MY… I GUESS YOU COULD CALL IT my political awakening came at just-barely-ten, in the summer of 1964. Prior to that time, I knew that my mom preferred Nixon to Kennedy — claimed special knowledge of the sins of the Kennedies due to having lived in Boston at the time of JFK’s first run for national office and seen firsthand the hamfisted tactics of the Democrat machine — and that Barry Goldwater was somehow special because his name could be rendered AUH20. After that, I had a label for myself and the beginnings of an understanding of the nature and desiderata of human interactions.
My at-the-time best (well, only) friend, (Hey, Aroother, wherever you are), in the middle of one of those perfect Tom Sawyer days, taken at his grandparents’ farm, asked me what political strip I considered myself. Now, given that our parents were cut of the same conservative cloth and saw it meet for us to associate, it was a pretty good bet we weren’t that far apart. But Art was a precocious kid. Then between fourth and fifth grades, he was already an accomplished radio amateur, and in a year, he’d skip six grade and go straight into Walnut Hills High School, Cincinnati’s high-ranking yuppie brat academy. (Full disclosure: I went there, too, only a year later, so, being an insider, I get to snark about it.) I tell you that to tell you this: he was politically advanced on me. But his question, as perspicacious as it was, nailed the point in one.
“Do you,” he asked when I admitted to my essential cluelessness on the subject, “Believe in Live and Let Live?”
It was a phrase I’d heard before. Not given it much thought, but it did resonate with me as being “right.” As in correct. I had no notion then of Left and Right in the political sense. So I answered, “Yes.” And, in that moment, it became truth. I really did believe in Live and Let Live. It seemed to me an excellent guiding principle to live by, and I have tried to ever since.
“You,” he informed me as only a precocious ten-year-old can do, “Are a libertarian.”
First I’d heard of it. But I immediately grokked the term, though I didn’t hear the word “grok” for awhile, yet.
So, imagine the ‘splosion inside my little skull-full-of-mush when, two years later, here came Robert Heinlein — already my favorite science fiction author — with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Which showed an entire generation — if they would appropriate the lesson — the full implications of living by that simple phrase and touchstone — Live and Let Live.
And that, sometimes, you have to fight for it.
It may have been that Heinlein’s writing resonated so loudly with my parents that his books were ubiquitous in our house. It may have been that his entire oeuvre-to-date was in print throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood — while so few others’ were. It may have just been that he was the most popular single science fiction author of the 20th Century and everybody read him. Whatever it was, I read his entire works as were in print — many of them as they first appeared in public. (Yes, that is intended to make you young whippersnappers envious.)
And, it may have been that ubiquity and completeness, or it may have been that Heinlein was so very good at heinleining — and not just engineering and futuristic concepts, but also political and moral ones as well — but I absorbed a great deal of my world view from him, by osmosis, and largely unawares — in the manner of a fish absorbing oxygen from the water passing over its gills.
At about the same time, enrolled at Walnut Hills, which — for your reference — proudly counts among its alumni both Jerry Rubin and Elisabeth Bumiller, I encountered any number of liberals, socialists, and red diaper babies. I hung out with members of the Unitarian Church’s Liberal Religious Youth organization. Some of my best friends were yippies, communists, members of SDS — and later, I’m sure — the Weather Underground. The school hosted sit-ins almost before the wider community had ever heard of them. Students participated in left wing agitprop and demonstrations. One of the biggest I recall was for the first Earth Day in 1970.
My senior year I had a course called Socio-Economics. At the time, I thought it was similar to social studies, which was purported to be a mashup of history and geography. These days, it should be very easy to spot the rat in the trashheap there. My Sosh-Ec teacher refused to allow me to read Heinlein’s Channel Markers (from Analog) to the class. (That was 1972, which was why I thought for sure the thing had to have appeared the latest in 1971, not ’74, like everybody says.) He said it was a fascist tract. I guess that was when the mask began to slip.
