Monday, September 12, 2005

How legends and myths affect citizenship

How about a break from politics and disaster?

Stefan - with his usual keen eye - spotted this gem of an essay about “stupid utopias.”  Of course I agree with much this author says... no wonder. Anyone who disses Plato starts out on my good side! I do think he’s a little unfair to feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose works did have a saving grace of irony and humor.

Likewise, in his goal to be evenhandedly cynical towards all utopias, he may be unfair to Heinlein and some (not all) libertarian dreamers, who dorecognize the predatory-cheater side of human nature. Heinlein, especially, tried to incorporate both accountability and compassion into his prescriptions. In any event, at least in a libertarian utopia/dystopia, you have some chance to walk away. I certainly agree about the loony and disgustingly ungrateful Standard Libertarian SF Rants of L. Neil Smith.

Unfortunately, the author of this paper leaves us hanging. Shall we not dream of better societies at all? Or is this essay a prequel to our own neo-modernist philosophy here. Just make things better. With lots of freedom, diversity, and using an eclectic mix of state/private/corporate. Whatever works. With plenty of Citokate.

Speaking of which, I just re-watched Spielberg’s MINORITY REPORT last night. A movie that I doubt 1% truly understood. When you watch Spielberg, you have to remember that (unlike George Lucas) he is passionately grateful and devoted to America. Even in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and ET, the government is never outright evil. Nor are the people portrayed as truly disempowered.

According to Spielberg, the government can be overbearing, as it often is in real life. He constantly portrays the patronizing officiousness of well-meaning professional protectors, who are just a bit too contemptuous of the common citizen’s ability to cope. In other words... exactly what we are seeing today in the growing conflict between citizens and the paid professional protective caste (PPPC). (See my discussions of the “Age of Amateurs.”)

But Spielberg shows this friction nearly always resolved in citizens’ favor, as in the three films I just cited. I especially like the “spyders” scene in MINORITY REPORT. Yes, it is creepy and chilling. Good directing for those effects. And yet, under it all, you had a sense that the citizens were not powerless. They had voted the police these powers and generally consented to bear such brief and degradinginconveniences, a bearable indignity. They put up with the momentary official trusion without behaving like oppressed victims of dystopia.

Only Spielberg would have portrayed such a scenario in a future that has retained - possibly even enhanced - citizen freedom. The reflex of almost all other modern directors has been to reflexively portray heavy-handed, Orwellian, over-the-top dystopias. The crudest Idiot Plot. And this reflex has been, I contend, one of the factors propelling today’s rejection of the future.

tomorrowsworldDon’t get me wrong, I believe in dire warnings. I call the best of them self-preventing prophecies! But when the lesson preached tediously by every Hollywood film is always that “citizenship is doomed” - is this a helpful warning? Or a relentless attach upon self-confidence and morale? Cannot we expect this kind of yammering to eventually sink in?

The irony is that I doubt even Spielberg himself understands how different he is. Otherwise he would not defend the works of George Lucas, which relentlessly preach the exact opposite message.


See more Reflections on cinema


Tony Fisk said...

In other words... exactly what we are seeing today in the growing conflict between citizens and the paid professional protective caste (PPPC).
You have alluded to 'agile' behaviour in the past. Are you familiar with the Manifesto for Agile Software Development? It's first point being:

'...we have come to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools...'

It meshes with the citizen vs professional distinction. As does PPPC = P3C vs W3C. Or Open vs. Closed.

But when the lesson preached tediously by every Hollywood film is always that “citizenship is doomed” - is this a helpful warning?

It seems ironic that you also (with apparent approval) portray Hollywood as relentlessly peddling the SOA meme... and yet, if authority's out to getcha, isn't CID a logical follow-on?

