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Saturday, 12 September 2015

Argon Desaki's Report From Earth by Alan Walworth

Source: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41H3yvUo7ZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg


In the interest of full disclosure, I proofread this book this summer and am proud to know its author. I have, however, tried to be as unbiased as possible.

           Argon Desaki’s Report from Earth defies easy categorization. It starts out as sci-fi, with an alien named Argon Desaki crash-landing on Earth. What follows is Desaki’s doctoral dissertation for ‘Stellar University’ in Pelonia, his home planet, on his findings regarding intelligent life on Earth. This is an effective plot device to describe our planet’s various issues from the point of view of an outsider. Desaki’s Report is a very strange book with an interesting and rather unique writing style that is often an asset but is sometimes a little distracting. Many of the book’s chapters are devoted to one or more issues related to the future of humanity, such as ignorance, apathy, wishful thinking, evolution, war, etc.
           
            I think the first few chapters could have flowed a bit better, and would have benefitted from a better structure. The author sometimes digresses from the plot into poetic or philosophical ruminations. Though many of these are interesting in content and style, I felt that they interrupted the action and were distracting, as in the case of ‘Wondering down a pleasanter pensive path, pursuing and perusing precious pastiches of times past, I recall our wonderful wandering before the crash…’ At first I was incredulous about this style of writing and the excessive use of alliteration, but I got used to it eventually and realized that it was intended to be humorous. There is also a lot of wordplay that is not always immediately obvious. For instance: ‘To tell you the truth, in my opinion people who think it makes sense to pay to hear what psychiatrists say have something wrong with their heads.’ My immediate response to this was to take offense, until I got the joke. I thought such double entendres were genuinely funny and enjoyed them.       

            For me the book really began to get interesting when Desaki started detailing his observations about the human race, even if I didn’t agree with all of them. Various important points were intriguingly presented, such as: ‘It took over a hundred thousand years for the Earthling population to first reach a billion in 1804. After that it took only 123 years to add the next billion. By 1987, adding another billion took only 12 years.’

            Many of Desaki’s opinions are controversial. For instance, he suggests that since it seems that people today can only afford one or two children as opposed to many more in earlier times, there has been a “serious decline in prosperity.” I think that the opposite is the case, as research shows that more highly educated individuals and more developed nations tend to have fewer children.

            Desaki’s views are not necessarily shared by the author, who mentions in the introduction that when he read a draft of Desaki’s dissertation, he didn’t agree with all of it. Although I also didn’t agree with many of these views, I found them intriguing and wondered whether the author was being intentionally provocative in passages like:

“ Once males desire females, their naked attraction is apt to prove problematic. An attracted male in the presence of an attractive naked female may act in ways she could consider – at least if unwelcome – harassment or worse. (On the other hand, if males giving possibly unwelcome attention to attractive females is the norm, how is a female they ignore supposed to feel?)” 

            I enjoyed the sections on opposition to knowledge and anti-intellectualism, which is definitely a dangerous trend (look where Bush’s gut got us). I also liked the section on Apathy and was gleeful when Desaki disparaged Ayn Rand’s enthusiasm for greed. However, some of Desaki’s arguments seemed strange, even illogical. For example, he posits that

‘Conservatives opposed to Darwin’s theory of evolution often in practice uphold social Darwinism’

and that


‘So many who say they believe in evolution seem not to truly believe in it, for if they did they should act differently…Liberals believe in evolution; they insist the theory of evolution is true. But…it appears that many believers in evolution would like to make sure everyone, however disadvantaged or defective, has an equal opportunity not only to survive but also to reproduce. Survival of the fittest is considered an unfortunate state of affairs from which people should be thankful they’ve escaped.’

There seems to be a confusion here: Desaki seems to think that believing in the right to life implies endorsement of that right, and that believing in the existence of evolution implies endorsement of a similar system in human society; however, believing in evolution simply means recognizing the reality of it, and does not entail endorsing it. So believing in evolution is entirely consistent with wanting to advance beyond brutal survival of the fittest. Again, I wondered to what extent this was Desaki’s alien perspective rather than the author’s real opinion.

            Similarly, Desaki’s arguments in support of eugenics are unconvincing. Arguing that eugenics is tainted by its association with Nazism, he defends it by observing, “You could settle for not letting defective people reproduce. There’s no need to kill them....” However, where would one draw the line? Who would decide who would be allowed to reproduce?

            I also disagreed with some of Desaki’s comments regarding the possibility that human intelligence is decreasing. Asking ‘Has Earthling intelligence, on average, already declined?,’ he cites ‘towering intellects’ in 5th century BC Athens, the ‘Age of Pericles’ – Aeschylus, Themistocles, Sophocles, Protagoras, Herodotus, Euripides, Socrates, Thucydides, Aristophanes and Plato. Then he asks rhetorically ‘How many Earthlings of such stature arose in the last century in America? How many Americans of the last century will be considered so great, or even remembered 2500 years from now?’ Desaki argues that because America’s population is far greater than ancient Greece’s, it should have significantly more intellectuals as outstanding as those historical figures, and he claims it does not. My question is, how can one be certain it does not? ‘Towering intellect’ is an unquantifiable criterion. Whether today’s smartest people are as intelligent as the intellects of yore is very hard to determine. When science, philosophy and related fields were in their infancy, it was comparatively easy to determine outstanding or extraordinary individuals in those fields. But now that such fields are so much more advanced, does the role that giants such as Socrates, Hippocrates, Newton and Einstein played even exist any more?  Is there still any possibility for an individual to be a ‘Father’ of anything? Perhaps, because advances in these fields are now more incremental, we are less able to recognize genius. It is also possible that in today’s culture, we are less likely to revere our leading figures.

            I enjoyed later sections of the book most. The chapter on ‘War’ is spot-on with regard to excessive defense spending, the military-industrial complex and war mongering. The chapter on ‘Business and Politics’ does a good job of exploring the pitfalls of unbridled capitalism. It also contains an interesting discussion about the role of luck in politics. An enjoyable chapter on the unreliability of memory follows. Memory is far less trustworthy than is commonly supposed. It has become increasingly clear that witness testimony is far from foolproof, for example.

            Although the sections on ‘Moron Problems’ and ‘Insanity’ are interesting, I found an out-of-context quote from Dr. Nassir Ghaemi’s book A First-Rate Madness confusing. The last few chapters lay out unique and thought-provoking ideas about how to resolve the many problems described in the book, and flow more smoothly than the earlier sections.

            While the book is evidently a work of fiction, nearly a third of it is endnotes, many of which demonstrate that much of the work’s content is factual. Some of these endnotes offer helpful elaboration, while others felt unnecessary.

             On the whole, Argon Desaki’s Report from Earth is an intriguing book that I feel could have been improved by brevity in some areas and elaboration in others. Some of the arguments seemed fallacious, but that may be consistent with the book’s intent to be thought provoking rather than a straightforward presentation of facts. While Report from Earth is by no means an easy read, it raises important questions and is rewarding. Essential points about current affairs and the state of humanity are presented in a very intriguing and palatable manner, leaving the reader with many things to think about.

You can purchase the Kindle version of this book at: http://www.amazon.com/Report-Earth-Alan-Walworth-ebook/dp/B00HWMQCNS (Kindle books can be read on a laptop or PC with the Kindle app, even if you don't have a Kindle).

You can check out some of the author's work and ideas at:
The YouSA communities are easy to join and rewarding to use, and the Realistic Idealist publication on Medium is open for essay submissions.