Feb 22, 2020

Asimov's Marxist Foundation

diagram source
Ten years ago I wrote a blog post called "Asimov the Collectivist". Here I want to follow up with a look back at a 1976 article called "Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION Novels: Historical Materialism Distorted into Cyclical Psycho-History" that was published in "Science Fiction Studies" by Charles Elkins.

In his article, Elkins explored the perceived similarity between
1) the "underlying concept" of Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and
2) "one of the main ingredients of Marxism—historical materialism".

1968 (image source)
"Protest is when I say this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more." - Ulrike Meinhof

"You say you want a revolution well, ... we all want to change the world, but when you talk about destruction ... you can count me out." - the Beatles

"[apartheid] can be tested by any unprejudiced person against the requirements of Christianity and morality, and it will be found to meet all those requirements." -John Vorster
Things change and stay the same. source: The Florida Flambeau 1977

                                  Why Now?
Why look back at this old article from 1976 that was written by Dr. Elkins? I am feeling the sentiment of this old saying: "The more things change, the more they stay the same".

When I was a kid in school during the 1970's, the horrors of the Vietnam war and the Nixon presidency finally ended, but headlines were full of the often bloody on-going struggles for independence from colonial rule in Africa and acts of terrorism by radical groups such as the Japanese Red Army and the Red Army Faction. These events were being played out against the back-drop of the Cold War and a perceived struggle between free-market capitalism and a Marxist view that free-market capitalism must ultimately give way to socialism.

Here in the 2020 election cycle, one theme in the presidential election is being portrayed as a battle of reactionary supporters of free-market capitalism versus reformers who want to repair the failings of the health care system in the United States. The would-be reformers are being vilified as "socialists".

image source
This current battle over the future of health care is a part of a war that has been going on for centuries. In that war, the inevitable failures of capitalism continually spur reforms that often take the form of the next advances towards regulated capitalism and social democracy. When the United States became a new nation, the free-market practice of buying and selling human slaves was practiced by "founding fathers" such as Jefferson.

"...the thick yellowish gray morning sky,
the fluorescent orange sunset,
and the metallic taste and
eye-stinging character of the air..." source
Eventually, slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment, but only after a horrible civil war had crushed the remaining slave states. The free-market banking industry was finally partially constrained in 1913 after horrific economic failures of the free market. After the great depression, the drift towards social democracy took a big leap forward in the USA with the introduction of "new deal" safety net systems like social security. In the 1970s, pollution had become so bad and so damaging to human health that the Environmental Protection Agency had to be empowered as a way to force capitalistic players like the oil and auto industries to clean up their acts.

Asimov's birth place (source)
Each of these "radical" economic and social reforms (and their associated taxes such as income tax and FICA) have been bitterly resisted by capitalistic reactionaries who resented any government-imposed constraints on their ability to exploit the free-market for profit. Some profiteers within the for-profit health industry are going to vigorously resist health care reform each step of the way. For over 100 years, social reforms have been derided and resisted by raising fears over creeping socialism.

What does all this social/economic/political history have to do with Isaac Asimov and some silly science fiction stories that were written back in the 1940s? The imaginary science foundation for the "greatest science fiction series of all time", Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, "Psychohistory", has been linked to socialism and the materialistic view of history developed by the German philosopher Karl Marx.

image source
Charles Elkins
Elkins was an English professor, first at Florida International University and later at Colorado State University. There is a special place in my heart for academics who have an interest in science fiction. When I arrived as a freshman for my university studies, I stumbled upon an English professor who was willing to teach young science nerds by constructing a freshman English course entirely around the reading of science fiction stories. My English professor introduced me to the fiction of Jack Vance and for that I am eternally grateful.

Best All-Time Series: Foundation Trilogy
When writing his article about "Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION Novels", Elkins seems to have been struggling to understand the popularity of the Foundation Trilogy. I suspect that most English professors are connoisseurs of great literature, and I've never seen anyone, including Asimov, refer to his Foundation stories as being examples of great literature. However, the great popularity of a science fiction story that is not well-written (by conventional literary standards) can serve as a kind of puzzle: what is going on here? Why were Asimov's Foundation stories so popular?
from page 107 of A Requiem for Astounding by Alva Rogers.

