Thursday, March 30, 2017

Choosing sides -- fighting autarchy

Okay, this one will be reflective, if a little bit fierce. And see below how some folks are citing my novel The Postman as (alas) prescient about our current messes.

But let's start with news that could be important: let's pray this is the beginning of the end of an utter-evil insanity called gerrymandering.

See where I analyzed gerrymandering, for years.  There are countless ways to fix this vile crime and treason... including a few you'll read nowhere else. One approach would solve it without any need for "impartial commissions" or taking sovereignty away from state legislatures. 

There are half a dozen ways that three men -- John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch -- might decide to be Americans first, and to save us from the monstrously inexcusable.

== What is the nature of our ‘side’ in this Civil War? ==

"I have never seen my country on an inauguration day so divided, so anxious, so fearful, so uncertain of its course. ... I have never seen an incoming president so preoccupied with responding to the understandable vagaries of dissent and seemingly unwilling to contend with the full weight and responsibilities of the most powerful job in the world."

That was Dan Rather, who bore witness to everything from the JFK assassination to the terrifying ructions of 1968, to Civil Rights and Vietnam torments, to Watergate, to near misses with incineration in the Cold War, to 9/11 and the surrounding miasma of lies. Indeed, even in 1968, there was still a “middle” in America wherein moderate democrats and moderate republicans tried to negotiate. Richard Nixon crossed party lines to establish the Environmental Protection Agency. Democratic Congresses modified, but then passed, budgets sent to them by Republican presidents.

Today’s great, national divide is entirely one of perception. The country that our new president described in his speech… one that is undergoing collapse and “carnage”… simply does not exist.  Not to any substantial or statistically significant degree, compared to past decades. 

Problems? We got. But every metric of U.S. national health has improved. Nor should we be lectured by a man and a party who did nothing to alleviate the problems of the unemployed or poor. (They are painfully aware of their accomplishment-free record; that's why only one republican leader between Reagan and Ryan was even mentioned during the recent GOP convention.)

No, our divide is very real, but it is psychological. There is one third of the American spirit that has swallowed memic poison. It’s not “left” or “right” but a paranoia that will not respond to facts. That rejects facts. That is enraged by facts and all of the professions that use them.

And to be clear, the left contains some of this ilk! Just as today's US right consists of fact-evaders and suppressors. See: Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds, by Elizabeth Kolbert.

As for the inevitability of feudalism... well, the odds have always been against us. It's almost a miracle that a few generations of humans were able to rise above ourselves for this long.

But there is a process to it, that I describe here and here.

Have hope.  We are not lesser men and women than the 'Greatest Generation.'  We can do this.

== Targeted propaganda ==

Oh, but the forces arrayed against our great, anti-feudal experiment are formidable. "The conservative Koch network plans to spend between $300 million and $400 million to influence politics and public policy over the next two years, intensifying its nationwide efforts in the initial years of Donald Trump's presidency." This after spending roughly a billion across the 2nd Obama term. And the Saudis spent about the same... and none of this mentions Muscovian meddling.

An expert troller who helped get alt-right rolling talks about the reverse psychology methods that have worked so well for that scurrilous festival of provocations and lies.

Okay, but all of this has gone nuclear. It's gone to the matrixes.

Affliliated with Steve Bannon and alt-right, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible and nearly impenetrable Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion. The Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine has become the new prerequisite for political success in a world of polarization, isolation, trolls, and dark posts, as Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath report in Scout.

 "We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump's extraordinary win. --- At Cambridge, we were able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America." - Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander James Ashburner Nix; quoted on Vice's Motherboard blog.
"[Our approach] could pose a threat to an individual's well-being, freedom, or even life." - Michal Kosinski, researcher apparently behind (but not part of) Cambridge Analytica's processes; ibid

Ohh and know this: that Trump strategic advisor Steve Bannon is on the board of directors of Cambridge Analytica - right? Now you get it.

== Preventing Autocracy ==

Worst case scenario. We are seeing a calamitous failure of the entire democratic experiment. I don’t believe that — not yet.  I think the oligarchic putsch has made a big mistake by attacking our professional classes and intel and military officer corps. 

