“Intelligence” demands the most strict of definitions, since the word is easily and often abused. Intelligence rates the quality of Gaean man’s competence at altering the environment to suit his convenience, or, more generally, the solution of problems. The corollaries to the idea are several. Among them: In the absence of problems, intelligence cannot be measured. A creature with a large, complicated brain is not necessarily intelligent. Raw abstract intelligence is a meaningless concept. Secondly, intelligence is a quality peculiar to Gaean man. Certain alien races use different mechanisms and processes optimally to rearrange their environment. These attributes occasionally resemble human intelligence, and, on the basis of results achieved, the effective organs seem to serve analogous purposes. These similitudes almost always are deceptive and of superficial application.
— from Life, Volume II, by Unspiek, Baron Bodissey (as quoted by Jack Vance in The Book of Dreams)
Long-time readers and/or science fiction aficionados know that my nom de plume is that of a fictional character from books written by the late Jack Vance. But Unspiek, Baron Bodissey is actually at one remove from a fictional character — he is a literary figure whose observations on politics and sociology are excerpted in chapter headings and footnotes or quoted by fictional characters in the works of Jack Vance. The illustrious Baron never actually appears in any of the books — he is simply a cited authority.
It appears that among our readership there is at least one blogger who is also a Jack Vance fan. His name is Rex May (no known relation), and his blog is called Ex-Army — Libertarian Nationalist.
Jack Vance didn’t focus on politics all that much in his novels, but when he did, it was apparent that he was a traditional conservative à la Russell Kirk. His sardonic take on the socialist planet featured in Wyst: Alastor 1716 — whose particular brand of socialism was known by its adherents as “egalism” — leaves the reader in no doubt about his opinions on collectivists. Unfortunately for conservative-minded Jack Vance fans, the culture surrounding science fiction and fantasy (which are now lumped together under politically correct handle “speculative fiction”, if I’m not mistaken) is dominated by Social Justice Warriors nowadays. That’s why I mostly stay away from the fan forums — the milieu has become dismayingly politicized.
I knew when we started Gates of Vienna that my cognomen would evoke grievous distress in most SF fans. And you can imagine how much that bothered me…
Last month I wrote a meditation about the form of logic used in Islamic theology and jurisprudence. Contrary to popular misconception, Islam is not at all irrational. Islamic logic is simply very, very different from what we are used to in the West. From its inception, Islam had no use for Aristotle or Plato, and since then its intellectual path has diverged widely from our own. It applies its logical processes to a set of axioms that would appear alien to anyone brought up on the Greeks, the Romans, Aquinas, and the European Enlightenment.
Ex-Army read my essay and blogged on it in a post entitled “Jack Vance, Baron Bodissey, Gates of Vienna, and SJWs Everywhere” . He opens his piece with an emblematic Vancian epigram: “It is useless, after all, to complain against inexorable reality.”
I’ll let him take it from there:
In my opinion, Jack Vance is one of the greatest writers of his era. I’ve done several posts on him and his works, and you can find them by entering Jack Vance in “search this blog” at the top of the sidebar there on the right.
[quote from GoV shown in graphic form] If we want to defeat this enemy, it is imperative that we understand him. And he does not think the way we do. Muslim thought processes are different, especially in societies that have been Islamic for many generations. But they are neither insane nor illogical, they are simply alien.
Well, to continue this story, I sent a link to my last post plus the quibcag* to a discussion board devoted to Jack Vance [link]. I would have expected a board of Vance fans to be a little more sophisticated than most, but, alas, one commenter pounced on the quibcag and said something sarcastic about me “hating Muslims.” Interesting, no? The quote takes pains not to judge the intrinsic nature of Muslims or Islam, but rather to stress that they are different from us. And when you read the blog post that goes with it, you’ll find no more “hate” there, but just the undeniable assertion that Islam is based on assumptions that we do not accept, and that therefore it is not compatible with the West. But I was accused of “hate” anyway. What’s a SJW doing on a Jack Vance discussion board. But that’s a bit unfair. He may not be a SJW at all, but is simply reacting in a way he’s been taught. Any criticism of the flavor of the month — in this case Muslims/Islam — is to be denounced as some kind of “hate.” It’s an impulse that goes, as they say, to the spine and back rather than to the brain.
But it gets better. On the same board, discussing Vance’s The Gray Prince, a member comments:
Like most of us here, in view of Mr. Vance’s entire body of work, it’s virtually impossible to imagine he was capable of racial prejudice in his personal life. That said, “The Gray Prince” does invoke some disturbing parallels with racist practices and attitudes, particularly those in the antebellum South.
Those of you who know Vance’s work (and if you don’t you have a treat waiting for you) would not expect knee-jerk liberalism out of him on race or class or anything else. His attitude is typified by the quote in the third quibcag [not reproduced here]. Now, I don’t know what the commenter actually means by “it’s virtually impossible to imagine he was capable of racial prejudice in his personal life,” but I imagine he has some amorphous thing in mind about Vance being horrified at anything that violates the liberal narrative on the subject. And that’s absurd, because any reading of Vance leads one to conclude that he’s profoundly conservative (not neoconservative) and well aware of the reality and utility of traditional attitudes. To put it another way, when Vance deals with race, class, nationality, ethnicity, etc., in his writing, he handled the subjects realistically as opposed to ideologically. (A great many writers, especially science-fiction writers, do exactly the opposite, lacing their stories with hard-core politically-correct ideology at the expense of all realism. Much of their work is devoted to proving a point, which is a valid purpose, but which makes their writing less valuable than in might be.)
This would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. This commenter has swallowed the SJW narrative whole, and can’t imagine that a great writer like Vance could possibly be anything but a doctrinaire liberal, because he’s been told all his life that non-liberals are ignorant, evil, stupid, and barely, if at all, literate. In short, the poor fellow is a Peefer if he only knew it. To learn about Peefers you must read The Cadwal Chronicles. [Note from the Baron: possibly the greatest series by Jack Vance, rivaling the Lyonesse Trilogy.]
But on the bright side, he is a fan of Vance, and if he reads him often enough and deeply enough, the Vancian sensibility is bound to rub off on him. One can’t really read Wyst: Alastor 1716 without internalizing a healthy skepticism towards all schemes for attaining egalitarianism through socialism and government planning. And a reading of either The Cadwal Chronicles or The Gray Prince will cause one to rethink the historical eras of colonization and decolonization.
For a realistic, objective, warts-and-all description of the pure cussedness of humanity, it comes down to either Jack Vance or Shakespeare. No rainbows or unicorns there. Just dragons.
Read the rest (and see the quibcags) at Ex-Army — Libertarian Nationalist
* Quibcag = “quote introduced by cute anime girl”.