How to Pick Future Leaders.

The lines of technical development in the Iskander stories naturally follows some directions different to those considered normal in North American society. Being few in number, the Iskanders recruit almost everyone who expresses an interest in their affairs in order to build up their workforce and train the technical staff needed for the future.

My writing here owes quite a lot to my four and a half years spent working in the Libyan oilfields in the mid-sixties. We hired almost all our Libyan workers straight out of the nearest oasis to where we worked in the desert – it made sense to bring them in on the same trucks that went there to load up with water. When ever we shifted to a different area, we laid off the first crew and hired more from our new area – which also made good political sense, in that we weren’t creating trouble by bringing strangers from afar but were spreading the jobs and money around to the new locals.

We always kept a few of our better qualified cadre, who joined our city workforce’s tent and provided some continuity. My survey driver, Ali, was one of those I kept on. He’d never been to school, but was not completely uneducated because a brother was a school teacher. He was also really sharp and picked up new things quicker than many of our city imports. With every new intake we would find some complete ‘innocents’, meeting western ideas and technology for the first time, who would develop into capable workers and prove that lack of formal education was no mark of incompetence.

In fact, the rest of the workers, who did not distinguish themselves in any way acted that way out of a refusal to accept new ideas – not because they were incapable of learning new ideas. The majority worked as little as they had to and had no interest beyond making a few Libyan pounds to take home on their time off. They also saved a portion of their rations, mostly canned goods – sardines in particular – that they hauled home to feed their families. The departure of the loaded ‘rest leave’ truck was always something of an event. We had a mutual compact that allowed them to tolerate our foreign ways as long as we didn’t require them to change theirs.

The lesson I gained for this was that everyone could do a good job if they wished, and their limitations often depended only upon the degree to which they could be motivated. The old joke from the USSR comes to mind about the workers there. “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” How many workplaces do we see here, where the same attitude prevails?

What my Iskanders offer to their recruits is a world beyond the dreams of most lower class people in 17th century Gaian society. Motivation is a given. Similarly the willingness of the Iskanders to reward effort by bonuses and further education keeps their workers, who may be right out of the ‘sticks’ or recruited from the slums of the cities, both loyal and hard working. Everyone must learn to read and write, which would be unheard of in native Gaian society. The factory workers all start at the bottom, but can advance as far as they are able with the free night school courses designed to produce a better educated workforce capable of undertaking new, more advanced projects. Soldiers might start out as raw recruits, unless they’ve served before – even as mercenaries – but the route to promotion lies in their learning their jobs well, and always developing the skills of the men they serve with. The best old soldiers develop from many years experience in the ranks.

I have always been a strong believer that any nation’s greatest wealth lies in its people, not its resources or its finances. True capital comes from the energy of the people. Financial wealth is only so much decoration unless put to work, and anything expended on show, fads, and pomposity is wasted. One of the most valuable tasks riches can facilitate is the increase of skill and knowledge. The workforce, the electorate, the home makers, the middle classes, and the leaders should all be encouraged to fulfill themselves by developing their understanding. The idea, prevalent in our society, that a higher education should be bought by the students and paid for over many years as they settle large student loans strikes me as the most foolish excess in a society of many excesses.

Would one send an army to war and expect the soldiers to buy their own ammunition? Then why expect the society’s brightest to saddle themselves with huge liabilities when they should be free to expend their energies on furthering their crafts and professions? There should be only one way into further education, and that is by proven ability and the degree of application gained from self discipline. Only scholarships should open the door to advancement, and they should be gained by competitive examinations and careful character evaluations. China, where the brightest took such exams to enter the mandarin class, ran this way successfully for thousands of years. Predicating education on ability to pay leads only to the kinds of mediocrity and incompetence our financial ‘wizards’ have demonstrated.

It’s a pity I can only institute such policies on my own world within my novels.


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2 Responses to “How to Pick Future Leaders.”

  1. joylene Says:

    I think that’s part of the fantasy of writing, changing things so they work out or at least turn out better.

    Fascinating post, Chris. I never grow tired of hearing how other writers build their stories. Influences from every aspect of life makes all of us write unique stories, I think. Even if the themes are done a 100 times over.

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