Wednesday, 19 April 2017

"Memory" II

Poul Anderson's "Memory" makes a basic point about humanity. The brain cannot be separated from muscles, veins, viscera, skin, blood, lungs and bones. The organism is whole. For five years, Wanen had lived the biologically sound life of an Islander. When those memories were removed and his original memories restored, his brain forgot that he had been an Islander but his body remembered what it had been like to be an Islander. That was enough to make him rebel against the inhumanity, indeed the antihumanity, of the Hegemony.

There is another point. The expert who monitored Wanen's mental states suspected this but did nothing about it. He also was deviant. As he himself quotes, "'Who shall watch the watchmen?'" (p. 42) (see here)

When I remembered the story, I made a comparison between Wanen's realization that he is not who he thinks he is but an interstellar explorer and the meditative realization that I am not a separate self but one with the universe. However, the point of the story is that it is the biological memory of Torrek's way of life that is more fundamental than Wanen's identity as a unit of the Hegemony.

15 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    While I agree the way of life Torrek/Wanen came to know on Maanerek was "biologically sound," it would have been simpler to say society and life on Maanerek was freer and BETTER than was to be found in the Hegemony.

    Sean

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, but it's better because it accords more closely with basic human physiological and psychological needs, IMHO.

    That's a fairly early work of Poul's -- I don't think the Hegemony would be very stable. There are limits to how far you can push a dystopic situation before it self-destructs. I was testing those limits with the Domination stories as a thought-experiment.

    Eg., High Stalinism was so bad that in 1939 Stalin had his census officials shot because they (accurately) showed that the population of the USSR was falling. It was failing the basic societal test of reproduction.

    -Somebody-, and usually some substantial group of people, has to be satisfied with the way things are run; and a larger share have to have some elements of basic physical/psychic needs satisfied most of the time. It's not just that if this doesn't happen people revolt; it's that they lose the will to live, even if they -can't- revolt, and perish from sheer misery or the failure of the basic degree of altruism necessary for family formation.

    The classic totalitarian states of the 30's and 40's in Europe (or rather later in Asia) would have, if they had persisted, had to 'decompress' for this reason.

    Which is what happened to the USSR; after Beria was shot, the nomenklatura agreed not to kill each other over power struggles any more, and broke up the Gulag. The system decayed into a "merely" oppressive one.

    I suspect the same would have happened to the National Socialists, or they'd have imploded completely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have been thinking about this a long time and I have come to similar conclusion. Brutality is not the worst I think, but unpredictability in combination with brutality I think its the biggest weakness of totalitarian monster states. A brutal regime in itself is not unstable, its the unpredictability that makes people mentally sick, unproductive and inflexible and also tends to make the top administration paralyzed by fear of murder by their fellow men. This type of society lacks any formal social rules except strength and informal fast changing ones.

      Smart dictators try to make their regime legitimate for their own self preservation and for their children and relatives. They therefore introduce limitation by some type of rule by law and strengthening of social customs.

      I have relatives from Spain and I think Franco was one of the "smart" dictators. He knew his limitation and tried to legitimatize his rule. He murdered one of my relatives but not his wife or children. Wives and children was generally not touched and Jews and other minorities where not generally maltreated as long as they didn't actively oppose him.

      He succeeded by dying peaceful in bed and Spain did get a fairly painless transition to a more representative form of government.

      I am also grateful to Khrushchev & company for their insight and sense of self-preservation that enabled them to reform Soviet from Stalin's psychopathic state to a merely oppressive society.

      The funny thing about Putin is that I believe he has been digging his own hole and it will be his grave. He has been so totally ignoring written and unwritten rules that he is in a position where he can't resign in peace and must be quite desperate. Probably there will be social strife when power shift in Russia - something I find tragic because while Russian culture is somewhat primitive and also has many bad aspect its not totally rotten and could be reformed.

      From what I have read from your book The Peshawar Lancers your view of the Russian culture even more negative even if I think you did exaggerate it to increase the shock factor - the same you did with your draka books.

      P.S I love the Easter egg in one of your General Series books with the reference to Martin Padaway and the book "Lest Darkness Fall"

      Delete
    2. Hi, Jesse!

      Many thanks for contributing some very interesting thoughts, some of which I think I can agree with.

