Robert Heinlein’s Future History Series
Book Two: The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950)
(con’t from the last post)
The first section of this book explains the history of transportation in America in the 1900s. Humans progressed from big dangerous clunky automobiles into an era of thousands-of-miles-long carless roadways that stretch across America, moving like conveyor belts with different lanes for different speeds, up to 100 mph. Humans walk from one to another of the lanes depending on their destination and how fast they want to travel. There are restaurants and stores on these roadways (ingenious, dine while you travel, let’s do that), making up what they call “road cities”.
Along with this explanation about the new roadway system, Heinlein discusses at length how dangerous cars are, like speeding bullets, and that people soon realized this and adopted this new roadway system that is much safer.
The mechanisms that make up these huge roadways need a lot of maintenance. Hence, “road technicians” are crucial to this society. As long as the roads keep moving, the all-important economy of modern America can continue to chug along as well.
These road technicians have recently been semi-militarized. Not with weapons but with training and mental programming. This effort to instill them with moral determination to keep working as a patriotic act has not been completely enacted because some of the older workers never went through the academies.
So before this plan to mentally program the road technicians is fully implemented, the buggers join together to complain about wages, hours, etc. (Although the word “union” is seldom mentioned, if ever.) Clearly this group has unionized, and it’s been led by a man who is a follower of “functionalism”.
According to the book, functionalism is a theory that throws out democracy and instead orders society based on how important your job/function is to society. It’s all about power and an individual should use their power to its fullest advantage, according to this philosophy.
The concern is, with so many important jobs that make up our economy it’s easy to convince yourself you are indispensable. And that’s what these unionized workers do, with deadly results.
The uprising of the road technicians must be squashed and the main character goes about doing it. He gets the roadways going again and the point is proven that humans are easily led by the promise of power even if there are one or two sane voices.
Whether Heinlein is saying also that unions will lead to catastrophe, well, I wouldn’t go that far. I think a point is made about humans being led blindly, about large groups of people making large mistakes, and that a dangerous philosophy can cause death and destruction. But in general, there is an overall negative feeling about unions since this group of banded-together employees end up destroying people and property, and are basically the villains, stupid and misled as they are.
More about Heinlein’s politics in the next post, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing this time. 🙂