Monday, March 15, 2010

This I Believe

Sunday mornings, working in the studio, we will listen to Bob Edwards on NPR. Bob has a segment where he will talk with Dan Gediman of This I Believe, Inc., which provides essays on, well, what people believe in. Not surprisingly, the essays tend to be inspirational in nature.

The reason I bring this up is this past Sunday, they presented an essay by Robert A Heinlein. Heinlein is considered one of the Big Three science fiction authors (himself, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, all of whom I cut my teeth on when first exposed to speculative fiction).

Heinlein was kind of a strange and persuasive old bird. The one thing I am slightly proud of  was that I managed to survive reading his prose and coming out the other end still able to make up my own mind about things. I remember reading his novel "Starship Troopers" ( the film, BTW, I consider a great satire) at the tender age of fourteen - when most children are most easily recruited to use guns without remorse upon practically anyone - and I unhesitatingly and unquestionably bought into his whole weird quasi-fascist shamelessly libertarian-political-screed contained within it. I read it again at the age of eighteen, and realized the political philosophy was completely right-wing batshit crazy whacko. And yet there were elements I could still buy into merely because of the fact that there was an underlying compassion and decency in the author that shown through. 

And my dealings in life, and my choice of books by then had given me the observation that Utopian Social Engineering by people with good intentions allows all sorts of terrible things to happen.

I often think that the early injection of Heinlein made me immune to Ayn Rand when I finally read - and dismissed - her. Heinlein's faith in humanity shed light on the frighteningly and poisonously psychotic personality that was Rand, and is, by extension, her fans: people who aren't particularly with it, aren't particularly smart, but consider themselves better than others, feel under-appreciated, and who will definitely, under the right circumstances, climb a clock tower with a loaded rifle. 

She really was a full-on psychopath with zero understanding of not only human behavior, but of the underlying tenets of the United States, and the basic premise of capitalism. I have a deep and abiding suspicion of anyone that has bought into her horseshit. 

As a result, to paraphrase, of all people, Martin Goerring, when I hear the word "Libertarian", I reach for my revolver. Talk about totalitarians masquerading as, well, in the original sense of the word, libertarians, that's the Libertarians. 

Give them a chance at governing this country, and I guarantee Death Camps in Wyoming and Presidents-For-Life before their term is up.

Anyways, Heinlein's essay dealt with what he saw as the essential decency of human beings, and can be read here

I'd like to provide a short excerpt to comment upon:

"I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth, that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth --but that we will always make it....survive....endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes, will endure --will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets, to the stars, and beyond, carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage --and his noble essential decency".

I appreciate the sentiment I really do. I even, foolish optimist that I am, buy into the notion that we will make it to the stars someday, but I am slightly puzzled as to WHY I believe this. I recognize the arrogance, the conceit embedded in these remarks, and yet, I think he is right. People are basically decent, and it is only the circumstance that creates evil.

I also recognize that there is no guarantee that progress in human society is inevitably toward a more decent future, that our "angels of our better nature" will always prevail. We (meaning Americans) certainly don't have the track record, either as a nation or as a world.  And yet, I feel, big picture wise, that perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 years from now, when things are perhaps better for everyone, and we as a people, in some strange Bill and Ted society are "being excellent to each other", will look at the history of the American nation and will say "Well, at least they tried to live up to their principles. We give 'em a D in performance, a C for effort, but an A for the attempt". 

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