Political Vampires

There’s a joke that the word politics comes from the Greek ‘Poly” meaning many and “ticks” meaning blood-sucking insect. I’m not inclined to argue etymology—or entomology—but after watching part of a documentary about the Voyager program, I realized that political activists have sucked the joy out of a whole lot of places, including science, and planetary exploration. Instead of rejoicing over new discoveries and amazing accomplishments, the only thing on the news is division, accusation, and the infamous Shirt-storm. What in the name of little green apples happened?

How many of you knew that Space-X recently had a successful launch and controlled landing of their rocket? I’d missed it, until Dorothy Grant sent me a link to the footage. The news was full of Charlottesville and the US president saying or not saying something. And a few seconds about the start of football season. Nothing about an amazing accomplishment, nothing about a small triumph on the way to returning to space. Nope, it was all race this and radical that and eeeeeeeevil statues.*

When I came home Wednesday from choir, a PBS special about Voyager was on TV. The spacecraft were reaching Jupiter when I came in. The people at JPL and the other space centers were wild with excitement, talking about how they didn’t want to go home, how they tried to stay awake to watch as the images came in, about the discoveries and thrill of the moment. Even today, older and grayer, their eyes shine as they recount those days. There’s a fierce joy in the scientists and technicians as they describe Voyager’s explorations of Jupiter, the Jovian moons, and Saturn. The sense of wonder radiates out of the screen. It’s still infectious.

I started to choke up, because that seems to be gone. The excitement of landing a space probe on a comet and getting good data was crushed by a few people’s fury over the lead scientist’s shirt. NASA shifted its focus from exploration and returning to the Moon to “Muslim outreach.” (Nothing personal against the folks from NASA who got assigned to that project, but I really do not care to imagine ISIS, Al Quaeda, the Qods Force, and Jamaat Islamia with rockets larger than an RPG.)

One of the hallmarks of Great Causes™ is that they leave no room for delight and wonder. Everything in life is about The Cause, and The Cause comes before anything else. Thus a scientist overseeing a project that successfully lands a space probe on a comet and takes samples and sends data back to Earth is not someone to be complimented or someone to celebrate with. Oh no, no, he must be excoriated because he’s wearing a shirt with a pattern of attractive young women and rockets on it, a bit like the old pulp sci-fi covers. Feminism and “not objectifying women” and “it must be harassment!!!”

Behold, the dreadfully offensive shirt. Available in several sizes and materials from Shirtstorm Clothing.

completely overrode what the man and his team actually accomplished, and he was forced to recant of the heinous sin of . . . wearing a shirt that a female friend and colleague had given him several years before. Because The Cause was more important than the accomplishment. It sucks the life out of everything not related to it.

Sense of wonder and eager excitement are less important than serving the Great Cause™, whatever that cause may be. I passed around a link two weeks ago to an essay complaining because the path of totality of Monday’s eclipse only crossed majority-minority areas in South Carolina, and missed several locations important to the civil rights movement and African-American history. Even the eclipse had to serve A Cause. It couldn’t just be enjoyed or studied.

Every time I encounter a Great Cause™ supporter in real life or through various media, I am reminded of Ayatollah Khomeini’s dictum that “There is no joy in Islam.” Nothing can be savored or enjoyed unless it serves The Cause, and no accomplishment is worth acknowledging unless it is for the good of The Cause. That includes the pursuit of knowledge and things like astronomy.

This image shows a small section of the Veil Nebula, as it was observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This section of the outer shell of the famous supernova remnant is in a region known as NGC 6960 or — more colloquially — the Witch’s Broom Nebula.

I can all-too easily imagine a group of frowning faces around a conference table looking at pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope or other telescopes and demanding to know, “How does this advance the Cause of [whatever]? Are there enough [whatevers] on the team? Could this image traumatize [whatevers]? Why is money being spent on star pictures when it could be spent on Advancing the Great Cause™?” and so on.

To which I say blargh. Killjoys. Sometimes a star is only a star. I write stories and love stories with a sense of wonder, with an intake of breath for the beauty of a moment, with amazement at something so neat as a full eclipse, with awe at the Milky Way stretching across the dark sky in midwinter, starlight blue on the snow.

Don’t let your cause kill that. Don’t ever let go of wonder, and laughter, for the sake of a cause. The world’s too serious to lose joy.


*Anyone else have the occasional fond dream of an “offensive statue” turning out to be one of the Weeping Angles from Doctor Who and sending members of [insert your personal least-favorite, most obnoxious group] back in time a few hundred or thousand years?

Edited Sunday, August 27: Welcome, Instapundit Readers. Thanks for stopping by!

16 thoughts on “Political Vampires

  1. “And a few seconds about the start of football season.”

    You know things have gone seriously wrong when the start of football season in Texas doesn’t get at least ten minutes on the news. Although if you were watching the network newscast (why?), that might not be so surprising.

    You raise some very valid points. I saw something the other day that said self-improvement is a tool of the patriarchy. Excuse me, that should be The Patriarchy.

    In my more pessimistic moments, which are coming more often these days, I despair of seeing that excitement of exploration becoming widespread like it was when I was a kid. I remember Voyager and Viking. Those were exciting events that captured the imagination of the public. Now they’ve become a footnote. It’s those times when I fear we’ve entered the early stages of a Dark Age where the best we can do is preserve as much as possible for a future generation to pick up where we left off and return to exploring the universe. Whether that’s the case or just my negative outlook, I don’t intend to let it happen without a fight.

