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March 13, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide Best Bits

Hitchguide I read (reread, actually) only one measly little book while on break, but it was a good one: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Because this is such a widely-read book, I'll just comment on my favorite parts. First, it struck me on this reading that Adams' characterization of the role of the President of the Galaxy was eerily accurate:
The President in particular is very much a figurehead—he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely-judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it. . . . Very very few people realize that the President and the Government have virtually no power at all, and of these few people only six know whence ultimate political power is wielded.
Does that sound anything like another President/Government you know? Is it possible we all watch the actions of our figurehead and elected officials intently as if they had some meaning, when really the true power in our society is at work elsewhere? NAFTA Chapter 11 comes immediately to mind, as well as the FTAA, both of which transfer authority over all sorts of government regulatory functions into the hands of multinational conglomerates. Perhaps the President's job is to make a lot of noise somewhere (like, oh, maybe, Iraq and neighboring countries), while the real power brokers slowly work their nefarious magic. Could it be? You think? Wars are generally extremely effective in drawing attention away from other things.... Another favorite idea is that the mice have been running the show all along. While humans have been thinking we were doing experiments on mice, the mice were actually doing experiments on us. The idea almost makes Hitchhiker's Guide a forerunner of “The Matrix” (the mice have you!), which is something I'd never considered before. Finally, the little bit with Majikthise and Vroomfondel at the end. These two representatives from the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons are outraged that a computer might solve the greatest mysteries of the universe and leave them with nothing to do:
“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we'll take care of the eternal verities, thank you ver much. You want to check your legal position, you do, mate. Under law the Qeust for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thingkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we're straight out of a job, aren't we? I mean, what's the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machien only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?” “That's right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”
Anyone familiar with the bureaucratic politics of Humanities departments in large American universities will have to chuckle at this. It can also be read as a fun jab at luddites and at the general revolt against “modernity” and the rise of science in the late 19th century, all of which continues to figure today in, for example, battles over whether to teach evolution in public schools. Bottom line: The Hitchhiker's Guide is a fun, fast, light read that remains entertaining, engaging, and highly relevant even 25 years after its initial publication. The movie should be fun, too. Over the next few weeks perhaps I'll take a quick bite at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. p.s.: If you're a Marvin the morose robot fan, check out his songs here.

Posted March 13, 2005 12:16 PM | ai books

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