Seems like a case for 'moderation in all memes' ;-)

While we're on films: I didn't get around to replying to your comments on 'Gattaca' a while back. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the maturity of the film. I hadn't considered the protagonist as acting from selfish motives before. I suppose he was, but he acted only to the extent that he received a fair hand . Once his candidature was accepted, he still had to *pass* the selection process (and remember, the MO was on to him). The film actually did deal with this issue when he was outed and called fraudulent by his brother. The resulting swim race demonstrated that he could hold his own, and was not about to drop dead from a heart attack. I suppose you could call it a triumph of the individual over the process?

(Haven't seen 'Minority Report')

Rob Perkins said...

I read Gilman, and liked the story, even when it was obvious she was preaching the ideal. Unlike Rand, who couldn't keep my attention.

And I'm so deeply pleased to learn you're not fond of Plato!

Spielberg is hit and miss, IMO. He makes wondrous movies, but he seems to me far more interested in the morals of his stories than the storytelling itself. I agree that "Minority Report" was one of his better, but "The Terminal" had no plot! The thing was just one brilliantly performed scene after another, depicting a simply impossible event. (Why, for example, did no news reporter contrive to interview this landless man stuck in the terminal?)

Neither, for that matter, did "Empire of the Sun", but I didn't seem to care when I was watching it. And while the three films you cited were good, I've also heard of claims that he is a dishonest storyteller, when it comes to certain historical events, in that he depicted scenes which simply couldn't ever have taken place.

Some of this is quite forgivable as artistic license, of course. "Catch Me If You Can" was nicely done. I don't know if I have a terribly strong opinion about that. But "The Terminal" still had No Story.

"AI" was just plain bewilderingly weird. Maybe as weird as "Kiln People", which I just finished re-reading. Man, what a bewildering book that was, David... how did you keep your spellchecker in line? ;-)

Jeff Huber said...

I too cringe whenever I hear anyone cite Plato to justify whatever government happens to be doing at the moment.


michael vassar said...

I can't say I have ever heard Plato cited as a justification myself.
Terminal was, however, the future of Television. Best Product Placement Ever. Spielberg, of course, invented the field with ET.

Anonymous said...

Minority Report was a very good film, despite a few plot holes that become a bit much once you notice them (it took me a while). But I felt like it never really wrestled with the central ethical question: suppose that the pre-crime system really did work. Would it then be right to use it?

This may also have been a weakness of the original PK Dick short story. I've never read it myself.

Mark said...

But I felt like it never really wrestled with the central ethical question: suppose that the pre-crime system really did work. Would it then be right to use it?

This is the same problem with Gattaca as well, the main character was able to beat his brother physically, even though that shouldn't have been possible. This was a lazy way for the writer to make sure the audience was on the same side as the main character.

But what if all the genetic technology really did work? What if even characteristics like work ethic could be improved genetically?

Anonymous said...

On Minority Report, to build on Dave Baker's comment, I always wondered that even with its faults proven at the end of the movie, would/should the system be used? OK, so it's not infallible, but it without a doubt caused a vast decrease in crime, more than "after the fact" law enforcement.

I can think of ways to modify the system that would be more fair. Maybe those caught by the system instead of being frozen would be required to do some sort of advanced therapy to control impulses. Maybe EVERYONE would have to take such training (maybe we should today?) to reduce the occurrence of violent crime.

The weakness with the system was its dependence on the unique "psychic" people. What happens when they die?

So was the cost borne by the individuals (the "psychics" and those borderline cases who were thinking about it but wouldn't have gone through with it given the chance) outweighed by the benefit to society?

Of course the movie raises the classic prophet's conundrum. If you can predict the future, can the future be changed? If so, how do you distinguish between changes due to your prediction and wrong predictions? If the future cannot be changed, you have to assume that all your predictions are no use since nothing will change because of them anyway.

Mark said...

I have a question to pose. There is obviously power in romantic notions. Is there ever a good reason for Enlightened people to tap into that power?

Should an Enlightened leader ever invoke romantic notions to motivate her followers? Are there things the True Believer can accomplish that someone with his eyes more open could not.

