17MAY2018 – Quote of the Day

Heinlein was probably exclusively thinking of religion but the relevancy to the Left’s brand of politically correct propaganda is extremely obvious to me.

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creeds into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics.

Robert A. Heinlein

08MAY2018 – Quote of the Day

I grew up on this guy’s stuff.  We don’t see eye to eye on everything but he did get a lot of stuff right.  Plus he definitely was an American original.  In his novel “Friday” he represented the balkanization of North America.  I wonder whether he would be surprised by where we are today.  My guess, probably not.

There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.

Robert A. Heinlein

Heinlein – What Was He?

I’m a Heinlein fan.  That’s not to say I like everything he wrote.  I believe “I Will Fear No Evil” is remarkably bad.  I know of several other of his books that I don’t think very highly of.  But a lot of what he wrote, especially during his heyday was very good.  And comparing him to those writing at the time when he came on the scene it is striking how much better he was.

So why was that?  What made him so good?  First of all, I think Heinlein happened to be a very intelligent man.  Secondly, he was well educated and this included the fact that he had an upper middle-class upbringing that included good literature.  Thirdly, he had a decent work ethic.  Between these things he probably brought much more to the table than most of his peers.  And finally, I think he modelled his stories not on other science fiction authors but rather on successful authors in the wider literary world.  And I think this has been recognized for a long time.  Many years ago, I read some literary criticism that posited that Heinlein had taken Kipling’s British Raj and mapped it onto the Solar System or some such thing.  Another critic said that Heinlein created America as Science Fiction.  While I don’t think either of these premises are completely true I think they hint at the fact that Heinlein wanted to take science fiction out of its ghetto and make it interesting to the grown-ups.

And to a great extent, he succeeded.  Especially in his early future history stories, the feel is very much of a mid-twentieth-century American dynamism.  It combines wit, enthusiasm and confidence.  It belongs with such other products of the time as John Houston’s motion pictures The Maltese Falcon and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  He has turned the American Century into the source for his characters and their ethos.  And in some of his stories like Citizen of the Galaxy and Double Star, Heinlein did borrow some of the flavor of Kipling’s British Empire.

But really all this shows is that Heinlein wanted his stories to belong to the Anglo-American tradition of storytelling.  He recognized good work and he incorporated the spirit of the best works from his time and of the literary past that he enjoyed and projected them on the future.

Some might say that he thereby lacked originality.  This may be somewhat true.  But it is also universal.  Even James Joyce when he wrote his stream of consciousness in Ulysses is using Homer for his plot basis.  And to the extent that Ulysses is original it is also a failure as literature.  Every writer borrows from the past.  He has to.  As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.  The trick is making it new and making it your own.  I think Heinlein was well within fair usage.

Coming back to the question of what Heinlein was, I believe he was the right man at the right time.  He was an intelligent, literate American at just the moment in the American Century when science fiction was becoming mainstream and relevant to the culture.  Atomic bombs and space craft were crossing over from science fiction to front page headlines.  Science fiction readers were seeing their stories become respectable and even literary.  Legitimate periodicals included some of the more refined writers between the glossy covers.

Will we see his like again?  I would have to say no.  Not so much because he was some towering genius, but because the times have changed.  No one would mistake our present culture for 1930s America.  Even in the depths of the Great Depression there was an optimism and solidarity that just doesn’t exist anymore.  Authors today reflect that despair.  And maybe that is interesting to some, a sort of decline of the Roman Empire sensibility, but I don’t think it lends itself to good storytelling.  Even in the most realistic story I think you need something beyond fatalism and ennui.  Otherwise it feels like the story is not even worth your time to read.

But, of course, maybe a change is just around the corner and an American renaissance is on the horizon.  Well, if that’s the case, I better reread Green Hills of Earth.  Delilah and the Space Riggers?  Sure why not?

Back to the Future (Make That Back to Heinlein’s Future History)

