Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Recurrent Issues II

"'...why not give the Commoners a break? Why should they spend their lives down on low-level?'"

- Poul Anderson, The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975), p. 152.

A very good question but what do we think of the answer given?

"'My dear romantic friend, what else can they do? Do you think they're fit to share administrative responsibilities? The average IQ of the Commons is about 90, the average for the Ministerial class is closer to automating all operations, it would be possible for every man in the Solar System to quit work: all his needs would be supplied free. But what, then, is your IQ-90 Commoner going to do with himself? Play chess and write epic poems?'" (ibid.)

Two issues: IQ and abundance.

IQ: I question whether any civilization could ever become so stratified and polarized that aristocrats were that much more intelligent than commoners. Both classes remain members of a single genetically diverse species (although Wells imagined two social classes becoming different biological species: Morlocks and Eloi.) Surely such a discrepancy would mean that what the IQ questionnaires were testing for was a set of skills that were socially learned in one class and not in the other: a difference between social cultures, not in average individual intelligence? We are told that the Commoners receive a minimal education, including hypnotic indoctrination. Thus, they are prevented from realizing any inherent intelligence or creativity that they might have had.

Abundance: Surely an economy of work, trade and free enterprise would not be maintained as a sort of game if it had become unnecessary? Economics is driven by necessity and competitive pressure, not by a belief that, without it, people would have nothing to do! Some low-IQ Commoners would play chess and write poetry, even if not epic. Others would play football and watch dramatized epics. But, within a generation, a comprehensive education newly open to all would create a population with a completely different outlook.

Some would not adjust but others would. Humanity changes its environment and adapts.

"'Even as things are, there isn't enough work to go around for the Ministers. That's why you see so many wastrels and so much politicking among them.'" (ibid.)

So even the high-IQ Ministers need an alternative. At least some members of that class would seek common cause with able Commoners to propose a different form of social organization and a different use of technology. Of course, we are to understand that the Technon has stabilized society for two millennia and that to overthrow it now would be to invite regression, not progress.

"'As for politics, our civilization today may be ossified, but it is at least stable, and the majority are content that it remain so. For the ordinary man, instability - change - means dislocation, war, uncertainty, misery, and death.'" (pp. 152-153)

The ordinary man thinks that if that is what he has been taught. But, if, as we are told, there is potential production of abundance, then there is no longer any reason why instability and change should mean war and misery - in fact the contrary.

"'Ruthless use of strength is the law of nature.'" (p. 65)

This sounds like 1984: "The purpose of power is power."

There would be no need to use strength if all needs were supplied free, any more than we currently fight for the air we breathe - but might if we were in a space station with only one oxygen cylinder left.

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