make his mark in the Australian science fiction community, and who knows what achievements he might have accomplished over recent decades as our creative, communications and digital social media opportunities have evolved?

As a fledgling member of certain SF groups at the time, I barely knew Roger myself, but I caught up with his partner and some of his close friends a year after he died, when they made a panel in his memory and presented it to the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt Project. They poured their love, trinkets, memories and creativity into every stitch. I felt that they brought a spark of Roger’s soul to the remembrance as well. They created a testimonial which – in the form of a book with pages that could be turned – was distinctive, unique and which stands out from the hundreds of other entries in the AIDS Quilt. I even recall his partner bringing an iron to the Quilt display a year later, in order to iron Roger’s panel as part of his loving maintenance of his memory.

His partner also offered me his tribute, which I publish here proudly today in memory of Roger to coincide with the anniversary of his passing.

THE LARK ASCENDED

by Geoff Roderick

At the funeral, we played one of his favourite pieces of music: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. It was fitting music, as it is sublimely beautiful, with a soaring freedom of spirit, a little like Roger’s take on life. There is also the obvious Roger pun. Roger Weddall was a lark: the little boy was never far away; cheeky, forever inquisitive, with a thirst for knowledge and a great concern for all those around him – from his family and friends to the nursing staff at Fairfield Hospital – he was genuinely interested in their lives. He was also passionate about puns and very good (or bad) at them.

He discovered MUSFA at university in early 1974 and eventually made his way into general fandom by the late seventies. He became infamous for his parties and, gaining confidence in himself, he became a great socialiser and developed a remarkable skill for helping people to relax and have a good time – if the table of ten wasn’t getting on swimmingly at a restaurant, he would have everybody change chairs. Of course, the waiters were not amused! Roger could hold three conversations with three different people, and not only listen but remember everything. Often, upon meeting an old friend, he would launch straight into the topic they had been previously discussing, sometimes years earlier.

During Roger’s second overseas trip in 1983, still deeply puzzled with his sexuality, he met a man at a London gay bar. While having sex, Roger realised that his partner wasn’t using a condom. He related to me, years later, how he had known exactly what he was doing and wanted to ask for a condom, but didn’t want to appear silly. Also, he couldn’t bear the thought ot the guy dumping him as he was feeling so overwhelmingly lonely. This was Roger’s first male sexual experience. He was 27 at the time.

We met through an ad I had placed in Outrage magazine in June 1988. His was the first of many replies. After an extraordinary two days and two nights together, I turned down all the other replies! It took us only a few days to fall in love.

It took him nearly three months to tell me that he was HIV positive. He had not told another soul… once again, his fear of rejection. He found it extremely difficult to tell me. I was shocked, as I hadn’t seen it coming at all (although I had already dealt with an AIDS-related death; a friend’s lover had stayed at my house before and after cituy visits to doctors. He had LOOKED sick!) On our way out to dinner, I filled my car with petrol, my mind reeling from Roger’s news, and I forgot to pay the attendant (he ran after us and I paid up, very embarrassed).

We shared exactly four and a half years together. It was the closest I have ever been to another living soul. I had been happy with my handful of wonderful friends. Roger quickly became a great mate to all in our ‘little family’. We played canasta and scrabble and drank cheap wine and bragged of our sexual conquests. He spoke many languages, he joked and laughed in Arabic with my Egyptian friend Osny, and shared deep and meaningfuls with Graham, and later – after Graham was diagnosed – compared their HIV medications and assessed the latest supposed ‘miracle cure’. He made everyone he met feel special.

Roger had friends too – he had THOUSANDS of friends! – from university, and Triple RRR, where he had been an announcer, from science fiction both in Australia and many, many overseas fans he had met on his travels. Friends from his work at Bridge House where he had cared for mentally handicapped adults (his clients respected him greatly, and many came to his funeral) and from Lifeline where he was a telephone counsellor and a highly esteemed counsellor trainer.

I recall the night he came home from a training session and he had performed in a role play, where he had played an HIV-positive gay man. Apart from his sister, he had still not told another soul! That was one of the few times I saw him deeply distressed by his HIV status. That night, he wept and wept.

Roger’s friends were very important to him and he regularly went to restaurant nights and meetings and Nova Mobs, helping to organise conventions and, sometimes – to the annoyance of some fans – the Ditmar trophies. Stuffed cane toads featured at SunCon in Brisbane in 1990, resulting in a rethink, and sparkling new paperweight glass trophies were awarded some weeks later. These closely resembled butt plugs, but this time there were no complaints.

That same year, Roger also introduced a new award category: Best Fannish Cat. His beloved pet, Typo, was voted the winner (Typo passed away on 9th March 2002, aged 17).

Roger spent thousands of hours producing his fanzine, THYME. He kept another fanzine, LHYFFE, waiting up his sleeve.

I sometimes found it daunting with so many people, as I was very shy, and at times I very selfishly regretted having to share his time with others.

He also treasured his time alone, to write and read and listen to music. Breakfast (preferably after 11am) was usually composed of sitting on the floor, listening to Todd Rundgren or Beethoven, with an enormous bowl of Coco Pops, reading comics and playing gleefully with Typo. Late at night, Roger’s brain was ON!!! This was his time to be creative, writing and reading. Often, at about three o’clock in the morning, I would wake up, and he would be sitting up in bed with his postcards and letters and LOCs and books; his cats, Typo and Shelly, purring at his side – and me purring on the other.

A generation after the arrival of HIV, we live in a world where AIDS is largely forgotten and HIV is largely a manageable lifelong condition. As we acknowledge 1st December as the annual World AIDS Day, it is fitting to pause and remember our many friends and heroes and mentors who were lost to this epidemic. In a COVID world, many people seem to think of this newer virus as mainly an inconvenience and they see vaccine denialism as some sort of heroic claim to individual freedoms. How quickly we forget that, within living memory, the earlier epidemic of HIV/AIDS was so terrible and traumatic and devastating, and that real heroism was shown by those affected and infected – as it still is today by many people in many places.

I personally recall Roger telling me that, without forewarning, he had once visited Arthur C Clarke in his Sri Lankan home, and I admired him for his boldness and initiative. I stand with Geoff and so many others in pausing to remember Roger, and, in doing so, I paraphrase HIV/AIDS activist and musician Michael Callen: “Love is all we have for now, What we don’t have is THYME.”

Vale Roger.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

From Santa to Science

“Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex wonderfully unfathomable world? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap, man-made myths and monsters?” ― Tim Minchin.

An Australian Christmas tree in its natural setting, Bonnie Doon, Victoria. (c) 2020 by Kirsten Trecento.

Christmas is Coming! What can it teach us?.

I was five years old, and my family was staying for Christmas at my grandparents’ farm. Excitable young me was filled with the thrill of having been told that Santa would visit tonight if I was a good boy and went to sleep. All the other children in the family promptly did so, but as the oldest child I decided to be a rebel; instead, I would lie awake in bed until midnight, when I would surely catch Santa as he came down the chimney.

As I lay silently in bed over the next few hours (??), I could hear the adults in subdued conversations across the house slowly becoming quiescent as they each went to bed, until a silence descended that was punctuated only by the ticking of a living room clock and the occasional crackle of embers in a fireplace. I daresay I fell in and out of an erratic sleep…

Later that night, I was apparently awoken by sleigh bells, a collective THUMP THUMP THUMP of reindeer hooves hitting the roof, and then a more sedate and solitary CLUNK… CLUNK… CLUNK… of heavy Arctic-type boots crossing the roof towards the chimney. After a few moments, I heard those same boots imprint themselves on the carpet in front of the fireplace, in the hallway outside my bedroom door, which my parents had left slightly ajar.

