I’ve gone from the unenviable position of being substantially overworked and significantly underpaid to… well, just chronically underemployed now. Which, nominally, should give me more time to talk to all of you.
As ever, though, the tasks grow to fill the time. I have been maintaining my presence over at Liberation Industries, so if you were enjoying my roleplaying output then I recommend you rock on over there for your fix. In the last seven days, I have driven about two and a half thousand kilometers, which takes a lot out of you. If this isn’t sounding familiar, it is. I also crashed my car a little, but fear not. My typing fingers are fine.
There’s also a couple of projects that I’m not allowed to talk about in the blogosphere. If they come about, I’ll tell you all about them. If not, I’ll probably do it anyway, but with much more spite.
After a messy period, I am once again corresponding with the illustrator for Marla Stone. I’ll keep you posted on that too.
Otherwise, what I am stuck with is the grimy reality of my own rent-punk existence. Through the weird haze of sleep deprivation and trying to get the equations to add up with numbers that are much too low, I get the occasional sense that I would much less talk to Maslow and more punch his lights out and steal his pyramid. After all, its hard to get creative when you’re down at this level.
Anyway, I hope I can turn things around. If so, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me.
If not, Maslow better hope he didn’t skimp on his pyramid locks.
Also, I am listening to Florence and the Machine’s Queen of Peace right now. Literally. I strongly advise you do the same. This song is fantastic.
You know that super secret project I keep telling you about?
Well, you’ve been good little readers, so you all get a preview!
With the help of the fantastic artist Emi C. Egan, we’re going to take a walk along the icy streets of Depression Era New York, as Marla Stone’s investigation into a runaway reveals a web of terrible secrets. Its going to be a cold winter, and the cold-blooded feel that more than anyone.
Shiny and delicious releases will begin in the New Year. Hope you don’t mind a bit more of a wait…
Sorry for the delay folks, but I have been struggling to keep up with my new existence as a cog in the corporate machine. But fear not! They thought that just by taking all my time and energy they could defeat me, but no! I have returned to you, my dear imaginary readers! And I fully intend to get back to giving you your one delicious blog post a week.
But first, announcements.
The first is that I’m splitting my attention. In addition to this blog, my roleplaying sector is going to be moving over to my shiny new home of actual play podcasting, Liberation Industries. So if you’re sticking around for fun stuff like Changelings of the Outer West and my gaming projects, they will be relocating there.
But project enthusiasts, fear not! My super secret project is coming near to its fruition, and some of its dark fruit will naturally blossom to you in the next few weeks.
So thanks for hanging around, imaginary readers.
And for what its worth, the soy cheese was terrible.
The weekend was a rather frantic one in the face of the new job, and as I struggle to adapt to the new schedule it leaves little time for blogging.
So I’m going to try something that I think is best for both of us, my imaginary readership.
After a year of semi-reliable posts on the Next Best Plan, I’m going to take a short break.
Probably only going to be a couple of weeks, in honesty. My recent tax return means I’ll be able to afford a new computer, which will let me get back to doing this properly. But I’ve gotten sick of song this by halves, and once I’ve my new rig up and running I’ll be able to launch myself headlong into my various projects (including the super secret one) once again.
So I’ll see you in a couple of weeks, folks. I promise I’ll make as big a splash as I can so you know I’m back.
On the plus side, I have found some vegan cheese. Now, my regular readers will know of my obsession with soy goods, and our glorious vegan blogger-pal Shonalika has on occasion lamented decent vegan cheese. So on this, at least, I must report back.
You will be hearing from me again soon enough, WordPress.
I figure that’s got to be worth something, as I blew off quite a bit if valuable blogging time to do it.
On the plua side, due to my extremely low income, I ahould receive most of the protection money I sent to our government back. Which means, I’ll finally be able to replace my computer, and return to you properly from this strange state of half blogging.
I feel as if I’m cheating you, imaginary readers.
Perhaps I should have called a hiatus when first physical interface gave up it’s duties.
Well… in a couple of weeks I should be back to my rather more verbose e-self.
Maybe. It’s hard to tell, but either way its going to need someone better at this stuff than I am to fix it.
Given this is both the day my blog is due and the first day of Melbourne’s Govhack weekend, this has naturally proven a bit of a problem. So to add to my weaknesses in statistical management (which given I’m at a Government Free Data jam is a bit of a worry) all my usual tech has now spontaneously failed.
So I’m cobbling together a film making suite with a phone, an ipad and zero budget. This has rather delayed my blogging, but I imagine I’ll tell y’all how it goes.
Well, this whole Caitlyn Jenner situation has kicked up quite the kerfuffle, hasn’t it imaginary readers? The internet has veritably lit up with… well, more than its usual amount of nasty vitriol, I guess. There have been some interesting points, and some beautiful shows of solidarity, but as is often the way with our medium, the upswing of fundies and fusk-weasels has made the whole episode less than welcoming.
The media has made a meal out of it too, which is irksome as ever.
And I mean, I’m not one to pass judgement, really, and in truth this is all preamble. I’m not going to stand in the way of anybody looking to change their body; I’ll admit that I’d prefer nanoswarms and chrome inlay to what’s currently on offer, but whether you want to transition to the gender you’re more comfortable with or just be more like a tiger, you have my full support. So good for Caitlyn, she’s been lucky enough to be able to live the dream.
I will note that I have all of zero authority to speak on behalf of trans people, I am cis as best as I can tell, and I don’t want to diminish anyone’s struggle. And like anything on this blog, I’m mostly just writing what I’m thinking about. And with that, I can end this totally not a cynical tag grabbing preamble, and get on to the actual article.
In which I consider Transgender themes in Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Dune is one of the biggies. Though it lacks the reach in the popular mindset of say, Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings, Frank Herbert’s fearsome turtle-cracker of a tome (and its myriad sequels) has slouched heavily into the science fiction mindset, and its echoes can still be seen in recent favorites, from the political slaughterhouse of Game of Thrones, to the deranged absurdist feudalism of Warhammer 40,000, to the fantastical apocalyptic landscapes of Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds. Its never been blinding, but its always been there.
Its held a bit of a soft spot in my mind, in that it has always felt like the sort of thing that Tolkien would write if he just learned to loosen up and take a crap-tonne of LSD. Tolkien’s famed linguistic thoroughness is matched, I think, in Herbert’s work, even if Chakobska is based on real world languages; lets face it, someone speaking Elvish doesn’t sound all that different from someone speaking Welsh. The setting’s sprawling feudal society and mystic traditions may seem dated today, but part of that at least stems from the depth of imitation they have spawned.
And its those mystic traditions I’d like to explore here, as I have noticed a distinct theme in the path of Paul Atreides in the initial novel; before Paul can reach his messianic status, he first has to become transgender.
This must be taken in context. I don’t think one could truly describe Dune as a progressive novel on gender lines; the society depicted is one with very firm gender roles, with the feudal trappings of the galactic government leading to women being treated as chattel or bargaining chips fairly commonly, and the all female Bene Gesserit, despite their fearsome psychological and autonomic skill set, almost inevitably accept the role of advisor and shadowy manipulator. It is a patriarchy with strongly defined social roles, with little room to transgress. The nomadic Fremen have a more egalitarian society (as you often get with hunter gatherer groups, see Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind), with leadership of tribes shared between the Reverend Mother and her war leaders of either sex.
Paul, however, in amongst the first scene of the book, is forced to meet a transgression with lethal consequences; the trial of the gom jabbar, a test of endurance that no male has survived. In some ways, this is a ploy by the Reverend Mother to remove what was considered a mistake, with Paul having meant to have been born a girl to satisfy the Bene Gesserit’s ancient eugenics program. Against expectation, the young man is able to endure the trial, marking the beginning of his shift away from his masculine identity. This begins a number of jarring shifts for Paul. His mother, Jessica, had already secretly taught him some of the rites of the Bene Gesserit, and after forsaking his disintegrating family to live with the desert nomads, he drinks the Water of Life, another trial that no male has a right to survive, and thus blows open the doors of his own perception and begins his ascension to godhood and leader of a revolutionary jihad. By shedding his connections to his gender, his ties to the feudal state, and his family name, he steps forth into an enlightened state.