But I could be wrong. In which case, we will have to study from those who have lived under despots and learn the arts of resistance.

Consider these bits of advice in: “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” by Masha Gessen.  

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.
Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you.

I am still a sucker for this one.  But go read what she says, anyway.

Rule #4: Be outraged. In the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock.

Rule #5: Don’t make compromises. Like Ted Cruz, who made the journey from calling Trump “utterly amoral” and a “pathological liar” to endorsing him in late September to praising his win as an “amazing victory for the American worker,” Republican politicians have fallen into line. Democrats in Congress will begin to make the case for cooperation.

History supports this. Democrats always always try to negotiate, while the GOP has become the most tightly disciplined partisan machine in American history, utterly hewing to the “Hastert Rule” (concocted by their former speaker and leader and convicted sexual pervert and child-predator, Dennis Hastert) to never, ever negotiate in good faith. DP Congresses always meet Republican presidents halfway. GOP Congresses never do that with Democratic presidents. But today, “halfway" is still utterly insane treason.

Rule #6: Remember the future.

Says this deep futurist… amen.

A fan and fretful American just sent me this excerpt from my novel, The Postman. There are others. Lesson: no matter how low this goes. Remember you are the noblest kind of human ever created. Citizen.

Judo teaches you how to fall!  And roll and come back up fighting.

== The next round of protest ==
Will the coming scientists’ march be effective or counterproductive? This author on Slate asserts that Culture War is so locked in that the marchers will only be preaching to the democratic base. That the GOP is already so hostile to science that the marchers will only nail in place Red America’s suspicion that all scientists are partisan lefties. 

“In a post-election analysis at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver found that Trump held a 31-point advantage in the nation’s least-educated counties, while Clinton held a 26-point advantage in the best-educated ones—and concluded that income explained only part of this effect.”

Daniel Engber further asserts: “In the same way that fighting the War on Journalism delegitimizes the press by making it seem partisan and petty, so might the present fight against the War on Science sap scientific credibility. By confronting it directly, science activists may end up helping to consolidate Trump’s support among his most ardent, science-skeptical constituency. If they’re not careful where and how they step, the science march could turn into an ambush.”

But Mr. Engber misses the point. Science and journalism are not isolated cases. 
Indeed, an you name for me one fact-using profession of knowledge and skill that’s not under attack by Fox & its cohorts?  Teachers, medical doctors, journalists, civil servants, law professionals, economists, skilled labor, professors…. 

In fact there are three educated clades not under open attack by the Murdochian-Confederate cult.  Can you name them?

Fighting the rising madness...

In his Vox article, David Roberts defines “Tribal Epistemology” to mean “evaluating facts, information, and narratives primarily on whether they are advantageous to the tribe in their war against the opposing tribe (in this case, liberals).

Tribal epistemology is inherently hostile to institutions that claim independent authority based on trans-partisan norms and standards — the academy, science, and journalism, in particular. They see those institutions as tools of their enemies.” 

In the case of Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee, the purpose of science is to concoct justifications for already chosen social or political agendas.  Donald Trump is the sole reliable source of truth, says the chair of the House Science Committee. 

And now, more scientists are planning to run for office. For more on science intersecting with politics, see How to Win the War on Science, by Jonathan Foley, as well as Will the Science Community Go Rogue Against Donald Trump?

Norman Spinrad can see the horizon.  Like me, he reads a little farther ahead… as in his new book The Peoples’ Police, in which the cops, long viewed with suspicion by the left, are finally welcomed into a coalition of the loyal and sane, against the rising madness.

== And finally: The Short Straw Democrats ==

I've suggested this before and will repeat it. Donald Trump is about personality disorders, not ideology!

Today he declared war on the GOP's Freedom Caucus -- the 30+ Republican Tea Party radicals who torched Paul Ryan's "Obamacare replacement" bill.  Putting aside the obvious glee of pundits, Trump's move offers an opening for what I call "short straw democrats."

The principle is simple. Trump responds ferociously to those who dislike him and warmly to those who say nice things. Period. Full stop. There is nothing more. There is nothing less, or left or right. Or anything else.  So let me repeat it.

