I am re-reading "Foundation Trilogy", by Isaac Asimov. It's probably been 20 or more years since I last read any one of the three books. So far, I am still wading through Foundation. Mostly because I am reading it before going to sleep. This means a chapter, two at the most, each night.
This is classic science fiction of the late 40s, early 50s. Published in 1951, much of the story involves atomic power. Which, at the time, was stuff that dreams are made of. It was the answer to all our problems. Unlimited electric power, nuclear powered spaceships, cars running on it (maybe even flying cars!), even small arms using it for our army. And that optimism is evident in this book. Not one word about the hazards except for it getting into "the wrong hands". It is the keystone for rebuilding the Empire.
An awful lot of people do not remember the early 50s, mostly because they hadn't been born yet. It was a time of great optimism about America. We had emerged from a decade of economic woe (The Great Depression), into a war that truly threatened liberty throughout the world, and had not only survived but had ended up as a superpower and the only nation with atomic bombs. That quickly changed, of course, when the Soviet Union developed their own.
All of a sudden, we were embroiled in a Cold War with an evil adversary. Nuclear power became synonymous with destruction, massive destruction, end of the world destruction. The golden promise of nuclear energy was replaced by the very real threat of nuclear devastation.
That is one of the things that Asimov reflects in his book, the dichotomy of (as he calls it) Atomic Power.
But there is another theme that runs throughout the book that bothers me. It is the concept of an empire that is benevolent; of having power centralized in the hands of an Emperor, one man. Though he speaks of a political body that acts as a democratic entity, it is less important than this image of one man rule.
In the last half of the Eighteenth Century, the US eschewed one man rule for a democratic form of government, a republic. Even so, we almost made George Washington our king. Don't laugh, there was a number of people who wanted that to happen. Just as there was a number of people who wished to remain part of a monarchy.
Having been raised in this country and schooled in a time where the evil of one man rule was still fresh in the minds of its citizens, and where the threat of single party rule (Soviet Union) was present in everyday life, I have always been amazed by the desire of humans to seek a savior, a king, an emperor, a permanent (but always benevolent) leader; puzzled by their willingness to cede authority to a single entity.
While I was in the Navy, I traveled a bit and got a glimpse of life under de facto one man rule. The Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos and Taiwan under Chiang Kai Shek. But I also learned, first hand, what that kind of rule was like. The Navy, any military organization, is a dictatorship. Leaders are followed, whether you think them good or bad. You do not elect them. There is an elite, an aristocracy, called "officers". There is the common folk, the peasants and workers, called the "enlisted". In between, a buffer, called "non-commissioned officers" who have power but not too much.
I am not a fan of one party rule, nor of blind allegiance to a leader. I worry when we establish an elite in this country. When we see a family as producing great men to follow (Kennedys, Bushes, Rockefellers, etc.). When we see one man (or woman) as the "image of hope" for the nation. It frightens me to think that people see politicians as anything other than employees we hired to conduct business for us and who can, and ought to, be fired at the very moment that they think of running for a third term.
The idea that one man can lead us out of our misery and into glorious prosperity is the most dangerous concept man has ever devised. The willingness to be subservient, to have someone else take on the responsibilities, to be a "father figure" to us all, is anathema to me.
When Jim Jones perpetrated the horror that was the Jonestown Massacre, my son was 8 years old. It was all over the TV and he wanted to know what it was all about. I told him that this is the kind of thing that happens when people believe that one person has the answers to all their troubles. I told him that no one had all the answers and he should never believe them when they tell him they do.
He then asked me, "Not even you, Dad?" And then I realized just why people unite behind despots and dictators and grant people "savior" status and sell themselves into social slavery. And I told him, "No, not even me. Maybe especially not me."
A Night Unremembered
2 years ago