Approaching the High Holy Days with Awe, Part 2

Approaching the High Holy Days with Awe, Part 2

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Do you enjoy science fiction? I find that it often provides a thought-provoking commentary on the society in which we live at present. And yes, on our own participation in creating the society we’d like to have. It requires a lot of patience and perseverance.

I have been reading a science fiction novel called Semiosis by Sue Burke, in which it takes seven generations of space settlers with an idealistic, pacifistic philosophy to develop a truly mutual relationship with the sentient but aggressive plant-life on their new planet.[1] In fact, just about everything on planet Pax (Latin for peace) seems to have a thinking, feeling capacity. Unfortunately, things go awry from the start. First of all, their spaceship’s super-intelligent computers decide to think for themselves and land the settlers on a planet very different from the one they were prepared to inhabit. As they learn to survive in an environment radically different from life on earth, the space settlers sense the presence of something beyond human knowledge and experience, perhaps beyond our imagination as a species.

“Grateful for this opportunity to create a new society in full harmony with nature, we enter into this covenant, promising one another our mutual trust and support. We will face hardship, danger, and potential failure, but we aspire to the use of practical wisdom to seek joy, love, beauty, community, and life. (From the Constitution of the Commonweath of Pax, written on Earth in 2065.”) [2]

The new settlers slowly learn that, as a human species – as invasive aliens on an inhabited planet – they will continually encounter diverse animal forms outside their earthly experience, as well as a dominant, intelligent plant life. Some of the hybrid animals (the lions, for example, have sharp digging blades for claws, helpful in planting crops) become domesticated aides to the humans. By contrast, their relationship with the infinitely superior plants slowly becomes antagonistic. Plants like the fast-growing rainbow bamboo and the enticing, flowering vines subtly and sometimes aggressively manipulate the humans to do their bidding. Eventually both humans and plants achieve a desirable “Duality” of co-existence. Simply stated, that means they agree to get along! Meanwhile the mysterious glassmakers who create and then then desert magnificent architecture turn out to be nomads fiercely protective of their land. Their breath-taking work in tune with the planet’s environment complements the awesome beauty of creation – and its essential importance to humanity. By the end of the novel, the human settlers no longer think of themselves as Earthlings; they are proudly from the planet they named “Pax,” and, as they enter their seventh generation on this planet, their moral ideology and way of life seems to be in synch at last. Seven generations (7 x 25) is not that long – it’s only 175 years, considerably less than the history of the United States and many other countries that certainly have moral room to grow!

“The name of this Planet and Commonwealth shall be Pax as a reminder to ourselves for all time of our aspirations. (From the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pax.)”[3]

Finally, the knife symbolizing the murderous intent of one person toward another, one species toward another, is placed in a museum for all time.

Good reading for contemplation of what is important to our own societies as we approach the High Holidays! And time to consider what values are most important to ourselves and our loved ones in our own life span.

[1] Sue Burke, Semiosis. (New York: Tor Books), 2018.

[2] Ibid., p. 9.

[3] Ibid., p. 223.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.