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Thread: Understanding Heinlein

  1. #31
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    In Starship Troopers flogging is portrayed as an effective behaviour modifier (through humiliation, rather than pain) for both the military and civilians.
    Heinlein attended Annapolis. Maybe I have the wrong impression of US Naval Academies, but I'd have thought he would have received instruction on why the USN abandoned flogging in the nineteenth century. The situation in the USN was perhaps a little more politically complicated than it was in the British Royal Navy, but I still think that at core the reason for abandonment was the same - it was demonstrably ineffective. Once the RN had reviewed the punishment books of their various vessels, they established that they had a small number of men being flogged regularly for the same offence, and a large number who were never flogged. They also had wide variance in the number of floggings from captain to captain, but no evidence from combat efficiency that discipline was any worse in ships with low flogging rates.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Maybe Heinlein was one of those people who didn't care what the evidence said; I've known more than a few of them.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Maybe Heinlein was one of those people who didn't care what the evidence said; I've known more than a few of them.
    It's certainly a fruitful working hypothesis.

    Grant Hutchison

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    His purpose was not to describe what he wished for the future, but to illustrate certain concepts which had supposedly " evolved"
    in some of his 'worlds' . His point seemed to me , to indicate the seriousness of the particular situation , to provide a value structure ( in this case... a military environment ) so that the reader is transported from his comfy chair and removed to a different time and place.
    I particularly liked his illustration and concept of " The Sovereign Franchise " , ( what you would call the right or privilege
    to vote ) which I found to be character building, and sensitive to a true understanding of what that means and an appreciation of
    what men and woman fought and died for. In this and other regards, he was an exceptional writer with a great deal to say
    beyond the mundane, pretty and fascinating inventions of a modern day. He was an extraordinary ..."Thinking Man's"
    writer , and he gave his readers credit for being able to read and grasp the possible nature of times to come if you don't participate in that wonderful and precious "Sovereign Franchise " .
    This is a writer worthy of his accolades , and your money will have been well spent in his company.

    Best regards,
    Dan

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    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    2. Moon is a Harsh Mistress was good fun adventure, some of the social revolutionary stuff he seemed to be preaching was again for me implausible.
    He pretty strongly mimicked the American Revolution in the story, going to far as to align some dates in the narrative so that they were exactly 300 years later, including the date of the actual overthrow.

    If ever was a day when Luna felt unified it was probably secondof July 2076.
    The Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776. The Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, 1776.

    Maybe you refer to some of the idea of Professor Bernardo de la Paz? He is a pure anarchist but with some rather interesting ideas about how to organize a government, including establishing a bicameral legislature with one chamber established to repeal the laws passed by the other. In some respects we have that today in which passage of certain laws (or overcoming presidential veto) require a 2/3rd majority in the US Senate.

    "I note one proposal to make this Congress a two-house body. Excellent--the more impediments to legislation the better. But, insteadof following tradition, I suggest one house legislators, another whose single duty is to repeal laws. Let legislators pass laws only with a twothirds
    majority... while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority. Preposterous? Think about it. If a bill is so
    poor that it cannot command two-thirds of your consents, is it not likely that it would make a poor law? And if a law is disliked by as many as
    one-third is it not likely that you would be better off without it?

    But in writing your constitution let me invite attention the wonderful virtues of the negative! Accentuate the negative! Let your
    document be studded with things the government is forever forbidden to do. No conscript armies... no interference however slight with freedom of
    press, or speech, or travel, or assembly, or of religion, or of instruction, or communication, or occupation... no involuntary taxation.

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    He pretty strongly mimicked the American Revolution in the story, going to far as to align some dates in the narrative so that they were exactly 300 years later, including the date of the actual overthrow.
    There was no "overthrow." We "threw off" British rule, but George III continued to rule the British Empire. It was simply a bit smaller than before.

    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    Maybe you refer to some of the idea of Professor Bernardo de la Paz? He is a pure anarchist but with some rather interesting ideas about how to organize a government, including establishing a bicameral legislature with one chamber established to repeal the laws passed by the other. In some respects we have that today in which passage of certain laws (or overcoming presidential veto) require a 2/3rd majority in the US Senate.
    Veto overrides require a 2/3 majority in the Senate and in the House.

    ... Let legislators pass laws only with a twothirds majority... while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority. Preposterous? ...
    Which is close to what the US has now. The House can pass legislation but the minority in the Senate can filibuster, requiring a 60% vote just to consider it.
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  7. #37
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    I recall that in Time Enough For Love, he had his author-avatar character describe the government he'd set up, with a leader that has limited power, "and the people, bless their flabby little black hearts, have none at all." The same character also scoffs at democracy or "equalitarians" but admits that under certain ideal circumstances it might become a valid form of government-- circumstances that don't yet exist.