Donald Trump responds ferociously to those who dislike him and warmly to those who say nice things.  Period.

And hence, Democrats should hold a caucus to draw straws. Those with short straws must say nice things about Donald Trump.

This does not demand betraying principles! Your stances and votes can all remain the same! But you'll simply and deliberately end any statement about the president with a compliment. For example: "While I respectfully disagree with the President on this and a myriad other issues, I will admit that he is among the best-looking leaders this nation ever had."

Will the pandering be obvious? Sure! Will there be nods and winks? Uh-Huh. Will Hannity & Co. scream denunciations? Yep! And Trump's inner circle will rail at him to ignore the blatant manipulativeness of the other side's "short straw" volunteers.

But it won't matter! The compliment will stick in DT's head, where facts and policy positions do not. He will invite the complimenters to dinner, to golf. He'll listen. He'll sway.

Surely there are a few Democrats with the intelligence and strength of character and stomach to do what clearly must be done?

Well.  No.  I guess we've seen the answer to that one.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Space Marvels for 2017

Oh, let's (please) take a break from pondering our current crisis of civilization, and the now explicit war on science. Instead, this time, let us turn our heads to ponder the wonderful cosmos that our children will explore... if we manage to keep a great and brave and thoughtful civilization.

My own space news can be found at the bottom.  A dinner gathering with cool topics. But first... 

Fantastic! Cosmographists have plotted the velocities of hundreds of galaxies within 1.7 billion light years, including all of our galactic super-group.  They subtracted the universal expansion and traced lines of a velocity field.  We had already known that swarms of galaxies were converging on what’s called the “Shapley Attractor.”  But this paper unveils a spectacular discovery named the Dipole Repeller! The DR is a region on the opposite side of our super-group that appears to have a repulsive effect on the velocity field, making the whole thing resemble the pattern of… well… a dipole.  As illustrated in this remarkable video.

But… but gravity isn’t supposed to have a repulsive “pole”, right? Well, there is a void near the Dipole Repeller. So, could just an absence of matter explain… hey, I am digesting this even as you are. Whoa.

(Does anyone else see a resemblance to the human inner ear? Or a chambered nautilus?)

On a much smaller scale.... Here’s proof of an intermediate-mass black hole existing — weighing just 2,200 times the mass of the Sun. 

A decaying binary orbit will lead a close pair of stars to collide, and calculations pin it down (maybe) to the year 2022, when a “red nova” may even be visible to the naked eye. 

In  Welcome to the Universe, An Astrophysical Tour, the incomparable Neil deGrasse Tyson gives you a personal tour through the marvels of the cosmos, delving into big picture topics such as quasars, cosmic strings, supermassive black holes, wormholes, time travel... and the possibility of intelligent life out there. Are we part of an infinite multiverse? Tyson illuminates and entertains with glimpses of the latest research into the scale and mysteries of the universe. 

Download a free ebook: 101 Astronomical Events for 2017 -- from Universe Today. And from, see the Space Calendar for 2017: listing launches, sky events and more.

== Marvels of our solar system ==

A study published in Nature supports the growing consensus that Pluto may be one of a dozen “roofed worlds” in the Solar System, where liquid water churns beneath protective ice. (In the case of Titan, all of this lies below lakes of methane, lapping at waxy shorelines.) Unlike Europa, Enceledus and other, “inner” ocean moons, Pluto’s ocean is likely to be “rather noxious, very cold, salty and very ammonia-rich—almost a syrup," said William McKinnon, co-author of the study.  Any ‘life’ that developed there would be very different… though not quite as remarkable as any cryo-beings (or cells) that might arise in Titanian lakes.

Utterly cool image of the Earth – Moon system taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Amazing.  We are still a mighty and scientific people. Fight for that.

A beautiful movie made by NASA using 100 images of Pluto taken by the New Horizons craft.  And yes, at risk of (necessary) repetition: you are a member of a glorious, scientific civilization.

Cassini is going out gorgeously, providing closeups of Saturn’s hexagonal north-polar cyclone… and soon vivid ring shots.  

