In some other places, the topic of legendary science fiction author Robert Anson Heinlein has repeatedly come up, along with shouting matches -- "He was a libertarian!" "No, a socialist!" "No, a fascist!" I finally had enough and weighed into one of these discussions, with a comment I'll append below... along with more snippets of science.
But first... is anyone interested in attending this year’s World Science Fiction Convention is fantastic Australia? Have a look at: http://www.aussiecon4.org.au/ If you haven’t been to a worldcon, it is a vivid melding of science, fantasy, wacky weirdness and serious forward-thinking... the grand-daddy from which all other future-oriented conventions sprang. And this time, down under!
Robert Heinlein was hard to classify. If one had to make a political caricature, I’d say he was a compassionate libertarian, in that he believed that humans have an obligation to be both competitively independent and generous. Think of Ayn Rand with a soul…and with some historical perspective. (Yeah, that’s hard to picture, at a fundamental level. But Heinlein proved it needn't by an oxymoron.) Alas, while this label came close, he evades it as slippery as Schrodinger's Cat.
Heinlein was a loyal member of the American branch of the Enlightenment, a believer in democracy, markets, science, etc… but far more the rule-constrained competitive spirit of positive sum games that underlies all those arenas. He distrusted government as a sole arbiter--but recognized the need for it. For example, after disdaining politics in many books, he dared himself to make politicians the heroes, in DOUBLE STAR. After disdaining socialism in many stories, he praised anarcho-socialism in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and became a hippie icon.
See his prescriptive utopia, BEYOND THIS HORIZON. Usually, the 1st half of a Heinlein novel is dynamite and then (alas) the 2nd half kind of devolves into turgid lectures. But in this case the action-packed 1st half is a silly-ass homage to JW Campbell’s loony “armed society” cliché… but the 2nd half is what turns into one of the most brilliant musings on social and biological matters ever written. Future generations may refer to the "Heinlein Solution" for how to manage human self-improvement through genetic engineering, for example... a way to get the benefits without doing crazy things.
In this brief, future speculation, clearly his favorite prescription, we see a future wherein all things creative are flaming competitive (as they should be) but “of course, food is free!” Does that fit into any simplistic dogma? I think not.
No, the real misunderstanding is in trying to pigeonhole RAH at all. Because, above all, Robert A. Heinlein was a science fiction author. I do not mean the mere profession but the religion. I refer to a basic personality type that was probably recurrent as a fluke in most human generations, but quickly garroted or burnt at the stake in most other cultures (e.g. Giordano Bruno). Until, at long last, a society came along that would pay us, instead of burning us, for our madness. For our ornery, contrary, inbuilt need to say “yes... but what if...?”
To those of us born with this affliction, there is something far more important than any and all political views or polemics. That thing is summed up by Einstein's word gedankenexperiment. The thought experiment that fully utilizes those marvelous organs -- the "lamps on our brows" -- the prefrontal lobes, the things that most make our brains unlike any others. It is this honest eagerness for the What-if that makes Greg Bear and Kim Stanley Robinson modern blessings and that transforms guys like Bruce Sterling and Jerry Pournelle from mere offensive blowhards into men with real and impressive value to their era. (At times, seemingly, despite themselves.)
To us, "What-if?" is like prayer. We do have doctrines, opinions, political and polemical views. But they all take second place to the itch. A sci fi author (a true member of the breed) who is deeply conservative will be more curious than hostile to a smart Marxist, and pester her with questions while buying drinks, not heckling her with simplistic/smug insults... much to the disappointment of his allies on the right, who will (rightly) suspect that his heart is not in the take-no-prisoners version of politics. And it goes both ways, I've seen it.
I know about this. I consider myself a feminist and GLORY SEASON had some pretty strong feminist premises... in some ways far more honest and bold than anything by Tepper or Charnas. So why do polemical feminists hold that novel (and me) in deep suspicion? Because to me the Thought Experiment was more important than any polemical point. And they could sense my priorities; I followed the implications, and did not force them to follow dogma. First, above all, I am a science fiction author.
And it was the thought experiment that was most important to Robert Heinlein. In fact, the only person I knew who was more devoted (and a far better storyteller) was Poul Anderson. But more on that elsewhere.
People who understand Heinlein know that “fascist” and “socialist” are silly terms. They apply to people who are so weak they must clutch onto simplistic nostrums. The kind of oversimplifying stupidity that we see on both the left and right and that is now tearing America apart.
But not us. Not we who love a complex and weird and wonderfully surprising world. When the prefrontal lobes function with mutant, superhero power, that is when you get people like Robert Heinlein, who did not dwell on left or right wings, but in the future.
For more: See Speculations on Science Fiction
= MORE SCIENCE =
Argh... Study suggests more people willing to believe in esp when told it's been scientifically disproven. In fairness, it looks like a pretty small-scale test.
Any of you who love the notion of asteroid mining, see this amateur but enthusiastic paper by Dr. Michael Montague. Frankly, I am not at all sure the world’s public would put up with anyone targting Earth for a very near miss (for aeocapture) of even a small asteroid. Alas, this is not an era of can-do daring and ambitious guts.
The Biracy Project seeks to use fan-generated crowd-sourcing to make and distribute a new science fiction film. Sounds daring and fun.
See the latest cool gedanken-fiction from Eliezar Yudkowsky... a cute riff on Harry Potter.
This fascinating paper argues that neo-classical economics is clueless about fraud, and gives several real-world examples of global-scale harm. The examples reinforce one (of many) interesting points in the paper: that in the early stages of fraud, the faked results appear to support the neo-classical economic policies. Alas, what had been an interesting theoretical set of economic conjectures has mutated into something deeply delusional, threatening the health of the republic and the world.
Julie Korenberg has identified a gene, STX1A (which helps control electrochemical processes at synapses), whose expression can be linked to intelligence.
Fascinating article about human endurance and people who go beyond.