Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why does Nancy Kress need just 40 pages to destroy Ayn Rand?

Beggars in Spain Book1 is all of 36 pages. 36 pages of unassuming science fiction literature.
Did Nancy Kress have a political stand? Does Beggars in Spain have a political agenda. No. It most certainly doesn't. Its starts out as a one of the three main types of science fiction. That which revolves around a singular invention/innovation/discovery that has intended/unintended consequences to a human/ alien or human/alien society and therein lies the story.
Does she have a long complex plot, a compelling hero, character building for innumerable characters, clear, dirty eminently hate-able villains or a clearly made out contemptible society?
Um... No, no, no, no and no.

But in 36 unpretentious pages, Nancy Kress effectively destroys any and all argument that Ayn Rand builds over two best selling books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, political support which came as a by product of vitriolic anti-russian opinion, celebrity endorsement and more than one foundation dedicated to her and Objectivism.
Now did Nancy ever actually want to do this? I should think not. I assume while she did express her heartfelt opinion, she certainly didn't intend it to be political philosophy.

Beggars in Spain follows the life of "the Sleepless" , a group of genetically modified humans who do not need sleep and particularly Leisha Camden, one of the early Sleepless. They are modified by a group of geneticists who've come to the conclusion that sleep is an evolutionary leftover like tonsils and remove it with genetic modification. The resulting "Sleepless" are invariably intelligent because of the extra 12 hours of stimulation they get per day as children and the extra 8 hours of the day they have as adults. They are pragmatic and well-adjusted (some hormonal side-effect) and are all mostly followers of Yagaaism something that is very similar to Libertarianism.
Things come to a head when it is discovered that another "side-effect" of the turning off of the sleep gene is extremely efficient cell replacement in their bodies. i.e. they are effectively immortal. The Sleepless' pragmatism is confounded by the resistance and hatred they provoke in the normal population. They see themselves as an invaluable cog in the wheel of trade with a lot to offer to the world economy. But the Sleepers see the Sleepless less as cogs and more as a threat and replacement of normal human beings.
With increasing resistance culminating in the hate-killing of a Sleepless, the Sleepless move into an enclosure created by them for themselves called "Sanctuary". They cultivate hate for the Sleepers for their irrationality and their inability to match their prowess and refer to them as "Beggars".
The first book ends with it dawning on Leisha that the Beggars aren't really Beggars but are the receiving end of the economy because of context. Trade is not linear but conducted in an ecology where the beggars not only form an essential part but when the context changes, the Beggars may turn out to be the ones giving charity.

Now why do I say that this destroys Ayn Rand?
1. Trade IS an ecology. It certainly isn't linear and depends on context. The context might change with changes in economic environment, physical environment, socio-cultural environment, evolution... any number of things. Rand's view of the economy is simplistic to the point of being laughable.
2. As with the Fountainhead, in "beggars in spain", the epitomes of libertarianism necessarily HAVE to be EXCEPTIONAL people. As with Roark an exceptional architect, the Sleepless have to have exceptional things to give to the economy to prove their point. Why? Why can't Rand have used an ordinary worker at a Detroit auto factory to prove her point? Because she can't. At least not the way she defines her "Objectivism". Objectivism has a helluva lot of problems than libertarianism. As she defines it, there can be only one person with one exceptional ability. There can only be one exceptional architect. If there are two the other will starve to death. One might argue that if the other offers an advantage by working twice as long as the other but has only 1/2 of the creative ability, the market will be given a choice. No! You're forgetting that the rest of the society is objectivist too. They will all see the same benefits. They will ALL choose the same architect. The other will still starve to death. We are also assuming that this architect who will build a good architecture consultancy will, on his retirement, give his business totally up to the next competent architect wherever he might be. (Don't ask me how the next architect arrives precisely at the time this guy retires as he would've died of starvation if he's arrived earlier and society will have to do without an architect if he arrives later) without ensuring nurturing his blood progeny instead.
3. A civilisation based on "objectivism" reverts to tribalistic society. Small groups of people each providing a service/product to each other that they do best and others cannot; as purely objectivistic society cannot exist in larger groups with competing resources of same competence. Consequentially, innovation and invention suffers as society needs multi-disciplinary individuals, multi disciplinary teams, many people of similar competences etc. to further technology, thought and philosophy.
I honestly don't believe that an objectivist society that celebrates selfishness and ego ever developing the steam engine much less sub-atomic physics or spacecraft.

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