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Sympathy for the Devil 
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Welcome to the wonderland that is Panshin crit, Peter.

The problem is, and always has been, that his writing reads easily and sounds quite plausible to the uninformed, the misinformed and those keenly attuned to the sound of compatible grinding axes. Only with a broader knowledge of Heinlein, the general milieu and the standards of ethical, honest criticism do the flaws show... and then you're trapped with the twin herculean tasks of disentangling the blather AND convincing an ignorant but believing audience of the difficult facts.

And gawdelpya if you do a rushed, shorthand or even very slightly flawed response or summary - both AP and the converted will pick the gaps to pieces and dismiss you, with the result that AP looks "righter" than ever.

So the alternatives are to ignore AP altogether - "this too, shall pass, eventually, goddammit" - or to tackle the job in such exhaustive, exhausting detail as to wear oneself out and, still, inevitably, heap some credence on AP - "with all that smoke, there MUST be fire!"

But the tackling has gone on in private correspondence, amateur backwaters like AFH and in AP's own pond for too long. If we're to do it, let's do it here, in public, and to the highest standards.

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Tue Apr 15, 2008 5:51 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
SU was a freakin' piece of pulp fiction - an amazingly prescient one to be sure - but pulp fiction nonetheless. It needs to be judged on that basis, and on that basis it rocks. It does not deserve to be judged on the basis of whether the actions of the (pulp) fictional characters act in a way that comports with the highest standards of constitutional propriety. Heinlein also does not deserve to be judged on the basis of the fact that he wasn't able to exactly predict the course of future nuclear weapons technology or world conflict. I say he came eerily close.

Geez, this Panshin guy is a pill, isn't he? Does any serious Heinlein scholar or serious fan agree with him in general?

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Tue Apr 15, 2008 5:58 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
The only thing there I'd dispute - and gently - is that some "light fiction" is worth analyzing for elements of underlying importance. Heinlein's early work in particular is laden with significa about his thinking, influences etc. and is worth some concentrated thought.

However, as precision and accuracy are not synonyms, neither are concentrated and voluminous. :D

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In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Tue Apr 15, 2008 7:30 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
I don't know that SU is perforce Heinlein's best guess as to the future of WWII any more than The Bear and the Dragon is Tom Clancy's best guess as to the future of Sino-American relations. In both cases I think they are merely plausible scenarios that form the bases for interesting stories. It is even possible that Heinlein, like Clancy's deliberate obfuscations of bomb making in The Sum of All Fears, really believed in the future of an atomic bomb and deliberately misled his audience by claiming that it wouldn't work for the sake of national security. It's the sort of thing he would do.

Maybe there's some source somewhere where Heinlein explicitly says that SU was his prediction, but I haven't seen it. Likewise I am unaware of any text saying that Heinlein thought that SU presented the best, let alone the only solution to the problem. His narrator certainly doesn't sound happy about it.

The only other thing I feel like pointing out right now is that the world was a very different place back then and hindsight is a poor glass through which to see the past darkly. To contemplate the possibility of total global destruction for the first time in history at a time when the world was being systematically torn apart would lead anyone to a different conclusion from the one we can make with the cozy knowledge of fifty years of stalemate-induced peace.


Tue Apr 15, 2008 9:51 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Peter Scott wrote:
I don't know that SU is perforce Heinlein's best guess as to the future of WWII...

I think you can consider it a preface to the "world-saving" articles he wrote after the war, in which he explores at least three or four alternatives to US and world government with the bomb in the equation. (And seems happy with none of them, or the new world order in general.) In no sense would I consider it, nor do I think anyone considered it at the time, as some kind of blueprint or road map. It was a shake 'em up story and on that level and at that time and in that place... a damned good one.

(AP does seem to completely lack historical perspective. Then is now is later is anytime, throughout his writings. Example at hand is good: Heinlein writing in 1940 about 1946 considered from 2008 is handled in a single collapsed POV.)

Quote:
...fifty years of stalemate-induced peace.

Other than ignorance-induced peace (we can't hate the barbarians over the hill if we don't know they are there), what other kind of peace is there but stalemate? Without getting too sidetracked, point to any two peoples who lived in peace for, say, 100 years without mutual threat of arms - however submerged - being at the base of it.

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Wed Apr 16, 2008 7:30 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
James Gifford wrote:
Peter Scott wrote:
...fifty years of stalemate-induced peace.

Other than ignorance-induced peace (we can't hate the barbarians over the hill if we don't know they are there), what other kind of peace is there but stalemate?


Quite, but my point is, we now can look back over those decades of peace and pontificate about how they were inevitable or merely assume that there was little to worry about because we came out of it okay. Whereas at the beginning of that period, with no such hindsight, and facing global annihilation as a possibility for the first time in history, anyone concerned about the future could have been forgiven for panicking. A world dictatorship was a plausible Hobson's Choice.

