Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Psychotechnic Institute

(Last post till at least 15 Oct.)

Poul Anderson's The Snows Of Ganymede (New York, 1958), which I am reading for the first time, not rereading, is a mine of information not only about the Order of Planetary Engineers, to which its central character belongs, but also about the Psychotechnic Institute, after which this future history is named.

I will have to check this by rereading some earlier stories in the series but I think it is correct to say that there is no story directly about the Institute itself. I have learned more about the Institute from The Snows Of Ganymede than from any other installment of the Psychotechnic History. Ganymede, set fifty years after the Institute was outlawed, nevertheless summarizes the history of that organization in the four plus pages of Chapter 5.

The summary displays two typical historical contradictions. First, Asia is a center of resistance to the new scientific culture. Thus, when, thanks to that culture, the global economy recovers and Asia becomes the center of that economy, the resistance gains power. Secondly, however, although the Humanists oppose technology, they cannot abolish it and are necessarily resisted by the extraplanetary colonies so that their new regime cannot last.

The new scientific culture had:

"...involved the scrapping of traditions which had existed since prehuman times." (p. 49)

I do not think that we have any traditions going back that far? The text continues:

"In many ways it went against animal instinct..." (ibid.)

Maybe that but biological instincts are different from and deeper than social traditions.

"Individual psychology suggested ways to get around this, but there was no way to recondition a billion and a half human creatures en mass." (ibid.)

Psychotechnics involves social equations, but these are failing to cope with social change, and individual psychology, which cannot be applied to the world population. The Institute tries to cut corners with illegal activities like contraceptives in synthetic foods and subversion of hostile organizations. Thus, some Humanist accusations are valid. This reads like real history.

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