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Starship Troopers: Interpretation and Analysis

AliasiSudonomo

Trying to be a bird
Validated User
But the problem isn't restricted to Heinlein. It's science fiction authors trying to solve a problem that's already solved. Non universal franchise will always be wrong and unjust and contribute to unequal societies. Instead it shows some less flattering sides of the author. Like David Webers hang ups with a social security net.
But is it truly "always wrong and unjust"?

Like, the usual point of Heinlein's work is what Charlie Stross calls the 'inadmissable thought experiment', and what lot of Heinlein imitators miss when they write totally uninspired whitebread science fiction that would seem novel to a white cishet man of the 1950s. He's far from the only one, mind you, consider Ian M. Banks' Culture novels. While the Culture takes a nominally democratic form of governance, the artificial intelligence "Minds" that run Culture habitats and ships are so amazingly advanced they can frequently rig the opinion of citizens as they like. They are mostly moral enough to not do this... mostly. Yet, one of the key, foundational assumptions of the Culture is the Minds truly are benevolent, nearly godlike AIs that really do want the best for the people in their care, and are smart enough to actually pick the thing that is best for them, most of the time. The net result is a fully automated luxury space communism with very few restrictions on personal liberties, at least in Banks' view.

The dilemma of democracy is most people have not the faintest clue how to run a country (or they think they do, and they often think very wrongly). So you have them pick representatives who, presumably, can spend time learning how. Except those representatives often spend more time figuring out how to get elected and siphon off a bit of wealth for themselves in the process. The dilemma of autocracy is while it is almost certainly true there exists a human who is truly wiser than everyone else, how do we find them, and how do we keep people who aren't wise but do like power from killing our wise person and taking their throne at first opportunity?

Heck, it's not even the only thought experiment Heinlein tried - and the governmental systems of the Lunar Republic, of the universes that heed Their Wisdom, and the balkanized United States of Friday are wildly different from each other, and from the Terran Federation of Starship Troopers. It only looks like some Ayn Rand-style screed in isolation. But I linked the Stross blogpost because there is something else very true about Heinlein. As a cishet white dude writing about it in the beginning and middle of the 20th century, he tried to look outside the box he grew up in but lacked the vocabulary and often got things wrong. He can look quite silly now, looking back, when he did. But when he got it right, he got it right.
 

Strange Visitor

Grumpy Grognard
Validated User
To be fair, he's not even suggesting it won't, I'd say; it just falls outside the scope of the novel. But for something similar, consider the way both the United States and the Lunar Republic change throughout Heinlein's "future history".
Yeah, Heinlein doesn't think anything governmental works forever. If you said "The ST government system will degrade into favoritism and fascism over time" he'd likely go "Probably. But what doesn't? Why?"

The only difference is that he thinks if you start with a good groundwork in the first place, it might do as well or better than voting schemes that don't ask anything of the voters--and even there its "might" not "will."

Heinlein had a number of blindspots and particular views that aren't entirely supportable, but the one to keep in mind here is that any time he's suggesting a governmental system, its never a good idea to forget that he thinks they're all subject to rot. So he's mostly talking about rate of rot rather than anything else.
 

ranson

"Two Sheds"
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Yeah, Heinlein doesn't think anything governmental works forever. If you said "The ST government system will degrade into favoritism and fascism over time" he'd likely go "Probably. But what doesn't? Why?"

The only difference is that he thinks if you start with a good groundwork in the first place, it might do as well or better than voting schemes that don't ask anything of the voters--and even there its "might" not "will."

Heinlein had a number of blindspots and particular views that aren't entirely supportable, but the one to keep in mind here is that any time he's suggesting a governmental system, its never a good idea to forget that he thinks they're all subject to rot. So he's mostly talking about rate of rot rather than anything else.
I think all this is very true. I remember the one government-running character that felt he had stopped doing a good job because no one was mad enough about anything to try and assassinate him recently. Heinlein built some weird ideas about governing into things.
 

