David W. Goldman's story "Radical Acceptance" in this month's Analog (Jan/Feb 2007) speaks to the moral pessimism of Bush's space policy and Stephen Baldwin's opposition to fighting poverty. The problem, the otter-like aliens in Goldman's story tell us, is angels.
Angels, the argument runs, give us an excuse not to improve ourselves. It's all right if we don't behave as we hope to because, after all, "we're no angels." The alien uses Lord of the Flies to illustrate the point:
"The message of [The Lord of the Flies] is that humans will always be failed angels. But you're not! You're actually incredibly successful. But not angels—you're incredibly successful apes! Apes who all by yourselves—without any guidance from either benevolent gods or sponsoring angels—figured out language and agriculture and metal-working and love and morality and vaudeville. If Lord of the Flies told the real story of your species, it would show a shipwreck of illiterate savages struggling together to survive, then going on to invent epic poetry and art deco."But by believing in angels, we get the story backwards, viewing ourselves as inherently imperfect copies of beings that our inherent moral superiors.
The aliens fear we'll begin to consider them our moral superiors, too, and thus completely miss the point they're trying to make. They offer us a new dominant meme—the "radical acceptance" of the title. We must see ourselves exactly as we are, imperfections and progress alike, and from this clearsighted standpoint we'll be able to build a better future.
Goldman's story speaks to the pessimism voiced by Stephen Baldwin about our ability to improve ourselves. It's a different understanding of sin, one which takes into account the progress humankind has made. And its utopianism is in keeping with my reading of Jesus' teachings about the kingdom of God, which as "within us"—as long as we are willing to work to build it. It's a great story, and definitely makes the current issue of Analog well worth picking up.