      I actually discussed Francisco Franco and his rule of Spain in one of my letters to Poul Anderson. If I'm remembering correctly, I wondered if Franco could be considered one of John K. Hord's "conversion tyrants" whose rule so changed their countries it took off into new courses. Mr. Anderson was more skeptical of that idea but did give Franco credit for so arranging matters that Spain was able to peacefully become a constitutional monarchy after his death.

      While I give Nikita Khruschev SOME credit for "reforming" the USSR into a merely oppressive, rather than a psychopathic regime after Stalin's death, that's not really much of a commendation.

      I do think you are right about Putin. His methods and manner of governing Russia is not going to benefit her, esp. after Putin leaves power (however that happens). Post Soviet Russia is a corrupt and thuggish kleptocracy with precious little legitimacy and respect for the rule of law.

      I would argue that the grotesque Tsarist Russia we see in Stirling's THE PESHAWAR LANCERS became like that due to the shock and horror of the Fall. If the Russians had not fallen into the worship of Satan, and sacrificing human beings (and eating them) to the Peacock Angel, I don't think it would have been any worse than her neighbors.

      Darn! I've read Drake/Stirling's THE GENERAL series more than once and I never noticed the allusion to L. Sprague De Camp and his LEST DARKNESS FALL.

      Sean

      Delete
    3. Its in the book 3, page 152 to quote the passage: "Your mightiness, the inventor and newsletter producer Martini of Pedden..." this has to be Martin Padway :-)

      Delete
    4. Hi, Jesse!

      Many thanks! When I have more time I will be looking up book 3 of THE GENERAL for the passage you quoted.

      Sean

      Delete
    5. Hi, Jesse!

      I looked up the text you cited from Volume 3 of THE GENERAL, and I can now see why it reminded you of Martin Padway, from L. Sprague De Camp's classic LEST DARKNESS FALL. Darn, I keep MISSING these allusions!

      Sean

      Delete
  3. Mr Stirling,
    I remember Tony Cliff, unorthodox Trotskyist author of STATE CAPITALISM IN RUSSIA, speaking in Lancaster. A Communist Party member tried to argue that the USSR and its satellites still had potential. Cliff replied that workers vote with their feet. "They try to get out of there..."
    Paul.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Draka History is an admirable thought experiment. Having its author discuss these issues here is something else.

      Delete
    2. Not something else besides admirable, I hope... 8-). (Just kidding.)

      Delete
    3. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Many thanks for commenting at such length on my remarks.

      I agree with your first paragraph. Since I believe God is real I would have added that a sound society also makes room for those who believe in at least the supernatural. "Memory" is a rather old story by Poul Anderson, so we don't see in it how he showed, as he did in later stories, the religions the people in those stories followed.

      Second paragraph. I agree, EXTREME tyranny is unstable in the long term. Your Draka series interested me in particular because it showed us INTELLIGENT tyrants who managed to set up a long lasting regime without them compromising their "principles."

      Fourth paragraph, yes, a reasonably large proportion of a society's population has to be somewhat satisfied with how their needs are being if they are to even have families.

      The brutal one child only policy of Maoist China, coupled with compulsory abortion for those trying to have more than one child has been a disaster for China. The regime seems to have finally cancelled this policy, but its effects will linger for decades.

      While I agree the late, unlamented USSR "decayed" into a merely oppressive regime after Stalin died and Beria was shot, the bad effects of that oppression should not be minimized too far. Altho scaled back, the Gulags continued to exist, after all. State

      Delete
    4. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish my comment immediately above before I had to upload it. I intended my last sentence to read: "State control of the the Soviet economy continued to be as corrupt, incompetent, and wasteful as ever."

      Sean

      Delete
  4. Migration is a 'push-pull' phenomenon. There are all sorts of reasons for upping and moving; pushes like persecution, pulls like cheaper land, higher wages, or greater personal freedom. It wasn't unknown for people to deliberately commit crimes punishable by transportation to get a free passage to Australia, for example, which was frustrating for the authorities.

    A friend of mine mentioned once that his Finnish great-grandparents moved to Minnesota because it was much like Finland without the drawbacks, like getting conscripted to fight for the Czar.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Ha! I remember Mike Havel thinking or saying something like that. I mean Minnesota reminding his Finnish immigrant forebears of their former country.

      I might well be wrong, but I thought the Tsarist Grand Duchy of Finland enjoyed an unusual degree of autonomy within the Tsarist empire. Including having a say in how much Finland would contribute to the Tsarist Army.

      Sean

      Delete