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Written to Dig This Vibe by DJ Krush.
Stanislaw Lem wrote in Solaris that humanity lacks a mirror for itself. We go through life with nothing to compare ourselves with, no baseline with which to judge our sanity, doing whatever it looks like we are supposed to be doing and occasionally caring if we’re doing the right thing. We have no mirrors. We only have other humans, only other human minds, which we can neither fully perceive nor fully trust. How are we to know whether our reactions are reasonable, or if our perceptions are realistic, if we have nothing else to compare ourselves to?

Humans kept in total isolation will eventually go insane. Can the same thing happen to whole sentient species? If a race is locked away for too long from contact with other sentient beings, does it go mad? Has this happened to the human species? Or are we hanging by a thread, trying to retain our grip on reality, before we abstract ourselves into a corner…

Science fiction, a recent development on the scale of human history, might well be one of the devices that humanity is using to try to keep itself sane. We have no other species to measure ourselves against, so we invent them. We have no mirrors, so we make them. What we find is not always to our liking, as in Solaris, but overall we are hopeful for our survival as a species – or at least we are now. There have been times in the past where apocalyptic fiction was far more prevalent than it is now.

Have we already lost it? Are our emerging flaws, such as vapid popular culture existing side by side with abject poverty, symptomatic of pre-existing flaws, or are they signs of the onset of madness? And is the upswing in hope displayed in science fiction a good sign, or are we just partying against the darkness?

I have an awful lot of faith in humanity; perhaps too much. But I am proud to be human. One of the fixtures in recent religious satire (such as The Prophecy and Good Omens) has been that there are now three sides to the moral conflict: good, evil, and human, and that in order to survive we must take our morality into our own hands. The mixture of flaw and perfection is vital to growth and expansion. Our weaknesses, our predatory natures, and that burning, beautiful pride that is considered to be the worst sin of all -- they are the source of everything we have achieved. When I say “everything we have achieved”, I mean that in the old, Great Works, Fed The Five Thousand sense: we’ve seen the dark side of the moon, visited the depths of the ocean, built structures thousands of feet high, moved faster than sound, begun to unlock the secrets of our creation, and spread a web of information across the world so that everyone is a neighbor to be loved. The Internet Saves.

I believe we are half-mad. We’re not doomed, but we’re treading the Thin Line. Mirrors can show the flaws, but they can’t give the solutions. How are we to give ourselves therapy? Again, that’s where science fiction comes in. It gives us a place to exercise potential solutions to sociological problems, like running simulations in a computer. Every once in a while, we find one we like, and we run with it. That’s when things like Star Wars and Neuromancer crop up on the cultural horizon: they are warnings, or pats on the back, letting us as a culture know how we’re doing. Of course, these notices are not constant from culture to culture, and not everyone receives them, but they appear in other forms, and can be transmitted.

Science fiction saves. Just don’t take it too seriously.

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