June 16, 2014
I've been enjoyong Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. The action is set in Chicago and New York in the closing years of the nineteenth century. One of the take-aways from the novel is a sense of how much life in America has changed. The technology, for example. It's hard to imagine having no electronic communication. No telephone. No radio or TV. No link whatever to the outside world. A world war could break out and you wouldn't find out about it until the newspaper arrived next morning.
The social side hits home as well. Carrie is an attractive young woman, but she consistently finds herself in difficult situations because she does not have an adequate income. For that matter, she generally has none at all. This makes her dependent on people she would probably otherwise not want to spend time with. And there's no easy solution. There's no unemployment payout to get her through a bad time. For older people, social security does not exist. It's years before the New Deal.
When you're traveling around New York, you either walk, or do it by horse and carriage. There are no refrigerators. If you want light, you're talking about gas.
I'm not sure yet how this is going to end, but Dreiser is keeping me on the edge of my seat. Or maybe under the table.
Our book club met Friday. We'd read Jonathan Sacks's The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning. It dealt with questions like whether God actually exists, whether His presence is necessary if humans are to matter in any significant way, and the degree to which science and religion both have to be part of the mix if we are to have any real chance of understanding the world. One question that inevitably arises in this sort of discussion: If there is no God, why is there anything?
It strikes me that, if He is really there, He's a remarkably good engineer. Without quantum mechanics, nothing would work properly. Yet how does a quality like that occur naturally? And of course we need gravity, so He resolves that by providing space that bends.
Studies show that people with strong religious faith tend to live longer than doubters or those who completely write off the spiritual world. They are also less likely to have to deal with depression. The primary problem for believers, though, is explaining why bad things happen to good people. How does one account for a Holocaust in a world governed by a compassionate God? Or the South Korean ferry that went down last month with all those kids on board? And there is the sheer size of the universe. I think it was Richard Feynman who commented that the stage is just too big.
It was an interesting discussion, with participants holding views that weren't so much contrasting as simply differing. That happens, I guess, when the reality is that nobody's really sure of anything.
One of the advantages of a good book club, by the way, is that the participants generally don't cling to certainty in areas that cannot be shown to be true. Imagine what the Middle East would look like if people there would accept the fact that they are fallible, and that whatever opinions they hold might be dead wrong.
I had planned to attend Libertycon in Chattanooga in two weeks. But unfortunately one hip gave out yesterday and immobilized me. I'm surprised that I'm able to sit at the computer. In any case, there's no way I'll be able to make the convention. I'm disappointed, but I recommend attendance for anyone in the area looking for a good time.