Posts Tagged ‘Robert Heinlein’

Mandatory Voting

March 29, 2015

Not too long ago, President Barack Obama proposed that voting be made mandatory. I cannot see why making people who are disengaged and uninformed about politics vote would lead to any improvement in American politics. I suspect that Mr. Obama is counting on  those disengaged and uninformed people to deliver more votes to the Democrats and more support for the sort of policies he supports. In fact, if this is his intention, he may be disappointed. As this article in the Washington Post suggests,universal compulsory voting may not make much of a difference in the balance of power between the parties.

But perhaps I am being too cynical about Mr. Obama’s motives. Mandatory voting would lead to increased voter turnout which surely would be good for democracy, wouldn’t it. Low voter turnout in the United States has been something of a scandal in recent decades. Voter turnout has generally been around 60% in Presidential elections and 40% in midterm elections. This low turnout seems to indicate a loss of faith in the political process among Americans. If we had a higher voter turnout, our democracy would be more robust, right?

I am not so sure about any of this. Personally, I believe that the problem with American politics is not that too few people are voting, but too many. That is to say, too many of the people who do go out and vote are among the disengaged and uninformed. I think our politics would be improved by putting limits on the number of people eligible to vote.

To start with, I think we really need to raise the voting age to thirty. More than twenty-five centuries ago Aristotle argued that young men should not be involved in politics because they lack experience and are carried away by their passions. I imagine that Aristotle would think we were insane to allow men as young as eighteen, not to mention women of any age, to vote in national elections. Very few people under the age of thirty, and all too many over that age, have the experience and maturity necessary to make wise decisions about their country’s future. Young people are often the most enthusiastic supporters of dictators and demagogues.

There is the argument that if one is old enough to fight for their country, they are old enough to vote. I don’t think that is a particularly good argument. The skills and experiences necessary to serve in the military are not the same as those necessary to make responsible decisions about the country, and what of the great majority of young people who do not serve their country? Still, it might be fairly argued that young people who have served in the military are likely to be more mature and responsible then their peers and perhaps the right to vote should be extended to veterans of any age.

Which brings us to the idea proposed by Robert Heinlein in his science fiction book Starship Troopers; that only veterans be permitted to vote and hold office. This idea has often been criticized as Fascist or militaristic, which only demonstrates the ignorance of the critics. In the world Heinlein describes everybody is eligible for government service in some capacity, it need not be strictly military, and it is matched with the applicant’s abilities. The service is not a sinecure, real and demanding work is involved, even it if only amounts to peeling potatoes in KP, and not many complete their term. The idea is that only those who have demonstrated a willingness to place the needs of the community above their own desires should have the right to vote. Non-veterans cannot vote but have all the rights that any citizen in a twentieth century democracy would have, and Heinlein hints that the Federation government is somewhat more libertarian than our democratic governments since the voters aren’t continually voting benefits for themselves.

I think this idea has some merit, although I can see some flaws.  There probably would be a more informed and engaged electorate and if voting were seen as a right to be earned through service rather than just something handed out to anyone who reaches a certain age, it would be more valued and taken more seriously. On the other hand. if the franchise wee restricted to a small minority, it is difficult to see why the people with the vote wouldn’t be tempted to vote themselves all kinds of privileges at the expense of non-voters.

Not too long ago one of my children was going through the process of getting her driver’s license. It occurred to me that we put effort into teaching prospective drivers the various traffic regulations and require them to take tests to show that they can operate a motor vehicle before granting them a license to drive. This is held to be necessary and good because of the dangers to the driver and others if the driver lacks the ability to drive safely. Yet, he give almost no preparation and do not test the ability of a prospective voter to make important choices about the future of the country. Surely putting the future of the nation in the hands of incompetent and unprepared voters is a far more serious matter than the relatively few people affected by an incompetent and unprepared driver. We ought to have voter ed classes in every high school which should cover the basics of what used to be called civics. When a voter reaches the voting age, he should be required to take a test in order to receive a voter’s license which should be renewed at regular intervals, just like a driver’s license. If an applicant fails the test or if the license is not renewed, he may not vote in the next election, but he can take the test again after the election.  Again, this will make voting something to strive for, rather than something simply handed out and those people who do apply for a license and pass the test will take their duty as a voter more seriously. Having renewable voter’s licenses provided at no cost to the successful applicant will also help to cut down on voter fraud.

