The True Knowledge

Ken Macleod writes the best political sci fi.

I first encountered his work through a libertarian friend’s recommendation of The Stone Canal, a homage to anarcho-capitalism set on a Mars-like colony planet. This lead me to the sequel, The Cassini Division, which depicts the anarcho-socialist society left behind on Earth.

Apparently there are two other books in the series, but I started reading one of them and it was terrible.

Macleod’s books explore the farthest reaches of right and left libertarianism. One of the distinguishing characteristics of both far right and far left ideologies is that they embrace materialism over idealism. They have a delightful hard-headed way of analyzing the mechanisms of power as it actually exists. Who holds the guns? Who makes the call on how they are used? If there is democracy, who controls the education system and the media that determines public opinion? It is no accident that neoreactionaries look to far leftist figures like Alinsky, Chomsky, Lippman, and Lenin for advice on the mechanisms of political change.

On the other hand, the discourse of the intellectual mainstream is idealistic. The power to make their fictions a reality is a given, so they spend their time weaving ever more complicated ideals. It is practically a theological enterprise, scholastic even. Their thoughts are far removed from the mechanism of power – violence is as alien to them as inalienable rights are real. To the extremist, mainstream discourse reads like the Summa Theologica to a non-Catholic.

Lenin’s concise formulation of political logic – “Who? Whom?” is a favorite on the reactionary right. It loses some meaning in translation – the basic idea is that fights over ideology are really fights over people – who wins and who loses, or who is doing and to whom it is being done. The socialist society in The Cassini Division, is based on a similar philosophy called “The True Knowledge”, a shockingly realistic creed:

Life is a process of breaking down and using other matter, and if need be, other life. Therefore, life is aggression, and successful life is successful aggression. Life is the scum of matter, and people are the scum of life. There is nothing but matter, forces, space and time, which together make power. Nothing matters, except what matters to you. Might makes right, and power makes freedom. You are free to do whatever is in your power, and if you want to survive and thrive you had better do whatever is in your interests. If your interests conflict with those of others, let the others pit their power against yours, everyone for theirselves. If your interests coincide with those of others, let them work together with you, and against the rest. We are what we eat, and we eat everything.

All that you really value, and the goodness and truth and beauty of life, have their roots in this apparently barren soil.

This is the true knowledge.

We had founded our idealism on the most nihilistic implications of science, our socialism on crass self-interest, our peace on our capacity for mutual destruction, and our liberty on determinism. We had replaced morality with convention, bravery with safety, frugality with plenty, philosophy with science, stoicism with anaesthetics and piety with immortality. The universal acid of the true knowledge had burned away a world of words, and exposed a universe of things.

Things we could use.

Among untrustworthy people, the True Knowledge is a necessity. Naive idealism always loses against “Who? Whom?”. It is only after sovereignty is secure that the more idealistic side of human nature may be indulged.

Modern Socialism

Rand and Nietzsche complain that Socialism takes away the spirit of man and replaces him with a stomach. Under socialism, man earns value not by his ability, but by his need – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. By virtue of a empty stomach, one man gains the right to boss another around.

But what becomes of socialism when society becomes rich, when every need is fulfilled? Then the leftist society sinks to an even lower depth – rather than worshipping need we worship mere envy. Thus, “inequality” becomes our watchword.