The anecdotal evidence I have suggests that we made it through the Cold War sans thermonuclear destruction by a good deal of luck, more than most people think. Heinlein was smart but unlucky in his projections (for a narrow interpretation of "unlucky").


Wed Apr 16, 2008 8:00 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Peter Scott wrote:
The anecdotal evidence I have suggests that we made it through the Cold War sans thermonuclear destruction by a good deal of luck, more than most people think. Heinlein was smart but unlucky in his projections (for a narrow interpretation of "unlucky").


There were at least three incidents during the Cold War that would have triggered nuclear annihilation had not correct decisions been made. The Cuban Missle Crisis is just the most famous one. And, even though the correct decisions were made, and disaster avoided, the reasons that the decisions were correct turned out to be different through retrospective analysis that were thought at the time.

So, we might very well have ended up in one of Mr. Heinlein's gloomy futures were it not for our very good fortune.

Doesn't mean we can't still screw it up.

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Wed Apr 16, 2008 8:14 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Well, this particular thread is a good place to put that kind of comment, Peter. In fact, it's exactly in what I understand is the purpose of segregating it out of the main forum -- so people can talk about stuff like this without having to wade through the detritus of interpretations constructed without reading.

I agree, there's something there in Panshin's piece -- but he's blown it all out ofproportion. And we can talk about what useful he's got hold of and ignore the rest.

I've only read about half the third segment so far, but he's already gone from gaseous speculation that had at least some faint connection to the text in the second installment to an episode of gratuitous insinuation that Manning and DeFries were having a homosexual affair, a la Hoover and Toleson. What on earth might be the tactical reason for this I have no idea.

Hoover, though, brings to mind that there were some actual careers that had the improbable kind of path Panshin objects to for Manning, Hoover's being one of them -- and Huey Long being another.

So, yes, calling back Jim's criticism of historical ignorance, yes, that ignorance is there in abundance about many things. I think the principal or keystone problem is that he looks back at things that were Very Different in 1940 but sees his own politics circa 1960 and doesn't realize the 1960 frame of reference doesn't fit.


Wed Apr 16, 2008 2:47 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Well, okay then. With the understanding that everything else in the articles is complete crap that I don't have the stamina to rebut, here are the places I think Panshin scored:

  • Naming the technique after Dr. Karst. In retrospect yes, this is incredibly callous given her obvious pacifist bent. I always had empathy for Manning, but this gives me pause.
  • Lack of public reaction to the massive death count. I don't believe it was 4.5 million in Berlin because they had warning and most would have left anyway. But call it a million deaths and still a USA that had not just faced a Pearl Harbor level event is going to have some serious concerns about their moral rectitude. Heinlein's skillful misdirection left me oblivious to this.
  • Not sending inspectors out to the Eurasian Union to vet the planes being sent their way. In retrospect this one is obvious; but a major plot point turned on this not happening.
  • Colonel Manning (seems to me he should have been a general, BTW, like Leslie Groves) becomes Commissioner Manning far too easily. It doesn't make sense for the person who developed the dust to be given control over its use over the whole world. But Heinlein presents a sufficiently narrow view of events that it seems obvious that there is no alternative.
    (I would have added that a soldier would be ill-suited to the job of preserving peace if it hadn't been made crystal clear that the main mechanism by which the Peace Patrol would preserve the peace would be using the dust against anyone who broke their rules.)

Okay, so I swore I wouldn't respond to any of the crap, but one sticks out so much - where does Panshin get the idea that the terms for Britain are their surrender to the USA? The relevant passage surrounding the coalition government formation mentions the Treaty of Versailles and plainly implies that the British wanted to obliterate Germany and the USA wanted them not to. No suggestion that the British were asked at that time to surrender sovereignty. They were treated equally with the rest of the world shortly in receiving the same ultimatum regarding aircraft and disarmament.


Last edited by PeterScott on Sun Apr 20, 2008 5:02 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Apr 16, 2008 3:33 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
I've got a good attention span, I swear, but I'm finding SFTD quite unreadable (I have had more fun fulfilling audits for Sarbanes/Oxley compliance - if you don't know - be grateful). I'm further hampered by the fact that SU is one of the Heinlein stories that I have not read. (I ration them out now, once they're used up I'd have no more new Heinlein experiences and the chances of another lost manuscript being found are less than slim).

Not only do I disagree with the author's approach concerning content; his presentation is poor. It appears that the majority of the text so far is a synopsis of the story offering an interpretation of events within the story without presenting conclusions or defining an endpoint goal.

There is a practical reason why litigation attorneys often start their opening statements explaining what it is they are going to show or prove to the jury or the court and Panshin is certainly trying to make a case for .... something....

Its information without direction or purpose. By the time we get to the conclusions that he has not yet published his point will be lost in the morass of the earlier chapters.

Perhaps I'm just too tired....


Wed Apr 16, 2008 6:03 pm
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