But, maybe instead of limiting the number of people eligible to vote, we should weigh the vote in favor of the more responsible elements of society. In his short story, “The Curious Republic of Gondour“, Mark Twain explained that the constitution of the Republic gives every citizen the inalienable right to a vote. Unfortunately this meant that the scum of the Republic had the same amount of political influence as the intelligent and successful, which was leading to the ruin of the country. The leaders of Gondour decided that they could not take away any citizen’s vote, but there was no reason why everyone should have just one vote. They permitted people to have additional votes based on wealth and education. The votes based on education were more prestigious than the ones based on wealth because a voter could lose money but not education. This might not be a bad idea and I think it could be arranged without a constitutional amendment.

Of course, none of these schemes are likely to be put into effect or seriously considered. We could at least try to do a better job educating voters about our system of government and to approach the issues with reasoned consideration, but I am afraid our political leaders prefer dumb and excited voters. Part of what the TEA Party has been doing has been to educate people about the constitution and look at all the hostility that engendered.

 

 

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Tunnel in the Sky

August 27, 2014

I am beginning to think that a selection of Robert Heinlein’s juvenile science fiction books should be required reading in every Middle School class. Even though the science in these stories is outdated, in some cases badly so, and the social mores reflect the period in which they were published, the 1950’s, although that may not actually be a bad thing, I think the young reader can still learn a lot from Heinlein’s stories. They may not be able to learn much about science or space travel. Events have overtaken Mr. Heinlein in that respect. They will, however, learn quite a lot about virtues that will never go out of date. They will learn from Heinlein’s heroes the importance of self-reliance, honor, courage and rational thinking. They will learn that doing the right thing, even at the risk of their lives is better in the long run. Reading Heinlein may even help young readers to resist the politically correct brain washing and mediocrity they are exposed to in our public schools. I can imagine one of Heinlein’s older, wiser instructors telling a contemporary student that the universe does not care about his fragile self-esteem and that it does not hand out ribbons just for showing up.

Tunnel in the Sky, published in 1955, is typical of Heinlein’s juveniles.

It features a strong, intelligent young man, Rod Walker, as the protagonist. Rod wants to join the movement to colonize other planets, accessed through gateways that transport travelers instantly across the galaxy. In order to be a colonist, Rod must take and pass a class on survival taught by the famous explorer “Deacon” Matson. For the final exam, the class, along with similar classes from other schools, is to be dropped on an uninhabited planet for ten to fourteen days. Whoever manages to survive passes. Unfortunately, something disrupts the gate and the students are stranded. They must manage to survive for far longer than they had expected.

 

Tunnel in the Sky

Tunnel in the Sky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This may be Heinlein’s response to Lord of the Flies published the previous year. Unlike the younger children in William Golding’s tale, the high school and college age youths do not descend into savagery. They build a colony with a government. They attempt to recreate modern technology as much as possible and by the time they are rescued they have begun to smelt iron and to domesticate the native plants and animals. The young colonists do have trouble with students who refuse to do their share of the work and with dangerous animals, but they manage to overcome their difficulties. After their settlement is destroyed and their first mayor is killed by migrating animals, Rod becomes the new mayor. There is some talk of moving to a safer location that Rod had discovered earlier but he refuses to consider it, stating that they are men and they will not be moved by a bunch of dumb animals. Instead, they develop ways to defend their settlement by the time of the next migration.

I should say something about Heinlein’s supposed racism in this book. At the beginning of the story, Rod visits a gateway to watch pioneers going out to colonize new planets. First, there is a long line of Asians, poverty-stricken refugees being forced by their authoritarian government to travel to a new world. They are followed by proud pioneers from North America. I do not believe that Heinlein intended to make any sort of statement about the relative merits of Asians and Americans but was extrapolating a likely future based on circumstances at the time of publication. In 1955, most of Asia was desperately poor and overcrowded and it seemed likely to remain so for generations. I should note that it is hinted throughout the book that Rod is African-American, though at the time of publication Heinlein was unable to say so outright.

