Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Killer Ants from Space

The Greeks had a myth about what the State considered the perfect soldier – an ant.

These ant soldiers were called Myrmidons. They didn't question orders, they didn't think, they just fought and died.

Every portrayal of soldiers I have read in all those dystopian science-fiction novels I've read are just updated versions of that old myth. Portrayals of the military didn't used to be this way.

We can use as an example Robert Heinlein's novel, Starship Troopers, which was made into a movie that, although it has the same name, has little in common with the novel. In fact, it is a degenerated version of the book.

The late Heinlein was strongly libertarian in his writings, although his support of the military has caused some to label him a fascist. They're wrong (when Heinlein was younger he was a flaming liberal). Heinlein was far from a pure libertarian, but he was in no way a fascist (the man had a open marriage, of all things, and his second wife claimed she was a witch. His first one was an alcoholic.).

In his novel he supported a purely voluntary military, easy to get out of, but very hard to stay in. Why? He only wanted the most motivated soldiers. The novel supports the old military virtues of honor, pride, loyalty and patriotism.

In some ways it is a silly book, with depictions of terribly wounded soldiers who aren't supposed to make a sound, but overall, Heinlein's world is one in which I could live. Then there's the movie. It shows the difference between Heinlein's 1950's idealized view of the military, and Paul Verhoeven's mocking, satirical 1990's one. The society in the movie is what I call "soft" fascist – the world is starting to become politicized and militarized. As a result, the military has started to degenerate.

I suspect the more politicized and militarized a society, the more fascist it becomes, and the more its military will degenerate, because of the loss of the true military virtues, which are contrary to fascism. Heinlein's strongly libertarian novel was some 40 years later turned into a fascist movie. Such is the change in the view of artists toward the military, in a short time.

Most artists are, in a way, prophets. They have a sensitivity, and an imagination, that oftentimes allows them to predict the future, not specifically, but in a general way. Science fiction has done a pretty good job. It's usually about 50 years ahead of society - it take that long for science and technology to catch up to imagination.

I think another reason is that most writers, and especially science fiction writers, are somewhat anarchistic. The imagination, the sensitivity, the intelligence and the anarchism together gives them a leg up on everyone else, because they have a pretty clear view of the State and the damage it causes to whatever it gets its tentacles into.

Currently, science fiction's depiction of the military is very disturbing. There are four trends in modern science fiction that all should pay attention to: nanotechnology, designer drugs, genetic engineering. and "artificial intelligence." Especially when the military-industrial complex gets its paws on them, because it will try to use them to produce Myrmidon supersoldiers – killer ants from space.

The first example that comes to my mind is the movie Blade Runner, which was about artificial, genetically engineered superhumans called replicants. The movie, which is very subtle in many ways, suggests the replicants have animal DNA inserted into them. One is part turtle, one raccoon, one wolf, one snake, and one fish, probably shark.

Could such DNA insertions be done? You bet. I do know that unholy mutant that is the marriage of Big Business and the State (what Eisenhower termed "the military-industrial complex") will try, in order to create supersoldiers. You can take that one to the bank.

What comes after Verhoeven's view?

Try the Kurt Russell movie, Soldier, which is an unacknowledged sequel to Blade Runner. Russell plays a soldier who is physically superior to the common man but not nearly as smart (he's barely articulate), unlike the replicants of Blade Runner.

What next? The Borg, a futuristic group of Myrmidons that use genetic engineering, nanotechnology and probably designer drugs. I consider them to be the scariest soldiers ever. (Just wait until exoskeletons for solders are created, which Heinlein predicted and which you can see in the movie, Elysium.)

The Borg comprises humans (and aliens) who are kidnapped and, through nanotechnology and genetic engineering (and I suspect drugs), turned into Borg soldiers. The soldiers are true Myrmidons – they are without fear of anything (including death), without anxiety, without mercy or conscience, indeed without self-consciousness. They follow orders without questions and die without hesitation. They have no honor, no pride, no dignity. They don't even have loyalty or patriotism, because they have no choice in the matter, no more than an ant does.

Any degenerated military in the world would love them. They'll all trying to create them(think of DARPA). And the essence of a degenerated military culture is to treat soldiers as expendable things (G.I means "government issue") – although the upper echelons are always taken care of.

As a personal example, my last year in college a smirking Army officer tried to get us to join, telling the class we would be made officers and "taken care of." The enlisted men, on the hand other, he said, "We don't care what they want." I didn't join.

I also received offers through the mail from every branch. All of them, except the Marines, were interested in certain degrees such as computer science or engineering. Every other degree was listed as "other," except for the Marines, which only wanted to know if I had a degree. And from what I've been able to gather, it is only the Marines that still have some understanding of a true military culture. The other branches, obviously, are starting to degenerate - especially in becoming political.

The Borg also show something rare in fiction, but which always exists in the real world – the welfare/warfare state. Writers in general are very good at portraying warfare. Few understand the other side of that coin is welfare. One never exists, in the long run, without the other.

The Borg are on perfect welfare. They're literally babies in the Borg cube. Every need is taken care of. Unfortunately, to protect that welfare, they are always at war with whatever comes their way. Welfare at home, warfare abroad. It's a law of fascism, no matter what name fascism is called.

The Borg are also always trying to absorb whatever race they encounter. Obviously, they consider themselves so superior to all other races they believe it gives them the right to "civilize" them by force ("Why do you resist us?" asks the Borg Queen. "We're only trying to improve the quality of your lives.") That certainly does sound familiar.

I mentioned about "artificial intelligence," That's an old one is science fiction. People today think of Skynet. Before that, in the '60s, was Hal 9000 of 2001: a Space Odyssey, who murdered about five astronauts.

And Fred Saberhagen used to write about his Berserkers, sentient robots (actually space ships) who wanted to do nothing but wipe out humanity.

Intelligent hunter-killer robots are nothing new in fiction. Now, of course, we're starting to see them in reality.

Good fiction is always a cautionary tale, usually jammed right up the reader's nose. It says, "This is what can happen unless you stop it." Currently it's saying, "A fascist society can be recognized by the attempts of its degenerated military, along with State-supported degenerated Big Business, to use science and technology to create expendable Myrmidon supersoldiers, even if it costs them their humanity.

2 comments:

Joe Miller said...

A lot of people would scoff this off as silliness and would never happen. But Joseph Stalin gave orders at an attempt to make human/chimp hybrids for war.

Black Poison Soul said...

Philip K Dick has had a few of his stories converted to film. His novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" became Bladerunner. "Minority Report" became it's own film also.

I personally enjoyed very much the novel "The Variable Man" - I thought that it had an interesting take upon past and future men, especially regarding increasing specialization in society. I'd be curious to see a film adaptation, though as you say many films bear little resemblance to the original book.

For the most chilling take on AI run amuck, forget the Terminator series of movies. Read the short story "Second Variety". I consider that far more likely, given the way the military-industrial complex seems to be going.

http://www.openculture.com/2012/01/free_stories_by_philip_k_dick.html

(Though Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" deserves an honorable mention.)