I squeezed my eyelids tightly shut, and heard almost imperceptible footsteps as someone entered the room momentarily to ensure that I was asleep. I lay there in my bed, with the blankets tightly pulled up to my chin. Quivering with excitement, even at that young age I knew that I would not likely be fooling anybody by pretending to be asleep. But then I heard the bedroom door squeak almost shut, as the person left the room. A couple minutes later, I heard footsteps across the roof again, and then sleigh bells jingle until they faded into the stillness of the night.

As an adult, nearly sixty years later, do I seriously think that I was visited by Santa Claus on that Christmas Eve 1966 in Bannockburn, Victoria? Of course not. What I do think is that this story probably demonstrates the power of lucid dreaming or hypnagogic hallucinations. Most obviously, though, it also reveals the power of suggestion to impressionable or excitable minds and may help to explain many conspiracy theories and stories of alleged angels, alien visitation, false memories, divine revelation, miracles, or the Mandela Effect.

My close encounter of the Santa kind is a transcendental moment for me because it contains a bitter lesson: it shows that for all our aspirations towards nobility and betterment, our propensity for progress can be inhibited. Our brains are flawed organs and we are susceptible to suggestion or hallucination – or just plain mistakes. Our dreams and visions can be imperfect or mistaken or outright incorrect. Transcendence or transgression, nobility or nonsense – we are capable of them all. This does not mean that we should abandon our quest for betterment or advancement; in fact it makes that quest all the more valuable when we exercise critical thinking, and balance our dreams with rationality in order to get something right.

Our search for spirituality should be recognised as a pilgrimage in search of our secular selves, warts and all. Such a revelation is both reassuring and terrifying in its aspiration and its possible outcomes: humans are such a relatively small, insignificant part of the Universe, and yet we contain an immense capacity for nobility and growth within ourselves; we reflect a potentiality that is cosmic in its implications. We do not need a stone age deity or a new age mystic to tell us that we are filled with potential; we glimpse that capability within ourselves whenever we experience the everyday or glimpse transcendence. What some may call sacred or spiritual, I assert to be secular self-awareness: seeking something deep or meaningful, and finding profound awe and splendour in our human search.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Happy Humans

Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”
Peter Drucker.

I was recently accused of being a militant gay atheist.

I felt momentarily dumbstruck, wondering which portion of that identity was meant to be militant – being gay or being atheist. But then I realised that the woman who had made this criticism appeared to be a religious lesbian who had read an article on my humanist blog. She evidently thought that accusing someone of being atheist was the harshest criticism she could hurl at me.

In response, I thanked her for the compliment, because – militancy aside (whatever that means) – I certainly would love to be considered in the same calibre as many LGBT atheists, nonbelievers or humanists who were part of the gay liberation era or subsequent LGBT rights activism, including Frank Kameny, Leonard Matlovich, Harvey Milk, Peter Tatchell, Greta Christina, Michael Callen, Barney Frank, Andrew Copson, Debbie Goddard, Christopher Hitchens, Bob Brown, Georgie Stone, Jason Ball, Alison Thorne and Phil Carswell – not to mention earlier role models including Magnus Hirschfeld, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, Greta Garbo, Alfred Kinsey, Henry Gerber, Alan Turing and Marlene Dietrich.

This woman who seeks to insult me by calling me ‘militant gay atheist’ is a member of my own LGBT community – people who have traditionally been criminalised and pathologised and marginalised by religion to this very day. Nevertheless, like many in the LGBT community, she appears to default to religion as being the ethical norm, even in a demographic where nearly three quarters of her cohort identify as having no religion.

Atheists and agnostics need to confront and change this popular but erroneous conflation of religion with ethics. We can change it through the application of humanist (and other humanitarian) ethics and activism. To do this, humanists need to explore ‘three rs’ of our own – not reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, but another three challenges to test our resolve: relevance, reconciliation and reassurance.

Relevance

Our nation is dominated by young people who no longer predominantly look to the church, theology, or older philosophies for consolation. They are an increasingly nonbelieving cohort of people who find ancient myths interesting only because such stories can be rebooted and retold in modern, space age ways. Forget Jesus or Athena or Hercules; today we have Superman, Jessica Jones, Wonder Woman, Pokémon, Marvel superheroes, Katniss Everdean, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Captains Kirk and Picard and Janeway, Luke and Rey Skywalker, and Australia’s own Cleverman; all of them being reworkings of ancient heroic tropes. While young audiences flock to the Marvelverse, one recent popular visitation in Australia was to the Astraverse via the Bollywood Hindi superhero movie, Brahmastra Part 1: Shiva.

These superheroes are not like philosophers of yore, who navel gazed and debated how many angels sat upon the head of a pin. Today’s superheroes and cultural icons are people who reveal their inner philosophies and ethics through outward actions, not words. They reflect modern cultures of instant gratification and individualism: where smart phones make information exchange instantaneous and global; where communications have been revolutionised by Facebook which has replaced emails (which in turn replaced snail mail). People now seek their own answers and try to make their own sense of facts and data instead of deferring to experts and community leaders. They no longer need social clubs with monthly meetings and newsletters and annual membership fees if they can instead enjoy instant online social networking with those who share their specialised interests. Zoom meetings are replacing pub crawls. Welcome to the 21st century.

There is also the question of literary relevance. How do we promote humanism in a world where Scooby Doo and Sheldon Cooper have done more to advance popular understandings of evidentiary science and critical thinking than has the modern humanist movement; and where Big Bird has taught more young people about cooperation than a library full of secular ethics books? As an implicit recognition of cultural change, there have been various religious reboots, ranging from Jesus Christ Superstar to Black Lightning, and from ‘Christ of the Never‘ to an African Jesus, that have all sought to keep their messages relevant to new audiences. Meanwhile, the interdependence of cultural mixes becomes apparent with the adoption of UFO mythologies by the Warlpiri people of the Northern Territory (see Eirik Saethre, 2007). This is a lesson that secularists would do well to learn. Where are our modern role models and morality plays and genuinely militant activists for humanity?

Reconciliation

This brings us to one of the greatest challenges for secularism across western societies: its predominance of white, European men across atheist, aligned, and humanist discourse: everything from our cultural histories and conference programs, to podcasts, books, and traditional lists of those receiving our accolades or awards.

Don’t get me wrong: many rationalist/humanist/atheist activists are doing what they can to fight institutional racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. But we need to recognise that we are benefactors of generations of patriarchal and racially elitist attitudes and biases encompassing our sciences and arts, literary and intellectual norms; and that our cultural paradigms involve forms of white male privilege. Historically, Humanism can be seen as linked to colonialism:

“Colonialism relies upon a racist discourse of imperial humanism that orders humankind, implicitly or overtly, according to a naturalized hierarchy in which modern European White Man is taken as a normative template for human being, value, and achievement.” – Simone Bignall, p. 1.

Living in an era that strives to be post-colonial, do we dare to be post-humanist? What does that even mean, and what does it entail? Perhaps we should ask others outside of our comfort zone. Perhaps we should also consider the interdependence of our human and wider families: sentients, living creatures, the environment.

Reassurance

“The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true.” ― Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists.

The debate between theism and atheism needs new definitions, and should ideally include the optimism inherent within humanist frameworks. As one example, US African-American humanist Anthony B. Pinn challenges his fellow humanists to ‘acknowledge blacks as being alive‘.

This rather startling statement has two clear interpretations: the first being to acknowledge that white privilege needs to be dismantled and replaced with genuine equality within which all people have equal rights and opportunities as a demonstration that all life is equally precious.

The second interpretation is that forms of atheism, in seeking to replace religious philosophies, must offer something that is at least as life affirming and compelling as the consolation offered by religion in response to death and mortality. Pinn explains that his walking away from the deeply religious elements of his African American community into broader secular humanism can be seen in this context:

“I left the church and entered a community I believe better values life, one that better understands the need to safeguard the life web of which humans are part.”

