Starship Troopers is a dumb action movie about beautiful people in combat gear shooting on monsters with spaceships and explosions. Starship Troopers is also a book, from which the movie is loosely based, which also includes people (but mostly men) in combat gear (but mechs, not just whimsy uniforms) shooting at monsters (but humanoids, or very smart) with spaceships and explosions. From the difference between these two artifacts, there’s something that we can reflect on.

That being said, the book is arguably very different from the movie, since it mostly consists in the exposition of a militaristic vision of future society through the eyes of the hero, and his various teachers, trainers, and officers. This has been source of major criticisms, regarding the book as militarist, fascist, utopic, racist and sexist1, and Paul Verhoeven created the film as a satire of the book, where society is openly fascist, manipulates images, and pays dearly for its arrogance.

The book introduces a pretty simple concept: only citizens are enfranchised, and you have to serve a term in the military to become a citizen. According to the book, this rectified the society, since people capable of serving their term are proving that they can put the common good before their own2.

You can consider a representative democracy as a closed system:

The system takes existing policy as input, and produces modified policy as output. Its controller is composed of the elected corpus, the feedback loop is composed of the enfranchised, which impact either the composition of the corpus, or their stance if they want to get re-elected.

System controls the rest of the system: treasure, military, police, education, and so forth.


What Heinlein introduces is a change in the feedback loop. Given the assumptions illustrated above (citizens place the common good before their own), the cycle becomes virtuous, and society improves. The book describes in great details how a recruit didn’t have the common good as the core motivation of staying in the infantry training, tried to suffer through it, and then snapped and got dismissed.

What is very interesting in the movie, when we think of that premise, is the scene of the shower. Recruits go over the reasons why they enrolled. One wants to have a baby and citizens get permits faster. One wants to go into politics and you have to be a citizen. One didn’t like being a farmer. One isn’t rich enough to go to Harvard, and the federation will pay if he’s a citizen. One followed a girl. All personal reasons, all willing to suffer through harsh training and potentially fatal service to achieve personal designs.

Heinlein tried to fix a system by changing the feedback loop, and programmed it with a single proxy metric (serve in the army) that was supposed to reflect intent (care about common good). Verhoeven shows you how that system can be gamed to bypass its intent.

And that is the far-fetch conclusion I was aiming at: this is a very good example of XXXXX . Need to scream the intent (H went from intent to system, V took the intent and gamed it)

Bonus round: it could not work in real life

Dictator’s handbook ![]…

System with media ![]… everything’s rigged


  1. Let’s not forget that the book was written in 1959, when only white people were guaranteed voting rights. Society was still a bit crazy back then. Everything is right and fine now. 

  2. In the book’s reality, veterans are not smarter, not more honest.