Response: The Path of the Righteous Man…

…is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.

– Ezekiel 25:17, the Quentin Tarantino Version

In which I address some recent comments e-mailed to me which, I believe, for the most part represent a profound misreading of the corpus at hand, but which nonetheless raise some points I might as well answer.

I suppose it’s slightly unfair of me to go off on you without giving you some background on where I’m coming from, but that comment chain touched a little on an issue that I’ve been turning over in my head for a long while, both in my worldbuilding as a core theme of the storyline within the setting (one of these days I’ll actually write it down instead of building “castles in the air” in my imagination…) and in my own life: What is the nature of violence? What is the proper role of force in relations between two rational creatures? Is it possible for a “reasonable person” to desire the death of another — even if they would never act on that desire outside of certain “acceptable” boundaries? In cases where retaliatory force is justified, where does the boundary lie between “acceptable” and “overkill”?

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a pacifist (although certain strains of pacifism have probably influenced my thought in the course of my investigation),

As I’ve implied before, say, here for example, pacifism is very poorly thought of in Imperial culture, because in their opinion it’s a self-justifying morally supine position; which is to say, it’s the position of “First they came for the $VICTIM, and I did not a single gorram useful thing because it was more important to me not to get my hands wet.” Shrugging at evil to its face, and saying, “Well, at least I didn’t…”.

Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness.

And accursed is he who leaves the weak to suffer what they must.

but I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to the use of force by one being capable of reason against another, where are essentially two elements, each of which is a morally and ethically independent consideration from the other: The external *means and circumstances of application*, and the internal *motivation of the applicator*; or, in short, the “use of force” vs. the “will to kill.”

The “use of force” consideration is essentially what people talk about when debating the merits of “coercion” vs. “self-defense.” In that sense, I consider myself a conventional believer in the Non-Aggression Principle: Initiating force — even non-lethal force — without cause is always wrong; using retaliatory force — even lethal force, and even *wittingly* lethal force — is right when done in an appropriately proportional manner to deflect, oppose, or counteract an illegitimate act of force.

(Note that, above, I’m drawing a distinction between a *witting* — performing an action with foreknowledge of a certain or highly probable consequence; the desirability of that particular consequence being, for the moment, irrelevant — and *willing* — that is, acting with the intention of causing a specific consequence.)

However, that seems to be only half the battle.

Violence against another living thing is, in a fundamental sense, an inherently entropic act: The violent actor is expending energy by applying force against an ordered system (the living target) with the aim of causing that system to break down and expend its energy chaotically. It would seem to me that acting with the specific intention of causing that sort of outcome is, essentially, acting with the desire for entropy to win, however limited the scope of that particular “victory” may be.

If entropy is a thing that should rationally be avoided, then it stands to reason that a reasoning sophont is no more capable of willing the death of one of its peers and remaining rational at the same time, than it is that one can desire the destruction of the Universe Entire and remain rational. This is a consideration entirely independent of the *external* context of the use of force.

Here is the obvious question they would ask at this point:

Is it moral to cure cancer?

Obviously it is when you can use sophisticated medicine to retrain the cancer cells into being honest, upstanding members of their tissue.

But what if you’re using carcinophages, or chemotherapy, or radiotherapy, or old-fashioned surgery to cut the tumor out? That’s entropic in the exact same way: you are forcibly destroying an ordered, living system, and you are, in fact, hoping for your tightly-focused entropy to win this small victory. Is that wrong?

No, says the Healer’s Code, because what the above argument fails to recognize is that the tumor is an entropy generator which is itself destroying a more complex ordered system, and the position you are in is having to apply this focused entropy in order to preserve that greater system.

(There is more on this here from the point of view of the Stratarchy of Indirection and Subtlety, and this should also illuminate just how far Imperial doctrine goes to use minimal force for necessary effect. As residents of a planet that bans quiet assassination in favor of mass warfare, I don’t think they’d be willing to accept correction from us on this point.)

I have, in the past, described the Imperial justice system as surgical in its approach. This is the underlying truth: some cancers have to be cut out, in order to save the patient. It is an unfortunate circumstance that such things exist at all in the first place, but since they do, this is the choice with which one is presented.

(At this point, usually someone complains that you can’t compare a sophont being to cancer.

Indeed you can’t, they say. The cancer is merely programmed tissue acting out its programming; its destructiveness is entirely unintentional, no more willful than a mosquito, a virus or a falling rock. The sophont, on the other hand, has the power of choice, and willingly chose against the good; it is thus far worse and merits destruction substantially more than, say, the unfortunate bacteria we poison with vancomycin to save sophont lives.)

In short, I believe that it’s possible to act in a way that any third-party observer with knowledge of both the cause and effect would consider to be justifiable self-defense, while also being guilty of murder because you acted with *murderous intent* independently of whether the action itself was the correct thing to do at the time. Even if you balk at calling it “murder” and ascribing to it the culpability thereof, I still consider it a species of viciousness that should be neither tolerated nor encouraged.

Or, still more briefly: While *wittingly* causing someone’s death may be justifiable if one does so for the right reasons, *willingly* causing someone’s death is always wrong — even if the circumstances and the actual actions taken are exactly the same in both situations.

(Or, perhaps more pointedly: “While lethal force may be unfortunately necessary to deal with the worst sorts of scum, anyone who both claims to be rational and *willfully* kills or causes the death of another soph — or endorses such an action — is either deluding themselves or committing the most dangerous and fundamental sort of fraud possible.”)

To which the obvious follow-up question would be:

Is it immoral to be happy that you’ve cured cancer, even if you had to kill the cancer to do it?

…no.

