Hello again, my friends!
It is with a sad heart that I must recount the passing of Dr. Jerry Pournelle, author, journalist and political scientist. I will not retell his accomplishments, bibliography or biography here; those who know of him know them well, or can at least reference them. I never met him or even corresponded with him, but nonetheless he affected my life.
Dr. Pournelle turned me into an adult.
Oh, one could argue that US Army Basic Training turned me into a ‘man’, for what that’s worth, by whatever out-dated definition one uses these days if one needs it. Certainly by most legal definitions I became an ‘adult’ as well once I signed the enlistment contract and raised my right hand to ‘swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States’ etc. But Dr. Pournelle helped me go one better; he helped me become a political ‘adult’.
In the society in which I grew up, there is no single definition of what being an ‘adult’ means anymore. We males don’t put on our father’s armor and take up his sword and shield and march with the hoplites or the legionnaires; it’s not when we kidnap our first ‘wife’, or kill our first man in battle. Females don’t become automatically ‘adult’ here when they marry or give birth or even have their first menses. Our society is somewhat more complicated these days than those examples from the Ancient world.
These days, where I live, we become ‘adult’ through an ill-defined progression of milestones; we go to ‘Prom’, we get a driver’s license or ID, we get old enough to vote and join military service (only if we want to); we get old enough to buy and (legally) consume alcohol and cigarettes; we get old enough to get a credit card and rent cars and/or buy a home or a car of our own; we move away from home; we get married; we have kids–the latter four usually happening in a variable sequence depending on the path our lives take.
Somewhere during that bewildering series of events we’re considered an ‘adult’ whether or not we FEEL like we’re adults. Pretty soon people are calling us ‘Mister’ or ‘Mizz’ Lastname whether we like it or not. I still look around for my Dad whenever someone says ‘Mr. Waterman’.
Anyone over the age of 18 (and being a citizen of the US, at least here in the US) can vote in any election held at any level of government. Many do, though nowhere near a majority. Myself, I never voted until I bought a home 19 years ago at the age of 29. I felt I didn’t have enough of a stake in national or local issues until I owned ‘real’ property and thus had a connection to a community in which I lived and had put down actual roots. A wife and child followed only years later.
Dr. Pournelle’s writing, in his fiction as well as his essays (see the ‘Pournelle Square’, which makes ‘the left’ and ‘the right’ into the false constructs they are), stressed beyond any personal conviction or opinion about any political agenda the fact that people, though having the ability to voice their desires through the franchise of voting, had first best be damned careful about exercising their franchise; and only exercise it when they knew all of the ramifications of their desires and decision–as well as who was asking them to exercise it, and more importantly WHY. Not knowing these contingencies only makes the act of voting essentially whining for one’s impulsive desire; the very thing that demagogues and campaign managers use to sway the ignorant. Dr. Pournelle stressed that any exercise of the franchise meant that the voter HAD to take responsibility for the political outcome–win or lose–even if one had not bothered to vote at all. We are all in this together, whether we liked (or realized) it or not . . .
Many of Dr. Pournelle’s fictional protagonists are soldiers or ex-soldiers, which has caused some of his critics to call him a ‘fascist’ (an overworked term, that!) or at best a conservative militarist ‘hawk’. His own political opinions were immaterial. What Dr. Pournelle understood instead, having been a soldier himself before he obtained a B.S and M.S in Psychology and a Doctorate’s in Political Science, was that soldiers understand the meaning of wielding both violence and being the final word in any nation’s policy, whether as conscripts or volunteers. Soldiers end up deciding who lives or dies out on ‘the sharp end’, and with that ability comes the knowledge–at least for the good ones–what life and death really means. He also conveyed that no one who had that knowledge should ignore its innate moral calculus, nor fail to consider it when making any decision; especially when the citizens of a nation decides who would rule it . . .and at what cost, and for what end.
Thank you, Jerry. You gave me so much more than hundreds of hours of enjoyable reading. You gave me the formulae I needed to understand the decisions I would be asked to make as a voter in the United States. Rest well, thou good servant.
Strive on, my friends.