Oh, did I mention that you are a member of a civilization which does this: Saturn's rings warped gorgeously by tiny moon, Daphnis?

NASA's Juno probe has sent back gorgeous new images of Jupiter, after its fifth orbit of the gas giant -- such as this swirling "pearl" storm.

NASA Langley’s concept of an ice shelter on Mars would transport a light, inflatable, double-walled dome, then fill the walls with water melted from nearby buried ores, which we now believe to be plentiful there. The concept would create an ideal radiation protection barrier, when the water re-freezes, and has an added advantage in the fact that it can be transported and deployed easily, then filled with water before anyone arrives. It would also serve as a storage tank for water or maybe even used for rocket fuel. Ideally it would be erected and filled robotically, before a human crew even left Earth. 

Go Mark Watney! Footage from a cubesat experiment shows potato plants budding in weightlessness, in Mars-like soils, suggesting that a certain movie (and book) may have been on target in its optimism about growing food on the red planet. Providing you can wash out perchlorates and all that. We'll see. 

The latest wonderful discoveries of our loyal robot on Mars – Curiosity. NASA’s next Martian lander -- Mars 2020 -- will be wowzer! Seeking signs of life....

This innovation may enable a rover on Venus! NASA Glenn Research Center built a computer chip that survived Venus-like conditions for an impressive 521 hours, almost 22 days. Conditions that will incinerate electronics with its 872º F temperatures and seize mechanical components with its immense atmospheric pressures. At 90 times the surface pressure of Earth. In 1982, the USSR’s Venera 13 lasted 127 minutes on the Venus surface. Silicon Carbide transistors make the difference.

See the concept for a Venus sailing rover. We have even more baroque and weird projects, at NIAC! 

Now... China is forging ahead as a major force in space, with plans for upcoming manned and robotic missions to the moon and Mars. Partnering with the government, startups such as ExPace and OneSpace aim to be the Chinese version of SpaceX -- with a rocket launch scheduled for 2018. 

== My dinner with Elon ==

Photo by Amber Heard

Last time, I invited Astrid & Greg Bear and Vernor Vinge. This time, my sci fi colleagues Gregory & Elizabeth Benford and Steve Barnes, plus JPL senior planetary scientists Dave and Joy Crisp. The topic? Mars mostly (of course), plus artificial intelligence (AI) plus much else beyond the immediate horizon. 

Elon served a great dinner and his five boys were terrific, well-mannered fellows. And the rest isn't 'news' so that's it.

== Coda ==

Did I remember to remind you to murmur, now and then "IAAMOAC"?

"I am a member of a civilization."

By most standards of wealth and thoughtfulness and accomplishment and gradually rising ethics and everything else, perhaps the first human civilization. Perhaps the first in the Galaxy to escape traps like feudalism. 

If you have any notions of progress, of wanting your descendants to bestride the stars, then reject the blithering-dopey "cycles of history and "The Fourth Turning" and "we're all doomed" rants of those who would turn away from science and wonder.

IAAMOAC.  Fight for it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Economic Inequality: opportunity vs outcomes

Our last posting -- extensively  shared by thousands -- offered long, verbatim quotations from epic science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, revealing his amazing prophecy of an America falling into perilous failure mode.  

Now let's back off from our immediate crisis and try some perspective.

== The Equality Problem ==

This article - Is Inequality Inevitable? — asks a fair enough question, whose answer is “Sure, inequality is inevitable. So?” 

That don’t mean we can't always make things better.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry starts with studies showing that the children of elites have always stood a better chance of becoming elite, themselves, and that efforts to equalize outcomes by force - such as Maoist cultural revolution - always fail. Indeed, in Europe, the same surnames have been elite for 400 years.

True enough.  Only then M. Gagny calls all liberal efforts at mitigation futile and useless -- an assertion that amounts to stark-jibbering toilet raving.

One refutation is to point out the staggering amounts of cheating and repression that inherited oligarchies and other elites have engaged in, across all eras, to ensure advantages for their offspring. Nearly all of recorded human history reveals the lengths that lords and masters went to, using law and religion and sheer economic bullying to prevent sons or daughters of the poor from competing fairly with their own children. 

