This Is Hardly Productive*

Not even the great John W. Campbell Jr., was crazy enough to saddle himself with a weekly editorial. He was smart enough to give himself at least a month.

Unless I’m being churlish, I like to try and take a stab at something substantive for these weekly missives, but that has proven to be increasingly difficult (largely owing to family illness).

Of late, I’ve been casting about for ways to lighten the demand while at the very least remaining – hopefully – mildly entertaining.

One such experiment in that direction may serve to strengthen our Facebook/general social networking reach as well, so if it works, double-bonus.

At the beginning of this past week I decided to throw a question at one of the SF groups I inhabit on FB; I also asked a “survey” question (which has now become its own page and more on that in a bit). Now here’s where the mention of Campbell comes in: JWC was, apparently, fond of haranguing his office visitors (and lunch guests) with the subject of an editorial he was working on. He purportedly would take a strong position and try to get his opponents to challenge them. By the end of a month of visits, he’d have honed his argument and probably heard every counter there was to hear.

Lacking an office in Manhattan, and modifying the gambit for the internet, I chose to ask a question rather than take a position (I may do that in future) and I asked the following of the Heinlein Forum members –

But before I get to that, I should perhaps explain that the Heinlein forum is inhabited by the greatest collection of Heinlein experts this side of Bill Patterson. Or at least it appears that way. I’m a bit embarrassed to have to admit that some of them started reading Heinlein before I did and, if you twist my arm a little, I might even own up to the fact that some of them may even know a bit more about the author than I do.

In general, it is a well-managed, mature group; there’ve been a few cases of folks needing to be cautioned (I even seem to remember I might have been one of them at some point), but in general, folks seem to get along even if they have glaring differences of opinion.

The group also hosts regular reading discussions, with everyone democratically selecting the book to read and then offering up their takes, reviews, likes and dislikes. It’s safe to say that if you like Heinlein sufficiently to want to talk about him, this is the place to go.

Anyway, the question I asked was: Would Bob Heinlein have voted for Trump?

Please review the title of this piece before proceeding.

Why would I ask such a question?

Because, in many ways, our divided fandom has chosen Mr. Robert Anson Heinlein as a litmus test for political leanings.  Which is interesting because about the only thing everyone can readily agree upon regarding Mr. Heinlein’s beliefs and politics is that we can’t really know.

Even after reading Patterson’s two volume magnum opus (review here, more on that in a few lines as well…), we’re still left wondering.  He leaned left, he leaned  right, his real life mirrored that of some of his characters penchant for going their own way regardless of what you called it, he took stands on important issues – from a nuanced position (supporting the war in Viet Nam, for example, not because he supported war but because the US ought to back up its promises).

No matter your political viewpoint, you can undoubtedly find something in his works that would seem to indicate that Bob is your friend.

Now about that magnum opus.  In that review, I addressed many aspects of the treatment Heinlein’s legacy is receiving today and I shall refer to the review as a reference for the attacks made on the author regarding his supposed bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and racism.  Within the review are links to articles addressing each one of those charges and my own round-up of the fact that those who are attacking the man through his works are engaged in just as pointless an exercise as the question posed previously.

Please, take the works to task, by all means.  Most of them are good enough to warrant a little discussion.  But if you’re going to charge the author with the supposed theme of those works, go the extra mile and offer up an argument as to why other, contradictory works, do not weaken your argument.

Which courtesy we ought to be extending to each and every author out there.

Now, as for the Facebook discussion, the members of the group made some very cogent arguments, some drawing from what we know of Mr. Heinlein’s political activities, some drawing from regular themes presented in the books, some from personal experience, some from guesswork.

But we’ll never know for sure, of course.

There were some 20+ individual participants, writing in excess of 60 comments.  A sampling of the those comments follows (all are anonymous; any participant wishing to be associated with their comment need only ask):

It seems to me that the Trump phenomenon is closely tied to America’s ongoing history of anti-intellectualism, which I doubt Bob would have favored.

