Quotulatiousness

November 19, 2017

The case for a “social” statute of limitations

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle recounts a few incidents and wonders if it’s rational or fair to apply today’s social rules to interactions that happened years or decades ago:

These events, after all, took place at least two decades ago. In some cases, cultural norms really have changed. I’d be shocked now to hear a really dirty joke told at work, but in my early twenties, I don’t recall even being mildly nonplussed. I’m not saying that the norms of those workplaces were right, but I am saying that the men who told them did not have mens rea: the knowledge that they were doing something wrong. And in general, it’s a bad idea to punish people for trespassing against rules they didn’t know. Or rules that didn’t exist.

But even if they had known, I still wouldn’t be eager to out and punish them now. I did a lot of things decades ago that I regret, and I would hate to be held accountable for them now as if they’d happened last week. And since I hope to grow and change a bit in the coming decades, I’d also hate to be punished in some far tomorrow for the norms — or even the folly — of today.

So it seems worth asking whether we need some sort of statute of limitations on these kinds of offenses in our culture, not just in our laws. It would not be a blanket pardon for anyone who manages to go unreported through the five- or 10-year mark. It would be a mitigating factor in deciding how to respond in the present to actions from another time: autre temps, autre moeurs.

The question when confronted with reports of decades-old misdeeds is not “Would this guy be a creep if he did this today?” Better to ask: “Was he better or worse than his environment?” And also: “Is there reason to believe he might have changed since then?”

Some cads and criminals would fail all these tests. And if the offense was last year, or if the accused attempts to intimidate the victim or explain away the transgression, then the answer to those questions is probably “No.” But if a man shamefacedly confesses that he made a mistake decades ago, through bad understanding or bad judgment, just how far are we willing to go in shunning him? To the same extreme we would for a recent, remorseless, serial offender?

If so, how many of us are willing to live under that standard — in which the sins of our distant past are ripe for litigation at any moment? In which the court of public opinion issues the same summary judgment immediately after every accusation? In which every defendant’s reputation and contributions are discarded into the same garbage heap, no matter what the age or nature of the offense?

November 12, 2017

QotD: Why politicians are all the same kind of people

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Why is it, then, that the virtues and decencies that we generally expect people to have in their private life are so manifestly absent in the people who succeed best in politics and government? The answer lies in the nature of government itself — at least, government as we currently know it all over the world, a system of imposed, involuntary, monopoly rule whereby the system’s kingpins use military and police power along with ideological enchantment to plunder and bully innocent people — and to get away with doing so year after year. Just as only physically tough, fearless, aggressive persons succeed as prize fighters, so only dishonest, slick, evasive, power-hungry, unscrupulous, and vicious persons have what it takes to succeed in a system whose very foundations — violence, aggression, extortion, and misrepresentation — are completely at odds with private standards of just and virtuous conduct.

If someone like me — elderly, small, weak, timid, and untrained — were put in the ring to fight for the heavyweight boxing championship, you would not expect me to survive more than a few seconds. Likewise, if someone like me — someone who respects other persons’ natural rights to life, liberty, and property and who abhors dishonesty, extortion, aggression, and unnecessary violence — were thrown into the political or governmental arena, I would scarcely last much longer. There’s a reason why today’s leading campaigners are such morally ugly individuals: they have a comparative advantage in taking the kinds of actions one must take in order to reach the pinnacle of government power.

Robert Higgs, “Why the Worst Get on Top: Comparative Advantage”, The Beacon, 2016-03-16.

October 30, 2017

QotD: Responding to “do my homework for me” requests from students

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is one certain kind of email interview, however, which I’m going to single out for attention. Just recently, I got an interview request from a high school student which was clearly nothing more than the questions he received as part of a assignment, and he thought he could fool me into answering them for him. Now, this wasn’t the first time I’ve received such a letter, so even though I’m answering him the rest of you smartass students need to listen up as well: Listen, kiddo, I didn’t just fall off of the fucking turnip truck. Don’t let my spectacular bod fool you; I’m old enough to be your grandmother, and I was probably outwitting teachers before your parents were born. I’ve been around the block more times than you’ve masturbated, and if you think you can trick me into doing your homework, you need to be slapped harder than I’m willing to give you for what you can afford. It’s bad enough when adult reporters try to get me to do their work for them, but it reaches a higher level of impudence when the person who thinks he can outwit me isn’t even as old as the last bottle of wine I drank. So cut that shit out; if you want to interview me come up with some proper questions, record it, then write the damned paper yourself. The practice will do you good, and one day you’ll thank me when you become an actual writer rather than a fucking stenographer whose “craft” consists of parroting whatever moronic propaganda the cops are shoveling out at press conferences in the late 2020s.

