A review floated across my smartphone’s News feed recently lauding the hard realism of the television series The Expanse, based on the novels of James S. A. Covey. I’m enjoying the series immensely, but probably only because it is vastly superior to most of the SciFi fare served up on TV or even the movies. But this blog post is to keep things realer.
If you watch any of the diplomatic scenes you should notice the same old nasty stereotypes of politicians. Anyone who has been close to politics in real life knows that the snarky insults and jibes seen in these movie scripts is nothing like real life. (My father was an MP and CEO, I know a bit about what goes on in boardrooms and back-rooms and select committee’s and UN conferences.) Sure, there are always the rotten apples, the evil politicians who either have their own personal agendas or who move and shake at the behest of private donors or corporate interests, but in real politics, at least outside the USA, Russia and China, and a few banana republics, such people are rare. Lord knows why those three super powers are infested with corrupt politicians, maybe the riches available coupled with the imperfect electoral processes combine to float the crud to the top of the political bowl.
The Earth literally cannot sustain such crud at the leadership top for too long, and I do mean “literally”, this is clear if you witness the almost existential threats we face from climate change to nuclear conflict (once thought a threat of the past, but now renewed thanks to corruption in US politics). It is likely we will not have to wait too many decades for things to change though, either the Earth will force our politics to get more civilised and scientific, or a few countries will wake up and lead the way, through innovation and economic growth unrivalled by the corrupt countries, the corruption will be self-defeating. Those are two likely scenarios in my view, and I think the most likely of a few other generic futures for world politics. (A highly unlikely scenario is some benevolent dictator emerges, unlikely because social media will probably not allow such a figure to emerge, and dictatorship rarely correlates with acceptable benevolence. Another is a gradually maturation, unlikely because of the rapid changes in the environment and technology field.)
Which brings me to The Expanse. The diplomacy scenes do move the plot along a bit, but at the gross expense of a nuanced realism that could, I think, only enhance the prestige of the series. My sense is that by the time frame of The Expanse technology, near 2100 to 2200, I think a more peaceful empirical, consultative world politics will have been either accepted and demanded by the general public, at least in democracies, or it will have been forced upon society out of need for collective action at highly coordinated government scientific levels to control many existential threats facing humanity and a vast proportion of the Earth’s biota and habitats, and not the least the expected and justifiably increasing demands and voice of the worlds poor, who cannot be for long suppressed in the combined weight of their voices, once the minimum poverty level reaches a state where the poor all have a means of living that afford some scant time in pursuit of justice and then eventually maybe some leisure. Some of these things are just so inevitable they are almost laws of sociology. The uncertainty, based on extrapolation form history, is just how long these changes will take, and whether the rise of the power of the worlds poorest will lag too much or be fast enough to reach a synergistic confluence with the worlds’ environmental problems.
Her character is a “relatively good” politician, but the type who commits vile torture on non-Earthers.
One thing that really irked me was the supposedly principled and good character, Secretary Avasarala, is depicted committing torture to the point of death on a prisoner. You’d hope in our future no politician would even need to do such a thing. At the worst, you’d imagine brain scanning or drugs would do the job of information extraction. But you’d hope they would not even need to resort to such invasions of a persons mind, just talk to them, treat them well, and certainly do not imprison them because that’s against not only their interest but your interests as well! Enlightened psychologists know that torture and duress solicit less useful information, and make information harder to discover.
So damn! I would love to watch an intelligent, gnarly, hard scifi series that does the diplomacy seriously and sanely, without the trashy stereotytpes. Here’s a glimpse of what I imagine: around the Earth-Mars diplomatic table, the participants know each other well, they do not take nasty spiteful jabs at each other, they care about their planets, they realise making peace is not only more pleasant, but economically far more sensible as well, they realise warfare is a waste, they have no nuclear weapons because no one will ever use them. They are working to solve a new existential threat posed by the proto-molecule. The tension is based not around Earth-Mars-Belter hostility, but based around the uncertainty about the proto-molecule and fears that insane lunatic rebels will exploit the foreign material to wipe out most of Solar civilization. I think such a pot would be much more gripping, and certainly not as boring as watching grossly and frankly pathetically sterotyped “politicians” and “diplomats” try to stumble towards solar system warfare.