RENO, NEVADA – Eytan Kollin was working at an inner city public school in Los Angeles, teaching economics, when he discovered something: his students had an occasional tendency to be absolutely brilliant – and depressingly ignorant – at the same time.
“I noticed that these kids were pretty freaking smart,” he said. “And I noticed this by starting a chess club.”
The students not only took to the game, but proved to be enormously gifted at playing it, with strategic moves that he found to be highly advanced and clever. At the same time, the students showed virtually no aptitude for other tasks – including such basics as math and reading.
When it came to playing chess, “These kids were brilliant – and they couldn’t do fractions,” Kollin said. “They just had no basic comprehension of reading or math. They weren’t stupid. They were ignorant.”
The real problem, he said, wasn’t so much the students, but the school system that got entrusted with their care and education.
The school, he said, was a government function designed to be there for the betterment of his students, and was clearly failing them, Kollin said.
That made him wonder if the problem was a failure of large-scale government to accomplish its goals. What if the entire system was changed?
“I decided there was an economic solution, and that was a ruthless form of economic capitalism,” he said. “What if you had true capitalism? Would it work?”
Eytan Kollin took his ideas to his brother, Dani, who at the time was working in advertising. Eytan Kollin proposed they take his concept, and turn it into a science fiction novel that explores his notion about allowing ruthless capitalism to govern, rather than the government, and see what happens.
“He gave me a pile of stuff he had scribbled,” Dani Kollin said. “I said, ‘Let me look at your ideas and see if we can work on this.’ And one of his ideas was the unincorporated man, which I thought was brilliant.”
It was also the start of the brothers’ first book in a four part series, titled “The Unincorporated Man.” Published in April 2010, the book is about a future society where every individual is formed into a legal corporation at birth, and people spend years trying to get control of their life by obtaining a majority of his or her shares.
“It’s 300 years in the future, and everything looks perfect,” Eytan Kollin said. “There is no hunger. There is no poverty. Everyone has a job. Everyone has a home. You have 40 billion educated, content, profitable people.”
What they don’t have, though, is absolute freedom. They have to use their shares to buy education, rather than using money. They are very much like stocks on the financial markets, and they can lose shares as well.
“There is a problem in the system where people can lose 70 percent of their shares,” Eytan Kollin said.
Then a billionaire businessman who secretly got frozen in the early 21st century is discovered by this new society, and given health and a stronger, younger body. Justin Cord is the only unincorporated man in the world – and one who refuses to accept the concept of having part ownership of himself.
“They find a cryogenic capsule with a man in it,” Eytan Kollin said. “He is the only human being who is not incorporated. He is the last free man on the planet, and the system is not prepared to handle it.”
So Justin Cord rebels.
“How can you not own a majority of yourself?” Dani Kollin said. “There’s a different definition of freedom for him.”
So what’s preferable – to have complete and total freedom, and with it the risk that you might not be able to afford an education, find a job, or obtain housing? Or to have the government provide all that’s needed for a normal existence – but at the same time sacrificing your basic freedoms in return for that safety net?
And is ruthless capitalism the answer, Eytan Kollin asked.
“There is one word that is the problem with capitalism,” he said. “The problem with capitalism is its amorality. Not immorality — capitalism is not immoral. But the goal is profit. If you can make a profit out of killing everyone, it will do so. It is not evil. It’s saying, ‘Hey, I have a way to make a buck.’ “
“Capitalism cares, but it cares about the profit,” Dani Kollin added.
The first book won the Prometheus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the year. The brothers followed it up with “The Unincorporated War” and “The Unincorporated Woman,” and the fourth and final book in the series, “The Unincorporated Future,” will be released on Aug. 21.
The brothers talked about their series at the 2012 Annual Gathering of American Mensa, held at the Silvery Legacy hotel in Reno.
“What we use the magic world of science fiction for is you can distill these issues into a single story to make your point,” Eytan Kollin said.
“The Unincorporated Man” series questions whether people have sacrificed their freedom for comfort. Justin Cord challenges that entire concept of an incorporated society, the authors said.
“It’s not ‘The Emperor has no clothes,’ it’s we all have no clothes – and this guy shows up in a suit,“ Eytan Kollin said.
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