Aug 15, 2007

Utopia and Stranger in a Strange Land

"Robert Heinlein in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND wrote a work of propaganda, which was meant to, and in my case did, persuade the reader to adopt a philosophy that was false." -- John C. Wright at his Journal. [Note: the famous science fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, proposes cannibalism as a virtue. John C. Wright explains what is wrong with the book in a previous post of his Journal. The discussion continues below.]

"And did you start eating your friends as a gesture of respect as a result?"

No, but the libertarian moral-relativism he [Heinlein] deliberately (and successfully) persuaded me [Wright] to adopt, left me without an ability to say what [why] cannibalism was wrong, or polygamy, or incest. His stated aim was to undermine monogamy and monotheism. One way to do this is to feign total innocence when confronted by total wickedness: to ask (with wide-eyed naivety) why cannibalism or incest is wrong, and, if the answer requires any value judgment, to dismiss the value judgment as arbitrary, ergo of no moral weight.

Once one has no confidence in the reasoning about what is morally obvious, those things that are morally obscure become cloudy as well. For many years, I saw nothing wrong with perversion, fornication, polygamy, open adultery, and so on. That was Heinlein's rhetorical purpose.

Heinlein did not get me to be a cannibal, but he did persuade me to throw away the moral code I used to say cannibalism is wrong. Of course he did not give a tinker's damn about cannibalism: it was my judgment, my sense of reason, my sense of proportion, that he wanted me to scuttle.

I submit that the one leads to the other: a moral standard that is neutral on the question of cannibalism is perforce neutral on every lesser standard. I challenge you or anyone to prove me wrong. To prove me wrong, all you need do is give me an argument, starting from a Heinlein axiom that all men should be free to do whatsoever they will, provided it does no violence to another, to show clearly, and without any arbitrary value judgments, why cannibalism of a willing victim is wrong, or incest with a willing daughter, or any other victimless crime.

If you cannot do it, then you have been deceived, and harmed, by the same school of thought that deceived and harmed me: and it is this school of which Heinlein, at least in science fiction circles, was the foremost advocate.

I responded on the above post by Wright to ask:
Was that philosophy Utopianism? This "perennial heresy" is the basis for many hypothetical future worlds where the vices of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride have disappeared (or in some instances, made into virtues). The corresponding virtues of chastity, abstinence, liberality, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility that have been the foundation of prior civilizations are usually ignored.

Utopians believe human beings are perfectible. These thinkers are at odds with REALITY and believe in the deification of mankind. Yet our permanently imperfect society is incapable of reaching an ultra-human state because of the extreme tensions between what we want, what we can achieve, and what is good for us. [You can argue all day on that last one!]

In contrast, non-Utopians (religionists) have a much higher regard for REALITY because they conclude that, if mankind sinned consistently over the past 10,000 years, mankind's imperfections will be disturbingly evident over the next 10,000 years. The root of Utopianism is a great pride, never a good starting point to find truth. Moreover, Utopia is a world where freedom must be severely constrained for the benefit of all. The Utopian must dissolve personalities which individualities are the cause of disagreements between peoples.

Sci-Fi authors, in their Utopianism, regularly insist that humanity will be transformed into a community of saintly scientists and philosophers, all joined together in a collectively high intelligence. [THE GOLDEN TRANSCENDENCE is an example.] In reality, dreams of Utopianism are nightmares where no change can be tolerated within a person's life or within a society.

Philosophy attempts to understand mankind, but science cannot understand the non-objective parts of man's reasoning. Even if science is perfectible, mankind is not perfectible because philosophy is not perfectible. Or if it is, man's weaknesses prevent him from knowing or acknowledging philosophical truths.

I recently asked a professor of philosophy what philosophical ideas were new and original, so that he and others could meet requirements for "new, published research." He laughed and said there was nothing new in philosophy. He and other professors could only write about philosophical thoughts presented and studied in the past, yet with "new" organization and comparisons. I was heartened to hear this old professor insist that philosophy is well worth studying because it contemplates God, mankind, the universe, knowledge, and values.
Original Sin needs to be mentioned here, but others have written more succinctly on the topic here and here.

1 comment:

cranky said...

I believe you're correct in your analysis. Does this apply to most modern literature? With the few exceptions of Percy, Chesterton, etc., isn't most (if not all) popular fiction verging on deadly? Faulkner, Updike, Hemmingway, Grisham, Oates, King, Clancey, or Morrison all paint worlds centering on hope as being non-existant, or found in something other than God.

I probably over-generalize, but you have so caught why I don't read much fiction any more. I wanted to comment.