Thursday, February 28, 2013

Return to Dosadi: adapt or perish

The Dosadi Experiment is a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert (of Dune fame) and published in 1977. It takes place in the distant future, in an interstellar civilization composed of many sentient species. In some ways, it is similar to the Star Trek universe, but without various empires on the verge of war. There is only the ConSentiency, which is governed by a vast and terribly effective bureaucracy and a computer program/system called the DemoPol that secretly manipulates events to maintain order.

In this universe, peace reigns by and large. There is still violence, still crime, still lying and cheating and stealing, but there is little possibility of true war, of rebellion. Simply put, the population is controlled, both overtly and subtly. Secret plots and the like are still hatched; government cannot be trusted, but all of this is carefully balanced.

One of the primary tools needed for this balancing act is BuSab, the Bureau of Sabotage, which functions as a sort of terrorist organization and internal affairs division combined. It works against the government and the manipulations of the DemoPol, but is nonetheless actually a department of the bureaucracy, an official government agency. In the novel, a BuSab agent is sent to the planet Dosadi--whose existence has been carefully hidden--to uncover a plot involving that planet and its hijacked population who have been living on the planet for generations.

Dosadi was set up outside of the DemPol's--and the general government's--control. The people there were the descendants of kidnap victims during interplanetary "jumps."  Dosadi is a harsh and terrible environment, mostly poisonous, and the vast majority of the population lives in one single gigantic city--Chu--which is shielded from the hostile and deadly environment of the planet. The orginators of this experiment--one of the ConSentiency races knows as the Gowachin--test various types of governments on Dosadi to understand the effectiveness of each.

The long and short of it: the Dosadi population is very different in nature from the rest of the ConSentiency. Harder, more perceptive, more productive, willing to do most anything to achieve a goal, and really more intelligent on average, Dosadi residents have deduced on their own the specifics of their situation, know they are being "kept" and that there are other peoples in the universe. And the BuSab agent sent there soon realizes what the consequences would be if these people are unleashed on the ConSentiency: it would be wolves among sheep.

It is a fascinating premise, in my opinion, one that has parallels in our current world. The larger civilization--the ConSentiency--affords a very high standard of living for all, access to the latest technology as a matter of course, and thus breeds a certain "softness" among the people, making them easier to manage and control. Even those who see this, who look to either take advantage of it or make it a point to not fall prey to it are necessarily affected by their circumstances.

In our world, the same sort of dichotomy exists, I think between so-called "first world" nations and "third world" nations. And this is made clear at various moments when a harder people--for lack of a better way to say it--gains access the first world nations. Consider for instance the "Cuban crime wave" of the 1980's, when Castro emptied his jails during the Mariel Boatlift. Tony Montana in the 1983 movie Scarface--a fictionalized treatment of the period, but accurate in many ways--opines on the opportunities he sees:
This is paradise, I'm tellin' ya. This town [Miami] like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked.
His rise to power includes bringing down established criminal powers; they don't realize--until it's too late--just how far Tony and his compatriots are willing to go.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and of the Soviet Union had similar consequences, particularly in Europe, consequences that are still being felt in the world of organized crime (though of course, many would claim the Soviet Union was a first world nation; I think that's incorrect).

But such things are not limited to crime in the least. Consider all of the stories about immigrant bootstrapping, immigrants in a country who went from living on the street or in abject poverty to lives of substantial if not great wealth. Such stories are steadily becoming the dominant type of the "rags to riches" narrative. And it's not hard to understand why.

As I sit here typing out this article, largely unconcerned with where my next meal will come from or how I will pay my bills, due to the circumstances of my life, there are people with far less then me sitting in their own homes watching TV or hanging out on a street corner with some buddies who are equally unconcerned about their immediate or even long-term futures, knowing there's a government check in the mail or content with a paycheck from a job where they do the bare minimum to get by.

But somewhere else, not to far from any of us, are people doing whatever it takes to make tomorrow a better day, either for them alone or for their families too, people who constantly seek out and take every opportunity they can to improve their lot, who refuse to let silly notions like pride stand in their way. And for the most part, such people are immigrants, whether legal or not; their immigration was itself an opportunity they were willing to take. Not all of them will succeed, of course, but I like their chances much better than those of most non-immigrants, regardless of background.

There is, I think, a softness to Western civilization. We don't like to acknowledge this as a society; it's disheartening and flies in the face of our self-images, our cultural mythos, our historical identity. But it needs to be acknowledged in order to be addressed.

In the end, Dosadi could not be contained; it's population escapes from their captivity and enters the ConSentiency in full. And here the novel ends. We don't know what happens next, but we can certainly make some guesses. The advantages of circumstance enjoyed by ConSentiency citizens over these newcomers was likely more than offset by the fortitude and talents of those from Dosadi. The choice for the non-Dosadi: adapt or perish.

Adapt or perish.

Cheers, all.