Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Selection: "The Status Society" by Robert Sheckley

Our protagonist wakes up, his memory having been erased, on a prison planet on which the prisoners are allowed to do anything they want — and, being rotten people, what they want to do is construct a rigidly hierarchical society based on murder, slavery, and comically heartless opportunism. Indeed, he eventually learns from a priest (despite being rendered very, very sleepy by the theological conversation) that the planet’s primary religion is the outright worship of evil — for the simple, almost Taoist reason that evil seems the natural way of things, especially on the planet Omega.

The Status Society turns fifty this year. Its author, Sheckley, also wrote novels based on Aliens, Deep Space Nine, and Babylon 5 prior to his death in Poughkeepsie four years ago and was acclaimed by other writers, including sci-fi satirist Douglas Adams, which makes perfect sense.

The sheer number of social systems and patterns implicitly rejected, rather anarchically, in the course of this novel is impressive: crime and law, religion and technological blandness, violence and pacifism, roguish callousness and bourgeois conformity — all of it leading in the end to the almost William Blake-like insight that the impulsiveness of the rogue and the passivity of the law-abiding must complement each other. I call this more Blakean than Nietzschean, since for all Nietzsche’s talk of balancing the Apollonian and Dionysian, we know his real loyalties lie with the latter.

P.S. I must thank debate moderator Michel Evanchik, who himself combines Viking-like Dionysian tendencies with Apollonian intellect, for giving me a copy of The Status Society — and to reward him, I say: LET’S PROVIDE HIM WITH A SECOND DEBATER FOR WEDNESDAY, NOV. 4 (8PM). I STILL NEED SOMEONE TO DEFEND THE LATIN AMERICAN LEFT THAT NIGHT (AGAINST LIBERTARIAN THOR HALVORSSEN) — so e-mail me at ToddSeavey[at]earthlink.net.

We were thinking, for instance, of debating the merits of Che, Castro, and/or Chavez. The precise wording of the debate question is negotiable, and I will announce both the question and the two debaters on this site in my Thursday entry. You could be one of them, comandante! Or by all means send me your socialist friend (who can be in Manhattan). We’ll have fun — and we’ll learn.

P.P.S. And if you instead want to pay to hear a debate, note that tonight sees reporter John Hockenberry pitted against Nation-editing communist sympathizer Katrina vanden Heuvel (among others) on the question of whether mainstream media is dead — and note the commie is defending mainstream media.

1 comment:

Sean Dougherty said...

Sheckley has been around for decades. He wrote the source stories for many episodes of the great old time radio science fiction show X Minus One. My recollection is that his shows usually turned on humor.

His greatest, most libertarian story, was “Skulking Permit,” in which a libertarian society that naturally has no crime decides they should have some and hires its own criminal.

I found this description on an anarchist website:

In ‘Skulking Permit’ a backwater planet is recontacted by Imperial Earth; the inhabitants attempt to revive old Earth customs – crime, police, etc. – but fail by misunderstanding the (lack of) Point Of It All; Earth abandons the attempt to conscript colonists. It is a splendid anarchic story: the colonists have lived without authority so long that there’s manifestly no need for it.

You can download the show here: