July 25, 2005

I base what is written here upon Heinlein's Future History collection; which typifies much of the "Golden Age" Campbellian approach to future history generally among several core authors, yet in many ways is sharply distinct from and sometimes very nearly opposite the new directions taken by Golden Age SF writers in the last decade of the twentieth century: eg. what has been written by Heinlein in the last third of his life. (It makes an ironic counterpoint that many of Heinlein's original core of fans hated the new direction.) This period of writing is particularly intriguing to me because it strikes me as a near-perfect expression of its historical context, or, more accurately, of the syndromes underlying that parallel historical expression: during a time and in a place which seems to have laid the foundation for much of where we are now.

I revisit this now, close to the eve of Firefly's reincarnation into film.

Heinlein's ideal in those original, seminal writings seems to be the fundamental principle of scientific management: (because nothing which cannot be measured can be other than self-referential, and thus can have no objective value) the only true value which can exist is what can be measured in some objective manner. Thus, for example, the only "justice" which is other than self-referential would be expressed as a function of physical or economic (measurable) damage, while "freedom" becomes simply the ability to do anything that does not cause such damage: the essence of Heinlein's Covenant.

Two major weaknesses here however, both of which Heinlein does touch upon. Because it cannot be objectively assessed, neither emotional nor spiritual damage can be a valid criterion under this system -- and yet both nevertheless are real. (Heinlein attempts to measure emotional impact of specific choices of language through quantitative semantic theory which assigns an emotive index to each word. In contrast, many modern objectivists frequently deny that their own choice of word or syntax bears any relevance to the emotional reaction of the listener: that the reason for any such reaction must lie entirely within the listener themself and not the speaker's own choice of word at all: an interesting and very complete denial of any personal responsibility for the reactions of others.) Second and more direct is that such an ideal as the Covenant can only function as a societal imperative when every potential benefit is potentially obtainable by every individual. But Heinlein's Howard Families had been genetically bred for longevity: a genetic longevity which could never be attained by anyone not sharing in those genes within their own lifetime. Human nature -- human "cussedness", Heinlein might say -- cannot accept such a limitation; and indeed the rejection of limits is something he himself continued to agree with all his life (ironically, considering that the essence of his own invention is a primal, genetic limitation):
One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.
and so human irrationality must invent a transferable "secret" even in the absence of any evidence of such a "secret's" existence. That: or regain ultimate control by taking away the unattainable merit from those possessing it rather than allowing its continued and unattainable existence -- in others. It is nothing less than Ayn Rand's "envy of the good". But Heinlein does not even accept such destructive "envy" as a human limitation: rather, he sees the "unattainable" merit eliciting such a reaction as yet another frontier, to be explored and conquered and absorbed in its turn.

Heinlein's expressed theories may be an exact opposing corollary to Frank Herbert's, for example, in contrasting perspectives on a parallel ultimatum: the basic functionalist "irrationality" of destroying the source of precisely what grants an individual power as the pathetic cry of the third-rater (Heinlein):
A competent and self-confident person is incapable of jealousy in anything. Jealousy is invariably a symptom of neurotic insecurity.
vs. the willingness to destroy as expression of an individual's core strength and ultimate freedom (Herbert):
He who can destroy a thing, can control a thing.
but Herbert took it that one, crucial step further and showed us what becomes of a free people granted paradise as a result. I would have liked to have seen the same from Heinlein: but the closest he comes to it is a suggestion of an increasing decadent reluctance to go out and colonise a demanding environment -- only then he finds that frontier again, no longer within space, but within time. But I keep wondering, within the society of Heinlein's Future History: what transpires of a frontier mentality deprived entirely of frontiers? Somehow I do not think it coincidental that while Heinlein embraced the objectivist, capitalistic libertarianism within a fundamentally military governmental structure which defines so much of the United States' current identity, Herbert etched his portrait of the Fremen on a Shi'ite Islamic fundamentalist structure.

Incidentally, I suspect Joss Whedon may be one of the few N. American television writers writing today who truly appreciates the nature of freedom:
Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care, I'm still free. You can't take the sky from me.
Take me out to the black. Tell them all I ain't comin' back.
Burn the land, boil the sea. You can't take the sky from me.
There's no place I can't be, now that I've found Serenity.
You can't take the sky from me ...
(How many television heroes grow out of having fought for the openly acknowledged losing side of a war?)

Where the lyrics of Enterprise postulate the optimistic climax of a long road of, well, enterprise, Whedon's lyrics suggest precisely the opposite: chances lost, lives curtailed, beaten down but never, never surrendering. Borrowing again from Heinlein (with whose libertarianism, at least, Whedon seems to juxtapose ... although I suspect Whedon is borrowing more than a little of his universe from Dickson's Childe Cycle, on which note I end this entry):
You can't enslave a free man, you can only kill him.

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