July 22, 2005
I said yesterday that to some extent, a society can only work if its rules and customs are consistent with the nature of humanity. But what I left out (deliberately) is also crucial. Part of the nature of humanity is linked to the environment man is in, which is highly fluid. None, IMHO, have pointed this out more clearly than author Robert A. Heinlein.
First, I refer to both The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Time Enough For Love. In these books, humanity is put into an environment of traveling to different planets, different worlds, and different circumstances. Personally, I think that the anarcho-capitalist society of Luna in Harsh Mistress is a close approximation of the old “wild west” in the US. It is a harsh environment, where you get along, or you’ll end up “eliminated”. Law doesn’t really exist, it is more informal custom, enforced by individuals. Did it work? Sure, based on the constraints of the system, it was what would have to be done to work. Would it work in modern-day New York? Probably not (again, my opinion here, obviously it hasn’t really been tried). In Time Enough For Love, Heinlein advances the idea that once a society becomes crowded enough to require ID, it’s too crowded for liberty-loving individuals. It may be a dim view, but acknowledges that at some times, liberty must be infringed to create a system of society that works. Perfect liberty can only be achieved if there is nobody around whose rights you can violate; once rights begin conflicting with each other, complete liberty is no longer feasible. Perhaps the problem with us Libertarians/Anarchists/etc, is that we just don’t have another planet to move to (yet)…
The key point here is that in both books, different circumstances allow different types of political and social systems to develop, based upon what suits the nature of the individual and the environment. Man being a rational and not instinctual animal, can adjust to environments dissimilar to those here on Earth. As such, it is important to understand that political and social systems must adapt to different behavior being natural when the external environment changes. This may be a matter of technological change, or a matter of social change.
One area that I brought up yesterday, with Heinlein in mind, was the fact that humanity has a seemingly inexhaustible capacity for love. But humanity was limited in expression of this fact (through customs and mores rather than law, in many places) due to certain inherent biological factors. 100 years ago, sex had a relatively substantial chance of ending up in pregnancy. Women did not have a reasonable place in the work force. And mortality rates forced people to reproduce at higher rates to further the species in general. Thus, society pushed people into a simple system of celibacy before marriage, monogamous nuclear-family arrangements, where the husband worked and brought home the dollars, and the wife stayed home to raise the children. This was a necessary condition, or society would have ceased to function.
And from TF Stern’s post today (thanks to him for making that point for me), that suits some people just fine:
â€œVows like “For as long as we continue to love each other,” “For as long as our love shall last” and “Until our time together is over” are increasingly replacing the traditional to-the-grave vow â€” a switch that some call realistic and others call a recipe for failure.â€
I can see how this improves society, oh yes, most impressive commitment levels to help our young people understand the sacred nature of marriage. Dang, thereâ€™s that word â€œsacredâ€ mixed in with something common like marriage. I’m sorry, please forgive me, old habit.
â€œWith this ring and my Continental Airlines Frequent Flyer card, I do plan to spend at least one weekend of riotous living shacked up at the local Motel 6.â€; followed by, â€œI now pronounce you, Jack and George, morally corrupt; but legally bound until Monday morningâ€. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m prepared for this Brave New World.
On a personal level, that suits me just fine too. It’s probably just my midwestern upbringing, but I’m old-fashioned when it comes to family. I’m mighty happy with just a wife, a couple of dogs, and (maybe) some kids someday.
But I see the writing on the wall. We’re in the early stages of a rapidly changing world. Simply put, technology has freed humans from most of the consequences of sex, and as I’ve said before, freedom is messy. We’re going to see some major upheaval in the world, and 10,000 years of conditioning doesn’t change easily. But I’ve always thought that freedom allows people to do what they want, and that this will result in increased happiness and a society which works better in the long run.
In Heinlein’s society, there was a completely different formulation of the idea of family. In the books that I’ve read from Heinlein aimed at an adult, rather than child, audience, there are always very different marital relationships than in our world. It’s not clear, of course, whether these are the sorts of arrangements that are in our future. But it is clear that Heinlein saw that humanity adapts to its environment, and that this new sexual freedom will have far-reaching consequences.
This, of course, is going to ruffle a lot of feathers. Some people are intolerant of any change, and to some people, tolerance is a code-word for “acceptance” or “celebration”. As with most things, my view on this is live-and-let-live. The people that talk about divorce destroying the “sanctity” of marriage don’t understand that other people getting divorced doesn’t mean you are required to at some point. Riled up about some female celebrity flouting tradition to become a “single mother”? That doesn’t mean you can’t raise your kids in a nuclear family. You think homosexuality is wrong? Don’t partake. You think your way is the “right” way and the “moral” way? Follow it, but don’t be shocked when others take a different route.
The “sexual revolution”, as it was called, isn’t anywhere near over yet. And I don’t know where it’s going to end up. For me, I’m that old-fashioned guy who isn’t really taking part in the “revolution” anyway. But I’m more than happy to stand back, watch it develop, and stay out of its way. Because I know what I want out of life, and as long as we still have a free society, the “sexual revolution” isn’t going to take that away.
Owlish Mutterings linked with Thoughts
Libertopia linked with The Individual and Society
T. F. Stern's Rantings linked with A Line Drawn in the Sand
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