It is this consolation – the practical here and now, not some mythical afterlife – that Humanists should be promoting. Humans do not need the solace of a heaven in the afterlife if we are striving to make heaven here on Earth. Our questions, our answers, and our actions, can all help to create the future to which we aspire.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein.

Extended Reading:

Simone Bignall, ‘Colonial Humanism, Alter-humanism and Ex-colonialism’, in S. Herbrechter et al. (eds.), Palgrave Handbook of Critical Posthumanism, 2022.

Adam O Hill, et al, Private Lives 3: The Health and Wellbeing of LGBTIQ People in Australia, La Trobe University, August 2020, p. 26.

Eirik Saethre, ‘Close encounters: UFO beliefs in a remote Australian Aboriginal community’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.), Royal Anthropological Institute 13, 2007; 901-915.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Star Stuff

Image by Norbert Pietsch from Pixabay

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff.
We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
Carl Sagan.

Humans have probably always liked to look up at the stars in awe – even those of us in modern generations who, for the first time in human history, live in urban centres that are so overcrowded with light pollution that our views of night-time skies are damaged and restricted.

Yet there seems to be something universal – maybe even primal – about our instinct to look upwards and gaze in wonder and appreciation of what we perceive to be scenic beauty.

I have come to wonder if there is some deep meaning behind our instinct to scan the skies. In recent years, Carl Sagan and J. Michael Straczynski have remarked that we are not only made of atoms that were forged inside the nuclear furnaces of stars, but we are star stuff with a sentient awareness of our actual existence within the cosmos.

Delenn: …I will tell you a great secret, Captain. Perhaps the greatest of them all. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station, and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff. We are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. And as we have both learned, sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective.”
J. Michael Straczynski.

Our propensity for looking upward and asking questions about our place and purpose in the Universe has led to the birth of thousands of philosophies and religions. Perhaps one of the most universal manifestations of this practice – differing across cultures but seemingly ubiquitous around the globe – has been the quaint but mistaken tendency to look up and theorise that the stars and planets directly influence our daily lives. Just as they add visual grandeur to our lives, perhaps they also control our love lives, they give us good or bad luck, or they somehow influence the outcomes within our daily routines?

Astrology is a pseudoscience that has been thoroughly debunked. Dr Anthony Aveni explores twice when it was has been found wanting: the first time when Saint Augustine and early Christian leaders pointed out its inconsistencies with their religious doctrine, combined with the concurrent decline of ancient Greek and Latin learning upon which early astrology had been linked (1994, p. 170). Aveni then states that the second great debunking of astrology occurred more recently during the Enlightenment:

“Renaissance expressions of what the natural world was about echo from a tense time, when intellectuals who wanted to think and act more freely began to feel constrained by the demands of a deterministic universe… The freethinking humanists who began to shake the faith were partly responsible for astrology’s second death, for under the same roof, mathematically based astronomical theory and human practice began to seem ever more irreconcilable.” – Anthony Aveni, 1994, p. 171.

He notes how people began to approach astrology more rationally, for example asking how two different people who were born under the same astrological sign could nevertheless turn out so differently. The answer is a self-evident debunking of the whole pseudoscience.

Phil Plait summarises the human desire to find answers in astrology:

Despite the claims of its practitioners, astrology is not a science. But then what is it? It’s tempting to classify it as wilful fantasy, but there may be a more specific answer: magic.” (2002, p. 215)

Ultimately, astrology might be seen to be a wasteful distraction from finding real answers that underlie our tendency to ask big questions. Instead of seeking human answers from the stars in the sky, we should look for those same answers closer to home – in the star stuff that stares back at us when we look in the mirror.

See also:

Anthony Aveni, Conversing with the Planets: How Science and Myth Invented the Cosmos, New York: Kodansha America, 1994, pp. 170 – 177.

Philip C. Plait Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing ‘Hoax’, New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc., 2002.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

Brave New World?

Artist: Miriam English

“O brave new world
That has such people in’t!”
– Shakespeare, The Tempest.

What can we learn from our dreams? We can learn about our dreamers.

In 1898, HG Wells wrote War of the Worlds, which was reportedly inspired by ‘British colonial treatment of Indigenous Tasmanians’. This allegorical exploration has been mirrored in other sci fi treatments of different peoples: Alien Nation looked at refugees; The Invaders reflected 1950s paranoia of communists; The X-Men mirrored the struggle of LGBT people to ‘come out’. Also, many sci fi movies have been presented as a western in space, where humans versus aliens explore the stereotypical racist meme of cowboys versus Indians.

In 1977, Princess Leia was a stereotype – a damsel in distress who needed rescuing. A generation later, she had morphed into a military General leading a rebellion. Leia did not evolve and mature over the years – but her storytellers and our society did. Our expectations and aspirations for women have evolved since the original Star Wars, although as a society, we still have a long way to go.

Doctor Who has recently been a woman, and next will be a Rwandan refugee émigré; other diverse characters can be found in modern Star Trek TV series. Elsewhere, the Serenity TV program married Chinese and western cultures as a foreshadowing of probably much to come in the decades ahead. The future is beckoning: infinite diversity?

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

It’s Not Rocket Science

It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. – Carl Sagan.

Crater 308 viewed from orbit (NASA Photo AS11-44-6611)

A generation ago, science was on the ascendancy and the USA landed men on the Moon; today a significant proportion of its population don’t believe that this even happened.

Welcome to the 21st century, where people have access to the largest repository of knowledge in history but lack the skills to rationally process this data into wisdom.

Pseudosciences and conspiracy theories flourish, often explained away through the misuse of scientific (or other plausible sounding) words. Thus we hear religious people describe god as ‘energy’, scientific laws are discounted as ‘only a theory’, astronomy is equated with astrology, and in the name of ‘balance’ everyone’s opinion is regarded as equal regardless of whether or not they are an informed world expert or an uninformed armchair critic. People talk about ‘creation science’, about planets or earthquakes or constellations as cosmic portents, and ‘life force’ can mean anything from ghosts to evolution or Star Wars. Karma as a superstitious concept is rationalised as being ’cause and effect’. The double-speak is ubiquitous: ‘natural’ things such as certain foods, unfluoridated water, alternative medicine or even diseases are asserted as being good by default; whereas ‘unnatural’ products such as certain other foods, vaccines, blood transfusions and homosexuality might be asserted as being bad. Facts that disagree with your ignorance or ideological prejudice are asserted to be ‘fake news’.

Launch of Apollo 11, 16 July 1969 (NASA Photo)

Perhaps this modern social phenomenon was foreshadowed when former Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who helped to build the Saturn V rockets that took the US Apollo missions to the Moon, supported a creationist publication by writing a foreword in which he stated:

“For me the idea of a creation is inconceivable without God. One cannot be exposed to the law and order of the universe without concluding that there must be a divine intent behind it all.” – Wernher von Braun, p. xi.

While it may seem surprising that the world’s leading rocket scientist of the 20th century supported the idea of creator/creation, there can be no doubt that this watchmaker fallacy (or argument from design) is popular because it promotes superstition under the guise of science. For von Braun, it undoubtedly held an appeal because he himself was a designer.

In turn, we must be vigilant in demanding more rigorous scientific standards – but do so in ways that build up rather than tear down. Rather than mocking people for their mistaken beliefs, we should encourage them to use evidence to find wonder and awe within the real world. That’s part of what makes us gloriously sentient.

See also:

Wernher von Braun, ‘Foreword’, in Harold Hill, How Did It All Begin? From Goo to You by Way of the Zoo, New Jersey: Logos International Books, 1976.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Activist for Life and Enlightenment

Halina and Geoff (left), holding aloft the Humanist banner at a Marriage Equality Rally, Melbourne, 24 Nov 2012. Photo (c) 2012 by Michael Barnett.

In Memory of Halina Strnad (21/04/1930 – 06/09/2022)

“Speaking out against oppression and injustice is the least I can do.”

