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March 25th, 2011


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02:56 am - The Nostalgia of Gor
I recently ran across this fascinating with John Norman, author of the infamous Gor novels. I had not known, but John Norman is actually a pseudonym for a philosophy professor named John Lange. My first idea upon finding out that he's a philosophy professor, but before I read the article was that either he was writing these novels for fun and money and considered them to be nothing more than trashy fluff, or he was a complete crank who believed those books had some sort of deep and lasting importance. I was rather hoping for the first option, but upon reading the article, it was clear that he was a mild-mannered and polite crank.

What was fascinating was exactly what sort of crank he was. From the interview, we see laughable quotes like "Statistically, despite all the poverty, there was very little crime during the Depression, and there was, I think, a stabler ethos, and a more coherent moral consensus then than now." (clearly he forgot that this was the heyday of organized crime and the period with the 2nd highest murder rate the US has ever seen). He then goes on in a not unexpected vein about the whole freedom, self-reliance, and rugged individualism foolishness that is the cornerstone of libertarian crankdom.

When talking about this interview with amberite, she mentioned that in many ways the Gor books sounded like they were about the author's nostalgic longing for a previous era's gender roles. This fits with the fact that the first Gor novel was written in the late 1960s, just when the first stirrings of second wave feminism were starting to impact mainstream society. Alice also saw him at a SF con a number of years ago and reports that he was surprisingly soft-spoken and dull in person in a way very consistent with how he appears in this interview.

That observation caused me to consider two possibly-related points – John Norman/Lange seems significantly more polite and soft-spoken than most younger people with similar ideas, and also unlike many younger libertarians, he actually grew up in an era where such ideas were far more mainstream. While Roosevelt's New Deal, the rapid increase of urbanization, and the spread of modern highly interconnected services like telephones, electricity, and radio were already rapidly dismantling this older world, the 1930s was still part of a previous age where everyone had at least grown up with the idea that governments were not expected to care for their citizens, and also where gender roles were fairly rigid, and from any reasonable PoV, horrific. John Norman remembers the end of this era, and so has rose-tinted nostalgic memories of what it was like. In vivid contrast, younger people with similar ideas never experienced such a world and so are left with stories and their imaginations, which are an even less solid foundation to base one's beliefs upon. As a result, it makes sense to me that they'd be more strident in their views, because they have no connection to the previous era when the world was somewhat more like their vision of an ideal society. Nostalgia for an era you never experienced is far more fragile than even actual nostalgia.

This also got me thinking about the entire idea that libertarianism is essentially about a longing for a (largely mythic) vision of the US almost a century ago and longer – the Wild West, rags-to-riches Horatio Alger stories, and similar myths. This also explains (at least to me) why there is such a strong correlation between these views and various sorts of regressive gender views and misogyny – those are part of the same mythic nostalgia package.

As a side-note, Norman/Lange's favorite philosopher is Nietzsche, and while he seems to understand Nietzsche's work quite well, he also clearly views him as some sort of libertarian saint of barbarian virtue, which (from the bits of Nietzsche that I remember from reading his work at the rather stereotypical age of 19) seems not the most obvious interpretation, but is also one I've encountered before, largely among libertarians – given the Gor novels are frequently referred to as Nietzschean, I'm wondering if this idea of Nietzsche as a libertarian saint comes from John Normans's work. The idea that the Gor novels have had that much cultural impact is to me both fascinating, if also rather disturbing.

As a second side note, I've never actually read any Gor novels, but I remember them being on the shelves of every SF&F bookstore I visited in the 80s, and so learned about them largely via osmosis.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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Comments:


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From:nancylebov
Date:March 25th, 2011 10:19 am (UTC)
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I don't think you're being fair to the mainstream of 1950s-- as far as I can tell, the idea was that men should be in charge so that women could be taken care of, and taken care of was meant to be safe and comfortable in what turned out to be an unduly limited sphere. This obviously didn't work out as benevolently as it said on the label, but the extreme dominance that Norman was pushing wasn't normal.

The 50s mainstream for adults was a little before my time (I was born in 1953), but A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s is specifically about women's reactions to The Feminine Mystique, and a lot of their problem was that they'd been told that they should be content with home-making and child-raising, and those turn out to not be enough to make satisfactory lives for a lot of women. When I say "they'd been told", I don't just mean they'd been told it, they were believing it, and were miserable because they thought something was deeply wrong with them. [1]

Their problem wasn't that they'd been told they wanted masters.

[1] I need to work up a theory about how little sense of self-preservation a lot of people have-- not enough to fight off memetic infections.
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From:heron61
Date:March 25th, 2011 10:41 am (UTC)
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I don't think you're being fair to the mainstream of 1950s-- as far as I can tell, the idea was that men should be in charge so that women could be taken care of, and taken care of was meant to be safe and comfortable in what turned out to be an unduly limited sphere.

*nods* I was mostly referring to pre-WWII gender roles - despite fairly impressive post WWII backlash, things had still changed significantly from the 1930s - I've most clearly seen that in the role female characters played in film. From what I've read, the 1930s were still experiencing ripples from women's suffrage, after WWII, all that was well more than a generation ago.
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From:syna
Date:March 25th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)
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Libertarians who like Nietzsche are a step above libertarians who like Rand, but they still make me go >_> I think it's a fairly valid interpretation, as you say, but they tend to ignore his incredibly strong beliefs in the arationality of things -- to say nothing of the fact that I imagine he thought that many libertarian heroes were remarkably petty-minded. (He thought most people were petty-minded.)

