AI: Alternate Realities
This week’s Grey’s Anatomy episode showed us a glimpse of what a Seattle Grace with an alive and unaffected by Alzheimer’s Ellis Grey would be. The exact same characters, the exact same personalities, the exact same issues, only guided by a far more extraordinary, dominant, pushy personality, and yet the proportions to which this single person affected their lives are significantly big.
Just as everything regarding alternate timelines (yes, I’m talking about Community’s best episode ever), this one got me thinking about all the different ways people’s lives and actions, however distant from us, may affect a group of people both individually and as a whole, and it seems like a good exercise to give merit and credit to those responsible for changing our worlds.
Imagine if Rosa Parks hadn’t existed, or for some reason had not done what she did. Or Gandhi. Or Marie Curie. Or Douglas Adams. Or Rebecca Watson. Or your mom.
(Please forgive the randomness of that list and bear in mind I’m not making comparisons of any kind.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot of fights we take for granted now, but that depended on and continue to depend on a lot of people out there we have no control on whatsoever. People that may be changing the course of history every day and no one’s aware of it; people that could be changing the course of history but never do.
And after that very much confusing prelude, to the question:
Who do you think is paramount to the current situation of the queer/skeptic community and what significant changes do you think their non-existence in an alternate reality would represent to the world? Are there people you think our world could not have made without (whatever their fields)?
The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.
A lot of the time there’s a historical momentum to major events that doesn’t depend on the individuals involved as much as people expect. We can see snapshots of this in the fact that without Darwin we would still have had Wallace’s work, without Newton we would still have Leibniz. From her Wikipedia article, Rosa Parks was not the first to take a stand the way she did, but she is remembered for it because of what occurred afterwards (the bus boycott). This is not to diminish her brave and important act of civil disobedience, but sometimes it doesn’t matter who does the job so long as someone does it (and this is often true of the most important jobs).
Personally I suspect that the small differences made by a person are more likely to affect major changes in the long run. For example even if Einstein had not developed general relativity, the scientific zeitgeist was right for it at the time and it would, in all likelihood, have been developed soon thereafter anyway. However, a different person in Einstein’s place might not have signed the letter urging president Roosevelt to begin developing the atomic bomb. The absence of a request from such a prominent scientist might have delayed the completion of the bomb, possibly until after the defeat of Japan, resulting in wildly different post-war relations all around and changing several key facets of the beginning of the cold war.
Speaking of historical Zeitgeist and Rosa Parks, I’m reminded of this scene form the Boondocks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xjn-0M75dog
The narratives we tend to rely on in order to understand historical changes and events are often reduced to small numbers of agents who are given disproportionate roles, mainly for the ease of comprehension. This usually happens to political leaders, but also to activists and scientists.
I’m not sure it’s a good thing, as it tends to give us the picture that great changes rely on “great” people (or, let’s face, it, almost always great men) in order to take hold. But it sure is hard to write and teach history without that kind of narrative.