Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”     Voltaire

June 19, 2006

Democracy, Stability, and Science Fiction

by Chris

A very common conceit in fantasy and SF, is the “time traveller gets stuck in the past and builds an ideal society”, and it has been through the entire history of the genre going back a few hundred years. In fact I think the very first SF/F book I ever read was “A Connetticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court” by Mark Twain. It’s absolutely iconic of this type of SF/F.

Anyway, theres a good reason for the popularity of the type, in that it makes a good story. Theres just remendous potential for exploration, and it engages the authors mind and passions, which although it can degenerate into wankerism, can also produce amazing things.

Even more so, it engages the readers mind (assuming they are an engineer type, social, political, or hard sciences oriented) in similar pursuit. I dont think theres a group of geeks, gun guys, or re-creationist (funny how much overlap there is there) who hasnt had discussions about what they would take back in time with them, or how they would rebuild civilization after the fall or some such thing.

My favorite series in this subgenre is definitely Eric Flints (and others) “Ring of Fire” series; and I would guess that in recent years it has been the best selling of the type. My SECOND favorite series of the type however, is collectively called “The Adventures of Conrad Stargard”, by Leo Frankowski; and he is still writing them today.

At any rate, there is no clearer example of an authors engineering (both social and technical) fantasy fulfilment than these books; and the fact that they are written by a former specialty equipment controls engineer (they make the systems which control large complex custom machines, like entire assmebely lines etc…) means that the TECHNICAL detail is great fun (and not really excessive to my mind… but I’m an engineer myself).

Also though, and I think more significantly, the author goes extensively into how technology effects social factors, and vice versa. So along with the technological engineering, he is a social engineer; but at the same time the technology and society of the time are re-engineering the main character.

Recently, I was so strongly put in mind of the Stargard series that I decided to re-read it; and while reading, I came across this passage, while Conrad was going over various political systems in his mind:

I believe that democracy is the best possible system for a nation with an educated, concerned, and reasonable population.

It is not that the people are particularly wise. They aren’t. And the larger the number of people involved in a decision, the poorer the decision is likely to be. To find the IQ of a group, take the average IQ of the people involved and divide by the number-of people in the group.

Anyone who has ever marched troops can verify that a hundred men have the collective intelligence of a centipede. Worse. A centipede doesn’t step on its own feet.

No. Democracy is a good system because it is an extremely stable system.

In many parts of South America and Africa, when an individual becomes truly disgruntled, he gets together with six hundred friends, three hundred rifles, and maybe a hundred bullets and starts a revolution. This practice is socially disruptive and results in lost worktime, destroyed property, and dead bodies.

In America, such an individual does not go off to the hills with a gun. He becomes a political candidate.

Of course, he knows that, to be effective, he must start at the bottom-say, sewer commissioner. So he runs against six other social misfits for that office. If he loses, at least he feels that he has done his best to straighten things out, that if the people don’t appreciate him, they don’t deserve him. Anyway, an election is so exhausting, physically, financially, and emotionally, that he is likely to be over his initial anger. If he wins, well, he can’t really do much harm. There are engineers to make sure that shit flows downhill. And who knows? Maybe he will turn out to be a good sewer commissioner. In any case, society is the winner. Seven potential troublemakers have been defused, only one of them has to be paid, and they just might get some useful work out of that one.

One should note, Frankowski is a bit of a socialist libertarian anarchist mix… Not really an anarcho syndicalist, one might call him a social democrat in the literal sense. Although I’m a bit more idealistic about democracy than that, I can’t say as I disagree with it, and I think it is a good point to make about our current situation in the mddle east.

See, there are idealistic reasons to democratize the mid-east, but there are also very practical reasons. Democracies are generally so busy with their own internal politics, that they dont have the time or energy to attack the rest of the world.

Or maybe I’m jsut reading to much into this…

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t think you are reading too much into this. This is a great insight, frankly.

    Comment by Wulf — June 19, 2006 @ 5:56 pm

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