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Arthur's Bio

"Some of the academics
I'm friends with simply don't listen to
other viewpoints. They have closed
minds and it's so important that highly intelligent
people also have a creative
imagination... Luckily most do"

"At that time I hadn't heard of CJD. The virus was entirely fictional but the syndrome the retarded girl suffered from was real enough."

I was curious about the characters Herzog had created - not just Healey, who can be seen as the model scientist, the 'good guy', but also his colleague Wallon and his boss, Herman Herrmann. In a way Healey could easily be another Linus Pauling who, though cherishing his high IQ, was essentially modest.

Wallon, however, though with a similar IQ, can be seen as the maverick type, with a tendency to arrogance and whose flawed personality actually led to the accident that nearly brought civilization to its knees. Herrmann, with the highest IQ of all, was also the most arrogant and might have been based on someone like Teller or Oppenheimer. I asked Herzog whether the arrogant scientist could become a danger to society.

"Well, positions of power are often occupied by people with high IQs, but I'm not sure whether research scientists should be immediately responsible to the public who pay their salaries. They should value independence. But it's true that a powerful and arrogant scientist can be dangerous. In IQ83 Herrmann's flaw leads to his downfall. And certainly some of the academics I'm friends with simply don't listen to other viewpoints. They have closed minds and it's so important that highly intelligent people also have a creative imagination. Luckily, most do."

So far, I hadn't tackled Herzog on what I believed to be the moral thrust of his novel, which was that an elite of highly intelligent scientists and technologists had developed Western society to a point where the sudden loss of that expertise could bring society to the edge of destruction.

This was neither a criticism of scientific progress or the values of Western civilization, but perhaps it did ask us to reconsider our own attitudes towards the inexorable march of intellect, as it were. But Herzog seemed unwilling to endorse my view. Perhaps novelists, unlike thesis writers and TV pundits, don't want to be seen as preachers. Or perhaps there was another message?

"Read it as you want - I don't preach. I suppose my inner self speaks for me. But I do feel that the U.S. might veer towards democratic fascism - rule by the stupid, led by the unscrupulous. After all, the Government tries to use the 'stupid sickness' for its own ends. If I had a message to deliver that would be it. One hundred and fifty years ago de Tocqueville warned us against this possibility in his Democracy in America. And now such an outcome seems more likely than ever.

"I explore this issue in my latest novel, The Face of Things to Come, which begins with a quote from the recently published Vision of Politics in which Alan Ryan talks about the 'soft despotism' feared by de Tocqueville in which 'manipulative elites use a mixture of economic blandishments and military adventures to distract and stupify a mass public'. In Ryan's eyes 'anti-democracy' was a distinct possibility. Totalitarian governments frighten me and I feel that worries about terrorism may jeopardize civil rights. In my book the threat is from electronic fascism in the shape of surveillance, but for dramatic reasons I made the danger far more grim than we have any reason to expect."

And recently completed books? What could he reveal ?

"I've just written a crime thriller called The Third State and Icetopia, which is about a failed military experiment.

"Body Parts is a collection of 32 short stories built around a central theme. And in The Town that Moved to Mexico a shallow earthquake slides a town full of bigots south of the border. The Mexicans then label them illegal immigrants! It's a neat reversal."

Finally, in view of the present world crisis and the threat of war with Iraq, did Herzog believe that we had become more stupid in the past 25 years ? It certainly looked that way.

"In my opinion we haven't got smarter since 1978. We are still in thrall to pop culture, which I find boring because it offers no challenges to the intellect.

"And here in the U.S. mass hysteria seems more likely now than ever before. Our stores have run out of duct tape.

"The government has alarmed people too much. If we all catch smallpox I shall be proved wrong. But people should certainly think for themselves, and that includes the Arabs."

 

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