And while the ignorant can be educated, the primitive uplifted, and the sick-in-mind cured, likewise, it’s not immoral to be happy that you have killed a walking sophont cancer whose very existence made the world around them worse. The doctor has repaired the future life of her patient and those around him; the sentinel has repaired the lives of everyone who would otherwise have been harmed, directly or indirectly, by the ex-soph in question.

This is, so far as their ethical calculus is concerned, an inarguably good act of entropy-minimization.

What worries me when I read things like the excerpt from this post ( https://eldraeverse.com/2016/12/04/a-question-grab-bag/ ) below:

But once you have cold-mindedly ensured that you have the right target and have done the proper strategic and tactical planning, then go ahead and strike down upon those who attempt to poison and destroy your brothers with great vengeance and furious anger, and other colorful metaphors. It is… appropriate. Empowering one for such unpleasant necessities is what wrath is for.

I refer you here to the empowering paradox of passion and reason.

Or from here ( https://eldraeverse.com/2014/05/31/the-bear-necessities-historical-trivia/ ):

After hearing the testimony of the children and bystanders, the Near Orbit District Court ruled that ‘***they needed killing***; jolly well done’.

The people in question were child kidnappers. If that’s not an example of people whose existence poisons the world and who need killing both individually and as a class, who in all the world is?

And slogans like:

> Civilization has enemies; kill the bastards.

ObReference in canon, from here:

The official motto of the Imperial Military Service is “Between the Flame and the Fire”. Unofficially, the paraphrase “civilization has enemies; we kill the bastards” has been usually tolerated.

Which is to say: it’s an unofficial military motto. (I’ll leave it to any actual veterans reading this to supply examples of the real thing, by which standard this is kinda milquetoast.) This is the self-summary and mutual reminder of the rough men who stand guard on the walls mentioned below. If you want a good reference for actual sentinel attitudes, it’s here. (Scroll down.)

I should like to draw your attention to this part:

We live in Utopia.  We have no war, no crime.  No disease, barely any injury, and certainly no death that can’t be easily reversed.  Thanks to the autofac, we’ve never known poverty, and we live on worlds where no-one for generations ever has.  In societies where, by the Contract and the Code and the tireless efforts of archai like Unification, we can always trust, people always care, and happy endings always happen for good people, which is to say, everyone.  We go through our lives without experiencing more than the briefest moments of the mildest pain, or even inconvenience, and few but the eldest of us remember the true taste of suffering, or injustice, or fear, or loss.

That’s right, folks. Remember, the Empire was founded by people who, essentially, read through some trope pages for things like Mary Suetopia, and Sugar Bowl, and said: Yes. This is right, this is true and beautiful, this is how the universe ought to work. And then made both it (locally) and themselves that way. They have the sort of rates of crime, social dysfunction, anomie and alienation otherwise best seen “once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria”. (At least if you discount the monster attacks.)

So let’s just look at our world though today’s twitter, as an example.

  • The “Leader of the Free World” is an orange fascist who would lose an intellect contest with a bowl of jello.
  • At least two of our supposedly-civilized, advanced, etc. countries run concentration camps specifically for children.
  • Then there’s the ongoing #MeToo scandal, in which it seems increasingly clear that much of Hollywood and more than a few other places are stuffed with people now suffering social sanctions for things that, *there*, would unquestionably count as rape, straight up.
  • Not to mention all those places in the world where such things and even worse variants on them don’t even go remarked upon.
  • And at this point, I’ve stuck to things that even the average human finds offensive. I haven’t even started touching on things that are specifically offensive to Imperial sensibilities…

And there are lots of places in the galaxy that are just like us, though the details differ, and I’m not talking about the Iltine Union or the Theomachy of Galia. I’m talking about places whose self-image is at least as smug as that of the average First World country.

There are certainly, all praise to Rúnel, plenty of more civilized places than Earth around – hell, even the Vonnies do somewhat better – but nonetheless, if the hainadar appear sometimes to be channeling the attitude of the Roman legionary watching the dark forests across the Rhine, or the guards posted along the Great Wall – well, that’s because they do see themselves as the thin indigo line between the warmly-lit, gentle garden of civilization and a never-ending parade of savages and atrocities, and have perfectly legitimate reasons for so doing.

They want them on that wall. They need them on that wall.

You want to explain to them how they’re wrong about that, Earthling? Maybe tell them how the barbarians haven’t earned the name a dozen or two times over?

Myself, I think it’s a bloody miracle and possibly a tribute to self-control and respect for freedom of choice that what you get is attitude, overt and covert manipulation towards improvement, and a few Renegades – and not, say, The Ultimate Crusade of Ultimate Destiny…

Is that — and I hope you interpret this as coming from a friend expressing concern, and not an enemy seeking to condemn — something of this distinction is being either lost or glossed over without serious examination, and that all this talk of “barbarians” tacitly divides the Universe into an “elect” chosen few and a vast mass of “damned” whom it is alright to want to kill provided you can find the right opportunity to do so — even if the eldrae themselves might find such a view abhorrent if presented that way, I worry that that’s what their philosophy towards force and violence adds up to when all the pieces are put together.

…which would be justified, if it came to that, not by some sense of the elect, but by the things that its carefully selected targets have actually done and continue to do.

If you see a murder, a rape, a kidnapping, a robbery, etc., then by ethics and the Contract and the Charter, you are obliged to intervene to stop it, and if stopping it and preventing it from happening again and again and again requires it, then in the absence of proper formal process, whether or not you want to, you are obliged to do so with lethal force.

But more, if you see people who fit that latter definition, you should want to, because you should want to do the right thing, and when faced with cancer, the right thing is to cure it.

