I have just finished reading Richard Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality, a basic science book aimed at children but suitable for many adults, particularly those adults who have allowed their critical thinking skills to decay over the years. Dawkins loves a myth as much as anyone, but not as a substitute for or barrier to scientific investigation… and he’s not shy about saying so. The book comprises mostly pairs of chapters, one about how one or another culture’s mythology explains some natural event, e.g., the Sun’s rising and setting, followed by another about how the daily cycle really works.
The local elementary school a block from Our House is having some sort of event today, and cars are parked so thickly on the street that I cannot get my car out of the driveway, so I may as well use the time to tell you about a dream I had as a child, a literal sleeping dream. I was perhaps nine years old. (I am now in my early-mid sixties.) I had once seen a computer… actually, a room full of unit record equipment, but I didn’t know the difference at that time.
In the dream, I was in an ordinary old house, perhaps the one we lived in at the time. Sitting in the dining area, on the sideboard, was something that looked very much like an old-fashioned stock ticker, complete with a bell jar cover and a device to print on the tape. I must have seen such a thing in a book or on our new (read: used) TV; I certainly had never seen one in real life.
Some older relative… I don’t remember who… stood nearby. “What’s that?” I asked. The relative answered, “Ask it a question. No, go on… just ask it a question.” I made up some stupid question that had a factual numerical answer but one that couldn’t simply be computed, and blurted it out.
The machine whirred (literally; I dreamed the sound too) and printed out a number on the tape. I had no way of checking the result, but it seemed plausible. I was thrilled. A thousand more questions sprang to my mind that I wanted to ask the ticker. I opened my mouth to ask another question…
… and woke up to a much duller reality. Never in my life, not even later in much juicier dreams, have I been so saddened to have awakened just as things were getting good.
Well of course my dream has been realized, for me and for all of you reading this. It doesn’t look like a stock ticker, and most of us don’t literally speak to it as we ask it questions, but between the personal computer, the Web and the search engines, I think I can safely say my dream has been answered… in the waking world.
Fast-forward to 2012. MPAA and RIAA and Dog knows who else want to make sure that whatever it is, they own the rights to it in perpetuity, and that you can get to it only if you pay them for the privilege. In short, they have set out to destroy the commons, to privatize it. And with our wholly owned Congress and bought-and-paid-for President, and similar officials in other countries, they stand a better-than-even chance of succeeding.
If they succeed, I shall remember my awakening from that childhood dream. But this time I will be angry rather than depressed. And I will not accept their answer… “we own you”… nearly so readily. I have had my dream for about 20 years now, and no one is going to steal it away from me. Not this time…