De Romanicorum Theoriarum IV

Thought on fantasy and SF.
  • In the comments on one of his awesome essays on (acknowledged nutjob) Michael D. O'Brien's fantasy-alarmism, D. G. D. Davidson takes O'Brien to task for calling Ursula LeGuin Gnostic, when "if he had bothered to look it up, he could have discovered that LeGuin considers herself Taoist". But, "considers herself" or not, LeGuin is far more a Gnostic than she is a Taoist—mostly because she is a Liberal Protestant, and they've been Gnostic at least since Freemasonry (if not since Calvin, who was at least a little influenced by the Cathars).

    I feel quite comfortable in saying that LeGuin is a Liberal Protestant. She gets her Taoism, after all, from the "plain sense" of the Dao De Jing. Because as we all know, Sola Scriptura is a Chinese idea, that's Classical Chinese, right, not Latin or anything? (I get my Taoism from the study of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folk-religion, mostly because, y' know, Taoism is explicitly a religion of tradition, and those people actually have the tradition.)
  • I'm not going into the plot, but Halo 4 is in many ways the worst in the series. No, I know, it has much more "character development"—by which you mean bitching. Sorry, I was perfectly invested in those characters from day one, maybe you all are just incapable of empathy for people who aren't screaming like Jerry Springer guests.

    But that's not actually my main issue. My main issue is, putting the Forerunner stuff front and center means the "Reclaimer", humanity's-ultimate-destiny crap comes front and center with it, and that is the worst thing about any science fiction. And I realized, it is inexplicable that that idea is popular anywhere but America, or perhaps the Anglosphere. Why? Because its fundamental conceit is Manifest Destiny.
  • Now, do not mistake me. I think there is such a thing as "American exceptionalism" (though it mostly consists of being, as I have said before, "the only good thing the Saxon dog ever did"). The West, or rather Christendom, really does have a special role in the world. And humans really are special, within the animal kingdom (though only in light of their sapience, a specialness any aliens would share).

    No, my problem with Halo (it always bothered me, but 4, being the beginning of the "Reclaimer Trilogy", has brought it front and center), as with Mass Effect and all the other "Humans are super-special awesomesauce" nonsense (also in fantasy, e.g. in Elder Scrolls), is the idea that this specialness is because we ("we" here signifying whatever subset of those groups, above) are worthy. Especially given that, generally, the things that make humanity "worthy" are the things the Enlightenment West claims are its special traits—despite the Enlightenment West, especially its Anglophone portion, having invented intentional genocide, forced famine, systematic terror-rape, and the concentration camp. (And all its good traits having already been present in Direct Capetian France.)

    In my SF, I take quite a different tack. Namely, humans suck. They are as irrational a bunch of propagandized dupes as, well, they are, in any country you care to name; the Renaissance's two-century detour into Greco-Roman cosplay means they're far behind species the same age as them (namely the zledo); and being foragers who became pack-predators means they're half-assing things that come to the other species, which began as pack-predators, quite naturally (e.g., wolves don't have that dysfunction-factory called the Oedipus complex, lacking the polygamous structure that makes it a productive breeding strategy). The only nice thing the zledo can think of to say about humans is, "And yet they stood and fought us." Even then, much of the time, humans fought like Enlightenment pacifists—which is to say like William Tecumseh Sherman.
  • And if it comes to that, in both fantasy and science fiction, why should humanity coming into its own mean the "Elder Races" must recede? The Tuatha de Danaan aren't really gods, they're conquered pre-Celtic inhabitants; I know of only one other people whose gods haven't simply "always been there"—the Navajo—and their account of the relationship is quite different. "We will give you a law so that you no longer get into trouble like this," Talking God said to them in the Fourth World (one back from this one, they have one more world than the Hopi). "But your foolishness has stained you; before we return, you will have washed yourselves." Continuing to abide by this law, and maintain their relationship to the Elder People (or Medicine People, to translate diyin dine'é literally) is, in the Navajo view, the only thing that can make further progress possible.

    In my urban fantasy, I'm thinking of having a member of one of the Elder Races (it'll probably be Thor) say, roughly, "Does a nursemaid cease to be because a child grows up? You may see her less, but that is because she has returned to her own life. And there is no need for us to give up a single thing, for you to progress. You are beasts that need to stick dead things in your orifices to live; you therefore believe that all the cosmos is a zero-sum game. Your own relations are not, and neither are your relations to us—most of the tragedies of your recent history are due to failing to comprehend this fact. Yet again your foolishness leaves a stink upon you; wash yourselves, before you speak of being our equals."
  • Leaving to one side the obvious joke Deej forbore to make, here, about Twilight being an attempt to baptize vampires (Meyer's a Mormon, vampires are dead people—you do the math), the article is just one of several (from his series, early on, of responses to Michael D. O'Brien) on Sci Fi Catholic about a disturbing trend, among Catholics of all people—who ought to know better—to resurrect a Pat Pulling-type Satanic Panic, about things like Harry Potter and Twilight.

    Sigh. Look. I know of exactly one person who got interested in the occult due to reading fantasy or playing D&D, and you're reading his blog right now. Know what? The Lesser Key of Solomon is A) total hogwash and B) quite upfront about its bizarre invoking-demons-in-Jesus'-name thing. Nobody who does not want to ally with the Peacock Angel is going to be doing it unawares...not by that route.

    As Joel Robinson once said, "Hell works better when it's a lot more subtle." Seemingly secular forces that tend to spiritual pride and selfishness are far more allied to what all human traditions consider typical of the diabolist. There is more Corpse Poison in Ayn Rand or Jacques Derrida (to say nothing of Michel "decriminalize rape" Foucault) than in all the fantasy books ever written.
  • On to lighter things. Has anyone considered that maybe the wizarding world in Harry Potter considers speakers of Parseltongue to be evil because they speak the language of Yig, the Old Serpent, last of the Old Ones defeated by the fathers of man in the ages before Hyboria or Valusia first reared towers toward the sun?

    And has anyone considered detecting Death Eaters by saying "Ka nama kaa lajerama"?
  • It occurs to me that the other flaw of SF trying to discuss humanity's ultimate destiny is, you are trying to get from science and technology something that is properly the purview of philosophy and religion. Again, that question is a screw, science is a hammer.

    Is it too much to ask that we have science fiction that is about normal human life in a different set of technological conditions? Now, admittedly, religious/philosophical questions are a part of that, if not the chief part (recall here Belloc's point about two drunken fishermen he heard in a pub discussing the evidentiary power of sense-experience—"If I saw the boat, it stands to reason the thing was there"), but science and technology provide no new answers. Future people are going to answer those questions the same way we do—because by all indications we've been answering them the same way (mostly incorrectly) since at least the Upper Paleolithic.
  • Part of the problem, I think, is the farcical conception, perhaps born during the Cold War, that future wars would be for species-survival; thus SF warfare tends to involve issues of "the destiny of mankind" purely de facto. But...why? Admittedly the genocidal war was born with your precious "Enlightenment"—so it can be expected to continue if SF is, as David Brin says, all about cheerleading for the Enlightenment—but I do believe that between the Holocaust and Glasnost we've largely got that urge out of our system, along with repudiating all the other Enlightenment hogwash of which the Shoah and the Holodomor were the culmination and natural result.

    And it's entirely possible that any aliens we encounter never had it at all; in our history it was born of the coincidental combination of Roman Imperialism (which got "reborn" in the Renaissance) with a Protestant-Fundamentalist belief that the unbeliever is the Amalekite and may be slaughtered at will.

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