All during my six years at Walnut, various folks of liberal stripes tried to persuade me that, as a libertarian, I really belonged in their camp. And they sold it so prettily, too. My Ancient and Medieval History teacher said more than once that, in that day and age, a true conservative had to be a liberal. He may have been right: someone wishing to conserve the values of the American founding should consider himself to be a classica liberal. But, of course, that’s not what my teacher meant. My LRY friends called me a fellow traveler, said they wanted the same things — self-determination, respect for individuals.
Only the communists were really honest. “Come the revolution…” they said, and they didn’t sugar-coat it.
But, even then, for those with the eyes to see, the American Left was already in the thrall of international revolutionary Marxism. And they were following the Gramscian prescription of the long march through the institutions. There was an “of course” about all of the cultural marxism — television, radio, music, the movies… and, of course, literature. Back then, reading Atlas Shrugged was a pretty bold move. Reading it in public was practically looking for a fight. Starship Troopers was another. Funnily enough, though, an alum who’d been to Israel, worked on a kibbutz, and joined the IDF for the ’67 war wasn’t so adamant about it. He’d seen the elephant. He knew what Heinlein was talking about.
And, pondering the issue now, the Left’s almost knee-jerk reaction to Starship Troopers was an early case (for my generation at least) of a derangement syndrome that also had leftists reacting to any strong figure from the Right like vampires to garlic. One thing that threw some of us off was Nixon. Nixon really was a bad guy, or so it seemed. G. Gordon Liddy in the ’90s made a strong case that the real bad guy in Watergate was the odidous John Dean, and that the crime was committed for rather tawdry reasons. But we didn’t know any of that at the time. And Nixon resigned in disgrace. So, when the Left started frothing at the mouth and doing their very best St. Vitus’ Dance at the mere mention of Nixon’s name, it was to some extent understandable.
But Robert Heinlein? Did they know he’d supported communists in the ’30s? (But then, everybody did.) The cognitive dissonance of calling the author of Stranger in a Strange Land a fascist just didn’t register with anyone. They were simply deranged on the subject. Some of them still are.
Long about the same time as Art and I had our proto-political discussion, a “movement” in science fiction that had its roots, according to some, in the same period that gave us Heinlein (and Asimov and myriad others) — the New Wave. Whether it was Merrill or Moorcock or Harlan Ellison that gave us the term, there were many authors who gave us the fiction. In a sort of a manifesto at the time, (1962), J.G. Ballard (who has many other sins to answer for as well) was read to utter:
… I think science fiction should turn its back on space, on interstellar travel, extra-terrestrial life forms, galactic wars and the overlap of these ideas that spreads across the margins of nine-tenths of magazine s-f. Great writer though he was, I’m convinced H. G. Wells has had a disastrous influence on the subsequent course of science fiction … similarly, I think, science fiction must jettison its present narrative forms and plots.
I read this then — and read it now — as saying that mankind should turn its back on the possibility of space exploration and the rest, as well as an optimistic view of “the” future — of any possible future — in favor of Ballard’s preferences.
Quelle reactionary. Quelle dirigisme.
And, yes, I enjoyed Moorcock’s Corum stories and Elric of Melnibone [sic], and Harlan Ellison’s lyrical way with titles, if nothing else, and Samuel Delaney’s — well, everything except Dahlgren — and Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions and Dangerous Visions 3D (I keed, I keed).
But the relentless pessimism was a drag. I was so glad that, when the Campbell awards were initiated, the first few winners had a generally affirmational view of humanity and the future. It seemed a counter to the otherwise omnipresent negativity of the field in the late ’60s and ’70s. It seemed to presage a positive direction for the field.
In the years between school and the beginning of my present career, I took a stab at writing for realsies. I’d done the usual pastiches and cris de coeur poetry in high school and gone nowhere with it. By my mid-20s, I had a small trunk of juevnalia I kept hauling around and polishing. Polishing a turd, as somebody said. I had a brief correspondence with Ben Bova when he was editor at Analog after John Campbell died. He’s a Facebook friend now, but I doubt he remembers one particular starry-eyed kid who could never get the science right from the ’70s. Then I had to earn a living and the writing got stuffed in a file drawer and forgotten for twenty years.
