Monday’s literal fantasies

Sciences of “Dune”: An Introduction (LA Review of Books)

A symposium on Dune’s medicine, ethnography, eugenics and others.

Why Do We Love the Brutality of “Grimdark” Fantasy? (LitHub)

Have neither read ASoIaF nor watched GoT, but I will leave the root of word “grimdark” here: In the grim darkness of far future there is only war.

On Tolkien and Orwell (Darcy Moore)

More common points than just “being peculiarly English authors with evergreen book sales“.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s biography gets a publisher and a release date (Oregon Live)

Just finished The Dispossessed, the 1974 SF novel by Le Guin. A worthy, humane read, definitely. Apart from the beautiful prose, the setting is compelling. Two planets: Urras, complete with states, money and war, and Anarres, a former mining outpost turned to colony by settlers from Urras. Governments of Urras offered to people adhering to the teachings of a semi-legendary woman (“Laia Asieo Odo”) the colony, so that they could do their thing without disrupting “civil order”. Le Guin explains:

Odonianism is anarchism. Not the bomb-in-the-pocket stuff, which is terrorism, whatever name it tries to dignify itself with; not the social-Darwinist economic “libertarianism” of the far right; but anarchism as prefigured in early Taoist thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and Goodman. Anarchism’s principal target is the authoritarian State (capitalist or socialist); its principal moral-practical theme is cooperation (solidarity, mutual aid). It is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories.

Source

The book follows a scientist from the anarchist planet who travels to the old world. The chapters alternate between his interactions there and flashbacks from his homeland. The writer paints the capitalist state, that hosts the traveler, as funky, but sinister (she does not spare a neighboring socialist one, either), while she treats the anarchist world more generously. It even gives it some, let’s say, additional leeway, contrasting its arid, hostile landscape with the lush environment of Urras. The dichotomy is furthered by guarantees of isolation: The two worlds only do some limited communications and trade, no traveling in-between.

The outline of life in Anarres was the most interesting aspect, to me. Trust, mutuality and personal freedom are the basic elements in this anarchist society, which prides itself against those competitive, “archists”, “propertarians” of Urras. They also fear and loathe them (acknowledging that Anarres is practically defenseless at the face of tactical armies), and also need to trade with them ores for necessary goods.

The constructed language of Anarres expresses the core beliefs, for example, it uses “central” instead of “higher”, to denote significance in the absence of hierarchies. The word for “work” is the same as “play” (or was it “joy”?), and the really unpleasant tasks are shared on a rotating basis. This means that specialized and unspecialized individuals alike spend some considerable time laboring for society’s wellbeing. Professions are conducted through syndicates, which form and dissolve voluntarily. Individuals move freely across the planet’s communities. There is a unit that coordinates production, work postings and resources allocation (a Gosplan-lite, if you take away the imposing building and that 5-year fetish). It also has powers like emergency work postings in times of need (the closest thing to quasi-official “compulsion” in a society without the notion of it). Serial slackers deserve food and shelter, like anyone else, but at some point will probably get their asses kicked by their peers and/ or pressed to fuck-off to another location.

Only the original Gosplan deserved a fancy garage like this – source

Each individual is responsible to the others. This simple standard of meeting social expectations, benevolent as it is at first, in the novel is seen as gradually taking the shape of an “orthodoxy” placed, and finally encroaching, upon individual freedom. The writer is also keen to pinpoint the effects of creeping hierarchies, even in organizations open to participation. For example, an anarchist argues that the coordination unit has assumed the bureaucratic attitude (“no to everything”). Other institutions, like research centers, are seen festering with dug-in cliques and “seniors”, that fend-off outsiders and boss around among supposedly equals. I think that anyone who has experienced office life can relate to this.

There is more, about self, relations, gender (not The Left Hand of Darkness – not read, or Tehanu – read, level), constraints and science (the last I cannot judge). A final note, the people of Anarres describe themselves as anarchists, Odonians and, of course, libertarians.

Some Monday Links

Not creepy social experimentation, *the* feudalistic space opera, and guilds

The emergence of spontaneous order (Panarchy)

An excerpt:

Individuals, from infants to old people, resent or fail to show any interest in anything initially presented to them through discipline, regulation or instruction which is another aspect of authority…Even temptation, the gentlest form of compulsion, does not work because human beings, even children, recognize carrots for what they ultimately mean; we have at least progressed beyond the donkey!

No, not Hayek, a bunch of physicians – same era, though

This comes from a report (Biologists in search of material, 1938) that summarized the findings of a social investigation “designed to determine whether people as a whole would, given the opportunity, take a vested interest in their own health and fitness and expend effort to maintain it” (the Peckham Experiment). The report was even covered in the prestigious Nature magazine.

Duuune!

I am a fan of the novel (of the dabbler kind, not a balls-out groupie) and hinted at it some time ago (the title of this comes from a Dune character, smuggler Tuek. Since I feel I have to explain it, the reference was either brilliantly subtle, or just lame).

The CHOAM conglomerate flag: Libertarian socialism with a liberal background? (colors per Wikipedia) – source

It contains more than a few pop-culture icons (and the inspiration for others), like the Sandworms, the stillsuits, the CHOAM, the Sardaukar and so on. Plus, a Greek staple: House Atreides, supposedly tracing back to this family, the source of Oresteia.

Will Denis Villeneuve Capture the Greatness of Dune? (National Review)

Dune Foresaw—and Influenced—Half a Century of Global Conflict (Wired)

The author, Frank Herbert, had one thing or two to say about Big Government, but my favorite is an inscription at the Emperor’s Palace, in the city of Corrinth (which gets its name from the ruling House Corrino, but also vaguely reminds of another Greek word). I still ponder its meaning:

Law is the ultimate science

House Corrino motto

One of the pillars of Dune society is the Spacing Guild, basically a monopolist of faster-than-light interstellar travel. Speaking of close ops:

Guilds of Florence: Rent-seeking, but with style – source

Review of Sheilagh Ogilvie, The European Guilds: An Economic Analysis (AIER)

The guilds generally stifled competition and promoted rent-seeking. The system fizzled out as liberal institutions – democracy, free markets – took hold.