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Friday, March 11, 2005

The Right Wing Critique of the Week

My rants are in blue; don't confuse them with Heinlein's rants.

Starship Troopers. Maybe you've seen the movie, where jocks in flak jackets shoot giant spiders for two hours. It wasn't great.

The novel is a completely different particle. It was written by Robert Heinlein, who, besides being one of the "Big 3" science fiction writers of the Good Old Days, is one of the most politically motivated writers. His message in Starship Troopers is not particularly about government. Heinlein is generally and adamantly pro-personal choice, and advocates a minimalist government, even anarchy, though human nature often interferes with this ideal in his novels. In Starship Troopers, the message is more oriented to human nature as it is, rather than as it should be.

"Patriotism was a bit esoteric for me..." - Johnny, the narrator

The government is never fully described, but it is semi-democratic with one notable feature: only veterans are allowed to vote. As pro-military as I am, I don't know that I would support this, but the point is not that the system is necessarily a good one.

" 'Mr. Salomon, can you give me a reason... why the franchise is today limited to discharged veterans?'...'the same as the practical reason for continuing anything: it works...' "

There is also a theoretical justification: earlier governments placed power in the hands of those with divine right, or the intelligence to rule successfully, or wisdom, or the majority, but the military government gives power to those who have already demonstrated that they care more about the nation than their own lives. That would depend on military pay, now wouldn't it? The higher the pay, the lower quality the voters; the lower quality the voters, the more they would be swayed to increase pay for the active soldiers they empathised with. A vicious cycle, after a critical mass is reached. Also, 'power corrupts,' so there would have to be some form of check and balance system so that every member of society has some input; otherwise, the single excluded member will eventually be oppressed.

The theoretical discussions in the book are put in the form of lectures, usually using the Socratic method, by an OCS instructor or by a high school teacher of "History and Moral Philosophy." Not a bad idea, if we could agree on a philosophy to teach. The other subjects addressed by the instructors include the use of force-

"My mother says that violence never solves anything."
"I'm sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn't your mother tell them so?...Violence... has settled more issues in history than has any other factor..."

Criminal justice (advocating corporal punishment; public floggings for crimes like drunk driving or theft)-

" 'I do not understand objections to 'cruel and unusual' punishment. While a judge should be benevolent in purpose, his awards should cause the criminal to suffer, else there is no punishment... As for 'unusual,' punishment must be unusual or it serves no purpose.' "

This is the part I agree with the most. Flogging is effective, is inexpensive with little adverse economic impact, reduces recidivism, and is more humane. It is effective because, as Heinlein notes, it takes advantage of the pain response which is designed to stop us from repeating our mistakes. It reduces recidivism because imprisonment places a criminal with other criminals who reinforce his predilection. It is more humane because the punishment is over with quickly, and there is no drawn-out removal from society or separation from the family. I imagine the deterrence factor of public beatings is high as well.

Despite these and other digressions into explanations of the society Heinlein creates, the story is excellent and continuous. The digressions serve to comment on and explain events within the narrative, such as the hanging death of a rapist. The novel is short, sweet, and entertaining, and it has nukes. If you don't want to rush out to Borders right now, many communities have places like video stores where you can get a book, read it, and then take it back when you're done.

This is ManiaC Provost, signing out. Courage.


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