Summary: People’s favorite fantasies don’t reveal what they’ll do, but provides a window into their thinking. Conservatives talk about the problem of the “takers” (ie, the “47%”). A famous science fiction author describes one solution in his best-selling books. Read and applaud!
A comment by Graydon at Brad DeLong’s website:
Jerry Pournelle’s Codominium stories from the early seventies used this idea as an explanation for social breakdown: economically parasitic non-working citizens, paid for by ever-shrinking numbers of taxpayers. It’s been around a long time as a just-so story.
Totally impervious to facts, too; neither pointing out that money is the creation of the state nor demonstrating just how brutally hard poor people tend to work will put a dent in it.
My take is that it’s not really economic at all; it’s an attempt to de-legitimize democracy as a political process, because democracy keeps getting the wrong answers.
Jerry Pournelle’s science fiction novels about Falkenberg’s Legion describe not just the problem of too many “takers” (the 47%, a shiftless amoral idle mob) but also a solution: mass murder. Millions read Pournelle’s stories and smile at the “happy” endings. And not just Pournelle. Apocalypse porn is popular on the Right, with mega-deaths leaving behind a purified world of the righteous, such as Larry Burkett’s Chirstian sci-fi novel Solar Flare (1997).
This should worry the rest of us, as evidence of the real polarization in American. More important and deeper than differences in economics or who gets to screw who. Here are excerpts from two examples by Pournelle that illustrate the two Americas that uneasily coexist today.
(1) The opening to “The Mercenary” (Analog, July 1972; later reprinted in his books) describing a world (“Hadley”) being ruined by the takers. It’s an obvious analogy to the USA of today.
“No, we’re not much industrialized,” Vice-President Banners continued. “At first there wasn’t any need to develop basic industries. The mines made everyone rich, so rich we imported everything we needed. The farmers sold fresh food to the miners for enormous prices. Refuge was a service-industry town. People who worked here could soon afford farm animals, and they scattered out across the plains, into the forest. Those people didn’t want industry, they’d come here to escape it.
Then some blasted CoDominium bureaucrat read the ecology reports about Hadley. The Population Control Bureau in Washington decided this was a perfect world for involuntary colonization. The ships were coming here for the thorium anyway, so instead of luxuries and machinery they were ordered to carry convicts. Hundreds of thousands of them, Colonel Falkenberg. For the last ten years, it’s been better than 50,000 people a year dumped in here.”
“And you couldn’t support them all,” John said carefully.
“No, sir.” Banners’ face tightened. He seemed to be fighting tears. “Every erg the fusion generators can make has to go into basic protocarb just to feed them. These weren’t like the original colonists. They didn’t know anything, they wouldn’t do anything … oh, not really, of course. Some of them work. Some of our best citizens are transportees. But there were so many of the other kind.”
“Why didn’t you let ’em work or starve?” Sargeant Major Calvin asked bluntly. Falkenberg gave him a cold look, and the sergeant nodded slightly, sank back into his seat.
“Because the CD wouldn’t let us!” Banners shouted. “Damn it, we didn’t have self-government. CD Bureau of Relocation people told us what to do, ran everything …”
“We know,” Falkenberg said gently. “We’ve seen the results of Humanity League influence over BuRelock. My sergeant-major wasn’t asking you a question, he was expressing an opinion. I’m surprised though—won’t your farms support the urban population?”
“They should, sir.” Banners drove in grim silence for long moments. “But there’s no transportation. The people are here, and most of the agricultural land is 500 miles inland. There’s arable land closer, but it isn’t cleared … our settlers wanted to get away from Refuge and BuRelock. We have a railroad, but bandit gangs keep blowing it up, so we can’t rely on Hadley’s produce to keep Refuge alive. With about a million people on Hadley, half of them are crammed into this one ungovernable city.”
They were approaching an enormous bowl-shaped structure attached to a massive square stone fortress. Falkenberg inspected the buildings carefully, then asked what they were.
“Our stadium,” Banners replied. There was no pride in his voice now. “The CD built it for us. We’d rather have had a new fusion plant, but we got a stadium that can hold a hundred thousand people. For recreation. We have very fine sports teams and racehorses,” he added bitterly.
“The Mercenary” has a happy ending — at least some will see it as such. The mob’s leaders (commies, leftists) and their followers gather in the stadium; Falkenberg’s troop blow them away.
Falkenberg raised the speaker again. “PREPARE FOR VOLLEY FIRE. MAKE READY. TAKE AIM. IN VOLLEY, FIRE!”
Seven hundred rifles crashed as one. “FIRE!” Someone screamed, a long drawn-out cry, a plea without words. “FIRE!”
The line of men clambering up the seats toward them wavered and broke. Men screamed, some pushed back, dove under seats, tried to hide behind their friends, tried to get anywhere but under the unwavering muzzles of the rifles.