Halina Wagowska was born in Poland and grew up in the city of Poznań, in which her loving parents (‘my fount of all wisdom’) had instilled within her a resilience and strength of character that would serve her well in later years. Despite the horrors she encountered in WW2 Poland, her fondness for her childhood memories ensured that even in old age, she displayed a stylistic tapestry on her dining room wall which reminded her of that childhood home city.

Halina suffered greatly through the Holocaust, losing both parents and spending time in the Lódź ghetto, then at Auschwitz and Stutthof concentration camps. After these horrors, she resolved as an adult to never let trauma or misfortune make her a victim.

Arriving in Australia after WW2, Halina became a Pathology Laboratory Technologist for the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, and then for Dorevich Pathology. She became active in a variety of community groups and issues, including the Australian Labor Party, Dying with Dignity, Gun Control, Homeplus Living Inc (a group to assist homeless students in Years 11 and 12), Towards A Just Australia Fund (helping indigenous youth) and others. Perhaps most significantly for Halina in terms of longevity, she became involved in local Humanist Societies for some decades, serving in many varied administrative capacities for nearly forty years; being recipient of their national Outstanding Humanist Achiever of the Year Award in 2002, and becoming an Honorary Life Member of Humanists Victoria in 2018.

Halina shows off one of her activist achievements: recognition of her work for Homeplus Living (photo: Geoff Allshorn, (c) 2 Sep 2022.)

Part of her dedicated activism in the Humanists was as submissions coordinator, where she researched and compiled many hundreds of submissions and/or letters to governments, authorities, senate inquiries, or other agencies on a variety of matters comprising the full spectrum of human rights: including indigenous and women’s rights, abortion, sex workers, environmental protection, refugees and asylum seekers, secular governance, homelessness, and many other social issues.

As a cultural Jew and Holocaust survivor, she wrote to a Jewish community newspaper some decades ago calling for the inclusion of an LGBT Jewish group within formal Jewish community networks; one of her last attempts at activism came early this year when she offered to participate (as a longtime supporter and ally of LGBT rights) within a Rainbow Humanist group marching in Melbourne’s Pride March – an offer which sadly was ultimately unable to be taken up due to understandable caution over public transmission concerns regarding COVID in crowded spaces.

Another of her activist enterprises was possibly inspired by her Holocaust background, wherein she had lived a life of great deprivation. Following the ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires of 2009, Halina thought of Victorians who had lost their homes and possessions, and she focussed on one item of need that might otherwise have been overlooked (“I thought of books – the great enrichment of life – and of the many thousands destroyed in the fire”). She organised a collection of books to donate to libraries, families and communities that had lost everything. Through the Humanists, she organised the subsequent collection, sorting and delivery of thousands of donated books. In order to cope with the volume and weight of these books, she organised for local liquor shops to deliver boxes that had formerly carried six bottles of wine, as she felt that each box best suited the desired need for collecting books without creating excessive weight or volume. She later joked that she had become known as the ‘wine box lady’ at those liquor stores, and had told them that she was flattered to be called a lady. (This was one example of her sense of humour, which also led her to decorate her home with jokes and a political caricature.)

Halina often stated that she felt her Holocaust testimony was an obligation that she felt compelled to honour until she died. Her numerous recollections of her experiences, including for the Shoah Foundation (which can be found on YouTube); as well as the two versions of her autobiography, People and Places in War and Peace (Makor Jewish Community Library, 2009) and The Testimony (Hardie Grant Books, 2012) will ensure that her commitment to this obligation will live on even after her death, as will hopefully the currently-incomplete documentary film that was being compiled prior to filming delays caused by COVID lockdowns and Halina’s own deteriorating health.

Halina frequently spoke at schools and universities of her Holocaust story, even though it was a hard venture: she often spoke about reliving the experience for days afterwards and revisiting past ghosts. Of her books, she noted that she used her maiden name of Wagowska because, “I am the only Strnad in the ‘phone directory. The use of my maiden name is to avoid enquiries about relatives lost in concentration camps. They are inevitable and impossible to answer.” While being willing to put herself out on public display for the cause of spreading the message, she was nevertheless an intensely private person, talking rarely about her adult family life and exhibiting a fierce desire to protect the privacy of those for whom she felt near and dear.

Halina often recollected the Bruno Dey Nazi war crimes trial in Germany in 2020, at which she had been an important video witness from Melbourne to testify about Nazi atrocities. She recalled the kindness of Melbourne police and her German lawyer who assisted her with video conferencing during this trial: she received the best in human nature while testifying about the worst. The same might be said about her own life of service to others.

One of her last activist roles in June this year was to inspire Victorian Parliamentary debate, when MP Will Fowles proudly spoke of her as a constituent whose story should inspire the Nazi Symbol Prohibition Bill 2022. She was invited to sit in the Parliamentary Gallery for the occasion and was greeted warmly on the day. The following week, she testified in another Nazi war crimes trial.

Despite the heavy nature of her burden to testify about the Holocaust, Halina was a kind and generous woman with a quirky sense of humour. She was also a gracious hostess for numerous lunches, to which she invited many friends and associates. It was my privilege to bring along varied friends to experience her trademark quiche and salad while she regaled them with jokes and words of wisdom; they often spoke to me afterwards of how privileged they felt to have shared the time with a genuinely warm and welcoming person who was also a hero and role model.

Nobody would have blamed Halina for misanthropy: hating or distrusting the most base instincts of the human species, or for living a life of self-imposed isolation and social distancing. And yet her life was the exact opposite of all these outcomes: she was vibrant, vitally engaged in humanity, and unashamedly an activist to make the world a better place, always exhibiting an optimism that she wrote about in her book: ‘mine is not a lone voice in the wilderness’. Having experienced the darkest in humanity, she was determined to live and spread enlightenment. She will be missed by her family and friends, and her legacy will live on in the human rights laws she helped to shape and encourage.

Postscript: Minor editing changes on 23 September 2022 include grammatical correction plus the clarification of Halina’s job description.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Human Rites

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

I recently attended the funeral of an old friend. Forty years ago we met through our mutual interest in science fiction and cosmology, and we had stayed firm friends forever after, frequently talking about the awe of galactic vistas and the thrill of possible future spaceflight for humanity. But her death and funeral brought me back to earth with a thud.

As an atheist, I have attended a number of Catholic funerals. Despite my desire to show respect for the beliefs of the deceased, I have found it somewhat wearying to endure the innumerable times we are asked to stand for some (to me, meaningless) prayer or doctrinal babble and then sit down again; even more puzzling is the burning of incense, sprinkling of water, ringing of bells, ritual chanting, and even the holding of communion in the middle of a funeral. The hymns and music are often familiar but lack any personal connection to me, and moreso the Biblical readings, but still I always try to understand the underlying ideas of rebirth, redemption, or whatever it seems they are trying to convey.

Perhaps not surprisingly, what I find it most perplexing is that the majority of the service concentrates very little on the person being memorialised and more upon the rituals and doctrines of that church. Why such a predominance upon ritual? Is this some generic human thing?

I understand that the idea of life after death, and the somewhat appealing notion of eventually being reunited with lost ones, can give consolation to the bereaved and their family/community, but the religious claptrap often seems so distant and far removed from the rest of their lives. Case in point: to their credit, my friend’s extended family and community knew who I was and made me feel welcome. We chatted about the fact that my friend’s funeral was coincidentally being held on Star Trek Day, and we swapped stories about past times. I feel that such welcoming inclusion of strangers and newcomers within communal activities would be a good idea for atheist and humanist communities to learn – as might (or so some argue) the inclusion of rituals that provide meaning and communal bonding during life events.

I left the church feeling glad that I had attended, but also possibly feeling somewhat smugly superior because I clearly did not share their need for symbolic rituals. And then, as the hearse left, I flashed my friend the Vulcan salute.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Soon May the Enterprise Come

A space shanty filked from “The Wellerman” (1860s) and in the public domain.