This argument does not lose any of its force when you scale it up; an organization, or a culture, that institutionalizes these things is no less guilty than an individual that does so. The problems with the Ultimate Crusade of Ultimate Destiny are (a) its impracticability – as demonstrated in the small by our various failed efforts at nation-building – and (b) difficulty in appropriately handling the majority – the ignorant, the primitive, and the mind-sick. These make the slow extension of cultural spheres, educational efforts, and the aforementioned overt and covert the optimal path in the long run, Renegades and proscribed groups notwithstanding. But there’s nothing wrong with its ethical justification.

Because, as it turns out, the wild universe is dark and full of horrors.

 

October Stuff

In honor of the coming holiday, a terrifying thought I had:

According to “The Blood-Brain Barrier” (and other incidental mentions elsewhere), it’s possible to target, edit, and alter the will if you know what you’re doing.

By implication, this means that it must be possible to *erase* someone’s will entirely with a personalized “nolitional” payload.

It would be an incredibly subtle and terrifying assassination method. Your target would be almost physically untouched and retain most of their sensory and cognitive functions, but the one thing that makes you a person would be as utterly destroyed as if you had taken a bullet to the brain-pan.

It’s certainly possible to build a p-zombifier, yes.

On the other hand, it’s not all that subtle (at least to societies that have sophotechnology, since coring out the logos will show up on a mind-state display like a claidheamh mor on a chest x-ray); and since – per the Cíëlle Vagary, etc. – logotic activity is most relevant in instants of chaotic choice, if you p-zombify Kim Jong-un, all you get is someone who can’t choose not to be Kim Jong-un. While not completely unuseful, leaving ethics aside for the moment, this is much less useful than one might think. 🙂

Given the emphasis on and discussion around the eldraeic take on “cold justice,” particularly in the recent post on the “Bonfire of the ‘Elites’,” I figured it would be appropriate to ask this one: Did the Empire ever develop anything parallel to the body of law and jurisprudence of equity (and its derived equitable remedies) that arose *here* from the English chancery courts that were established to “temper the rigor of the law”?

Equitable remedies have always been available in Imperial law, where applicable and just; unlike Earthling common-law systems (up until recently, in some systems), there has never been any distinction between law and equity. (Similar, although this is as imprecise as all Terran analogies, to the Scottish situation.)

(Not, of course, to “temper the rigor of the law”; if the law is just – and since the justification for the existence of the law hinges upon that it is just, which is to say, is as accurate a reflection of the Platonic ideal of perfect justice as possible – then any departure from the rigor of the law is, eo ipso, unjust. If the law is not just, then the only thing to do is change the law until it is.)

Okay, tomorrow morning AD, we have First Contact with the Eldrae. The day after, Corvus Belli gets access to an excellent intellectual property AI legal council and starts to put out the licensing and publication rights for their miniatures wargame, “Infinity”. They don’t make the mistakes that Games Workshop makes when trying to license their IP.

What would the game-playing public think of the game and how well would it do?

Don’t think I can commit to a position based on what the web alone can tell me, alas.

What would the eldrae think of [toppling] dominoes, seeing as they’re displays of entropy at it’s finest?

On the contrary, they’re lovely ordered complex systems producing a desired and desirable end result. Sure, they produce entropy as a by-product of their operation, but so does everything else: it’s a broken universe.

(On a related note, what of victims who become either implicitly or explicitly complicit in their own victimhood?)

I’m talking about, to use a specific case, the situation that Patty Hearst fell into where, after initially being kidnapped, she was so thoroughly reprogrammed that she actively aided and abetted her captors’ further illegal activities because, in her own words, “The thought of escaping from them later simply never entered my mind. I had become convinced that there was no possibility of escape… It simply never occurred to me.”

Unless you can prove reprogramming in the technical sense – thought-viruses, overshadowing, coercive fusion, bodyjacking, et. sim., such arguments do not gain you much sympathy. Because, y’know, you have free will and the capacity to choose – and whatever your position on that *here*, in the Eldraeverse not only will mainstream philosophers tell you that hard determinism is incoherent, but the sophotechnologists and physicists will chime in and point out that they’re only a skosh away from being able to point at the widget that makes it work – and can exercise them unless you’ve been technically deprived of that capacity (your hypothetical “nolitional” payload, for example), and so bloody well ought to have.

(If available, you would definitely be better off trying for the duress – committed-lesser-crimes-to-prevent-a-greater-one – defense, but it wouldn’t have been in her case.)

It doesn’t help much that the eldrae in general, being constructed differently and very disinclined to submission, do not see much Stockholm Syndrome, et. al., per the bottom answer here, and thus do not consider it part of “human nature” the way we do.  Here, that’s victimization that could happen to anyone; there, it makes you an undiagnosed parabulia case, and in the modern era, the Guardians of Our Harmony and your tort insurer both will be wondering how exactly you went undiagnosed for long enough for this to happen.

(And since you don’t grow up in a mature information society without learning something about memetics, or a philosophically mature society without learning some formal ethics, an inadequate memetic immune system is no defense either.)

This, naturally, flavors the sympathy you get if you victimized yourself, in much the same way as if you were an undiagnosed schizophrenia case; people feel bad for you because you’re fundamentally broken and need fixing. It also tends to evaporate much of it when the choice you made under its influence was to go from victim to victimizer.

Nor does the meme rehab prescribed in such a case excuse you from paying weregeld and reparations: you still chose and acted, and that’s still on you.

[As a side note, actually, the schizophrenic has a better defense available: if you shoot at your hallucinatory monsters and hit someone, you don’t have mens rea because you responded reasonably to the data you have. That’ll play for an insanity defense.]

