Random (yet Apropos) Quotes

21 July, 2008

There are a few books (or book series) which I read every couple of years.  The Harry Potter series (light, quick reading, well written and enjoyable);  Barbara Tuchmann’s A Distant Mirror (her best book by my opinion);  Robert Lynn Asprin’s Myth series (a literary Hope and Crosby series with my kind of humour); Brin’s Uplift books (great adventures, great ideas, and individuals making a difference); Asimov’s Foundation series (classic, though he never was all that good at dialogue and personality development, his ideas were so good that the flat people didn’t matter); Orson Scott Card’s Ender series (thank’s, Yunshui, that one slipped my mind); and Frank Herbert’s Dune books (only the ones by Frank;  the ones written by his son are worth reading once, but pale in comparison).  One of the advantages of reading a few books multiple times (othere than knowing what will happen next) is that I keep spotting things I missed before.

I finished Children of Dune last night ( (((Wife))) is in Florida visiting family, so I’ve been reading lots (I also built a 1/48 scale P-51D RAAF Mustang)) and realised that some of Herbert’s observations are, for today’s political and religious climate (and from my (relatively) new-found atheistic viewpoint) remarkably apropos.

Atrocity is recognized as such by victim and perpetrator alike, by all who learn about it at whatever remove.  Atrocity has no excuses, no mitigating argument.  Atrocity never balances or rectifies the past.  Atrocity merely arms the future for more atrocity.  It is self-perpetuating upon itself — a barbarous form of incest.  Whoever commits atrocity also commits those future atrocities thus bred.
The Apocrypha of Muad’Dib

There, in one paragraph written in 1976, is the one of the most cogent argument against torture (and other atrocities) ever writeen. 

Does torture work?  It does not (just ask John McCain, who falsely confessed to war crimes to avoid more torture), but that is irrelevent.  Torture (whether physical or psychological, whether water boarding or temperature stressing, whether the music of Black Sabbath at high volume or sexual degredation) may (in some rare occasions) bring usefull information, but at what cost?  If we treat our enemies with disrespect, if we treat our enemies as less then human, do we then breed a new generation of enemies who will attempt to top our disrespect and treat us even less as humans? Are we creating a generation of terrorists for whom killing 3,000 people in one day will be an insufficient atrocity to (in the mind of the perpetratory) balance or rectify the past?  

The current White House occupents see themselves as divinely inspired, devinely led, and divinely capable of fulfilling a God-given mission.  Oppression and atrocity are merely tools of expediency used to promote short-term prophits with the illusion that these limited goals will somehow make America a better place.  The hubris of belief and the rejection of fact-based reality will, ultimately, fail.  Whether it fails quickly without destroying our nation or the world, or whether the politics of now will last and destroy what has been built here, I don’t know.

I will not argue with the Fremen [Republican] claims that they are divinely inspired to transmit a religious reveleation.  It is their concurrent claim to ideological revelation which inspires me to shower them with derision.  Of course, they make the dual claim in the hope that it will strengthen their mandarinate and help them to endure in a univere whcih finds them increasingly oppressive.  It is in the name of all those oppressed people that I warn the Fremen [Republicans]:  short-term expediency always fails in the long term.
The Preacher of Arrakeen

There may be something to this idea that a book written in the past can help us understand today’s problems.  As these two quotes show, though, a science-fiction book from 30 years ago can actually be much more accurate than a set of 3,000 year old myths bowdlerized through through the politics of expediency since they were written.

And Herbert’s books are better written, more enjoyable, are internally consistent, and make a hell of a lot more sense than the Bible.



  1. All hail the Gospel According to Herbert!

    Have you tried Orson Scott Card yet? He’s a crazy homophobic Mormon loon, but he does write damn good philosophical sci-fi. If you enjoyed Dune and Uplift, you’ll probably like the Ender series of books.

  2. Damn. I forgot about the Ender series. I read those about every four years and they are excellent. For a Mormon loon, he has a wonderful grasp of the limits of religion combined with government.

  3. Dune, my favorite series. The books by the son are fast paced and a quick read, but you’re right; compared to the themes in the original Herbert books, they are a pale contrast. What should really count as a warning, is that the Fremen were the oppressed, weaker class. People whose lives meant nothing and were hunted for sport by the Harkonnen. Yet, once they had power, they became as oppressive as the old guard. These are the exact same quotes that could have been used against the old emperor, but now, they apply to the Fremen. The lesson I kind of took from these first two books was, not any one group should ever have unlimited power; the strong will abuse it, but when the weak become the strong, they will forget. Its actually a “distant mirror” to our planet’s own history (the shifting tides of power and whoever has it, abuses it).

  4. If you can find copies, look for Pissing In the Snow and also a book called The Armagedon Crazy by Mike Farren.

    I like Ferol Sams, Mika Waltarai, George MacDonald Frasier, Edward Lee, and about anything I can lay my hands on. Even though I am dyslexic.

  5. As much as I like Dune, I’d say 1984 and Animal Farm sum up our current climate pretty well. As a matter of fact, I can see Bush speechifying the following…
    “We are all equal, but some are more equal than others. Heh heh”

  6. Philly: Don’t forget the ‘I’m a rich kid so you can’t do anything about it’ sneer.

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