Image by p2722754 from Pixabay

In memory of my friend Carol Ashcroft
(26/7/1944 – 20/8/2022).

There once was a ship called Enterprise
That flew across galactic skies.
She took with her the hopes and dreams
Of all humanity.
Soon may the Enterprise come
To bring us some inspiration
One day, when we’ve finally grown
We’ll join Starfleet and fly.

Before our world had reached the skies
Great wars and great poverty caused great cries
We lived in the mud and shed great blood
Until we grew beyond.
Soon may the Enterprise come
To bring us some inspiration
One day, when we’ve finally grown
We’ll join Starfleet and fly.

From selfishness we have been freed
Our human mind must not serve greed
For we belong to the sentient’s creed
To live, to serve, to share.
Soon may the Enterprise come
To bring us some inspiration
One day, when we’ve finally grown
We’ll join Starfleet and fly.

And still we continue our journey on
The fight’s not ended and the pain’s not gone
The Enterprise makes her regular call
To help us make starfall.
Soon may the Enterprise come
To bring us some inspiration
One day, when we’ve finally grown
We’ll join Starfleet and fly.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

Awe for the Orville

Some decades ago, an an excitable young teen, I purchased what these days we would consider to be a pulp magazine from my local newsagents. It turned out to be a religious publication aiming to proselytise young people, but what attracted me was the cover photograph from a TV sci fi series and the headline asking whether sci fi would be the religion of the coming decade.

No, I thought to myself in answer to the question, sci fi was based upon science and was secular – such consolation and reassurance coming from the contemporaneously messianic prophetic figure connected to Star Trek (Gene Roddenberry, also known as The Great Bird of the Galaxy). Any irony in my mindset was later discerned after intervening decades matured my life perspective.

But it cannot be denied that sci fi taps into a very powerful impulse that also empowers religion: seeking hope and consolation from awe, wonder, and pondering our individual/collective place in the Universe. (In my own case, I lost my reverence for religion in my twenties when I realised that while sci fi looks ahead, religion too often looks backward and seeks to perpetuate archaic attitudes and moralities that humanity strives to outgrow. I like to think, however, that science and sci fi enabled me to retain my sense of awe and wonder, and my questioning impulse).

It is this same sense of veneration of our cosmos and our material, humanist potential that was captured in the recent return of the Cosmos TV series (produced in part due to the hard work of Seth MacFarlane) and then extended into his more recent sci fi series, The Orville, which recently telecast season 3 after a COVID-induced hiatus.

The wait for Season 3 was worth it.

Whereas its first two seasons struggled to balance sci fi aspirations with low-brow populist college undergraduate humour, Season Three has matured into a series beyond its inspirational sources (the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation TV programs) and even occasionally outstripping them with nobility and marvel.

The longer production time for Season 3, along with presumably a bigger budget, have enabled the series to expand into a noble and creative masterpiece within which each episode rivals the length and cinematography of a TV movie. Forget college undergraduate humour; this is a serious and philosophical sci fi production.

The opening episode of Season 3 takes an excursion into our modern world: our fear of developing technology and emergent sentientism, wherein the character of Isaac is bullied to the point of desparation. While this touches upon a prejudice first explored by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry who created a robot in his Questor Tapes TV pilot (he is credited as quoting the anti-robotic attitude of studio executives: “Yes, but would you want your sister to marry one?”) but it also provides arguably the weakest premise of the season, where prejudice and bullying are tolerated aboard the starship Orville with barely more than a metaphoric shrug and slap on the wrist. This opening episode also introduces the character of Charly, who is readily established as a nuanced but unlikeable character who must make her own journey through the season in order to find redemption.

Subsequent episodes explore strange new worlds both without and within. The Orville’s characters undertake journeys through metaphor and social issues that are as relevant as today’s news headlines: same sex marriage, LGBT rights, racism and prejudice, anti trans* bigotry and its ties with misogyny, war, hate and forgiveness, the morality of withholding life saving technology from deprived people, and definitions and clarifications of family. Go back and watch the first two seasons as an introduction to this optimistic season, which, retitled as The Orville: New Horizons, definitely takes us from familiar territory into new explorations of the human adventure.

The final episode (episode 10) brings Season 3 full circle, showing how race, culture and species can grow together into a form of family. This conclusion should be enough to bring human audiences (and a collective army of ten billion robots) to their feet in applause. In maturing into a serious series, the Orville points the way ahead with hope and optimism for our humanist and sentientist future. A new, better species traverses the heavens where once only trod the gods. All that and human too.

Hey Hulu, please bring on Season 4!

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

A Universe In A Leaf

“Rigel, Betelgeuse, and Orion. There was no finer church, no finer choir, than the stars speaking in silence to the many consumptives silently condemned, a legion upon the dark rooftops… They were there, each one alone in conversation with the stars, mining ephemeral love from cold and distant light.” ― Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale.

“It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon, there’s a couple lying naked in bed reading Encyclopaedia Britannica to each other, and arguing about whether the Andromeda Galaxy is more ‘numinous’ than the Resurrection. Do they know how to have a good time, or don’t they?” ~ Carl Sagan.

Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

In an old photo album belonging to my parents, one photo features me as a babe in arms, being held by my mother in the front garden of our home. With a mix of determination and curiosity on my face, I am reaching up to touch the leaf of an overhanging tree – using my infantile senses to timidly explore the touch, texture, shape and colour of this alien item in my young world.

When he found that photo some years later, my father told me that he would forever remember this moment: watching the awe on my face as I reached up to explore the strange and complex new world of something as commonplace as a leaf. Such is the wonderment of babies as they begin to perceive and encounter the universe around them.

May we all spend our lives living that sense of awe.

Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

The Ballad of Apollo

To commemorate the anniversary of the first lunar landing, 21 July 1969

Apollo 11 Saturn V on launch pad 39A, 1 July 1969. NASA Photo.

We recall history came,
Launched upon Apollo’s flame.
Footsteps on a dusty world
– dreams unfurled –
We all yearned for adventure and acclaim.

Ponder the world’s pride and glee,
Watching astronauts float free.
How we longed to share with them
stratagem
and we did, they went there, they were we.

Nurture your dreams well,
Love them and let them thrive.
It’s only when our dreams take off
That we are truly alive.

Aldrin poses for portrait (NASA Photo AS11-40-5903)

In the depths of history,
We can forge a destiny.
Striving to make stellar views
– or fake news –
Is a choice amidst life’s mystery.

Travellers all through space and time,
Our birthright, our aim, our climb.
We see change as the right stuff
– Not enough! –
Let’s create alternate worlds sublime.

Nurture your dreams well,
Love them and let them thrive.
It’s only when our dreams take off
That we are truly alive.

Apollo 11 lunar footprint (NASA photo)

Our future is not consigned,
No matter how paths may wind.
We each have a part to play
– on the way –
Our small steps form a leap when combined.

In our reflected moonbeams,
History, Science, Academes.
Standing tall or voicing loud
– Just be proud –
And be true to yourself and your dreams.

Nurture your dreams well,
Love them and let them thrive.
It’s only when our dreams take off
That we are truly alive.

With thanks and acknowledgement to James Horner for the inspiration from his soundtrack to the ‘Apollo 13’ movie (1995).

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

I Sing the Body Eclectic

Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

I sing the body cosmological
I celebrate multiverses;
Particles surfing on dark matter,
Virtualities mingling with the foam of nothingness
from which they came and to which they return.
Whether large or small, cubits or qubits,
Each Big Bang encapsulated in its own bubble.

I sing the body astronomical
Where laws of physics birth and give birth,
From galaxies to primordial goo
Where evolution unfolds from cosmological to astronomical
from stellar to planetary
from geological to chemical
from biosphere to biology
where stellar fires fuel organic fervour:
astronomic ardor begets earthly élan.

