Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Long Way Home Revisited

Recently, when discussing Poul Anderson's The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975), I argued that a massive IQ difference between two classes of a single society seemed implausible. I had forgotten that that society practices genetic engineering.

When Langley, an astronaut from 2047, which is now five thousand years in the past, remarks:

"'Where I come from...we'd learned better than to leave leadership to chance - and heredity is mighty chancy.'" (p. 32)

- he is reminded that the society that he is criticizing has genetic engineering. Thus, the hereditary Ministerial class is artificially selected for high IQ. But that makes nonsense of another claim made by apologists for the Technate social system. The abysmally low average IQ of Commoners is cited as an insuperable obstacle either to giving them the vote or to using technology to liberate them from work. They are supposed to be incapable either of participation in public policy making or of creative use of leisure. But we are to understand that the intelligence levels of future generations is something that can be controlled.

We are used to thinking that a ruling class will maintain its rule and will use any idea, including even the alleged stupidity of the Commons, to justify that continued rule. However, there is a difference in the Technate, where ultimate decision making has been handed over to an incorruptible computer, the Technon. Ministers implement the Technon's basic policies and make only the lesser day to day decisions themselves.
So why does the Technon not implement the greater good of humanity by liberating the population while raising its intelligence level? Because it has been programmed to maintain stability, not to liberate or improve humanity.

However, an external enemy has learned to manipulate the Technon's decisions by controlling the data inputted to the Technon so why have none of the Ministers learned to do this? Or have they and we just don't know about it?

We are assured that the Technon is "...a robot, a super-computer...", not "...a conscious brain..." or an artificially duplicated mind but we are also told that, within its limits, it thinks, reasons, exercises "[s]ome equivalent of creative imagination..." and is comparable to a child (p. 157). I am not sure that all of this language is fully consistent. An equivalent of creative imagination is not creative imagination but thought and childhood imply consciousness.

Sf authors are used to writing about, and we are used to reading about, a kind of future society that reflects historical and contemporary societies in which a technologically powerful elite rules a vigorous although subjugated subordinate class. The Long Way Home contains hints that something qualitatively different and better is possible.

There is a prayer, "Give me the courage to change what can be changed, the patience to accept what cannot be changed and the wisdom to know the difference." Technate society counts the nature of human beings among the "cannot be changed" although it contradicts this with genetic engineering. I count our nature among the "can be changed" - we exist as a species only because our pre-human ancestors began the task of changing their environment with hands and brain and changed themselves in the process. Thus, our "nature" is change, not anything unchanging.

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