This is not a new idea. There are a number of cultures throughout history that have practiced a form of symbolic gender realignment, particularly in relation to mystic societies. Sometimes this related to an abrupt shedding, such as the celibacy oaths of ascetic traditions, but in other cases, such as the self castrating worshipers of Cybele in ancient Rome, the change is more direct. A personal favourite in modern film is a scene in Onmyouji 2 (skip to about 2:20 for the good stuff), in which the male protagonist, attempting a hazardous ritual with no time to spare, must play the role of the priestess to placate angry deities. Indeed, early depictions of Christ show a strikingly effeminate figure, thought to stem from Jesus’ enlightened and life restoring reputation, before the newly formed Church attempted to repaint itself as an implacable moral authority, recasting their saviour to look more like Zeus, with all the delicious irony that entails.
Though Paul does exhibit a number of socially feminine roles in his context, having survived their trials and learned their secret language (the Bene Gesserit Voice), this may be less of a direct gender change and more of an attempt by the protagonist to escape his destructive male nature. The Dune series has a very pessimistic outlook on male bio-psychology, to the extent that in God Emperor of Dune the titular character rebuilds his army as an all female fighting force after having come to the conclusion that men are incapable of maintaining civilisation. Even in the first novel, Paul’s fedaykin Death Commandoes view themselves as a gruesome necessity for a desperate time, with Stilgar considering himself not an honoured warrior or authority but a desert executioner, or even at times little more than a tool in the hands of his Prophet. Perhaps here we can see a degree of obsessive behaviour attributed to the male brain; most of the Mentats of the series are male, and where this obsession is not turned to rigid computation it quickly devolves into the sadism of the Harknonnen barony or the brutality of the fervent Fremen.
Perhaps Paul tends more towards the point of a spiritual hermaphrodite in his ascension to Messiah. He still maintains socially male roles; those of father, war leader and destroyer, while access to his feminine nature, that precious X chromosome, allows him to throw off the limiting factors of his male mind. The story certainly has a touch of the old 1960’s flair to it; that a Messiah is born not from divine will but through a cocktail of psychotropics, the demolition of rotten social structures and the merciless enlightenment of the empty reaches where humanity clings to life. Paul’s marriage into the Imperial family that forms the culmination of the story feels almost like a disappointment, a surrender to the forces he had been attempting to escape, a crushing return to a realisation that even as Emperor and the monopolist of the vital Spice, the structure cannot be changed through violence alone. He returns to his male role, and his frenetic path to enlightenment fades, never to be fulfilled in his lifetime.
So we have, in our hands, a path to enlightenment through a mystic step across established gender boundaries. This is important, I feel, because it is very difficult to grow beyond one’s assigned role in the world if one is unwilling to question it. Though Dune approaches the path to enlightenment in a hopeful manner, with the sense that it is there if you can just find the right circumstances, with the right drugs or music or ritual, the though remains that with or without an end goal, with or without the throne of the Kwisatch Haderach to claim, one ceases to grow as a human being once one ceases exploration of the entire human condition. For Paul, this was a systemic and painful shredding out of the masculine limits on his mind to allow for broader comprehension.
Dune, as I read it, was a call to tear down the walls that are holding you back, and it remains relevant today. It is not hard to see the calcified, self interested nobles in our own time, the willful sacrifice of chattel slaves and attempts to enforce gender and social roles in a world desperately wanting to be free of them, the monopoly of vital resources making kings of killers, and the word jihad sings across the popular mind despite its meaning being so very different.
