The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is not an instruction manual

Saturday, November 19th, 2022

In what ways, Casey Handmer asks, does The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (and other novels in the genre) fail as an instruction manual?

We know that a Moon city is not a good place to grow plants, that water is relatively abundant on the surface near the poles, and that underground construction is pointlessly difficult. So any future Moon city will have to be structured around some other premise, which is to say its foundational architecture on both a social and technical level will be completely different.

We know that AIs are pretty good at tweaking our amygdala, but strictly speaking we don’t need to build one on the Moon, and I would hope its existence is strictly orthogonal to the question of political control.

Lunar cities, and all other space habitats, are tremendously vulnerable to physical destruction. This means that, for all practical purposes, Earthling power centers hold absolute escalation dominance. No combination of sneaky AIs, secret mass drivers, or sabotage would be enough to attain political independence through force. If space habitats want some degree of political autonomy, they will have to obtain it through non-violent means. Contemporary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson makes this argument powerfully in this recent podcast, when discussing how he structured the revolutions in his Mars trilogy.

Lastly, the “Brass cannon” story is like “Starship Troopers” – a falsifiably satirical critique of popular conceptions of political control. For some reason, libertarians swarm Heinlein novels and space advocacy conferences like aphids in spring. I will resist the temptation to take easy shots, but point out merely that every real-world attempt at implementation of libertarianism as the dominant political culture has failed, quickly and predictably. This is because libertarianism, like many other schools of thought that fill out our diverse political scene, functions best as an alternative actually practiced by very few people. It turns out a similar thing occurs in salmon mating behavior.

Comments

  1. Jim says:

    From the article: “Indeed, on Earth, underground construction is basically unknown except for nuclear bunkers.”

    The underground highways that stretch from coast to coast are but the tip of a very deep iceberg.

    All space colonization, if any, will be centered around vast underground installations. Each installation will have, at minimum, one large park with vaulted ceiling and artificial sky. And Earth sunlight will pour in from every window.

    Energy expenditure is virtually irrelevant.

    Quoted: “I will resist the temptation to take easy shots, but point out merely that every real-world attempt at implementation of libertarianism as the dominant political culture has failed, quickly and predictably.”

    So true.

  2. McChuck says:

    Anybody who thinks the society in “Starship Troopers” is libertarian hasn’t read the book.

Leave a Reply