Monday, 17 March 2014

Niyorek II

Poul Anderson, The Corridors Of Time (London, 1968).

Having condemned the Wardens, let us look back even-handedly at the Rangers whose technology, which could be used to educate and engage, is instead used to control and subordinate. Wells wrote utopias and dystopias. Anderson's account of Niyorek is in the Wellsian tradition of urban-industrial dystopias - or even the Orwellian tradition:

"...the outlines were brutal, bespeaking a spirit whose highest wish was the unrestrained exercise of unlimited power, forever." (p. 142)

That recalls 1984.

"The city went deep below ground, but only machines housed there, with a few armored engineers and a million convict attendants who did not live long amidst the fumes and radiation." (p. 143)

Technology can be made clean and its dangerous parts automated but here the fumes and radiation are maintained to dispose of the convicts.

"...a file of grey-clad men passed by, with one soldier for guard. Their heads were shaven and their faces dead. He knew them for convicted unreliables. Genetic control did not yet extend to the whole personality, nor was indoctrination always successful. That these men might be trusted among the machines down below, their brains had been seared by an energy field. More efficient would have been to automate everything, rather than use such labor; but object lessons were needed. Still more important was to keep the population busy." (pp. 144-145)

No, automate everything, end drudgery, use education, not indoctrination, to engage the population in remaking society. Do it gradually, if necessary, but do it.

"He reminded himself, somewhat wildly, that no state could long endure which had not at least the passive support of a large majority. But that was the final abomination. Nearly everyone here, on every level of society, took the Ranger's government for granted, could not imagine living in any other way, often enjoyed their existence." (p. 145)

Nearly everyone in every society takes current social arrangements for granted and cannot imagine living in any other way. Nowadays, this is, contradictorally, despite the great changes that they know have happened and will continue to happen. (I used to argue that the Berlin Wall could be pulled down and that Apartheid could be overthrown.) Society changes not, I think, when the majority starts to entertain alternative ideas but when their experience contradicts their expectations. Then, they question, act and become open to alternative ideas.

In Niyorek, or anywhere, those whose labor maintains the regime have the power to change it. The individual Director is, of course, individually powerless. His men have the physical ability to arrest or shoot him out of hand at any time but that does little good if they simply acknowledge a new Director.

A machine records every person in the western hemisphere. By thinking a code word at the mind scanner, Lockridge gets the machine to confirm a faked identity planted in the machine by Warden agents. Think what good such a machine could do if used not for political control but for public information and education.

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