“For Us, The Living” By Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein and I often agree. I felt he took it a little far in the case of Lazarus Long and the dissertation on why incest is totally fine and not weird at all. That said, his entire argument is to prove that an ethical code dictated by feelings is unjust and ineffective.

In “For Us, The Living” he outlines his very first set of thoughts and ideas. I remember asking my father once why the economy had to grow? Why, exactly, was it necessary to grow instead of reaching equilibrium? His answer was unsatisfactory but I was only around ten at the time so I didn’t think much of it. Now, I have a better sense for at least some economic ideas.

Heinlein’s ideas around sex have always jived with mine. He is a live and let live type, a proponent of the kind of free love I’d like to see in the world. He feels that uncontrolled jealousy is a symptom of an imbalanced and insecure individual, that relationships come and go as people desire them, that only when sexual relationships are truly free will women truly achieve equality, and many other currently peculiar ideas around sex. I say currently peculiar because they are only really well accepted in communes, large cities, and the occasional enlightened couple here and there. The free love and 100% consent movement is popular both in Seattle and in my political circles so it’s not particularly unusual to me, but it is to a lot of other people.

For Us, The Living, is a novel only in the loosest sense. It’s done far better than Atlas Shrugged but runs along the same lines: plot and characters are there to provide a platform from which the author espouses their ideas. Things happen once or twice but mostly people sit and talk. They are also, of course, impossibly successful and happy, despite what we know of human nature.

I am a proponent of a universal basic income and universal health care because wouldn’t it be incredible if those content to putter in their gardens didn’t fear for their lives and those who wished to take huge risks to benefit their communities weren’t risking life and home? Wouldn’t it be a better world if people didn’t go hungry and have to live on the streets? Sure, some people would choose to do so, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was a choice and not circumstance?

These things become more personal to me in the context of my work. It is important to most of my clients and I’d say a minimum of half of all clients that their provider enjoy their work. One argument against sex work in general is that it’s not truly chosen work, it’s forced by circumstance. I have many thoughts on that idea but the relevant one is this: wouldn’t it be nice if we knew that our provider didn’t have to be there? She wasn’t going to lose her home or her kids or her freedom if she chose not to see you as a client or chose another line of work because her universal basic income was enough to pay for food, clothing, and shelter. Therefor, you can be very sure that she wants to be there, with you, and could walk away at any time. That’s one of the reasons people come to me, I think. Because it’s clear that I am happy and healthy and that I have other options and that if I was unhappy in the moment with you, I could safely leave.

Of course sex isn’t the only thing Heinlein covers in his first novel. I mentioned economics earlier. I’m not a student of economics other than one class my Senior year so I didn’t always follow his arguments. They all sound reasonable on the surface and I would love to have someone who was an expert in current economics give me some thoughts because I just feel that I’m missing something. There must be a reason why we don’t do more prosocial economic engineering other than ‘rich powerful people keep us from doing it.’ That’s too easy. But Heinlein’s arguments, made through the mouths of his characters, make enough sense that I need someone to come walk me through them.

Economics, sex, and social responsibility. In the 2089 of Heinlein’s United States, no one hits anyone else, no one goes to jail, no one is so angry or jealous that they harm another and it all seems to work out ok. They treat violence as a mental health condition and sit you down to discuss and educate your way out of it. Not in a Clockwork Orange type of reeducation but in a sit down with smart people and chat with them kind of way, which I love.

One of his characters, near the end, says “It’s the United States in 2089, not a utopia” but any reader knows that a system that works that well for EVERY member of its society is, regardless of flaws, a utopia. That said, it’s one I’d love to try.