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Sci-fi Worthy of Malthus
Townhall.com ^ | May 1, 2013 | Jonah Goldberg

Posted on 05/01/2013 7:18:29 AM PDT by Kaslin

In the new sci-fi movie "Oblivion," Earth's most precious resource is Tom Cruise. But running a close second (spoiler alert) is water. Aliens want it. All of it.

This is old hat, science fiction-wise. In "The War of the Worlds," H.G. Wells had Martians coming to Earth to quench their thirst. The extraterrestrial lizards (cleverly disguised as human catalog models) in the 1980s TV series "V" came here to steal our water too -- though they wanted it in part to wash down the meal they intended to make of us. In the more recent "Battle: Los Angeles," pillaging Earth's oceans was the only motivation we're given for why aliens were laying waste to humanity.

The first problem with this plot device is that it's pretty dumb. Hydrogen and oxygen are two of the most common elements in the universe. An alien race is savvy enough to master interstellar travel but too clueless to combine two Hs with one O to form H2O? C'mon.

At least in "Mars Needs Women," the precious resource in question -- Earth girls -- by definition can be found only here, just as "real" Champagne must come from the region that bears its name. And though I have no doubt that Earth women really are the best, the logic of evolution suggests that compatibility issues for aliens would be a hurdle not even Match.com could overcome.

In "To Serve Man," the famous "Twilight Zone" episode, the motivation was far more plausible: They wanted to eat us ("To Serve Man" -- it's a cookbook!). And who knows -- maybe we're delicious.

One rule of thumb in sci-fi is that the aliens are really us too. They reflect a good trait in humanity -- think E.T., Spock or Mork -- or a bad one. That's why writers recycle ancient human motives -- the desire to plunder, colonize, rape, enslave -- as the motives of futuristic aliens.

That's all fine. But science fiction is also supposed to raise ambitions for what humans can accomplish. And in that, Hollywood is failing.

For a while now, filmmakers have been churning out fare -- like the horrendous remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" -- based on the Malthusian assumption that resources are finite and if we keep going the way we are, the Earth will be "used up" (to borrow a phrase from the opening monologue of the canceled cult sensation "Firefly"). Either that or we'll be invaded by aliens who appreciate our stuff more than we do.

The pessimism is infectious. Physicist and sci-fi nerd Stephen Hawking recently argued that maybe we should hide from aliens lest they rob us blind. When Newt Gingrich proposed a base on the moon, everyone guffawed as if such an optimistic ambition was absurd. The obsession with "peak oil" and the need to embrace "renewables" because we're running out of fossil fuels is another symptom of our malaise. Fracking and other breakthroughs demonstrate that, at least so far, whatever energy scarcity we've had has been imposed by policy, not nature.

Which gets us back to outer space. In our neighborhood alone, there are thousands of asteroids with enormous riches -- in gold, platinum, rare earth metals, etc. Planetary Resources Inc., an asteroid mining firm started last year by director James Cameron (ironic given the politics of his film "Avatar") and some Microsoft and Google billionaires, has its sights on several rocks worth anywhere from hundreds of billions to tens of trillions of dollars. And these are just the chunks scattered around our orbital backyard and near enough to exploit with existing technology. There are also plenty of balls of ice out there that might be convertible into fuel for further space exploration.

Thomas Malthus and his intellectual descendants saw humans as voracious consumers of finite resources, like a "virus" devouring its host, as Agent Smith says in "The Matrix." But humans are better understood as creators who've consistently solved the problems of scarcity by inventing or discovering new paths to abundance. As the late anti-Malthusian hero Julian Simon said, human imagination is the ultimate resource.

Unfortunately, that resource is dismayingly scarce these days, in Washington and Hollywood.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
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To: allmendream

You can say that again, especially after the lousy remakes of once excellent movies


51 posted on 05/01/2013 8:20:05 AM PDT by Kaslin (He needed the ignorant to reelect him, and he got them. Now we all have to pay the consequenses)
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To: allmendream

Bingo.


52 posted on 05/01/2013 8:22:03 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: Army Air Corps

Bump

Another good trope. I guess the icy rocks could be owned by corporations, these guys hunt claim jumpers and run into alien wildcatters.


53 posted on 05/01/2013 8:24:31 AM PDT by GeronL (http://asspos.blogspot.com)
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To: GeronL

A Western and a Sci-Fi!