Maggie McNeill, “Not Last Night”, The Honest Courtesan, 2016-03-17.

September 23, 2017

Roger Scruton – On ‘Harry Potter’

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Conservatism Archive
Published on Sep 4, 2017

September 16, 2017

Moral and philosophical conflict in Wilhelmine Germany

Filed under: Germany, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Samizdata, Paul Marks looks at intra-German conflicts that were played out during and after the First World War:

The conflict between German Generals Falkenhayn and Ludendorff was over a lot more than military policy – indeed Falkenhayn made some horrible mistakes in military tactics, for example allowing himself to be pushed into continuing the Verdun offensive much longer than he intended (at least much longer than he later claimed had been his original intention), and insisting that General Fritz Von Below recapture any position he lost to the British in the Somme offensive – an order that led to terrible German casualties.

The conflict may have been presented as a military one (between the “Westerner” Falkenhayn and the “Easterner” Lundendorff ) over whether to concentrate German military resources in the West or the East – but it was really a lot more than a dispute over military policy. Nor was it really a dispute over the form of government – as neither Falkenhayn or Ludendorff was a democrat. It was fundamentally a MORAL (ethical) dispute.

General Lundendorff had absorbed (even more than Kaiser Wilhelm II had) the moral relativism and historicism that had become fashionable in the German elite in the decades running up to the First World War – ideas that can be traced all the way back to (in their different ways) such philosophers as Hegel and (far more) Fichte, whereas General Falkenhayn still clung to concepts of universal justice (morality) and rejected such things as the extermination or enslavement of whole races, and the destruction of historic civilisations such as that of Russia. Lundendorff, and those who thought like him, regarded Falkenhayn as hopelessly reactionary – for example thinking in terms of making peace with Russia on terms favourable to Germany, rather than destroying Russia and using the population as slaves. In the Middle East Falkenhayn came to hear of the Ottoman Turk plan to destroy the Jews (as the Armenian Christians had been destroyed), and he was horrified by the plan and worked to frustrate it. Advanced and Progressive thinkers, such as Ludnedorff, had great contempt for Reactionaries such as Falkenhayn who did not realise that ideas of universal justice and personal honour were “myths” only believed in by silly schoolgirls. Falkenhayn even took Christianity seriously, to Lundendorff this was clearly the mark of an inferior and uneducated mind. And Falkenhayn, for his part, came to think that his country (the Germany that he so loved) was under the influence of monsters – although while their plans to exterminate or enslave whole races and to control (in utter tyranny) every aspect of peacetime (not just wartime) life remained theoretical, he never had to make the final break.

The conflict continued into the next generation. Famously Admiral Canaris (head of German military intelligence) became an enemy of the National Socialists – not because he was a believer in a democratic form of government, but because he believed that the Nazis were a moral outrage violating the most basic principles of universal truth and justice. But the point of view in Germany opposed to men such as Admiral Canaris. the point of view that made itself felt in such things as the German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 – a pack of lies, and (perhaps more importantly) a deliberately OBVIOUS pack of lies (in order to make a philosophical point – as the President of France, a philosopher, noticed at once), had long had nothing but contempt for the very idea of universal objective truth and justice.

I’d always thought that the rise of Fascism and Communism in the 1920s was primarily due to the political chaos and material privations suffered by German citizens through the latter stages of WW1 and continuing through the Versailles Treaty negotiations. Paul shows that the groundwork for both strains of totalitarian thought were already well underway even before the catastrophe of 1914. Of course, as I think I illustrated in the origins of WW1 posts, nothing about the situation in Europe at that time was simple or straight-forward.

