Dreamed 1992/12/6 by Chris Wayan
Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once delivered the commencement address to the Air Force Academy. I'm reading a copy, wrestling uncomfortably with his thorny attitude. He says "a society unwilling to defend itself cannot long survive." Despite my being raised pacifist, I concede he has a point: the world is still a violent place. Pacifism works well against colonial powers and in civil conflicts, but what of fanatics and fascists bent on exterminating others?
But Heinlein's example of a society that failed to defend itself is the ancient Maya! Claims "They had a military force and the will to use it, but they lost it... and faded away." An illustration (which becomes real and pulls me in) shows what force the late Mayans had, and what they did with it.
I'm hovering over the Central American forest, looking down on peasants working in a cornfield interwoven with squash mounds, bean vines, knots of avocado trees. But over the trees, feathered and darting about like huge parrots, are levitating Mayan warriors, overseeing the peasants. They carry, not spears, but the ultimate weapon of the age: squirt guns filled with some plant-derived poison or disease. If the peasants rebel, the flying shamanic warriors will spray them--even though the resulting plague will devastate this society's farm labor force.
And I'm forced to hover there among these proud shamans dripping with gold and jade... having it rubbed in my nose yet again that "The military force and the will to use it" gets applied in the interests of the ruling class, not the society as a whole.
Societies may need an immune system, but they too can develop autoimmune diseases! And self-attack is the worst attack.
A problem militarists never have solved.
The dream isn't as surreal as it sounds. Heinlein really did deliver the commencement address at the Air Force Academy; I stumbled on it once. He did make the argument that a society has to defend itself, that it's a jungle out there... and then he did extend it too far, arguing that a society must protect women and kids, so women shouldn't be in the military! As if only women can raise kids, as if soldiers can't...
The Maya did finally rebel, as their society got more topheavy and priest-ridden. And their upper classes really were upper--all those step-pyramids! Just omit a few million tons of stone, and the dream's pretty literal--the gorgeous elite floating above the peasants... Okay, it was spears, or maybe blowguns, not modern squirtguns. But Mayan shamans knew, and know, far more about plant-derived drugs and poisons than others living in similar tropical forests, such as Malaysia or the Congo. How much the old shamans did to enforce the increasingly unjust social order (or rebel against it), I don't know. If surviving Mayan shamans do, they're not saying...
Besides, they don't need to. We have splendid examples around the world of militaries that defend an elite (or, increasingly, only themselves) against, not external enemies, but against the poor people who feed them all.
Social autoimmune disease.
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