Litpho

Wandering stranger
RPGnet Member
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I think one of the few government characters he ever wrote without distrust would be the Administrator from Methuselah’s Children. Professor LaPaz from Moon comes close, but has a very “I am just doing this because it has to be done right and if I could just trust others to do it right I won’t even step up” vibe to me.
 

Pieta

Very custom
Validated User
Yeah, Heinlein doesn't think anything governmental works forever. If you said "The ST government system will degrade into favoritism and fascism over time" he'd likely go "Probably. But what doesn't? Why?"

The only difference is that he thinks if you start with a good groundwork in the first place, it might do as well or better than voting schemes that don't ask anything of the voters--and even there its "might" not "will."

Heinlein had a number of blindspots and particular views that aren't entirely supportable, but the one to keep in mind here is that any time he's suggesting a governmental system, its never a good idea to forget that he thinks they're all subject to rot. So he's mostly talking about rate of rot rather than anything else.
It's still weird to me that he goes from "all government is doomed" to "and therefore, the government should get way more control over the voting process".
 

Cessna

Gritty AF
Staff member
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I don't think Heinlein was saying "should." Rather, it was more "isn't it interesting to think about what would happen if?"

The fact that the book is still discussed with such passion sixty years later shows that yes, it IS a subject that people like to talk about.
 

Strange Visitor

Grumpy Grognard
Validated User
I think one of the few government characters he ever wrote without distrust would be the Administrator from Methuselah’s Children. Professor LaPaz from Moon comes close, but has a very “I am just doing this because it has to be done right and if I could just trust others to do it right I won’t even step up” vibe to me.
Mr. Kiku from Star Beast doesn't come across badly either.

But I think in general its telling that Heinlein did the whole thing he did in ST once; none of his other SF governments look at all like it. I think it was intended as a "If things shook down so that this particular approach was set up well from the start, would it work?" mixed with "and here we have this SF war story from an elite infantry perspective."

You can argue how well he made his argument--as has been noted, Heinlein was a man of his time with what look like some seriously naive views on race and gender from a modern perspective--but I think its still arguable that it was more "Its not clear this is worse than what we currently do" than "This would obviously be a better approach."
 

Strange Visitor

Grumpy Grognard
Validated User
It's still weird to me that he goes from "all government is doomed" to "and therefore, the government should get way more control over the voting process".
Except I don't think that's the part he's interested in there; the part he's interested in there is the electorate being invested. The setup was just to force that.
 

Menocchio

Eccentric Thousandaire
Validated User
I don't think Heinlein was saying "should." Rather, it was more "isn't it interesting to think about what would happen if?"

The fact that the book is still discussed with such passion sixty years later shows that yes, it IS a subject that people like to talk about.
I mean, on one hand, it's a tempting thought isn't it? What if all the idiots and the assholes just couldn't vote? What if there were hoops you had to jump through- not like that, ones that actually tested your character this time- that would weed them out and only true patriots could get a say in the issues that affect us all. I've seen people across the political spectrum indulge in that fantasy.

On the other hand, every step that denies people the right to vote concentrates power. And power concentrated tends to curdle and only work to protect itself. And our nation's history is one of the struggle to bring power to the people, as represented by the ability to vote.

ETA: It also has power armor. And power armor frikkin' rules.
 
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Kurt McMahon

Academic Ninja
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I don't think Heinlein was saying "should." Rather, it was more "isn't it interesting to think about what would happen if?"

The fact that the book is still discussed with such passion sixty years later shows that yes, it IS a subject that people like to talk about.
None of Heinlein’s other books feature such a system, so clearly he wasn’t married to the concept.

But the book and the Mobile Infantry definitely attract more discussion today than say, the Space Patrol (from Heinlein’s novel Space Cadet), a military organization devoted solely to keeping the peace. Nobody talks about Patrol officer John Ezra Dahlquist, the protagonist of “The Long Watch”, who sacrificed his life to stop a military coup by his fellow officers.
 
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