Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Why We Must Hate Heinlein
There are stories you read when you're very young and you understand them at one level. Decades later when you have some experience, you see things at a deeper level. Such it is with Heinlein's novella "Logic of Empire."
In this story the protagonist, Humphrey Wingate, a lawyer and his rich friend argue whether the contract labor conditions on the Venus colony constitute slavery or not.
The lawyer defends the system and its legality only to wake up in the second scene shanghaied to Venus. As you expect he experiences conditions first-hand and changes his opinion. He ends up becoming a revolutionary and he pens a manifesto.
Wingate shows an old wise ex-professor called Doc his manifesto. And Doc tells him that he has fallen into the "satan trap." The owners aren't bad people, he explains, it is a bad system.
Months later his rich buddy catches up with him and buys Wingate out of trouble, the hero goes back to Earth to publish his manifesto. It falls flat. And a helpful publisher suggests a ghost writer "sex up" the manuscript transforming it into "I Was a Slave on Venus."
This brings Wingate to say "To make yourself heard you have to be a demagogue, or a rabble-rousing political preacher..." Heinlein wrote this when the world was a lot less noisy. And his words ring truer today than when he wrote them decades ago.
Several elements strike me about this story. First, Heinlein was no ivory tower academic. He'd worked rough jobs to earn a living with his hands. Second, Heinlein knew enough business to understand the struggle make payroll. This results in a sympathetic depiction of both worker and management.
Heinlein does not go all-in with either the workers or the owners. Good agitprop must paint the owners with the blackest of brushes. That's what Heinlein's boss, Upton Sinclair, did in "The Jungle." The Jungle is good agitprop. The workers are all saints and the factories are all run by demons. But life paints in shades of gray and mixes up things that alternately support and undermine the Party Platform (no matter which party).
Heinlein wrote closer to the truth. This makes you think and for that reason he must be hated.