Should an Enlightened electorate ever elect a romantic leader because there are some things a headstrong romantic can accomplish that someone else could not?

It is a scientifically verifiable fact that placebos work. Is it always wrong for the Enlightened Modernist to tap into that power?

Rob Perkins said...

Re Stephan's link: Once again, a tired dismissal of the culture of middle American suburbia. Yawn.

I live in one of those neighborhoods. I have, with the exception of a stint in some Swiss cities and my college years, always lived in suburbia. The riffs from people like him about wal-mart suburbia leave me absolutely cold. Have these people forgotten that suburbia is generally a place where it's *safe* to raise children and not be worried that sending them out to play is an invitation to kidnapping?

For one, the racial makeup is not at all what he says. In my neighborhood, there are three homes nearby which contain only "white-bread" WASP archetypes. None of them live directly next to me. Instead, I've got Russian immigrants, an Argentine-Anglo family, Mexican-Anglo, Ukranian, and Vietnamese. The Vietnamese family houses an autistic 20-something. One of the nicest young men I've ever met. A little deaf boy lives down the street.

Where are the Afro-Americans? Next street over, and more than one token family, thankyouverymuch. The rootless professionals rent homes between all of us. It's much more of a melting pot than any haughty polemicist has depicted. And, it always has been, at least here.

If all you can see is the Wal-Mart and the strip mall, but you can't see what's actually *in* the strip mall, man, you're missing a cultural treasure, say I.

It's not utopia, but it *is* home.

Rob Perkins said...

@Dave Baker -- The Pre-Crime Division depended on the slavery of three people. That's pretty much enough for me to reject it.

sure said...

Something that is not mentioned in any of Hollywood's fare recently is the simple fact that all politics are local.

Whenever Hollywood puts out movies, they always depict the federal goverenment as daddy handing down all the final descisions. They often take the time to make the guvmint out to be the badguy, someone to be defeated or mitigated.

A lesson to take home from his movie is that while government can be a necassary evil, it is not always a federal necassary evil. Using the example from "Minority Report" about how the elected officials of the District of Columbia NOT the feds instituted this libertarian's worst nightmare on the people of DC.

While the federal government does have awesome powers, they are often powers that are limited in scope. Would anyone here like the federal system to be making decisions about local zoning laws (Kelo vs. New London) or immediate disaster relief? That is the entire basis of our federalism, that the feds do not have final authority over every aspect of our lives. Our system of government was designed precisely to prevent excesses of power in any branch or level of government. To change it on the basis of fleeting whims is a huge mistake.

Too often Americans forget that we have one of the oldest forms of working government and are the most prosperous people on earth. These things did not happen by accident.

Another thing to take away from the movie is that no individual is completely powerless. The main charater in the movie is able to change the course of events through his own sheer determination (with a little help from his friends).

Implied but not stated was the thought that he exposed the corruption in the proposed system of crime prevention in DC and therefore changed the course of events. It was implied that the voters of the district decided that the flaws of the system outweighed the benefits and shut it down.

Note to rob: have you BEEN to DC recently? I can understand how the people there would want to vote for this system, even if it enslaved three psychics. Not condoning, just understanding.

David Brin said...

Tony, Suspicion Of Authority (SOA) is an invention of the Enlightenment that is meant to ensure universal and reciprocal application of accountability or Citokate. When it is used in self-preventing prophecies, science fiction does noble work.

But romantics do not get this application of SOA. Their traditional (Joseph) Campbellian mythic structure depends upon the satisfactions of believing that commonfolk are sheep. That story structure poses demigods opposing "authority" figures who are vast, overpowering, titanic and yet queerly fragile.

Take Sauron, or the computer controlling the Matrix. Genuine evil is often far more complex. Less prone to quirky-romantic achilles' heels. It is more likely to be overthrown by appealing to an empowered citizenry... the one tool that romantics will never perceive. Indeed, their every propaganda message to citizens is "you don't matter, only my demigod hero can save the day."