I sing the body organic,
A Laniakea of life.
Where muscles, neurons and dynamism
spin and dance and weave together
in a chorus of celebration and exploration
from bio to brio
from leaves of grass to lives of graciousness
from curious to courageous
from ignorant to informed
from enquiring to enlightened.

Image by DrSJS from Pixabay

I sing the body electric,
(The armies of life engirthing each other and being engirthed)
Celebrating confluence to come – –
The rise of sentient AI
and the ennobling and enabling of current life
into TransHumanist and TransOrganic forms.
A joining, a fusing, a suturing,
where neurons marry quantum switches,
where life force marries electricity

A future where organics
and synthetics mingle and merge,
and sentients
and robots
and cyborgs
and DNA-enhanced
and digital
and cybernetic
and conjoined
become the new living normal.

Where ‘society’ becomes ‘singularity’
and where individual thought becomes hive mind;
(the end of loneliness and selfishness and crime and poverty);
where ‘me’ becomes ‘we’
and all flesh and fibre
bone and clone
cellular and crystalline
sweat and sand
mortal and metal
become family.

I sing the body eclectic,
Evolving from cosmos to consciousness,
From cognition to conscience,
From competition to compassion.

With thanks and acknowledgement to Walt Whitman (poet), and Dean Pitchford & Michael Gore (song writers), for their inspiration.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Life Is For Living

This year’s CHOGM theme is: ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming.’ The eyes of the world – and world history – will judge if they are up to this noble task.

One segment of Commonwealth life that needs immediate transformation is the human right to equality and protection under the law for all LGBT+ people in Commonwealth nations. The Commonwealth has failed in this regard.

At this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda, #CHOGM2022, during the week of 20 June, it is time for the Commonwealth to live up to its declared statement on twitter: ‘The #Commonwealth supports development, democracy & peace. We are a voice for small states and a champion for young people.’ CHOGM needs to recognise that young people want change, democracy demands change, and that peace is only possible when injustice and hatred are eradicated through legislative and educational reform.

1. The Problem

The Human Dignity Trust summarises the problem for millions of Commonwealth citizens:

Discriminatory sexual offence laws, most of which originate in 19th century colonial penal codes, continue to blight the lives of millions of Commonwealth citizens. They criminalise human rights protected conduct and yet fail to adequately criminalise all forms of sexual violence or to protect survivors of such violence. These laws foster and enable violence and discrimination, and they are at odds with international and regional human rights norms and domestic constitutional law. They particularly affect women and girls and LGBT people and undermine the health and prosperity of entire societies.

The Kaleidoscope International Trust notes:

… LGBT+ people are criminalised and persecuted because of who they are and who they love… homophobic laws and attitudes imported and implemented during Great Britain’s colonial regime have yet to be repealed and ruled unconstitutional. This means the prejudices of the past have very real consequences in our present.

WikiMilli notes that ‘Homosexual activity remains a criminal offence in 35 of the 54 sovereign states of the Commonwealth; and legal in only 19’. Punishments range from flogging and imprisonment with hard labour, to life imprisonment or death. Related social discrimination leads to violence, hate crimes, increased rates of HIV/AIDS and other health problems, and murder. (Yes folks, this is the Commonwealth in the 21st century).

“Homosexuality is a criminal offence in the following Commonwealth member states (those with an asterisk* do not enforce the law): Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Eswatini, Tanzania, The Gambia, Uganda, Zambia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Brunei, Mauritius,* Sri Lanka,* Samoa,* Malawi,* Namibia,* Sierra Leone,* Antigua and Barbuda,* Barbados,* Dominica,* Jamaica,* Kiribati,* Tonga,* and Tuvalu.*” (List Source: Wikipedia, last edited on 16 May 2022.)

“There is a direct link between criminalizing laws and increased rates of HIV, and the Commonwealth undeniably demonstrates this link. The Commonwealth accounts for approximately 30% of the world’s population but over 60% of HIV cases worldwide.”
(Human Dignity Trust, in GayStarNews, 2015).

Amnesty International calls for LGBT rights around the world, and Commonwealth nations should adopt these principles unconditionally:

“Everyone should be able to feel proud of who they are and who they love. We all have the right to express ourselves freely. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which set out for the first time the rights we’re all entitled to) protects everyone’s right to express themselves freely.

“Bringing an end to homophobia and transphobia will save lives. Anti-LGBTI harassment puts LGBTI identifying people at a heightened risk of physical and psychological harm. Everyone has the right to life, freedom and safety.”

The Peter Tatchell Foundation is urging all Commonwealth countries to:

1. Decriminalise homosexuality
2. Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
3. Enforce laws against threats and violence, to protect LGBT people from hate crimes
4. Consult and dialogue with LGBT organisations

And yet, according to its own Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, it appears that LGBT+ rights for millions of Commonwealth citizens are not even on the Commonwealth agenda.

Art by janeb13 on Pixabay

2. The Moral Imperative for Change

“I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. As the UK’s Prime Minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.” ~ Theresa May, The Guardian, 2018.

There are many voices across the Commonwealth that reflect its highest aims and aspirations: upholding the nobility of common humanity, with dignity and equality for all; and abolishing prejudice.

“We believe in the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and in their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which they live. We therefore strive to promote in each of our countries those representative institutions and guarantees for personal freedom under the law that are our common heritage.” ~ The Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, Singapore 1971.

“Our hopes for a more just, safe, and peaceful world can only be achieved when there is universal respect for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family.” – UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“Affirming that the special strength of the Commonwealth lies in the combination of our diversity and our shared inheritance in language, culture and the rule of law; and bound together by shared history and tradition; by respect for all states and peoples; by shared values and principles and by concern for the vulnerable…” (Charter of the Commonwealth, 2013, p. i.)

“If the church, after the victory over apartheid, is looking for a worthy moral crusade, then this is it: the fight against homophobia and heterosexism.” ~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“The Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity.” ~ Nelson Mandela.

“We hope that the Commonwealth Sports movement is playing a meaningful role in the wider global conversation around tolerance, empowerment, and legal recognition for all.” ~ Tom Daley

“We recall the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, which includes a clear commitment to tolerance, respect and understanding… Discrimination and criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with our values and I have had occasion to refer to this in the context of our law-related conferences.” ~ Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General.

3. Voices for Change

CHOGM aims to reinforce multilateral cooperation, explore new opportunities, and tackle common challenges for the well-being of future generations.

As part of this year’s CHOGM meeting in Rwanda, a number of forums will be held in order to involve a number of influencer voices and audiences. I respectfully present some voices that must be included in these forums.

Youth Forum:

Rwanda is expecting up to 300 delegates, including two official youth delegates from each member country, as well as key youth sector stakeholders.

The Commonwealth proudly boasts aspirational rhetoric about its young people: ‘We are all very different – but we work together‘ proclaims its website for YoungCommonwealth children, ‘There are LOTS of us in our family. And more than half of us are young people just like you.‘. But the reality is that in nations where homophobic laws are still practised, there are possibly hundreds of millions of Commonwealth people – potentially one in ten of the population – in danger of being disowned or harmed or killed by their family or community, based solely upon their sexuality or gender identity. This appalling statistic suggests that the harm is not confined simply to affected individuals but to whole families, communities and nations. This is a form of ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide that is on par with the Holocaust or colonial-era slavery.

When a young gay poet and friend of mine was murdered with apparent impunity in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, I asked why the name of George Floyd is known around the world, but the name of Trinidad Jerry is not. Apparently, Black Lives Matter unless you are LGBT+ in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and other Commonwealth countries. “The reason we’ve been ignored is simply because the world considers queer lives dispensable, more so when you are a queer African, and even more so when you’re a queer African refugee,” answered Lucretia, also in Kenya.

Is this the world – and the Commonwealth – that one billion young people want to grow up in? I suspect not. When is the Commonwealth going to do something about it?

