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cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Science Education Invokes the Rapture

Posted by Marc Bousquet on 03/12/08 at 11:34 AM

x-posted from CHE’s Brainstorm

I believe in sustainability. I believe in melodrama. But National Geographic needs to find some better writer-producers than this!

So I’m spending a lot of time these days encouraging my son to vomit on my shoulder, which translates into more time than usual with my friend Tivo, and there is a sort of pause in the Democratic knife fight (except for the part where Ferraro pours gasoline on the Clinton candidacy and lights it while Hillary wonders whether a fire extinguisher is required or not).


So in the middle of the night I tune in to what all the kids are watching--National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet, all that.

And I watch “Aftermath: Population Zero,” appearing on National Geographic.  The concept isn’t the worst: the producers ask, what will the planet look like after humanity?  As you’d expect, it’s a platform for exploring all the unsustainable things that humans do. Subtract humanity, and watch how the planet finds a balance. For popular science, not bad, though Emersonians and evolutionary biologists will both have pretty valid complaint ("Nature" isn’t humanity’s other; there is no evolutionary history “apart” from humanity, etc). 

The subtraction of humanity from the planetary equation is one of the oldest gambits in the book, with an endless number of plausible scenarios. We kill ourselves with war. Disease. Nuclear armageddon. Overpopulation. Pollution. Greed. Or the aliens come and use us for food. Whatever.

But what do the producers choose for their post-humanity gambit? The rapture.

No kidding. When they talk about humanity vanishing, they mean literally vanishing. In an instant. For the first hour of this moronic program, they imagine what would happen if all human bodies are sucked out of running cars and airplanes (uh, they crash) and nuclear power plants (they melt down). 

Really, most of the program’s energy and intellectual power is devoted to a ridiculously somber discussion of a ludicrous what-if: if God calls the whole planet to heaven at 3 pm on a Friday (without giving us a chance to land our planes or shut down the power grid), just how much radiation will be released, and how many pounds of carbon dioxide will be generated by the still-running vehicles of the Raptured?

Things speed up a bit in the second half and we get to some of the popular science considerations that should have driven the program from the beginning: will the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty come down first? (Hint: copper lasts longer.) Dogs will become dingoes, unless they’re toy poodles, in which case they’ll be eaten by dingoes. Oceans and trees capture carbon.  And we learn that the first winter will kill off a lot of elephants, which is sad, and cockroaches, which is not--evidently nobody loves a cockroach, even in a post-human world. 


I saw ads for this program, but not the show itself.

From the ads, it looked like an elaborate excuse to showcase computer graphics—sort of like the film “Independence Day,” which I think most people watched mainly to see the White House blown up.

p.s. I think the Ferraro comments actually obliquely help the Clintons, by planting a catchy meme in people’s heads.

By Amardeep Singh on 03/13/08 at 01:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Without an infant in the house, I haven’t seen the show, but still . . . what sort of namby-pamby secularized version of the rapture are they presenting? Everybody gets to go to heaven? I mean, when I was a kid, the grownups at my church got a big morally superior chortle out of distributing bumper stickers that read: RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK I’M LEAVING WITH THE RAPTURE. In any case, Tim LeHay has made millions trading on the need for fundamentalists to feel superior to the rest of us about something—something to do with being hosers in the actual world. All of which somehow reminds me of the old Wobbly song:

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ‘bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

By on 03/13/08 at 10:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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