I enjoyed reading Tunnel in the Sky when I was in fifth grade and enjoyed it no less rereading it as an adult. Robert Heinlein knew how to keep his readers interested.

 

 

The Collectivist Mind Game

January 24, 2013

Oleg Atbashian has written a great series of articles titled The Collectivist Mind Game at American Thinker. He analyses the ways in authoritarian governments systematically manipulate public opinion and brainwash the people. Since Atbashian was a propaganda artist in the former Soviet Union before immigrating to the United States, he probably knows what he is talking about.  There are three parts; Demonizing the Non-Compliant, Demonizing the Opposition, and Demonizing Human Nature. They are all worth reading and I think that the reader will find certain similarities between the strategies that Atbashian discusses and actions by the Obama administration to demonize and marginalize its opponents.

If the tyrants on Earth were worth their salt, all the freedom-loving colonists would be subjected to an intense, manipulative indoctrination, which would shape their self-image as small and sinful “little guys” vis-à-vis  the powerful, virtuous government that serves the powerless and protects them against all enemies, including themselves.

Thus, the government’s propagandistic narrative would establish the illusion of a society divided into three major classes: the ruling government class, endowed with benevolent powers to guide or punish; the majority class of hapless losers, whose survival depended on the government’s largesse and protection; and an unquantifiable class of demonized mysterious enemies of the government and, by extension, of the people, who would be the perceived culprits of all failures, hardships, and misery of the little guys’ everyday existence.

The majority class would itself be divided into an assortment of narrow-interest groups, held together only by the glue of government’s redistributive, pacifying and equalizing powers, as well as by their shared hostility towards the designated “enemies.”

The prevailing feelings in such a society would be the collectivist fervor, envy of individual achievers, fear of chaos in the absence of the government’s protection, hatred of anti-government elements, and hope for a better future once all the hidden enemies are unveiled and eliminated.

He is referring to Robert Heinlein‘s classic novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which Lunar colonists rebel against an oppressive Earth government.

Here is more.

Maintain the perception of being constantly under attack.  Don’t examine the opponents’ beliefs, nor answer their arguments.  Discredit any media channels that offer them a platform.  Enforce the following media template: the opposition is evil, treasonous, unfathomable, and psychotic.  They can’t be reasoned with.  They are inspired by fascism and financed by a conspiracy of shady oligarchs.  Defame their donors.  Whatever the mischief you’re planning to pull off, accuse them of doing it first; then proceed as planned, describing your actions as a necessary intervention.  And ridicule, ridicule, ridicule!

This is what made it easy for Stalin to purge his opponents: by the time he charged them with treason, the orchestrated media coverage had already made them universally hated.  Having purged all of his enemies, Stalin continued to manufacture the evidence of their presence.  There came a time when even the true believers were being rounded up and forced to confess publicly about one or another fabricated “crime” against the people and the Party.  Some did it to avoid torture, some to save their families, and some even cooperated out of the altruistic desire to support the illusion and keep everyone else’s beautiful dream alive.  Unfortunately for them, that beautiful dream required human sacrifice.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Their young audiences, deprived of adequate education and learning about history and current events from Hollywood movies and TV shows, will not recognize the symptoms of an encroaching totalitarianism either.  Upon hearing a dissenter who disparages the benevolent guidance of the state, they will immediately recognize a stereotype that is being relentlessly demonized and dehumanized on their screens: the ignorant, close-minded, right-wing nut job.  Chances are they will smugly ridicule him with the jokes they heard from their favorite media personalities.  In another generation, they may as well feel morally obligated to report the dissenter to the authorities — and be thrilled at the chance to partake in the historic mission of crushing the remnants of the evil reactionaries, even if they happen to be their parents.

I have noticed that Leftists can rarely give logical reasons for the opinions they hold. When challenged they invariably turn to name calling, profanity, and all too often threats of violence. I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that the people who want to shut down Fox News, or believe that Obama should act like a third world dictator and jail his opponents, or destroy the Republicans would hesitate to report dissidents to the secret police. There is a lot more to the articles and you should read all of them.

 

 


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