September 11, 2017

Smug Canadian vanity over helping (some) refugees may harm a larger number of more desperate refugees

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonathan Kay in the National Post:

By my anecdotal observation, these accounts are not overblown. At Toronto dinner parties, it’s become common for upscale couples to brag about how well their sponsored refugees are doing. (Houmam has a job! The kids already speak English! Zeinah bakes the most amazing Syrian pastries — I’m going to serve some for desert!) Syrian refugees aren’t just another group of Canadian newcomers. They’ve become central characters in the creation of our modern national identity as the humane yang to Trump’s beastly yin.

Given all this, it seems strange to entertain the thought that — contrary to this core nationalist narrative — our refugee policy may actually be doing more harm than good. Yet after reading Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World, a newly published book jointly authored by Paul Collier and Alexander Betts, I found that conclusion hard to avoid. When it comes to helping victims of Syria’s civil war, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

[…]

What’s worse, the lottery-style nature of the system means that refugees have incentive to take enormous risks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel received lavish praise for admitting more than 1 million Muslim refugees in 2015. But the data cited in Refuge suggest the tantalizing prospect of first-world residency is precisely what motivated so many refugees to endanger their lives by setting out from Turkey in tiny watercraft. We like to believe that generous refugee-admission policies are an antidote to the perils that claimed Alan Kurdi’s life. The exact opposite seems more likely to be true.

Moreover, the refugees who make it to the West do not comprise a representative cross-section of displaced Syrians — because those who can afford to pay off human smugglers tend to be the richest and most well-educated members of their society. (Betts and Collier cite the stunning statistic that fully half of all Syrian university graduates now live outside the country’s borders.) This has important policy ramifications, because refugees who remain in the geographical vicinity of their country of origin typically return home once a conflict ends — whereas those who migrate across oceans usually never come back. Insofar as the sum of humanity’s needs are concerned, where is the need for Syrian doctors, dentists and nurses more acute — Alberta or Aleppo?

[…]

But logically sound as it may be, the authors’ argument also flies in the face of our national moral vanity. Scenes of refugees being greeted at the airport by our PM offer a powerful symbol of our humanitarian spirit. Having our PM cut cheques to foreign aid agencies? Less so. While focusing more on supporting Syrian refugees who’ve been displaced to other Middle Eastern countries would allow us to do more good with the same amount of money, we’d also be acting in a less intimate and personal way — and we’d get fewer of those heartwarming newspaper features about Arab children watching their first Canadian snowstorm.

And so we have to ask ourselves: In the end, what’s more important — doing good, or the appearance of doing good? If we’re as pure of heart as we like to imagine, we’ll seek out the policy that saves the most people, full stop. And Refuge supplies an outstanding road map for getting us there.

August 20, 2017

Trench Mortars – German Double Standards – Hughes’ Shovel I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, Germany, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 19 Aug 2017

Out Of The Trenches is finally back! In this episode Indy talks about the role of trench mortars in contrast to artillery, how the Germans could condemn the use of shotguns and saw-back bayonets while using chemical weapons, and a shovel with a hole in it.

July 18, 2017

Signs of the libertarian revolution

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

L. Neil Smith explains how some clearly libertarian trends are being misinterpreted in the latest Libertarian Enterprise:

… primarily as a result of the Internet turning human communications completely sideways, depriving those who have falsely believed they own us of their lofty perches, the 10,000-year-old Age of Authority is ending. Communication between human beings is now lateral, egalitarian, even Tweets from the President, and it doesn’t matter at all how much governments stomp their jackbooted feet or scream and shout. Their kind of social structure is doomed as humanity enters a new era.

One set of consequences of this change is examined, if a bit superficially, in a June article on Breitbart.com by one Liam Deacon, who informs us that a new study finds that “Traditional Views on Same Sex Marriage, Abortion, Pornography [and sex before marriage] in Britain [are] Rapidly Diminishing”. These are trends of the last four years, and to the extent they’ve also occurred long since in America — add in the legalization of marijuana and the increased tendency of individuals to arm themselves against crime and terrorism — it means that most academic and official analyses of socio-political events from, perhaps, the Tea Party Uprising of 2009. through the election of Donald Trump to the triumph of Brexit are dead wrong. We are not undergoing any merely conservative or populist (whatever that means) swing of the pendulum, but an all-out libertarian revolution. I think I know one when I see one: I’ve been doing my best to arrange one for my entire adult life.

