Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On "The Garrison State"

In his piece "The Garrison State" Harold D. Lasswell touches on several key concepts that are indicative of many pieces of Science Fiction, especially the strains of Utopias and Dystopias. The first of these ideas is his understanding of the monopolizing of violence in warfare. Lasswell talks about the expansion of air warfare. Writing when he is this is certainly true, but is even more indicative with the advent of nuclear war. This has become a prevalent worry in the minds of science and science fiction. As we discussed in class, science is progressing at a rate where the understanding of technological development is occurring without the theoretical and ethical understanding of what these sorts of developments mean and how they will affect humanity, a central point to our class’s rough definition of what Science Fiction is. Further, Lasswell does appear to be concerned with what this expansion of violence will mean for society and puts forth his prediction at how it will restructure society. This prediction is a society, “The Garrison State,” focused around the specialization and supremacy of violence. Another key component of Lasswell’s “Garrison State” is the continued development of technology specifically as it relates to military improvement, while also having the condition of cutting of consumer goods from technological innovation. These are just some of the more relevant aspects of Lasswell’s new society that are particularly relevant to Science Fiction.

The society that Lasswell predicts will arise, while not exactly copied in any science fiction I know shares traits with several, I am familiar with, including but not limited to Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Dune, and others. One point Lasswell points to is the increased development of pharmacology. He sees the uses of pharmaceutical development as twofold in his new society; one is as a stimulant for soldiers, which while not perfectly mirrored in Dune, does seem to compare to the use of “the spice” by the Guild pilots. Pharmacology will also as being used to develop drugs which could be used to keep the population of this new society docile, just as Aldous Huxley predicts the use of Soma in Brave New World. However of all of the examples of Science Fiction I am familiar with Lasswell’s “Garrison State” is Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The many comparisons and parallels between “the Garrison State” and 1984 are numerous and cause me to wonder if this was a piece that Orwell may have read prior to writing his book. The aspect of Orwell’s society similar to Garrison’s include his focus on the fear of violence becoming an aspect of everyday life, the equalizing of financial difference across the mass of society with an elite upper-class at the top who are financially and materially wealthy, the reduction or elimination of consumer goods, the development of a centralized, integrated and dictatorial government, and the development of a way to suppress original or variances in thought, except by those in power. These are some of the many parallels between Orwell and Lasswell and their respective visions of the future.

1 comment:

Rinske said...

One point I'd like to highlight from your first paragraph is the fact that science and technology is constantly getting ahead of our "theoretical and ethical understanding" of these developments. Science fiction often tries to get ahead on the ethical 'what if this were true, how should we behave' question. In one episode, Star Trek's Prime Directive (no interference with non-space going worlds) is justified with the comment of what would have happened on earth if we had had transporter technology before the full negative effects of nuclear weapons were understood.
Many authors are aware of this; for example, in Robert J. Sawyer's Illegal Alien, the lawyers when selecting a jury for the trial of the alien ask questions about what sort of Science Fiction they have been exposed to in order to gauge how they might inherently think of aliens.