Re: Science fiction roots of memetics (was Words and memes)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed Feb 13 2002 - 05:01:01 GMT

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    At 11:19 PM 12/02/02 -0500, you wrote:

    Followup on Mathuselah's Children. This part comes after the Howard
    Family, all 100k of them has escaped into space and are considering who to
    establish as leader.

    length. In a group as large as the Families there were many who had
    specialized in political science, many who had served in public office with

    Lazarus listened; he knew four of the candidates. At last he got Eve
    Barstow aside and whispered with her. She looked startled, then thoughtful,
    finally nodded.

    She asked for the floor. "I have a candidate to propose," she began in her
    always gentle tones, "who might not ordinarily occur to you, but who is
    incomparably better fitted, by temperament, training, and experience, to do
    this job than is anyone as yet proposed. For civil administrator of the
    ship I nominate Slayton Ford."

    They were flabbergasted into silence, then everybody tried to talk at once.
    "Has Eve lost her mind? Ford is back on Earth!"-"No, no, he's not. I've
    seen him-here-in the ship." -"But it's out of the question!"-"Him? The
    Families would never accept him!" -"Even so, he's not one of us. 11

    Eve patiently kept the floor until they quieted. "I know my nomination
    sounds ridiculous and I admit the difficulties. But consider the
    advantages. We all know Slayton Ford by reputation and by performance. You
    know, every member of the Families knows, that Ford is a genius in his
    field. It is going to be hard enough to work out plans for living together
    in this badly overcrowded ship; the best talent we can draw on will be no
    more than enough."

    Her words impressed them because Ford was that rare thing in history, a
    statesman whose worth was almost universally acknowledged in his own
    lifetime. Contemporary historians credited him with having saved the
    Western Federation in at least two of its major development crises; it was
    his misfortune rather than his personal failure that his career was wrecked
    on a crisis not solvable by ordinary means.

    "Eve," said Zaccur Barstow, "I agree with your opinion of Ford and I myself
    would be glad to have him as our executive. But how about all of the
    others? To the Families--everyone except ourselves here present--Mr.
    Administrator Ford symbolizes the persecution they have suffered. I think
    that makes him an impossible candidate."

    Eve was gently stubborn. "I don't think so. We've already agreed that we
    will have to work up a campaign to explain away a lot of embarrassing facts
    about the last few days. Why don't we do it thoroughly and convince them
    that Ford is a martyr who sacrificed himself to save them? He is, you know."

    "Mmm . . . yes he is. He didn't sacrifice himself primarily on our account,
    but there is no doubt in my mind that his personal sacrifice saved us. But
    whether or not we can convince the others, convince them strongly enough
    that they will accept him and take orders from him . . . when he is now a
    sort of personal devil to them-well, I just don't know. I think we need
    expert advice. How about it, Ralph? Could it be done?"

    Ralph Schultz hesitated. "The truth of a proposition has little or nothing
    to do with its psychodynamics. The notion that `truth will prevail' is
    merely a pious wish; history doesn't show it. The fact that Ford really is
    a martyr to whom we owe gratitude is irrelevant to the purely technical
    question you put to me." He stopped to think. "But the proposition per se
    has certain sentimentally dramatic aspects which lend it to propaganda
    manipulation, even in the face of the currently accepted strong
    counterproposition. Yes . . . yes, I think it could be sold."

    "How long would it take you to put it over?"

    "Mmm . . the social space involved is both `tight' and `hot' in the jargon
    we use; I should be able to get a high positive `k' factor on the chain
    reaction-if it works at all. But it's an unsurveyed field and I don't know
    what spontaneous rumors are running around the ship. If you decide to do
    this, I'll want to prepare some rumors before we adjourn, rumors to repair
    Ford's reputation-then about twelve hours from now I can release another
    one that Ford is actually aboard . . . because he intended from the first
    to throw his lot in with us."

    "Uh, I hardly think he did, Ralph."

    "Are you sure, Zaccur?"

    "No, but Well . . ."

    "You see? The truth about his original intentions is a secret between him
    and his God. You don't know and neither do I. But the dynamics of the
    proposition are a separate matter. Zaccur, by the time my rumor gets back
    to you three or four times, even you will begin to wonder." The
    psychometrician paused to stare at nothing while he consulted an intuition
    refined by almost a century of mathematical study of human behavior. "Yes,
    it will work. If you all want to do it, you will be able to make a public
    announcement inside of twenty-four hours."

    "I so move!" someone called out.

    A few minutes later Barstow had Lazarus fetch Ford to the meeting place.
    Lazarus did not explain to him why his presence was required; Ford entered
    the compartment like a man come to judgment, one with a bitter certainty
    that the outcome will be against him. His manner showed fortitude but not
    hope. His eyes were unhappy.

    I won't post the next section since it is not on the topic, you can find it
    in the book, but it is one of my very favorite passages from Heinlein,
    where Slaton Ford is yanked out of a building depression by people needing him.

    Keith Henson

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