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We cannot save ourselves

We cannot save ourselves
Capital Thinking | We cannot save ourselves

Capital Thinking • Issue #1196 • View online

"The orderly rules that seem to hold steady in our primary corner of the galaxy have allowed us the fond illusion that the contours of the universe run smoothly everywhere.

The surrealist nightmare of the san ti’s history allows for no such quaint fictions; they know that the few patches of spacetime where nature can be understood are precious rarities."

-spencer a. klavan

China’s Three-Body Problem—and Ours 

Spencer A. Klavan | Law & Liberty:

They call him Da Liu: Big Liu. A looser translation might be “the big kahuna,” the one who needs no introduction.

Many American viewers of Netflix’s new interstellar drama, 3 Body Problem, are unfamiliar with the trilogy of books it’s based on (collectively titled Remembrance of Earth’s Past) and their author, Liu Cixin. But in his native country, he is a literary sensation, the kingpin of Chinese science fiction.

Science fiction, in turn, is no escapist diversion in China. It is an imaginative exercise pursued in deadly earnest, an expression of national aspirations to technological supremacy.

Before Liu wrote novels, he was a computer engineer in the hydropower industry; once he became a bestselling author, China’s aerospace agency invited him to give a talk about how “sci-fi thinking” can help with brainstorming solutions to physics problems.

Once, Chinese Communists put his parents to work in the coal mines of Yangquan after his family’s political loyalties came into question. Now, the magnates of a far more powerful China want Liu to help them picture the future.

That’s one reason why the first scene of 3 Body Problem, as it appears onscreen, is so shocking. Instead of sunny CCP propaganda, the story opens with as scathing a depiction as could be imagined of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and its famous pidou dahui—“denunciation rallies,” or “struggle sessions.”

A lone physics professor, Ye Zhetai, is hauled onstage to suffer violent abuse by a mob of jeering Red Guards. Many of his tormentors are former students, and one—in the bitterest blow of all—is his wife, Shao Lin. Zhetai’s crime is teaching relativity theory.

This much is based on truth.

The big-bang cosmology that arose from Einstein’s equations offended then-current Marxist sensibilities.

It suggested that time, because it had a beginning, might have an author. “The theory leaves open a place to be filled by God,” says Shao Lin with utmost contempt. Unrepentant, Ye Zhetai is bludgeoned to death.

It’s unbearable to watch.

It’s also the defining trauma that sets the story in motion. Zhetai’s daughter, Ye Wenjie, is held back from intervening as her father dies. The steely rage of that moment hardens within her until one day, working at a clandestine mountain base where Mao’s scientists are trying to contact extraterrestrials, she once again becomes a silent witness to the unthinkable.

In secret even from her superiors, Ye Wenjie receives humanity’s first message from an alien civilization. It begins with one sentence, repeated three times: “Do not respond.”

She has stumbled on a murderous race.

It happens that she’s reached one of its few members compassionate enough to warn her that if news of humanity’s existence travels any further, the result will be a mission of conquest.

In the show, we see a lonely girl in the dark, suddenly master of her planet’s fate. Zine Tseng, transfixing in her breakout role as young Wenjie, shows us everything we need to see in the set of her jaw: she is remembering what humanity can do.

It was in the name of “humanity” and its glorious future that Wenjie’s father was left bleeding on that wooden floor.

She types out a response: “Come. We cannot save ourselves. I will help you conquer this world.”

That’s the end of episode 2.

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China’s Three-Body Problem—and Ours – Spencer A. Klavan
From whence cometh our help?


*Feature post photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

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