Sunday, 23 June 2013

Know Your Enemy V

Recently, I reread some passages of Poul Anderson's Satan's World, then of his Mirkheim (London, 1978), because I wanted information about Nicholas van Rijn's adversary, Edward Garver. However, I soon got back into rereading Mirkheim from cover to cover because it is such a concentrated piece of the Technic History and the real turning point of the entire series.

In "Lodestar," Chee Lan refers to "the Terran Empire" as a possible (worse) replacement for the Solar Commonwealth and the Polesotechnic League. I now think that "Lodestar" should appear near the end of an omnibus collection to be entitled Decline Of The Polesotechnic League and that Mirkheim should appear, as indeed it does in Baen Books The Technic Civilization Saga, at the beginning of an omnibus entitled Rise Of The Terran Empire. The descent into the Troubles preceding the Empire, that Indian Summer of Technic civilization, begins here.

Meanwhile, to summarize on Garver - like Flandry and Tachwyr, both of whom we meet later, he rises in rank or status each time he appears or is mentioned:

director of the Lunar Federal Centrum of Security and Law Enforcement;
Lunograd delegate to the Parliament of the Solar Commonwealth;
Minister of Security for the Solar Commonwealth.

Thus, his Ministry combines his former directorship of Security with his later Membership of Parliament. He passionately hates van Rijn as an archetype of everything to be abominated in the League. We are to understand that bad things do happen in the League:

"Many grudges were genuine...Reckless exploitation of societies and natural resources...introduction of modern technologies to backward races...irresponsibly, for a quick credit..." (pp. 104-105)

- although we also learn not to identify van Rijn with such practices. But he would have wanted to use Mirkheim merely to enrich himself further if Falkayn had not persuaded him otherwise.

How would I respond to the League if I were a contemporary of Garver? Here are three things not to do:

seek election to Parliament;
strengthen the state;
waste mental energy by investing it in personal hatred of van Rijn or of any other League merchant.

Many Anderson readers would probably want to join a trader team. This would not suit me unless, improbably, the crew included a full time academic whose sole role was to analyze and compare xeno languages, political systems and religions. (Perhaps I would have fitted better into the Grand Survey period.)

Below are a few things that I might try to do as a citizen of the Solar Commonwealth.

(i) Seek a well salaried post in public service, not in the private sector.

(ii) Campaign against particular abuses and injustices. Would such campaigns be among the "...exciting causes..." of which Anderson is rather dismissive? (p. 104)

(iii) Campaign also for a more cooperative and communal approach to economic and social life (an even more exciting cause!) with the understanding, first, that such a movement, if it gained any momentum, would be opposed by powerful invested interests, secondly that, in adverse circumstances, it could all too easily degenerate into just another bureaucracy and thirdly that the only way to prevent bureaucratic degeneration is for a movement to remain under the control of its members whose ideas might diverge from those of its founders. Thus can the founders be prevented from becoming "'...our Saviors with a capital ass...,'" in van Rijn's phrase. (p. 102)

(iv) Alternatively, join an expedition to found an extrasolar colony on radically different principles. This was the sort of thing that happened during the earlier period of the Breakup.

(v) Organize trade unions? This job needs to be done but I would prefer to leave it to those with more appropriate temperaments and aptitudes. I have had all too much experience of how union leaders and their employees can become bureaucrats contemptuous of their members. It is probably inevitable that trade unions reflect the society of which they are part. Since unions are merely defensive organizations, they are, like parliamentary parties, part of the status quo, not a way to anything better.

(vi) Support the Supermetals Company (if we knew its back story)?

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