    In the same book Heinlein promotes his "one man alone* in the wilderness" ideal, ignoring (while acknowledging) the mass of equipment made by other people that the hero* requires to make it in the wilderness. Not to mention the fact that this expedition is taking place on another planet, using starships built by an industrial society to get there.**

    * He had his wife with him, but as typical of Heinlein, she's reliant on the man to take care of her. And yes, he wrote a few stories that had atypically independent female main characters, another contradiction.

    **Same problem applies (to a lesser degree) in Tunnel In The Sky, the students get where they are going via an advanced technological civilization and use training given to them by skilled educators, yet still can only reach a limited level of development on their own.
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    After rereading Starship Troopers, it now seems like an early warning of the self-indulgence that was to his dominate later works.
    The Jeffersonian libertarianism is definitely there, and clearly presented. And there's a careful description of what the military is, what it does, and how it necessarily goes about modifying the behaviour of its soldiers in order to get things done.

    But then there's the endless lecturing about "moral certainties" that are, frankly, complete tosh. Heinlein deals with dissent ingeniously in the novel, by inventing some sort of moral calculus that allows his characters to prove to themselves, mathematically, that their moral declarations are correct - it's a neat way of presenting an unbalance argument with immense confidence.
    He must have spent a lot of time distilling his moral arguments down into the little school-room lectures his characters deliver. If he noticed they were very poor arguments, why didn't he discard them? Their vacuity undermines the rest of the book.
    If he didn't notice they were very poor arguments, why not? He was reportedly very well read. We could assume he just ignored stuff he didn't like, as Gillianren has already suggested. But the "moral calculus" he inserts in the background of the story has the feel of a deliberate means of avoiding discussion of complicated moral issues. His characters just "do the math" and set off to shoot more aliens.
    Harry Harrison could have used this as an element of military satire in his "Bill, the Galactic Hero" series (maybe he did, I haven't read them all), and I think it underlies Verhoeven's cinematic treatment of the book. It's a weak point that undermines Heinlein's ponderously seriousness delivery.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim View Post
    There was no "overthrow." We "threw off" British rule, but George III continued to rule the British Empire. It was simply a bit smaller than before.
    Ah, true. I meant the overthrow of the Lunar Authority; those two themes got blended in the Vegomatic that is my brain.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    He must have spent a lot of time distilling his moral arguments down into the little school-room lectures his characters deliver. If he noticed they were very poor arguments, why didn't he discard them? Their vacuity undermines the rest of the book.
    If he didn't notice they were very poor arguments, why not? He was reportedly very well read. We could assume he just ignored stuff he didn't like, as Gillianren has already suggested. But the "moral calculus" he inserts in the background of the story has the feel of a deliberate means of avoiding discussion of complicated moral issues. His characters just "do the math" and set off to shoot more aliens.
    Harry Harrison could have used this as an element of military satire in his "Bill, the Galactic Hero" series (maybe he did, I haven't read them all), and I think it underlies Verhoeven's cinematic treatment of the book. It's a weak point that undermines Heinlein's ponderously seriousness delivery.
    I wasn't quite suggesting ignoring. I was suggesting that he was outright rejecting the evidence because it didn't say what he wanted it to. Or possibly that he thought that it just proved the various navies weren't flogging right, because flogging works, and if they found that it didn't, that had to mean that they were at fault, not flogging. It's a common human foible. I'll admit, though, that I haven't read much Heinlein, just Starship Troopers more than fifteen years ago.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    I wasn't quite suggesting ignoring. I was suggesting that he was outright rejecting the evidence because it didn't say what he wanted it to. Or possibly that he thought that it just proved the various navies weren't flogging right, because flogging works, and if they found that it didn't, that had to mean that they were at fault, not flogging. It's a common human foible. I'll admit, though, that I haven't read much Heinlein, just Starship Troopers more than fifteen years ago.
    I always thought that he included the flogging to drive home the point that the ST future society, where full citizenship is achieved only with a stint in the military, was very different than 1950s US society. IMO the flogging was intended to make the reader think "Wow, could that really happen?" That's barbaric!" Or at least, those were my thoughts when I first read the book. I didn't necessarily read into it that Heinlein believed that flogging was effective, although he could very well have done so.