And it wants you to bust loose of all that. Throw aside everything your society wants you to be, twist at the foundations and limiting functions that you think your brain is locked into, and call your generation to tear down the old order on a tide of blades and nuclear fire. To give you a chance to see what the other side of life is. I’m not saying its not a great drama; hell, its probably the seminal political melodrama of twentieth century science fiction. But it wanted something, Herbert did, but it never quite reached the people. It was a good story, but I think we lost the mysticism along the way.
Perhaps Paul Muad’dib transgressed for nothing.
So yeah, that’s some stuff I thought about Dune. In summary, be nice to the trans people in your community. Or I’ll pull out your fusking spine. Also, transgress against everything you’ve ever believed was true; our history is a pack of lies as any fool can tell; and no, poor quorganism has made no money out of this article, and any part of it can be redistributed under an Attribution-Share Alike-No Alterations Creative Commons License, so you know. Butcher it, but name the relevant pig (that’s a metaphor; authors/creators as pigs, inhumanity of the meat industry… yada yada, you know the drill…).
Anzac Day came and went some time ago, and yet my brain does not cease to turn.
Late article, I know. The furore has passed.
For those among my imaginary readership who did not grow up in Australia, Anzac Day sort of sits as a second Remembrance Day marking the catastrophic failure that was the Gallipoli campaign in the First World War, the first large scale engagement of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and despite attempts at appropriation by nationalist elements is usually a reflection on the futility of war and the suffering it causes.
And suffering is the right word. Lacking a glorious, mythic history to look back on, Australia’s military campaigns have in general been brutal, unforgiving attrition, all the more thankless for, with the exception of the jungle war in Papua against the Japanese in WW2, being unwanted deployments in the face of a local population that did not want them.
The film Gallipoli, starring a very young Mel Gibson, really jabs that home, and is a decent primer for those unfamiliar with this little bit of history.
So I begin to ponder the why of it. In the case of the Australian military the objective for the most part is appeasement; an ironic idea for those who remember the demagoguery of the Cold War. Once again excepting the Papua deployment, which is arguably symptomatic of the greater system, all of Australia’s military actions have ultimately been blood sacrifice in an attempt to secure the protection of the most powerful empire of the time; first Britain then, after the fall of Singapore, the United States. In a strategic sense, the far off battlefields of Europe, North Africa, Korea and Vietnam mean very little to Australia, and few of them at any point have been capable of generating any real threat with reach enough to reach the South Pacific. But the Empire of the day deemed them worth dying for, and so the Australian government jumped at the chance to feed its paltry forces into the meat grinder, despite the abandonment by one empire and statements from the latter suggesting that they would do the same if it was in their interests.
This train of thought followed to another. The idea of sacrifice is often brought up at national memorial days, but I don’t think that it is fully understood, especially within this particular context. The Anzacs sure as hell didn’t die for our freedom or prosperity; powerful though the Ottoman Empire may have once been they were never going to invade Australia, and had plenty on their plates to deal with at that point already. Instead, it was blood spilled to placate another dying empire, Australia’s erstwhile guardian. It was an offering of human lives, like the Aztecs used to give to the sun, hoping that it would ensure the British Empire’s protection.
That it did not only makes it all the more tragic.
Upon further consideration, I realised that this idea can be applied to warfare more generally, especially within the context of the Western Hemisphere. Feeding the earth blood to ensure future fortune is no new idea, and has an added layer of economic rationale; the idea of waging war over resources is familiar and common practice for everyone between the Vikings and the US Army and many more besides, but the newly controlled resources are not the only gain for those controlling the war. The ensuing bloodbath means there are fewer left to share those resources.
It took me a little while to get over just how messed up that was.
But on a purely rational level – the kind commonly deployed by psychopaths, for instance – it makes sense. Those who arrange for wars to occur, and usually benefit most from their occurrence, certainly aren’t those on the front line, and thus are probably going to make it to the end of the conflict to enjoy the spoils. They will face less local competition for those resources, allowing them to capitalise even more aggressively. This is a pattern very much in line with Western European conflict throughout history; seize lands to increase agricultural capacity, and there will be more resources available to those that survive. This can be contrasted with the South Asian Mandala system, which had comparatively rich resources with fewer people to work them, whose wars tended to focus on slaving to better extract those resources, and though I won’t go into too much detail I felt it bore inclusion. This is a psychology that appears to have persisted into modern warfare; a means for power groups to raid for resources while shedding surplus bodies.