Women’s Forum:

Rwanda anticipates up to 500 delegates from varied stakeholder groups. Leaders from all domains, including civil society, youth, activists, academics, influencers, policy experts, philanthropists, the corporate sector, and experts from all industries in the Commonwealth well beyond, will be included.

Human Dignity Trust reports that on top of obvious problems with autonomy, privacy, safety, family violence and social prejudice, ‘Lesbians and bisexual women also face discrimination in education, employment, health care and housing on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation. These forms of social and economic exclusion and marginalisation are common to all LGBT people, although lesbians and bisexual women may experience some of them in a different way.’ (‘Breaking the Silence: Criminalisation of Lesbians and Bisexual Women and its Impacts’, May 2016, p. 28)

The Trust further asserts: ‘a comparison of … countries that criminalise homosexuality versus those that do not criminalise homosexuality (in any form) illustrates that there is a significant correlation between gender inequality and the criminalisation of homosexuality.’ (‘Breaking the Silence p. 18).

An anonymous lesbian friend of mine tells me: “In Uganda, we [are] running every day because of people who not like us.” This friend tells me that she even fled from a refugee camp in Kenya due to homophobic violence.

Women can and should demand better gender-based governance from Commonwealth leadership, including the intersection of justice based upon gender and sexuality.

People’s Forum:

The Commonwealth People’s Forum brings together civil society representatives from around the Commonwealth to examine fundamental challenges plaguing Commonwealth citizens. It is the most critical single occasion for civil society to connect with Commonwealth leaders on global development challenges.

“I see human rights as the struggles of ordinary people to hold those in power to account – particularly power that is abused by those in government or corporations. These days we have become more conscious of abuse of power by non-state actors as well…

“It does not matter whether we are talking about this at the level of a violent husband, or an abusive landlord, or a government criminalising people because of who they are, or states playing games with people’s lives at the UN Security Council. All of these are about the abuse of power against the powerless. And this is why we need some rules of the game, why we need human rights.” ~ Salil Shetty.

#CHOGM22 is an opportunity for ordinary people to make Commonwealth leaders accountable for decades of homophobia and related bad governance. The Human Dignity Trust has published evidence-based studies to show that, ‘In addition to the criminalisation of homosexuality being an indicator of poor governance and poor human rights in and of itself, countries that criminalise tend to rank poorly on other indicators too’.

The Commonwealth proclaims that it, ‘works … to promote democracy, good governance, peace and the rule of law.’ In the name of the good governance to which the Commonwealth aspires, homophobia must be abolished and legislation must protect the human rights of LGBT+ people.

One anonymous African asylum seeker reports that she has even been denied basic services and assistance due to homophobia: “All LGBTs in Kenya need help because they stand no chance of having life in Kenya. I want the world to know about it and those who can help LGBTs especially in Kakuma refugee camp, please do because it’s real hell on Earth.”

Business Forum:

Hosted as a partnership between the Government of Rwanda and Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) this year’s forum will address the CHOGM theme ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’, with a focus on “A Global Reset”, dealing with the impact of the pandemic and the Commonwealth’s role in rebuilding and reinvigorating the global economy.

Businesses across the Commonwealth need to show leadership in recognising that human rights abuse is bad for business, and that rebuilding the world does not mean simply repeating bad and faulty practices from the past; it means making things better. The CHOGM Golf Tournament will not be enough to change the world.

In its published, ‘Study on the Economic Cost of LGBTI+ Exclusion in the Commonwealth’ (2020, page 3), the Kaleidoscope International Trust reports: “Studies show that LGBTI+ inclusion through education, social welfare, and access to health services and the ability to earn a livelihood creates conditions which enhance the generation of financial resources that can then be used to address larger national financial objectives. In effect, the ‘business case’ and the ‘moral case’ for LGBT+ inclusion are not mutually exclusive.”

In its study on ‘Criminalising Homosexuality and International Business: the Economic and Business Cases for Decriminalisation’ (November 2015), the Human Dignity Trust noted on page 9:

In a related preliminary study for the World Bank released in February 2014, ‘The Economic Cost of Homophobia & the Exclusion of LGBT People: A Case Study of India’, the impact of homophobia on the Indian economy was assessed. This preliminary report estimated the cost of homophobia to have been between US$1.9 and US$30.8 billion in 2012 alone (or up to 1.7% of total GDP). This estimate included lost productivity caused by social exclusion and health-related costs and losses arising from HIV, depression and suicide. Commenting on her research on India, Professor Badgett stated:

“Our recent study shows that emerging economies that protect more rights for LGBT people through decriminalization of homosexuality, nondiscrimination laws, and recognition of LGBT families have higher GDP per capita, even after controlling for other influences on a country’s economic output. Each additional right is associated with a 3% increase in GDP per capita for those countries.”

The business forum theme: ‘Advancing Together: Delivering people-centered governance through the Commonwealth’ needs to recognise that human rights abuse is bad governance and unprofitable for business. It is also bad for international relations.

4. Time For Action

In 2014, Dr Paula Gerber in Australia asked a pointed question while highlighting Commonwealth human rights atrocities that continue nearly a decade later: “The Commonwealth should be a forum for advancing human rights across all its member states but unfortunately for LGBTI citizens this is not the case… we need to ask some tough questions: should Australia… continue to be a member of an international body where the majority of countries can jail, if not kill, gays?”

In the UK in 2022, activist Peter Tatchell was more pointed:

“These anti-LGBT+ laws violate the Commonwealth Charter which pledges that all member states are ‘committed to equality’ and ‘opposed to all forms of discrimination.”

“Commonwealth leaders refuse to recognise that LGBT+ rights are human rights. For over 50 years, they’ve vetoed any discussion of the issue at their heads of government meetings.”

“Countries that criminalise LGBT+ people should be suspended from the Commonwealth.”

While this might seem an extreme move, it would be entirely consistent with past international approaches to sporting (and other) boycotts related to protesting apartheid, wars and other international human rights abuses. Just as Russia today is facing world sanctions for its unprovoked aggression against the Ukraine, Commonwealth nations that continue to abuse their own people need to be told unambiguously that the modern world no longer tolerates such behaviour.

Image by succo from Pixabay

5. World Public Opinion and History Will Judge #CHOGM2022

This Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Rwanda during June 2022 is an opportunity for Commonwealth nations to collectively uphold their principles of equality and anti-discrimination. This meeting must address homophobic laws and demand that Commonwealth nations repeal these laws. This CHOGM must produce positive results if the Commonwealth wishes to be seen as a relevant global agency in the 21st century, instead of an entity that is still clinging to outdated colonial-era laws.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the Commonwealth to demand that the Rwandan government redress its human rights abuses during the CHOGM meeting. Similarly, a call can be made for all Commonwealth governments to redress their slower, but equally violent, homophobic ethnic cleansing.

In 1979, Commonwealth Heads of Government proclaimed that they ‘have decided to proclaim our desire to work jointly as well as severally for the eradication of all forms of racism and racial prejudice’ and to work ‘to the achievement of equal rights for all citizens’ against ‘the dangerous evils of racism and racial prejudice’ (The Lusaka Declaration of the Commonwealth on Racism and Racial Prejudice, Zambia, 1979). These noble sentiments sound hollow when considering that a generation later, CHOGM has repeatedly refused to work for the equality of millions of its own LGBT citizens against the equally dangerous evils of homophobia and heterosexism. It is time for modern laws to reflect modern understandings of human rights and equality. Homophobia and heterosexist privilege have no place in the Commonwealth, just as white supremacy and apartheid are rightly no longer tolerated.

This CHOGM meeting will be a test of the Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth @commonwealthsec. On her twitter feed, she proclaims: ‘Life is for living – be the change!’ Let’s see her (and all #CHOGM2022 delegates) live up to these same principles. The world is watching.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

Trans* Humanism

Commemorating IDAHOBIT Day (17 May),
Pansexual and Panromantic Awareness and Visibility Day (24 May),
and Mabo Day (3 June).

