Old Frank Herbert Interview

Go, go Gadget Google Alert!

Every now and then, Google Alert turns up something interesting. Today’s tidbit is a 1981 interview with Frank Herbert, author of Dune. The interview was done by ecology magazine Mother Earth News so the interview contains social commentary (about ecology, terrorism, family values, government and politics) as well as answers to questions about his books.

Some interesting bits:

PLOWBOY: There must be a lot of folks-including many who call themselves environmentalists-who aren’t in agreement with your thinking about the relation between humans and ecology.

HERBERT: Yes, there certainly are. Too many ecologically concerned individuals seem to think that simply getting rid of one noxious environmental pollutant-whether that “culprit” be nuclear power, commercial pesticides, or whatever-will solve all our problems.

PLOWBOY: I wouldn’t think that most science fiction writers share your concerns, either.

HERBERT: The bulk of science fiction authors-and there are some notable exceptions to this rule-are heavily into what I call the technological toy syndrome.

Writers and scientists who believe that technology alone can solve problems have fallen into a common scientific fallacy . . . the belief that science can answer any question in absolute terms, that it’s possible to reduce phenomena to one explanation that will operate in a vacuum. That’s not the way the universe appears to me. And it quite clearly didn’t appear that way to Albert Einstein or Werner Heisenberg, either.

PLOWBOY: You feel that Kennedy was dangerous and Nixon was good for the country?

HERBERT: Yes, Nixon taught us one hell of a lesson, and I thank him for it. He made us distrust government leaders. We didn’t mistrust Kennedy the way we did Nixon, although we probably had just as good reason to do so. But Nixon’s downfall was due to the fact that he wasn’t charismatic. He had to be sold just like Wheaties, and people were disappointed when they opened the box.

I think it’s vital that men and women learn to mistrust all forms of powerful, centralized authority. Big government tends to create an enormous delay between the signals that come from the people and the response of the leaders. Put it this way: Suppose there were a delay time of five minutes between the moment you turned the steering wheel on your car and the time the front tires reacted. What would happen in such a case?

HERBERT: We’ve opened up the Pandora’s box of violent technology. We’re fast approaching a time when one person can make and employ instruments of violence equal to the ones formerly reserved only to massive governments.

Let’s face it, our society has a tiger by the tail in technology. We can’t let go. We can’t all go back to the farm and be selfsufficient. There isn’t enough land to do so, for one thing. Furthermore, people’s expectations for their lifestyles have been raised . . . and you don’t monkey around with human expectations. So what we need is a new way of relating to our society and its tools. And it was in an attempt to envision just such a change that, some 15 years ago, I coined the phrase “technopeasantry”.

PLOWBOY: How could a small group back up such a threat . . . with atomics?

HERBERT: Pshaw! There are weapons much more dangerous than nuclear devices . . . things like contagious diseases that can’t be cured, or substances that can be slipped into food—and water—supply chains in order to sterilize large populations.

And the often-touted concept of world government could in no way handle such terrorism, because that particular dream suffers from what must be one of the few immovable laws of the universe . . . the basic truth that the more you try to control, the more there is that needs to be controlled.