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From Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye.
Reading this paragraph put me in another place. I was sitting under a tree, naked, in 140 degree weather, with a large block of ice resting on my belly. The recent warm turn of local weather didn’t hurt, either.
At eleven o’clock I was sitting in the third booth on the right-hand side as you go in from the dining-room annex. I had my back against the wall and I could see anyone who came in or went out. It was a clear morning, no smog, no high fog even, and the sun dazzled the surface of the swimming pool which began just outside the plateglass wall of the bar and stretched to the far end of the dining room. A girl in a white sharkskin suit and a luscious figure was climbing the ladder to the high board. I watched the band of white that showed between the tan of her thighs and the suit. I watched it carnally. Then she was out of sight, cut off by the deep overhang of the roof. A moment later I saw her flash down in a one and a half. Spray came high enough to catch the sun and make rainbows that were almost as pretty as the girl. Then she came up the ladder and unstrapped her white helmet and shook her bleach job loose. She wobbled her bottom over to a small white table and sat down beside a lumberjack in white drill pants and dark glasses and a tan so evenly dark that he couldn’t have been anything other than the hired man around the pool. He reached over and patted her thigh. She opened her mouth like a firebucket and laughed. That terminated my interest in her. I couldn’t hear the laugh but the hole in her face when she unzippered her teeth was all I needed.
But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls. It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere `natural object’ and his own judgements of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one’s first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.
We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
That Lewis says we have the ability to surrender ourselves as raw material to Conditioners says he might concur with an instance of the absolute value of private property, that instance being our own bodies. If all of us are able to surrender them don’t we need to own them imprimus?
lazily casually wondering what other objective values can be derived, sans religious origins, from the absolute right of private property*, regardless of political beliefs. Lewis seems to come very close to that kind of inference here. Someone somewhere has most likely already done that, I’m just not well-read or perceptive enough to know who it is.
*I might be jumping the gun on calling this absolute. I don’t think I am but that is a whole other series of posts. Most of us can argue very well for some circumstances in which the self-ownership of bodies can be overridden. A lot of it is institutionalized: governments act or allow acts (conscription, abortion, capital punishment, and some would argue imprisonment) that violate it often, so its nature as an obvious categorical right doesn’t seem so obvious anymore.
Buckell posted a few days ago that Arcitc Rising is now out, and I felt bad because I had the book for review but I was (unwillingly) dragging my feet on it. But now I will drag my fingers over it, and by “it” I mean my Macbook keyboard.
Arctic turns UNPG (United Nations Polar Guard) pilot Anika Duncan against various authorities and people in power when she stumbles onto a plot to sneak a nuke into the Arctic Circle. The nuke is supposedly to stop the Gaia Corporation’s plan to reconfigure the earth’s climate using a proprietary technology. The thing is, in Arctic‘s universe, the Circle has been significantly de-iced because of global warming and there was (and still is) a tensioning of political and economic interests involving the newly-revealed resources.
The novel is mostly sci-fi based action, but there is also the political and “balance of power” intrigue you would expect when dealing with natural resources and earth-altering situations. I don’t normally read much of this sort of thing—I did read Buckell’s Cole Protocol and enjoyed it—so I can’t say how it stands against its peers. Buckell did do his job, though, because the appropriate literary tension-and-release mechanisms are in place.
Notwithstanding one or two market theory speeches that were, that may reflect Buckell’s personal views, I found his idea of a seasteaded type of city, Thule, to be compelling. It was created by businesses for primarily economic reasons, and it’s almost a certainty that governments had a role in building it, even indirectly, so it’s not necessarily a free-market outcome. But within Thule itself we see a near example of Ancapistan or a panarchy, where people are free to choose (well, much more freer and easier than normal) under which form of law they’d like to live. Thule is divided into different sections, each under their own sovereign rule. Buckell didn’t drill down too deeply into the nature of these “desmenes” but it’s a great idea to be touched upon and it sets the stage for Arctic‘s final showdown.
Buckell in the midst of a book tour (a real one!), and unfortunately only comes dangerously close to Pittsburgh. If you’re into action with some sci-fi realism and world politics scenarios, it wouldn’t hurt to try Arctic and go see Buckell at one of his tour stops.