Petrovichi memorial: Nazi atrocities (source)
Sense of Wonder
For some insight into the popularity of Asimov's Foundation stories, Elkins turned to Alva Rogers, a fan of science fiction who had literally written the book (A Requiem For Astounding, 1964) on Astounding magazine, the pulp magazine that had originally published Asimov's Foundation stories that were later re-packaged as the 3 novels of the Foundation Trilogy.

It can be argued that one of the defining features of the human species is our capacity to live our lives from the perspective of an observer who experiences a sense of wonder at the world we find ourselves in. The science fiction literary genre was custom made for "wonder junkies", people who crave stories about fantasy worlds of the imagination that can provoke the human sense of wonder. However, science fiction is a special branch of fantasy story telling in which community members are intrigued by the transformative effect of science and technology on society and the human experience.

What is the "underlying concept" of the Foundation Trilogy? Elkins says that it is, "a concept of history which is, in its grand sweep, similar to one of the main ingredients of Marxism—historical materialism".

The Socialist Manifesto
The Foundation Trilogy began with 1) Asimov's interest in history and 2) Asimov's desire to sell stories to John Campbell, the editor of Astounding. Asimov suggested to Campbell the idea of a science fiction story about the fall of a Galactic Empire (he had read The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. The Sci Fi hook for the story would be an imaginary science of the future, Psychohistory, which after the unavoidable fall of galactic civilization could be used to guide Humanity towards a new future. The first Foundation story was published when Asimov was just 22 years old.

In 1971, Donald Wollheim published a book called The Universe Makers in which he conjectured that Asimov's imaginary science of Psychohistory began with "the basic premise of Marx and Engles". For his analysis of the Foundation Trilogy, Elkins completely accepts the validity of Wollheim's conjecture.

However, in Conversations with Isaac Asimov, there is "An Interview With Isaac Asimov" by James E. Gunn. Gunn asked Asimov if he was thinking about Marx's theory of history when he created Psychohistory. In his reply to that question, Asimov stated plainly that he knew nothing about Marxism. Instead, Asimov suggests that Campbell's interest in symbolic logic contributed to the creation of Psychohistory along with the fact that Asimov had studied physical chemistry. Asimov explained that he had modeled his imaginary predictability of (future) history on the kinetic theory of gases.

In that interview with Gunn, Asimov further stated that while Wollheim had been interested in Marxism, he (Asimov) had not shared that interest.

1920 to 1992
However, Elkins did not resist the temptation to construct a dossier listing every possible link between Asimov and Marxism. Elkins wrote, "Asimov must have been aware of Soviet Marxism: his parents immigrated from Russia in 1923, six years after the October Revolution." However, Asimov's parents were both from families of business owners in a small village. They left Russia (with 3-year-old Isaac) soon after the establishment of the Soviet Union and just before a 1924 Soviet crackdown that would probably prevented them (they were Jewish) from emigrating to America. There is no evidence that anyone in Asimov's family had any interest in Marxism.

1922 to 1991
Elkins wrote, "Moreover, 1939, the year Asimov began writing his future history, was the year of the Soviet-Nazi Pact, and he has recalled how he was caught up in the events unfolding in Europe." This chronological comment on the origins of the Foundation stories is misleading. Asimov shared (with Campbell) his idea of a science fiction story about the fall of a Galactic Empire on August first, 1941. Campbell told Asimov that he wanted not simply a single story, but a series of stories about the Foundation. The first story in the Foundation series was published in 1942. Yes, by then, Asimov had for years been worried about the Nazis and their horrific policies. That had nothing to do with Marxism or events in the Soviet Union.

