A great article by Hube

I’m very tempted to just steal republish the whole thing, but that wouldn’t be fair to Hube. I’d recommend that you read the whole thing:

Heinleinian wisdom

I’m currently in the process of re-reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers for the umpteenth time. If you’re not familiar with this outstanding novel, don’t let the title — or the 1997 film based on the novel — fool you. It’s far from a kiddie cookie-cutter tale (although, in its original incarnation, it was intended to be). Indeed, it’s a treatise on the weaknesses of our current culture, both moral and political, because we’ve forgotten what works. Dana Pico over at one of my favorite blogs, Common Sense Political Thought, recently commented on this during a discussion about the decline of the city of Baltimore. He writes,

I’d like to say that I am constantly amazed how our modern society has managed to take 6,000 years of accumulated wisdom from every culture ever known on this planet and decide that it’s not worth crap, but to say that I am constantly amazed by it would be a lie. Now it’s just a dull feeling of, “What else is new?”

Heinlein, in the guise of Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois in the novel (who is protagonist Juan Rico’s high school teacher of History and Moral Philosophy), continually muses on this very subject throughout most of the novel. While not sparing vehement criticism of Marxism and communism whatsoever, Dubois doesn’t let Western society off the hook for its failings either. In chapter 8, Rico, while in boot camp, reminisces about high school and Dubois’s lectures:

Mr. Dubois was talking about the disorders that preceded the breakup of the North American republic, back in the XXth century. According to him, there was a time just before they went down the drain when crimes such as Dillinger’s (a trooper who deserted and killed a little girl) were as common as dog fights. The Terror had not been just in North America — Russia and the British Isles had it, too, as well as other places. But it reached its peak in North America shortly before things went to pieces.”Law-abiding people,” Dubois had told us, “hardly dared go into a public park at night. To do so was to risk attack by wolf packs of children, armed with chains, knives, homemade guns, bludgeons … to be hurt at least, robbed most certainly, injured for life probably — or even killed … Murder, drug addiction, larceny, assault, and vandalism were commonplace. Nor were parks the only places — these things happened also on the streets in daylight, on school grounds, even inside school buildings.”

Sound familiar? Heinlein wrote Troopers in 1959 — fifty-one years ago — yet what he writes above is found every single day in newspaper headlines and stories.

Much more at the link.

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18 Comments

  1. Sound familiar? Heinlein wrote Troopers in 1959 — fifty-one years ago — yet what he writes above is found every single day in newspaper headlines and stories

    Uh-huh.

    The reason right-wing fiction resembles Fox News is – because Fox News is right-wing fiction.

  2. And as regards Heinlein’s Starship Troopers:

    George Price: I found the values of Starship Troopers repugnant in themselves, but my main objection to it was that it reminded me of a Victorian children’s book. I mean, it was as much of a tract as it was a novel. I’m pretty certain that the situation depicted therein could work; it’s a very close analogy to a couple which have — Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia — in that power is confined to members of an elite that is small compared to the population at large. In fact, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union provides an extraordinarily close parallel, the main difference being the qualifications required for membership — in Heinlein, military service, in Russia service to the Marxist-Leninist cause.

    The film was underrated as a satire of right-wing authoritarianism, primarily because the very RWAs it was poking fun at were in the audience cheering it on based on face value.

  3. It’s the sort of book that would be loved by anyone who didn’t see a problem in living in a “democracy” which, say, tortured prisoners to death.

  4. Dana from Hube’s article:
    Dubois had told us, “hardly dared go into a public park at night. To do so was to risk attack by wolf packs of children, armed with chains, knives, homemade guns, bludgeons … to be hurt at least, robbed most certainly, injured for life probably — or even killed … Murder, drug addiction, larceny, assault, and vandalism were commonplace. Nor were parks the only places — these things happened also on the streets in daylight, on school grounds, even inside school buildings.”

    So Hube has read the Baltimore Sun lately. Three of us took a short-cut by walking across Patterson Park back around 1967. The thought above in bold had crossed our minds. But in the 1940′s people would sleep out there on hot summer nights without fear.