Back in the nineteen-forties and –fifties Robert A Heinlein was writing his “Future History” stories about the time period that currently is the recent past. And on his very impressive chart somewhere between the beginning of space flight and the beginning of a theocratic dictatorship in the United States was a period around the nineteen sixties that he called the “Crazy Years.”  You get a flavor for what he meant in a story called “The Year of the Jackpot.”  In this story social mores were unravelling.  Women would spontaneously strip naked in public without knowing why they were doing it and transvestite men and women would challenge the authorities with prosecution for daring to notice that they were queer.  Whether Heinlein was truly prescient or whether he just detected the beginnings of the curve and extrapolated it to its outlandish extreme is unknown to me.  But obviously he was being cautious.  No kidding, the current events that greet each of us as we survey the contents of our daily purveyor of fake news is well beyond what would have passed for science fiction or parody a few decades ago.  States are suing the federal government to prevent it from ascertaining if a census form is being filled out by an illegal alien.  A “woman” who used to be a man is marrying “man” who used to be a woman and we are supposed to believe that somehow now a man will be giving birth to the child.  A porn actor is suing the President’s lawyer for defamation of character.  Does a porn actor even have a character that can be defamed?  We’ve been laughing at these insanities for decades but none of it has gone away or even slowed the march to the brink of insanity.  Heinlein’s theocratic dictatorship is looking less and less like a nightmare scenario and more and more like a really good idea.  I’m really starting to wonder how much worse Sharia Law would be than the current politically correct straight jacket we currently endure.  At least under it there are easily recognizable roles for the traditional individuals most of us remember as normal.

 

Heinlein later in his career wrote a sort of spy novel with a female replicant heroine called “Friday.” In that universe the United States and Canada had balkanized into a number of smaller states.  Some of the states mentioned are Brit-Can, Quebec, the Alaska Free State, the California Confederacy, the Republic of Texas, the Vegas Free State and the Chicago Imperium.  This later novel is significantly less optimistic than his earlier works.  I definitely don’t claim that Robert Heinlein was particularly more skilled as a prognosticator than any other seers around but I begin to see a rationale for separating from behavior that keeps trending not only farther and farther from normalcy but even begins closing in on suicidal.  I still hope that the path forward is the majority of Americans rejecting the progressivist nightmare that is currently unfolding and at the least restore the conditions needed to allow a functional society.  But I have to admit I’m starting to worry that the Alt-Right may not be just making up their apocalypse.  I better get my passport stamped for the Republic of Texas, or should that be the Vegas Free State?

25MAR2018 – Quote of the Day

Robert Heinlein used this poem as the inspiration of a science fiction story and included the poem in the text.

Requiem

Under the wide and starry sky

Dig the grave and let me lie:

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I laid me down with a will.

 

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:

Here he lies where he long’d to be;

Home is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

(written 1880)

Robert Louis Stevenson. 1850–1894

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a mathematician and securities trader who also waxes philosophical.  The last of his books that I am reading is entitled “The Bed of Procrustes.”  Now the title alone would guarantee I would want to know about it.  In Greek Mythology, Procrustes is one of those idiosyncratic monsters that the Hero, such as Heracles or as in this case Theseus must conquer in order to eliminate Chaos and promote civilization or something like that.  Freud made much soup from this sort of thing.

So, Procrustes had a bed that he let travelers sleep on at night.  The catch was that if the sleeper was shorter than the bed then Procrustes would stretch him to the correct size.  And if the sleeper was longer than the bed then he would trim him down to fit.  According to the story up until Theseus arrived the bed-sleeper length optimization procedure had been 100% fatal to the “sleeper.”  And when Theseus shows up he turns the tables (more furniture!) on Procrustes and performs a bed fitting exercise on him.

Taleb is using the metaphor of Procrustes Bed to represent how often in life humans look at situations from the wrong point of view.  And he returns to one of the oldest formats to address his subject, the aphorism or proverb or wise saying.

The Bed of Procrustes is one hundred and fifty-six pages long.  His other books like the “Black Swan” are four or five times as long.  His next book will be written on the back of a match book cover.  I approve of this trend.

I’ve started reading them.  Some of them are pretty good.  I’m comparing them to those other aphoristic writers Solomon, Confucious and Robert A. Heinlein (through the agency of his alter ego Lazarus Long).  The emphasis is different.  Taleb is talking about life from the point of view of a savvy operator not a philosopher or a saint.  He has more in common with Lazarus Long.  But there are many interesting observations and some of them are original in some aspect.  When I finish reading Procrustes Bed and do some comparison to his peers I’ll probably have more to say, but one thing that occurs to me is to put out a regular quote of the day (week?) from someone.  I’m sure it will make me appear wiser.  Here’s the first one:

“What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment.”

Shakespeare has Polonius declare that brevity is the soul of wit.  Polonius is a windbag so you have to wonder whether Old Will believed this statement or not.  But I find that, many times, less is decidedly more, especially when you’re under the gun to fit in blog posting into a busy day.  I see that many bloggers churn out a couple of thousand words in a post.  I like to put up about five hundred or so (and sometimes less).  I know everybody is busy nowadays and I don’t want to impose so let’s stop right here.