Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dragon*Con 2011 - Highlights and Lowlights (Part II)

(Continued from here.)

Politics... in... Space!

Despite the fiasco that was "Liberals in Space," John Ringo was kind enough to make an appearance at "Libertarians in Space" on Saturday evening. Also in attendance were Michael Z. Williamson (author, most notably, of Freehold) and Mark L. Van Name (author of the excellent Children No More). There were no further outbreaks of leftwing foot-in-mouth disease, likely because all three of these authors hail from Baen. (It's difficult to be incivil when you're dealing with your co-workers.)

The dominant theme at this panel - and at "Conservatives in Space" on Monday - dealt with the requirements of space travel and colonization. Ringo, Williamson, and Van Name (and Chuck Gannon at the later panel) all seemed to be of the opinion that, say, Heinlein's rational anarchy wouldn't really work in the early days of space colonization because, quite frankly, space is too demanding. On a space ship - or in a space colony - there are many dirty jobs that need to get done, and that requires some kind of regimentation -- some kind of discipline system.

As I listened to these discussions last weekend, it occurred to me that this might be the reason why the military has such a presence in space-based science fiction. The military has a built-in chain-of-command, an internal culture that emphasizes strict obedience, and government funding, so it is particularly well-suited to tackling the hazards of space. And that brings up the following question: Is it at all possible for a civilian group to emulate the military's organizational genius? I think yes, but the group in question would have to possess a special set of qualities:

  • Its members would have to be self-starting ants, not grasshoppers. They have to be people who are capable of recognizing what needs to get done and are willing to do it. If the colony needs a new latrine trench, for example, our ideal civilian group would be full of men and women who'd automatically grab their shovels for the good of their fellow colonists. And by the way, when things go all to hell - and you can bet they will in space - we need the kind of people who pull together and help each other without outside assistance. Space is not for the entitled complainers who expect the government to swoop in and save their bacon.
  • Its members would have to be fairly homogenous. And here, I'm not talking about racial homogeneity necessarily; I'm talking about cultural homogeneity. Diversity is great, but it's a hard sociological truth that diversity and trust have an inverse relationship -- and in the early days of space colonization at least, trust is absolutely crucial.
  • Its members would need to have access to substantial capital. Hopefully, technological innovation (driven by private sector) will ultimately reduce the cost of the flight to our hypothetical space colony, but our colonists would still need a butt ton of other supplies to be successful, and that means they need money -- and a lot of it.

Personally, I'm partial to the Mayflower model. In other words, I can envision a religious group - like, for example, an order of Catholic monks - that would have the features listed above. And wouldn't that be a great novel?

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