Voyage from Yesteryear
by James P. Hogan

In this science fiction novel James P. Hogan describes a society of rational human beings. They are created by robots from DNA information stored in the computers of a space ship that has traveled from Earth to the planet Chiron. After determining that the planet is suitable for human life, the robots build a small city and then create and raise a first generation of humans. After the first generation, the humans reproduce in the old fashioned way.

Since the robots are designed to serve human beings and to be objective, the first generation of human Chirons grows up in a world with no ruling class and therefore, no need for a state. Chiron is a Marxist paradise in which automated manufacturing processes supply all human material goods in such abundance that the people can take whatever they need for free and the only incentive for people to work is the self-satisfaction that comes from acquiring mastery of an art, craft, or science that the individual finds intrinsically interesting.

No one can achieve status by owning material things, because everyone can have as many such things as they want without having to deprive anyone else of them. The Chirons, freed from the necessity of toiling for a living, develop their innate abilities in whatever fields they like. They gain respect from their fellow Chirons by becoming experts in their chosen fields. Individual Chirons usually become experts in several subjects rather then spending their whole career specializing in one thing. Each person who masters an art or craft is recognized as an authority in that area by others who go to him or her when they have questions or want help in that area.

A few people choose to spend all their time consuming and enjoying material goods. The others tend to feel sorry for the people who lack intellectual curiosity. No one envies them and no one forces them to work. Everyone has a live-and-let-live attitude.

The children on Chiron are raised without being indoctrinated in any religion and without any preconceived ideas about sexual relations. Consequently, they begin to have sexual intercourse as soon as they reach puberty, and the girls start having babies around the age of 13. Since goods are available in unlimited supplies for free, having children is not an economic hardship and requires little self-sacrifice beyond the physical discomforts of pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal instincts continue to operate, so most mothers develop love for their children. Fathers are not needed for economic support, but fathers who stick around because they love the mothers often develop a strong bond with their offspring. A pattern of serial monogamy develops in which couples live together for a few years and have a couple children together and then move on to new relationships. Parents tend to retain life-long affection toward their children no matter how many relationships they have had with different partners. Most women are grandmothers by the age of 30 and still continue to have more babies. Consequently, the population of Chiron increases rapidly and the society gains the benefits of more ingenious human minds making new contributions to the arts and sciences that they find fulfilling.

Theft is not a problem on Chiron because everybody can go to the store and take whatever material goods they want for free. But respect and affection cannot be dispensed at the free stores. Some Chirons who lack these attributes develop anti-social behaviors. They become bossy and inconsiderate of others. They don't live long. Sooner or later they make such pests of themselves that somebody shoots them. That is how crime is handled on Chiron. There are no police officers and no courts. Such a small number of people become anti-social and they get killed so soon that criminal gangs do not form and there is no danger of a state arising.

Because of the libertarian nature of the society that James P. Hogan describes in this novel, I became curious about what thinkers inspired him. I discovered that he has a website that includes biographical information and answers to questions posed by his fans. I found that he has already answered questions about who inspired him to create the fictional libertarian society of Chiron. It comes out of his own imagination. He had not read Karl Marx's works, and he was not familiar with libertarianism before he wrote this novel. He is not even an anarchist. The society he describes is simply what he thought would logically develop under the conditions set forth as the premise for the story.

He has since become familiar with libertarian literature and he now acknowledges that he is in general agreement with libertarianism. He has twice been given the Promethius Award from the Libertarian Futurist Society for writing the best science fiction novel of the year (1983 for Voyage from Yesteryear and 1993 for Multiplex Man).

His website includes references to Hayek and Mises, who he regards as important thinkers. But their kind of a priori reasoning has not convinced him that the free market can work as well as a regulated market. He is an empiricist. So he would like to see an experimental approach taken to determine which economic system works best. He suggests that the United States might be an ideal place for such a scientific experiment. Each of the 50 states could try a different level of government regulation of the economy so that we could discover which kind of government regulation works best by measuring the productivity of each economy.

He has a strong bias in favor of personal freedom, but he tries to set aside all such subjective moral values, and he relies instead on what he regards as the scientific (amoral) approach to social problems. Apparently his training and education in science and engineering have given him more faith in empiricism than in abstract logic. Yet he uses logical thought experiments rather than empirical ones to develop the plots for his novels and short stories.

In spite of the following criticisms, I think Voyage from Yesteryear is an outstandingly good book. The main fault I find with it is that some serious issues are hypostacized away. The most glaring cop outs are:

  1. The society on the libertarian planet starts out with automated, self-perpetuating, manufacturing processes that mass produce any material thing that a person might want. All such products are free. They are no longer economic goods. So there is no motive for theft and no status-value in material acquisitions. He does not explain how resources are allocated to produce these things. There is no private property in the means of production and no price mechanism to allocate productive resources.
  2. The society has no government and nobody gives orders. People are recognized for the knowledge and skills they have acquired and they have authority because of their knowledge and skills. Fine. Until the super-weapon that is designed for planetary defense comes into the story. Then, all of a sudden there is a panel of experts who control the weapon, and they have effective power over the protection of the whole planet. How did they get physical control of the means of production to produce the super weapon?
  3. The morality displayed by the libertarians is based on personal productivity like Ayn Rand's morality, but without her emphasis on individual rights and autonomy. It is an engineering view of morality. Children need to be taught to be competent at tasks from their first baby steps through acquiring human speech and other skills. Praising them for showing progress at acquiring skills will make them learn to value the acquisition of skills for the rest of their lives. He assumes that this is what will arise naturally when children are not indoctrinated in any particular religion or moral philosophy. But the children of Chiron are not raised without examples of moral behavior to emulate, nor is it possible for human children anywhere to be raised without moral exemplars. The robots who raised the first generation are programmed to promote the welfare of humans as the ultimate good. The parents who raised the future generations naturally regard the welfare of their children as a high priority. There is an inevitable tendency for children to develop empathy and other moral-value-related emotions as a result of aping those who raise them, and it is normal for these values and related emotions and behaviors to become internalized and wired into the child's brain as it continues to develop and establish neural circuits for the first 12 years of life. The unemotional, amoral, engineer's view of life simply cannot become the dominant view of the world in a society of human beings unless specific steps are taken to stifle the development of emotions that naturally germinate in a social species. The novel does not refer to systematic attempts to stifle human emotions. In fact, the Chiron characters as depicted as having curiosity, a sense of humor, sympathy, compassion, self-respect, artistic inclinations, and sensuality. They are much more friendly and much less somber than Randian heros.

Year Read: 1999


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