Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Liberation Dynamic

"You cannot free a slave; he has to do it himself. And you cannot enslave a free man; the most you can do is kill him." [Robert A. Heinlein, Double Star]

The dean of modern science fiction believed the above with all his heart and the soul in whose existence he refused to believe. He had ample reason.

Yes, Fran's in one of those moods again.

When I write fiction, which I still do, I write heroes: real heroes, the sort who defined and were defined by the term before the rise of televised sports. In fact, it's most of my reason for writing fiction at all -- and it's apparently what most of my happier readers like best about my books. Just yesterday, a grateful reader wrote to say this:

I was particularly struck by the comparisons of the very best and the very worst that people could be -- with shades in between. I also appreciated the depiction that -- with the right guidance -- people could change. Louis tutoring the admin assistant (whose name I can't recall) before his departure from OA was a brilliant example of this). By counter point, it was also an accurate depiction of how coddling certain groups (by way of affirmative action and other such social programs) harms people and degrades their ability to be productive (I think Duyen had posted something along those lines way back -- help can cripple or kill you).

That was highly gratifying to read, to say the least. People need heroes. They need models to emulate -- figures about whom to ask "What would he do in this situation?" But the great danger involved in using a fictional character as a model is that his strengths and assets are likely to be greater than the case of my protagonists, usually a lot greater.

That's one of the reasons a deus ex machina motif is so deplorable. I have in mind the variation in which the protagonist, confronted with a fresh and formidable challenge, suddenly manifests a new power which, from the previous course of the story, no reader could have suspected that he possesses. One of science fiction's all-time greats, the late Roger Zelazny, fell into this trap in one of his (otherwise) finest stories, "A Rose For Ecclesiastes." (If you haven't read it, please do so; it's more than worth your time. If you have but aren't sure to what story event I'm referring, it's Gallinger's fight with Ontro, "the fist of Malann," in which he suddenly reveals that he's a brown belt in karate.)

Please don't misunderstand me: the culture, especially its fictional and dramatic components, is exceedingly important and must be fought for; I cited Fred Reed's essay to that effect just yesterday. But real-life heroism is immensely more motivating than the fictional sort, which is why this episode has stimulated so much adulation for its unnamed protagonist.

Yet a sufficiently attractive hero can galvanize popular sentiment and put people into motion. Surely Ayn Rand hoped for something of that sort from Atlas Shrugged. Her protagonists were certainly heroic enough. Indeed, it's possible that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis hoped something of the sort would flow from their magnificent fictional heroes. A negative case, from which we've suffered ever since, is Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward.

So I write heroes...and from time to time, I allow one or a gaggle of them to strike a serious blow for freedom. But I don't deceive myself that they alone will manage to inspire a pro-freedom upheaval in the latter days of these United States. I merely hope that their adventures will entertain, and that the themes expressed in their convictions and actions will spread to persons who haven't yet embraced the ways of freedom as the natural right of all men.

But in the long run, the Heinlein quote above is far more imperative. To win freedom is always to win it for oneself. No man can free others without their active cooperation...certainly not others who wear their fetters willingly, or who are unaware that they wear them at all.

The great Gregory Benford, a brilliant thinker long recognized as one of science fiction's finest writers, noted a distressing progression in the tides of freedom and bondage in his book Against Infinity. He put it into the mouth of a socialist:

"Every civilization up until now has evolved because of internal contradictions -- conflicts within it that forced change. Capitalism proceeded by contradiction to produce socialism -- it was inevitable....

"The Marxists thought that under socialism, alienation and class warfare would stop....The administrators faced a problem Marxism never discussed: how well socialism works. What is the good of being exactly equal to everybody else, if that means you have to be poor?...

"So to stop socialism from sinking into the mud, the bureaucrats had to promote expansion -- off-planet, out into the system. But socialism is an historical necessity that arises when you get a certain density of population. Once people spread out....

"And therein lies the true comedy....You see, the Marxists always assumed that the next step would complete the cycle of contradiction and change. It is so amusing! Because they could imagine no further change beyond socialism, they assumed -- without thinking -- that there would be none. They didn't notice that the dialectical model predicts no Final Revolution....There is instead an equilibrium between the two forms. So we get humankind -- with refined, humanitarian socialism in the older, crowded core. And capitalism sprouting up like weeds at the edge."

The above sermonette from a socialist true believer -- not Dr. Benford, merely one of his characters -- is both consistent with history and utterly false-to-fact about the actual dynamic involved:

  • There are no internal contradictions in capitalism; what powers the drive toward socialism is the combination of envy and power lust.
  • Expansion occurs through the impulse to flee tyranny, not from wise administrators realizing that "capitalism at the edge" will help to keep "socialism in the core" from collapsing. The masters of socialist states don't garrison their borders to keep people out, but in.
  • While socialism's degree of penetration does correlate with population density -- note how much more centralized and rigidified city life is than suburban or rural life -- it doesn't spring from "refinement" or "humanitarianism," but rather from the greater ease of controlling a densely packed population, and the incentive that causes power-lusters to move toward toward zones of higher population density.

The distressing thing about it all is that the real dynamic produces the sort of progression described by Dr. Benford's character quite as reliably as the false ones the character promotes. Those who yearn for freedom and are willing to pay the necessary price will flee from socialist tyranny whenever the possibility exists, leaving the "older, crowded core" still more socialistically inclined, but the lands beyond the frontier ever more oriented toward freedom.