If aristocracy were self-replicating on the basis of simple, inherited quality, why then the relentless frenzy of desperate repression that we see across all annals, in all nations and eras?

Further, if inherited lordship were a matter of genuine superiority, then why - across the long epochs before our egalitarian experiment - were nearly all kingdoms and oligarchies so delusional and so horrifically-governed?  There is a name for the cosmically stupid way that 99% of post agricultural societies were governed. In a general sense, that name is feudalism. Another word for the endless litany of insipid and lethal errors committed by aristocrats is -- history.

Or, in more modern parlance: Idiocracy.

In my novel, Existence, I portray a meeting of uber-trillionaires in 2048. They can see they are going to win, that their putsch against liberal democracy is about to succeed, and looming success has them worried.  They can also see that feudalism is vastly less productive, innovative and far more error prone than open systems like transparent republics. Is there a way out of this dilemma?

At their conference, they earnestly seek ways to imbue the rule of inherited oligarchy with meritocratic and competitive elements, weaving in some of the powerful synergies of the Enlightenment... without its egalitarianism.  Kind of like what the Chinese ruling caste has been desperately trying to achieve, for decades. There are inherent flaws to this plan. But at least these oligarchs are smart enough to see the alternative:

Paris: 1789. And tumbrels.

(See my earlier posting: Class War and the Lessons of History. Oh and ponder this: why have Google searches on the words "Karl" and "Marx" been skyrocketing of late?)

== Easing our way out of a lethal attractor state ==

Sure, our egalitarianism has been flawed, often corrupted and always imperfect. Yet, our ongoing enlightenment experiment does correlate with a singular society that has been vastly more creative, productive, fair, scientific and happier than all others… and yes I mean absolutely all of them… combined.

If the grandchildren of rich people do tend to be rich, and the kids of scientists may somewhat tend to replicate that success, then liberal-minded folk will cite favorable circumstance as a chief reason. Nurture over nature. And so far, that presumption seems more right than wrong. 

But even if there is also a strong, genetic component, we still seem well-served by at least addressing those unfair inequalities that do cause disparities. And make each generation of favored kids work to prove it. To earn what they achieve.

We must do this for one reason, above all others — in order to stop wasting human talent.  Expanding opportunity for the children of the poor, of all races, genders etc., is simply logical and a vast improvement over the institutionalized, reflexive and wasteful bigotries of the past. 

Any excuse-making in the opposite direction is not only morally vile, it is also deeply impractical! Because it rationalizes reducing the number of skilled, eager, confident and competent competitors to enter our markets.  In other words, those who rationalize inequality of opportunity for children and youths are betraying the very essence of Adam Smith, of Friedrich Hayek and all other icons of competitive enterprise.

Hypocrisy -- by their own standards.

And sure, yes, inequality (for children and youths) is also immoral. But notice that some people find it easier to shrug off that appeal, than when you base your argument on the practical benefits of equalization. Remember -- oh remember -- that the American founders seized up to a third of the lad in the former colonies from elite-lordly families and redistributed it! An act of "leveling that made FDR look tame. And they did it for pragmatic reasons. In order to keep the revolution one of a calm, middle class, not a rabid mob.

Why emphasize children and youths?

Elsewhere I explain in detail the difference between interventions that aim to equalize opportunity and those that aim at equality of outcomesFoolish  reactionaries like M. Gagny seem to agree with radical levelers on the other side, that liberal interventions aim at outcome-equalization. Indeed, if that were the case, perhaps I could see a point to the ravings of the far-right and the far-left. 

If that were the aim, then call me a rebel-libertarian.

But that vile, lobotomizing “left-right axis” is built upon shavings of stupidity. In fact, I assert: if state actions concentrate only on raising up possible opportunities for children of the poor, then outcomes will manage themselves. Contra-wise, those who slash investments in the children of the poor aren't just evil people, they are traitors to our revolution.

== The context for it all: The Fermi Paradox ==

Many of you know that I am the principal tabulator of hypotheses and proposed explanations for why we seem to be alone in the cosmos -- the Great Silence... also called The Fermi Paradox.  Of the hundred or so theories that have been offered, I rank a Top Ten.  And high on my list is...