54 posted on 05/01/2013 8:25:15 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: GeronL

Heck, the icy rocks could be held off-limits by the Department of the Interior...


55 posted on 05/01/2013 8:26:18 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: GeronL

Too bad Gabby Hayes is dead...


56 posted on 05/01/2013 8:27:25 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: Army Air Corps

United Solar Dept of Interior

So, our heroic stars are ... Park Rangers?


57 posted on 05/01/2013 8:28:18 AM PDT by GeronL (http://asspos.blogspot.com)
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To: Army Air Corps; GeronL
Perhaps Lucas Electric had all the starship wiring contracts.

ROTFLMAO! Prince of Darkness Ping!

58 posted on 05/01/2013 8:28:32 AM PDT by 6ppc (It's torch and pitchfork time)
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To: Army Air Corps

“West World”


59 posted on 05/01/2013 8:29:09 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter admits whom he's working for)
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To: GeronL

The Park Rangers stuble upon a nefarious plot on the part of President of Earth...


60 posted on 05/01/2013 8:29:21 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: MrB

Yul Brenner kicked a$$ in that movie.


61 posted on 05/01/2013 8:29:44 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: Kaslin
I have two examples that still grate upon me of them taking an excellent and original idea and making a travesty of it.

“Kingdom of Heaven” -they took an excellent story from history and proceeded to mess it up, make it derivative, and introduce absurd anachronisms. Guy of Lusignon should have been the hero, played by Orlando Bloom, came to the Holy Land - killed some Muslims that he shouldn't have because they were our allies - romanced and won the princess and eventually the throne - listened to religious fanatics instead of good military council - lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem to Saladin. Instead they made a mockery of the actual history and slandered one of the most romantic histories of the Middle Ages.

“John Carter” - they took a very simple story with excellent sci-fi elements - proceeded to complicate it beyond measure - changed what the characters said, what they did, and their motivations for what they did (they put a sword in Dejah Thora’s hand - and made her WEAK! In the story she didn't flee from sacrificing herself for her people, she embraced it - and her father wasn't willing to sell her into sexual slavery - he was willing to see his entire city fall rather than sell his daughter)- then wondered why it FAILED to capture ANY of the Edgar Rice Burroughs magic.

62 posted on 05/01/2013 8:29:52 AM PDT by allmendream (Tea Party did not send GOP to D.C. to negotiate the terms of our surrender to socialism)
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To: Kaslin

Joseph W. Campbell had the alien/human interaction correct. We come out the winner.


63 posted on 05/01/2013 8:42:56 AM PDT by 7thson (I've got a seat at the big conference table! I'm gonna paint my logo on it!)
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To: tet68
Something we have not been able to do as yet I think,

Space shuttle fuel cells did it all the time. Water is the output. On the Apollo missions, the astronauts complained the mix was H2 rich, and gave them very smelly flatulance.

/johnny

64 posted on 05/01/2013 8:48:22 AM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
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To: Army Air Corps
Too bad Gabby Hayes is dead...

Yeah, but Gabby Johnson lives forever as long as we remember him, galdangit.

/johnny

65 posted on 05/01/2013 8:52:28 AM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
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To: JRandomFreeper

Consarnit, yer right! Ain’t no dagburn two-bit hornswaggler gonna change that!


66 posted on 05/01/2013 8:53:42 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: JRandomFreeper

Something I did not know.
Thank you.


67 posted on 05/01/2013 8:55:31 AM PDT by tet68 ( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
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To: Army Air Corps
Rev'rn!

/johnny

68 posted on 05/01/2013 8:59:40 AM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
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To: Army Air Corps

It indeed was the “show with everything, including Yul Brenner”.


69 posted on 05/01/2013 9:04:27 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter admits whom he's working for)
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To: MrB

Nice music refernce!


70 posted on 05/01/2013 9:05:44 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: pabianice
Star Trek never got over this; every time the ship was in a battle all the control panels on the bridge exploded in sparks and fire.

In space there are no circuit breakers.... or seat belts either.

71 posted on 05/01/2013 9:12:56 AM PDT by KarlInOhio (Choose one: the yellow and black flag of the Tea Party or the white flag of the Republican Party.)
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To: MrB

Happened after some guy called it a slut..


72 posted on 05/01/2013 9:14:08 AM PDT by enduserindy (A painted trash can is still a trash can.)
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To: enduserindy

ah... cross threading?