Of course I generally shy away from too much social application of Nietzsche and this may be cowardly of me. I generally get a lot of inspiration from his work on a personal and ethical level, but I doubt the practicality of whatever political application he has. All the examples of that I get are Gor-esque, so maybe it's just that I haven't been exposed to examples that aren't mired in sentimentality and adolescence.
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From:seika
Date:March 25th, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC)
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This. (Okay, you said a lot of things, but I'm this-ing the ignoring of Nietzsche's arationalism, and the fact that he seems better applied on a very personal, internal level, and everything you said about what practical application of Nietzsche always seems to look like.)

Edited at 2011-03-25 07:53 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
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From:mindstalk
Date:March 25th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
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"(clearly he forgot that this was the heyday of organized crime and the period with the 2nd highest murder rate the US has ever seen)."

Really? Prohibition was 1920-1933, Depression was 1929-1940-something. I have no idea what Depression crime was like but I'd by default attribute organized crime heyday to the Prohibition period.

I've called much of libertarianism the reactionary version of classical liberalism. That was back when I was libertarian, even... oh right, that was after I read some Hayek, and was impressed by the nuance of his arguments, vs. a lot of net.libertarians who argue from a partial acceptance of Econ 101. Hayek didn't call markets perfectly efficient or fair in outcome, or assume they had perfect information; he said they provided incentives for producing information, and were fair in the sense that the outcome of a game with fair rules and fairly played is played. Something I don't buy now but was a step up at the time.

And of course my impression of the actual 18th and 19th century liberals was that they weren't so resolutely anti-tax or anti-gov't as post 1970s US libertarians.

(I've since found that some of the Founding Fathers and Locke actually contain some ideas more like the original libertarians, critiques of property ownership and such. http://www.thedemocraticstrategist.org/strategist/2009/08/the_attack_on_redistribution.php for some quotes)
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From:heron61
Date:March 25th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC)
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Here's several graphs of the US murder rate (an excellent guide for the overall rate of violent crime). The murder rate in 1940 was still a bit higher than now, and while it fell from 33-40, it was still very high. WWII had an exceedingly low murder rate, but the reasons are fairly clear. In any case, our murder rate today is a bit lower and the least violent extended period in the US was the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s.
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From:slothman
Date:March 25th, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC)
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I think one of the drives behind libertarianism is a longing for a simpler world— one where people don’t have to think about the far-reaching effects of their own actions, because that’s a lot of work and involves a lot of uncomfortable self-doubt.
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From:lupagreenwolf
Date:March 25th, 2011 06:56 pm (UTC)
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This.
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From:xuenay
Date:March 26th, 2011 09:18 am (UTC)
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We may know different libertarians, but to me this conclusion doesn't seem right. For instance, a libertarian I once spoke to argued that there shouldn't be mandatory building codes enforced by the state. Instead there should just be private inspection companies, plus people should keep a track record about various construction companies to see which ones have built trustworthy buildings in the past.

To me, this sounds a lot more complex than just living in a world where you can be pretty certain that proper building codes are enforced by the state without you needing to worry about it. And libertarianism in general does seem to favor a lot of similar shifting of responsibility from society to the individual.
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From:seika
Date:March 25th, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
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Having only heard about Gor secondhand (mostly because there's a huge community of Gor RPers in Second Life), I've never had any clue what was really behind them, so I always just assumed they were the vision of one person's id. This information was interesting.
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From:roseembolism
Date:March 25th, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)
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I think now of it as a mix of that one person's nostalgia, political leanings, and sexual kinks. Kind of like an evil William Moulton Marston.

Of course my view of Gor is that planets like that is the reason why the Lensmen built inertialess drives big enough to crash planets into each other, so YMMV.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:March 26th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
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The comment thread was quite fascinating. I laughed out loud at the comment that the Gor series was basically "the same old Judeo-Christian-Islamic crap, this time dressed in Conan's underpants."
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From:anomali
Date:March 27th, 2011 07:12 am (UTC)
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giggle
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From:rjgrady
Date:March 27th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC)
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"This also got me thinking about the entire idea that libertarianism is essentially about a longing for a (largely mythic) vision of the US almost a century ago and longer – the Wild West, rags-to-riches Horatio Alger stories, and similar myths. This also explains (at least to me) why there is such a strong correlation between these views and various sorts of regressive gender views and misogyny – those are part of the same mythic nostalgia package."

I'd say your view of the "essential" quality of Libertarianism is inaccurate. The essence of libertarianism, if it has one, at least in the USA, is Jeffersonian democracy. I have never held a nostalgia for "by your bootstraps" stories. I was a libertarian because I believed in political non-coercion, because I was anti-nationalist, and because at one time I held a view that capitalism was highly productive. Since that time I have revised my view of capitalism. I still consider myself basically a libertarian, but I am the farthest thing from a Calvin Coolidge-worshipping paleocon. There are many within libertarianism, considered broadly, who are what you suppose libterarianism to be, but they do not embody it. Back when I was a Libertarian I conversed withpeople of many political leanings, not just naive anarch-capitalists, corporatists, and states rights crypto-archconservatives.

As the libertarian agenda has been co-opted substantially by the Tea Party and an increasingly apolitical ACLU, what remains is that which is distinctive to it. In contrast to conservatives, a modern libertarian is likely to be environmentally green, pro-local autonomy, anti-domestic surveillance, anti-war, pro-free speech, pro-government transparency. Libertarians are not Wild West nostalgics, but in many respects, futurists of a future that never took off.
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From:heron61
Date:March 29th, 2011 08:12 am (UTC)
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I suspect you are completely correct for that subset of libertarians who are also SF&F-fans, but I'd also be willing to bet that most are not. In the US at least, the appeal of the past is considerably greater than the appeal of the future, and I'd be surprised if this wasn't also the case among most libertarians.

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