When A is not equal to A...
Ayn Rand famously said that "A=A" and nothing else. Orwell famously spent a couple hundred pages railing against "Doublethink," which is basically believing that A is not equal to A. Heinlein spends several books going on about utilitarianism, and value being related to use and nothing else, and there are no values beyond those, excepting the ones he capriciously throws in. He's the intellectual lightweight of the batch, though, so we can forgive him his inconsistencies. Kiri-Kin-Tha's First Law of Metaphysics states that "Nothing unreal exists."
All of this is well and good, insofar as it goes, and all of it is a logical extrapolation of the very same Enlightenment Era Thinking that created our own republic. And yet I think they're missing the point. Rand's ideal world seems every bit as abhorent to me as Huxley's brave new world. In fact, really, they're the same place if you think about it. Zamayatin's "We" is just as much a shadow play without shadows as Rand or Huxley, though his vision is Communist. The Federation's view of utopia is not a place I'd care to live, even though it's obviously pretty nice. In fact, all these places are pretty nice, but all of them have the same basic failing, I think, which is the same as Winston Smith's Oceania in 1984, despite the fact that that place is pretty nasty, and Rand, Heinlein, and the rest come up with places that aren't nasty. And yet they are.
What's the failing? That these aren't societies, they're machines, and there is no place for humanity in them.
We see this in the real world, too: ground-up rebuilds and social engineering projects large and small, utopian communes or megastates, or heavily-re-engineered socioeconomic projects. The 20th century was *the* time for chucking out the old and trying the new, and in general these went really badly: the USSR, the PRC (up until 1992 or so), the Nazis, Fascism in general, eugenics, genocide. Of course the failures tend to mask a slow, steady improvement in much of the world. Yeah, the USSR failed and killed about 30 million people in the process, but the fact is that life *has* in fact gotten steadily better for people in much of the world in that same period, and *much* of that is based on the same kinds of re-engineering principles, though generally instituted from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down.
The curious thing about it is, of course, that *all* of these projects *should* have worked. Everything works on paper, but when you put people in the mix, it all stops working. Why? Even if you use good people - many of the early Communists were actually genuinely good people - it still fails. Why? Why, more do the point, did the social engineering projects of the 18th century generally succeed? I speak of our own republic, and the French one. Granted, the triumph of enlightenment republicanism in France was bloodier, but they had a lot more baggage to overcome than we did. There are other examples.
Why did it work in the 18th century and to a lesser extent in the 19th, and why did this same process *stop* working and fail so disastrously in the 20th?
My hunch, again, is that the Founding Fathers weren't interested in a masterpiece society, they simply wanted something that worked better than what they had. They weren't interested in creating heaven on earth, and in fact ignored a lot of obvious problems that later on would cost lives, and yet, in general, the US is the most successful social engineering project in history. So why doesn't this scale up to the 20th century examples?
I suspect it's because they *Were* trying to create a heaven on earth. They wanted to make society completely equitable, they wanted to change human nature by changing our socioeconomic status, and ignored the fact that human nature is human nature because it's natural. Attempts to change it are unnatural, and hence probably prone to failure, or at least a lot of stress.
Part of human nature, I think, is that A is never equal to A. My kid gives me an apple. It's simply an apple, but it means more to me because my kid gave it to me, or perhaps less becuase your kid threw it at me. These are emotional values unrelated to its physical worth, or its market cost. An apple is never simply an apple once a person sees it. Attempts by Rand and third-rate Rand Drag Queens like Heinlein attempt to portray a society of absolute objective values, and ignore the fact that where you have people, you have emotions and biases and whatnot, and objectivity goes out the window. Sorry: human nature. We've spent a century proving that.
We have *reason* to allow us to work around this to some extent, but reason is no more reliable than human nature on occasion. The Killing Fields in Cambodia seemed reasonable. The Cultural Revolution in China. Madness, but, again, it worked on paper. Papers, that, in retrospect, read much like "Atlas Shrugged" and "For Us the Living."
Orwell never seemed to grasp the concept that "Doublethink" is the natural state of the human mind. We all believe mutually exclusive things all the time. We believe that our country is the greatest in the world, but we bitch and moan constantly about how it's going down the tubes. We believe in true love, but we know it's just a hormonal trick to get us to reproduce. We Believe we're the center of the universe, and ignore the seven billion other centers of the universe. We believe in God despite no proof that would stand up in any court in the world.
None of these are bad things, none of these make us weak, in fact I think they're what make us strong. We are of two minds, a rational one: the one that comes up with social engineering projects and splits the atom, and an irrational one: the mindless savage who can barely figure out which end of the stick to stab the tiger with (hint: the pointy one). The saint and the rapist: that's all of us at every moment of every day, at least in potential. Those are our extremes, those are the halves of our brain arguing it out, and us, we, ourselves, *WE* are the result of that conflict.
I am the result of the war between the better and worse angels of my nature. So are you. So is everyone. It is this conflict that is the nature of who we are, but it is also the nature of our self-awareness, it is consciousness itself.
again: we are aware - cogito ergo sum - *BECAUSE* of the conflict between our rational and irrational selves. Take the rational side away, and we're just an animal, a reflex machine. Take the irrational side away, and what are we? Spirits? Abstracted principles? Lotus eaters? I don't know, but whatever it is, it isn't human.
A is not equal to A, and attempts to make it so are attempts to do away with mankind.