But what happens when the frontier is closed? What possibilities for renewed freedom remain when powerful governments control every square inch of habitable land and cannot be prevented from tightening their grip on all who live within their reach?

I was of two minds when I wrote Which Art In Hope. I prefer a "happy" ending, but of the modern style, in which a genuinely heroic protagonist wins the day but pays a substantial price in doing so. I gave Armand that ending, but with many a tear for what he had to sacrifice to get there. In Freedom's Scion and Freedom's Fury, I continued along that high-thematic course, repeatedly forcing Armand's brilliant, superpowerful granddaughter Althea into situations in which she would have to pay great prices, accept heavy burdens, and suffer reaving losses to attain her ends, despite her many unique assets of body, mind, and soul. The overarching idea is simple:

Nothing a good person wants can be had for free.
Indeed, the things we value most will carry the highest prices of all.

This is an eternal verity, one of those nasty, unsparing natural laws Congress can neither repeal nor modify. A writer who tries to repeal it for the sake of his fiction will get his fingers badly burned in the attempt. (Possibly his books, too.) And for that reason, it's embedded in human sociodynamics. We who want freedom must be prepared to pay for it, to shoulder its burdens, and to accept the accompanying pains.

In other words, we can't have freedom without fighting for it or fleeing toward it.

Just now, there are no attainable frontiers where the prevailing conditions will sustain Terrestrial life. Perhaps there will be at some point in the future: when private enterprise develops new technologies that will make for extra-Terrestrial colonies, or undersea communities. But the Terrestrial land frontier is closed, and given the immense coercive powers wielded by contemporary governments will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.

America is sliding rather swiftly toward socialism of the Obamunist variety: social fascism, in which laws and regulations strip the rights away from all property while leaving title nominally in private hands. Whether the tide can be reversed is unclear. Whether some political hero can bring it about single-handedly is highly dubious, if not impossible on general principles.

Some Americans claim to be willing to fight -- to risk "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" -- to obtain a freer society. All I can say about that is that no one is doing so just yet. Others, perhaps many others, would be willing to flee to a freer place if one were available. But at this time, there is no such place. What, then, must we do?

We must respect the dynamic.
We must be swift about recognizing and condemning envy.
We must be even swifter and harsher about recognizing and condemning power-lust.
Above all, each man must know his personal limits: what prices, burdens, and agonies he's willing to accept.

All else is folly.


FrozenPatriot said...

Francis, thank you, thank you, thank you for putting finger to key to share your intellect and passions for liberty and God. I've been reading here for almost a year and have formed a great appreciation for your work. This piece, however, has struck home more than any in memory. Upon reading the opening quote, I was immediately inspired to email it to my circle of "freedom junkies" but couldn't resist sending it without comment. My thoughts are appended below, but first I must answer your charge:

"Some Americans claim to be willing to fight -- to risk "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" -- to obtain a freer society. All I can say about that is that no one is doing so just yet."

Respectfully, what of Bunkerville? ...or those quietly assisting ranchers along our southern border (not the ones currently threatening to stop legal international traffic)? What of those who have taken to arms, whose shots were intended to be heard 'round the world by awakened free men? Surely it must have happened by now; why haven't we heard of it? The "public officials" surrounding these cases could have received notarized, registered letters plainly communicating their motive: fighting tyranny and its present-day redcoats, yet they'd exclaim, "We aren't sure why this crazed shooter would target noble public officials with scary guns." The self-appointed masters have to know by now that a growing number of their perceived slaves are acutely and increasingly agitated, and will go to great lengths to keep from broadcasting any word of an uprising. Our public "servants" and their media co-conspirators will reliably impugn and malign a fighting patriot to the highest degree in order to squelch similar ambitions in the hearts of we-the-frogs who are awake to a heating kettle. We watch for Paul Revere with fists clenched in righteous anger, yet he is nowhere to be found. Any resistance to tyranny, if it is to be successful -- let alone know about -- must be accompanied by communication, if not coordination. Do channels exist for such communication? Can there be broad communication among patriots without fear of infiltration and tampering by those we yearn to defeat? In the age of the all-seeing eye of Mordor-on-the-Potomic, answering these questions seems tricky.

FrozenPatriot said...

"You cannot free a slave; he has to do it himself. And you cannot enslave a free man; the most you can do is kill him." -Robert A. Heinlein

That has so many applications...
Consider just our nation's current trajectories of welfare self-enslavement (individual and corporate) and our policy makers' increasing willingness to ignore the law, and their desire to consider us as tax and regulation slaves, and where these inevitably lead. A great strain of imagination is not required to picture ourselves, with our families, in our lifetime, facing the rarely contemplated choice of "liberty or death". I suppose it all depends on the degree of suffering we're willing to bear. Unfortunately, "all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." (I never understood the words between "despotism" and "it is their right" until just now...they apply stunningly well to today) Almost daily, I contemplate whether our families, friends, and neighbors could find the courage to live as truly free (self-governed) men and women, with duties embraced and consequences damned, or if instead, they would rather ignore (willfully or ignorantly) the choice altogether and continue society's designed creeping descent into enslavement. We once chose to throw off the chains of despots; could we muster the strength to do it again? Is liberty esteemed by our generation enough to act, with violent resolve if necessary, to preserve it?

Francis W. Porretto said...

With regard to your first comment, FP, you have a good point. In my defense, what I had in mind was not local opposition to localized oppressions, but rather the sort of wide-scale resistance to tyranny that could become a revolution. But there are other valid lenses through which to view the matter, as you have suggested.