Limits of the Imagination

        13. Many people concerned with bettering human conditions (let alone those of the earth) recoil with superstitious dread at the prospect of higher technology as a life-furthering Way. Golem haunts us all in an age whose most spectacular accomplishment is the instant annihilation of cities, in a culture now recognizing that its most innocent technological triumph, Rinso White, has poisoned the deepest waters. Most of those who are excited about technology have paralyzed imaginations. They tend to see goals and consequences on the most rudimentary levels, in terms of physical satisfaction of physical needs, as if material means affected man mostly materially. Thus the thoughtful conceive that the world might be fed, cities rebuilt, disease prevented, age eased, learning aided, and so on, by wise use of machines. But they have little sense of how changed technology might alter our political behavior. the psychology of our cognition, our spiritual sensitivities, and so on.

        14. But why shouldn't our minds be in a box about technology? All women and most men -- especially intellectuals -- are acculturated to take pride in not understanding the technologies they exploit and depend upon. Knowledge of the Machine is conceived of as isolated from other knowledge and irrelevant to most social roles. By our economic processes, it is mystified and confined to certain specialized castes of men, and among this technological elite the restrictive training of the mind on unbalanced male principles is most highly developed. Small wonder that engineers aren't noted for imagination!

        15. Culture-wide, the natural play of imagination about technology has been specialized and repressed. In the arts, it has been confined until recently to a “low" and minor branch of literature. Science fiction investigates the possible futures of our transformation through our technologies, material and other, from fusion energy through somatic psychotherapy to psi and Buddhism, alone and in multiple combination. Once science fiction romances treated ray-guns like six-guns; now they consider ethical systems derived from the needs of life in different ecologies, methane-based or machine-supported. As its body of speculation grows richer and deeper, we begin to recognize it as the signal literature of our self-changing technological society. When we meet Golem, if we survive, we will find that we've heard his poetry already. Adaptation to change begins in consciousness, and science fiction -- the speculative extension of technological man -- has been crucial to the present rise of visions with new force among the young. Its impact hasn't really been recognized yet. But many of my generation found it a precious, funky medium for opening our imaginations -- not least, about social reconstruction. It taught us to play with our minds about what we might become and how, in all the Ways of our being. Though periodical circulation of its literature never went beyond several hundred thousand copies, a remarkable proportion of the shapers and movers of the counterculture – both political and artistic -- grew up reading science fiction, learning to deal with lasers, the ethics of heart transplant, and the ecological crisis, long before these became official Realities.

        16. For our repressive systems' maintenance, it is essential that technology and imagination be divided, save in the service of exploitation. Hence, in the social geometry of college campuses, we find the artists and the engineers farthest removed from each other, with the engineers nearer the business majors. Yet people's behavior turns psychotic when they are kept too long from dreaming, a process essential to regulating condition. And a society kept from its technological dreaming, from imagining new machineries of food and politics, cannot regulate its transformation and turns blind deadly.

         I7. The case of the engineers furnishes the most brilliant example of the function of our educational system as megamachine. When Sputnik went up in '57, scare flared in Amerika. Under this outered symbol, the technological race for military supremacy accelerated: in consultation with the Joint Chiefs, Power cranked the wires and demanded, give me more of dese 'n some of dose. Triumph of megamachinery: within a decade, how many hundred thousand assorted engineers and Ph.D. physicists? Meanwhile, Federal support for technological research came to dominate the financial base of university education; man acquired the literal capacity to kill his species; missiles became the dominant industry of the greater Los Angeles Area; computer technology flourished in the high-skill spillover. By 1969, this made-to-order megamachine had multiplied high missilery across land and sea and broke man free from earth to touch her sister.

        In the Sierra foothills, on Indian ground, by a warm pool blasted in granite and far from all cities, we watched on a tiny videoscreen the turning of the moon's limb, saw it swell to fill our horizon, felt the slow circling fall. As the first human stepped onto moon surface, Karen was throwing the worn coins of the I Ching, an open question. They registered the six Yang lines of the hexagram of primal power -- Ch'ien, the pure Creative. The screen flashed through visions of starving choking cities. Torn between joy and despair, I thought, those graceless clowns, with their locker-room boys'-toys society and poetry of Gee Whiz, they're supposed to represent me? I'll be damned! What sad theater that was, its accomplishment so impoverished, with all our dreaming left behind at what should have been its flowering celebration.

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