Sci Fi fans (source)
After insinuating that Asimov helped found the Futurians as a group "exclusively for those who were either actual members of the Communist Party or espoused the Party’s policies" (source), Elkins wrote, "To what degree Asimov was acquainted with Marxism at first hand is not of great import. He was certainly aware both of some of its slogans and of its power to arouse allegiance among intellectuals and crucially alter the tempo of world history."

Psycho-Foundational History
Having spent most of his article describing the literary shortcomings of Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and describing Psychohistory as constructed upon a warped view of Marx's attempt to devise a scientific view of history, Elkins finally voiced the thesis of his article, writing that it was Asimov's "treatment of history as a 'science' above men, which accounts for the FOUNDATION TRILOGY's ideological fascination and evocativeness as well as for its ultimate intellectual and artistic bankruptcy."

Second Foundation
From this point in Elkins' article, he explores his belief that the Foundation Trilogy is popular only because it contains part of the materialistic Marxist view of history, however, Elkins must devote the rest of the article to explaining that Asimov's Sci Fi story fails because it is based on only a "vulgar Marxist version of historical materialism", not REAL Marxism™. According to Elkins, Asimov's view of the human future only provides readers with "fatalism and complacency" in the face of "a techno-bureaucratic elite" that will control the future of Humanity. In contrast, Elkins reminds us that in the case of REAL Marxism, "it is the possibility that all men can ultimately comprehend those hidden and complex forces at work on them that gives Marxism its vision of hope".

the Mule was human
In my view, this analysis of the Foundation Trilogy by Elkins seems misguided because he (Elkins) mistakes a science fictional thought experiment (Asimov at play with a fantastic "what if?" scenario) as being congruent with Asimov's beliefs about human nature and the fate of human societies. Pretending to be able to describe Asimov's personal beliefs, Elkins suggests that Asimov believes* "that mankind will not fundamentally change, that basic human drives are universal and eternal" and that is in opposition to the Marxist idea that people can learn about history and take control of their future. However, I don't think the fictional account of Hari Seldon's Psychohistory in the Foundation Trilogy provides us with any deep insights into Asimov's beliefs about human nature.

As a humanist, Asimov believed in the power of education. Through his writing, he worked tirelessly to educate people about history, environmentalism and science. Asimov lamented politicians who who were anti-intellectual and who used fear and bigotry to mobilize supporters. Also, Asimov later extended the original Foundation Trilogy. Asimov's Foundation Saga was a playground where Asimov could explore the logical implications of a silly idea that he and Campbell came up with in 1941, Asimov was still at play with those ideas at his death in 1992. I wish that Asimov had lived longer and written additional stories about his imagined future galaxy, past the events in Foundation and Earth.

Marxist Science Fiction?
Friedrich Engels
Having never read any of the historical philosophy of Marx, I'm in no position to analyze the relationships between Asimov's stated beliefs and the tenets of Marxism. I do know that Marx's friend, Engles, was a born and practicing capitalist who became a social reformer, trying to better the lives of factory workers. Asimov himself grew up working in his family's store and he was a self-supporting business man himself through most of his adult life. I suspect that Marx would have understood and possibly agreed with this view: "The human way of life has always been subject to drastic and more or less irreversible change, usually (or, as I believe, always) mediated by some advance in science and/or technology." -Isaac Asimov 1981

Asimov thought that science fiction, as a literature concerned with change, could play an important role in helping teach people to anticipate and deal with change. Writing about "The Influence of Science Fiction" in 1981, Asimov lamented regressive political drift and backsliding by people who seemed to want to return to 1955 rather than face the future.
1980 (source)

original cover art by Boris Vallejo
and Lloyd Birmingham
I'd be interested to see a critique by Dr. Elkins of the later Foundation books by Asimov that showed Daneel the robot seemingly in control of the galaxy.

I feel that Asimov was a realist with respect to imagining the future. He had high hopes for the future of Humanity and he was not afraid to think in terms of we humans constructing intelligent machines that would be useful companions. In the end, Asimov died before he was able to extend his Foundation Saga beyond a final scene depicting the telepathic robot Daneel watching over the galaxy. That scene was science fiction, not some sort of prediction of the future. It is up to us to make our own future.

