Years ago, I read a cartoon strip that has stuck with me. Sort of. The caption was something like, ‘the earliest science fiction pieces,’ and it had four panels. Panel one was a cave man with a stone hammer hitting a larger rock, while I guy behind him yelled out, ‘thag, you crazy, you play god!’ and the panel after that shows the earth being split in two, presumably from the cave man hitting one rock with the other. Then there was another one, this time with a cave man trying to start a fire while another cave man warns him of his insanity, followed by a picture of the world in flames.
It struck with me because I’d never seen science fiction this way before, but looking at the images, it kind of made sense. There is a theme in SF of someone pushing the bounds of science, being warned against it, and then the entire world is in jeopardy because of their hubris.
And I do, from time to time, find myself reading a comment online from someone commenting on some scientific experiment with, ‘Oh my god, didn’t you read Jurassic Park? This is how the world gets overrun by dinosaurs!’ or someone talking about how cloning is a terrible idea because of all the ways it could go wrong, usually exemplified by some pivotal piece of science fiction.
So, it kind of make sense to look at science fiction as being anti-science. But that’s not really how I’ve ever read it.
To me, science fiction isn’t about the dangers of science, it’s a reminder that no matter how far technology goes, people will always be people. We’re always subject to the same flaws in thinking, the same impatience, the same hubris.
The problem isn’t what technology can do, it’s what people might do with technology. Cloning won’t bring about the destruction of humanity, but the people who control it might.