K-Selection in “The Dosadi Experiment”

Frank Herbert’s novel “The Dosadi Experiment”, The_Dosadi_Experimentpublished in 1977, is second only to his 1966 novel “Dune”. It is a deeper exploration of the effects of hyper-competitive K-selecting environments on societies. I consider Frank Herbert to be a great science fiction author, and without a doubt, the greatest author of what I’d call ‘social science fiction’. If you haven’t read “Dosadi”, I highly recommend it (and you may want to stop reading this article; it contains spoilers). Reading the inferior prequel, “The Whipping Star”, is optional.

In “The Whipping Star”, Herbert introduces the Bureau of Sabotage (or BuSab). It acts as a watchdog over government power, originating as a terrorist organization before becoming a legitimate branch of government. From the Wikipedia article:

Sometime in the far future, government becomes terrifyingly efficient. Red tape no longer exists. Laws are conceived of, passed, funded, and executed within hours, rather than months. The bureaucratic machinery becomes a juggernaut, rolling over human concerns and welfare with terrible speed, jerking the universe one way, then another, threatening to destroy everything in a fit of spastic reactions. In short, the speed of government goes beyond sentient control.

BuSab began as a terrorist organization whose sole purpose was to frustrate the workings of government in order to give sentients a chance to reflect upon changes and deal with them. Having saved sentiency from its government, BuSab was officially recognized as a necessary check on the power of government. It provides a natural (and lucrative) outlet for society’s regular crop of troublemakers, who must be countered by society’s regular crop of “do-gooders”.

First a corps, then a bureau, BuSab gained legally recognized powers to interfere in the workings of any world, of any species, of any government or corporation, answerable only to themselves. Their motto is, “In Lieu of Red Tape.”

Forbidden from committing acts of sabotage against private citizens, BuSab acts as a monitor of, and a conscience for, the collective sentiency, watching for signs of anti-sentient behavior by corporate or government entities and preserving the dignity of individuals. Some essential functions of government are immune from BuSab by statute. BuSab is opposed by such organizations as the “Tax Watchers” who have successfully lobbied to grant themselves the same immunity from BuSab enjoyed by agencies such as public utilities.

Note how BuSab is focused on protecting individual rights from government and corporate abuse, much as the US constitution attempts to. The way BuSab prevents itself from becoming bloated is via institutionalized competition:

BuSab monitors even itself and employs sabotage to prevent the agency from slipping into hidebound stasis. Agents are promoted to the head of the organization by successfully sabotaging the Secretary. By the same token, there is no term limit imposed on the Secretary of the Bureau of Sabotage. As long as he is alert enough to avoid being sabotaged, he remains qualified to lead BuSab.

In “The Dosadi Experiment”, Herbert envisions an experiment on a colossal scale to determine the impact of living in an incredibly hostile environment. While the Fremen and the Sardukar in his novel “Dune” are examples of races honed by living in extremely K-selective environments, Dosadi takes the idea to a far greater extreme:

Generations ago, a secret, unauthorized experiment by the Gowachin [an amphibious alien race] was carried out with the help of a contract with the Calebans [powerful inter-dimensional beings]. They isolated the planet Dosadi behind an impenetrable barrier called “The God Wall”. On the planet were placed humans and Gowachin, with an odd mix of modern and old technology. The planet itself is massively poisonous except for a narrow valley, containing the city “Chu”, into which nearly 89 million humans and Gowachin are crowded under terrible conditions. It is ruled by a dictator, many other forms of government having been tried previously. The culture of ordinary day-to-day power in Dosadi is very violent. Among other tools, addictive psychotropics are used for handling power among hierarchies in organizations.

It is hard to imagine a more competitive environment, and indeed, it creates people of almost superhuman intellect:

A born troublemaker, Jorj McKie [the protagonist] finds BuSab to be a natural outlet for his tendencies. But McKie’s success as a BuSab agent is really the result of a formidable intelligence and an exquisite sensitivity to the traditions of other races combined with the ability to adapt to any circumstances. However, when sent by the agency to Dosadi as their “best”, he is like an infant in swaddling clothes in comparison to a people honed by fifteen generations of violence.”

Much the same way that the legions of the Fremen rampage across the galaxy at the end of “Dune”, spreading the cult of Muad-dib, the Dosadi are freed at the end of the novel:

By legal maneuvering, the Dosadi population is unleashed upon the ConSentiency for good or ill, whilst the people who set the project in motion try to deal with the consequences, having sent McKie there hoping a solution more in their interest could be found.

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About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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