Sunday, January 29, 2012

Republicans: The World as Pulp Science Fiction

Newt Gingrich has cited Asimov's 'Foundation' trilogy, in which psychohistorians use their science to guide human destiny for its own good from a secret base. He's also talked of building a colony on the moon. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, asked to name his favorite novel, cited L. Ron Hubbard's 'Battlefield: Earth', in which alien conquerors of Earth meet their match in small bands of human resistance fighters.

I grew up reading all the science fiction I could find, and close to memorized Asimov's early work. He, himself, was an indefatigable champion of science and the power of human reason, at least in his early books. So, the psychohistorians, who, enabled by disinterested scientific insight, via covert manipulations led the blind masses to a better future. I put it that way, well, you might have a question about it. So, in fact, did Asimov. In another of his books, 'The End of Eternity', a group sitting outside of time, again enabled by science, manipulated humanity's history by changing reality without changing themselves, eventually revealed as crippling human achievement, no wiser or more decent than any of the rest of us; (spoiler alert) at the end of the book one last manipulation of reality destroyed them. And, in Asimov's later books, contingent events rather than human ingenuity control events, even superseding the original orientation of the 'Foundation' trilogy: the unexplained, spontaneous appearance of a mind-reading, mind-controlling robot with pure, decent interests in promoting humanity, the chance appearance of a similar mutation amongst human beings.

Hubbard's books, meanwhile, I find unreadable even as pulp entertainment. Trust me that I don't have high standards in such matters, and am capable of enjoying a science fiction novel which would make, say, Green Lantern comic books look like 'Notes From Underground'. But a Mormon, of all people, publicly embracing a book with such a plot, written by the man who founded Scientology, beggars the imagination.

Pulp science fiction, like the Westerns of a prior generation, is a genre aimed mostly at adolescent boys. John W. Campbell, perhaps the most influential editor/publisher in SF, made this explicit. Meanwhile, just as the odd Western transcended the genre's limits and became high art--'The Searchers', 'High Noon', 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre' and others come to mind--so, too did some authors make science fiction more than it was/is at baseline. But the overall appeal was based on uncomplicated, mostly male characters, enabled by strength of ego and special talents/abilities to triumph over unambiguous evil.

There's a strong libertarian streak in pulp SF, of which Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' is perhaps the classic example. Again, this suits adolescent boys down to the ground: get off our backs, let us stand up for ourselves, freedom and independence will unshackle our greatness. And, as with adolescent boys much of whose freedom relies on adults paying for car insurance and food and the like, so, too, libertarians reject the necessity of common enterprise arising out of collective action, in the absence of private action, in mitigating problems or addressing unmet needs.

Which brings me to Ayn Rand, beloved of Alan Greenspan and many others, whose novels I find well written as pulp science fiction, with cardboard characters standing in for archetypes, who also appeals to adolescents: few boys never succumb, at one time or another as their personalities and egos develop, to the notion that they are Men (sic) of the Mind.

We now live in a time when Romney, Gingrich and Greenspan, and most of the right, explicitly embrace ideas that are adolescent to the core, have not developed into an adult grasp of reality, and which center on their own virtues and just rewards, and others' evils and inadequacies and the just deserts arising therefrom. It is possible, I'd hope, to be conservative, and, nonetheless, a grown up. I see no evidence of it these days.

Should the world really be run by men who never finished emotional high school?


Gummo said...

Very perceptive,Prof.

The entire Republican leadership as an adolescent boy acting out; their entire message? "You're not the boss of me!"

All the while claiming to be the only grown-ups in the room.

ProfWombat said...

I know whereof I speak; I didn't skip high school, either...

Fred said...

That is one of the dumbest arguments I have read in a long time. Sounds like your projecting the insecurities and immaturity of your own adolescence onto others.