... feudalism.  The chief attractor state of human governance, sucking in 99% of all human societies that ever got metals.  Feudalism rewards big males who act like elephant seals and bash other males to take their women and wheat.  We are all descended from the harems of guys who pulled that off.  

Moreover, the Darwinian logic probably applies on other worlds, perhaps most other worlds. And if so, we get a powerful "fermi" hypothesis: that all over the galaxy kings and feudal lords and priests suppress science and advancement and environmental care, because they are focused on short term battles to stay on top.  

Only our enlightenment experiment broke away from this pattern and found another, in which equalization of opportunity, plus rights and transparency and love of science, opened up all the positive sum games that utilize competition -- markets, democracy, science, justice courts and sports.  The resulting cornucopia has been dazzling!  But humans who rise up high will always be tempted by urges to shut down competition and become lords.

That is the grand context.  Our current struggles may matter even on a galactic scale!  If we are the first to rise up to Star Trek levels of enlightened maturity, then we could rescue all the others, out there, trapped in cycles of feudalism.

Oh but let's get back to Earth. Literally.

== Climate denialism is a symptom ==

Did I say feudalists suppress science? We've reached the point where denialists are frantic. Having invested in raging contempt for science and scientific civilization, while claiming the opposite, they must now double down -- trying desperately to prevent cognitive dissonance. They must avoid doing that almost-impossible thing for human beings... but the act that science teaches.  

To admit: "maybe I was wrong."

I could link to sage articles and scientific studies till the sun burns out and they would have no effect. Cultists will answer with nostrums and "talking points" concocted by Koch-financed shills who could not parse the gas vapor laws if their lives depended on it. But jpegs re sometimes convincing. Here are four images that make the point fiercely.

First the rate at which humans have been adding CO2 to the atmosphere of a world that skates the inner edge of our sun's continuously habitable zone. And that's a crucial aspect!  Because it answers the cultist line: "How could measly humans affect habitability of a giant planet?"

Let me reiterate: our Earth skates the very inner edge of our sun's continuously habitable zone. Because of that, our world must have a very transparent atmosphere with a Gaia Balance that has only just enough CO2 for plants to live.  Needing to allow heat to escape, we can afford very little greenhouse gas. 

Indeed, some time soon (less than 100M years) we will have to move the Earth!)

But saying "humans can't change an atmosphere" can easily be measured.  That is: if we're allowed to!  The Bushites sabotaged satellites and hampered scientists, but the Trumpists have taken things to a whole new level, cancelling programs and ordering NASA to never look down at a planet called Earth.  

You denialists who have long proclaimed "the jury is still out!  We need more data!" are now exposed as hypocrites. The truth is the very last thing you want.

But none of this is as horrifically dishonest as the standard riff used by Ten Cruz and other fanatics, claiming "there's been no net warming for 5 years!" Then 6 years. Then it was 7! Always increasing by one.  

Why so specific?  Look at our third jpeg and note the spike in 1998. The general slope of temperature has increased relentlessly, but fools and liars used that spike as a "before" to claim subsequent years were 'decreases.'  That is, till new peaks came in 2014... and 2015... and so far 2016, with all but one of the last seven months breaking records. Oh, so much to be proud of.

But the kicker is the ocean. Not one of the cult's shill "think tanks" has been able to concoct an incantation to answer the damage we are doing via ocean acidification. There are no even hypothetical causes for the effect that is killing coral and replacing fish with jellies, in all the regions depicted in our third jpeg, as well as helping to eutrophy (choke) the Black Sea and Mediterranean and Caribbean.

So what can we conclude?

Nothing new.  I made this list to arm you with talking points, because all that America needs to do, in order to win this phase of our recurring Civil War is to just peel off just 10 million still somewhat sane and reluctant and uncomfortable members of this weird-confederate coalition.  
You can do your part by hammering one, just one nervous aunt out there. (Your uncle is probably hopeless. Unless he's ex military; stay tuned for ammo that will work with him!)

