Tuesday 27 November 2018

Starship Troopers- Sargon's Review

Since I wrote my review of the science fiction novel Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, Carl Benjamin, the YouTuber "Sargon of Akkad", has produced his promised video documentary about it, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVpYvV0O7uI. I must say that it has made me reconsider my own position. Sargon's review is based on both the book and the film adaptation and he claims that Paul Verhoeven does not really understand the book he is satirizing. I myself said that I suspected the book itself is a very subtle satire. Sargon denies that the story promotes fascism and brings some intriguing analysis to bear. He compares the human society in the setting to some archaic forms of real world democratic statehood. He says that it is fairly similar to the Roman Republic that lasted from 509 BC to 27 AD. There are two castes of individual, but the "civilian" and "citizen" system is not a symptom of fascism. The Terran Federation appears to be fairly libertarian and prosperous. The atmosphere of Johnny Rico's school days is similar to that of being a youth in 1950's America; rich, free and optimistic. The civilians are not slaves; they enjoy legal rights and own private property, as is obvious from the lifestyle of Johnny's parents, both in the book and the film. The state does not dictate and interfere in the personal lives of the people, whether citizen or civilian. All people have the right to apply to try and earn citizenship; however, even after the Buenos Aires attack, there is no draft. The Mobile Infantry remains a strictly volunteer force throughout. The licence to have babies that is discussed in the shower scene in Verhoeven's movie does not occur in the original book. There is also political accountability. After the massacre of the Mobile Infantry on Klendathu, the Sky Marshal, leader of the Federation, resigns. In a fascist society political power is never abdicated in such a way. Another difference to fascism is that the Federation has a free media, in fact it is far more candid that the media in today's real world. The newsreels, one of the best elements of the movie, are perfectly willing to show very gruesome scenes from the battlefield. Also one of the funniest scenes in the film is the TV debate about the intelligence level of the bugs between two very eccentric pundits who vehemently disagree. In a fascist media no dissenting opinions are tolerated. Sargon also makes the important point that the bugs are the aggressors and the Federation is acting in self-defence. This would make the war a legitimate one under the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The narrative of both the book and film is not in sequence and has a complex network of flashbacks making it hard to follow. This is why the rights and wrongs of the war appear so ambiguous. The war started when the bugs destroyed Buenos Aires by steering a giant meteor towards it. All the people in the city were killed.

Service to the Terran Federation is the social contract that gives a citizen political power and Sargon of Akkad explains how that is different from fascism and he is correct. He states that it is actually similar to what Dr Jordan Peterson proposes. The society we have now spoon-feeds the people unconditionally. This does not only breed lassitude; it also creates dependency. If citizenship was something people had to earn then it would be an incentive to live more productive and independent lives. However this still doesn't excuse the militarily religious aspect of the story and the point I made in my own review about how that is unfair and makes the populace vulnerable to abuse. Every philosophical point Heinlein and Sargon propose is dependent on the state being a benevolent entity. What if it is not? What if it is something pathological like so many of the governments of the real earth? What if the Buenos Aires attack was a false flag? Sargon claims that the federal service system would naturally weed out corruption, but I'm not so sure. The Roman Republic appeared unable to prevent Julius Caesar taking it over and creating the Roman Empire, see: https://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2018/06/caesar-alien.html. Also, as I said myself, the story is based on the premise that the Federation was created not only for the benefit of all the earth's people, but also with their consent. There is no description anywhere of any nationalist rebellions in any formerly independent country in the world. If such a rebellion arose, would the people be permitted to leave the Federation? Would a Brexit-like process be allowed? We are never told. There's no doubt that Heinlein entertained many different political positions during his lifetime, but he did not become more rightwing with age, as Sargon claims. In the background link I mention Friday, a novel from his later period. The central protagonist of the story is a genetically engineered secret agent from the future. She is an amiable character who is very bighearted in a world where most people are indifferent and cruel. There is nothing militaristic about the heroes of the book; in fact they are very non-military kinds of people who fight back against excessive police violence, state bureaucracy and political corruption, as well as the bigotry and stupidity of their families and friends. The main character is also bisexual and promiscuous, although she is capable of passionate love. I much prefer Friday to Starship Troopers and indeed I find it hard to accept that they both have the same author. Robert E Heinlein must have been a very complicated person.

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