Rob, Spielberg has flaws. The entire premise of MINORITY REPORT was that PRE-felons, or people who were caught before they could commit a crime, would be punished far more severely - without trial or even a chance to speak, in a form of instant (frozen) capital punishment - than if they had actually killed somebody. Only thus could the movie have a high sense of tension-threat driving the chase scenes. I honestly don't know how this could have been fixed. Maybe Spielberg tried. After all, it's a PKDick story.

As for Kiln People, remember House Rule #47. So long as you are helping to sell my books, I can justify time spent here to my wife. "Bewildering"? You mean "thought provoking and worth multiple readings," right?

Sayeth Mark "I have a question to pose. There is obviously power in romantic notions. Is there ever a good reason for Enlightened people to tap into that power?"

Absolutely! Go to and read my essay on Tolkien. I AM a romantic writer! Romance is a core part of human nature...

... but it needs to be kept away from policy. Ironically, you can use romantic FEELINGS to help support a scientific age. I try to do that in Glory Season.

sure said...

@David Brin:

Good luck trying to convince your wife that time on the internet is time well spent. I have been barking up that tree for years now.

Also, try not to fall into an elitist trap about your fellow citizens. While only 1% may have understood the "real" premise of the movie, it is worth noting that people go to the moives not to be educated but to be entertained. People go to college to discuss these lofty ideas, not the movies. The 1% you quote are probably all movie critics anyway, who have a hard time suspending their disbelief and just enjoy the experience of being in a cinema. Kudos to Spielberg for making a movie that entertains AND gives us legitimate food for thought.(instead of the typical anti-corporate/government/military/law enforcement/religion slant all too common in most movies nowadays)

Moreover, too many movie critics try to base their criticism on whether or not the movies the review reinforce ideologies or ideals. They entirely forget that most movies are created by vast corporate conglomorates for the sheer purpose of making money. In my humble opinion, reviewers should ask these questions:

1) Was I entertained?

2) Is there a deeper meaning to the movie?

3) Is the movie plausible?

Movie critics too often fall into the trap of writing for their colleagues, as opposed to writing for the unwashed masses who actually go see the damn things. What else could possibly explain "Sin City", which was technically sound and in all other ways a messy abortion?

By the way-run, do not walk, to go see "March of the Penguins". It is very well done and gives an unintended right good fisking to the so-called "documentaries" that are flooding our popular culture right now. Not to mention that the whole family can go see it. No f-bombs, a-bombs, c-bombs, nudity or violence (unless you count Mother Nature, that $#%&*) Simply amazing, especially if you go see it on an IMAX screen.

Rob Perkins said...

@David Brin re Kiln People Obviously I thought it was worth rereading, since I checked it out of the local library and reread it! :-)

But I meant "bewildering" as in "bewildering", since the majority of your ensemble were all Albert in the first person! Didn't make it any less fun, but it did require more attention than I usually give to a story line when I'm winding down with a good book in the evening.

And kudos on the Piers Anthony-level punning, too. Poor spellchecker...

I'll hand your books to almost anyone. Except the hardcover autographed ones I keep close at hand. They can look, but they can't touch! :-D

Anonymous said...

I second the "Walk of the Penguins" movie - it was really nicely done. Also, it has grossed almost as much as Fahrenheit 9/11 last I heard. Who says "the peepul" don't have good taste when given the opportunity?

Though, by the way, I am guessing that some will object to the beautiful scene where the penguins mate. The same people probably take their kids to violent movies. < sarcasm on> Violence in the movies or on TV is OK, but God forbid if there is a hint of sex, an activity all those with kids should (hopefully) be more familiar with than violence. Apparently it is OK to mix the two, though. < sarcasm off>

I am glad of Rob Perkins neighborhood. The one we live in, though, is pretty uniformly white and religious. Right behind our house is the "Mexican area" (boy they sure seem to have the most fun parties) but from my block on up the hill is conformity. Excepting the fact that we have a significant Mormon population, so I guess that is a type of diversity. They are still mostly decent people, and more tolerant and diverse than some places I have lived (including Europe), but not a melting pot as Rob P describes. I envy you your neighbors, Rob!