(Continued from earlier…)

What, specifically, is the issue at stake that makes such a conclusion unacceptably psychotic? I can understand why they might object on grounds that it’s morally pessimal (to use your terminology from a previous discussion) not to “abstain from the very appearance of evil,” and how in a positivist sense it might be abnegated by an Imperial citizen-shareholder’s commitment to maintain a specific standard of what locally is defined as sanity,

I’m going to assume this has effectively been answered by the earlier comment on the layered shells of ethics.

but as for its applicability to the general mass beyond the confines of the Empire’s own reach, and particularly to a self-sovereign individual under no contractual constraints to behave otherwise:

Law is local (the Doctrine of the Ecumenical Throne notwithstanding, and in any case, that’s less of a legal principle and more of a good excuse); ethics are universal. The Empire’s citizen-shareholders are more than happy to export and apply – on a personal, non-legal level – their views on what constitutes virtue and lack of same to the entire observable universe.

(As a tangential aside — though one I’ll come back to later — it seems that this is the necessary justification that allows anyone, and not just the particular victim(s), to shoot and kill an offender for what we would regard as relatively petty offenses if they deem it necessary under Imperial jurisprudence.)

I note that you have the right to defend self, others, and property by lethal force in the moment; this doesn’t extend to a generalized hunting license for anyone who has committed a crime and who hasn’t been formally outlawed. (Although since everyone has the right of arrest upon probable cause provided that the alleged criminal is handed over forthwith to the Constabulary or to a Curial court for arraignment, crimes committed while resisting arrest can blur this a bit.)

As has been greatly emphasized elsewhere, the eldrae place a high value on informed consent in their dealings. How would they respond, however, to the idea that consent is not a thing that can merely be passively solicited, but something that can be actively manufactured or engineered — as espoused (and largely developed) *here* by men such as Edward Bernays (1)(2) — by controlling what information passes through the various filters and “gatekeepers” on its route from the source to the general public, and by dictating how that information is presented

I believe the relevant snarky soundbite is: “No-one can manufacture your consent without your consent.”

Or, possibly, “Isn’t that called persuasion?”

There are certain constraints on what’s permissible by way of information control (extraordinarily limited) and by way of bad information (prohibitions on YGBMs and basilisks, but also in re choice-theft on defamation, falsification of information, falsificiation of entelechy, claiming false attachment, assumption of false identity, etc., etc.; the freedom of speech is not the freedom to deceive). But inside those limits —

On the one hand, it’s a mature information society. Information is everywhere, from a million sources which have their own point of view on everything except the facts. Learning to sort through this for truth and picking out the intentional memegineering is a basic life skill; failing to do your due diligence and just believing any damn thing you’re told, especially if you outsource your cognition to one particular source, is a kind of wilful stupidity that receives absolutely no cultural respect whatsoever. (This is why, say, advertising is the way that it is *there*.)

On the other hand, of course people and their coadunations will try to persuade you of things, and dress up their ideas in the nicest possible attire. That’s how you get things done in civilized society when you can’t force people to do things your way; sell the product. Persuasion, advertising, memetic engineering, a little manipulation – these are the polite tools of a society that’s renounced compulsion, and are refined accordingly.

Incidentally, this is where some of those grayer eikones come in: the intrigant who can persuade people into an extended series of individually positive-sum interactions and, by doing so, achieve a greater goal is greatly respected for their social-fu. On the heights, this is how the Great Game is played.

Conveniently, it also encourages the play style in which everyone wins.

So let’s say that you’re a rookie vigilante righter-or-wrongs out on your first day. And let’s say that on your very first case, you honestly interpret the scenario in entirely the wrong way, and thus botch things in the worst way possible. Maybe the “thief” you caught red-handed was actually some sort of contracted retrieval specialist hired by the property’s true owner to recover it, and the building they were trying to break into was where the thief was storing it. Or maybe those robed thugs you blew away with gusto after you caught them accosting a defenseless old man were actually actors in a public performance of *Julius Caesar*.(*) Either way, while you can safely say that you acted without malice and with the best of intentions, you did exactly the *wrong* thing given the situation. What’s most likely going to happen to you once you go through the Imperial justice system?

Contracted retrieval specialists – or to give them their local name, asset repropriators – have v-tags and bonds, so that’s not a mistake you should make.

Anyway: assuming that everything is as it seems on the surface (i.e., you genuinely tried to do the right thing, you just fucked it up, and you weren’t negligently incompetent), you’ll have to pay the reparation – just not the weregeld. There won’t be meme rehab, either, because there’s no homicidal tendency to correct.

(This is standard procedure for cases whose intent is adjudicated as error in judgment/non-wilful negligence.)

((As a side note, this sort of thing is very unlikely to be someone’s career choice, given the local crime rates and Constabular efficiency. If you want to make a career out of unlikely scenarios, you’d probably be better off hanging out your shingle as a professional unicorn hugger, or some such. They’re much more likely to exist.))

 

Ia! Ia! Shub-Memerath!

(The kind that’s made of ideas, not the kind that outgrabes…)

So, Mark Atwood sent me a link to this:

Who worships an evil god?

Someone has realized that the lovecraftian gods are effective as myth
because they are basically the eikones of the human species, hiding in
plain sight.

For your attention…

This is, indeed, very relevant to my interests, and to yours – assuming that you are interested in how the eikones, being entities of the conceptual realm, worked before being reified into weakly godlike superintelligences running on moon-sized world-brains.

(And to a large extent still work, of course, since it’s not as if they got any less terrifyingly pure-conceptual in the process.)

