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Lecture 21 - "It's just good business"


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Twenty-first lecture for my students in English 192, "Science Fiction," summer 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

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Lecture 21 - "It's just good business"

  1. 1. Lecture 21: “It’s just good business” English 192 Summer 2013 10 September 2013 “It is by way of a study of daily life that we can begin upon the task of theory construction. For example, if I were to trace back where my dinner came from, I would become aware of the myriads of people involved in putting even the simplest of meals upon the table. Yet I can consume my repast without having to know anything about them. Their conditions of life and labor, their joys, discontents and aspirations remain hidden from me. […] We cannot use only the experience of shopping in the supermarket as a way to understand how daily life is reproduced. There is no trace of exploitation upon the lettuce, no taste of apartheid in the fruit from South Africa.” — David Harvey, introduction to The Urban Experience
  2. 2. Sample final exam question Pick six options from the four sections below, including no more than two items from any particular section, and write an identification of the term you choose according to the directions for that section. (6 points each.) Section B: Places. Pick no more than two of the following items. For each, explain in your blue book, in approximately four to five sentences, which text the term occurs in and what the location of the place is, as well as what its relevance and/or significance are to the broader concerns of its own text and/or of the course as a whole. Example: The Nostromo
  3. 3. The calorie corporations [Anderson:] “Blister rust is mutating every three seasons now. Recreational generippers are hacking into our designs for TotalNutrient Wheat and SoyPRO. Our last strain of HiGro Corn only beat weevil predation by sixty percent, and now we suddenly hear you’re sitting on top of a genetic gold mine. People are starving—” Yates laughed. “Don’t talk to me about saving lives. I saw what happened to the seedbank in Finland.” “We weren’t the ones who blew the vaults. No one knew the Finns were such fanatics.” “Any fool on the street could have anticipated. Calorie companies do have a certain reputation.” (6)
  4. 4. Globalization Jaidee: “We aren’t living in a perfect world anymore. This isn’t the Expansion.” (56) When Anderson arrived, the books had filled the SpringLife offices and ranged around Yates’ desk in stacks: Global Management in Practice, Intercultural Business, The Asian Mind, The Little Tigers of Asia, Supply Chains and Logistics, Pop Thai, The New Global Economy, Exchange Rate Considerations in Supply Chains, Thais Mean Business, International Competition and Regulation. Anything and everything related to the history of the old Expansion. Yates had pointed to them in his final moments of desperation and said, “But we can have it again! All of it!” And then he had wept, and Anderson finally felt pity for the man. Yates had invested his life in something that would never be. (62-63)
  5. 5. “‘I would never participate in such blasphemy.’ Hagg scowls. ‘Food should come from the place of its origin, and stay there. It shouldn’t spend its time crisscrossing the globe for the sake of profit. We went down that path once, and it brought us to ruin.’” (92) Carlyle: “The white shirts seem to have forgotten they need outsiders. We’re in the middle of a new Expansion and every string is connected to every other string, and yet they’re still thinking like a Contraction ministry. They don’t understand how dependent they’ve already become on farang.” (97) Carlyle: “That’s the problem with you. You all sit around, bitching and wishing, and meanwhile I’m changing the rules of the game. You’re all Contraction thinkers.” (96)
  6. 6. “Back to the future,” Anderson murmurs. [Carlyle]: “Sorry?” “Nothing.” Anderson shakes his head. “Something Yates used to say. We’re in the sweet spot, now. The world’s shrinking.” (148) Akkarat: “Ever since your first missionaries landed on our shores, you have always sought to destroy us. During the old Expansion your kind tried to take every part of us. Chopping off the arms and legs of our country. It was only through our Kings’ wisdom and leadership that we avoided your worst. And yet still you weren’t done with us. With the Contraction, your worshipped global economy left us starving and over-specialized. […] And then your calorie plagues came. You very nearly took rice from us entirely.” (150)