    Heinlein was rarely subtle. maybe even never.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    I wasn't quite suggesting ignoring. I was suggesting that he was outright rejecting the evidence because it didn't say what he wanted it to. Or possibly that he thought that it just proved the various navies weren't flogging right, because flogging works, and if they found that it didn't, that had to mean that they were at fault, not flogging.
    I see the difference you're making. And it's probably closer to what I actually had in my head when I typed "ignored".

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    I always thought that he included the flogging to drive home the point that the ST future society, where full citizenship is achieved only with a stint in the military, was very different than 1950s US society. IMO the flogging was intended to make the reader think "Wow, could that really happen?" That's barbaric!" Or at least, those were my thoughts when I first read the book. I didn't necessarily read into it that Heinlein believed that flogging was effective, although he could very well have done so.
    The flogging is woven into the fabric of the story, however. His characters argue strongly for flogging in their History and Moral Philosophy class, and lack of corporal punishment is portrayed as a moral lapse in twentieth century society (one of many!). Some of the same characters also go on to put forward the arguments about military honour and duty that we know Heinlein was serious about, and which he said was one of the purposes of this book.
    Would Heinlein have allowed his deeply honourable key characters (the only ones morally developed enough to deserve a vote, remember) to make a case for the necessity of flogging if he hadn't seen that as part and parcel of what he called "correct moral rules"?
    It's the same problem I have with the hopelessly naive moral philosophy expounded elsewhere - it so deeply undermines the credibility of his key characters, I can't help but believe Heinlein found his own arguments serious and compelling, and therefore saw them as a narrative strength.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by schlaugh View Post
    Heinlein was rarely subtle. maybe even never.
    The story was originally intended as a Juvenile, so I think subtlety was almost certainly not on the menu.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    I wasn't quite suggesting ignoring. I was suggesting that he was outright rejecting the evidence because it didn't say what he wanted it to.
    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I see the difference you're making. And it's probably closer to what I actually had in my head when I typed "ignored".
    Usually when I say "ignore" it means actively tuning out something rather than just not catching it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Usually when I say "ignore" it means actively tuning out something rather than just not catching it.
    I think Gillianren (who will correct me if I'm misunderstanding!) is contrasting two things that, to me, both fall within the definition of "to ignore":
    1) Avoiding listening to (or reading) some evidence that you know will not match up with your preconceptions.
    2) Listening to (or reading) some evidence that you then reject because it does not match up with your preconceptions.

    So it's the stage at which the "tuning out" occurs. I think Heinlein may well have done the latter, given that he is generally acknowledged to have read widely.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I think Gillianren (who will correct me if I'm misunderstanding!) is contrasting two things that, to me, both fall within the definition of "to ignore":
    1) Avoiding listening to (or reading) some evidence that you know will not match up with your preconceptions.
    2) Listening to (or reading) some evidence that you then reject because it does not match up with your preconceptions.

    So it's the stage at which the "tuning out" occurs. I think Heinlein may well have done the latter, given that he is generally acknowledged to have read widely.
    Yes. He is not merely pretending it isn't there; he rejects it because he believes it to be wrong. Now, this is definitely a cognitive dissonance situation, because he's rejecting evidence based on a gut feeling, but still. I suspect that, if you had asked him, he would have said something along the lines of, "Yeah, they say flogging didn't work, but that's obviously not true."
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Yes. He is not merely pretending it isn't there; he rejects it because he believes it to be wrong. Now, this is definitely a cognitive dissonance situation, because he's rejecting evidence based on a gut feeling, but still. I suspect that, if you had asked him, he would have said something along the lines of, "Yeah, they say flogging didn't work, but that's obviously not true."
    And this ties in with a statement in the book that I jotted down, spoken by the narrator, Johnnie Rico: "... all correct moral rules ... derive from the instinct to survive." According to his biographer, Heinlein said several similar things in essays and interviews, so we can be reasonably confident that this approximates his own views.
    This stance is delivered as a given in the book, and we're told that the fictional moral calculus allows it to be proved mathematically. No defence of the position is offered (and that's OK, it's a novel, and the moralizing is already dull). But you can see how much wiggle room the definition allows: if a viewpoint doesn't derive from the instinct to survive, Heinlein is free to dismiss it as "not correct", "not moral" or "not a rule". And he has dealt with the obvious objection, "There's actually no such thing as a correct moral rule!" by the invention of his "moral calculus", which allows his characters to assume the high ground of mathematical certainty while informing the poor benighted reader.

    It's all rather neat. I'm just not finding it admirable or edifying.