As I’ve quoted before:

A god — a real god — is a verb. Not some old man with magic powers. It’s a force. It warps reality just by being there. It doesn’t have to want to. It doesn’t have to think about it. It just does.

It’s not hard to see the commonalities with – well, to quote the introductory post:

Sometimes people in the rationalist community write about egregores. Scott has written about Moloch. Sarah Constantin wrote a great one about Ra. That’s more about the results of processes than something individuals would worship (like the Invisible Hand), but the feeling of them seemed very right. They were terrible and inhuman, a drive given form that we could never really comprehend.

Moloch and Ra sound a lot like what happens when you read too much of a book, and are wholly given over to some greater Thing, that has no concern for normal, boring, human life. So: what if the whole suite of gods in the Mythos were egregores like that?

…gods as, to steal some particularly lovely Destiny flavor text, ideas that will eat your thoughts and leave you full of Light.

(This is of course also particularly relevant inasmuch as – well, to quote one of the posts, ‘being intellectually consistent and “taking ideas seriously” is actually going to make you sound bizarrely different from reasonable people’, and the Empire is, among other things, a culture that prizes intellectual consistency and taking ideas seriously, which as long-term readers will have noticed changes things quite a lot.

And certainly makes things bizarrely different from *here*‘s culture, in which ideologue is the go-to dismissal aimed at anyone who doesn’t instantly cave on their principles at the first sign of difficulty or someone being upset.

The reverse cultural effect, incidentally, is why “pragmatism”, in Imperial culture, has acquired notable overtones of “hold onto your purse, watch your back, and get their money in advance”. Sophs without principles are not to be trusted, ’cause they’ll default on you as soon as it’s, heh, practical – so if you have to deal with them, it’s time for you to apply the principle of cuius testiculos habes.

[…actually, I’m going to wander a bit more off-topic, and cite this:

What is fascinating to me is the reasonable people. The vast majority who don’t think of themselves as holding any “out there” political opinions, and who look down on revolution or extremism as too risky. They just see themselves as holding up the same normal, common sense morality everyone else feels, or should.

There’s nothing “natural” about their positions though – the “normal” opinion is affected by cultural change as much as any extremist. Which is why the positions of campus feminism in the nineties became the positions of all “decent” upstanding citizens in the modern era.

The extremists you usually can argue with. As SSC points out, the extremists have no other options. But once “reasonable people” have a moral opinion, they enforce it brutally. They do not want to talk about it, they consider their opinion on formerly controversial issues now a “solved” discussion, closed for debate. And if you’re labeled a dissenter to that, your life is basically over. The reasonable people control all social discourse.

There may be an inferential gap here. To anyone who hasn’t experienced, it’s hard to express how scary it is when you have an opinion you think is acceptable, and everyone insists it’s just not allowed to be discussed. When people you respect are blithely ignoring their most fundamental principles because “this is the way everyone does it now” and with no further explanation.

Extremists at least usually feel they have to justify themselves.

As we strongly implied back here, the dominant Weltanschauung *there* is, shall we say, strongly intolerant of believing in things without understanding why one believes them. *Here*, the “reasonable people” own the social-intellectual climate. *There*, they’re the outgroupiest of out-groups, prone to be inquisitioned into surly silence the moment they stick their Just Because/Everyone Agrees out of its hole for an airing.

This results in a lot of alathkháln, for those not accustomed to this sort of climate, and as such is a strong contributor to non-Utopia. But one can’t help but suspect it produces better outcomes.])

Anyway, to return to the topic, these are a series of posts well worth reading on their own. But specifically for Eldraeverse readers, I’m going to suggest some commonalities with various Flamic eikones. (These will probably make a lot more sense after you read the original posts, so I’m going to suggest you may wish to do that and then come back here.)

This conception of Cthugha is virtually omnipresent, of course, in metaphysics and Imperial culture and so forth – too much so to have obvious parallels.But you can see some elements of Aláthiël (eikone of knowledge, wisdom, scholars, literacy, and skill), Her brother Atheléä (eikone of speech, music and song, poetry, language, logotecture, and memes) and Esseldár (eikone of time, memory, preservation, conservation, tradition, history, and ancestors) in the desire to collect and preserve all knowledge, all ideas, all intellects, all thoughts (the real fundamental true things) for eternity, and of Dírasán (eikone of messengers, communications, and couriers) in the desire for communication as its own end, as well as in that cause.

Yog-Sothoth has commonalities with both Elmiríën (eikone of order, structure, stability, perfection, and proper functioning) and Kanáralath (eikone of philosophy, reason, logic, mathematics, rigorous thought, and truth); the former as a representation of all those little details, all the exquisite clockwork that permits the universe to exist and function at all, and the latter as the promise that “for all the mysteries of the universe, they can be known“. That promise of knowability, of the effability of all things, is a major part of the symbolism of Kanáralath.

One can draw lines quickly from this Hastur to Braníël (eikone of power, drive, ambition, the unconquerable will, defiance of impossible odds, resolve, and endurance) and Ithával (eikone of beauty, glory, pride, achievement, radiance, status, wealth, and the rewards of excellence), just by looking at this quotation:

“Hastur is the god of stories.

“Hastur is the god of stories that are more important than reality.”

But where the twist comes in in Eldraeverse metaphysics is that that includes – that’s another way of saying – that he/they is the god of paracausality, of that inflection point between universe-as-information-system and the nondeterministic mathematics of free will which makes miracles possible in those exquisite moments when will defeats law, and sufficient awesomeness – sufficient meaningfulness imposed on the universe by qalasír – makes the impossible, at that time and place, inevitable.

