THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 461, March 23, 2008
"The greatest appeal of socialism is that its advocates
always imagine themselves at the top of the pecking order"
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
I received a message this morning with the subject line, "A black day: Arthur C. Clarke has died". For some reason, the rest of the form remained blank, but I felt I should respond to what the subject line implied.
As you may know, my motto is, "Of the dead, speak only the truth." I shall surely expect nothing less when I am gone. Just spell my name right.
When I was in junior high school and high school, I read almost nothing but science fiction, mostly the works of what I felt to be almost a holy trinity, consisting of Robert A. Heinlein, Clarke, and perhaps Isaac Asimov, although over the years he morphed, first, into Theodore Sturgeon, and at long last into H. Beam Piper. Poul Anderson fitted in there somewhere, as well. Holy trinities are like that, sometimes.
I believed then, and I still believe today, that what was being crammed down our throats in the classroom, dreary items like Silas Marner and The Scarlet Letter, had very little to offer, compared to The Green Hills of Earth, The Deep Range, and A Planet for Texans.
Partly this was because I had discovered that whenever a mundane (non-science fiction) author had something really, really important to get across, he or she almost reflexively switched to science fiction: George Orwell's 1984; Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; Neville Schute's On the Beach; Mordechai Roshwald's Level Seven; Pat Frank's Alas Babylon; Ayn Rand's Anthem and Atlas Shrugged (Don't argue with me, now if it has forcefields in it, it's science fiction).
Up to some point, I read every word Arthur Clarke wrote, although in truth, he had me at The Deep Range, a gigantically wonderful concept in which high-tech "cowboys" piloting little submarines herded and protected whales on their migrations from Earth's poles to the equator in order to provide protein for the planet's teeming, hungry billions. I was a westerner, born and bred, with real cowboys on both sides of my heritage, and I wanted to be one of those high-tech whale-herders, myself. I even made an initial, tentative application to the marine biology program of the University of Queensland at Brisbane.
I had stars in my eyes, underwater stars. I suppose I should have gotten the drift when, toward the end of the book, a long-term project was initiated to stop slaughtering whales for meat and kluge up some nasty kind of algae and yeast concoction to foist off on the world, instead. In fact it wasn't until some time later that I noticed that Clarke's "World Food Organization" wasn't a capitalist enterprise, at all, but a damned socialist monopoly, roughly patterened on the United Nations.
By that time, Clarke had lost me anyway with Childhood's End. I'd read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, others of Rand's novels which had the principal effect of making a much more careful, critical reader of me than I had been. It became unavoidably obvious that all of humanity, in Clarke's view, was a mere contaminent (in this he was anticipating today's environmentalists), unworthy of occupying even the empty vacuum of space, unless we were willing to learn from and be redeemed by some older, wiser entities. Clarke's "philosophy" turned out to be nothing, more or less, than that old time religion, stripped of some of its familiar mystical trappings (but supplied with newer, flashier ones) with Original Sin intact as the Virgin Mary's hymen.
The same bonnet-bees made 2001, 2010, and Rendezvous with Rama less intelligent and pleasant than they might have been. We couldn't even evolve sapience on our own, it seemed, but had to take it as a gift of some unknown and unknowable monolith-building aliens. But even more sinister and evil was The Fountains of Paradise, an exercise in pure Platonist claptrap in which the great collectivist benefactors of mankind (I forget how they were chosen) were somehow rewarded with all of the perquisites and benefits (including luxury homes, servants in a self-consciously egalitarian society and organ transplants) by the world's lowly, infinitely humble, eternally grateful, and undoubtedly shorter-lived hewers of wood and drawers of water.
The great economist and philosopher Ludwig von Mises once pointed out that the greatest appeal of socialism is that its advocates always imagine themselves at the top of the pecking order. The Fountains of Paradise is appositely named; it is exactly that kind of socialist wet-dream Von Mises was writing about, written by exactly that kind of socialist.
Not to put too fine a point on it, he was Cadillac collectivist who loved lording it over his pet Third Worlders in Sri Lanka. Clarke detested his own species (in much the same way that many libertarians never seem to have noticed C.S. Lewis did) and, barring some variety of miraculous transmogrification, deemed it unworthy even to advance further or explore the universe without somehow ineffably dirtying it up.
His technological guesses were sometimes good (he is best known for thinking up satellite communication, and, in a way, even predicted internet pornography) but his political guesses were very bad. He had the Cold War still going on in 2010 because he could perceive no moral distinction between Communism and non-Communism, and couldn't imagine socialism ever failing, even though it died is still dying of causes that have been obvious to others, and widely anticipated, for a century.
When I wrote back to my correspondent, she conceded a few of my points, but argued that Clarke wrote great science fiction (and wanted to get us the right kind of "us", mind you off this planet) that justifies everything else he thought and did. I wish she were right The Deep Range alone might vindicate him but she isn't. Ask six million German Jews. Or the Kulaks. Or the Chinese "landlords". Or the Cambodians.
Oh, you can't ask them, I pretend to hear you complain, because they're all dead, each and every one of them victims of one crappy kind of socialism or another? Yes, they are, and it will always be this way, as long as anybody can obtain power by asserting that the group is somehow more important or has more rights than the individual.
Which means I'm right after all. The world is a better, cleaner place without Clarke, his U.N. buddies, their suicidal and, all too often, homocidal self-loathing, and their smug brand of left-wing neocolonialism.
Of the dead, speak only the truth.