Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sliders (1995)

I remember watching this series when it was first broadcast, and I am watching it again on Netflix.  The essential idea does not sound like much.  Nerdy physics grad student figures out a way to create a wormhole connecting here with parallel universes.  On Earth (in San Francisco) in those parallel universes, history and prehistory have been different in sometimes very subtle ways, sometimes very dramatic ways.  Our travelers sometimes discover their doppelgangers in these parallel universes.  They are trying to get home, without much luck.  Each episode involves discoveries that they often would prefer not making.

In one episode, the American Revolution failed, and the British States of America are still part of the British Empire, with upper class snobs and nobles running roughshod over peasants.  There is a Benedict Arnold Bank, because George Washington was executed in 1779.  Our heroes join the rebels, of course.

In another episode, San Francisco is still in the Age of Dinosaurs.  In another, the Summer of Love never ended, and their arrival causes the hippies to worship them as prophets.  Another horrifying one has the Earth invaded by aliens who have developed a taste for human eyes.  As I said, fluff for the mind and not very deep, usually expressing mainstream liberalism of 1995, but one episode "Luck of the Draw" is startling.

They arrive in San Francisco and find it almost a small town, with essentially no crime, violence, or hatred.  Food is unnaturally cheap, and when they need money they are encouraged to go to the Lottery's ATM to get money.  The more you take, the more chance that you win the five million dollar prize.  Of course, tsome of our travelers get greedy and take $5000.  Others are more careful and take much less.

Why is this society so wealthy and peaceful?  They took Malthus' warning seriously, and world population is less than 500 million.  Resources are not in short supply, reducing strains and stresses.  Certainly this would be one consequence.  The mass dying in Europe during the Black Death dramatically reduced demand for resources, improving conditions for peasants, driving up wages, making more land available, and causing the first wage control laws to protect the rich.  (This history is part of why economists have traditionally regarded wage and price control laws with disfavor; they were an attempt to injure the poor for the benefit of the rich.)

So how was this accomplished in this parallel universe?  If you read Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," you probably have a clue.  The winners get a special credit card that lets them buy anything they want and leave their winnings to whoever they wish, and the next day they make room.  If you remember the episode "Make Room!  Make Room on Gideon!" from the original Star Trek series, you can guess how they make room.  Death is painless, and the widely publicized near-death experiences are part of why people are willing to risk death by playing the lottery.

We learn early in the episode that there is a subersive extremist "pro-life" faction that opposes the lottery, and some of the leaders are clearly Catholic priests.  As we learn what "winning" means, their upset becomes more understandable.

The parallel to the battle over abortion is obvious and quite surprising in a show that is otherwise awash in fuzzy liberalism.

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