Ithaqua has parallels with those two which would seem instantly clear from an eldrae perspective (and much less so from a human perspective, given our hardwiring towards social approval and conformity; but you can never fully emulate Ithával, they would say, as a mere echo of the achievements of others).But the best parallels would be Elárion (eikone of liberty, individuality, self-will, independence, and self-reliance) and Lódaríön (eikone of honor, rigor, self-discipline, purity, and self-perfection), who between them espouse being yourself and pursuing the necessities of your valxíjir and estxíjir just as hard as you possibly can.

“I think what I think and I do what I do for myself, and I will make it amazing.”

Yep, that’s about right.

Cthulhu seems nice and obvious at first glance: he’s Esseldár (eikone of time, memory, preservation, conservation, tradition, history, and ancestors) and Eslévan (eikone of the Empire, the spirit of the Imperial people, set over the race-lords and genii loci). They are all the qualities that define why we’re the Shining People in the Shining City on the Hill, and you’re, well, not.

Where you get divergence of concept is that this particular Shining People’s ideals spend a lot of time pointing out that they didn’t just spring forth fully formed and you have to work at making sure you deserve your high self-opinion, and for that matter actively goes out recruiting. Admittedly with a certain cultural blinder that has difficulty in grasping why anyone might not want to be as all-around awesome as the Clearly Objectively Superior Ones, and yet.

(That, and the sleeper isn’t going to rise and force the world to give them their due, because you can’t give people what they already have, belike.)

Ah, Nyarlathotep! Now the big N has straightforward parallels in Ithával and Aláthiël and Braníël, Leiríah (eikone of mists, illusions, deceptions, trickery, wit, and intrigue) and Seléne (eikone of the Silver Moon, cats, the cunning mind, tides, and those who travel at night) and Úlmiríën (eikone of rogues, shapeshifters, trickery, epiphanies and unwonted revelations, and sudden paradigm shifts) – all the gods of intelligence and cunning and ambition. He’s hard to pin down to just one parallel, because these qualities are so very esteemed that they show up everywhere.

This is not very comforting if you are ambitious. But if you are ambitious, then the response should be: “Good. I’m not a worshipper of Nyarlathotep. I am Nyarlathotep. I am the Doctor. I am the change I want to see in the world, and I am the small group of thoughtful people that can do anything. If I were not, I would not be free, and I would not be smart.”

That? That is possibly the most eldraeic quotation I have seen just about anywhere.

Ia! Nyarlathotep! Your less-than-humble emulators salute you!

Azathoth is only half-represented in parallels, and that principally by Kanáralath (eikone of philosophy, reason, logic, mathematics, rigorous thought, and truth, if you recall), because Kanáralath‘s demand for truth is merciless. Kanáralath is the eikone that insists that you strip away all the comforting lies and face the universe as it is. The one that will tear away the veil of “epistemic humility” and demand that, damn your eyes, you will look at it and know it for what it is. It is the god that says “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be,” and means every word, for that which cannot withstand truth doesn’t deserve to exist.

Kanáralath will hurt you. It will tell you that this is for your own good, and that will hurt you, because that, too, is true.

Where the representation fails is when it comes to the nihilism of Azathoth. That there is, and can be nothing else, than death, entropy, and meaninglessness? That, they say, is a lie, and an easy one, and the truth shall burn it away.

You could easily make a case for both Shub-Niggurath and Tsathoggua as personifications of Entropy, except that in Flamic thought, Entropy doesn’t have a personification; it’s merely a defect, or an absence. At most, like Exalted‘s Ebon Dragon, it’s an itself-shaped hole where it ought to be.

[One relevant point to make is why Shub-Niggurath isn’t akin to Sylithandríël (eikone of nature, the forests, set over the seasons and the plant-lords, silviculture, and gardens) or Gáldabar (eikone of wild nature, beasts and the hunt, set over the beast-lords) – namely, that those eikones aren’t eikones of nature as it is, but eikones of nature as it ought be without the deforming influence of Entropy; and that conception of ought be demands that nature be as civilized in the first place as civilization managed to become. It’s a garden that’s got no place for ichneumon wasps, and insofar as primality is a thing rather than the absence of a thing, it’s against it.

They don’t even like those irrational drives that are not per se bad; irrational mercy and compassion are as alien to the perfected, rational, civilized universe as the other ones. All things that should be done should be done thoughtfully.]

But to return to the topic, it is almost trivial to cast Tsathoggua as passive (spiritual) entropy – insert that entire quotation from Thus Spoke Zarathustra on the topic of the Last Man here – and Shub-Niggurath as one of the many aspects of active entropy, that which destroys complexity and revels in cacophilia.

But they’re both still self-shaped holes, because personifying nihilities gives them too much credit.

Commentary and other thoughts are, of course, welcome.

Trope-a-Day: Balance Between Good and Evil

Balance Between Good and Evil: Strongly averted in eldraeic theology, the Flamics preferring to espouse the notion that good (i.e., light, the Flame) should cheerfully extirpate evil (darkness, Entropy) from the universe and feel jolly happy about it. Good Needs Evil for contrast, forsooth! The thing about light, you see, is that it comes in many different colors.

Ice is for Endings, Side Note

When you think about the Cold Ones, it’s actually a remarkable blessing that the nature of the universe is quantized, because that’s what will eventually kill them. Eventually, those tiny energy states and information stores they use will fall below the threshold at which they cannot (because quantum) be subdivided any more to create necessary differentials, and infinity will come to an end – the granularity of the universe being the major limitation of attempting this sort of end-run around finity.

This is, by any reasonable standards, a good thing, because it places an end-point on their existence.

