Dune’s Not a White Savior Narrative. But It’s Complicated.

We’ve [“western man”] set out our missionaries to do our dirty work for us, and then come along behind them with the certain belief that we are right in anything that we do, because God has told us so — God and the person of the avatar.

I think this is why great power centers such as the Kremlin, the Pentagon, Quai d’Orsay, Sandhurst become essentially cesspools really, because they get so many people there who want power for the sake of power, and it’s my estimation of it that a high percentage of these people are certifiable. You get real nuts. This is why you get people for example going to Guyana and drinking Kool-Aid because the errors of the leader are amplified by the number who follow without question. That was the beginning. I wanted to do a messiah story that explored this.

HERBERT: As a member of the collegium of the World Without War Council I have bowed out of active participation, although not out of belief in that kind of work. I think that we can’t address this problem of war unless we address our own bureaucratic tendencies. Our tendencies to create a structure, such as the World Without War Council, which then becomes much more interested in maintaining its own form, its own identity, the ongoing need for its services, rather than to create an organization of form which puts itself out of business.

INTERVIEWER: How does this dedication to peace manifest itself in your writing?

HERBERT: Showing people some alternatives. Showing them the consequences of violence. Displaying alternative forms. Showing them how the old patterns repeat themselves.

To the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of ‘real materials’- to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration.

Remember, before writing Dune I was the speech writer for a United States senator with two offices in Washington D.C. I’ve been right on the inside of the apple. So I know what’s going on back there. I am a political animal. And I really never left journalism. I’m writing about the current scene. The metaphors were there. Writing about the political ecology, the religious ecology, the social ecology and the physical ecology of our world. And I think you do not separate any one part of this from the other. You don’t separate mind and body and understand the human being and therefore you don’t separate any of these elements and understated what’s going on in our world. We fondly say that in the United States we separate church and state. That’s an asinine statement. There is nothing more emotional than religion. Nothing more emotionally demanding than religion because it is the promise of survival. You can’t take that out of politics. You get heated emotions aroused. I am a political animal and that’s what I am writing about. I am writing about the economic ecology, the politics of all of these things that influence our lives.

It is demonstrable that power structures tend to attract people who want power for the sake of power and that a significant proportion of such people are imbalanced-in a word, insane.

That was the beginning. Heroes are painful, superheroes are a catastrophe. The mistakes of superheroes involve too many of us in disaster.

It is the systems themselves that I see as dangerous Systematic is a deadly word. Systems originate with human creators, with people who employ them. Systems take over and grind on and on. They are like a flood tide that picks up everything in its path. How do they originate?

All of this encapsulates the stuff of high drama, of entertainment-and I’m in the entertainment business first. It’s all right to include a pot of message, but that’s not the key ingredient of wide readership. Yes, there are analogs in Dune of today’s events-corruption and bribery in the highest places, whole police forces lost to organized crime, regulatory agencies taken over by the people they are supposed to regulate. The scarce water of Dune is an exact analog of oil scarcity. CHOAM is OPEC.

But that was only the beginning.

While this concept was still fresh in my mind, I went to Florence, Oregon, to write a magazine article about a US Department of Agriculture project there. The USDA was seeking ways to control coastal (and other) sand dunes. I had already written several pieces about ecological matters, but my superhero concept filled me with a concern that ecology might be the next banner for demagogues and would-be-heroes, for the power seekers and others ready to find an adrenaline high in the launching of a new crusade.

He remained silent, thinking like the seed he was, thinking with the race consciousness he had first experienced as terrible purpose. He found that he no longer could hate the Bene Gesserit or the Emperor or even the Harkonnens. They were all caught up in the need of their race to renew its scattered inheritance, to cross and mingle and infuse their bloodlines in a great new pooling of genes. And the race knew only one sure way for this — the ancient way, the tried and certain way that rolled over everything in its path: jihad.

Surely, I cannot choose that way, he thought.

But he saw again in his mind’s eye the shrine of his father’s skull and the violence with the green and black banner waving in its midst.

WM: Bene Gesserit. The…their whole mystique and so on is relatively unexplained. Why do they want the Kwisatz Haderach in the first place? You see, is relatively, at the time…

FH: The name of the game is power.

WM: Yes, and they want power. That…that explains it to a certain extent but…

FH: They want power in a specific way. You know, I’ve always been amazed by the statement or by the label of psychological warfare. There can be no such thing as psychological warfare…if you develop a psychological weapon sufficiently that it is destructive to any potential enemy, it will destroy you with the enemy…it’s a two-edged sword without a handle, and if you grab it hard enough to wield it, you’re going to…

WM: It’s self destructive.

FH: Yes.

WM: So we could have a variation of the Lord Acton notion: power corrupts both the user and the receiver of the power, both absolutely…

FH: Right. Acton saw it.

WM: How interesting. I hadn’t thought of the…who power corrupts…

FH: Now the Bene Gesserit see this. You see how they keep themselves in the background.

WM: Yes, that’s true.

FH: They want a user of power they can control.

WM: I see…with safety to them.

FH: That’s right. It’s a safety device, you see, and I say this in several ways, not in this way, not in this blatant, you know, way, but implying it with all of its permutations, because there’s much more to this. We could go on for several hours discussing this aspect of it.

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