Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land: Part 2- Water Brothers

"This brother wanted him to place his whole body in the water of life. No such honor had ever come to him; to the best of his knowledge and belief no one had ever before been offered such a holy privilege. Yet he had begun to understand that these others did have greater acquaintance with the stuff of life… a fact not yet grokked but which he had to accept."
-Stranger in a Strange Land

[Cover art (by James Warhola) for Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein]

I have recently finished reading Robert Heinlein's cult classic Stranger in a Strange Land and I hope the rest of his work is as good as this. Stranger in a Strange Land is one man's journey from the nest of his birth to the nest of his origins and the fire this young Prometheus brings to humanity. He is man yet he thinks in Martian. He is what we can become if we follow this 20th century Moses to the Promise Land. Only time will tell if humanity will be able to grok Valentine Michael Smith as fully Martian and fully man.

Part 1: Grokking in Fullness
Part 3: Thou Art God

::Possible Spoilers Ahead::

Discovering and dwelling within the unity that Michael brings to humanity is a core principal to his teaching. This unity is expressed mainly in the sharing of water. Water is used as a symbol of unity and life on Mars because of its scarcity on the red planet. By sharing water they acknowledge the life force that flows through them as they grow closer to one another. As water brothers they grok that they are connected to their divine source and to each other. To harm your brother is to harm yourself, likewise to share your brother is to share yourself. All that groks is God and in this unity there is no death except for discorporation (death) of your physical shell. The Old Ones on Mars, those who have discorporated, still exist in some form and pass on wisdom to those that are still living. They are not what we would call ghosts but have returned to the plane of existence before birth, The Source. I guess it is a similar concept to the Force in the Star Wars saga, those who have died become a part of the Force and impart wisdom from beyond the grave.

Uncomfortable yet? Well, for those unfamiliar with the book, it gets worse. Ritual cannibalism, communal living, and group sex are used to help water brothers grow closer with each other. I'm sure dozens of mental red flags have already shot up but I'm not condoning these actions nor can I justify them in any way in OUR society. What I believe Heinlein has raised is the question on whether or not the Judeo-Christian ethical code is working effectively for humanity and if our problems are "rooted in the code itself rather in the failure to abide by it" (Stranger in a Strange Land, Ch. 33).
"The code says, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.' The result? Reluctant chastity, adultery, jealousy, bitterness, blows and sometimes murder, broken homes and twisted children — and furtive little passes degrading to woman and man. Is this Commandment ever obeyed? If a man swore on his own Bible that he refrained from coveting his neighbor's wife because the code forbade it, I would suspect either self-deception or subnormal sexuality. Any man virile enough to sire a child has coveted many women, whether he acts or not.
"Now comes Mike and says: 'There is no need to covet my wife... love her! There's no limit to her love, we have everything to gain — and nothing to lose but fear and guilt and hatred and jealousy.' The proposition is incredible. (Ch.33, Pg. 366)
It does sound like Mike's "church" has thrown out all of humanity's ethics and morals to the wind. But it is their unity, their brotherhood that keeps the sinful nature of man in check and raises man's consciousness to a higher plane. There is no reason to hurt, maim, kill, or even oppress your water brother or anyone for that matter because all that groks is God. To some this may seem a bit too inclusive.

Love everything and everyone? But there's got to be something I'm allowed to hate, telemarketers maybe?

At first Michael winks his attackers out of existence based on grokking the wrongness of the person (his attackers struck his water brother, Jill). This superhuman sense acts as Michael's moral compass throughout the book, but his biggest hurdle was to learn what it is to be human. When he discovers what makes us human, our shared suffering, Michael devotes his life to removing suffering from the human experience through his Martian teachings.

Michael, our young Prometheus, has opened the path to understand one another to the point where you begin to lose where you end and everything else begins through grokking (click here for part 1 on Grokking). By grokking the universe and our place in it we begin to automatically function FOR one another in harmony instead of AGAINST in disharmony. We would put our complete trust in our water brothers, because why would the left hand tell a lie to the right? Even if lying to another water brother were possible both would grok that it was a lie because both have reached a pinnacle of understanding/knowing one another as if they were one person.

Of course this is a work of science fiction but I do hope that we find a way to grow closer to each other and learn to purge our inner demons without the need to purge our fallible brethren or even have our God do it for us (Sheep from the Goat, the unsaved, those who do not follow the "True" faith, etc). I believe it's fine to believe in Judgment Day and the hereafter, but let us also seek to improve societal relationships here on Earth so that our children may be given the chance to grok the universe.


Gos said...


I am a longtime fan of Heinlein, and I was reading SIASL back when I was a Fundamentalist Christian -- I have Heinlein to thank for being the first to show me a better way.

I have disappointing news for you: SIASL is far and away the best book that Heinlein ever wrote.

Though it stands head and shoulders above the rest of his extensive catalogue of works, if you liked SIASL you'll probably also like "Friday", "Job: A Comedy of Justice", and "Starship Troopers". (Don't be fooled by that cheesy Hollywood crapheap of a film -- the book is one of the most thought-provoking treatises on the politics of war that I've ever read. I was disgusted by what the film's producers had done to one of my favorite books.)

Heinlein was also a master of short stories. One of my favorites is "By His Bootstraps", originally published under the pseudonym "Anson MacDonald". I read it a long time before I knew who the author was, but once I found out that it was Heinlein, it seemed to me like I should have seen it -- I have yet to read a more excellent presentation of time travel paradoxes in a work of fiction.

So feel free to enjoy Heinlein -- he wrote a lot of really good stuff. However, don't get your hopes up about finding an equal to "Stranger in a Strange Land" among his other works -- He wrote some good stuff, but none of it compares to SIASL.

--- Gos

Gos said...

One more recommendation: After taking some time to digest SIASL, read it again. Repeat until you grok the fullness, or until you discorporate, whichever comes first.

SIASL is one of those books that's like an onion -- it's got layer after layer of meaning, and each time you read it you pick up on something that you hadn't noticed before. I've been reading it for nearly 25 years now (though less frequently in recent years), and I still pick up on something new once in a while.

Again, far and away Heinlein's best work, bar none.

--- Gos

Eruesso said...

Gos, thanks for the bittersweet comment. I'm currently reading Methuselah's Children and I just picked up Job, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls from a local bookstore. That's a bit of a let down because I was absolutely blown away by SIASL and I was hoping that the rest of his work would too. Well, like you said I could always go back to his masterpiece and peel away at a few more layers.

Thanks again,


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