According to the study, conducted in 2016, the latest edition of the “British Social Attitudes” survey, resistance from organized Christianity, even the Roman Catholic Church, which used to form a bulwark against social changes like this, is now crumbling, with 64 percent in favor of gay marriage, and 75 percent favoring pre-marital sex. Seventy percent of Catholics believe that abortion is within a woman’s rights. Pornography, too, is now approved by a majority.

Researchers somehow, irrationally, believe that these changes are in opposition to other events, such as “Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen” but they’re wrong. The object in all cases, is self-determination, which is the very heart of libertarianism. Increasingly, people — of all ages, the article observed with a note of amazement — are unwilling to accept dictation from once-respected leaders and traditional social, political, and economic structures. I’d like to believe this is because of the conspicuous failures of authority over the past century or so, but, entirely without condescending — most people are just too busy earning a living and living their lives for theories — I’m not certain that the average person’s thinking is that informed or organized.

More likely, the soap-opera of everyday living has taught them far better than the pompous pronouncements of the fat-heads in power. And for those of us who never believed in Authority, that’s very good news.

May 26, 2017

QotD: The coming of the sexbots

Filed under: Health, Quotations, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Recently I saw online a documentary on sex robots. The reporteress, a short-haired woman seething with quiet indignation, Viewed With Alarm the very idea. Progress is rapid on these love assistants, she said. They move. Some do, anyway. They talk, but not too much. Before long they will have skin-temperature silicone. Today we have all those deplorable men sitting home, lonely and isolated, choking their chickens and pondering suicide. Soon they will instead be rocking and rolling with Robo-Barbie. This worried her. She said.

If this be true, then why, one wonders, do men want sexbots? Aren’t there already women all over the place at skin temperature? Sez me, it’s because women have lived too long in a monopoly economy and so let down quality. It used to be that men had jobs and money, and women had that, so they married to let each get some of what the other had. The woman had to be agreeable as a selling point. Now women have jobs and don’t need men, or to be pleasant. Some are nice anyway, but it’s no longer a design feature. Of course they often end up old and alone with a cat somewhere on upper Connecticut Avenue, but they don’t figure this out until too late. Anyway, they stopped being agreeable. They learned from feminists that everything wrong in their lives was the fault of men.

It is a real problem: American women are inoculated from birth with angry misandry insisting that men are dolts, loutish, irresponsible, and only want sex. (To which a response might be, “Uh…What else have you got?”)

[…]

OK, back to sexbots. The short-aired reporteress wondered why men could be interested in such confections instead of real women, the tone being one of elevated moralism and horror. Beneath the usual factitious objectivity one could hear, “How could…what is wrong with….?” and so on.

In the documentary, the short-haired reporteress talked to an ugly anti-sexbot crusader woman who said testily that using sexbots “objectified women.” (To me it sounded more like womanizing objects, but never mind.) These two dragons continued to the effect that sex was about intimacy and closeness and bonding. I wondered how they knew. But understand: They weren’t worried about competition. Oh no. They wanted to preserve intimacy and bonding. They were worried about those poor miserable men.

Uh…yeah.

In modern America I see no sign that women are concerned about masculine misery, and indeed that most of them rather like the idea.

Fred Reed, “Sally Cone Hits the Dating Scene”, The Unz Review, 2017-05-11.

May 22, 2017

Who’s afraid of Mrs. Grundy?

Filed under: Books, Britain, Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:30

In my family, the name “Mrs. Grundy” was used to describe someone of rigidly conformative taste and judgement (and keenly censorious bent). I’d always assumed it was just a family notion or perhaps a Yorkshire-ism, but the Wikipedia entry makes it clear that Mrs. Grundy has been the bane of many a would-be adventurous or daring spirit for centuries:

Mrs Grundy is a figurative name for an extremely conventional or priggish person, a personification of the tyranny of conventional propriety. A tendency to be overly fearful of what the respectable might think is also referred to as grundyism.

Although she began life as a minor character in Thomas Morton’s play Speed the Plough (1798), Mrs Grundy was eventually so well established in the public imagination that Samuel Butler, in his novel Erewhon, could refer to her in the form of an anagram (as the goddess Ydgrun). As a figure of speech she can be found throughout European literature.