Anonymous said...

Did anyone here catch on that "Minority Report's" happy ending is a dream sequence?

The dream starts when Cruise's character -- freshly captured from his ex-wife's beach home -- is being immured in the paralysis prison. The creepy jailor tells him that he's in for a wild time, and that he'll see visions of things the way they were supposed to be.

The visual aspect of the film changes after this, taking on a kind of boiled-out, strangely exposed look.

No kidding. Go watch it again.

* * *

Hmmm. AI. An utterly wrenching film. Speilberg faithfully channels Kubrick, good and bad, right up to where the film should have ended . . .


. . . in a seaweed-strewn Brooklyn amusement park at the bottom of the sea, with the cybernetic Pinnochio staring at the blue fairy and wishing he were a real boy. That is where Kubrick, a cold and brilliant bastard, would have ended it.

Speilberg, perhaps horrified at what he had wrought, or worried about bricks being tossed at him for creating a unrelenting tragedy, tacked on a sappy, happy, redemptive ending.


Eric said...

The major problems I had with Minority Report were twofold:

1) The PKD story was about both the impossibility of changing a foreseen future, but also that that future might not be quite as it was foreseen. The policeman *did* kill, but it was ultimately justifiable, and may well have ended up being for the greater good.

2) There were about four endings, and I wish Spielberg had picked any of the available ones besides the one he did. I did pick up on the dream-sequence bit, but ultimately discarded it because it would have served no purpose other than to beat the audience's head in that he lost-- there's a good, what, third of the movie left at that point? If I ever manage to get myself to re-watch it, and decide I agree, my opinion of the movie will sink even lower.

Rob Perkins said...

I missed the dream sequence thing, and if I did, then there is more negative to say about Spielberg's storytelling than I thought, if he was trying to channel things like the "Real" ending of Brazil...

@Stefan -- That was a *redemptive* ending?

@Steve -- I've lived in other neighborhoods where the racial makeup was proabably more homogenous, so perhaps this is something that takes a few generations to happen. Where do you live that the Mexicans are segregated, but the Mormons are not?

Rob Perkins said...

Oh, and, for an exploration into the morality of keeping a very few slaves for the good of all, I suggest Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas"

I'll also hand people *anything* by her. Absolutely gorgeous prose.

Anonymous said...

The Pre-Crime Division depended on the slavery of three people. That's pretty much enough for me to reject it.

Sure. Another side issue that has no bearing on the real question: if it worked, and was otherwise morally OK, would it be right to arrest people for crimes they hadn't committed?

I would probably say that in cases like the crime of passion shown at the start of the movie, the person would be unlikely to threaten anyone again and so should be released without punishment. If the "pre-perpetrator" is a serious criminal, it's harder to justify letting him go.

But where's the risk in interrupting the crimes and then releasing the pre-perpetrators, since pre-crime could just stop them if they're ever about to kill again?

David Brin said...

Rob, LeGuin is proof that noxious people can write beautifully. One more reason not to strawman your enemies. You only deny yourself their good parts.

Anonymous said... "Did anyone here catch on that "Minority Report's" happy ending is a dream sequence?"

Yeah but it was just a mild "suggestion" by Spielberg and I chose to ignore it. After all, logically, Cruise would have been allowed, eventually, to tell what he knew.

What's more blatant is TOTAL RECALL. In the scene where they feed in his first dream, heed the words of the techs carefully. It's absolutely and purely true that everything that follows is a psycho fantasy.

The director should have stored away a 15 second final scene showing Sharon Stone standing over a drooling Ahnold, threatening to sue.

Anonymous said...

Conservative columnists are championing "March of the Penguins" as a Family Values film:

The "dream sequence" hint in Minority Report was subtle enough to be ignorable, but it is there and shouldn't be entirely ignored.

