Clifford Simak’s City contains a device built into a kaleidoscope – you shake it, and look through it, and it alters your mind and your perceptions.
This is not a post about Simak, or City or Classical Science Fiction, but I’ll say in passing that the device – perfectly sensible way for a writer to dramatize the changing of minds necessary to take everyone out of Earth and into space – both fascinated me and made me uneasy. The uneasy is because I don’t approve of any kind of mind-control. Heinlein’s mind-engineering does the same to me: that creepy feeling at the back of the skull. It fascinated me because I had never seen a kaleidoscope and well… I like shiny things. (In fact I just realized I don’t own one, which is a little odd.) The other observation in passing is that Simak throws out more ideas under the guise of McGuffin or plot device that could be used for short stories or novels and that I mean to – supposing I get the time – mine a lot of them. I mean, a pattern of shiny lights that can change minds? That is an entire story – an entire novel. That would turn society upside down (and not in a good way, probably.)
So, this brings us to…
A kaleidoscope. You shake it and suddenly you see things in a completely different way. That is how I woke up this morning, and it is an inconvenient feeling, uncomfortable and prickly, like clothes that don’t fit quite right or scratch the skin.
We’ve been talking about the death of Western Civ. I still think there is a wound in our consciousness, something that is slowly destroying our spirit.
But back up. No, back up further. Take the long view. The longer view. See it from very far away. This is what we do as science fiction writers. Okay, fine, this is what science fiction writers are supposed to do. In the last thirty years or so, they’ve mostly obsessed over the trendy cause of the moment: pesticides! Global cooling! Global Warming! Women’s equality! Squirrel!
What we’re supposed to do, however, if truth be told is take the long view, look at history, visualize things as they could go/would go/would be. In a way if Science Fiction is anything more than fantasy with machines and engineers it is the ability to shake the Kaleidoscope and see things as if we weren’t ourselves and gain a new perspective on how things move and what is really going on, even when it presents in a way that seems totally different.
So imagine you’re a thousand years in the future, and you are learning about European history. This is important. European. Remember that.
The first glimmer of an European identity was Rome. Rome was the first European entity to look beyond tribalism – yes, yes, barbarians, but all the same, they considered these people, at least after a while, as potential Roman citizens. That was a huge step, and why every large polity in Europe since harks to Rome and tries to imitate or revive Rome, consciously or not.
We fall victims to this too. We think of ourselves in terms of the Roman empire. I wonder how much of this is the Soviet Union’s doing. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the one thing they’re really, really, really good at is propaganda and the rewriting of history, partly through commanding pet intellectuals.
They loved comparing us to the decadence of Rome. Partly because it made their people feel better about living in caves and eating acorns – sorry, that was how the Romans of the republic seemed to view virtue. Yeah, I know, the Soviet Union was somewhat better. Maybe. Most of the time.
The funny thing is that we are in no way in the mold of Rome. The Soviet Union was closer. (Which again, from the distant future would make perfect sense. The communists were the Red Tzars – tzar being a corruption of Cesar. These things aren’t hard to seek.) Like Rome it was an empire which relied on loot to make the life of its citizens back home better (it wasn’t as successful as Rome.) Like Rome it had a populace on bread and circus (though again, at least if history is semi-accurate, not nearly as successfully) while the people who ran the society lived lives of unimaginable luxury. (Unfortunately still rather lower than the lifestyle of our middle classes, except for power over other human beings.)
The rest of Europe is not that much different – no, please, listen, I’m not doing Europe down. We come from them, and to an extent they were the best example of human civilization until we came along.
But all amity between colony and mother country(ies) aside, let’s keep in mind who and what we are. We are the dregs, the rebels, the rejects of Europe.
The people who stayed behind are those who fit into Europe’s pattern, which again, comes from Rome. Yes, yes, Rome fell. Yes, yes, we lost technology. But the Roman pattern was preserved, brought back. And to an extent that was good because the Roman pattern transcended tribalism which makes Europe different from the rest of the world. In Rome you could be a citizen no matter who your brothers, your cousins, your parents were. This is not true anywhere else.
Europe, to an extent, ported the same pattern of citizenship, of a state that is larger than the tribe. Of a civilization that is larger than tribes, than blood, than that kind of loyalty.
Now, view it as a journey. Europe conquered Africa and the Americas not because it is uniquely colonialist or imperialist but because it had transcended tribalism. Look, when conquered the “new worlds” we were slightly more advanced in weaponry than the natives, but not by that much and not by that far. But the furniture in our heads was different.