It might appear that this does not hold for the example of Australia; after all, the country was crippled by the two World Wars, with the workforce significantly drained. I would argue that those undertaking the sacrifice do not always have any benefit from doing so, just like the Aztecs of old. The Australian sacrifice contributed to a reshaping of world politics, that led to their allies becoming the only viable imperial forces in the world. By assisting the United States, both militarily and perhaps more importantly on a political level, the mountain of Australian corpses has assisted the USA in maintaining its current primacy. The sacrifice has aided the country’s guardian, certainly.
And so we come back to Anzac Day, and can ask again what the men and women of the Australian Defence Forces throughout history really died for. What the sacrifice they made, that is extolled each year, really gained. What we have today is a world of American primacy, bull headed patriarchy and free-wheeling capitalism, in which the wealthy can control lobby groups that arrange for governments to send their young citizens to die for resources valuable to unregulated heavy industry, who in turn lobby for more. It leaves rich, old, white men, the traditional brokers of capital in our society, with an even greater stranglehold of its resources.
Where a side of horse meat may make the difference between a poor man and a rich one.
Remember your Trumbo children; you have no duty to die for the rich man. It is your duty to live; for yourself, for your family, and for the fact that you are a thinking, talking human being and for that reason alone your life has importance.
Don’t let the rich man make a sacrifice of you.
Photo “Occupy D.C.” courtesy of Devin Smith, aka Devinish on Flickr. Hope my ramblings didn’t hurt your ears, dear imaginary readers, but this little economist does get very excited on finding new supply and demand forces.
It doesn’t pay to be naive, and I’d be a lot better off if I didn’t let this kind of thing get under my skin.
But it really does shit me when people misquote things.
Religious demagogues are frequent employers for these particular shades of bullshit. In fact, it was some recently re-televised comments by the Right Honorable Fascist Fred Nile that spurred this rant, particularly in regard to his stance on homosexuality. Now, when religious types cry foul on the LGBT community they typically cite the Bible as their evidence, despite their quotations being blatantly mistranslated and homosexual relationships having the support of the big guy JC himself. Don’t believe me? Here’s a nice little translation for you. Yay languages!
But… to be honest the fundies can rot in their own sick, terrified little holes all they like. They never say anything particularly interesting or creative, and Nile’s one of a dying breed, they don’t need my help to push them over the edge. Politicians, however, are alarming in their tenacity. And boy do they manage this misquotation malarky with a gusto that makes my eyes bleed.
I’m thinking about two names in particular. Not the quoters, in this case, but the quotees. John Maynard Keynes. Thomas Malthus.
I can smell hackles rising already. Imaginary hackles. Because all my readers are imaginary. Thanks for sticking around guys.
I have heard Malthus misquoted to an alarming extent, and I found the responsible artifacts to be, if a little conservative, largely inoffensive. The circling resurgence of the meme that has grown from Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population is staggering; the very idea that Malthus said “We’ll have all the babies and eat ourselves to death” appears to have been addition after the fact. The idea of the Malthusian trap, at best guess a derivation of Ricardo’s dreaded Steady State Trap, is something wholly constructed and reeks of extrapolation.
Ok. Context. The C word is still so very powerful.
Malthus wrote the essay in response to a letter from William Godwin, and the latter thinker presented a picture of an anarcho-socialist utopia. Godwin’s thought was an almost Marxist one; that the very institutions that define our society are the source of its ills. Marriage, property (and the gentry who possessed it) and religion were all damaging leeches, and if we could do away with these things then resources would be so plentiful that every man, woman and child would have plenty to meet their needs and wants. You produce enough, and everyone will be happy.