Peel away one, then another. It's your assignment. Start with ocean acidification. I mean it. They cannot run from it or explain it, and Fox doesn't even try. They shout "squirrel!" and point offstage.  But use it, over and over again...  ocean acidification. ocean acidification.ocean acidification.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Looking back at Heinlein's Future History - coming true before our eyes.

This one is so pertinent and important, I tried to find a more public venue for it. But one of the tragic consequences of the Trump Era is the decay of op-ed journalism -- everyone recycling the same whines. I'll speak more of this, at the end. But now -- this just can't be put off, any longer.  Prepare to go wide-eyed!

== A chilling forecast: accurate down to the last detail ==

You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic. – Robert A. Heinlein, Revolt in 2100

Robert A. Heinlein’s 1953 "Future History" collection, Revolt in 2100, vividly portrays citizens rising up against an authoritarian theocracy which has taken root in America. A succession of fundamentalist despots have ruled for nearly a century, dating back to the First Prophet, Nehemiah Scudder. John Lyle, a graduate of West Point and now a member of the Prophet's elite guard "Angels of the Lord," joins an underground revolt when he finally begins to question the society under which he always lived: 

"I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy ... censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, 'This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,' the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything -- you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him." (If This Goes On-- Chapter 6)

Does that sound familiar? Oh, but you ain't seen nothing, yet. Prepare to be amazed.

Sure, Heinlein's voice is different than mine. But he largely raised me, and I deeply resent it when some folks lazily dismiss RAH as a "right winger" or even "fascist." Sure, there are ways in which he reads rather retro, today. And he yelled "get off my lawn!" at hippies who came to pay homage, after Stranger in a Strange Land.

But he truly saw himself as a champion of equal rights and equal opportunity, even if his characters can seem cringeworthy, through modern eyes. His libertarianism is of another, Jeffersonian-Adam Smithian variety, and while he passed through a phase (the way many college sophomores do, today) saying good things about Ayn Rand, he later outgrew that fetish, when he realized it stood not for open competition, but for selfish solipsism, a trait his characters often spoke of despising.

Of course, our chief overlap is seen in that extract, above. Heinlein and I both portray light as the cleanser and liberator. We must all see as much as we can handle, and then more. It is a citizen's duty to look! And yes, to re-examine things we had been comfortable believing.  Transparency is key to reciprocal accountability, which we use to be both free and smart. It is the miracle tool that enables us to question the lies of monsters.

== Amazing prophecy! ==

Is it ironic that the author of a novel about false prophets nailed the future so well? Oh, but it gets much better. Especially the paragraph in bold, below.

Here, I’d like to quote extensively from Revolt in 2100's afterword, “Concerning Stories Never Written,” in which Robert Heinlein takes an incisive look at a possible dark future for our country:

As for ... the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past. 

"It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.

“It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.

“Nevertheless this business of legislating religious beliefs into law has never been more than sporadically successful in this country – Sunday closing laws here and there, birth control legislation in spots, the Prohibition experiment, temporary enclaves of theocracy such as Voliva’s Zion, Smith’s Nauvoo, and a few others. The country is split up into such a variety of faiths and sects that a degree of uneasy tolerance now exists from expedient compromise; the minorities constitute a majority of opposition against each other.

“Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not – but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. 

"Throw in a Depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening – particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington."

Jiminy!  Heinlein wrote that in the early 1950s! Is there anything he did not hit right on the head? Heck, he even nailed the dominionist "Prosperity Gospel" so popular among Ted Cruz types, promising fervid followers that their "material heaven here on earth" will come by righteously seizing the property of unbelievers. (Late note: a prosperity gospel preacher keynotes Donald Trump's inauguration.)

Seriously, read his last paragraph (above) again.  Then recall that Heinlein portrayed Nehemiah Scudder taking the White House against the will of a majority, in 2012.  (He also spoke of America sinking into "The Crazy Years.") 

As for you blithe judgers who dismissed Heinlein as a 'fascist'? Shame on you.  He was fighting the good fight before you were born, far more persuasively and effectively than you'll ever be.