    Grant Hutchison

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    The first time I read Starship Troopers as a kid, I actually expected him to explain the "moral calculus", how it worked and how it came to be, and was disappointed when the story ended without that dangling plot thread being resolved.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    And this ties in with a statement in the book that I jotted down, spoken by the narrator, Johnnie Rico: "... all correct moral rules ... derive from the instinct to survive." According to his biographer, Heinlein said several similar things in essays and interviews, so we can be reasonably confident that this approximates his own views.
    This stance is delivered as a given in the book, and we're told that the fictional moral calculus allows it to be proved mathematically. No defence of the position is offered (and that's OK, it's a novel, and the moralizing is already dull). But you can see how much wiggle room the definition allows: if a viewpoint doesn't derive from the instinct to survive, Heinlein is free to dismiss it as "not correct", "not moral" or "not a rule". And he has dealt with the obvious objection, "There's actually no such thing as a correct moral rule!" by the invention of his "moral calculus", which allows his characters to assume the high ground of mathematical certainty while informing the poor benighted reader.

    It's all rather neat. I'm just not finding it admirable or edifying.

    Grant Hutchison
    Heinlein did seem focused to a degree on expanding our ideas of what morality is, but how much of that reflects his own personal quirks. Time Enough For Love could be subtitled: "With your mother" for instance and incest was also a sub theme in Farnham's Freehold and Book of Job. There are questions around possible racism around some of the themes in Farnham's Freehold where the black ruling class are cannibals eating the white slave class.

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    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    There are questions around possible racism around some of the themes in Farnham's Freehold where the black ruling class are cannibals eating the white slave class.
    My impression was that Heinlein wanted really strongly to overcome the racism of the culture he grew up in, but never quite wrapped his head around just how to do so. Certainly if FF was meant to be a parody of racism (as RAH apologists often claim), it missed overshot by a mile.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    My impression was that Heinlein wanted really strongly to overcome the racism of the culture he grew up in, but never quite wrapped his head around just how to do so. Certainly if FF was meant to be a parody of racism (as RAH apologists often claim), it missed overshot by a mile.
    For me as a teen it evoked images of African savages boiling white people in pots...

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    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    Heinlein did seem focused to a degree on expanding our ideas of what morality is, but how much of that reflects his own personal quirks.
    I think that's a necessary corollary to his idea that all correct moral rules derive from the instinct for survival. This makes other so-called moral stances fall into his "Mrs Grundy" category, and he is keen to have his characters violate as many as possible of those.

    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    There are questions around possible racism around some of the themes in Farnham's Freehold where the black ruling class are cannibals eating the white slave class.
    His biography mentions a couple of instances from Heinlein's life in which he adopted a principled anti-racist stance. I think it's also easy to forget how striking the late-novel reveal in Starship Troopers would be in the 1950s, when Rico mentions that he is Filipino. It was obviously intended to be a striking effect, otherwise it wouldn't have been saved for so late in the novel.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I think that's a necessary corollary to his idea that all correct moral rules derive from the instinct for survival. This makes other so-called moral stances fall into his "Mrs Grundy" category, and he is keen to have his characters violate as many as possible of those.
    It seems like a fairly emotionally immature stance to take. Our moral rules are the product of survival that often goes far beyond the individual, certainly in a way that is not the case for any other animal of our complexity. These can include strong familial ties, community and even broader regional loyalties.

    His biography mentions a couple of instances from Heinlein's life in which he adopted a principled anti-racist stance. I think it's also easy to forget how striking the late-novel reveal in Starship Troopers would be in the 1950s, when Rico mentions that he is Filipino. It was obviously intended to be a striking effect, otherwise it wouldn't have been saved for so late in the novel.

    Grant Hutchison
    I read it in the 1970s and maybe it was no longer as much of an issue, it wasn't for me anyway. I didn't recall that aspect of the story. I do recall the visceral effect of the image of black people raising white people as cattle, it did nothing at all in my case to question the kind of racism that has been an issue in America for so long.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    His biography mentions a couple of instances from Heinlein's life in which he adopted a principled anti-racist stance. I think it's also easy to forget how striking the late-novel reveal in Starship Troopers would be in the 1950s, when Rico mentions that he is Filipino. It was obviously intended to be a striking effect, otherwise it wouldn't have been saved for so late in the novel.
    And the abuse the mixed-race characters got when visiting the USA in Mistress. Sometimes his efforts at inclusion were successful. Other times they were somewhat ham-fisted.

    In Time Enough he says that having a black ancestor was like being descended from Charlemagne. I don't know what that says about the future of black people in the Future History verse, but it can't mean that they were common in the breeding population. And the Chinese never got into space at all, according to the dialogue.