    Sorry to be so negative, but it’s been one of those weeks. *head off to reread Dominic Flandry and A Canticle for Leibowitz*

    • If I didn’t have such great, challenging, students, I’d be in the bunker with you. It’s been one of those weeks I’d just as soon rip out of the journal and consign to the fire, at least around Redquarters. And yes, I find myself wondering if I can stockpile more books on various topics, “just in case.”

      • Most of my students are a joy to work with, at least the ones I have in my classes. It’s the ones I deal with in my position of lab director (~ 2000, along with a few graduate TAs) that make me want to develop a doomsday device.

  2. At least the military is ‘refocusing’ their training back to actually breaking things and killing people, which is there job! Of course the left is going bat nuts over it. Friend of mine is a female astronaut (Kay Hire), she’s working with SpaceX on the new version of spam in a can, and glad to be out of Houston.

    • Yes. You wonder how much money could have been spent on, oh, ship repair and training that went to Diversity Awareness training, for example.

  3. In 2005, the UK science curriculum for students 14-16 was changed. Melanie Phillips reported that the curriculum will no longer have much actual *science* in it…

    “Instead of learning science, pupils will “learn about the way science and scientists work within society”. They will “develop their ability to relate their understanding of science to their own and others’ decisions about lifestyles”, the QCA said. They will be taught to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the “social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions”.

    They will learn to “question scientific information or ideas” and be taught that “uncertainties in scientific knowledge and ideas change over time”, and “there are some questions that science cannot answer, and some that science cannot address”. Science content of the curriculum will be kept “lite”. Under “energy and electricity”, pupils will be taught that “energy transfers can be measured and their efficiency calculated, which is important in considering the economic costs and environmental effects of energy use””

    Melanie: “The reason given for the change to the science curriculum is to make science ‘relevant to the 21st century’. This is in accordance with the government’s doctrine of ‘personalised learning’, which means that everything that is taught must be ‘relevant’ to the individual child.”

    In my post on this subject, I quoted C S Lewis in ‘a Preface to Pardise Lost’, in which he contrasts the characters of Adam and Satan, as developed in Milton’s work:

    “Adam talks about God, the Forbidden tree, sleep, the difference between beast and man, his plans for the morrow, the stars and the angels. He discusses dreams and clouds, the sun, the moon, and the planets, the winds and the birds. He relates his own creation and celebrates the beauty and majesty of Eve…Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’ Satan has been in the heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan.. And that “one thing” is, of course, Satan himself…his position and the wrongs he believes have been done to him. “Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament…”

    One need not believe in a literal Satan, or for that matter be religious at all, to see the force of this. There is indeed something Satanic about a person who has no interests other than themselves. And by insisting that everything be “relevant” and discouraging the development of broader interests, the educational authorities in Britain are doing great harm to the children put in their charge.

    The ‘monomaniac concern with oneself and his supposed rights and wrongs’ seems to be driving out everything else in our society today.


  4. Given the distance, the light is Very Old by the time it’s left the Veil Nebula and reached the observer, but even at the time the photon left the nebula, that had to be a long time from the supernova event that initially pumped the energy into it.

    Is that a false color image, or is that really blue in parts? What’s keeping it so full of energy for so long, or is it simply re-radiating energy from other sources?

    Yeah, and liberalism ruins everything it touches. The result will be to bring the “Miracle of Detroit” to the rest of the world.

    • The Veil nebula is part of the remains of a supernova in Cygnus. Part (most) of the emissions from it are the result of a shock wave as the remnant plows into the surrounding interstellar medium. IIRC, some is also energized by output from the reduced remnant of the original star that blowed up real good.

      • Having some idea of how lasers work, and how hard it is to pump energy into a medium in the first place, the idea that something is radiating from x-ray to infrared over that much area, for that long, and isn’t itself a source (i.e. not a star), is astounding.

        But hey, the dude totally had it coming for wearing a shirt like that infront of one of the sisters of the perpetually offended. I mean, if it wasn’t for that shirt, she would have totally had a degree in STEM, too, ya know. Well, that shirt, and an oppressive calculus teacher forcing all of that Newton-era patriarchy on her. /sarc

  5. 46 years ago, Ten Years After kicked off a lament with, “Everywhere is Freaks and Hairies, Dykes and Fairies; Tell me where is sanity?”

  6. There’s a story going on of a neo-nazi h website called the Dailystormer ia selling Anne Frank fleshlights. It’s run by a certain Andrew Anglin who calls himself Philip Phührer gid and stupid names like that, rumor is he even sexed underage girls in Vietnam, Phillipines, Japan, etc when he’s not playing nazi.So some black dude living in Italy actually bought one of the fleshlights, it cost him like $300 plus [edited to “way too much for”] shipping, and he ended up waiting 3 weeks only to get a dollar store ashtray supposedly “signed by Hitler”.So he started [censored] on the Dailystormer forums saying he wanted a refund cause the fleshlight was fake and shit like that. Anglin kz apparently told him it was the real deal but he kept saying it was fake and he wanted his money back. So in the end the Dailystormer [censored] sued that black dude for “Holocaust denial”, which is a crime in Italy (don’t ask). Now he’s being deported cause they revoked his visa. {Censored} this racist world…

    [Edited for language. Please keep it PG-13]

  7. Diedre, I could not approve of your comment because of language and because of a problem with your e-mail and IP information. I agree that the website you describe and the person behind it are jerks (at best, and I’m being kind). And manipulating people’s gullibility in order to hurt them in the name of “race” or culture is wrong on a whole lot of levels.

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