73 posted on 05/01/2013 9:16:29 AM PDT by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter admits whom he's working for)
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To: KarlInOhio

Indeed. A five point harness would have served well in many an episode.


74 posted on 05/01/2013 9:21:55 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: Usagi_yo

“Neither wears the politics on their shoulders and haven’t polluted their product.”

I like a lot of their movies too, but I wouldn’t set my expectations too high as to their political views.

Tom Cruise keeps his opinions to himself most of the time in public as well. The last time he was outspoken was on psychiatry for which he took a lot of bad publicity even though he was probably right.


75 posted on 05/01/2013 9:40:32 AM PDT by unlearner (You will never come to know that which you do not know until you first know that you do not know it.)
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To: 6ppc; Army Air Corps; GeronL

Prince of Darkness Ping!

Warm beer......Lucas refrigerators ping!

Cheers


76 posted on 05/01/2013 9:53:26 AM PDT by petro45acp (It's a fabian thing.....how do you boil a frog? How's that water feelin right about now?)
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To: BenLurkin

I don’t get the reference. Where’s the pic from?


77 posted on 05/01/2013 9:57:05 AM PDT by OneWingedShark (Q: Why am I here? A: To do Justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.)
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To: Army Air Corps

“Perhaps Lucas Electric had all the starship wiring contracts.”

Coffee up the schnozz - on a thread chock-full of bright comments, yours wins the Blue Ribbon!

If Lucas(or SmithInstuments) is still in business I sure hope it’s not below freezing in space...


78 posted on 05/01/2013 10:01:51 AM PDT by headsonpikes (Mass murder and cannibalism are the twin sacraments of socialism - "Who-whom?"-Lenin)
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To: Army Air Corps
They are magic panels. Perhaps they use Linux in the 23rd century. ;-)

With error messages like lp0 on fire that might be the case.

79 posted on 05/01/2013 10:02:43 AM PDT by OneWingedShark (Q: Why am I here? A: To do Justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.)
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To: headsonpikes

f Lucas(or SmithInstuments) is still in business I sure hope it’s not below freezing in space...

"Cap'n, I canna cold start her, we'll need a jump!"
80 posted on 05/01/2013 10:17:28 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: OneWingedShark

The 1980s film “Ice Pirates.”


81 posted on 05/01/2013 10:18:41 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: headsonpikes

Perhaps the Federation starships all had bumperstickers with Britsh Leyland logo and the phrase “I’d rather push a Leyland than fly a Klingon Battlecruiser.”


82 posted on 05/01/2013 10:24:18 AM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four Fried Chickens and a Coke)
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To: Army Air Corps

LOL - sounds like “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy”!


83 posted on 05/01/2013 10:31:37 AM PDT by headsonpikes (Mass murder and cannibalism are the twin sacraments of socialism - "Who-whom?"-Lenin)
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To: Army Air Corps

Ah, thank you.


84 posted on 05/01/2013 10:41:43 AM PDT by OneWingedShark (Q: Why am I here? A: To do Justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.)
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To: Army Air Corps

Obviously in league with the aliens...


85 posted on 05/01/2013 11:57:52 AM PDT by GeronL (http://asspos.blogspot.com)
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To: MHGinTN
Professor Donald Kessler: We know they're extremely advanced technologically, which suggests - very rightfully so - that they're peaceful. An advanced civilization, by definition, is not barbaric.
86 posted on 05/01/2013 2:37:34 PM PDT by BenLurkin (This is not a statement of fact. It is either opinion or satire; or both)
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To: BenLurkin
I was offering Stanton Friedman's argument regarding ‘extraterrestrial aliens’, an argument I happen to agree with. If ETs are as savage as we humans remain, their coming here would have long ago ended the human race as dominant species. Count on it. Even angels are not allowed to make a ‘final solution’ for that is in God's purview.
87 posted on 05/01/2013 2:49:15 PM PDT by MHGinTN (Being deceived can be cured.)
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To: Kaslin
But humans are better understood as creators who've consistently solved the problems of scarcity by inventing or discovering new paths to abundance.

Sums it up, IMO.

I have wondered for a couple decades why humans in the movies were so busy scouring the ruins for crumbs when they could just re-create civilization. We're more ingenious than that.

88 posted on 05/02/2013 12:38:01 AM PDT by Smokin' Joe (How often God must weep at humans' folly. Stand fast. God knows what He is doing)
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