  7. 7. “the behavior of these people who rule a nation, in the old-fashioned sense, who govern the fortunes of twenty million other people.”* Anderson thinks of the few buildings he glimpsed as he was escorted to the temple. They were all dilapidated. Water stained and covered with vines. If the Tiger’s fall isn’t proof enough, the fallen trees and unkempt grounds are fine indicators. “You must be very proud of what you’ve accomplished.” Carlyle draws on his cigarette and exhales slowly. “Let’s just say it’s a satisfying step.” (147) *Le Guin 7
  8. 8. Emiko: “I do not know. Raleigh-san likes money. But I think also that he likes to see me suffer.” (221) “He [Anderson]’s met calorie executives like this [the Somdet Chaopraya]. Men intoxicated on their power and influence, their ability to bring nations to heel with the threat of a SoyPRO embargo. A hard, brutal man.” (230)
  9. 9. Climate change Just beyond, the dike and lock system of King Rama XII’s seawall looms, holding back the weight of the blue ocean. It’s difficult not to always be aware of those high walls and the pressure of the water beyond. Difficult to think of the City of Divine Beings as anything other than a disaster waiting to happen. But the Thais are stubborn and have fought to keep their revered city of Krung Thep from drowning. With coal-burning pumps and leveed labor and a deep faith in the visionary leadership of their Chakri Dynasty, they have so far kept at bay that thing which has swallowed New York and Rangoon, Mumbai and New Orleans. (7)
  10. 10. “Behind glass walls, LEDs on servers wink red and green, burning energy, drowning Krung Thep even as they save it. She walks down the halls, past a series of rooms where the scientists sit before giant computer screens and study genetic models on the brightly glowing displays. Kanya imagines that she can feel the air combusting with all the energy being burned, all the coal being consumed to keep this single building running.” (213) “The computers down here all have large screens. Some of them are models that haven’t existed in fifty years and burn more energy than five news ones, but they do their work and in return are meticulously maintained. Still, the amount of power burning through them makes Kanya weak in the knees. She can almost see the ocean rising in response. It’s a horrifying thing to stand beside.” (215)
  11. 11. Ecosystem balance “The screens on the temple walls portray scenes of the fall Old Thailand: The farang releasing their plagues on the earth, animals and plants collapsing as their food webs unraveled; his Royal Majesty King Rama XII mustering his final pitiful human forces, flanked by Hanuman and his monkey warriors. Images of Krut and Kirmukha and an army of half- human kala fighting back the rising seas and plagues.” (142-43)
  12. 12. Gibbons snorts. “The ecosystem unravelled when man first went a-seafaring. When we first lit fires on the broad savannas of Africa. We have only accelerated the phenomenon. The food web you talk about is nostalgia, nothing more. Nature.” He makes a disgusted face. “We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.” “Like AgriGen? Like U Texas? Like RedStar HiGro?” Kanya shakes her head. “How many of us are dead because of their potential unleashed? Your calorie masters showed us what happens. People die.” (243)
  13. 13. Gibbons: “Blister rust is our environment. Cibiscosis. Genehack weevil. Cheshires. They have adapted. Quibble as you like about whether they evolved naturally or not. Our environment has changed. If we wish to remain at the top of our food chain, we will evolve. Or we will refuse, and go the ways of the dinosaurs and Felis domesticus. Evolve or die. It has always been nature’s guiding principle, and yet you white shirts seek to stand in the way of inevitable change.” (243) Gibbons: “That is the nature of our beasts and plagues. They are not dumb machines to be driven about. They have their own needs and hungers. Their own evolutionary demands. They must mutate and adapt […] Nature has become something new. It is ours now, truly. And if our creation devours us, how poetic will that be?” (246)
  14. 14. What’s life worth? “Pom and Nu’s muscles flex as they try to keep the spindle from reseating itself. Hock Seng kneels and slides a shakelight down to the girl [Mai]. Her fingers brush his and then the LED tool is gone, down into the darkness. The light is worth more than she is. He hopes they won’t drop the spindle back into its seat while she’s down there.” (21) “We haven’t had heeya like this since the last Expansion. Money at any cost. Wealth at any price.” (127)
  15. 15. Raleigh, to Emiko: “I own every part of you. […] If I want you mulched tomorrow, you’re gone. No one will care. People in Japan might value a windup. Here, you’re just trash. […] I own you. Remember that.” (159) “A man comes to your village with a promise of food for your belly, a life in the city, and money for your aunt’s cough and your uncle’s whiskey. And he doesn’t even want to buy your body. What else can one wish for? What else could buy loyalty? Everyone needs a patron.” (211)