Sunday, 17 February 2013

Social Complexity

It is illuminating to read some history in parallel with science fiction. For example, reading about the liberation of Italy in World War II shows that the complexity of society is reflected in the complexity of any struggle for its future.

How many factions:

collaborated with the Nazis;
cooperated with the Allies;
advocated merely awaiting the arrival of the Allies;
worked for national liberation independently of the Allies?

How many conflicts were there between all these groups? There were not simply two sides in the conflict.

Next, we need to reflect that a similar complexity would necessarily exist in any fictitious future society where similar struggles are shown to occur. Early in Poul Anderson's Three Worlds To Conquer (London, 1966), we are told that an Army of Liberation led by a group called the "Sam Halls" has overthrown a dictatorship in the United States back on Earth. (Our perspective is that of the colonists on Ganymede, at least one of whom had supported the dictatorship although most had gone there to get away from it.)

How many other groups were involved in the conflict on Earth and with what conflicting aims?

Robert Heinlein shows some of this complexity in Revolt In 2100. When the Cabal has overthrown the Angels of the Lord, the Onward Christian Soldiers express their disagreement with the timing of the Revolution and the Federation, which does not automatically recognise the new regime, will not authorise the use of nuclear weapons to settle a civil war. Willingly suspending disbelief, we are able to imagine that we are reading some real history.

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