Wednesday, 16 March 2016

"Witless Hordes"

In several of Poul Anderson's fictional futures, high technology maintains a large human population in comfort but raises questions about the meaning of life. This is a basic question addressed by science fiction.

In Jerry Pournelle's and SM Stirling's "The Children's Hour," Captain Jonah Matthieson, a Belter, thinks that flatlanders have nothing useful to do for most of their lives. Matthieson does something useful. In his small Dart spaceship, the UNSN Catskinner, he fights Kzinti Vengeful Slashers. (UN Darts sound like Terran Imperial Meteors.)

Matthieson thinks:

"Earth's witless hordes were of little help to Sol's military effort. Most of them were a mere drain on resources - not even useful as cannon fodder in a conflict largely fought in space." (Man-Kzin Wars II, p. 143)

It is understandable that a military man thinks like this. My response to Matthieson would be:

not all of the hordes are witless;
even the witless are human beings and can lead meaningful lives;
they are the people whom you are defending.

I think that a species like Larry Niven's kzinti or Poul Anderson's Merseians is highly implausible - aliens will be alien - but I certainly agree that mankind will have to be on its guard when there is First Contact. I CAN BE WRONG! (That needed to be written in capitals.) Questions about mass unemployment and the meaning of life have been discussed here before and will be again. In fact, I need to read more opinions differing from my own. Thank you to regular contributors. You know who you are.

8 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Commenting on the first sentence of your last paragraph. Why do you think it's so implausible for non humans to be as bellicose, quarrelsome, and aggressive as we humans? Since we humans are as we are, that should strengthen the view that other races might be no better.

    Ha! The capitalized "I CAN BE WRONG!" makes it plain you have both myself and David in mind. We have both of us expressed skepticism on whether a society free of want is possible or non human aliens are more likely to be friendly than not.

    Sean

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  2. Sean,
    Please believe me - I had myself in mind!
    Nothing so far in the Solar System or the universe has turned out as it was previously imagined so I apply this to aliens. We cannot generalize from a single instance.
    Paul.

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    1. Kaor, Paul!

      True, it can be imprudent to generalize from the single example of the human race. But I do think it's more likely than not that other races are no better than we are.

      Btw, these comments you made about "witless hordes" struck in a chord in my memory and I found similar phrases in Poul Anderson's works. The first, unrevised version of "Tiger By The Tail" has this near the beginning of Section III: "The witless hordes of humankind were more hindrance than help to the Empire." The revised version of the story has this in its place: "In contrast, unreckonable swarms of Imperial civilians in the target sector would be first hindrance, later hostage...and eventually contributory to the conqueror."

      But I do agree with the three points you made about these witless hordes! I would only stipulate that military people can often feel frustrated at how often they are unable to do what they KNOW needs to be done.

      Sean

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  3. Paul:
    "...aliens will be *alien*...." But there are many possible DEGREES of alienness, and it remains POSSIBLE that some would be close enough to human ways of thought for their motives and goals to be comprehensible even if not acceptable.

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    1. Hi, David!

      And I had occasion to recently quote how Poul Anderson made very similar statements in his works. Plus, if some aliens who came bath from terrestroid planets and are as aggressive as humans, then conflict between us and them is very likely!

      Sean

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    2. David,
      I will be very surprised if we encounter comprehensible aliens any time soon but you never know.
      Paul.

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  4. Paul:
    Letting PA speak for me....
    "'I dare not say what limits God has laid on His creating,' Rupert breathed."

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    1. David,
      I would not express this theistically but I do agree with the sentiment.
      Paul.

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