  5. You guys might also try some ancient literature, like Hesiod’s Works and Days (700 BC). You’ll find, in so doing, that people have been grousing about how everything’s gone to Hell and things used to be so great for as long as people have been writing: the Five Ages of Man, etc. Same story in the biblical prophets: the men of the days of old are always the great & good men, the men of the present time are always the wicked and corrupt men. This is true in other world myths & literatures also. It’s a human tendency to imagine that the age in which one lives is less good than an idealized past. It’s also a profoundly immature tendency. The reason the past looks good is: you don’t actually live there, so we can cherry-pick the parts that sound good. Most of the people complaining that things are really degraded these days and were much better way-back-when would whine like mewling infants if they had to contend with what life was like in previous ages, or if they were even stripped of trivial modern comforts like cable TV or a TV remote.

    In addition, there’s the complaint by Hube that “self-interest has come to dominate duty.” That’s fine if that’s what he believes, but let’s be honest with ourselves: he must necessarily oppose capitalism if he feels that self-interest and duty can ever be in conflict. The first principle of all capitalist economies is that self-interest is to the general economic good. The notion that you can set moral/ethical behavior off to the side somewhere separate from economic behavior is absurd on its face; behavior is behavior. So, it’s a little surprising to see nominal conservatives decrying capitalism’s chief tenets, but I have to applaud once-right-leaning people who’ll publicly about-face into a moralistic socialism without batting an eye.

  6. Lifelong Heinlein fan. A true mark of his talent as a writer is that people always assume the last book of his they read represented his true feelings at the time. He wrote his characters so that they feel strongly. You’re not necessarily seeing him.

    He wrote science fiction not about machines or aliens, but about people. People who could live in fundamentally different ways. People that weren’t locked into the modern, provincial concept of two stark options: Capitalism and Communism. He had more imagination than that. And we should, too.

    “…children, armed with chains, knives, homemade guns, bludgeons…”

    See something there you don’t like? How about the actual truth that no one bothers with homemade guns? They’ve got top-of-the-line handguns and assault rifles. Heinlein assumed, even at our worst, even in the crazy years, that there would be tighter controls over gun ownership, and that no one able to buy one would be so foolish as to lose control of it.

    Anybody ever quote Heinlein as a gun control advocate?

    So if the right wing authoritarians agree that Starship Troopers is awesome, try an earlier novel by the same guy. For Us, the Living. He introduces us to something called Social Credit. It will blow you away. It will, at least, teach you what money is, and that the old rules don’t have to apply.

    P.S. Oh, read this little review of that piece of crap, the movie Starship Troopers: http://www.sff.net/people/doylemacdonald/r_startro.htm Freakin’ hilarious!

  7. Heh. Awesome quotes from that review:

    Our guys stand shoulder to shoulder, firing at the mass of bugs, using a set of tactics that hasn’t worked well since Gettysburg. Actually, the guys at Gettysburg were a bit better better equipped for what they were doing, since they had artillery (a concept that has been lost, apparently) and weapons with an accurate range of over eight feet. Other lost concepts that would have proved Really Helpful here include close air support, mortars, air-dropped mines, barbed wire, fire, maneuver, cover, concealment, objectives, and useful orders.

    By incredible coincidence we’re with Major Rasczak again, the teacher from the First Reel. “I only have one rule!” he shouts. “Everyone fights! No one quits!” That sounded more like two rules to me. Maybe a teaching career wasn’t for him.

    Our guys walk there in a gaggle, through a canyon, all bunched up, with no scouts out. It occurred to me that if you’d given me two grenades, a Thompson submachinegun, and a twenty-minute start, that I could have taken on the Mobile Infantry. So could you.

  8. it’s a very close analogy to a couple which have — Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia — in that power is confined to members of an elite that is small compared to the population at large.

    I read that a long time ago and it is clearly the work of someone who had a preconceived agenda going in. The analogy is not even close. It should not be taken seriously in the least, especially when posted by someone who favors murdering innocent babies merely because they’re an inconvenience.

  9. In addition, there’s the complaint by Hube that “self-interest has come to dominate duty.” That’s fine if that’s what he believes, but let’s be honest with ourselves: he must necessarily oppose capitalism if he feels that self-interest and duty can ever be in conflict.

