substantive #2: laws of nature

Among all of the fascinating things Heinlein does in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, one of the things I find most striking is his consistent naturalizing of social relations. By this I mean not that he takes established social conventions and backward-abduces their natural character; that's what a certain kind of conservative does, and Heinlein is certainly no conservative. Instead, what I mean is that Heinlein's fictional world is one in which many of the social conventions that exist have the same status as natural laws -- and are treated as such.

Take, for example, Mannie'e explanation to Stu about precisely what Stu did wrong in making a pass at Tish:

Here we are, two million males, less than one million females. A physical fact, basic as rock or vacuum. Then add idea of tanstaafl. When thing is scarce, price goes up. Women are scarce; aren't enough to go around -- that makes them most valuable thing in Luna, more precious than ice or air . . . women are scarce and call tune . . . and you are surrounded by two million men who see to it that you dance to that tune. You have no choice; she has all choice. (p. 164, emphasis added)

Three very interesting things about this.

1) Heinlein apparently has no problem equating women and ice and air; all are commodities, all are desired, all have a market price. Does this celebrate or denigrate women? Mannie -- and Heinlein, I think -- clearly vote for "celebrate."

2) the scarcity of women seems to have provoked decidedly genteel behavior on the part of the Loonies. Instead of teaming up to exploit their scarce resource, they have collectively abdicated any striving to control all of the women's daily actions -- and thereby disempowered themselves as individuals, at least somewhat. The fact that Luna doesn't turn into a situation where women are sex slaves without rights says something quite striking about Heinlein's view of human nature.

3) The Lunar Revolution, as Heinlein presents it to us, is a matter of natural necessity: the moon is losing resources by shipping grain to Earth, and left unchecked that will of necessity produce food riots, cannibalism, etc. The success of the Revolution isn't foreordained, but the need to have some change in the Earth/moon resource relationship is absolute. If the natural trumps the social this completely, both in the case of the Revolution and in the case of male-female social interaction norms, how much freedom do human beings actually have to modify their circumstances?

Note that we can't answer these questions, particularly the third one, for Heinlein's corpus as a whole by reading only this novel. At the very least we'd need his other great revolution story "If This Goes On --" and probably more works besides. But even within the confines of this novel, I think, there's ample material to use in exploring the issues.

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