I realize Heinlein was making a point about cultural norms and how changeable they are. He was right – to an extent. He was wrong too. And the point he made to me, when I read Stranger, and I was all of eleven, is that there are things so wrong that no one would do them.
The line is when a character says you don’t need to tell children not to eat their little play friends. (This is only partly right. My son, after all, had to be pried away from one of his little friends whom he had bit. His teeth had sank deep into the other kid and he was, in fact, about to rip out a good chunk of flesh when we managed to make him let go. Okay, he was three. But getting him to let go was like getting certain dogs to open their mouths once they’ve bit something. In his defense though I don’t think he was so much eating his friend as trying to hurt him. Which of course is something we have to tell kids all the time “you shouldn’t hurt your friends.”)
Heinlein was making the point that cannibalism has been “right” or even “holy” for humanity at many times and in many places in ritual occasions, to appease some god, or in the name of some greater good. He was right in that. In fact, killing and eating each other has been an ancient pasttime of humanity, because well… in the end, it is always about the death and the blood. But he was wrong too. He was wrong in that there is no human society ever – not after we became humans – where people ate each other for no reason at all and haphazardly.
The reason is obvious to an adult, even if it wasn’t to my 11 year old self – societies in which you eat each other for breakfast aren’t societies. There is no cohesion, and there is therefore no society. “Everyone’s hand” – or tooth – “against everyone else” is, ultimately a recipe for a band or tribe to go extinct and disappear. And that’s why you don’t have to tell your kids not to eat their friends. People likely to do so have been weeded out of the gene pool long ago; so long ago that cannibalism for the sake of cannibalism is not something most humans contemplate.
This makes sense to me. I am not, you understand, an idealist, enthralled with the milk of human kindness. I am not one of those people that thinks humans will do what’s best for them because unicorns frolic and there are flowers and– I believe humans are capable of unimaginable evil in the pursuit of their own self-interest. But I also believe most humans are smarter than the average cat, and know what their self-interest is, and where it lies. I trust that most humans understand that while their little friends can make a satisfying meal, the ultimate result of eating your friends is that your tribe, your branch and eventually (if continued) your species dies out.
I will confess this belief has been tried by the follies of the publishing industry. Clauses that grab an author’s copyright in perpetuity, or – worse – clauses that make it impossible for an author to write anymore until and unless they sell to a given publisher make sense… If you realize that what the editor or publisher considers in his or her best interest is not to sell a lot of books, not to make the writer a household name, not even to make money, but to have power.
If you look at those miserable rat-bastard clauses as “we can keep those who create under our thumb forever, and we derive great satisfaction from this” then those clauses make perfect sense. Mind you, it is a sort of “enlightened self interest” I don’t get, but perhaps those with size 2 souls in size 14 bodies need this sort of thing to make themselves feel good about themselves. Who knows?
What I know is that this has stopped making sense – even that sense – in the days of indie publishing. You know any sane author – and many insane ones – are just going to look at those clauses, stick their toes hard into the ground and say “fuckit.” You have to know that. Maybe not this contract. Maybe not next, but eventually every author will do it… and not very far in the future even.
So why do it? Why smear your reputation? Why stain your soul? Why throw your self-respect down the wind for that?
Oh, sure, for a time you will still have a few authors who sign those. They have to. They’re broke. They think they need the validation. Whatever. But in the end, it won’t even take very long, like the kid who runs out of friends to eat, you’re going to run out of people who sign these. And then what? What will you live on?
And yet, not only is the industry still doing thse things in a time of indie publishing, no. This insanity is extending to every every publisher, and becoming industry standard.
It’s as though, because your kid ate his little friends, every other kid in the neighborhood decided to eat his little friends, till all that’s left is one really fat kid whom all the other parents want to kill. He can’t watch his back all the time…
It’s suicide, in other words, by elaborate means.
What’s worse, though, is that I’m now seeing signs of this EVERYWHERE.
