Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cultural Atmospheres

Ages have an atmosphere formed by consensus. On Babylon 5, the SF saga, areas are set aside for aliens so that, in a jocular aside, Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) tells a visitor to watch it: “Stay out of the methane toilets.” Breathing the public air is dangerous for unbelievers, as it were—for heretics to the common faith. But a corollary of this situation is that genuine participation in collective life is actually denied us—unless we share in the consensus. Oh, it’s possible—if difficult to speak through gas masks. One gets used to it. So much so that temporarily visiting another time, as in, say, reading European documents and letters produced eight hundred years ago, one is startled to find oneself in an era where quite another atmosphere prevailed. On Babylon 5 cultures whose members live in “special quarters” do not take much part in the action—although members of the station’s management sometimes visit them, donning masks to do so, when something is going haywire, as always seems to happen.

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