Imagine, for a moment, if the universe was non-quantized and analog. Then there would always be a way to slice things more finely, and get by on smaller and smaller and smaller energy differentials supporting less and less computation, but never zero. However mad and tortured their desperate struggle to hang on to another sliver of existence became, it could still get progressively worse in an infinite number of steps.

To steal a perfectly good way of putting it from a comment by Jenna Moran on Exalted’s Neverborn, whose situation is in many ways similar:

That would mean, of course, that [the universe] can never be [cold enough to kill them]. That would mean, of course, that they are mad not because they are dead gods, but because they are dead dead gods. Dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead, dead gods. Dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead, dead dead gods.

And still endlessly unraveling and unfolding into ever greater death, loss, experience of no longer having experiences, being the names of something that are ever further away from living, and still falling, and still somehow stuck.

(I have your cosmic horror’s cosmic horror right here.)

Ice is for Endings

Cold Ones (also ice giants, the Finality, Lords of the Last Waste)

Mythological beings who dwell at the end of time, during the final blackness of the universe, the last surviving remnants of the war of all-against-all over the universe’s final stocks of extropy, long after the passing of baryonic matter and the death throes of the most ancient black holes. Savage, autocannibalistic beings, stretching their remaining existence across aeons-long slowthoughts powered by the rare quantum fluctuations of the nothingness, these wretched dead gods know nothing but despair, hunger, and envy for those past entities which dwelled in eras rich in energy differentials, information, and ordered states, and would – if they could – feast on any unwary enough to fall into their clutches.

Stories of the Cold Ones are, of course, not to be interpreted literally: they are a philosophical and theological metaphor for the pessimal end-state of the universe, to wit, the final triumph of entropy in both a physical and a spiritual sense. Nonetheless, this metaphor has been adopted by both the Flamic church and the archai themselves to describe the potential future which it is their intention to avert.

The Cold Ones have also found a place in popular culture, depicted as supreme villains: perhaps best seen in the Ghosts of the Dark Spiral expansion for Mythic Stars, a virtuality game from Nebula 12 ArGaming, ICC, and the Void Cascading InVid series, produced by Dexlyn Vithinios (Sundogs of Delphys, ICC).

Mythographies of the Worlds, 53rd ed., Third League Publishing & c.

Legal Variances

“While it is necessary to examine data from early Imperial history (before the instantiation of the Transcend and its immediate precursors, and to an extent even before the advent of modern meme rehab) to see this trend clearly, from the perspective of the typical Worlds criminologist vis-a-vis Imperial forensic psychedesigners, there is a priority inversion in the treatment of certain petty crimes: when scaled appropriately by magnitude on the hir Verkat/ith-Sereda scale, it becomes readily apparent that, for example, littering, vandalism, and graffiti are punished disproportionately heavily with respect to equivalent crimes in the same category.

“The origin of this lies in an unusual qualitative distinction of the Imperial weltanschauung. While never justifiable, the standard ethical calculus published by the Eupraxic Collegium points out that zero-sum theft, for example, typically originates from a methodological defect, the pursuit of worthy ends (profit, or wealth) by unacceptable means. Even a certain subset of assaults or batteries could be considered as defects of end-selection or control-aspected talcoríëf ; again, never justifiable, but understandable, readily subject to redactive correction, and not apparently arising from fundamental defect.

“Negative-sum crimes such as the examples given above, however – along with the residuum of the other petty crimes which arises on examination from cacophilic motives – are deliberate, by-qalasír-chosen, negative-sum attacks on the community of civilized sophonts, and thereby entirely inexcusable as well as unjustifiable. While amenable in the modern era to redactive correction, in prior times it was the view that those who practiced such acts or found them acceptable in a chronic manner were suffering from, at best, an incurable mental dysfunction, or indeed an entropic soul-deformation, and should be removed as far as possible from civilized society lest it prove contagious.

“Even in the modern era, it is notable that a significantly greater percentage of those convicted for crimes of the latter class refuse meme rehab, even when such refusal necessarily invokes the mortal dictum, than those convicted for crimes of the former type.”

– “Reflections on Inter-Polity Discrepancies Within Unspecialized/Common Legal Codes”,
Worlds’ Journal of Criminology & Penology

Trope-a-Day: Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism

Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Played straight at both ends.

The greater galaxy, by and large, is a cynical place.  It may not be a Crapsack World – hell, it doesn’t even come close to a Crapsack World – but it is a realistic universe – which is to say, entirely indifferent to the sophonts within it, even when they are adequately supplied with unenlightened self-interest, nihilism, or out-and-out bastardry, and guided by blind chance and, of course, the endless deathward drag of entropy.

The Empire, by contrast, is a exceptionally shiny and idealistic Utopia of wealth, freedom, the complete absence of death, disease, poverty, crime, war, or anything else that might disturb the serenity of the average citizen-shareholder; a place where everyone can trust and be trusted, people always care, and happy endings always happen for good people.  And they’re working quite hard on knocking off universal entropy.  (Of course, that’s so because they work very, very hard to make it so – including things like building into their collective consciousness an entire machine-god to replace blind chance with a superior organizational principle, one more prone to fortunate coincidences, happy meetings and Destined True Love.)

Essentially, back in the day, the dozen or so Founders disapproved really rather strongly of the default state of things, and essentially declared war (metaphorically speaking – the paradoxes involved in warring your way to utopia is something else they’re quite aware of, however hilarious punching grimdark in the face with a spacemagic fist of doom can be on occasion) on cynicism, nihilism, and other forms of entropism in the name of holding ideals hard enough that they become real. Because if the universe believes otherwise, the universe is wrong, and dammit, we can fix that.  Their modern tradition-continuing clade-heirs, who make up a supermajority just about everywhere, are very aware that utopia doesn’t come easily, and ensure that things stay the way they’re supposed to work – the way they would work in a properly constructed universe – at least inside the borders – even if that means occasionally acting cynically outside them.