    His black characters were also mostly wanting. The intern from Farnham was seduced into cannibalism (yeah, yeah, on purpose to make a point, but still, he's the only black person in the book, would it have killed him to write in two black characters so one could reject the cannibals?) The black guy in I Will Fear No Evil comes across as a jive-talking thug, at least that's the impression I got as a teen reading it. (Why didn't he write dialect for his white characters? I can't recall a single instance.) "Sharpie" Corners is hinted to be black in Number Of The Beast, but in a throwaway line that is never expanded on.

    Heck, his first black character in "Blowups Happen" puts me in mind of the Jim Crows from Dumbo. A pure jive con artist hustling for pocket change. This was, of course, very early in Heinlein's writing career and in the 1940s, so his wife had not yet told him what his strong convictions were about it...
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    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    For me as a teen it evoked images of African savages boiling white people in pots...
    It had that effect on me, as well. And having the main characters "put on a play" by dressing in blackface to lampoon the masters, also doesn't sit too well with me.
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    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    It seems like a fairly emotionally immature stance to take. Our moral rules are the product of survival that often goes far beyond the individual, certainly in a way that is not the case for any other animal of our complexity. These can include strong familial ties, community and even broader regional loyalties.
    Well, that exact extension of the survival instinct to involve the defence of one's community is the basis of Starship Troopers - the volunteer military have demonstrated that they are able to make that moral transition, and therefore merit the right to vote. Dawkins would say that works via selfish genes; Heinlein uses corporal punishment to modify the selfish behaviour of children - he draws a strict analogy with house-training puppies.

    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    I do recall the visceral effect of the image of black people raising white people as cattle, it did nothing at all in my case to question the kind of racism that has been an issue in America for so long.
    Nolo contendere. There's no doubt Freehold tended to achieve exactly the opposite of what seems to have been intended. Leon Stover (who was fingered as the authorized Heinlein biographer until some acrimonious falling-out occurred) reported Heinlein as saying (about the novel) "... it does no more than play on Mark Twain's prophecy of 1885, that within a hundred years the formerly enslaved blacks of America would turn things around and 'put whites underfoot,' unless racial attitudes were changed." Heinlein also described it as "... heavily allegorical--and I'm damned if I'll explain the allegories!" (Both quotes come from Patterson's authorized biography.) Twain seemed to be implying some sort of revenge for slavery; it's not clear to me if Heinlein wanted to imply that too, or was trying for some sort of heavy-handed satire in which the racial roles were reversed and the oppression intensified. In Starship Troopers, he produces a specious argument about war being the natural product of the human urge to survive, implying that the natural state of humanity is a struggle for dominance - that would fit with the scenario in Freehold.

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2015-Sep-28 at 09:31 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    In Starship Troopers flogging is portrayed as an effective behaviour modifier (through humiliation, rather than pain) for both the military and civilians.
    Heinlein attended Annapolis. Maybe I have the wrong impression of US Naval Academies, but I'd have thought he would have received instruction on why the USN abandoned flogging in the nineteenth century. The situation in the USN was perhaps a little more politically complicated than it was in the British Royal Navy, but I still think that at core the reason for abandonment was the same - it was demonstrably ineffective. Once the RN had reviewed the punishment books of their various vessels, they established that they had a small number of men being flogged regularly for the same offence, and a large number who were never flogged. They also had wide variance in the number of floggings from captain to captain, but no evidence from combat efficiency that discipline was any worse in ships with low flogging rates.

    Grant Hutchison

    You're forgetting the important detail. In Starship Troopers, flogging is a voluntary punishment. Rico had the choice to be uneventfully expelled from the military for his gross negligence, which resulted in a fellow soldier's death (we're not talking about a minor slip-up here), or voluntarily accept the punishment, demonstrating that he has the honor to own up to and suffer for his mistake, and get to stay in the Mobile Infantry.

    Now it's possible to still disagree with it on other grounds, but as framed in this form, it probably would be highly efficacious at selecting for the honorable within ranks. Especially if repeat offenders weren't flogged, but expelled.

  29. #59
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkepticJ View Post
    In Starship Troopers, flogging is a voluntary punishment.
    It's voluntary for the military, but in the classroom scene, isn't it also described as a common punishment for civilians?
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  30. #60
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    It's voluntary for the military, but in the classroom scene, isn't it also described as a common punishment for civilians?

    Not that I remember.

    It might be for serious crimes like rape. I do remember a child molester is executed. Can't say I disagree with either punishment.

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