Friday, 25 September 2015

O Brave New World?

Poul Anderson, Harvest The Fire (New York, 1997).

Aldous Huxley's Savage would prefer the miseries of the conflicted old world to the pleasures of the dystopian New World. Huxley said in his later written Introduction that he should have offered his characters and readers a third choice, a small community dedicated to sanity.

In Harvest The Fire, a man called "Venator" (Latin for "Hunter") has been downloaded into the cybercosm but temporarily resurrected as:

"...a set of ongoing electrophotonic processes in a neural network that received its information through the sensors of the machine it walked in." (p. 61)

Venator reasonably asks:

"Who in their right minds would want a return of...?" (p. 63)

Here I will list the phenomena that Venator refers to:

rampant criminality;
cancerously swelling population;
necessity to work no matter how nasty or deadening the work might be;
mass lunacy;
private misery;
death in less than a hundred years.

I would regard a world freed from these evils as utopian, not dystopian. It would be an opportunity to learn, explore and create, not an occasion for indolence and boredom leading to suicide or extinction! Anderson's text implies that some of his characters are rightly discontented in this utopian scenario. Only when we learn that the cybercosm regards the actions of free human beings as a threat to itself do I start to agree with them.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I've been meaning to say something about your last paragraph. While I would be delighted if an advanced, high tech culture of the future eliminated many of the evils you listed, I simply don't think MOST people will take the opportunity to explore, learn, and create. Such persons have always, always, always been a minority among humans. Most people in such a scenario will not become scholars, pure philosophers, or refined, cultured aesthetes. Rather, the situation will, alas, most likely be what we described in "Quixote And The Windmill." Boredom, frustration, despair at feeling useless, etc., will be real problems. And saying "education" will resolve such dangers is too trite and simplistic.


  2. Sean,
    A transitional generation differs from later generations accustomed to a changed society. People work for a living because they are economically compelled to, not because their lives would be empty if they had instead been brought up to do something else.