Reading Children of Dune, Entry 2: Law & Modernity; Biblical Beasts & Jacurutu Origins; Herbert, Republican? (pp. 29–66)

I give you the desert chameleon, whose ability to blend itself into the background tells you all you need to know about the roots of ecology and the foundations of a personal identity.

Human interplay with that environment had never been more apparent to them. They felt themselves as integral parts of a dynamic system held in delicately balanced order. The new outlook involved a real change of consciousness which flooded them with observations. As Liet-Kynes had said, the universe was a place of constant conversation between animal populations. The haploid sandtrout had spoken to them as human animals.

“But it’s a threat to more than water. It’s a — ” She fell silent, understanding the deeper meaning of his words. Water was the ultimate power symbol on Arrakis. At their roots Fremen remained special-application animals, desert survivors, governance experts under conditions of stress. And as water became plentiful, a strange symbol transfer came over them even while they understood the old necessities. “You mean a threat to power,” she corrected him.

“Of course.”

“But will they believe us?”

“If they see it happening, if they see the imbalance.”

“Balance,” she said, and repeated her father’s words from long ago: “It’s what distinguishes a people from a mob.”

HERBERT: Many people, for instance, think that the Indians were the best ecologists this land has ever seen. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Some native American cultures were actually quite hard on their environments. They were just slower — because their populations were small — at causing damage than the whites were.

PLOWBOY: Really?

HERBERT: Some tribes practiced several forms of massive kill — such as driving buffalo off of cliffs — which were sure to improve the lot of the people doing so at the expense of those who didn’t. But since the rate of the environmental change resulting from such acts was too slow to be encompassed by most people’s awareness of time, many men and women think that the native American societies could have lived in harmony with their environment forever if they’d just been left alone.

PLOWBOY: I must admit I’ve always believed that to be true. How do you perceive humanity’s relationship with the environment today?

HERBERT: I look upon our involvement with the environment — and by the way, all of man’s intrusions into the environment are totally natural phenomena — as a continual learning process in which there are no absolutes. Whatever we do causes changes, and we can cause gross disruption to our surroundings as a result of small-order determinations.

I hear the wind blowing across the desert and I see the moons of a winter night rising like great ships in the void. To them I make my vow: I will be resolute and make an art of government; I will balance my inherited past and become a perfect storehouse of my relic memories. And I will be known for kindliness more than for knowledge. My face will shine down the corridors of time for as long as humans exist.

Her words called up their father in him and he said: “Economics versus beauty — a story older than Sheba.”

And I beheld another beast coming up out of the sand; and he had two horns like a lamb, but his mouth was fanged and fiery as the dragon and his body shimmered and burned with great heat while it did hiss like the serpent.

Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon.

The second beast is primarily described in Revelation chapter thirteen. This second beast comes out of the earth whose overall appearance is not described, other than having “two horns like a lamb”, and speaking “like a dragon”.[4] His purpose is to promote the authority of the first beast with the ability to perform great signs, even making fire come down out of Heaven. This second beast is also called the false prophet.[5] He speaks like a dragon commanding the people of the Earth to make an image “to” the beast that was wounded by a sword. It is declared that anyone who does not worship the beast or its image would be killed.[6] The lamb-horned beast from the earth also causes all people to receive the mark of the beast “in their right hand or in their forehead.”[7]

The Revelation of St John: 12. The Sea Monster and the Beast with the Lamb’s Horn. A woodcut by Albrecht Dürer

Now, [as for the deaf and blind of heart-] when the word [of truth] stands revealed against them, We shall bring forth unto them out of the earth a creature which will tell them that mankind had no real faith in Our messages.

17th-c Mughal depiction of Dabbat al-Ard

Since I cannot restore your children’s lives, I will leave them an inheritance, capable of perfecting their weapons. My corpse will turn into a plant. My arms will generate the red stick of the ipe, for the bows; the bamboo, for the arrows, and the paracuuba, for the arrowheads. From my nerves will come the tucum to the string of bows; from my hair, the thread of carauá to tie the feathers, and from my fat, the oil to lubricate and soften the rope.

“You did right! Your judgments cannot be based on any such foolish abstract as that Atreides notion of equality. That’s what kept you sleepless, not Paymon’s death. You made a good decision! He was another dangerous tool. You acted to maintain order in your society. Now there’s a good reason for judgments, not this justice nonsense! There’s no such thing as equal justice anywhere. It’s unsettling to a society when you try to achieve such a false balance.”

Reevaluation raised haunting questions. I now believe that evolution, or deevolution, never ends short of death, that no society has ever achieved an absolute pinnacle, that all humans are not created equal. In fact, I believe attempts to create some abstract equalization create a morass of injustices that rebound on the equalizers. Equal justice and equal opportunity are ideals we should seek, but we should recognize that humans administer the ideals and that humans do not have equal ability.

Alia felt pleasure at this defense of her judgment against Paymon, but shocked at the amoral concept behind the argument. “Equal justice was an Atreides… was…” She took her hands from her eyes, but kept her eyes closed.

“All of your priestly judges should be admonished about this error,” the Baron argued. “Decisions must be weighed only as to their merit in maintaining an orderly society. Past civilizations without number have foundered on the rocks of equal justice. Such foolishness destroys the natural hierarchies which are far more important. Any individual takes on significance only in his relationship to your total society. Unless that society be ordered in logical steps, no one can find a place in it — not the lowliest or the highest. Come, come, grandchild! You must be the stern mother of your people. It’s your duty to maintain order.”

The Universe is God’s. It is one thing, a wholeness against which all separations may be identified. Transient life, even that self-aware and reasoning life which we call sentient, holds only fragile trusteeship on any portion of the wholeness.

Bah! The universe can be grasped only by the sentient hand. That hand is what drives your precious brain, and it drives everything else that derives from the brain. You see what you have created, you become sentient, only after the hand has done its work!

Either we abandon the long-honored Theory of Relativity or we cease to believe we can engage in continued accurate prediction of the future. Indeed, knowing the future raises a host of questions which cannot be answered under conventional assumptions unless one first projects an observer outside of time and second,, nullifies all movement. If you accept the Theory of Relativity, it can be shown that time and the observer must stand still in relationship to each other or inaccuracies will intervene. This would seem to say that it is impossible to engage in accurate prediction of the future. How, then, do we explain the continued seeking after this goal by respected scientists? How, then, do we explain Mua’Dib?

--

--

Author, Technologies of the Self. | PhD student @Princeton. JD, BS @Columbia. Law, history, technology. Outer space. Postcolonialism. Modernity. Dune.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store