(anti-intellectualism became its own discussion)

***

I feel he’d have fallen into the “vote for an alternative or not vote at all.”  But, I’m sure he wouldn’t have voted for a Clinton. Too authoritarian.

***

I’m not sure which side he’d have been on though, and it probably matters quite a lot what year (not that I know him year by year and could discuss that issue — but clearly his attitudes developed over time just like everybody else’s do).

***

I don’t think he would have voted for Trump. He believed in being a gentleman and would have considered Trump an oaf without manners. I’m also not sure he would have voted for Clinton either, leaving his vote for a third party.

***

Heinlein would have gone for the lesser of two evils – but recognizing the fact that you would still be voting for evil, would advise people to be vigilant concerning their actions and keep their weapons close if needed.

***

I believe he’d not want his vote to be wasted, so he would have voted AGAINST Mr. Trump but not for a third-party candidate, therefore in favor of Secretary Clinton, warts and all. And, if star travel were possible on the “New Frontiers” level, yes, I suspect he’d be long gone.

(That last part addressed the “bonus” question:  if we had starships, would Heinlein have followed Lazarus Long’s advice and gotten the hell out?)

***

I personally think that RAH *still* wouldn’t trust the Russians worth a hill of beans, and therefore would not have voted for Trump.

***

i will say “no, no more than he would have wanted D. D. Harriman to be president

***

This is hardly productive. Heinlein has been used to support and to vilify a range of political positions over the years. The times now are very different from 1988. The only thing we can say with certainty is that Heinlein would have done his research and voted his conscience, well aware that sometimes there are no easy choices to make, well aware of hyperbole and propaganda on all sides of the political spectrum, considering both third parties (and their historic lack of success), and basing his decision on what he felt was best (or least worst) for the country. Given that most of us here try to do that, and yet our opinions on this site range across the political spectrum, arguing how you think Heinlein might have voted this year says more about you than about Heinlein

What, if any conclusions have I drawn from this exercise?

A quite interesting and, I think, a very important lesson.

I dropped a bomb of a question into a politically divided Facebook Forum.  It wasn’t just a provocative question,it was a question involving a subject that many, many, many fans take both seriously AND personally, their relationship to and reception of the genre’s first Grand Master, the Dean of Science Fiction.  It asked fans to address not only a political subject fraught with tension, but one that is immediate and very, very sensitive.

It was a question begging to be responded to with anger and acrimony.

And yet that isn’t what happened.  The participants respected each other (and myself), they took the question seriously, they made arguments based on both belief and fact.  The participants remained open to arguments not their own and no one (apparently) got bent out of shape.

I honestly don’t care why everyone was on their “best behavior”.  Perhaps it was because they knew that their remarks might be the subject of an editorial.  Maybe everyone is just tired of arguing.  Maybe they took it light-heartedly and didn’t feel the need to get exercised over it.

The point to be gleaned here is that fans, despite everything that has transpired over the past four or five years, can still manage to have a “fannish” discussion of a potentially riotous subject.

We can still talk to each other.  We don’t have to agree, but we can still discuss and maybe learn a little something about each other along the way.

Let’s remember that.  Always.

***

I would like to sincerely thank everyone on the Heinlein Forum for their mature and fannish participation.  Your sense of community is a refreshing and much-needed example these days.

If you are interested in Robert A. Heinlein’s works, I urge you to visit that Forum if you have not done so already.

I mentioned the survey question earlier, as well as the new page.  From time to time I’m going to stick a question up there (I encourage all to participate) and it just may find its way into another editorial.

*This editorial’s title was drawn from one of the comments on the Heinlein Forum thread.  I now beg to differ with that conclusion.

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2 Comments

  1. My 2 cents would be that Heinlein would not have been willing to vote for Trump as Heinlein showed no respect for liars, misogynists, and would have been suspicious of Trump’s Russian connections. Aside from that it is difficult to say but Heinlein might have voted for Hillary with a footnote nothing ‘Solution Unsatisfactory’.

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