I was FURIOUS that the action in Total Recall wasn't revealed to be a dream. I waited until the very end of the credits waiting for a "Wake up sir, your time is up!" voice-over, or a scene with Arnold back in the construction pit telling his friends about his faux-adventure. Bah!


Rob Perkins said...

Noxious? Le Guin?


As long as we're on the subject of utopias, what about The Dispossessed?

sure said...

I think that it is sad that so many are trying to insert politics into EVERYTHING nowadays, even things that have no real bearing on political issues.

Such as movies about penguins.

In the link that Stefan was so gracious to provide, conservative commentator Michael Medved says the following: "I think the prime purpose of the movie is to touch people's hearts," he said. "It's very smart to avoid talking about intelligent design or global warming. Why bring it in?"

Why indeed?

PS to Laura Kim, VP of Warner International: these are not "just birds" but rather flightless waterfowl. I read enough Bloom County to know that.

Tony Fisk said...

But I felt like it never really wrestled with the central ethical question...This is the same problem with Gattaca as well, the main character was able to beat his brother physically... This was a lazy way for the writer to make sure the audience was on the same side as the main character.

Getting the audience on side was certainly the intention, but I would argue that the writer wasn't lazy about it.

The swimming race was a tradition started in childhood. And then, one day, everything changed: Vincent beat his brother! How did he do it? It isn't until the final race , where he repeats the victory, that he confides that, on that day, he just kept swimming, never intending to swim back. What changed was that he discovered his inner reserve, and that extra edge of determination that wasn't calibrated by genetic assay.

To me, the central ethical question of Gattaca was whether there was a place in that society for normals.
The plot tensions were achieved by defining the differences as being considerably less than were popularly believed.

@David Brin:
In other words, Hollywood is hammering the SOA message from a romantic viewpoint? It figures.

But ultimately, the message we take away from movies depend on what we want: the romantic with 'that was the way it was', and the dissatisfied modernist tinkering with the outcome, whence comes some of the real pleasure (Stefan and his preferred final scenes of 'Total Recall' and 'AI': which is another film I haven't got to :-(

(Must get around to finishing 'The Redemption of Darth Vader'...)

Rob Perkins said...

Politics from a movie about penguins? Oy!

Anonymous said...

When it comes to "Gattaca" (A film I highly enjoyed.) I found myself wondering a few things. (Spoilers follow.)

1. While the main character is in space, won't he be given a few checkups that will tip off the company as to his true nature?

2. When he comes back from space, won't be be given a few checkups that will tip off the company as to his true nature?

3. Some people have asked the question, "How could this guy ever beat his brother in a swim contest if his brother was genetically superior?" I always figured, "Okay, he's been told that his heart can't take too much strain; his society might have advanced technology but it can still make imperfect diagnoses."

Lastly, about Minority Report, I wonder why Hollywood can't adapt Phillip K. Dick's stories without butchering them.

If, Pre-crime could happen, and the pre-cog's were there by choice, and the cops just prevented crimes, rather than arresting someone for a crime they hadn't committed, I say go for it.


On the more topical note, I finished that "L-word" book that David Brin mentioned awhile ago, and may start on those singularity and/or gopwar on science next. I wonder when people will start talking about next year's elections. If one wan'ts to restrict neocon's power in government, that seems to be the first place to start. (Possibly also California's upcoming special elections.)

Anonymous said...

Since we are talking about Utopia’s and David’s books, I think mention should be given to “Heart of the Comet” which he co-wrote with Gregory Bear. An excellent book that in the ends describes a Utopian society.

(I could be misreading it) But in my opinion the people and the comet are a metaphor for earth and humanity. While their journey took them only around 80 years (is that right? Sorry don’t have the book here and hard to find a copy in Thailand), they went through several cultural changes.

