Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Foreskins, Eugenics, and Buck Rogers

•The future clearly lies in ever-easier cultural mixing-and-matching – and no idiot paleos on the right or anti-globalization activists on the left can do a damn thing to stop it.  I just saw a cool photo of two friends’ heads painted into a Bollywood action film poster, a wedding gift from New Yorkers Lefty Leibowitz and Emily Fromm depicting Texas newlyweds L.B. Deyo and Ellie Hanlon, handpainted in Mumbai.  Do you think the future will bring more things like that or fewer?  (Do you think higher tariffs and stricter international labor laws would or should prevent it?)

•But there are undeniably interesting cases where it’s unclear how much deference to give to the locals/traditionalists vs. ostensibly more-universal standards.  Conservative rabbi Shmuley Boteach is now up in arms over anti-circumcision activists using comic books full of evil mohels as propaganda for their cause.  Boteach calls it flat-out anti-Semitism, although (A) I’m (of course) inclined to give cartoonists a fair amount of leeway (how does one depict evil mohels without mocking Judaism?) and (B) I’m sympathetic to the anti-circumcision argument that the decision to have a significant portion of your body removed probably ought to be made by you (as an adult) when possible instead of by others (when you’re a defenseless baby). 

Boteach notes that science is on his side in that foreskins make contracting AIDS more likely, but that’s an argument that can be made to an adult years later, of course.  And I can’t help wondering how many conservatives who invoke that bit of science as sufficient reason to hack off part of the penis are the same people who recoil in horror and offense at the suggestion that their kids get anti-HPV vaccination shots now to reduce the risk of STDs years hence.  Even stronger scientific argument, far less intrusive procedure. 

On this as on so many things, though, I think Boteach needs a thicker skin.

•The name Boteach reminds me of one of my favorite items from the site OverheardinNewYork, co-founded by my fellow atheist-anarchist Michael Malice.  A kid on the subway reportedly told his friends that a nearby poster for a college said you could learn about “bee-otch” there, to which one of his friends said: That’s biotech, stupid. 

And that brings us back to eugenics, the ostensible theme of the month on this blog.  Genetic and physical enhancement is not a bad thing, though it’s also worth keeping in mind humanity’s terrible track record at deciding what (or who) is unworthy.  I have only just learned, in looking into this topic, that the Pioneer Fund, the premier organization for funding sometimes-crazy, sometimes-legit research into human genetic diversity – including the controversial book The Bell Curve – is in my neighborhood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (who knew?). 

Called white supremacists and a “hate group” by the
Southern Poverty Law Center (but then, the SPLC calls everyone that nowadays), the Pioneer Fund is right there at 68th and Lexington, within easy protesting distance of all those Hunter College kids.  Small world. 

•It’s actually extraordinarily rare, despite what leftists might fear, to encounter a real eugenicist or fascist among right-wingers – akin to spotting a Sparticist League member at an Obama meet-up, I suppose (indeed, it’s much easier to find John Birch Society members at Ron Paul events, though I grew up thinking Birchers were lost creatures from political mythology).

I did, however, know a guy who was particularly interested in ethnic implications of genetic diversity (my own feeling, by contrast, being that with genetics, as with virtually everything in life, why focus on big, sloppy, misleading, not to mention politically-volatile aggregates when we can focus on the individual, as we increasingly can in the era of personal genomics?).  I think he has since been banned from Canada (not quite the bastion of free speech that the U.S. is), and at one time he lived with a roommate who also had views considered radical even on the right. 

She was essentially a sort of proto-fascist but decidedly not a eugenicist, whereas he was a eugenicist but not really a fascist.  Amusingly, each thought the other weird.  In retrospect, of course, I suppose they were both correct, at least about that. 

•I’ll tell you who the real racist is, though: Buck Rogers.  And as a sci-fi fan, I take no pleasure in saying so.  But if you were to make Buck Rogers movies today that were completely faithful to the intent of the original 1920s novels, the plot would not simply be “man from twentieth century is unfrozen in the twenty-fifth century and fights world-conquering bad guys,” it would literally be (I kid you not) “white man from twentieth century wakes up in a twenty-fifth century overrun by the Asian hordes ruled by the global warlord Killer Kane, whose instinctively-collectivist people have driven instinctively democracy-loving white men back into one last fortress-like stronghold city in North America.” 

(That villain, if you think about it for a moment, clearly had a big impact on sci-fi, inspiring Flash Gordon’s nemesis Ming the Merciless, Kirk’s unfrozen foe Khan, and Marvel Comics’ time-traveling Kang the Conqueror.)

In the end, Buck and his fellow heroes discover that Asians are part extraterrestrial and thus can be exterminated without moral qualms.  Happy ending!  Fortunately, this was not the precise plot of the Gil Gerard TV version from the 1980s.  (Granted, it is similar to the Gil Gerard version.)

Today, of course, your hardcore “smarter” racists tend to like the Asians – not to mention Boteach’s people, who were derided as dimwits before they were derided for being too clever.  The racists now reserve their worrying for the blacks and Hispanics.  I am no kneejerk p.c. guy, nor one to put egalitarian political assumptions before empirical data, but history suggests to me that their current views, too, could change in time (and universal human rights should be the same throughout, of course). 

In the meantime, if everyone respects property rights, I predict we’ll all get along and get to the cool parts of the Buck Rogers future that much more quickly.  But more on predicting the future...tomorrow.

P.S. Brief reminder that current trends never hold: imagine if twenty years ago someone had said to you, “Ah, yes, Russia – the place with a flat tax, partly located on the continent of Europe, where countries have been warning the U.S. to limit government spending, and partly located on the continent of Asia, which is full of religious fanatics who hate the West for its secularism.”

You would have thought the person came from Coo-Coo Backwards Land Where Crazy People Live (and that is probably how you would have phrased it, especially if you worked for the elder Bush administration).  Yet here we are.  And it’s a reminder how quickly and drastically things change, especially if initially viewed too superficially. 

In related news, the site that has been my major news source throughout the latest transformation of DC Comics reality, BleedingCool, has a photo of Bulgarian commie-soldier statues that were mischievously altered to look like American pop culture heroes.


Anonymous said...

"Amusingly, each thought the other weird."

That's a good one...

Dave said...

The foreskin/Buck Rogers juxtaposition reminds me of the novel 3001 (or whatever year that 2001 sequel took place) where a person from our time shows up and a woman from the future is horrified at his "disfigurement"