Edelman’s political leanings are commendable—his characters’ operational definitions… not so much.
David Louis Edelman’s Jump 225 trilogy has been my reading matter of choice this last month, and all in all I have very little to complain about. Edelman’s megalomaniacal protagonist Natch (“the Mad Capitalist Who Went Too Far”) is almost Mervyn Peake’s Steerpike, if Steerpike had been born into a similarly upwardly mobile, free market society (hey, it’s no coincidence Edelman wrote the introduction to Peake’s Titus Alone). Of course, that’s only Natch in Infoquake—by the time MultiReal comes around, with Natch hiding out in a secret enclave of business leaders who have been mysteriously dropping out of society lately because they’re fomenting a “revolution of selfishness” (I’m sorry… what book am I reading again?) and in possession of a technology which pretty much makes him the Kwisatz Haderach, the reader is left wondering just how Frank Herbert and Ayn Rand managed to enter the picture unseen.
Not that you can really go wrong with Mervyn Peake, Frank Herbert, and Ayn Rand. In fact, this synthesis might just make Jump 225 my new favorite science fiction series… not that I even really know what Jump 225 is yet.
What does go wrong is in the line of political commentary.
Edelman’s world is a place of constant conflict between two factions: Libertarians who support decentralized government, and Governmentalists who believe in a strong centralized government.
On the libertarian side we have Natch, whose business ethics aren’t exactly commendable; in the governmentalist corner there’s the Defense and Wellness Council, circa 1984.
As the conflict over expanding DWC power crystallizes in the fight over a new technology, MultiReal, Natch is pitted against all the powers and resources of the centralized government. Without giving too much away… it’s pretty clear that Edelman’s sympathy lies with his central character.
No complaints about that.
What bothers me is the implication throughout that a free market, though it upholds individual rights, equals anarchy.
In a not-really-veiled-at-all reference to Ayn Rand, Edelman created the group Creed Thassel, which is dedicated to promoting individualism and “the virtue of selfishness.” And yet, the definition of selfishness the Thasselian leader provides is horribly, horribly wrong. He says:
“Margaret Surina called it freedom from cause and effect. But only Kordez Thassel had the courage to call this freedom what it really is: selfishness.”
I know what you’re thinking—and no, Kordez Thassel is not the Merriam-Webster of Edelman’s world. Meaning: we don’t have to accept his definition. Selfishness is not freedom from cause and effect. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of that.
Selfishness is concern with your own interests. That’s it. And concern with your own interests means you can’t act without thinking, without regard for the consequences of these actions. You have to plan long term.
Ayn Rand was the original proponent of a virtue of selfishness, not Kordez Thassel, and she made very clear that rational self-interest does not equal hedonism. Desire to escape cause and effect is “whim-worshipping.” And this, she wrote:
Is said as a warning against the kind of “Nietzschean egoists” who, in fact, are a product of the altruist morality and represent the other side of the altruist coin: the men who believe that any action, regardless of its nature, is good if it is intended for one’s own benefit. Just as the satisfaction of the irrational desires of others is not a criterion of moral value, neither is the satisfaction of one’s own irrational desires. Morality is not a contest of whims.
Edelman’s Thasselians are exactly these sort of Nietzschean egoists. It’s only irrational self-interest that desires an escape from cause and effect.
But I’m not too worried; the spokesman for Creed Thassel is not only irrational– he’s a thoroughly unsympathetic character. Edelman has not made a creepy Creed bodhisattva the lone defender of selfishness: Natch is no Thasselian.
So I’m looking forward to Geosynchron for the resolution of this political dichotomy. And I am also quite confident that the third installment in the trilogy will see Natch and his rather more rational self-interest justified.