Study Guide

Stranger in a Strange Land Rules and Order

By Robert A. Heinlein

Rules and Order

Johnson did not hit Jill as hard as he used to hit his wife before she left him, not nearly as hard as he hit prisoners who were reluctant to talk. Until then Smith had shown no expression and had said nothing; he had simply let himself be forced along. He understood none of it and had tried to do nothing at all.

When he saw his water brother struck by this other, he twisted, got free—and reached toward Johnson—

—and Johnson was gone. (8.199-201)

Johnson's job is to enforce the law, the rules. But this scene seems to suggest that a rule is only as righteous as the person enforcing it. Also, Mike requires Johnson to follow the same rules (and punishments) he enforces. All's fair in law and winking people out of existence.

"I never spoke more plainly in my life. Try believing the evidence instead of insisting that the cameras must be at fault because what they saw was not what you expected." (13.75)

Duke won't believe that the box simply disappeared even though the evidence points to that outcome. The rules and orders he perceives as existing in the world just won't allow for the possibility. It's something called the Confirmation Bias, and it's super interesting.

Always look for that happy, holy seal-of-approval with Bishop Digby's smiling face on it. Don't let a sinner palm off on you something 'just as good.' Our sponsors support us; they deserve your support (14.23)

Here we see religion as an institution, rather than spiritual camaraderie. The Church is trying to make a profit off its followers, a big no-no in Mike's Church of All Worlds. But, more important for the theme of "Rules and Order," they are trying to remove the ability of Fosterites to choose for themselves. Digby chooses for them instead.

"I have a warrant to part your hair with a shotgun unless you do things legally and in order! I don't know who you are. […] You must identify yourself, in specified fashion, Word Code paragraph 1602, part II, before you may serve a warrant." (14.205)

Jubal works diligently against rules he feels impose restrictions on individuals and their personal freedoms. How does he do it? From within. He knows the rules forward and backward, changing the system and fighting for his brand of justice from the inside. He's like Batman, only minus the cape and muscles, plus a law degree.

"Democracy is a poor system; the only thing that can be said for it is that it's eight times as good as any other method. Its worst fault is that its leaders reflect their constituents— low level, but what can you expect?" (18.34)

Jubal blames democracy's problems on the fact that it's ruled by the majority through politicians that do what the majority wants. The only change available in such a system is the change the majority actually wants.

And now (he felt sure) Mike was about to be treated as a sovereign by those nabobs—with the world watching. Let 'em try to roust the boy around after this! (19.132)

More important than Mike actually being a sovereign is that the rules of the system recognize him as a sovereign. For all intents and purposes, it's the same thing.

"A prude thinks that his own rules of propriety are natural laws." (33.37)

And if the prudes are the majority from quote 5? Then what?

"But mostly [philosophers] debate how we can be made to obey this code—ignoring the evidence that most tragedies they see around them are rooted in the code itself rather than in failures to abide by it." (33.85)

Jubal doesn't think that debating about why we obey the rules is important if the rules are crooked from the get-go. Better to not waste energy there and, instead, work to construct new rules.

"Wherein lies the conflict, sir? Killing a man may be necessary. But confining him is an offense against his integrity—and your own." (35.144)

Jubal argues that rules confining a man are wrong, but killing a man for an offense may be the correct course of action. Do you think this lends itself to rule and order? Or is it the opposite: anarchy?

"My failures so greatly out-number my successes that I wonder if full grokking will show that I am on the wrong track—that this race must be split up, hating each other, fighting, constantly unhappy and at war even with their own individual selves… simply to have that weeding out that every race must have" (36.167).

Mike wonders if it is impossible to change the rules of society because the rules of nature (survival of the fittest) supersede them. That is, humanity can't change because our nature, or nature on a grander scale, won't allow it.