April 3, 2011

Slice of PIE: Where Are the Technocrats and Their Perfect Society?

While I still believe that science fiction rarely gives Christianity or Christians a reasonable shake, I started wondering if it gave a fair shake to the type of society most SF writers seem to be promoting – the technocracy.

Imagine how surprised I was that I couldn’t find any in the SF books I’m familiar with. Somehow, the egalitarian “form of government in which engineers, scientists, health professionals and other technical experts are in control of decision making” doesn’t appear to have made it into standard science fiction novels. (I am open to correction here – PLEASE!)

While I realize that novels explore possible futures and are made to entertain and that showing “government at work” would be a sure way to stop a story dead, many writers have no trouble mentioning that their society is a theocracy or that fundamentalist Christians took over in such-and-such a year (for example, Peter F. Hamilton’s NEUTRONIUM ALCHEMIST, David Weber’s ARMAGEDDON REEF and Alan Steele’s COYOTE all have specific dates “the Christians” took over.)

I can’t find a single novel that cites dates “engineers, scientists, health professionals and other technical experts” took over, forming a technocracy – but all of the books above make it clear that is what happened. All of them show that given correct application, all of society’s problems can be solved by science and technology. There’s a “boom” on now – at least according to one opinion writer in the New York Times. Clearly, the advent of a technocratic society is closer to becoming a reality than the theocratic society some SF writers “fear”.

Instead of calling it “technocracy” which seems to have gone out of a style, the concept of the “post-scarcity society” seems to have made its way into the work of Cory L. Doctrow, Wil McCarthy, Charles Stross, Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, James P. Hogan, Rudy Rucker, and Iain M. Banks but none of them address the actual “rule of law” in that future. Who runs the country, the planet, the empire, federation or the Culture? Rather than putting scientists, et al in positions of power and decision-making and showing the story through their eyes, the oblique references to society growing out of religion or particular religious practices or simply ignoring religion by having characters who share the author’s view of religion is usually briefly stated somewhere in the book.

Other writers state elsewhere in essays or interviews what they believe and project in their writing. David Brin for example, in his essay, “Otherness”: “But for others of us who have passed through the Doctrine of Otherness, it might be time to move on…to the attitude of Elder Brothers and Sisters only a little more knowledgeable than our fellow creatures but with the power and duty to be their guardian.” Anne McCaffrey as well, states, “I also don't have organized religion on Pern. I figured - since there were four holy wars going on at the time of writing - that religion was one problem Pern didn't need.”

So – we have perfect societies on Coyote, Pern, Tranquility and back on Earth with the Terragens Council. Where are our technocrats today and what are they doing to move us toward our perfect society? The bigger question for me though is where are the novels with EVIL technocratic governments who make horrible mistakes or set terrifying atheistic governments on the hunt for fundamentalist Christians? Oh, that’s right – the Soviet Union fell apart in 1983 and 1984 is considered passé…

Some references:



“The Technocracy Boom” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/opinion/20brooks.html



image: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v491/ProfVonHapsburg/TarkinTechnocracy.jpg

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