Think of all the great things science has brought us. Medicine. Knowledge. Even the device you’re looking at right now.
So why is it so often in entertainment (and even real life) that scientists and skeptics are cast as foils, and not the protagonists?
Writer Miles Greb has been trying to turn that paradigm on its head with his comic book series After the Gold Rush, which features the last living scientist, Scout, returning to an Earth that’s abandoned science and suffered because of it.
There’s a lot of meaning and symbolism in each panel of After the Gold Rush, as drawn by Issac La Russa, so we at AiPT! like to pick his brain about certain scenes from each issue. We present to you now the third installment in these exclusive “director commentaries.”
AiPT!: Oh, so now you’re anti-tree?! Seriously though, these captions are an interesting juxtaposition now that Scout is in this lush paradise she’s never experienced before. Are you suggesting the idea of “purpose” can lead us astray?
Miles Greb: I want the people to know I have not turned my back on my pro-tree position – I just know what they are and what they are not.
As to “purpose,” it’s a downstream idea from “Agency.” We are agency-creating machines. We create it in ourselves, believe it to be our most novel trait, and then we start “creating” it in the weather, in the heavens, and in the harvest. Perhaps we do this because we believe if these things acted with intent, then maybe we can bargain with them. Maybe our other beloved traits, like our ability to reason, would be helpful in appeasing whatever causes the drought or our ill-fortunes.
I mentioned trees because I love them, and I suspect most people do. When we have a moment to stop, we see them as romantic things. But they strip the ground of nutrients in competition with other living things; they develop defenses to starve any bug that wishes to use them as food; they evolved to live as long as possible and reproduce. They care nothing for us, their ecosystem, the shade and shelter they give, their fruits – it’s all for their own gain. But still we find them beautiful, and comforting.
Scout doesn’t believe in astrology (or even know about it), so that makes her weird to the natives. Do you think it’s the same way today? Isn’t a weird thing being so accepted … itself pretty weird?
You are correct, Scout has never heard of astrology, even in passing. It’s been a dead concept for hundreds of years. How could anyone who has seen the stars from space ever find interest in such a silly idea? As for today – if I understand correctly- belief in this idea is actually increasing among my generation. I find it disappointing in two regards.
First, I think it distracts from the real research people do into understanding human nature. It creates a simple paradigm to understand human behavior that will never really advance, or accurately describe anything. Ideas like this can give you an easy answer, but not a correct one. This gives people false ideas about why people are acting a certain way. Maybe it causes them to accept behavior they shouldn’t, or accept less of themselves.
People say these ideas are harmless or fun. I don’t mean to disagree if you are having fun, but they are not harmless. These ideas create boxes for you to put people into. It’s a subtle form of bigotry that causes you to treat people with bias. I don’t find that very appealing.
I think these panels get to the heart of After the Gold Rush — Scout wants to help with her knowledge and methodology, but is rebuked. What’s so bad about analyzing everything?
This panel comes from a lot of lived experience. It’s always been a struggle of mine, and I know many other people who identify as skeptics can empathize with this. There is this delicate social balance between offering help and being condescending.
Here we see Scout, who is an expert in botany and farming, earnestly, and with a good heart, reach out to Pre with some tips. But from Pre’s perspective, these are her fields. She tends to them; she makes them grow. An outsider’s opinion hardly seems welcomed or kind – it just seems belittling or meddling.
I have both a very empathetic side and a very analytical side, and I find them in conflict all the time with how I should act. I tried to show that struggle here.
Oh also – look at how well Isaac drew that dog. Perfect motion.
The speech of the native Earthlings is really interesting. Everything is referred to in terms of “stories,” as opposed to Scout’s “math.” How is that affecting how they view the world?
If I answer completely, it would spoil some of After the Gold Rush. If you read issue #4, you will discover a few clues. I will say though, that you are right. Stories are everything to the people here. They know the world through carefully selected metaphors and narratives.
After the Gold Rush #3 is available now. Issue #4 has been received by Patreon and Kicstarter backers, with a wide release in September.