Saturday, August 17, 2013

Asimov's Foundation: The Meta-Cult?

Above: apparently, the idol of Paul Krugman, Newt Gingrich, and Osama bin Laden. Asimov Aqbar!

Peter Turchin is a historian who has written a book claiming to scientifically predict future history based on past patterns (War and Peace and War); it's no surprise that he is an Asimov fan, and to his credit he gets the reference out of the way quickly. But it's not just psychohistorians who Asimov's work influenced. Newt Gingrich and Paul Krugman are unabashed fans of the Foundation series, crediting it with their inspiration in politics and economics. And it turns out, so was Shoko Asahara, the Tokyo subway nerve gas guy who founded Aum Shinri Kyo, and who wanted to start the real Foundation. There's even speculation that Bin Laden was a fan and that Al Qaeda is his Foundation.

Consequently, when I was reading about Keith Raniere and his cult-like NXIVM in a Forbes article, I almost fell out of my chair when I read: " As a boy he read an Isaac Asimov sci-fi novel about a brilliant scientist who knew his galaxy was in irremediable decline and had reduced all human behavior to elegant mathematical equations. It inspired Raniere later to try to do the same."

What, did old Isaac accidentally write a cult handbook? Maybe L. Ron Hubbard made the mistake of being too overt and should have buried his ideas in fiction! Granted, the idea of an algorithm for building a strong civilization - sort of like the Ten Commandments written in Python - is certainly seductive, but there are lots of seductive ideas in sf that haven't had this degree of influence. (I was reminded of Heinlein when non-naturalized U.S. residents who fought in Iraq were given citizenship immediately upon returning in 2003, but that's the strongest I can think of.) Maybe all these people think they're going to be the Mule, only smarter.

By now I imagine the NSA must have a list of people who check this out of libraries.

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