Jay's Head
Are We All Asleep?, p. 3

2. The Blasphemies of Science

I was lucky enough to see Steve Reich's beautiful new opera, Three Tales, at Brooklyn Academy of Music this past week, part of the BAM Next Wave Festival. Three Tales isn't an argument like Moore's; it doesn't take a single line on the questions it poses about humankind and technology. It just presents the awesomeness (that is, terrifying-ness) of them. Two of the three tales, one of the atom bomb tests over Bikini, the other of Dolly the sheep and the frontiers of cloning and artificial intelligence, juxtapose video and sound clips of the massive artificiality of human technology with Biblical verses. In particular: "And God created man in His image; male and female he created them. And he said to the man, be fruitful and multiply, fill the Earth and subdue it. And he placed the man in the Garden of Eden, to take care of it." In the story of Bikini, these words accompany the wholesale destruction of an entire archipelago. In the tale of Dolly, they (the first several only) mingle with discussions of artificial humans and thinking machines.

As with Moore's film, Reich's opera made me feel like everything we worry about -- our loves, bank accounts, fame, fortune -- hevel, empty. Here we are in the midst of a vast technological upheaval, rapidly and radically changing the world in a way it has never seen before – and yet we're asleep! Worrying about the D.C. sniper, or a piddling war for oil. Moreover, all of our art seemed beside the point. My quaint short stories about desire, obsession, and mysticism, I suddenly felt, were deckchairs on the Titanic. Who cares about Kabbalah and the human heart when we are so wildly blaspheming against God as to create golems out of cloned genetic code? When we are, most likely, living in the last generation of nature, the last few decades before bioengineered creatures overrun the Earth – a process that has already begun, if the inability of scientists to find any genetically ‘pure' corn on the planet is any indication.

We have paved paradise and put up a parking lot. We have mangled the climate, decimated Earth's biodiversity, and wildly overpopulated the planet -- and no one has a response to it. My own response, like most of ours: ignore it. Are we all asleep?

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Image: Still from Three Tales

November 2002

jay's head
josh ring