SciFi Weekend: Fringe & Other TV Shows; Scientology; Lisbeth Salander As Libertarian & Leftist Heroine; The Ultimate “Leftist” Novel

This week’s episode of Fringe appeared to be a stand-alone story until late in the episode. I was surprised to find that it tied into the ongoing mythology of the show by having the results of Alan Ruck’s experiments, which never should have worked, become successful in making people lighter than air due to the laws of physics breaking down as a result of the rift between the universes.

The story also featured Walter obsessing about bringing William Bell back to live, along with getting high with Jorge Garcia of Lost, at Massive Dynamic. There was a lot of Peter and Olivia. Somehow seeing our Olivia smiling this much just didn’t look right. It looked more natural in Fauxlivia. The episode ended with another surprise as Anna Torv now has a  third charter to play–William Bell possessing the poor Olivia’s body. One can just imagine what that would do should Peter get Olivia into bed again. There’s no doubt that this will lead to the return of William Bell’s physical body with Leonard Nimoy confirming on Twitter that he has already come out of retirement.

BBC America has announced that the upcoming season of Doctor Who will premier April 23 at 9:00 p.m. There’s no official date from the BBC, but there are rumors that they are also airing the first episode on April 23 and the second of the two-parter on April 24. If true, hopefully BBC America will also air both parts the first week and not fall a week behind.

Among last week’s television shows, V appears to be ending the season with more enjoyable shows, despite the numerous plot holes which persist. The Event returned, but it remains questionable as to how long they can drag out this storyline. The Cape’s final unaired episode has been  posted on line. Terra Nova, a Steven Spielberg produced show about people escaping to the prehistoric past, has been moved back from May until next fall.

Michael Crowley has an article at Slate noting L. Ron Hubbard’s 100th birthday, noting “how truly strange Scientology is.” If we were going to have a science fiction writer devise a religion which has as many followers as Scientology, why couldn’t it be one more along the lines of the freer religions devised in novels by Robert A. Heinlein?

Benjamin Kerstein at Pajamas Media questions how a leftist such as Stieg Larsson managed “to create a libertarian parable for the ages” with Lisbeth Salander in his Millennium Trilogy:

Lisbeth Salander explodes like a grenade tossed into an ammunition dump. Ferociously individualist, incorruptible, disdainful, and suspicious of all forms of social organization, and dedicated to her own personal moral code, Salander often seems to have stepped into Larsson’s world from out of an Ayn Rand novel. She despises all institutions, whether they are business corporations, government agencies, or the Stockholm police. Rejecting all forms of ideology, she is dedicated only to her own individual sense of justice. Relentlessly cerebral, she trusts only what she can ascertain with her own mind and her own formidable talents. She considers Blomquist a naïve fool because of his belief that social conditions cause people to commit the horrible crimes he investigates. At one point, as Blomquist ponders the motivations of a brutal serial killer, Salander erupts, “He’s just a pig who hates women!” Salander believes there are no excuses, everyone is responsible for their own actions, including herself, and must answer for them accordingly.

In short, Salander is as close to an avenging angel libertarianism is ever likely to get, and her presence in the novels throws the books’ politics into a bizarre contradiction. Far from the left-wing bromide in favor of democratic socialism it appears to be, the Millennium trilogy, as Ian MacDougall has pointed out in the leftist journal n+1, often appears on second glance like a calculated and relentless evisceration of the Swedish welfare state. Indeed, not only is Salander a walking rebuke to the myths of Scandinavian socialism, but she  is usually portrayed by Larsson as being absolutely correct in her attitude toward it. “In this Sweden,” MacDougall writes:

The country’s well-polished façade belies a broken apparatus of government whose rusty flywheels are little more than the playthings of crooks. The doctors are crooked. The bureaucrats are crooked. The newspapermen are crooked. The industrialists and businessmen, laid bare by merciless transparency laws, are nevertheless crooked. The police and the prosecutors are crooked.

In Larsson’s world, it is only the individual — usually Salander — with their own personal sense of right and wrong and the courage to act on it, who can save the day.

It is, perhaps, telling that millions of readers around the world, whatever their political orientation, have become fans of the Millennium series and especially of Lisbeth Salander. Indeed, it appears that Steig Larsson, though he himself might have been horrified at the prospect, gave birth to one of the great literary ironies of our time: for reasons that will likely forever remain unknown, a Scandinavian leftist managed to create a libertarian parable for the ages.

I find this far less ironic than Kerstein, who sees far too much of the right wing stereotype of the left as opposed to the actual views of those on the left. The left actually contains people of a variety of view points, and many do not support the big-government stereotype which the right commonly uses. Many on us on the left are far closer to individualist anarchists at heart, opposing the right wing as the actual supporters of big government and authoritarianism.

While I don’t know terribly much about Stieg Larsson, from what I have read about him, Larsson’s “leftism” appeared to have concentrated on opposing the authoritarian threat from the far right. As sometimes happens, Larsson also appears to have bee to quick to see his enemy’s enemies as his friends, which has led to far too many people on the left to become overly sympathetic to aspects to the left which are better off avoided.