It also discusses a real-life Mrs. Grundy from the early nineteenth century:

During the reign of William IV (reigned 1830-1837) a Mrs Sarah Hannah Grundy (1 January 1804 – 30 December 1863) was employed as Deputy Housekeeper at Hampton Court Palace one of Henry VIII of England’s most famous residences. Her husband, John Grundy (1798/1799 – August 1861), was keeper of the State apartments. Mrs Grundy became Head Housekeeper on 22 April 1838, a year after Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, and she served in that position until 1863 when she retired. Her duties included the care of the chapel at Hampton Court.

Royal families stopped using Hampton Court as a residence in 1737, and from the 1760s onward, it was divided up for “grace-and-favour” residents who were granted rent-free accommodation in return for great service to the Crown or country. These private rooms numbered in the hundreds. Much is revealed about the Victorian ladies living at Hampton Court Palace through their letters, particularly their correspondence to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office as the Ladies attempted to get around the regulations — to exchange their apartments for better ones, to sub-let their apartments for profit, to keep dogs, or other matters of convenience. Equally revealing are the letters from the Housekeepers to the Lord Chamberlain, complaining about the Ladies’ behaviour.

However, a bit of Canadian history indicates that the use of the term “Mrs. Grundy” as I’m familiar with it long predated the lady who policed morals at Hampton Court:

… in a book published in 1836, The Backwoods of Canada Being Letters From The Wife Of An Emigrant Officer, Illustrative Of The Domestic Economy Of British America, by Catharine Parr Traill, she writes: “Now, we bush-settlers are more independent: we do what we like; we dress as we find most suitable and most convenient; we are totally without the fear of any Mr. or Mrs. Grundy; and having shaken off the trammels of Grundyism, we laugh at the absurdity of those who voluntarily forge afresh and hug their chains.” This appears to show that the modern concept of “Mrs. Grundy” was current before the Mrs. Grundy of Hampton Court began her reign.

May 18, 2017

QotD: The state as “hero”

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Ever since Hegel or maybe Plato, statists have been telling a story about government in which government itself is the hero in an epic struggle. At least for Hegel, the state was the mechanism by which God worked out His will. For Marx, the state was an expression of cold immutable forces. For the socialists who followed, control of the state was a kind of MacGuffin but over time it became the hero itself.

When Obama talks about the moral arc of the universe bending towards justice, the physical manifestation of that pie-eyed treacle is always government. When liberals talk about the progress we’ve made as a society, the hero is always the state (and the heroic individuals who bent it to their will). It doesn’t matter that the market, non-state institutions, and heroic individuals tend to solve most of the problems in life; the government is always shoe-horned in as the indispensable author of beneficence.

Of course, the often unstated heroes are the people who put their faith in government. When Obama says, “Government is us,” what he’s really saying is that we can be heroic on the cheap by letting the government do what liberals want. That’s the real moral of their story. And conservatives need to get better at telling a better one.

Jonah Goldberg, “The Goldberg File”, 2015-09-11.

January 10, 2017

“The very concept of a moral absolute […] is alien to them”

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

David Warren calls for moral and ethical resistance against “assisted dying” being accepted in society:

Through the casual review of polls, over the years, I have become aware that the general public can itself be moved from approximately 80/20 to approximately 20/80 (four fingers and a thumb to four thumbs and a finger) by any specious argument, if it is repeated constantly, and the Left are able to impose a fait accompli through the courts. Among intellectuals, the swings may be wider and quicker. They are not pendular, however, for once various civilized taboo lines have been crossed, there is no inevitable return, and the only way back is through a field of carnage.

Today, unlike “yesterday” (i.e. a few short years ago) there is 80 percent support for what goes in Canada under the euphemism “assisted dying,” and everywhere under the older euphemism, “euthanasia.” As loyal Christians (or Jews, and many others) we must never surrender to public opinion of this kind. Yet we must recognize that it is pointless to argue with the great mass who, in Canada as in places like Nazi Germany, can so easily be persuaded that down is up, and that words now have new meanings. They simply haven’t the equipment to follow a thread longer than the short slogans in which progressives specialize. Not if their moral schooling was defective, leaving consciences deformed.