I kept reading speculative fiction. But none of it had the same impact on me that the Tarzan books I’d red in a hot attic from the original pulp editions with the WWI notices about saving paper for the war effort. Or the Barsoom books, or Have Spacesuit Will Travel or Podkayne. None of it made me tear up like: Oh, Bog. Is a computer one of your creatures?
Oh, sure, there were good books in there — gold among the dross. I still buy every book that C.J. Cherryh puts out. Emma Bull, Spider Robinson, Orson Scott Card… But there were so many — too damned many — who got one book published, then disappeared. For the longest time, I thought it was me. I’ve always been short of pocket money. There have been long stretches when I didn’t have money to buy new books. I figured those works came out and went out of print in those intervals. And, shamefully, I never missed a lot of them.
Little did I know political correctness had taken hold and clung for dear life around the throat of FSF. The muscular, no fear, open-eyed literature of ideas I had so loved in my youth had turned into yet another fever swamp of the Left. Editors and publishers, post modern lit crit majors burrowed into the publishing houses and hollowed them out. And the new conglomerates who bought up the old houses didn’t care so long as the bottom line was in black.
Still and all, there remained an optimistic core. Or cadre, if you will.
Yeah, there were the technocrats who couldn’t comprehend the flaw of their premise that, if we could only elect the right smart people, all our problems would be solved, or if the smartest people could somehow become benevolent dictators — and you know they’d be benevolent — or if the right race of space aliens could come and save us from all the myriad sins of humanity. And they seemed to occupy ever more of the nice neighborhoods in utopian cities. And their aliens never came and asked, “Why didn’t you kill all the tyrants?” “When will you people learn not to trust those who seek power?” “What happened to all your individuals?”
But in the ghettos of those utopias, subsisting on the leavings of those arrogant enough to think themselves our betters, we lovers of liberty and the essential promise of Man lurked and plotted. And our core belief was that we wanted to take power to abdicate it. We wanted to get the reins of government to leave the people alone, to force the government to leave US alone. To force the establishment to get out of the way of the only true human progress — that of the individual.
It started in radio, with the ending of the Fairness Doctrine. It has flowed through the culture, at about twice the pace as the leftists marched, and now it threatens the Left’s hegemony, and they’re starting to panic. They believe the old wheeze about the pendulum of politics and its supposed swing from left to right and back again. But it’s much, much worse. Because we in the Right — and in the Human Wave (to the extent the two are not entirely congruent) — know this about human progress.
True human progress trends toward the maximization of the ability of the individual human being to realize his full potential. Anything which contributes to that is good, anything that detracts from that is evil. And collectivism — of any stripe — does not enhance the freedom of the individual to be his best. And more and more human individuals are coming to realize this.
And, folks, mark my words: there’s no pendulum swing on that. There’s only one way to go: the more people realize the benefits of freedom, the more will want it. And the only reason to even slow that progress is with lies. Lies that are far too easy to expose.
In the last decade or so, I have taken the pen back up to write again. I have a pocketful of stories to tell, and the time and energy to tell them. And, though I don’t intend to suffuse them with the scandals of the day, there are eternal verities, such as that basic truth about individuals, that are unavoidable. You will come to know my characters as individuals, each and every one of them struggling in his or her own way to be free.
And that, my friends, is why I am a Human Waver. I believe in progress — true progress. I write to expose the lies.
There are other reasons to be a Waver, of course, but those are mine. The Other Side will fight us tooth and nail. Doesn’t matter. We’re right. We’re in the majority. We will win. As Chip Delaney put it in Babel 17, This war will be over in six weeks. Well, maybe a touch longer, but the outcome is not really in doubt.