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08/21/2004 Archived Entry: ""The Culture""

Cartoons for your viewing pleasure: Mark Fiore's "Troop Adjustments"; and, Jeff Danziger's "Police Ratio".

Jim Peron gave a passionate presentation at the ISIL World Freedom Summit in New Zealand this July in which he asserted that the United States was, at this moment, Germany in 1939.

That is, its violations of individual libertie and its full-throttled paranoid pursuit of 'security' had crossed a line from which it could not turn back but must slide of its own momentum into totalitarianism. He urged all who value freedom and personal safety from government oppression to leave, now!; he suggested emigrating to New Zealand, of course. (Trying to import customers for your libertarian bookstore, Jim?) I reluctantly agree with much of his substance. And, in doing so, I recommend a book: "Defying Hitler" by Sebastian Haffner, a memoir written shortly after Haffner emigrated to England from Germany with his Jewish wife in 1938. (Note: much of the following commentary repeats an earlier McBlog entry.) The book interests me because it deals directly with the question, 'what does a good person do when he sees a nation, renowned for its civilization and culture, plunge into totalitarianism?' It has obvious application to the slide of America into a police state.

To quote from the Salon review of Defying Hitler, "The question that always springs from accounts of Hitler's Germany is 'Why didn't the Germans resist?" Some of the reasons have long been obvious. There is a natural human instinct for survival....And there is also the understandable refusal to believe that the worst will come to pass. Again and again in Defying Hitler Haffner's acquaintances talk of the Nazis as clowns who, because they cannot help revealing their true natures, are destined to fall out of power. Haffner's endorsement of the idea that even dictators are powerless without the consent (or at least the passivity) of the masses means that Defying Hitler has no time for quibbling about how much the Germans knew and when; he was there shortly before World War II broke out, after all. Haffner takes it for granted that Germans knew about the brutality of Nazi rule -- brutality that, logically, would only increase as the state consolidated its power -- and that they lacked the will to resist it."

Haffner speaks of the "automatic continuation of ordinary life that hindered any lively, forceful reaction against the horror" of Hitler. I think this is true of many Americans who see the erosion of freedom on a daily basis. But -- because they wake in their own homes, eat the same cereal for breakfast, work the same job, drive down accustomed streets -- they have a sense that everything is as it has always been. The fact that the legal structure under which they function is dramatically different, the political protections that ensured their freedom are going, going, gone is no where near as real to them as their daily routines are. Another review observes, "The process [of statism] was so slow that one could almost understand how one day Germans walked the street as members of a shaky democracy and the next were prisoners and yet supporters of a violent dictatorship. Between those two days, the Germany he grew up in both figuratively and literally disappeared."

ON A CULTURAL NOTE...Gordon P. muses on SF he has been reading: Having just waded through all of Ken MacLeod's novels, and trying to wrap my mind around them (I'm _still_ having serious cognitive dissonance over the concept of a "Libertarian Socialist"!), I've stumbled across a local library that appears to have a near-complete collection of novels by MacLeod's friend and countryman Iain M. Banks (most of which are pure unobtainium in the used bookstore market --- Banks fans do =NOT= appear to part with his books!).

Banks writes what he openly describes as "space opera," and appears to hold somewhat similar views to MacLeod's. His most popular books are all set in a "post-economic" utopian interstellar civilization called "The Culture." "The Culture" is almost totally devoted to "obsessive and aggressive hedonism;" it holds to the viewpoint that the principle goal of any sentient being should be To Devote The Majority Of Their Life And Energy To Having A Good Time. Few things express this quite so clearly as the utterly whimsical self-chosen
names of Bank's sentient starships.

"The Culture" is a "participatory anarchy" that recognizes few absolutes other than the The Right to Privacy, and the Right To Be Free From Coercion, Even If You Are Intent On Going To Hell In Your Own Handbasket. However, there is a certain amount of tension in the latter in that "The Culture" takes it as a moral given that the only way they can justify their state of total hedonism is to collectively "Do Good Works" by meddling in the internal affirs of other non-Culture cultures, in order to increase their standards of living, and encourage them to become more like "The Culture" --- usually overtly, through emissaries of their "Contact Branch," but often covertly, through a somewhat shadowy elite group referred to as "Special Circumstances," about which Banks writes: ...No other part of the Culture more exactly represented what the society as a whole really stood for, or was more militant in the applications of the Culture's fundamental beliefs. Yet no other part embodied less of the society's day-to-day character...

Thus, in some ways, Banks' "Culture" is the very ANTITHESIS of _Star Trek's_ "Federation," in that they have the OPPOSITE of a "Non-Iterference Directive:" They are CONSTANTLY and often covertly manipulating and meddling with every civilization on the fuzzy boundary at the expanding edge of "The Culture"... (NOTE: Banks says that he introduced "Special Circumstances" because utopias are basically rather boring, and an author needs to create conflicts to resolve in order to have a story worth either writing or reading...)

Banks' "The Culture" novels appear to be Fun Reads, but like his friend and countryman Ken MacLeod, I am still trying to decide whether I cautiously agree with him or violently disagree with him...

An article by Banks himself on "The Culture." A libertarian's observations on Bank's "The Culture:" A "Free Encyclopedia" article on "The Culture."

Best to all

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