Earlier this month, we commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia (IDAHOBIT); last week we also commemorated Pansexual Visibility Day, and this week we commemorate Mabo Day. This blog article, deliberately coming in between all of them (but close enough to those days to remain topical), is designed to acknowledge their fight, while attempting to avoid the tokenism of having only one day per year set aside for each of these important social issues.

And yet I also believe that such days can point to an optimistic and better future.

Just as the fight for LGBT+ rights began as ‘gay liberation’ and evolved and expanded to embrace an ever-growing alphabet of terms and cohorts, IDAHOBIT Day began as IDAHO Day to tackle homophobia, and then expanded its mandate and terms to also include biphobia, transphobia and interphobia. IDAHOBIT Day challenges us to reconcile with an ever-expanding variety of oppressed cohorts of people. Pansexual and Panromantic Awareness and Visibility Day – also undergoing its own expansion of terms – adds to this increased awareness and activism. I find such social evolution to be both exciting and encouraging.

Meanwhile, Mabo Day offers us a perspective on another form of entrenched and institutionalised discrimination, and while it does not directly link to the other days in question, it does offer us an opportunity for intersectionality. People within one marginalised group should surely empathize with those within other marginalised groups. If we wish to confront one form of discrimination and oppression, we should surely confront them all.

Transgressions and Transformations

In a pluralist world, some people – many of them falsely presenting themselves as being feminist, progressive, in leadership, or otherwise enlightened – nevertheless manage to display discriminatory attitudes and behaviours against varied cohorts of people. Today, such bigotry is often displayed against trans women, who are seen as the most vulnerable members of the LGBT+ community. I see cisgender heterosexual white men (or heterosexual women who support patriarchal structures) – who have spent a lifetime promoting their privilege – bleating about protecting women’s sport as an excuse to promote transphobia: in Australia over recent weeks, even our Prime Minister aligned himself with such views – and this may be at least partly why his government was effectively wiped out by voters at the subsequent election.

Trans and gender diverse people have actually been part of their human societies for as long as there have been human societies. Even during the homophobic and transphobic bogan Australian society of the 1960s, I recall as a young child seeing other boys who wore clothing or makeup that transgressed gender binary norms for the era. Later, as a teen in the 1970s, I met my first trans friend, who was accepted unconditionally by my cohort of forward-looking, progressive young adult friends. I see the same acceptance today among younger people who often ‘come out’ as trans at younger ages, and in greater numbers, than they did in previous generations. I celebrate the era to come, despite the problems that older people – bigoted, hateful people – create for these young and free spirits.

Art by janeb13 on Pixabay

It seems tragically ironic that some of the most bigoted people on the planet – those who subscribe to particularly narrow and archaic understandings of sexuality and gender, preach the unconditional love of their favourite deity while practising the opposite. The irony of their situation is self evident when considering that although their proclaimed form of divine love for their neighbour appears to be pansexual (loving all humans regardless of whether they are cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary, genderfluid, or agender, and straight or LGBT+), their lives are a tragic denial of the concept of pansexual human love.

And in fuller recognition of intersectionality, I acknowledge that indigenous LGBT+ kids remain some of the most marginalised people in our country. Their lives challenge all of us to be better and to care more; to all experience a transformation or transition to be the best authentic humans that we can be.

Trans Humanity

This brings to my mind perhaps the most lateral and optimistic intersection of all: the concept of TransHumanism is a philosophy that advocates the advancement of humans through the application of science and technology. It is another form of trans* that challenges us to evolve and become a better species because it implicitly presumes that we will amass the wisdom to suitably use our new technology.

Whether through ethical advancement such as might be found in our treatment of our trans siblings, or scientific advancement as proposed by TransHumanism, we have the potential to be better. This reveals our fullest intersectionality: that of being most fully, authentically human. I do not fear change and evolution, advancement and expansion of our LGBT alphabet; I find it to be exciting and I fully embrace it.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

Why Science Fiction?

Commemorating International Day of Living Together in Peace.

Art by Dick ‘Ditmar’ Jenssen

The Sky Is The Limit

I admit that I have not been blogging so much this year – I have been distracted by a need for activism in the world around me. My desire to help create a better world is not only my human instinct kicking in, but a manifestation of my interest in sci fi.

And in my quieter moments, I have been doing voluntary work for the Australian Science Fiction Foundation, especially helping to create their new website (soon to be launched) as my latest contribution to advancing futurism and cultural innovation. This is a refreshing exploration of other worlds and other realities, far from our mundane world of COVID and war and politics and world poverty.

And no, I have not been seeking mere escapism. I do not subscribe to the cliché that science fiction is a crutch for those who cannot cope with reality. Instead, I have been using the ideals and visions within SF to replenish my optimism for the real-life future and to contribute, in lateral ways, to building a better world by (hopefully) encouraging others to look upwards and ahead. Fictional character Sarah Connor once commented that a storm is coming, and her words should inspire us to prepare for whatever that storm may be – climate catastrophe, nuclear war, pandemic, political upheaval, or whatever the future may hold.

Which of course brings up an obvious question: why science fiction?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning

Humans have probably been telling stories since our distant forebears leant how to communicate. Those stories reflect our cultures, our values and our circumstances.

Where Jason and his Argonauts once explored unknown vistas, we now have James Kirk and his astronauts exploring strange new worlds. Where King Arthur or Robin Hood once fought for justice against corruption and oppression, we now have Harry Potter and Leia Skywalker. Superman and the Marvel Avengers police the ethereal skies where Olympian deities or other divinities once claimed exclusive sovereignty.

In the past, we had Pythia or Merlin or Sherlock Holmes as our fictional or mythological guides for morality and rationality responding to technology and circumstance; today Spock or the Doctor or R. Daneel Olivaw serve as transHumanist and secular reworkings of our template Everyman.

Through such timeless motifs – including the use of metaphoric humans disguised as robots, superheroes, artificial intelligence, or other forms of sentient life – science fiction holds up a mirror to ourselves and teaches us what it means to be human.

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4934401

Mission to Planet Earth

Climate change and pollution are hardly new kids on the science fictional block. They have been explored for decades. Through SF films like Silent Running, I became aware of the looming threat of environmental catastrophe, while The Omega Man introduced me to the dangers of epidemics a decade before HIV/AIDS appeared on the world scene and a generation before COVID. Through the Planet of the Apes books and films, I became aware of the power of metaphor and nuance in exploring religious or philosophical themes, while 2001: A Space Odyssey taught me that the Universe’s poetry could be visual if we gaze into the cosmos.

Perhaps most powerfully, Star Trek and Thunderbirds showed me the power of people working together to explore strange new worlds and helping each other out of natural disasters.

And all of this before I hit puberty (which is testimony to the power of sci fi – as a genre that explores the future, it has special power to inspire and empower young people especially).

In the wider world, science fiction has the ability to warn us (The Handmaid’s Tale) or inspire us (Hidden Figures). I have known people whose career choices were inspired by SF: authors, teachers, human rights activists, scientists, doctors, even astronauts. And in turn, the real-life space program has helped to create the technological and scientifically literate cultures in which we live today.

More than all that, space and science fiction have already saved our planet, through NASA’s ‘Mission to Planet Earth‘ (launched in 1991) which led the world response in solving the hole in the Ozone layer.

I have previously written about the inspiration that can be found within science fiction:

I enjoy science fiction because it promises me that humanity has a future, full of dreamers, explorers and heroes. It promotes the joy of diversity – including aliens, robots, cyber citizens, sentients, men and women, [variously] queer and trans and gender non-binary humans – all living together in peace and equality.

We can do more than dream of such a world: we can help to create it. Make it so.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn