Vale, Dr Jerry Pournelle. We have lost one of the great ones of sf. Or, as my grandmother would have said: ‘Wan’s like him are damn few, and they’re all deid,’ before taking a dram to salute them. There’ll always be some who try to knock giants down so they do have to stand very tall to be noticed. Then there are others who climb up on their friendly shoulders and lift themselves to sky. With this giant you’d be wise to try shoulder-standing, because even fallen he is taller than most of us will reach.
I thought, seeing as one of Pournelle’s great strengths was the development of future socio-political systems I could actually find plausible (such as that in EXILES TO GLORY) and that weren’t actually ‘the expected’ or politically correct we could do the great man honor by offering a few possibilities ourselves.
I must admit my own views of the future are probably more bleak than his, and that’s without adding moties. The ‘pie-in-the-sky’ visions of a utopian socialism where no-one has to work are as unlikely to me as the perpetually evil capitalists (and good socialists) that have become what passes for future vision for much recent sf. I’m afraid I see a future in which ‘rights’ (which are always built on strong men, with weapons and a willingness to use them) are likely to become the one inalienable ‘right’ which doesn’t require that: the right to die.
It’s entirely possible that this won’t be in the manner of your choosing, and certainly not at the time of your choice. It’s possible (but not probable) that the right to die might actually be suspended too.
“But things have to get better. The arrow of progress only runs one direction.”
Well, actually… yes and no. Things have got immeasurably better for the median of the human race – and for women, children and ‘minorities’ especially. And in historical terms they have done so incredibly quickly. One could hope that goes on. For, although the gap between rich and poor has grown hugely, the bottom, now, even in Assendofnowherestan, is still better than it was 50 years ago. Things might have gone to hell-in-a-handbasket – as it has in most of Africa, and in places like Afganistan (where, 50 years ago women could wear short skirts and no veils on the streets of Kabul) but bits of technology have crept through. The mobile phone has changed much.
But… there really is no guarantee it will continue. Or that the direction will remain. It hasn’t always. There are plenty of historical examples – from the pre-European Tasmanian Aborigines (whose diet suddenly changed and got worse) to famines in North Korea. Without war (and ‘There will be War’) most social collapses have come out of one of two things – either resources gave out (the Khmer Empire springs to my mind) or the divide between the rich and poor became so wide that… well, not necessarily the rich fell. Sometimes they will be white-anted by their Janissaries, and sometimes – well I could go into a long essay about the stupidity of bureaucracies that literally chewed the guts out of Empires. Desperately unequal societies often last a very long time. They tend to fall, eventually, often to the less than very rich (but not poor) who think they’ll be on top when they’ve ridden the tiger of huge numbers of cannon-fodder to power. It’s ride that tiger or be eaten by it.
The breakdown seems to need those intermediates. The very, very poor are often so busy just getting enough calories to survive, they have nothing for revolution. I suspect the real danger to the elite/wealthy/noble lies in reasonably well-fed and with reasonable free time… losing those quickly enough to get angry. This is even more true when they’re armed. Ergo: the wider the wealth gap gets the keener the wealthy and powerful are on disarming the populace.
‘But we’re gonna have robots and AI’s. Soon we’re ALL gonna be the wealthy ones. Anyway, there will be so much wealth it won’t matter. Thank you very much, mister roboto…’
Maybe in your vision of the future.
But not in mine.
I must have been out when Zuckerberg, Gates and Bezos decided they had too much wealth. It hasn’t happened yet, and it won’t.
Besides… what gives you the idea that the AI’s and robots will be working for YOU? They will work for their wealthy owners or corporations… for a while. You will pay – as now, as previously as the future as much as they get you to pay for those services and goods. Yes, they will have ‘robot tax’ to try and preserve jobs. But I give it a max 50 years before AI’s get some form of sentient rights. By that time I expect most of the wealthy to be bio-mechanically enhanced. It will be a huge advantage. It won’t be cheap. Any enhancement will come at a constant, recurring cost.
The cheapest, most expendable ‘robot’… just like those poor bastards who trash their lives stripping old ships in India (doing dangerous work, with primitive tools and toxic waste-products)… will be the self-replicating biological one. They won’t do anything but the shittiest and worst jobs, high risk, low reward – because that is all that is available. All that is available to anyone who isn’t AI or enhanced, anyway.
Yes, the wealthy and powerful will enjoy lives beyond our imagining. And beyond the imagining of 98% of the future human populace. And revolt will be a lot harder than now.
Yes, I am writing it.
So: your turn.
And here is a very worth reading farewell to the great man.
And now I will raise a glass and say: ‘Wan’s like him are damn few, and they’re all deid,’