Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Comments On a Debate About The Future

A frequent feature of sf dystopias is an argument between a proponent and an opponent of the dystopia, e. g.:

1984 by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl and CM Kornbluth
"'Repent Harlequin,' Said The Ticktock Man" by Harlan Ellison

Robert Heinlein's dystopia is "If This Goes On -" but I don't think that that work does give a platform to any proponent of the theocracy?

I summarized an excellent argument of this sort from Poul Anderson's "The Sensitive Man" a couple of posts ago. In this case, however, Dalgetty defends not an existing dystopia but a projected utopia. In its early installments, the Psychotechnic History expresses optimism about the further future. The UN world government and its Un-men agents thwart attempts to revive nationalism and militarism. As we read further, however, we learn that the Psychotechnic Institute, advising the world government, and after that the Solar Union, cannot cope with the scale of technological unemployment. The Institute responds to increasing turmoil and opposition with unacceptable social manipulation and is outlawed.

Eventually, psychotechnicians do coordinate Galactic Civilization but that is tens of thousands of years later after two more Dark Ages and at least one slave-owning Empire. It sounds like real history: things might get better but not immediately. But, meanwhile, what do we think of Dalgetty's argument?

He explains that the Institute tries to change not just individuals or society but both. I agree with this approach. I used to get into arguments about whether society could be changed by changing individuals or vice versa but obviously it is possible, and urgently necessary, to work on both levels simultaneously.

Dalgetty argues that the Institute must work in secret. If I thought that they had a science of society as he describes it, then I would have to agree with him.

(Pause for food.)

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