Oh, but back to his essay. It gets even more amazing:

“I imagined Nehemiah Scudder as a backwoods evangelist who combined some of the features of John Calvin, Savonarola, Judge Rutherford and Huey Long. His influence was not national until after the death of Mrs. Rachel Biggs…. who left Brother Scudder several millions of dollars with which to establish a television station. Shortly thereafter he teamed up with an ex-Senator from his home state; they placed their affairs in the hands of a major advertising agency and were on their way to fame and fortune. Presently they needed stormtroopers; they revived the Ku Klux Klan in everything but the name – sheets, passwords, grips, and all. It was a “good gimmick” once and still served. Blood at the polls and blood in the streets, but Scudder won the election. The next election was never held.

“Impossible? Remember the Klan in the ‘Twenties – and how far it got without even a dynamic leader. Remember Karl Marx and note how close that unscientific piece of nonsense called Das Kapital has come to smothering out all freedom of thought on half a planet, without – mind you – the emotional advantage of calling it a religion. The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed."

Give Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 a read (available for Kindle.)  

Are the parallels with our present situation perfect? Well, no. For one thing, there is the spectacular hypocrisy of U.S. fundamentalist Christians gushing their fervid support for a man who is - in every conceivable measure of action or character - the diametric opposite of Jesus. Even Heinlein could not have written that.  

No, this has to be a clarion call. Members of the American center and moderate-left must get past their clichés... like the insipid stupidity of calling old-fashioned Jeffersonian libertarians like Heinlein "right-wingers." For one thing, anyone who loves science, nowadays is, by definition, no member of that cult.

We must be welcoming of fellow citizens who flee the rising, confederate madness. Soon, these will include waves of 'retiring' U.S. military and intelligence officers, potential allies of stunning value in our task of saving civilization! So do not listen to fools on the far-left, who would spit in the faces of such refugees. The far-left can be as crazy as the entire-right has become. Especially if they would reflexively spurn powerful allies, just because they have good posture and sport crewcuts.

Or powerful inspirations, like the science fiction author and American, Robert A. Heinlein.

Honor the legacy of Heinlein and Pay It Forward! Support the efforts of the Heinlein Society -- which promotes education, blood drives and provides books to veterans.

== Addenda ==

Oh, you don't believe that there is a nationwide cabal of fundamentalists who aim for precisely the scenario that worried Heinlein? Read this. An escapee from the "christofascist" network describes how a million or so children at any time are not only being homeschooled, but indoctrinated to think of themselves as holy warriors, battling a satanic republic. And this is the central goal of Betsy DeVos, our new Secretary of Education.

And yes, central to their belief system are not the words of Jesus, but the diametrically opposite and hate-drenched Book of Revelation.  With hand-rubbing delight, they anticipate the torture and death of you and your loved ones and our nation, followed by eternal torment and damnation, plus an end to all democracy, science, ambition, curiosity, questioning, exploration and every other thing that makes us human. And... oh yes, a violent end to the United States of America. And I did not exaggerate a single word. Every single one of those outcomes is directly and explicitly what they pray for, daily.

Finally... A Scottish newspaper listed coverage of the Trump Inauguration as a Twilight Zone reboot: "The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history. Sci-fi writers have often dabbled with alternative history stories... It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but as it goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible..."

== The meta problem, here ==

I had saved up this posting, offering it to every venue I could find (or shortened versions, eliminating my personal voice.) It is interesting, effective and different. But there is the rub.

Look, there's one more factor at work now. Fear. When that emotion reigns, even the side that believes in openness and originality shuts down psychologically. At the very moment when we need a wide stance and originality, mass media have circled the wagons, allocating op-ed soapboxes to pals who re-word the same whines, over and over.

Like the latest wave of ill-considered reactions, screaming about the Trumps' increase in military spending, as liberals fall for a baited trap, reflexively shouting hate at the Military Officer Corps, spurning another set of victims, another fact-centered profession. This is the stupidest thing we could possibly do, right now.

It's not that they are wrong in opposing this tsunami of Confederate madness! Their mistake is a belief that the Union can win this phase of civil war with "resistance" alone, pushing back with grunting sumo.  Again and again I cry - as Heinlein did - that this is a time for agility.  For judo.