    Except that, in the ST universe, there wouldn’t be a conflict. Capitalists were completely free to go about their way as they pleased, self-interest and all. But they wouldn’t have much of a say — if any — in how things operated politically if they didn’t serve a term. If they did (and it’s probably a safe bet that some/many did) then it’s supposed they learned about the Heinleinian concept of duty.

    In our own real world, one can only hope that capitalists — and others — can operate morally … much as the Founders wished.

  10. Heh. Awesome quotes from that review:

    Good stuff, Nang. The movie, while the FX were boffo, was such a bastardization of the novel as to defy description. I just couldn’t get over how ill-equipped the Mobile Infantry was — machine guns that pretty much operated like M-16s or AK-47s — let alone the lack of armor protection. I read that the second sequel (called “Marauder”) intro’d the powered suits seen in the book, but I’ve yet to see the film.

    Also, I kept yelling “C’MON!” when the Federation ships couldn’t dodge the plasma bolts fired by those huge bugs. They were moving at like what, 50 mph or something??

  11. Except that, in the ST universe, there wouldn’t be a conflict. Capitalists were completely free to go about their way as they pleased, self-interest and all. But they wouldn’t have much of a say — if any — in how things operated politically if they didn’t serve a term

    So you’re advocating restricking their “free speech” rights to give money to politicians then?

  12. But Blu would love the film – the bug’s main weapon is fireballs shot from their asses, and yet the justification for the war was an asteroid that they somehow fired through hyperspace across the galaxy to hit a Earth city?

    It’d be a bit like a Republican president ginnying up a war against Iraq after 16 Saudis attacked the US.

  13. Hube: “…such a bastardization of the novel…”

    Yeah, the novel was very polarizing, and Verhoeven had an axe to grind, so I can sort of understand the treatment. But… what’s that quote? If you want to send a message, use Western Union.

  14. I’ve never read Heinlein, so I can’t comment on him much. I do know he was quite the right-winger, and I wonder whether he, like Rand, used the rules to construct a universe where his philosophy worked perfectly, remaining blissfully unconcerned with whether his philosophy actually worked in the real world.

    But I have to add… where are you people living where there’s this much worry about safety? I have no problems walking through downtown Raleigh at night. Even the sketchier parts of downtown Durham aren’t that bad. Even during the recent weekend I spent in Baltimore, I never really felt in danger (I was in the Mount Vernon and Butcher Hill neighborhoods – don’t know how dangerous those purportedly are).

    I just really don’t know where the panic about our decline is coming from when crime is at roughly the same level it was in 1960 and is on its way down nationwide.

  15. Hube says:
    2

    6 December 2010 at 08:46

    Heh. Awesome quotes from that review:

    Good stuff, Nang. The movie, while the FX were boffo, was such a bastardization of the novel as to defy description. I just couldn’t get over how ill-equipped the Mobile Infantry was — machine guns that pretty much operated like M-16s or AK-47s — let alone the lack of armor protection. I read that the second sequel (called “Marauder”) intro’d the powered suits seen in the book, but I’ve yet to see the film.

    Also, I kept yelling “C’MON!” when the Federation ships couldn’t dodge the plasma bolts fired by those huge bugs. They were moving at like what, 50 mph or something??

    Although I’m not much a fan of science fiction in general; or at least the space fantasies and the morality play melodramas that pass for it currently, Hube brings up an interesting matter.

    Regarding the film, it’s interesting on a number of levels: the apparent book/screen play dichotomy; the technical aspects, production quality and look of the film itself; the themes and motifs of the screenplay and book; and the critical controversy that the film, especially, generated.

    I remember seeing parts of the movie on cable years ago and being struck by the glossy comic-book artificiality of the presentation and looks of the characters. And it stood out for another reason, having to do with overt moralizing, or the lack thereof, which I will get to below.

    As a technical construction, it stands in marked contrast to the kind of gritty and dark Sci-Fi world look that now reigns. Popularized in a measured way by Ridley Scott initially, the style was then aped endlessly and much less competently by brainless directors who placed their talentless hyper-emotional actors in flying space sewers, to clash and scream, and writhe and sweatily die, in extreme close-up.

