Monday, November 25, 2002

I now discover that Paul Krugman was also inspired by Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series .

After reading Isaac Asimov's classic Foundation novels, he nurtured a secret desire to be one of Asimov's "psychohistorians"--futuristic social scientists who could predict the course of human history. At Yale during the 1970s, he did the next best thing, majoring in economics under the tutelage of economist William Nordhaus.

I am still not sure what this proves, other than that it seems that the secret desire to become a member of a semi-secret quasiscientific ruling elite who get to guide humanity for its best interests is something that appeals to a lot of people at some point.I think it may be the fact that Asimov presented the psychohistorians, who were fundamentally autocratic, as so reasonable, and so good. As the books go on, I think it is clear that Asimov himself was becoming a little uncomfortable with this fact. This is the case by the end of the original trilogy, written in the late 1940s. The first parts of Foundation were written before the second World War, the later parts during and after. That may have been a factor. It is certainly the case that his view had changed by the time he wrote the series of sequels he wrote in the 1980s, which (as discussed in question 19C of this FAQ ) are sadly not as good as the earlier books.

That said, pointing out a high profile, law abiding Asimov reader on the political left makes me feel somewhat better. In the previous posting, I mentioned that Brother Asahara, Osama bin Laden and Newt Ginchrich were all apparently inspired by Foundation . Two of these people are homicidal fanatics, but the third is as far as I know a law abiding citizen, who is unlikely be flattered by the comparison. Attempting to smear your political opponents by comparing them to much more extreme figures than they are is a time honoured tactic, but not one I am fond of. However, it was possible I could be acused of doing this. This was certainly not my intention. I simply find the number of high-profile Asimov readers to be interesting.

(I am now getting visions of some future historian looking at an archive of this blog from a few decades in the future writing that "It is interesting to see that even before Michael Jennings launched his ill fated campaign for global power, he too was a fan of Asimov's Foundation series. It is curious how influential those books came to be. This does perhaps explain, however, why he insisted on the job title 'First Citizen of the Galaxy'". To be truthful, I was a big Asimov fan in my teens, and looking back at his work now, I find that some of his books hold up better than others. The Foundation Trilogy (particularly Foundation and Empire , the second book) holds up pretty well, but it is not and never was my favourite of his books. (That honour goes to The Gods Themselves , I think). In retrospect, I think Arthur C Clarke's work holds up much better. I think Clarke is the greater writer, and subscribes to what ultimately is a more attractive form of humanism.

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