“FIRE!” It was like one shot, very loud, lasting far longer than a rifle shot ought to, but it was impossible to hear individual weapons. “FIRE!” There were more screams from below. “In the name of God—”
“THE FORTY-SECOND WILL ADVANCE. FIX BAYONETS. FORWARD, MOVE. FIRE. FIRE AT WILL.” Now there was a continuous crackle of weapons. The leather-clad lines moved forward and down, over the stadium seats, flowing down inexorably toward the press below on the field. “Sergeant Major!”
“Marksmen and experts will fall out and take station. They will fire on all armed men.”
“Sir!” Calvin spoke into his communicator. Men dropped out of each section and took position behind seats. They began to fire, carefully but rapidly. Anyone below who raised a weapon died. The regiment advanced onward.
Hamner was sick. The screams of wounded could be heard everywhere. God, make it stop, make it stop, he prayed,
“GRENADIERS WILL PREPARE TO THROW.” Falkenberg’s voice boomed from the speaker. “THROW!” A hundred grenades arched out from the advancing line. They fell into the milling crowds below. The muffled explosions were masked by screams of terror. “IN VOLLEY, FIRE!”
The regiment advanced until it made contact with the mob. There was a brief struggle. Rifles fired, and bayonets flashed red. The line halted but momentarily. Then it moved on, leaving behind a ghastly trail.
Men and women jammed in the Stadium exits. Others frantically tried to get out, clambering over the fallen, tearing women out of their way to push past, trampling each other in their scramble to escape. There was a rattle of gunfire from outside. Those in the gates recoiled, to be crushed beneath others trying to get out.
“You won’t even let them out!” Hamner screamed at Falkenberg.
“Not armed. And not to escape.” The Colonel’s face was hard and cold, the eyes narrowed to slits. He watched the slaughter impassively, looking at the entire scene without expression.
“Are you going to kill them all?”
“All who resist.”
“But they don’t deserve this!” George Hamner felt his voice breaking. “They don’t!”
“No one does, George. SERGEANT MAJOR!”
“Half the marksmen may concentrate on the leaders now.”
“SIR!” Calvin spoke quietly into his command set. The snipers concentrated their fire on the Presidential box across from them. Centurions ran up and down the line of hidden troops, pointing out targets. The marksmen kept up a steady fire.
The leather lines of armored men advanced inexorably. They had almost reached the lower tier of seats. There was less firing now, but the scarlet-painted bayonets flashed in the afternoon sun. Another section fell out of line and moved to guard a tiny number of prisoners at the end of the Stadium. The rest of the line moved on, advancing over seats made slick with blood. When the regiment reached ground level their progress was slower. There was little opposition, but the sheer mass of people in front of them held up the troopers. There were a few pockets of active resistance, and flying squads rushed there to reinforce the line. More grenades were thrown. Falkenberg watched the battle calmly, and seldom spoke into his communicator. Below, more men died.
A company of troopers formed and rushed up a stairway on the opposite side of the Stadium. They fanned out across the top. Then their rifles leveled and crashed in another terrible series of volleys.
Suddenly it was over. There was no opposition. There were only screaming crowds. Men threw away weapons to run with their hands in the air. Others fell to their knees to beg for their lives. There was one final volley, then a deathly stillness fell over the Stadium. But it wasn’t quiet, Hamner discovered. The guns were silent, men no longer shouted orders, but there was sound. There were screams from the wounded. There were pleas for help, whimpers, a racking cough that went on and on as someone tried to clear punctured lungs.
(2) Prince of Sparta (1993) is the triumphant conclusion to the Falkenberg Legion stories. The militia of Spartan citizens, supported by good soldiers, fight the Helot mob (men and women).
A sound interrupted him, a high-pitched shrieking from further down the street to the north, back along their path. Then a scatter of running figures; they were pushing a handcart before them, with a uniformed Spartan wired to the front of it and a thicker mob behind. The uniform was on fire, and the mob behind fell on the Spartan wounded in the street below the Marine position with clubs and tools and bayoneted rifles. More screams rose, and the flood of ragged humanity spilled over to the building.
This story too also has a happy ending, as the good guys win.
“The Helots are defeated. More than defeated. Annihilated for the most part.”
Note that many of Pournell’s novels have an almost explicit Marxist framework, except that the proletariat loses in them. They’re written from the perspective of the capitalism overclass and the officers of their army. Also, as Graydon said, they applaud non-democratic — even artistocratic — governments.
We might have a stronger Left if more people read works like Pournelle’s, watched Fox News, and read the Washington Times. Understanding the other side might dispel the apathy among the broken shards of liberal America.
For More Information
Other posts about science fiction:
- The Singularity is in our past
- Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal — Full Metal Alcemist
- Generals read Ender’s Game and see their vision of the future Marine Corps
- The little-known dark side of Ender’s Game
- Will the Taliban Give us a Taste of Armageddon?
- Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror created by the conflict with Iran — Science fiction gives us a different perspective
- How do our leaders see us? Don the shoes of the 1%. Look down on the 99%. Describe the view. – About The House of the Stag