Some rather odd thoughts that flitted through my head after reading a book today...
I am continuing my self-imposed promise to read a book during my work stint at Logos. Sometimes I cheat and read books like "How to live with a neurotic dog," which is more cartoon than actual text, and sometimes I challenge myself with a book that might be 300+ page in length. Mostly, though, I go for a max of 250 pages, which, on a slow day, is do-able in the four hours I have at the desk.
The other day, I saw a book on Amazon. It was "Lucy," by Laurence Gonzales, the story of a girl who is half human, half bonobo chimpanzee, the result of a misguided experiment by her scientist father. It looked interesting, but even the Kindle price was more than I wanted to pay. So I was happy to see it in Logos...and not only just in the book store, but on the cheap shelf.
It was over 300 pages, but I figured I would read what I could in the store and then bring it home and finish it here (which I did last night).
This was a difficult one to review because the story held my interest, but at times I wondered if the target audience was a teenage girl. The story of Lucy being rescued by another scientist, who finds her in her home, after her father has been slaughtered by Congolese soldiers, her trip to the U.S. (with the help of some nefarious characters who forge a passport for the girl), and her integration into civilization after 13 years of living in the Congo, flying through trees with her bonobo mother and being educated by her somewhat eccentric father. She makes a good friend, learns teen age slang, becomes the star of the wrestling team, and does well in school.
The problem starts, and the writing shifts, when she falls ill with what is ultimately diagnosed as a disease found only in apes. Doctors are concerned that this is a disease which has suddenly been passed from apes to humans (as it is suggested the AIDS virus in humans may have started). Blood testing uncovers Lucy's secret and then it all goes to hell, Lucy's life as well as the quality of the writing.
Despite the fact that she looks and sounds and behaves like other humans, scientists feel she needs to be caged to protect "real" humans; Congress passes a law declaring her an animal, and thus deserving of no human rights; religious fundamentalists quote Leviticus, cry "abomination" and call for her death, she is kicked out of school because parents are afraid to have their children associate with her. It all gets very melodramatic and sadly entirely too predictable.
But in spite of the fact that the writing becomes much too cliche, I enjoyed the story and thought what a sad commentary it is on us humans and our reaction to anything "different."
We may send out probes into space hoping to make contact with other peoples on other planets, but what would we do if someone actually accepted our invitation and came to visit.
Look at what happened when Klaatu arrived as a peaceful ambassador from another planet in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." When he attempted to present a gift for the President of the U.S., he is shot by one of the soldiers who make up the "welcoming committee" to his spacecraft.
And poor E.T. only wanted to go home while he lived with an American family, but once scientists discovered he was here, it was a horror story and the poor guy nearly died before being rescued by the children and returned to his ship.
We give lip service to communication with other species, but if the Starship Enterprise actually landed here from the future and Spock stepped out, I suspect it would be "shoot first, ask questions after."
Instead of celebrating Lucy's "differentness" and trying to learn what we can from her through communication, scientists stripped her naked and stuck her in a cage where she was hosed when she attempted to ask for anything.
Yeah, these are all fictional examples, but I think not too far off the mark for how we treat "others," i.e., those who are not like us.
One need only read the papers and see how the word "muslim" has become a pejorative, a nasty accusation hurled at anyone we suspect is not like us. Instead of trying to get to know someone from another culture (or, in Lucy's case, another species), it's easier to accuse, to blame, to assume, to attack.
For "muslim" substitute "Jew," "queer," "Catholic," "fundamentalist." Too often we paint groups with one brush. If Osama Bin Laden plotted to kill Americans, then my next door neighbor and her kids are surely going to blow me up some day. If Fred Phelps pickets the funerals of AIDS victims and Soldiers in the name of God, surely my Baptist neighbor is not to be trusted.
There are bad guys out there and sometimes it's scary to confront something different, whether a half-man, half-ape, a guy with pointed ears from the planet Vulcan, or a woman in the supermarket wearing a veil. But I'd like to think that most of us are willing to give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. Sit down and find out why Lucy likes to eat banana skins and how she builds nests in trees, enter into a mind meld with Spock, and offer the hand of friendship to the woman with the veil. It's easier, cheaper and definitely less destructive than slaughtering mindlessly because we don't want to take the time to get to know someone different from ourselves.