Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hope for the Future

Arthur C. Clarke, author, died today at the age of 90. You may know him as the author behind 2001: A Space Odyssey, the book and famous Stanley Kubrick film. Clarke wrote in an earlier age of Science Fiction. The internet had not yet transformed the world, and cyberpunk was not yet a glimmer in William Gibson's eye. America lived in the shadow of the cold war, and much of the Science Fiction of the time dealt with the possibility of humankind destroying itself.

Clarke infused his writing with a limitless view of both human potential and human failings; In his view, humanity is in its infancy, delicate, vulnerable, throwing temper tantrums, but with its best years still ahead of it. In 2001, the main character upon his apotheosis literally becomes a child among the stars. In Childhood's End humanity as a whole escapes it's physical bounds in a heartbreaking moment of destruction and transcendence that the title of the book literally describes. Throughout his writing however, the factions of humanity are always a single mistake from destroying each other, and it is often extraterrestrials that distract them enough to survive their own power. Clarke wrote long before Nelson Mandela took his long walk to freedom, and hypothesized in Childhood's End that South Africa wouldn't reach a peaceful settlement until aliens gathered overhead and demanded it by blocking out the sun. Still, in his worlds we always managed to escape our vices to do extraordinary things: building a space elevator, colonizing the solar system, greeting the vast powers of the galaxy with dignity.

His books are full of the hope that with the passage of time, the problems that seem so immediate will be immaterial, that the differences between us are surmountable, that we have the ingenuity to escape our lonely planet and join whatever waits beyond. This perhaps the essence of Clarke's future. With that, I present to you the most intelligent and moving speech I've seen delivered by a politician in my lifetime. Had he been able, I think this is the type of progress Arthur C. Clarke would have liked to see.

Clarke delivered a farewell speech on his 90th birthday about his legacy, the incredible distance we've come within his lifetime, and his hope for the future. "I have great faith in optimism as a guiding principle, if only because it offers us the opportunity of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. I hope that we have learned something from the most barbaric century in history — the twentieth. I would like to see us overcome our tribal divisions, and begin to think and act as if we were one family. That would be real globalization." If you'd like to read some of his work, the full text of the "The Star" is available online.

No one dared to disturb him or interrupt his thoughts: and presently he turned his back upon the dwindling Sun.
- Childhood's End

1 comment:

Lauren said...

I'd heard about Arthur C. Clarke's death a few days ago. Great author. I loved Childhood's End.

Maybe I'm too much of an idealist, but I'm very excited about Obama's campaign. I recently wrote another post about it on my blog (http://doclauren.blogspot.com/2008/03/obama-bargain.html), in connection with an article I read from the Wall Street Journal. Having conservative parents certainly gives fodder for strong opinion-shaping. :)