    So, Hube says:

    “I just couldn’t get over how ill-equipped the Mobile Infantry was — machine guns that pretty much operated like M-16s or AK-47s — let alone the lack of armor protection. I read that the second sequel (called “Marauder”) intro’d the powered suits seen in the book, but I’ve yet to see the film.”

    Seemingly inexplicable, and somewhat hilarious, isn’t it. Well, thanks to the 5 buck remainder bin, and more to the point, the added features on the second disk, I know why. It was done in the movie for the sole purpose of excitement, with the further justification that the society presented in the book valorized personal combat. And that is why, rather than the entire bug planet simply being sterilized with nuclear weapons as would seem natural, the “troopers” were “plausibly” sent in with personal weapons firing caseless rounds. Apparently the director burdened the characters one sees on the screen with even fewer technical means and common sense than were available in the book.

    The next point relates to the real controversy the film generated. This was because it is not, at least superfically, an unmistakable morality play set in space.

    It can be seen as a values neutral comic book on screen: simply an alternate universe humanity; vaguely sympathetic people with a simultaneously disconcerting panoply of values and symbolism, and uncritical attitude toward them; at war with some cleverly conceived of enemy. Man against man; man against nature; man against space bug.

    Whatever the movie director’s original intention may have been, be it the production of a flashy comic-book adventure or a subtle but cutting critique of a soft hygienic-fascism, he’s definitely flogging the latter explanation as his original intention now.

    For my part, what I find most amusing with the critics, is the outrage some of them express over the movie’s categorizing of the bugs as genuinely – on any interpretation – “other”.

    They are not simply outraged at the toothpaste-commercial-fresh and healthy looks of the youth, the glossy social world without much dorkish angst, or the Falangist or Spartiate sensibilities of the governing (remember his wealthy parents scoff at the idea that Rico need be a citizen) class; but at the unapologetically presented alien-ness of the bugs.

    Because there are no depictions of any readily apparent social victims of this citizen warrior culture (everyone seems to have health and welfare, citizen or not; and citizenship itself seems to be a stepping stone on a road to respectability open to all) there must be some victim to cry over in this imaginary world, other than those self-same citizens whose uncritical acceptance of the social mores of their imaginary society, would make them intellectual victims in the eyes of left-leaning critics.

    Thus, with no one obvious to cry out for other than the deluded citizens who seem happy in their delusions, they cry out on behalf of the fictional space bugs. Or more precisely they object to the use of these bugs as an object of antagonism and reactive social solidarity. In the critic’s view it is the function of these bugs to stand outside the “circle of inclusion” in this imaginary world, and in so doing, license those of us in ours, to despise something as alien and other, even if it is just a mindless linkage of razor sharp chitin in search of a human meal or an acid squirting giant slug.

    This opposition, the critics perceive, as immoral, and as rationalizing our basest tribalist urges.

    After all they imply, bugs are only human too.

  16. Dana observes:

    I’d like to say that I am constantly amazed how our modern society has managed to take 6,000 years of accumulated wisdom from every culture ever known on this planet and decide that it’s not worth crap, but to say that I am constantly amazed by it would be a lie. Now it’s just a dull feeling of, “What else is new?”

    The problem is, Dana, that that ’6000 years of accumulated wisdom’ hardly exists, as it remains polarized to this day.

    And speaking of wisdom, I cannot help but note that your party completely dissed the wisdom of the voters in 2008! So much for wisdom; from your absolutist point of view, there is only one way, your way, the way of self-interest, i.e., Capitalism.

    Accordingly, in discussing Heinlein’s work, Nangleator said something that I find to be very important:

    He wrote science fiction not about machines or aliens, but about people. People who could live in fundamentally different ways. People that weren’t locked into the modern, provincial concept of two stark options: Capitalism and Communism. He had more imagination than that. And we should, too.

    I would maintain that you, Dana, and other righties on this blog, like DNW, are locked into those “two stark options”, thus the continued polarization of wisdom which I mentioned at the outset of this comment.

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