Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hu Iz Alyss Roaz' GrandSlave?

I plugged (for a certain definition of "plugged") the webcomic site Big Head Press a few months ago, saying basically that although American-brand libertarianism cannot be applied to a system of naked apes without vacuuming power into dictatorships, it does make for the sort of chest-puffing idealism found at the core of so much memorable SciFi. Their latest (and longest-running, I believe) story, Quantum Vibe, has reached that classic, cozily predictable plot-point SciFi fans learn to anticipate with glee, the pedantic long-winded sit-down in which the mentor outlines to the hero just where society has gone wrong. Luckily in this case the mentor's female and wearing something flimsy to hold your attention.
Oh, if only more of my attractive female high-school teachers had gone that extra mile, I might actually know calculus. Yes, I'd be plotting points on graphs as tiny little boobs, but y'know... still. Also, Excel totally needs that option.

Anyway, Nicole Oresme, now Alyss Roaz (like we didn't see that dramatic reveal coming a mile away) once-heroine under the mentorship of whomever, you don't care, is now mentoring later chapters' new generation of bright young heroes. At first the scene's hyperbolic slam against socialist Utopianism annoyed me, but luckily Trump's nuclear hair delayed me a few days until the myopic idealism fully face-planted. Skip the basic paranoia that any resource-based socioeconomic system will inevitably fail (no, really they've got twenty-five imaginary planets to prove it.) Skip also the weird accusation that a society in which all basic human needs are provided for to allow individuals freedom to pursue their intellectual or artistic interests is somehow one in which you will be forced to play the violin.

Skip to the parts about the robots and grandchildren. Part of plucky eight-hundred-year-young Alyss' future history lecture runs like this:

"advancing technology offered the prospect that all mundane physical labor and manufacturing could be performed by robotic slaves"

(Italics added by original author for emphasis.)
(Sound effects added by me. For emphasis.)

This is the fundamental libertarian fear that avoiding paid work is an abandonment of intrinsic responsibility - not only dangerous but utterly villainous. You know who avoids mundane physical labor? Slavers! Yeah! Only four pages later:

"In my society, there is no welfare-state. We tend to have lots of children, so we have a network of people we know we can rely on if we need help."

No, see... bwahahahah... wait, hold on a second. Hee-hee-hee. So enslaving my toaster's wrong but progeny's fair game? Which one of Nicole's endless resource-gobbling brood will have the honor of changing her Depends when she finally goes senile? No, I'm sorry, mundane labor is just that - mundane. It does not result in individual growth. Also, when cousin Bob's car-repair home business goes belly-up, expecting to pawn his homeless carcass off on relatives only punishes the good relatives and rewards the bad, those who'll throw him out on his ass. See, families are governments too - rather more socialist ones, as a rule.

The United States' peculiarly bureaucratic beginning as an amalgamated federation has allowed its capitalist puppeteers to focus the public's resistance to authority almost entirely on a largely fictitious ever-encroaching Federal government. Where it intersects libertarianism, anarchism and other anti-authoritarian mindsets, this has resulted in a grimly comical blindness to the pervasiveness of power structures in human society.

Religions are governments. Schools are governments. Backwoods gun-hoarding militias are governments. Corporations, hooo-boy, are those ever governments, and dictatorships to boot. Let's not forget the oldest and most pervasive form of government of all, the family/tribal unit within which the individual's role is redefined through the stultifying evolutionary lens of survival of shared genetic material. The interpersonal emotional weakness imposed by our kin-recognition instincts is a tool of control, more apt toward subjugation than the cat'o'nine-tails could ever hope to be.

This is the dirty little secret swept under the neoliberal rug whenever a public service gets privatized. When you can't get to the hospital because there's no public transport system, when the hospital kicks you out half-sick for lack of public funding, you will still be taking resources from some kind of socialist safety net. It's expected that someone will be driving you there, someone will be taking you in. You are expected to inflict that harm, that loss of time and resources, on whomever you can socially manipulate. It's the rich who profit off an increase in the work-force, but it's the individual poor who sacrifice to raise those future cogs for the system. Dogs never ate other dogs with such bland, unthinking acceptance.

By the way, if you think robot slaves will doom their human masters to a slow death, go to any large city. Back-alleys are filled with elderly victims of their children's non-robot uprising - and when you feel one of those tremulous, wrinkled hands shiv you in the kidneys, don't you dare protest. That metal penetration's naught but the sublimest hatefuck you've courted all along in the guise of faux-libertarian capitalism.

Look, I like Quantum Vibe. It's a comic about creativity, daring, integrity and most importantly intellectual progress. Its latest chapters are fundamentally a classic SciFi plot about a society which has abandoned the all-important principle of self-determination, which remains a perennially crucial thought-exercise no matter under which political wing you shelter your personal dogma. However, on the topic of the juxtaposition of an impersonal, diffuse social safety net with the time-honored communist dictatorship of our social instinct, I'd like to offer a quote I've used once before on this blog by a bad writer who wrote a few excellent passages, a troubled mind who nonetheless saw many things very clearly. Given the splash page which adorns the beginning of Venus23, I'm guessing Quantum Vibe's author may also have heard of the book:

"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men."
Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

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