To see Lisbeth Salander as supporting libertarianism is overly simplistic (analogous to how libertarianism itself is an overly simplistic view of the world). Salander appeals to both libertarians and to those on the left who I referred to above as are far closer to individualist anarchists at heart. Such people on the left are attracted to such anarchism and disrespect for authority but also see the limitations to such a philosophy in the real world which libertarians do not.

Larrson both made Salander an appealing character on one level while also showing as the trilogy progressed how her attitudes were shaped by her troubled youth. Salander’s world view is appealing to part of us, but most people have grown up to understand the limitations in such a world view. Libertarians, along with Lisbeth Salander, have ideas and attitudes we can respect, but ultimately both libertarians and Salander are flawed people who have not grown up to understand the real world.

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen was asked to name the ultimate left wing novel. His answer is quite different from mine, showing the differences in views and emphasis on the left which I noted above. Cowen’s answer:

What jumps to mind is Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, but if you read the request carefully it does not qualify.  Here is a list of thirty famous left-wing novels, heavy on the mid- to late nineteenth century.  There is Bronte, Dickens, Hugo, Sinclair, Zola, Gorky, Jack London, and Edward Bellamy.  None of these books is as analytically or philosophically comprehensive as the novels of Ayn Rand.

I would say that the story per se is usually left-wing, in both good and bad ways.  It elevates the seen over the unseen, can easily portray a struggle for justice, focuses on the anecdote, and encourages us to judge social institutions by the intentions of the people who work in them, rather than looking at their deeper and longer-term outcomes.  Precisely because the story is itself so left-wing, there won’t be a definitive example of the left-wing novel.  Story-telling encourages context-dependent thinking, although not necessarily in an accurate manner.  One notable feature of Atlas Shrugged is how frequently the story-telling stops for a long speech or an extended dialogue, in order to explain some first principles to the reader.

Grapes of Wrath was an excellent work, and is one which I might expect from the branch of the left more concerned with economics. With my concerns more centered around opposing right wing encroachments on civil liberties, my answer would be quite different. Three books immediately came to mind, with only one book making the list in the link above–It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

The other two which I immediately thought of were both by George Orwell: 1984 and Animal Farm. I’d pick 1984 as the answer to the question of picking the one ultimate book. Besides the messages of the book it remains even better known than Atlas Shrugged, and also stopped the story-telling for extended periods to make political points.

1984, while always an excellent choice for its opposition to totalitarianism, is even more significant today in light of the Orwellian distortions commonly used by the right wing. “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” One might almost think that Orwell was aware of the current American right wing in writing this.

To the  right wing freedom often means the “freedom” to impose their views upon others. Their support for the perpetual warfare state has clear parallels to Orwell’s work. Most disturbing of all is the manner in which the right wing supports Sarah Palin/Tea Party style ignorance as it opposes science, reason, and factual sources of information which do not follow the distortions they spread.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Captin Sarcastic says:

    Great post! I find it most interesting when people discuss left vs right as ideologies on one side or another of liberty. I have a different viewpoint, left vs right, in general terms, are ideologies based on an individuals perception of the greatest threat to liberty.
    I have been on both sides of the ideological divide, but my personal philosophy has not changed in the slightest. What has changed is my view if what represents our greatest threat. I used to think it was government largess in all it’s forms, so I supported the concept of less government in almost every possible way. As I became more and more engaged in politics, it became clear to me that the greatest threat to liberty is/was the ascension of corporate (and other special interest) influence on government at the expense of the constituent citizen voice.
    If I could support only one policy change in America (and I am very close to considering that nothing else matters without this change), it would be either eliminate or marginalize private money in our electoral system. Pols, whether they are Democrat or Republican, cannot be elected in America without special interest funding, and our governments failure to take up issues that vast majorities of the population want them to take up is, in my view, proof positive that voters do not have nearly the influence on policy as do financial benefactors.
    The greatest irony being the rise of the Tea Party, which forcefully supports the rights of corporations to use their considerable wealth to influence policy. Unwittingly, the Tea Party people are actually fighting for the Tory side of the equation as it relates to the original Boston Tea Party, which was a revolt against the Tea Act, a law passed by Parliament under the influence of the East India Company (of which 90% of Parliament were shareholders) for the specific and sole benefit of the EIC, thwarting their competitors by force of government.
    In other words, our countries revolutionary foundation is based on standing up against corporate influence, not opening the pockets of our government to that influence. Patriots opposed that corporate influence, Tories, loyal to the crown, supported it. The Tea Party should call themselves the Tory Party, enemy of patriots.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    The trend towards plutocracy in this country, which includes corporate power, is one threat to liberty. The other major threat is the religious right. Matters are made worse with these two threats to liberty being united.

    The Tea Party, while officially only being concerned with the economic side (and being duped into supporting the anti-freedom side) also contains a large percentage who also support the agenda of the religious right. The Tea Party represents one of the major threats to liberty today–but it is also just a new name for the far right as opposed to a new phenomenon.

    Government obviously must always be watched as a threat to liberty. In world with many threats, a freely elected government is also one way in which representatives of the individual can help defend individual liberty. The question is what type of government we have.

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