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Logic of Empire: Robert A. Heinlein

It has occurred to me that when we write about the stuff we had read we mostly write about ourselves i.e the way that the book has influenced us or made us feel. Perhaps it is inevitable. One cannot separate oneself from the reading experience completely.

There is no point in claiming to be objective when it comes to literature, reading is as subjective as any experience can be and that is the whole beauty of it if you ask me. Since this is my personal blog and there is no one is paying to me to make smart comments or one sentence sums up, I can take my time and explain why this particular piece of writing is of so much importance to me.

Logic of Empire, this vintage sf story, has had quite an effect on me when I read it for the first time. Now, just finishing it for the second time (or perhaps even the third, it's hard to keep track of rereading, isn't it?) I'm certain of its literary merits, but what it all comes down to is: slavery.

This passage has haunted me from the first time I had read it:

" Slavery is economically unsound, non- productive, but men drift into it whenever the circumstances compel it." (page 273 in my edition of The Green Hills of Earth/ Menace from Earth )

Naturally, all kinds of questions came to my mind, trying to figure this logic of the Empire.
Why do men drift into colonial social systems naturally? Is it something in the human nature? Why have civilization and colonization walked hand in hand? How is such a thing possible? How much do we know about what society truly is and what kind of logic is behind it?

Having read the book the second time, I feel that some things are definitely falling into place, yet more questions seems to be emerging in my head...and perhaps that is what good writing should be. It should make us question...question our heart, our mind and more or less everything we know.

You know that feeling when something in your head  just makes a click? I've just realized that the issue of colonialism has troubled me for years...and I mean really troubled. I've started to see it everywhere, in the divisions, in the economics, in the science, in the politics...long before I aced the post colonial literature classes I had been thinking about it. Long before I had read who knows how many novels about it.

 Not that this novel has explained everything  ...but in a few very intelligent sentences it has summed up one of the major problems that we as society have and that is the issue of slavery. It had put it quite clearly and boldly...and that is not something that often happens. We all know that slavery is bad... but most of us have never ventured behind that simple statement...and most of us don't think about the fact that slavery is as present as it has always been.

It would be probably about the time that I get to the story line. Well, if you're not familiar with the future histories or the famous Heinlein chart, I won't bore you with it. I'll just say that this story is like many others by this writer set in future. Two friends argue about whereas the system that exist on Venus is slavery or not and after a night out drinking they wake up in a space ship heading towards the planet in question with no ticket back. Yup, it is slavery they realize once they get there.

I haven't said anything about the characters. I haven't said anything about the plot. Please don't take it as an implication that there is something wrong with that or any aspect of the story. This can really be read as a great sf, because you know what... the characters are well developed, the story is plausible, the imagination of the writer impressive and every detail is in its place as we would expect of the man that is considered to be one of the great ones.

But let's get back to business:

" Slavery is economically unsound, non- productive, but men drift into it whenever the circumstances compel it. A different financial system- but that is another story"
" I still think it is rooted in human cussedness," Wingate said stubbornly.
" Not cussedness- simple stupidity. I can't prove it to you but you will learn."

Now what does he mean by simple stupidity? Let's fast forward to the end. Both of guys end up on Earth. Having escaped slavery and death, one of them (the lawyer) wants to get his autobiographical novel published. He is shocked that no one is really interested in having in published. Bring in the juicy details, is what they all seem to be asking.

"Well, I'm damned if I'll resort to that kind of cheap sensationalism. I've got a perfectly straightforward case that anyone can understand."
" Have you?..." It's nothing new; it happened in the Old South, it it happened again in California, in Mexico, in Australia, in South America. Why? Because in any expanding free-enterprise economy which does not have a money system designated to fit its requirements, the use of mother country to develop the colony inevitably results in subsistence-level wedges at home and slave labor in the colonies. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and all the good will in the world on the part of the ruling classes won't change it, because the basic problem is one requiring scientific analysis and a mathematical mind. Do you think you can explain those issues to the general public?"
" I can try."

I think I'm starting to get where he is getting at with that "simple stupidity" line . The general public will never see the whole picture...and you know what? It is hard to see it, I'm not sure I see it...human societies are so complex, that perhaps there will never be more than a handful that will understand its tricky mechanism...and really now, what can a handful of people do? That being said, let's get back to this fascinating conversation.

" How far did I get when I tried to explain them to you before you have seen the results? And you are a smart hombre. No, Hump, these things are too difficult to explain to people and too abstract to interest them. You spoke before a women's club the other day, didn't you?"
" Yes."
"How did you make out?"
" Well..."

So, what you say about this conversation about slavery? Has it got you interested? Well, I got me interested enough to type about it and it's 4 am...interested enough to keep me racking my brains probably until the sun comes out and then some...

So, this is what I got for now. It would probably be good idea to rethink where we as a human species are heading. Nothing seems to have worked so system after another, feudalism, communism, it the system?or is it us? or is it both? and really what should we do?

P.S. I don't think I'm finished with reviewing this one.

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