I think all of you know about our brake job in which they failed to change one of the necessary components – which meant the brakes (newly changed) – went out on my husband in the middle of the road, with the whole family in the car. We got lucky, but if we hadn’t been we’d be dead. Just a few days before, if the brakes had failed, it would have hit us halfway from Denver, in rain. It might have been impossible to stop the SUV. And I remember the traffic was bumper to bumper that day. Not only would we have died – we’d probably have caused a few more deaths along the way.
And why? Well, the garage saved maybe $200 on a 1k+ job by cutting corners (less than that at their prices. Probably $50.) Is that worth losing customers in a spectacular way? Well, okay… you CAN do it. You CAN get away with it, since the contract didn’t specify you’d change those parts out. You can save those $50 and maybe you feel really good about it – but don’t you understand in the long run that means if the people die you lost a customer, who’d have come back every year or so for a fix-up? Even if they survive, after they know what you’ve done, don’t you understand you’ll NEVER EVER EVER get them to give you any work? And that they’ll tell all your friends to stay away from you?
This week a friend of mine had air conditioning installed in her house. She was told she could have it done in the spaces behind the wall and in closets. Yes, she was “told” and this was not in writing. Yes, she should have noticed it wasn’t going to happen that way from what the contractor was doing. BUT my friend isn’t very savvy in these things.
She was shocked and horrified to find ducts running EVERYWHERE in the open. HUGE ducts, all around her house, blocking windows and access doors. And she blames herself, because she thinks it was something she did wrong.
Which makes sense, because it makes no sense whatsoever that a contractor, with a reputable national company would do this KNOWINGLY.
Having seen the pictures, I can tell you if I were that contractor I wouldn’t have done that, EVEN IF I THOUGHT THAT WAS WHAT THE HOMEOWNER WANTED. In fact, I would have refused to do that, unless I’d drawn what the final result would look like, and the homeowner had initialed EACH OF THE SKETCHES. The results are that horrific. NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND CAN LOOK AT THEM AND THINK ANYONE SANE WOULD AGREE TO THIS, much less want this.
Again, it’s cannibalism. Like the book companies, like the garage, they can get away with it. Unless my friend got it in writing – and I don’t think she did – that the ducts would be hidden, they can legally claim to have fulfilled their contract.
BUT they have to know not only will my friend ever again work through them, but that she will tell her not inconsiderable network, and show pictures and that from now on none of us will work with this NATIONAL CHAIN without making sure everything is in writing. And that we might not work with them at all unless there is no alternative.
Why do they do it, then? Why eat all the little kids in your neighborhood, when you know you can’t survive it long term? When you know long term it will destroy everyone?
One explanation is of course famine. People have committed cannibalism – always – when the alternative is death.
Has the economy got so bad that we’re now one vast Donner Party?
Publishers were doing this long before the hammer was done and the dog at the door. They were doing it because they could and not caring in the least what writers (or, more importantly readers who didn’t come back because they couldn’t keep lifelong relationships with writers) they destroyed in the process. And there have always been crooked garages and crooked contractors, though to my mind there’s more of them now, and the stuff they do more destructive and senseless. That seems to be true from the fact that in both cases that touched me at all closely these were no fly-by-night companies, here today gone tomorrow but national chains with venerable reputations.
So I don’t think it’s a matter of hunger. But something it must be, because sane people and companies don’t have to be told “don’t eat your friends.”
The answer is that they’re not sane. Like the face eater in Florida, who was likely on a new and improved form of PCP, these companies are all operating on the drug of Marxism, which tells them that the economic system is a closed loop, in which wealth can neither be created nor destroyed, but taken or lost. And in that system, of course, all wealth is theft, so you must steal more than anyone else, and the only law is that of the jungle. You steal while you can, even if it destroys you long term, because that’s all you can do and all you’ll ever have.
The end of this is what always happens in every Marxist system. An equal redistribution of utter poverty, proving very well that wealth can indeed be destroyed or, if you will, cannibalized.
And at the end of this road lies non metaphorical cannibalism just to stay alive a few more weeks, a few more days, a few more hours.
What a brave new world we’ve created.