Monday, December 3, 2012

Of societies, revolutions, and the writing of fiction

I've never had guest bloggers post here before, because most of those I'd like to invite already have their own blogs and/or other social media outlets.  Those who approach me out of the blue offering guest articles are usually trying to peddle a product, an agenda, or both - and I don't do that sort of thing.  However, tonight we break that 'tradition'.

Miss D. and I have long enjoyed the books of Sarah Hoyt (who blogs at According To Hoyt, with which some of you may be familiar).  She's impossible to categorize;  her fiction ranges from crime/whodunnit to romance to science fiction to . . . whatever.  We took the opportunity to meet her and her husband earlier this year, and enjoyed a meal and an extended postprandial conversation with them at their home in Colorado.  Most enjoyable.  They're good people.

Sarah and I were particularly intrigued to discuss our shared, yet very different experiences of the so-called 'Carnation Revolution' in Portugal in 1974, and its effects on our lives for years afterwards.  The revolution replaced a right-wing regime with a Communist quasi-dictatorship, which promptly abandoned most of Portugal's colonies to Communist-oriented 'liberation movements' (who were nothing more than terrorists).  I remember the streams of refugees crossing into South Africa, many stripped of everything they'd owned by marauding gangs of heavily-armed guerrillas on their way to the border, some beaten, others raped . . . all as miserable as sin.  It showed in graphic detail what happens when Communists take over.  Sarah, at the time a child in Portugal, had to endure Communist propaganda being shoved down her throat at school, and see the social institutions she and her parents knew well being systematically overthrown and replaced by politically correct gobbledegook.

Sarah and I spent quite a while over supper talking about the 'Carnation Revolution' and its effects, while Miss D. and Sarah's husband talked about other subjects.  I'm sure both of them thought Sarah and I were a bit 'over the top' in our shared horror at the memories of what a Communist revolution can do to a formerly stable society . . . but we'd both 'been there and done that', and spoke from experience.  We share a fear, I think, that most people in the USA today have no idea of the Socialist and Communist roots of much of the Obama administrations' policies.  We see the creeping tentacles and impending doom of these failed ideologies spreading throughout our society, and we're determined to expose it for what it is, and fight it at every opportunity.  Unfortunately, many Americans who haven't had our first-hand exposure to it don't have the same understanding of what's involved.

At any rate, Sarah uses her experiences in her writing, as fiction can often serve to convey the reality of this sort of thing in a far more interesting and engrossing way than any lecture or factual analysis.  That's one reason Miss D. and I enjoy her books.  So, to help with the launch of her latest book, I invited her to write here about how her experiences influence the way she writes science fiction.  I'll let her tell you the rest.

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Taking The Changes Fighting

When I was studying Marxism in school, I was too unsophisticated in the ways of … well, reality to know, objectively, why it wasn’t right.  This was of course back in pre-history, when even the CIA world fact book believed what the Soviet Union said about itself (which of course is much different from the way we now swallow the figures out of China.  Never mind) and when magazine vendors in Portugal sold glossy copies of Soviet Life by the road side, making it seem like life under communism was much like life in the golden age of Hollywood.  So I couldn’t have pointed to facts and figures if I wanted to.

(I remember when we got a copy of The Gulag Archipelago and passed it student to student, without our teachers’ knowing.  It was confirmation of our worst feelings, but of course, we couldn’t get any responsible adult or any authority figure to confirm it.)

What I knew, at an instinctive, stubborn level is that “it sounds wrong” compounded by the type of people who proposed the theory and the actions of the “real life communists” which we got to see up close and personal in the turmoil of the late seventies.

I think I must have been eighteen when it finally dawned on me what was fundamentally wrong with communism as a system: it was a pretty construction – in idealized doctrine – but it could never work.   It could never work because it didn’t apply to any real person who breathed and ate and spoke.

This hit me about the same time I was arguing with a friend whose father was a socialist and who kept insisting my family was “higher class” than hers.  I had studied enough Marx by then (I wasn’t given a choice) that I could point out to her she was in fact wrong.  Not only did her parents make more money, and have more real estate, but they were small business owners and therefore “owned the means of production.”  This completely confused her, because in a sense, my parents were “higher class,” that is in the sense that both my parents were more educated than hers.  (Though in mom’s case her formal education was limited to 4th grade.  But she was an autodidact.)

And that’s when I realized none of this made any sense, except in the airy-fairy world of university discussions and persuasive books.  What is the working class?  The man who works 9-5 in an office?  Or the housepainter who owns his own business and hires contractors?  Who is the exploiter and who the exploited?

People can’t be that easily pegged.  So what Marxism turns into is “rule by ideological purity.”  It is in fact better understood if you view communist society as a sort of theocracy.  Their ideal system is too good for the world, and too opaque, and therefore it has to be administered by a caste of priests who can divine the intent of history and exactly which societal class is which, and the hierarchy of grievances that determines who gets what from the government.

That is, the best way to determine what should come from whom according to whose needs and abilities, is to have a “trained social scientist” well indoctrinated in Marx divine.

