Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To Sail a Darkling Sea

This is the second in John Ringo's zombie apocalypse series. A bio-engineered plague has been released and it has not just decimated the earth's human population, which would be a relative blessing¹, but it has wiped out over 90% of the population.

¹ To decimate means to kill every tenth one, i.e., 10% of the population.

Now some general comments:
  1. The plague that most of us think about when we think about plagues at all is the Black Death of the late 1340s in Europe. That killed between 75 to 200 million people and wiped out 30 to 60 percent of the population of Europe. That still left several hundred million people living. Far better than what happens in Ringo's book.
  2. The survivors are those who have holed up either in secure land based facilities, or on boats, primarily boats. They have substantially been reduced to a state of nature.
Now that last point is really important. Think for a moment about what happened the last time you were in a bad snow storm, or a hurricane came by, and your power went out. We live in a rural area now, so we get our water from a well, and our waste goes into a septic tank. (The well is not a biblical type well that you have to lower a bucket into. It's a relatively modern thing with an electric pump that gets the water, and supplies it to the house.)

So what happens when the power goes out:

  1. You lose electricity.
    1. The internet goes out
    2. The lights go out
    3. The television, cable, and computer go out
    4. The pump to the well goes out
    5. The shower doesn't work
    6. The toilet doesn't flush
  2. You are unable to read at night
  3. You can not bathe, and sanitation is reduced
  4. You can't open the garage door to get in the car, and get away from it all. (You really can though. There's a manual release on the garage door, but it's a PITA to use.)
There is not that much that separates you from some neo-lithic caveman, and you are essentially reduced to a state of nature.

Why is this important? Because political theorists, notably Locke and Rousseau, start by asking what is life like in a state of nature, and what political relations occur, and what rights are inherent in that state of nature. Locke arrived at one answer, and Rousseau arrived at another, and those answers are pretty much the divide between right and left today.

Locke and Rousseau both start from the assumption of that state of nature, and then try to derive rights and obligations from man as he exists in that state, and as he associates with others of his kind. So man by himself has the right to think, pray, and speak as he sees fit. His work yields things for him to use, either to eat, sleep in, cook with, or any other thing that he wishes to consume. His work also provides him with tools that he can use to produce the things that he consumes. So he has the right to property. His foremost possession is his life, so he has the right to defend himself against direct attacks, and against attacks on his property, which provides him with the means to life, and in more advanced societies with the enjoyment of life. So he has the right to defend himself against agression. Consequently also the right to keep and bear arms is derivable from the state of nature, precisely because those arms are the means to defense. Now note that all of these rights are prior to the establishment of the state. The state, at best, exists to secure these rights. Certain other rights, as envisioned by modern people, aren't necessarily derivable from the state of nature. The rights to education, abortion, medical care, and so on, don't exist in that state, or are at best problematic.

Now Ringo doesn't go in for a lot of political theorizing, though some people (Lucian, Edward Bellamy, Thomas More, and a host of others) have used fictional settings as the background for political theory. He does, however, have a bit in which the leader of Wolf Squadron anguishes about his position as a de facto leader with absolute power, and his belief in a more or less libertarian government.

What separates his position from that of a man in a state of nature? One thing that springs to mind is that the state of nature is evolutionary and consensual. The position of Ringo's leader is that of someone in a lifeboat. The important thing is the survival of the people in the lifeboat. In a multi-year effort, such as Ringo's book, or Battlestar Galactica the future of the descendants must be considered as well. Despite the feminist nonsense of BSG that means no abortions, and a high birthrate in order to ensure the survival of the species.

As to the rest of the problem, that's dependent on the character of the leader.

The first volume of the series Beneath a Graveyard Sky saw the world, and a single family, reduced to the state of nature. But the state of nature is only the starting point. Once other people a new set of relationships develops, and your view of how those relationships develop, and the basis of those original relationships determines your political views in real world situations.

One possibility is that when two people encounter each other they engage in free exchanges, and enter into contractual agreements. A second possibility is the Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes in which every man tries to gain advantage of every other, and politics is naked force.

Ringo's characters seem to be opting for the first version, free exchange. When people are rescued the leader of Wolf squadron offers them a choice of joining the squadron, or of being set free to pursue life on their own. There are numerous advantages to community life, as opposed to solitary ventures on the seas, so there are very few holdouts. Smith, the leader of Wolf squadron, does have the advantage of force, but it is not necessarily the sole, or even primary motivator for people entering into association with him.

Ringo, whether consciously or not, seems to be portraying how an apocalyptic return to the state of nature plays out in terms Locke's ideas concerning government.

It's not clear how the series will progress. At some point, and the leader of Wolf Squadron has acknowledged this, the land will have to be cleared. While some ships, notably 19ᵗʰ century whaling ships, were factories as well as transportation, other items such as ammunition for the crews to use in clearing areas, drugs, clothing, and so forth will at some point have to be manufactured. That means clearing land for agriculture and industry.

The mega-, or in this case, giga-deaths occurred in the first book of the series. So there's a relatively low body count here. Next up, another look at Kant's Critique of Pure Reason