Relate Reading: Marx on Machines
"Elkins essay is an important one, but personally I think he’s way off base."
*Note: John C. Wright came to the opposite conclusion.
An alternative to the views of Elkins is provided by Jari Käkelä

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Feb 16, 2020

The Clarke-Brunner Effect

Gohrlay's brain
A core organizing principle for the Exode Saga is that Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance and Arthur Clarke are the three favorite science fiction story writers of the Editor. It is the job of the Editor to reveal to the people of Earth the Secret History of Humanity: how alien visitors to Earth created the human species. Sadly, neither the Editor nor any other Earthlings are allowed to have verifiable physical evidence that space aliens exist, so when the Editor writes the Secret History of Humanity, it is viewed by Earthlings as being a science fiction story.

Earth's Reality Chain
Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance and Arthur Clarke are not only the three favorite science fiction story writers of the Editor. Asimov, Vance and Clarke each play a special role in Earth's Reality Chain. In the First Reality, Asimov, Vance and Clarke were members of the Escapist Clan and good friends of Gohrlay. It was Gohrlay's mind pattern that was used to create the positronic brain. Positronic Brain technology led to the discovery of time travel technology, which completely derailed to course of human history. R. Gohrlay made sure that analogues of Asimov, Vance and Clarke existed in every successive Reality of Earth's Reality Chain.

In the Foundation Reality, the positronic robots of Earth came close to completing their Galaxia project. Galaxia was their attempt to turn Earth's galaxy into a vast, unified artificial life form, deploying its telepathic power so as to assure that Humanity would be eternally independent of the alien Huaoshy. That plan was derailed when the Huaoshy developed their own time travel technology. During the Time Travel War, Huaoshy technological superiority in nanotechnology allowed the Huaoshy to regain control of Earth. To do this, they made use of a new human variant, the Kac'hin and their chief agent on Earth became Grean the Kac'hin.

However, the positronic robots of Earth were not completely defeated. In particular, several positronic robots and Asterothropes (particularly Trysta Iwedon) remained deployed in the field, persistently resisting Huaoshy plans for Humanity's future. Rather than endure a protracted and futile Time Travel War, the Huaoshy first unilaterally declared the Trysta Truce. In the Asimov Reality, during the Truce, the remaining positronic robots established an alliance with the ancient Phari, an alien life form that had been quite adept at making use of hierion-based technologies. During the Trysta Truce, the Huaoshy developed the means to neutralize Trysta Iwedon's resistance to cooperation with the Huaoshy.
Trysta-Grean Pact

The Time Travel War ended with establishment of the Trysta-Grean Pact. Now collaborating, Trysta and Grean brought into existence the Buld Reality. The Buld Reality was intended to be the final Reality in Earth's Reality Chain.

The Huaoshy were eager to change the Dimensional Structure of the universe so as to make all further time travel impossible. However, with the end of time travel approaching, a few subtle adjustments were made to Earth's timeline so as to satisfy the terms of the Pact by which humans were to be given a chance to spread themselves between the stars.

We now exist within the Final Reality. No further time travel is possible. It is the job of the Editor to tell the Secret History of Humanity. Much of that Secret History reached the Editor in the form of infites; information nanites that cannot be detected by Earthly science, but which can convey information directly into the brain of the Editor.
Shana/Mayness/Trysta (see)

The first source of infites for the Editor was the Editor's Replicoid, Irhit. Linked to the Editor by way of a hierion tube, Irhit was able to guide the early life of the Editor.

Back in 2017, I became aware of the idea that the tryp'At were at work during the Ekcolir Reality and operating out of a secret base in England. I was also told that it may have been a tryp'At agent who activated my own interest in the science fiction literary genre.

The tryp'At in England
My source of information concerning tryp'At Interventionists in England is Nirutam. Ever since Nirutam took up residence here in the guest house, "she" has been filling in gaps in my knowledge about events in Deep Time.