Time and again, I read stories of colonization where the natives acted in the way that had always worked in tribal warfare: they killed everyone in the colony in a horrible way. If they were facing a tribe the size of normal tribes, this would make colonizing their land too expensive. It would stop colonization cold.
Only they weren’t facing a tribe. Reports of the atrocity in European Newspapers brought the wrath of all Europeans on them. The end was always the same.
(We’ll pretend here that I explained that Christianity hooked on top of Roman citizenship to eliminate tribalism, and that also European colonization was aided by germs and blah blah, blah. Not germane. We’re a thousand years in the future, the details have softened.)
Now look at the last century. The two world wars, not as world wars, but as the wars of European Unification. The decision of who gets to run western civ. Then expansion, always expansion because the old European model is the old Roman model. You go abroad and you get good things to bring home.
Only they’ve lost the plot a little (because of the horrific long civil war of the twentieth century) and they forgot that model implies conquest and despoiling.
On the other hand, the European model is going everywhere: India, China. Yes, yes, it is our tech they use, but it is the European model of civilization. They’re still expanding.
And that brings us to where we are. The war with Islam is just the front in the current European Expansion. Europe is, of course, expanding its form of government, its mental furniture, to the lands of Islam, and Islam resents it. They are the ultimate tribalist society.
Then there’s us. We are the other front in that war.
You see, we are part of Western civilization, but not part of European civilization. Even our parent, Great Britain, is only half digested into Europe. We are the castoffs, the redheaded step child. Part of them, but not.
Part of their resentment of us over intervention in the two world wars is the resentment of parents whose kid intervenes in an argument – particularly if the kid was right. If you view the long war of the twentieth century as a civil war, they resent we came in and settled it.
And they’ve done a lot of projecting – aided by Soviet propaganda – they call us imperialist and war mongers, because they can’t bear that in themselves.
And also they have no clue what makes us work, not really. They don’t know why we innovate more than they do. They don’t know why our consumer society is what is softening their politics advancement into the rest of the world. They know it, but they resent it.
We are of them, but we are also the others. And being the others, we must be absorbed, and we must be brought in line. There can be no competing mental furniture, as Europe takes over the rest of the world.
Which brings us to where we are. Since the early twentieth century, they’ve been conquering our intellectuals, our universities, convincing them the European way is better. (And look, they’ve changed from monarchy to “democracies” of various kinds, but the same people are in charge. The bureaucrats that have the real power are the same people – often from the same families.) They’ve been telling them about the soft power of redistribution, of socialism, of an entrenched bureaucracy, set to encompass the world.
Intellectuals – and bureaucrats – like that. It’s the sort of power they understand and the sort of power they crave.
And now intellectuals and bureaucrats are in power. Europe is trying to swallow us.
It won’t work. Of course it won’t. They don’t understand the reason the soft imperialism has worked is because we remain free to create wealth that can redound back on them in more ways than one. (Not just aid, but us being the main consumer of the world’s goods – the engine of the world’s commerce.) They don’t understand that, because all they understand is the old model: wealth comes from elsewhere and makes the people at home prosperous.
They don’t understand that without America it will have to be back to Roman-style (or Soviet Style) rapine and everyone will be a little poorer. All they understand is that we make their model look bad and we must – must – be brought into line.
So – that’s where we stand. Islam is a front in European expansion (and they’re completely dysfunctional and have nothing to oppose it, so they turn on… us – because it’s our gadgets and our wealth that are dismantling their poverty and ignorance from within.) Curiously, we have to fight them too.
But we’re the other front. We’re under assault by Europhiles who think that if they just bring us under control, they’ll be in charge of the world. A sort of empire of the paper-pushers.
Even if they succeed — and they’re well on the way there — all they’ll manage is a brief period of time of increasing misery and then (and in this the Roman analogy is somewhat apt) an age of darkness. (No, don’t want to hear it. Yes, yes, the middle ages were not as dark as painted. And yet, for the average peasant, they were. No, life might not have been as blood-soaked as some parts of Roman history could be, but it was still brutal and nasty and short. Yes, I know the works to the contrary. This seems to be part of the European project. As in the Soviet Union, it’s the past that keeps changing.) And then probably a repetition of the pattern all over again.
If they eliminate us, as the new model, their model will still be the best thing in human civilization. And when civilization comes back again, it will be in their model.
I have only one question for you guys – are you going to let them get away with it?
UPDATE: Welcome instapundit readers, and thank you, Glenn, for the link!
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