Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Avatar V

I was wondering whether Poul Anderson's account of his character Ira Quick's motivations was fully consistent. On the one hand, Quick wants "social justice" and is motivated by the memory of a child killed in a war. On the other hand:

his private life is self-seeking and self-satisfied;
his public appearances are dramatic performances, duplicitous and patronising;
his professional interactions are cynical and manipulative;
his political practice is clandestine, ultimately murderous.

Is this consistent? Or is it just that Anderson disliked a particular kind of professional politician so was unable to show them in a favourable light? No, not entirely. Anderson held strong views and wrote well. The combination of strongly held views, considerable writing ability, scientific knowledge and historical understanding generated powerful fiction. First, he ensures, by repetition alone, that the reader, having been told, does not forget that Quick's motives include wanting to prevent a repetition of the suffering that he had witnessed.

Secondly and more significantly, Dan Brodersen spells this out:

"...any state - is an end in itself. It's a way for the few to impose their will on the many. And Judas priest, how those few do want to! Need to." (1)

There are, I suggest (this is me speaking now, not Anderson), two kinds of reformers/revolutionaries. The first kind advocates a different direction for humanity and encourages or inspires active participation in that different direction. The second kind tries to gain control of the levers of power in the existing state apparatus in order to impose his ideas on everyone else. The first kind cannot consistently adopt the second course of action, especially not if the different direction necessarily involves dismantling the existing state apparatus.

I am bound to agree with Brodersen that his proposed interstellar free for all is preferable to a static welfare state spoon fed by Quick, who no doubt would continue considering it necessary to incarcerate or murder anyone who disagreed with him.

"...we'll skite off through every star gate the Betans have mapped, as well as mounting our own program to chart new ones. The sheer profit to be made, in countless places and ways, must beggar the imagination...so even before we start large-scale emigration, the balance of economic power will shift away from Earth. It'll also shift away from governments, unions, giant corporations, toward small outfits and individuals. There goes the tidy world welfare state the Actionist types hope to build. I daresay Quick foresees as much." (1)

This reminds me of James Blish's Cities In Flight Tetralogy where the Bureaucratic State banned spaceflight but not before a few colonists had escaped from the Solar System with faster than light drives.

I am not sure of Brodersen's certainty that "...small outfits and individuals..." will cope with this massive task. Even if they do, successful small outfits tend to grow, take over, merge and eventually become big corporations. Of course, "...profit..." here means new knowledge, materials, resources, techniques, concepts, inter-species contacts etc whatever economic system is involved.

In the interstellar free for all, many extrasolar colonies will become independent and some at least will become self-sufficient. There will therefore be the possibility of experiments in communal and cooperative modes of production different from the kind of market economy that entrepreneurs like Brodersen are used to operating in. It will no longer be possible, let alone necessary, for anyone to impose a single system everywhere. That is the human freedom and diversity that Poul Anderson advocated.

(1) Anderson, Poul, The Avatar, London, 1985, p. 189.

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