Sunday, September 27, 2009
Wouldn't this make for a great science fiction story?
A race of beings emerging from a warlike state of nature begins behaving cooperatively in their attempt to master the material externalities around them. They develop agriculture, husbandry, and productive industry. For whatever myriad explanations, hierarchy ensues, manifested most starkly in (1) material distribution and (2) access to both the reception and production-distribution of information. This results in a small class of these planetary dwellers enjoying almost complete material and ideological control.
Among other strategies to maintain this control, the elite beings keep the rest of their race in a state of deliberate under-education; more to the point, among the elite beings, there may be some debate about whether their non-elite counterparts (who outnumber them by approximately 80-1) should receive an enriching, empowering education, a functional, technical education, or no education at all. Most of the time, the middle position prevails, since technical skill among approximately half of these worker-citizens is necessary to keep the by-now-rather-complex infrastructure running for maximum material convenience. However, the more conservative and authoritarian elements of the elites constantly exercise pressure on their government to cut off the provision of resources to the education system, able to appeal to several configural, unrelated, and largely contrived arguments, from hypocritical appeals to resource shortages (hypocritical because the elites are busy funding all sorts of generally non beneficial things) to theological and ideological attacks on the entire educational enterprise.
So emerges an increasingly permanent, larger, and progressively more problematic mass of uneducated beings, their heads filled with mythology and distrust, given to anomie and alienation, malleable for immediate political purposes by some elites but ultimately unmanageable, or controllable only through unbearable brutality.
In fact, similar sci-fi stories abound. As I was writing this allegory, I remembered "The Cloud Minders," an excellent Star Trek TOS episode, as well as the Residents' album "Mark of the Mole," and I could probably think of four or five short stories, novellas, and novels that at least play with, and perhaps even epitomize, the structure of my story. But what inspired this particular angle was the education question. It has ever been thus: Reinhold Niebuhr's classic turn of phrase captures the problem as paradox: "dominant classes have always tried to withhold the opportunity for the exercise of rational functions from underprivileged classes and then accused them of lacking capacities, which can be developed only by exercise."
I would love to edit an anthology of science fiction stories, one perhaps from every age or era, dealing with the question of material hierarchy and its resultant ideological control.