It is because this has happened to me

Sort of.

The thing about science fiction is that “fiction” is still the operative word here. So in some ways the fantastical futuristic speculative science is really only there because it was necessary to tell the story the author wanted to tell. As in the case of Simak’s “Immigrant”, the imaginative backdrop of aliens and far away world is really just a tool for him to tells us the story of being human. Selden Bishop was human, like all of us. Through hard work and the intelligence he was born with, he was identified as the best of the best. In the world Simak described, a race of extraterrestrial aliens from the planet Kimon were known to mankind. Kimonians were speculated to have evolved well beyond human’s current development. They seem to have extraordinary psionic abilities; exhibit moral and social structures that is not based on profits; even in their “dumbed-down” physical manifestation they are more beautiful than any human. Bishop, being the best of the best, was qualified to be sent to Kimon, in a sort of one-way “cultural-exchange” program. Kimon has been described as “El-Dorado” multiple times in the story, a mythical promise land where everything was the best. It is, of course, no such thing.

In science fiction I often have doubts about the treatment of aliens. For example, in “Star Trek” almost all aliens are really just human with a different forehead. They are usually humanoid (to a point that they are not distinguishable from human), have two genders, and in a baffling twist, speaks perfect English. Here, Simak’s treatment of the Kimonians are different. We can see this especially in Bishop’s conversation with the “goddess”. She insists that most Kimonian concepts will simply be incomprehensible to Bishop. In a crucial exchange, it became apparent that all the training, all the hard work that Bishop endured to qualify him to come to Kimon had been for naught. Kimonian society and thoughts are so far evolved that human knowledge and Kimonian concepts are incompatible. Bishop had to accept that while on earth he was the best of the best, here on Kimon he is literally below the bottom tier.

This rung a chord with me. It is because this has happened to me. Multiple times. It happened when I went to college, and it happened when I went to grad school. I feel that we are all indoctrinated by our education institution that: “we are the best”. The secret that Bishop discovered in the end of the story is humility. It is when we admit that we don’t know that we can finally say I want to know, and I will work hard to learn. Grad school in particular is like that. The more I study, the more I am entrenched in my research work, the more I realized how much I really don’t know. It is from that unknown I am inflicted by the disease of curiosity. It is because I am not satisfied with what I DO know that I must work hard to know more.

It’s pity that we will not be discussing this piece face to face. I was originally scheduled to moderate the now cancelled seminar on Tuesday. I am very interested to what everyone think, as it is rare that we study a fictional work in this class. I also was able to read most of the extra-reading (pro-tip: Google the title of the reading, plus the word “pdf” for online versions for most reading) for this seminar which I highly recommend that you do so if you have the time. They are similarly themed Sci-Fi short story, and a thoroughly good read.


2 thoughts on “It is because this has happened to me

  1. I felt the exact same way reading this essay. You put forth all of this effort to reach one step, and then in a way you almost have to completely uproot and start a new foundation and way or studying and work just to barely keep your head above water. But after I blogged, I thought of the actual process with immigrants and how when they get to a new place, not only do they not understand the culture, but they can’t speak the language half the time, which gives them even more of a disadvantage when it comes to learning new ways. It’s hard to comprehend how different cultures can be, and not even cultures in different countries, but standards in a way, of people and how they are expected to act and really be a functioning member of that society. The fact that Earth was trying to figure out the secret of Kimon and it wasn’t really a secret, but it was an issue of swallowing their pride as Erin said and accepting the fact that they needed to be taught how to become a better society.

  2. I have to agree that their is some discontinuity and disheartening facts about having to change from one stage of education to another. But, I don’t think that it is for nothing- even to immigrants as Melissa was talking about. Of course, there are new ways of thinking out there and it is hard for us to comprehend that we are not the best things since slice bread (we never even consider being inferior to someone else or what that could possibly mean-however, in our defense, we are a people based much on visual learning and how can we accept that there are these cultures if we cannot see them? Perhaps that complex is even too far reached for our society.) But, the lessons that we have learned so help us when we move on-you couldn’t have even gotten there if you had not taken the time to learn the fundamental properties of what you need to know in the next stage of education. Bishop probably would have had a very hard time trying to figure out the true reason for being there if he had not been so observant and used his deductive reasoning skills that he so highly toned while he was on earth. So, you see, it is not for nothing-it is for the chance to learn more than what is deemed “the benchmark” for one society and to be challenged to reach the “benchmark” for the next.

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