In his unparalleled "Childe Cycle,"* the late, great Gordon R. Dickson argues that exclusivist cultures** serve an evolutionary purpose: extract some necessary human quality from the race, focus it, then return an improvement to humanity as a whole. He also argues that such "splinter cultures" will always be lacking the perspective only available to a rounded human: however well-polished a human "part" they represent, it's still only a part -- with a tendency to miss the bigger picture, to be absolutely certain its own (limited) perspective is the only one that matters. After a pause to be amazed that such a standard 1960s type SF writer ended up completely scooping everyone else in predicting the future (have I mentioned how his "Final Encyclopedia," three or four decades ago, prefigured the Internet?***), let's move to a few instructive (and scary) parallels.
The danger of "splinter cultures" has always been that very exclusivity, the blinders of absolute certainty in adherents to a "Truth": relatively harmless in isolation, potentially deadly when given power. For all its failings the strongest advantage of democracy has been its tendency to limit such extremism...not as much as one might have wished, but enough that (despite some very close calls) humanity has survived. Largely as a backlash against the worldwide spiritual advances of the 1960s and following, humankind now faces quite breathtaking danger from a variety of crusaders: quite certain they're coming after us "for our own good"; quite willing to kill a lot of us in the process.
Personally, I don't find such crusades any of my business when they're only imposed on their fellow believers. That Pope Benedict XVI has launched a doctrinal jihad against the American Catholic Church**** was to be expected, and is in any case none of my affair, so long as it isn't making public policy for everybody else. But when such crusades -- complete with the persecution complex such folks so often have: "Your failure to agree with me is a form of persecution, which I must put down by force!" -- take place in the realm of public policy, I strongly believe we're all in trouble. Want some examples? Try the Republican Congress's attempt to pack the courts (wrong when FDR tried it, wrong today*****), or the current foreign policy team (most especially Rice and Bolton, neither of whom is fit to hold such office)...or even, from today's paper, CNN's favorite "legal analyst" Nancy Grace, whose unashamed crusade for "victim's rights" has won her viewers on Headline News.
For the record, Grace has been admonished three times for prosecutorial misconduct -- most recently by so conservative a source as Judge Pryor, the same Judge Pryor the Dems are unwilling to confirm to lifetime appellate court appointment (the Shrubster snuck him in temporarily already). "Prosecutorial misconduct" means three things here, at least: Grace concealed evidence that defendants before her might be innocent, concealed evidence that specific others might have committed the crime(s) in question, and used impermissible argument before a jury (usually this means misstating the nature of the evidence in a case, though I don't know the specifics here).
Why should John Bolton care about nuance, when he knows he's right? Why should Nancy Grace let anybody know a defendant might be innocent, when she knows she's right? Why should the fathers of Salem suffer a witch to live? Hath not the Bible said otherwise?
The fanatics among us, whether left or right, religious or scientific or whatever -- these self-centered utopians out to make the outside world look exactly like the pretty dreams in their heads -- will fail, as all such utopian schemes fail in a fractious and nuanced world. If we're lucky, we'll just have a few years of recurrent disaster (and massive crooked profiteering, since crooks hang from utopians like remora from sharks), and things will settle down again. How's our luck holding out? Stay tuned.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* The core novels are still the best, IMO: most especially (in story-order) Necromancer, Tactics of Mistake, Soldier, Ask Not and (the first one written) Dorsai!; though all the books and stories are worth reading.
** His examples of "splinter cultures" include those focused on religious faith, the sciences, war, esoteric disciplines (and, I think, commerce? -- it's been twenty years).
*** And this one's completely tangential, but may boggle SF fans. I was just rereading the original Hitchhiker's Guide and recalled how (ca. 1981) the set-up for the guidebook itself struck me as cool and original, but implausible: I mean, a guidebook to everything submitted by anybody, and filled with fascinating misinformation?...only this time I smacked my head and thought: Wikipedia! Yipes!
**** The removal of the editor of the American Jesuit magazine for his years of allowing reasoned debate where the faithful could see it, and now the appointment of a hyperconservative American as the head of the inquisition, are presumed to be only the beginning.
***** Those arguing that the filibuster is "undemocratic" miss the point: the Senate's job has always been to restrain the populace, to rein in extremes. Ugly as that process has often been, it's also kept this country -- with such deep divisions that it already underwent one civil war -- intact for some 23 decades.