WOW #63

Someone is always trying to control you.  It has been going on for millennia.  I recently came upon an even-rarer-than-usual word which proves it.

ATHANATICS

The use of the word is so uncommon, that it is almost impossible to find in a dictionary or search engine.  The concept has been around for as long as there have been alpha-males who want to inflict their views on others.  The term seems to have arisen about 400 AD, based on Athanasius of Alexandria.

As the Bishop of Alexandria, he used social, political, and religious power to eliminate heresy, and enforce his beliefs about Christian Orthodoxy.  The definitional value is to create an ideal world, although your definition of “ideal” probably greatly differs from whoever seizes the right to impose theirs.  Athanasius’ idea of ideal, was blind obedience, uniformity and conformity – no free thinking allowed.

In Poul Anderson’s World Without Stars, the antithantic prevents age and disease but memories must be artificially edited. In Anderson’s The Boat Of A Million Years, eight mutant immortals survive through history until the athanatics are developed.

In Larry Niven’s Known Space future history, ‘Boosterspice’ extends life indefinitely, and protectors, who have eaten “tree of life,” live until killed.

1970Nigel CalderTechnopolis: Social Control of the Uses of ScienceSimon and Schuster

If only a minority of the athanatic technologies summarized in this book comes to practical fruition in humans — and some of them are mutually contradictory — there will be plenty of moral, legal and political issues to perplex us.

England is perhaps the most athanatic country in the world.  “The Wild” has almost completely been eliminated.  There are still stands of (hardwood) forests, but they are open and welcoming, with paths, trails, tiny roads, and bridges over streams.  It is almost impossible to get lost, in any dangerous sense.

In the developed world, science and technology have done much to make life ideal, but the more we are protected from harm, the more freedom and control of our lives, we lose.  When motorized vehicles were new, they were cumbersome things that required training and knowledge, care and control, to safely operate.  Many attained all of these, but quick and handy transportation meant that far more did not.

In 1906, there were only 8 motor-cars in the entire city of Cincinnati, yet somehow, two of them managed to crash, head-on, into each other.  Soon came control – the requirement for driving licenses, speed limits, stop signs and traffic lights.

Early cars had manual transmissions.  Drivers had to understand gears and clutches.  I very much liked the feel of controlling a ‘standard’.  I did so until cars with gearshifts became so rare that buyers had to pay a premium for them.  All of my motorcycles had gearshifts.  Now, even many motorcycles are equipped with automatic transmissions.  It just takes away the fun, the thrill, of doing it yourself.  I was recently passed by a large motorcycle with its radio blaring, so that the rider could hear it over the wind noise.  I was almost surprised that the rider didn’t have Wi-Fi direct to built-in earphones in his helmet.

The flying cars that we have been promised for almost a century have failed to emerge, because technology has not advanced far enough.  We’ve seen what destruction and chaos inattentive fools can create in two dimensions.  I hate to imagine what they might accomplish in three dimensions.

AI, and self-driving cars are almost perfected.  When that is accomplished, we might move on to individual, self-flying cars.  They might satisfy the general population, who just want to get from place to place.  For archaic fools like me, who still want the feel of doing something, AI is a smothering pillow.  I want to control what my vehicle is doing.  With self-drivers, I can’t start, stop or steer.  I can’t drive 10 MPH over the speed limit if I’m foolishly late.  Even if I could override the controls, the manufacturer put in a black box that will tell Big Brother, and my insurance company, if I did.

The world continues to be safer, tamer, more ‘ideal,’ but, more and more, we end up swaddled in Amazon bubble wrap, protected, but divorced from reality and any chance of adventure.  This may be acceptable to a large percentage of the population, but we still need some who dare, who search, who triumph.  The New World was not discovered or conquered by a boatload of chartered accountants.