The Homogenization Syndrome
I’ve been wondering, ever since I finished Generosity, why it was that Thassa, the beloved character in the book, annoyed me so much. Is it her constant optimism? The fact that a scientific discovery hinges on her DNA? Or is it simply the fact that she seems to be Powers’s conduit as the manifestation of the desire to dominate and destroy anything good that comes our way? Now, that sounds cynical, I know, but I can’t help but think that if Thassa was truly as loved as everyone made it seem, why people around her were determined to bring her down.
Nobody accepts Thassa for who she is. Everyone wants to find out what makes her tick. One of her classmates nearly physically violates her; another one actually violates her right to privacy in exposing her name to the world, and then she’s such a media sensation that the pressure nearly drives her to her own destruction. Kurton wants to map our her secret in the collection of amino acids that make up our genes. Candece and Russell want to protect her, but they, just as much as the other characters, wants to know what it is about Thassa that makes her who she is.
And I’m thinking that this is the reason I hate her so much. Thassa is a representation of what’s good in the world. She is the only bright point in this future Chicago that Powers describes, the only shining figure in the creative nonfiction class of (who seem to be, by modern standards) societal misfits. She is a beacon in the dark, and the world wants to take what makes her so special away from her to commercialize and distribute among the population. And Thassa lets them. She is, after all, Miss Generosity, and would share more with the world than she has to give. I hate her for the way the world reacts to her. But why do I place the blame on Thassa, not on the world?
Because I’m a cynic, I suppose. Let’s look back to Oryx and Crake, Brave New World, even Gattaca. Commercialization of genetic code, wide distribution of personality traits, homogenization of the human race, is nothing new. It’s a common comment on the human nature to take what is desirable and to capitalize on it. Nearly everyone in Oryx and Crake have accepted genetic engineering, either of themselves or their surroundings to some extent. The same is true in Gattaca, to the extent that the difference between a genetically modified person and a “natural” person creates a class rift. The major societal structure of Brave New World: mass-production of genetically-similar humans. So what’s stopping the rest of the world in Generosity from wanting what Thassa has?
I dislike her because she gives it up without fully realizing the consequences of her actions, both to herself and to the world at large. Say they do find the gene for happiness. Say it becomes common practice for people to modify themselves to have it. Where does Thassa’s role of being a special person go? Does happiness retain the same quality that it does today if it becomes completely commonplace? In the words of Syndrome, from Pixar’s The Incredibles, “When everyone is super, nobody will be.”
And Thassa, Miss Generosity, would be to thank for that.