You know, I think the system might have greater longevity if it were run by reading the entrails of chickens rather than the writings of Marx.

Communism seems to have a 3rd generation blight curse.  That is, because you’re choosing for true belief rather than for a clear sighted view of reality or even an ability to manipulate reality, each generation seems to get more divorced from reality, till everything – of necessity – collapses.

What it collapses into is the default form of human government: Strong man rule.  Strong man rule is, of course, the root of kingship.

I’m not sure that there was any natural communism, ever, before primitive kingship.  I don’t know if it’s possible to have real communism – natural and not backed by a vast state apparatus – beyond an interrelated group.  (As we’ve learned, even in socialism – Scandinavia – it only seems to work for any time at all when operating on a mono-culture with a high level of genetic relationship.)

Of course there is no natural democracy either – not lasting more than twenty years or so and ending in something much like the terror – and republics have their own limits.

The thing is both democracies and republics are fairly sophisticated forms of government, implying a literate and engaged populace and for republics at least, a body of electors that tries to be well informed.  (We might be making a stab at running it by ignorance, but that’s something else.)

Because it depends on what principles a republic is founded, we can’t estimate its level of survival or how long.

As for libertarianism … we’ve yet to see it in action.  The closest we’ve come are the socially conservative, economically libertarian societies.  Those are often a variety of “Strong man rule” and therefore stable.

In Darkship Thieves I posited a libertarian society, running on tradition and reason, with no government, no laws, and no force (all government is force.)

I created it on a basis of a relatively small and shell-shocked group, escaping death to a highly artificial environment.  Given their longer generations (people can live around 200 years with their technology) their survival as a libertarian society is not unlikely.

However, as I started thinking about the sequel – Darkship Renegades, which comes out on Tuesday officially -- I realized that these people lacked written laws, and as such were susceptible to a sort of tragedy of the commons applying to their liberties.  There is no one in charge of guaranteeing their liberties.  Everything rests on public opinion which can be manipulated, and on no one exerting himself enough to take control – i.e. on there not being a man ambitious enough to take power, and deluded enough to tell himself as well as others that he’s doing it for the good of the people he’s controlling.

All it needs in fact, is a big enough crisis – which happens at the end of Darkship Thieves, with the ships that are supposed to bring the energy pods back to Eden being delayed or destroyed – and a man with a hand on the levers of power: in this case the power to ration or allow energy.  (Which is the life blood of any society beyond the barest agricultural stage.)

Of course my characters aren’t about to take this lying down.  In fact, if there is one thing that can always be said about my characters is that they don’t take anything lying down.  They might be defeated, but they die with their hands on their weapon and a scream of defiance in their mouths.  Mostly because … if you’re not going to fight for what you believe in, you have lost something essential to humanity and civilization.  At least in this writer’s mind.

So they try to get around the problem by coming to Earth in search of a way to break the stranglehold of the would-be-dictator on the energy supply.

And on Earth they run into Earth’s system – a system that takes the Strong Man rule to its ultimate conclusion: bio-engineered rulers; strong men who are supposed to be above the common run of humans.

To an extent you could say it reflects how I view politics, governance, and humans’ attempts to be free: we lurch between system and system, between unworkable ideal and all too worked reality.  Sometimes, in between, in the changes, there are moments of liberty.

Barring technology that allows more power to individual humans or barring a frontier we can expand into, it will always be like that.

Which is why we need both the technology and the frontier.  We need to work towards them.

And meanwhile, we must try to bring the greatest freedom to the greatest number of individuals.  Because it is those moments of shining freedom that fuel progress for the ages when  mayhem destroys all the productive and for the regimes afterward which clamp down and create “stability” as deadly and barren as the grave.

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Thanks, Sarah!  Miss D. and I look forward to reading Darkship Renegades as soon as our copy arrives from Amazon.  I'd also like to recommend both of the Darkship books to my readers.  If you like science fiction and space opera, I think you'll enjoy them - and, IMHO, Sarah's an author worth supporting.  She knows whereof she speaks.  You might like to head over to her blog from time to time.  Her articles are usually pretty thought-provoking, as are the extended discussions with her readers that often follow them.



trailbee said...

What a fabulous description of Marxism. Until I had to study Marx, I also knew that it just didn't seem right. And, no, I also could not put it into words. But, there always seems to be someone on the other end of the conversation who is so ideologically sound, that to gainsay this system always comes out wrong. I believe that this is why conservatives lost this November - drowned out by the ideologues.
Thank you for posting this excerpt. And, yes, I shall investigate the blog and the book.

LabRat said...

From an anthropological point of view, the smaller and more hand-to-mouth the hunter-gatherer society, the more egalitarian and "communist" they are. When your survival depends on your group and could depend on someone's willingness to share the little bit extra they have, it seems to run great.

As soon as abundance comes, so does the big man...

I suppose some would see that as a reason for why we should have as little as possible so we can all get along and share. I see it as a reason to think hard about the laws and authorities we do have as the price of not being at constant risk of starving, freezing, or dying of malaria.