“So, you have solved many of the problems your science has been chasing. Disease, climate change. And as a consequence, much of your research is now redundant. Nevertheless you should be proud of what you have accomplished.” -Karellan
Something was missing in my attempts to write a review of SyFy’s Childhood’s End. Whatever that was arrived today in the form of the latest Skeptiko podcast.
The book has been mentioned numerous times on this blog -it is even namechecked in my own forth coming book (which I find weird given I had no inclination the show was happening till late last year). It is genuinely worth seeking out, even after I have spoiled the shit out of it, which I am about to do.
It is worth seeking out because Childhood’s End is the Arthur C. Clarke book that Kubrick actually wanted to make into a film, before ultimately ‘settling’ on 2001. Clarke himself considered it one of his favourites. Given the content of the novel and the circles Clarke moved in, that is hugely, hugely interesting. (Clarke once referred to Uri Geller as “Childhood’s End come to life” in reference to some of the results of his psi tests at SRI being redolent of the psi-awakening of earth’s children that closes out the novel.)
There’s a fairly obvious nod to the Clarke/Kubrick/2001 connection in the form of a return of the White Room. It’s supposed to be the honeymoon suite of the New York Four Seasons but it’s pretty austere as honeymoon suites go. In the novel, the room that Karellan creates for his meetings with earth’s representative has a couch, desk and a one way mirror.
It’s the bed that’s the giveaway. The main character in the miniseries (absent in the novel, more or less) has his apotheosis there, too.
Both the miniseries and the novel are the story of an alien race who look like medieval demons appearing in earth’s sky one day and instituting a worldwide, initially-welcome peace. Clarke’s novel makes more of the fact they have been here before, and that initial civilising contact is retained in our myths. It is the demons who taught the arts of civilisation, as you know. One of these ‘overlords’ is even found among the book stacks at a party, pouring over grimoires and books of magic. There is a great stonking nod toward the mid-twentieth century elite AAT beliefs Chris and I spoke about right there.
The magical component is still referenced in the series. Firstly, the hero namechecks the hermetica, implying a search for information on the overlords in classical magic texts. Secondly, the ouija board -a rather snazzy one- is retained from the novel.
There is a sort of ‘religion vs atheism’ theme in the series that, whilst not entirely absent from the book, is made much less of in it. This is presumably down to the preferences of the author. Clarke was clearly more enamoured of the ‘civilising non-human entities from our distant past returning to once again kick up our evolution a notch’.
Typically, such a departure is a sign of weakness in a reboot but it is handled pretty well. The times have certainly moved on. Clarke presents a vision of earth run by what is effectively the UN if not positively then in an emotionless way. The central mind war of the miniseries is between a chilling, banal Leftist utopia where nobody needs to work, there is peace but no jobs and all the messy things in life like passion and religion have gone (a more realistic Star Trek: Next Gen, basically) versus a ‘small c’ conservative life of individual liberty, fulfilling work, cigarettes and mess. So Childhood’s End the miniseries is Brave New World, the book, essentially.
The theme is explored competently. At the party where Karellan announces the end of science, some of the guests discuss how there will never be any more great novels as prejudice and hardship have been eradicated. Science finds itself on the same side as religion and other forms of authenticity in the face of a
metaphor for modern technocracy space demon.
The world of the overlords is a frictionless world without sin par excellence. No good art can be created and intellectual enquiry is cancelled because smarter people came along and fixed everything… now everyone gets free access to flying ubers. The creeping horror of Space Hillary’s world is palpable.
Worth mentioning is where the miniseries is objectively better. Sympathy for the Devil. While it may have steered clear of too much full-blown wizardry, it does accidentally land on an Early Modern witchy view of the role of the Devil in the cosmos.
“It has been the destiny of many worlds. We have overseen them all.”
Karellan and the overlords are fulfilling the will of God, or the Overmind. They are a force in the universe, doing what they are ordained to do. Showing some decent acting chops under all that demon suit, daddy Lannister even manages to express a cosmic weariness and almost sadness about it all.
Moreso than the novel, something about the last moments of the miniseries gives one a sense of melancholy, near-Taoist resignation over mankind’s inexorable conclusion, over childhood’s end. Which brings me -somewhat weirdly- to the latest episode of Skeptiko.
On the show, Dr Alex Wendt explains his theory of how a one world government is similarly inevitable. He certainly has the momentum of history behind him, making the point that we’ve gone from tens or even hundreds of thousands of discrete governance units in the stone age up to today where we have less than two hundred.
I would suggest, however, that that trendline is far from straight, even if it is indeed trending up. (We got more countries when the Soviet Union collapsed, we’ll get more when the EU collapses, when Scotland leaves, when the US and China break into little pieces, etc… all of which are either somewhat likely or guaranteed in the next hundred years.) The second half of the show has James Corbett explaining why a one world government is an appalling outcome.
Inevitably, they’re both right in their own way. Each global disaster, whether engineered or not, is used as an excuse to further centralise power in fewer and fewer hands. Ebola, climate change -look at the opening Karellan quote again-, terrorism. The response is alway more centralisation when less is genuinely the answer in every single case. (Taleb repeatedly makes the point that dencentralised structures localise failure and/or prevent contagion.)
So two things are going on. In a Childhood’s End/cosmic consciousness sort of way, we probably are trending toward fewer governance systems but a best case vision of this is some kind of participatory, networked ‘blob’ of shared intelligence. At the same time we have a dangerous, unaccountable AngloAmerican shadow state racing against the clock to tip the whole world into a centralised digital currency/governance system that they control.
What’s important to realise is that Dr Wendt isn’t necessarily talking about a single government in which we all (theoretically) participate. Over the course of that centralisation trendline, we’ve had all manner of governance models from feudalism to today’s version of feudalism. If you are a power elite intent on becoming a multiplanetary civilisation, it may well take too damn long for a single earth government to eventuate. In such a scenario, you’d build out the legal structure to secure your assets and technologies and then just… break away. Hey, wait a minute. (Note: An overt breakaway civilisation could technically be a ‘single’ governance system, it would just be one that you or I do not participate in. But by virtue of its toys, it would call whatever shots it chose.)
It is interesting and potentially even useful to view the situation esoterically. Firstly, governance and kingship are intimately associated with our relationship to the spirit world, as Peter and I discuss and as is explored in his book. This is not only unsurprising but also very Childhood’s End given that kingship and the arts of civilisation emerged in the same extradimensional gift basket (and presumably in the same delivery run). Secondly, we need to be better at separating the ‘destiny of mankind’ centralisation from the ‘neocon/shadow state plans for world domination’, if only because one of them will eventually fail.
Thirdly, we need to combine all three insights so as to avoid the shadow state centralisation as much as possible, lean into the ‘destiny’ centralisation -via the regularly referenced building of redundant analogue networks and descentralising/demonetising All The Things- and discern the difference via activating our own sovereignty, which is where the spirit world component comes in.
Because, inevitably, we will get down to one last demon king. It may as well be you.