Malthus, pipping cyberpunk to the post by about two hundred and fifty years, cried foul on that. He started by agreeing that the institutions of the time were in fact not universal goods; he makes particular note of the pariah status of unwed mothers. But he also says these institutions evolved for a reason, based on a scarcity of resources that led to people not wishing to support children who weren’t their own. Taking the logic to Godwin’s argument, he posited that once resources were guaranteed by society for each child people would have as many children as they liked, artfully pussyfooting around the reason for that being that people in general like having sex. With the deterrent removed, population swells, and we begin to outstrip our resources.
What happens then? Well, cannibalism, road warriors, the end of civilization… are more or less exactly what Malthus didn’t predict. What he believed would happen is more or less a return to what we had before; marriages to enforce responsibility for children, landowners commanding serfs, all as a method of controlling consumption of resources. Doesn’t show a lot of creativity on Old Tommy’s part, and a blatant disregard for the idea of contraception, but he was working with what came to hand.
So the belief that population is limited by resource availability, as I heard surface at least once during the 2007 Australian election (props to anyone who can find that clip, think it was on Q&A, but not having any luck), is decidedly non-Malthusian. Its limited by institutions in the face of scarcity, so the idea of it being inevitable ranges from vaguely misinformed to downright irresponsible when its rattled off by potential Members of Parliament.
So, lesson the first: Read Malthus before you quote Malthus. Its English, so don’t worry, you won’t run into the same problems we encountered up page with our Bible studies.
Now, dear Keynes, poor Keynes, brilliant, arrogant Keynes. Our pal John Maynard has copped a lot of flack in recent years, his name is used by economic conservatives in the manner that the Devil’s name is used by religious ones. Every so often you hear a pundit decrying some big spike in government spending as Keynesian, hell, Wayne Swann was openly in bed with the General Theory when he decided to, er… “stimulate” the Australian economy. We run into another problem of misquotation again.
Keynes did, in fact, support small government with minimal interference in markets. This man had actually come out and said that he intended to save capitalism from the dual threats of Communism and Fascism, and in the 1930’s that was looking like a losing proposition. But Keynes had faith that the capitalist market could do great things, outstripping centrally planned economies through sheer weight of productivity. And the government should let it do so.
Until, of course, the market fucks up. And it will. Did in 1929, did in 2008. So when those big businesses come crying to the government that they browbeat into deregulating them, howling “please, save us, we’re too big to fail!”, should we bail them out? What would Keynes say?
Though I imagine he’d use better chosen words, I suspect the message would be “Let ’em rot. Can’t have our lives ruled by Moral Hazard fattened imbeciles.”
See, Keynes didn’t say the government should prop up a failing market. He said it was there to protect people when it hurt them. When a demand slump kills off businesses and raises unemployment, the government should employ those people for public works, giving them funds with which to get demand – always, always demand – rolling again.
Admittedly, Keynes also said a lot of things that don’t make a great deal of sense. I can only assume that he wrote a great deal of his works drunk, a sentiment with which I can identify pretty easily.
So, in this context (ooh! Dirty C word again!) Jon Stewart’s suggestion on the Daily Show that Barack Obama could pay the money he intended to spend bailing out the banks to the people in debt to them actually makes some sense in a Keynesian model.
So for the conservative types who seem to associate Keynesian thought with the damn dirty government giving their hard earned tax dollars to crack babies, dope heads and programs to take away their private stash of anti-tank weaponry, that’s not really what it means. In fact, a lot of recent stimulus has seemed pretty out of joint with Keynes’ proposals, but then like we saw earlier, Jesus was totally cool with gay sex. So yeah.
And if I do ever get to debate Fred Nile, I suspect my argument will more or less follow these lines. Not that I think he’d listen.
Alright, that’s that giant poisonous monster off my chest… glad that’s sorted. Anyway, this article is once again Creative Commons meat for the market, and I am not making any money out of it. Feel free to rip it to pieces and rebuild it as whatever macabre offense against nature you can imagine. Do Frankenstein proud. Have a metal week, imaginary folks.