Friday, January 31, 2014

Freedom, Tyranny, and Technology: The Message of the Afrikanerverse

Guest post by Matthew W. Quinn.

Hey everybody, it’s Matthew W. Quinn again. I’m taking advantage of a recent opportunity afforded by our friend Mr. Mitrovich to discuss my alternate history spy tale, “Picking Up Plans In Palma.”

I’ve got a friend who is rather more zealous in religion than me who once said every work of fiction has a message. I strongly disagree with him on this issue, since I never wrote any of my short fiction with the intention of making a point.

(Okay, “The Beast of the Bosporus” is basically “don’t mess around with things beyond human comprehension,” but most Lovecraftian stories have that due to the nature of the beings involved.)

However, “Picking Up Plans In Palma” is the one exception thus far. The Afrikanerverse in which it is set began as a challenge to create a cold war between the U.S. and an Afrikaner power in the vein of S.M. Stirling’s Draka, so this world is ultimately a homage to the Drakaverse. However, like many others, I had plausibility issues with the Drakaverse. One of the biggest ones is how a society in which 90% of the people are chattel slaves (and most of those are illiterate) can equal or exceed a coalition of free societies, even after the enormous non-Draka “own goal” that was the Eurasian War.

Imagine if American slavery lasted another generation. George Washington Carver’s career as an inventor would have been greatly stunted if ever got off the ground in the first place (his former masters educated him but if they ran into financial trouble he might’ve ended up sold south and working in a field somewhere) and both the USA and the world would be so much poorer for it.

Although the Afrikaner Confederation does not practice slavery, “better than the Confederacy” is damning with faint praise. The die-hard colonialists of Rhodesia limited secondary education for blacks, while for much of its history apartheid South Africa provided blacks with only the education to do menial jobs. The education system in the Jim Crow South similarly failed to develop the talents of the African-American population and successful blacks risked victimization up to and including lynching by jealous whites, which no doubt contributed to the South’s endemic poverty. Though the Confederation’s black underclass is not as grotesquely impoverished as in our world’s South Africa or Mississippi, the same issue remains (and also applies to the Indian lower castes and the Southeast Asian peasantry, also under Afrikaner rule).

On top of not developing (when not actively repressing) the full potential of its non-whites, the later Confederation makes the same mistake (to a much lesser degree) with the white female population. Due to the influence of the Theonomic Party (modeled on Christian Reconstructionism), there comes a fair bit of cultural pressure against women seeking careers and even higher education. This prompts journalist Katje de Lange (lover of “Palma” protagonist Connor Kelly) to immigrate to the United States, thus enriching the Confederation’s great rival at the Confederation’s expense. That reminds me of a quote from the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II on the “wisdom” of Spain’s expelling of the Jews.

(Amy Chua wrote a whole book, Day of Empire, on the economic benefits of ethnic, religious, etc. tolerance. I recommend reading it.)

The result of all this is that the Confederation stagnates while the United States prospers, especially in the exploitation of space. This ultimately results in the nuclear war depicted in my short story “Coil Gun” (available as part of Pressure Suite: Digital Science Fiction #3) that bloodies the U.S.-led League of Democracies but completely destroys the Confederation and its traditionalist allies.

So if this gets into “too long, didn’t read” territory, here’s the gist. Limiting the opportunities for education and advancement of part of your population (be it in the name of an economic system that only benefits part of the supposed ruling class or a misinterpretation of religion) is shooting your community or your country in the foot, if not dooming it outright.

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