People can be “educated” or “catechized” or awakened only one by one, and with their own participation. There is always hope, for as Thomas Sowell says, though everyone is born ignorant, not everyone is born stupid. But in practice, they are retrieved from catastrophic error, only by catastrophe.

At this point in our societal degeneration, “the people” are obedient to what beloved Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.” This is understandable because few were raised in anything else. The very concept of a moral absolute (e.g. “thou shalt do no murder”) is alien to them. At the gut level, they may still individually recoil against an evil, but only if they have watched, and found the spectacle “icky.”

December 25, 2016

QotD: Lefties and Randians

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Lefties always seem especially afraid of Ayn Rand supporters. I think that’s because — at least until recently — Randians were almost the only people on the right who were both unafraid of lefties and willing to call leftism, even in its comparatively mile FDR form, immoral. Both traits can be very triggering.

Glenn Reynolds, “ACTUAL HEADLINE IN THE WASHINGTON POST: Ayn Rand-acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow objectivists”, Instapundit, 2016-12-13.

December 16, 2016

ESR on the “Trump is Hitler!” meme

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

He posted this the other day on Google+:

Reading this [link] put me in mind of a slightly different scenario. So I’m throwing this gauntlet down to anyone who has ever said the “Trump is Hitler” thing.

There are only two possibilities.

One is that you believe what you’re saying. in which case you have a moral duty to find Trump and kill him. With a scoped rifle. With a suicide vest. With hands and teeth. With anything.

The other is that you don’t actually believe Trump is Hitler, but find it advantageous to say so, posturing for demagogic political gain.

If you’re not a liar and a demagogue, why are you not strapping on weapons right now? Put the fuck up or shut the fuck up

November 2, 2016

QotD: Pournelle versus Bujold

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[In Jerry Pournelle’s books,] Falkenberg’s men are paragons compared to the soldiers in David Drake’s military fiction. In the Hammer’s Slammers books and elsewhere we get violence with no politico-ethical nuances attached to it all. “Carnography” is the word for this stuff, pure-quill violence porn that goes straight for the thalamus. There’s boatloads of it out there, too; the Starfist sequence by Sherman and Cragg is a recent example. Jim Baen sells a lot of it (and, thankfully, uses the profits to subsidize reprinting the Golden Age midlist).

The best-written military SF, on the other hand, tends to be more like Heinlein’s — the fact that it addresses ethical questions about organized violence (and tries to come up with answers one might actually be more willing to live with than Pournelle’s quasi-fascism or Drake’s brutal anomie) is part of its appeal. Often (as in Heinlein’s Space Cadet or the early volumes in Lois Bujold’s superb Miles Vorkosigan novels) such stories include elements of bildungsroman.

[…] Bujold winds up making the same point in a subtler way; the temptations of power and arrogance are a constant, soul-draining strain on Miles’s father Aral, and Miles eventually destroys his own career through one of those temptations

Heinlein, a U.S naval officer who loved the military and seems to have always remembered his time at Annapolis as the best years of his life, fully understood that the highest duty of a soldier may be not merely to give his life but to reject all the claims of military culture and loyalty. His elegiac “The Long Watch” makes this point very clear. You’ll seek an equivalent in vain anywhere in Pournelle or Drake or their many imitators — but consider Bujold’s The Vor Game, in which Miles’s resistance to General Metzov’s orders for a massacre is the pivotal moment at which he becomes a man.

Bujold’s point is stronger because, unlike Ezra Dahlquist in “The Long Watch” or the citizen-soldiers in Starship Troopers, Miles is not a civilian serving a hitch. He is the Emperor’s cousin, a member of a military caste; his place in Barrayaran society is defined by the expectations of military service. What gives his moment of decision its power is that in refusing to commit an atrocity, he is not merely risking his life but giving up his dreams.

Falkenberg and Admiral Lermontov have a dream, too. The difference is that where Ezra Dahlquist and Miles Vorkosigan sacrifice themselves for what they believe, Pournelle’s “heroes” sacrifice others. Miles’s and Dahlquist’s futures are defined by refusal of an order to do evil, Falkenberg’s by the slaughter of untermenschen.

This is a difference that makes a difference.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Charms and Terrors of Military SF”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-13.

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