Saturday, 2 November 2013

A Debate About The Future

From Poul Anderson's "The Sensitive Man" (The Psychotechnic League, New York, 1981), a summary -

Dalgetty: The way to oppose a political opponent is to change the conditions under which he must work.
Elena: Change them to what?
Dalgetty: A sane world.
Elena: Maybe I agree with your opponent.
Dalgetty: Libertarian government has always broken down because there have not been enough people intelligent, alert and tough enough to resist the encroachments of power on liberty. The Psychotechnic Institute is trying to create such a citizenry and to build a society which produces such people but this will take more than three centuries.
Elena: You want to remake the world to your ideal whether they like it or not.
Dalgetty: The process will make them like it.
Elena: That is a worse tyranny...You are using your psychotechnic knowledge secretly instead of sharing it.
Dalgetty: We have to. Otherwise, people would resist what we are doing.
Elena: You are a clique of about a hundred.
Dalgetty: Our numbers are bigger than that.
Elena: It is the dictatorship of the intellectuals.
Dalgetty: We had to decide whether to destroy, publish or use our new knowledge. We know that freedom is metastable, not natural. Our opponent would use psychotechnics to make people want to end freedom and his goal is more easily attainable. Publishing our findings would lead to a war for control of the mind. That conflict would end in an undefeatable psychotechnic dictatorship.
Elena: You could inform the present government.
Dalgetty: Too risky.
Elena: How do you know the Institute won't become an oligarchy?
Dalgetty: I don't but it is improbable. We indoctrinate our recruits. Meanwhile, society is being modified. Critical thinking rejects propaganda.
Elena: The world is big and unpredictable.
Dalgetty: We take that chance.


  1. Hi, Paul!

    And my view is that the way to prevent any group of people from setting up a worldwide dictatorship today is for mankind to simply GET OFF this rock called Earth. The dispersal of mankind to the Moon, Mars, Venus, asteroid belt, etc., will mean the rise of entire new nations and societies. That alone, in my view, would make it impossible for any ideological dictatorship to corral all humanity into an inevitably brutal one size fits all straitjacket of a socio/political system. ESP. if the expansion into the solar system opens the way to the stars. That would definitely make it impossible to force all mankind into one system.


  2. Dear Sean,

    One may hope, but it occurs to me that a space station or a dome on the Moon would necessarily have little internal elbow room and strict rules about some things, and would be vulnerable to outright dictatorship (if someone seizes the power generator or the water supply, for example). If the discontented don't have spacecraft of their own to reach an alternative habitation hundreds of miles away across an airless desert, or millions of miles away through open space, they'd be stuck with whatever the local government chooses to do.

    That wouldn't be dictatorship over the whole human race, perhaps, but might become one, if the rulers of the space station had the advantage of high ground, and could inform the people of Earth that they must obey or have large rocks dropped on them, or a microwave power beam turned to military use. Gregory Benford wrote a story about that kind of thing, IIRC.


    1. Hi, Nicholas!

      Thanks for your interesting comments. You have raised a valid point, the bit about LOCAL dictatorships possibly arising in some of the new off Earth colonies. I would argue that the way to balance or nullify the threat you mentioned would be for Earthbound gov'ts to have their own orbital stations which could be used to attack the kind of threat you mentioned before too much harm could be done.

      AS so often, Poul Anderson touched on similar ideas in some of his works. Two examples from his Psychotechnic series being "The Big Rain" and "Cold Victory." The former shows a localized dictatorship which had seized power in the new Venusian colony. The Solar Union feared a breakaway Venus colony would be a long term threat and infiltrated an agent into it to instigate subversive activities. And in the latter we see a Naval fleet commanded by an admiral loyal to the Humanist regime threatening to bombard Earth unless anti Humanist rebels surrendered.

      But I still would argue for the need and desirability of off Earth colonies being founded. My view is that MOST would be too busy becoming firmly established and expanding operations into other parts of the Solar System (or even reaching for the stars by either STL or FTL means) to care much about the politics of Earth.

      This is a good opportunity to mention a point I raised at John C. Wright's blog. My view is that one reason why many people will eventually leave Earth to join or found new colonies would be for political or religious malcontents leaving to escape persecution or oppression by regimes hostile to them. We see Poul Anderson suggesting exactly that in ORBIT UNLIMITED.

      Thanks again! Sean

  3. Hi,
    I am back from a couple of days without the laptop and have more to say about the Polesotechnic History but I also have a Latin class today!
    I don't think Venus is terraformable? And it might be a long time before a Martian colony could become self-sufficient? I go with Niven's idea that colonized asteroids or just artificial orbiting habitats might be a better bet.
    I want to see human beings settled off Earth because I think we are too vulnerable to many potential catastrophes living on just one planet.
    But we are also likely to spread conflict and destruction through the Solar System unless we get what Dalgetty calls "a sane world" in the meantime. I think we are still collectively immature.

    1. Hi, Paul!

      First, I agree that natural catastrophes like the Earth getting smacked by a dino killer asteroid is plenty good enough a reason for getting off this rock and founding colonies elsewhere. Robert Heinlein wrote something to the effect that it's FOOLISH to persist in keeping all our eggs in only one basket!

      Second, I don't think Venus is necessarily forver unterraformable. Jerry Pournelle in his article "The Big Rain" (a title deliberately copied from Anderson's story of the same name) argued for ways and means on how Venus could be terraformed. I urge interested readers to look it up in Pournelle's collection A STEP FARTHER OUT.

      Third, I am skeptical, as was Poul Anderson himself, that mankind will ever be as "mature" as Dalgetty would like us to be. I know Paul does not agree, but I trace that lack of "maturity" to us being a FALLEN race prone to sin and error.


  4. I am glad to learn that Dr Pournelle thinks that Venus might be salvageable!
    I have more to write about this Debate about the Future.

    1. Hi, Paul!

      Altho old, Dr. Pournelle's book A STEP FARTHER OUT is still relevant because so little of what he discussed in that book has been tried that we don't know what would work or not work. This is one book I strongly recommend you get.

      And in "Strange Bedfellows," Poul Anderson even speculated about terraforming the MOON. And some gentlemen to whom I sent relevant quotes from that story even told me it MIGHT actually be do able.