I feel bad about calling Nirutam "she" and using the pronoun "her" to refer to someone who does not conform to human gender categories. However, for her mission on Earth, Nirutam was crafted by developmental control nanites to make her appear to be a human female.

Currently, it is my hope that Nirutam still carries sophisticated nanites in her body. Nirutam is now quite ill and in need of a medical miracle. It was never intended that she remain long on Earth, but she is trapped on our world. Over-staying her planned time on Earth seems to have triggered the destruction of her biological body. I fear that she arrived on Earth equipped with medical nanites that kept her healthy during the time period when she carried out her planned mission. Maybe those nanites had a fixed duration of operation and they shut down. Maybe we can find a way to reactivate those hypothetical medical nanites or possibly other nanites can be adapted to the purpose of allowing Nirutam to regain her health.

I have recruited both 1) members of the Mind Clone Network who reside at Observer Base and 2) Dani to the task of searching for such a solution, but Nirutam herself seems convinced that she must die. That prospect does not alarm her. Nirutam claims to be from a world where selfies are routinely created for every individual, allowing them to have a type of artificial life after death.

Thus, even though her health continues to decline, Nirutam consistently works with me to educate me about Deep Time. During her preparation for working on Earth, she had access to what I must think of as an ER Simulator, a virtual reality simulation of the Ekcolir Reality. Nirutam understands how that past Reality was transformed into the Final Reality.

Hai'zek the Fru'wu
Currently, I am struggling to understand the role that the tryp'At played in creating the Final Reality. Apparently there were a large number of tryp'At agents stationed in England during the Ekcolir Reality. Previously, it was my understanding that Earthlings were prepared for the arrival of the alien Fru'wu by having the Writers Block help Earthlings write science fiction stories about alien visitors to Earth. However, Nirutam insists that preparations for First Contact with the Fru'wu went far beyond the writing of science fiction stories.

According to Nirutam, the analogue of Arthur Clarke in the Ekcolir Reality was Arabella Clarke. Similarly, John Brunner had an Ekcolir Reality analogue named Joan Brunner. However, Nirutam insists that Arabella and Joan did not start out as science fiction story tellers. Joan was a chemist and Arabella a physicist. They met when Joan joined Arabella's nanotechnology research team at Queen's College and began working on a new chemical class of photon-absorbing materials. Working with samples of hadronic matter that were doped with hierions, they discovered what became known as the Clarke-Brunner Effect.

Apparently the tryp'At Interventionists had figured out how to infiltrate Earth by using the hierion tubes that link from the Hierion Domain to Earth. The Clarke-Brunner Effect allowed an Earthling's femtobot endosymbiont to establish a link to its Replicoid in the Hierion Domain, essentially reversing the hierion tube hack that the tryp'At were using in the opposite direction. Nirutam suspects that Interventionists must have been helping Joan and Arabella, for example, someone had supplied them with hierion-doped materials to use in their experiments.

I'm rather amazed that none of my other collaborators such as Ivory Fersoni ever told me anything about the Clarke-Brunner Effect. Zeta suggests that it was the pek who helped Joan and Arabella in order to put a stop to blatant tryp'At interventionism that was compounding the technological problems plaguing human society on Earth during the Ekcolir Reality.

Later, the technological trick provided to Joan and Arabella had to be completely covered up by the pek and hidden from we Earthlings. However, I now wonder if that "trick" could be used to get Nirutam's selfie off of Earth and to the safety of Eternity.

The Discovery of Eternity
As usual, I'm now in the market for another information source that can confirm what Nirutam has told me about the Ekcolir Reality. Colleen Liscan suggests that it may have been temporal momentum that led Clarke to write The Sentinel and Brunner to write The Watchers.

In the Ekcolir Reality, had Clarke and Brunner revealed to their fellow Earthling the existence of Observer Base inside the Eternity space-time bubble?

Related Reading: one year ago - before Nirutam

Next: Asimov's Marxist Foundation

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