Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ideas and Madness

First, a side note: Thanks to electronic books, I’ve just finished reading H.G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man,” one of many classics I’ve read only in electronic form. I’ve read a few studies where researchers show electronic devices are disengaging us from reading – and I’d like to stand out as an outlier. Having classic books on an electronic device has made me more likely to read them, to retain information from them, and to want to read additional similar books.

Now, The Invisible Man.

Pure science fiction, concentrating on the two big sci-fi themes: The Idea, and the Madness Behind the Idea.

The idea of the Invisible Man, of course, isn’t invisibility: It’s that the devil is always in the details of any grand Idea pursued to fruition.

Griffin, the Invisible Man, achieves invisibility – but quickly realizes there’s precious little he can do with it. As he tells his classmate Kemp:

I made a mistake, Kemp, a huge mistake, in carrying this thing through alone. I have waste strength, time, opportunities. Alone – it is wonderful how little a man can do alone! To rob a little, to hurt a little, and there is the end.

Hitherto I have gone on vague lines. We have to consider all that invisibility means, all that it does not mean. It means little advantage for eavesdropping, and so forth – one make sounds. It’s of little help – a little help perhaps – in housebreaking and so forth. Once you’ve caught me you could easily imprison me. But on the other hand I am hard to catch. This invisibility, in fact, is only good in two cases: It’s useful in getting away, it’s useful in approaching. It’s particularly useful, therefore, in killing. I can walk round a man, whatever weapon he has, choose my point, strike as I like. Dodge as I like. Escape as I like.

Griffin discovered, in his twisted, isolated mind, that there were few advantages to the goal he sought – once he had achieved it and yet had no way to turn back the clock.

I’m struck by how often isolation is used in science fiction – even this early science fiction – to demonstrate the madness behind the Idea – the devil in the details. Alone, one is easy to persuade that the end is all that matters, discovering only afterward that the end presents its own dangers.

Kind of reminds me of another isolationist:

So what are the flaws in Ted Kaczynski’s Idea – aside from his forcing his idea onto others by the same killing Griffin decides to pursue?

Kaczynski’s idea that technology is all bad is, of course, flawed. There are bad uses of technology, and much time wasted in its use, but the benefits of, say, computers and the Internet, of advances in travel and medicine, outweigh what disadvantages we can identify. If there are shortcomings in technology, it is that, as with Kaczynski, there are shortcomings in how we deal with people and technology, not in other people and technology on their own. The flaws we see in society are more often than not the flaws we project onto society from our own darkened windows. That is the madness behind the idea.

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