Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Fundamental Questions

Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History addresses these most fundamental questions:

Can there be a practical science of society?
How should the world be organized politically?
Many national governments or one world government?
How can people learn to live with the consequences of advanced technology?
To what extent can human faculties be enhanced?
Can individual human beings resolve their internal psychological conflicts?
Can society be organized on the basis of understanding instead of divisive ideology?
Is reality too complex for humanity to cope with?

The Psychotechnic Institute tries simultaneously to address two questions that we usually consider separately because it encourages both a particular kind of society and an intelligent citizenry capable of building and living in such a society. Also, it counteracts resistance to its policies not primarily by suppressing criticism but usually by recruiting questioning minds to its cause.

The protean enemy is identified as mankind itself. This accords with the TV series,  The Prisoner, in which the title character, unmasking his main enemy, No 1, sees his own face. In Anderson's series, it means that there is no good guys-bad guys relationship between the fictional organizations involved. On the contrary, any single organization can change sides. Thus, the Psychotechnic Institute begins with the right intentions but later misapplies its science, is outlawed after the Humanist Revolt and, while in exile, plots a violent comeback that must be prevented by members of the Order of Planetary Engineers.

On the other hand, the Nomads begin as a disruptive force that comes to be resented by agents of the Stellar Union Coordination Service whereas later those same Nomads, guided by former Coordinators, become the means by which essential knowledge is preserved through the Third Dark Ages.

Long after the Dark Ages, a Galactic psychotechnician:

"...wondered if the driving energy within man the force which had raised him to the stars, made him half-god and half-demon, if that was a legacy of Terra." (Starship, p. 258)

Of course our motivation came from our planet of origin, where else? But are men still half-demons in the Galactic era or is he just reflecting on history?

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