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Tuesday, June 22, 2010


This is a description from Heinlein's Number of the Beast of literally his best possible world. Literally because it is where, after checking literally millions of alternative universes, the protagonists elect to settle. (Admittedly they then leave because it is a bit boring.) The society is less scientifically developed than our own but this is a function of the fact that they would be detected in a more developed one - apart from that it is clearly Utopian in a feasible. It comes from the last few pages of section 2 of the book - pp 408 - 412 in my UK edition:

In this analog, the United States (called that, although boundaries differ) is not as smothered in laws, regulations, licensing, and taxes as is our native country. In consequence "illegally entered aliens" do not find it difficult to hide, once they "sling the lingo" and understand local customs.

...This United States, population under a hundred million, accepts immigrants freely...

We seem to be near the warmest part of an interglaciation. Wheat grows where our native world has frozen tundra; the Greenland icecap has vanished; lowlands are under water, coastlines much changed.

Climate and custom encourage light clothing; the preposterous "body modesty" taboo does not exist. Clothing is worn for adornment and for protection- never through "shame." Nakedness is symbolic of innocence-these people derive that symbology from the Bible used in our native culture to justify the exact opposite. The same Bible-I checked. (The Bible is such a gargantuan collection of conflicting values that anyone can "prove" anything from it.)...

The sects here are mostly Christian-on a Saturday morning one sees families headed for church in their finest Sabbath-go-to-meeting clothes. But, since nakedness is symbolic of innocence, they undress in an anteroom to enter their temple unadorned. One need not attend services to see this; the climate favors light, airy structures that are mostly roof and slender columns.

The Bible affects their penal system, again by selective quotation: "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth-"

This results in a fluid code, with no intent to rehabilitate but to make the punishment fit the crime. I saw an example four days after we settled. I was driving our steam wagon and encountered a road block. A policeman told me that I could take a detour or wait twenty minutes; the highway was being used to balance a reckless driver.

I elected to pull over and wait. A man was staked with one leg stretched out at a right angle. A police wagon drove down that cleared highway, ran over his leg, turned and drove back over it.

An ambulance was waiting-but nothing was done for a timed seventeen minutes. Then surgeons amputated on the spot; the ambulance took him away and the block was removed.

I went back to my wagon and shook for many minutes, then returned home, driving cautiously. I didn't tell our family. But it was reported on radio and the evening paper had pictures-so I admitted that I had seen it. The paper noted that the criminal's insurance had been insufficient to cover the court's award to the victim, so the reckless driver had not only lost his left leg (as had his victim) but also had had most of his worldly goods confiscated.

There is no speed limit and traffic regulations are merely advisory-but there are extremely few accidents. I have never encountered such polite and careful drivers.

A poisoner is killed by poison; an arsonist is burned to death. I won't describe what is done to a rapist. But poisoning, arson, and rape are almost unknown.

My encounter with this brutal system of "balancing" almost caused me to think that my dear wife had been mistaken in picking this world-we should move! I am no longer certain. This place has no prisons, almost no crime, and

it is the safest place to raise children I've ever heard of.

We are having to relearn history. "The Years of Rising Waters" explain themselves. The change came before 1600; by 1620 new shorelines had stabilized. That had endless consequences-mass migrations, political disorder, a return of the Black Death, and much immigration from Great Britain and the lowlands of Europe while the waters rose.

Slavery never established here. Indentures, yes-many a man indentured himself to get his family away from doomed land. But the circumstances that could have created "King Cotton" were destroyed by rising waters. There are citizens here of African descent but their ancestors were not slaves. Some have indentured ancestors, no doubt-but everyone claims indentured ancestors even if they have to invent them.

Some aspects of history seem to be taboo. I've given up trying to find out what happened in 1965: "The Year They Hanged the Lawyers." When I asked a librarian for a book on that year and decade, he wanted to know why I needed access to records in locked vaults. I left without giving my name. There is free speech-but some subjects are not discussed. Since they are never defined, we try to be careful.

But there is no category "Lawyers" in the telephone book.

Taxation is low, simple-and contains a surprise. The Federal government is supported by a head tax paid by the States, and is mostly for military and foreign affairs. This state derives most of its revenue from real estate taxes. It is a uniform rate set annually, with no property exempted, not even churches, hospitals, or schools-or roads; the best roads are toll roads. The surprise lies in this: The owner appraises his own property.

There is a sting in the tail: Anyone can buy property against the owner's wishes at the appraisal the owner placed on it. The owner can hang on only by raising his appraisal at once to a figure so high that no buyer wants it- and pay three years back taxes at his new appraisal.

This strikes me as loaded with inequity. What if it's a family homestead with great sentimental value? Zeb laughs at me. "Jake, if anybody wants six hectares of hilly land and second-growth timber, we take the profit, climb into Gay-and buy more worthless land elsewhere. In a poker game, you figure what's in the pot."

Global warming, land value tax & sharia criminal law. Not a man for deferring to political correctness.

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