A question I would ask David is what part of that timeline do you think earth is in right now? Are we just before the major battle or just around the time of apathy where everyone has given up hope? Also you used a major external threat (them almost being nuked several times) to bind them together and come to a common cause. Do you think that what earth needs an external threat (i.e. meteors, aliens ect.) or would an internal threat suffice to bring the people of earth together.

Anyways a good book for seeing earth in a snowball, and not far off some of today’s issues (percells!)


Anonymous said...

@ Rob

The neighborhood is probably about 15-20 years old and is in Longmont, Colorado (just north of Boulder).

The Mexicans live on the other side of my house since that is where the railroad tracks are and housing is a lot less expensive there, and most of them (judging by the company vehicles out front) work in either solid blue collar work, or (as a guess) at the local turkey processing facility. Funny what a difference of one lot size makes in this ol' world. And I just about want to strangle one of my neighbors who seems to be a nice lady until she mentions how "those Mexicans" are moving in. She makes a nationality sound like a slur.

On the upside, part of the IBO Primary Years Program that we are starting at my daughter's elementary school drives international thinking as well as a non-native tongue study, so they are starting with Spanish this year - K-5th grade.

On the downside, when the school district re-drew the boundary lines to send our kids to the largely Hispanic school, you should have seen the emotions bubble to the surface like a lanced boil.

Anonymous said...

I love Gattaca. Love the atmosphere, love the acting, love the ethical thought that went into it. But...

We already do keep people with heart defects from becoming astronauts!

David Brin said...

Simon Neville, Heart of the Comet was some time ago. I seldom try to unite a fictional timeline with our own history... though in the case of EARTH there have been some eerie parallels since 1989. Thirteen predictive hits, so far.

re GATTACA, the hero’s journey is completely selfish UNLESS he reveals the truth about himself when he returns from the space mission, willingly accepting any punishment for fraud. If he makes a huge public revelation, it could have effects like Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus. It is the only outcome that justifies his callous risk of his crewmates’ lives.

jomama said...

For quite some time, I've not seen the benefit of being a "citizen", "good little", bad or indifferent.

Where I live now, in a land far from my birthplace, folks accept me as I am even when I'm asked where I'm from and I say, "The Planet Earth".

Most laugh with gusto, some keep repeating the question like a broken record.

The laughers I call my friends.

The broken records I ignore.

W.B. Reeves said...

Rob Perkins said...

"As long as we're on the subject of utopias, what about The Dispossessed?"

I don't think The Dispossessed qualifies as either a Utopian or Distopian novel. More anti-Utopian. None of the societies are discribed in terms of perfection. Quite the contrary.

The action of the story is set in motion by the protagonist's disatisfaction with his anarchist society and developes with his rejection of the social alternatives he finds on the home planet. The theme, it seems to me, is the imperfectability of both people and societies and, despite this, the necessity of innovation, initiative and human solidarity. A far cry from either Platonic visions or Orwellian nightmares. Farther still from the romantic notions implicit in both Utopian and Distopian conceptions.

Oddly, it recalls to me Heinlein's Coventry, which dealt with similar themes, albeit in his own characteristically romantic fashion.

W.B. Reeves said...

Blandland said...

"Our system of government was designed precisely to prevent excesses of power in any branch or level of government."

This meme has reached the level accepted truth in our discourse. Never mind that it is unfactual.

Where in the Constitution, as originally framed, are the hedges
against excesses by local State Governments? Is it not the case that the document was designed to hem in Federal authority vis a vis the states? Isn't it the fact that up until 1860 the accepted view was that the Federal Government had no power to interfere in the sovreignity of the states?

"Too often Americans forget that we have one of the oldest forms of working government and are the most prosperous people on earth. These things did not happen by accident."

Actually a great deal is attributable to accident, if by that you mean unforeseen events.

I think a complete political meltdown, culminating in a sanguinary Civil War transforming the concepts of property, citizenship, liberty and Federal power would qualify as accidental. It certainly wont stand as an example of wise forethought and careful planning.

Anachronistic thinking is, I suspect, a key component of the romantic worldview.