The long term plan, of course, is to ram their paradigm down the throat of the entire universe… but since that’s hard to do and Utopia, they would argue, by definition can’t Justify The Means, it has to be a very long term plan.

(Not that they’re the only enclave of idealism.  Of course, ideals are to a certain degree a matter of personal taste – the founders of the Equality Concord were profoundly idealistic, and they did create a kind of utopia… if you ignore the effective elimination of free will.)

Theology and Destiny

No, not that destiny.

This Destiny.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpDLxs8z08A

Specifically, the Books of Sorrow, the history of the Hive, which you can read on this page here if you scroll right down to the bottom (OBVIOUS WARNING: HORRIFIC SPOILERS LIE THERE.), and in particular VI, XI, XV, XVII, XIX, XXXII, and XLVII seem highly relevant to Flamic theology.

Or anti-theology, rather.

While officially, at least, Entropy has not personification, or cult, or gospel in the Eldraeverse…

If it did, though…

If it did…

It would sound just exactly like that.

Trope-a-Day: Religion of Evil

Religion of Evil: Mostly averted. While there has certainly been historical evil, there have been very few actual entropy-cults.  For the most part, the evil have been more interested in the personal benefits than philosophical commitment to the Death of Everything, even if their actions are entropic as a side-effect. Much the same goes for those religions which the Church of the Flame has strong ethos-based differences with; one can be mistaken without being an active entropist.

(That being said, many people can probably list for you quite a few religions which they think are evil, even if they’re not of evil, a subtlety which is probably lost on many non-theologians.)

You might also classify the control memeplexes of any number of dysfunctional seed AI under this, but really, they’re more religions of control rather than strictly evil.

Trope-a-Day: Order Versus Chaos

Order Versus Chaos: Played straight, by both religion (the Church of the Flame’s Big Bad is entropy and chaos) and state (the Imperial motto is “Order, Progress, Liberty”).  Subverted in both cases inasmuch as they’re very clear that it’s supposed to be emergent order (which includes several of those things the original trope lists under Chaos, like free will, creativity, and individualism, and excludes their opposing counterparts) – because the creation of order is too important to be left to planners.

Religiosity in an Incompatible Universe

I was yesterday sent a link to an interesting article, noted as “in conjunction with the eldraeic conception of religion”. Herewith, then, some commentaries and sparked notions. (Note: The blog this article comes from appears to be associated with the neo-reactionary movement. If that makes you want to comment in some manner unrelated to the content of this post, please see the disclaimer at the end before so doing.)

The article in question is this: Experiments in Post-Rationalist Religion – discussing, loosely, the problems of meaningful and beneficial religiosity in a universe that metaphysically doesn’t support its underpinnings, but as creatures who seem to require a spiritual narrative in order to function. Well, without retreating into nihilism, anyway.

So we are offered some axiomata, up front, with which the Imperials would not disagree too much:

Materialism. The universe is well modelled by an unknown but computable mathematical object akin in some ways to a mathematical series, a cellular automaton, a fractal, etc. An object of vast complexity that grows from a relatively simple defining Law. We find ourselves manifested as patterns within this construction.

Well, they wouldn’t express it in quite those terms – for a start, if you go by their fancy-schmancy theory of Information Physics, the universe is not modeled by, but actually is, an enormous self-computing information pattern. “It is bit,” and all that. But obvious corollaries, such as the completeness of the universe, the susceptibility of everything, without exception, to scientific investigation and understanding, and that all claims of “supernatural” qualities are inherently null, are, well, obvious and generally accepted. Imperial culture has little taste for mystagoguery; the only proper response to the ineffable is to eff it, good and hard.

Sanctity of Truth. It is critical that the accurate perception of reality not be subordinate to other values. We shall not adopt beliefs about the material world for their projected effects, palatability, or political correctness.

Very much so. “Truth” is not an instrumentality; it’s a series of univalued and objective descriptions of the universe that does not care whether you like it or not (“many people are naturally inclined to be… meddlesome”), or whether it’s useful or not (“the speed of light is kind of a bugger, no?”). And to achieve anything worth achieving, you can’t mess around with it. (“Go ahead, try building a bridge without understanding the truths of steel and stone. You cross it first.”)

So, yes, truth is sacred and quite possibly revered. As a good epistemologist will tell you, theirs is the most important part of philosophy and therefore all thought, because if your epistemology isn’t right, everything that follows from what you think you know is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.

Non-Nihilism. Nihilism is the observation that material universes do not contain anything of spiritual value or moral authority, and thus that accurate perceptions of reality do not contain beliefs about spiritual narrative. But it is also the case that wholesale nihilism is a non-solution, and that humans must live within a believable spiritual narrative or mythos.

And on this point, well, we all know what the Imperials think about nihilism:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/b_29yvYpf4w?t=17s]

Anyway, yes, they don’t really care for it that much.

Anyway, the post goes on to say:

The third axiom, in commanding the existence of a believable mythos in contradiction to the nonexistence of true myths implied by the first two axioms, gives us our problem.

The immediate and obvious solution is that we must believe in a mythology that is not true. Not necessarily false, mind you; our spiritual myths may be nonsense from a truth perspective. For example, we might claim to believe that “It is the destiny of mankind to conquer the stars”. This can’t really be true or false in a positivist sense because constructions involving “destiny” and “mankind” are not really meaningful empirically. How does the statement constrain your expectations? It does not; it is purely mythological.

This would be where they start to go down another path. I would certainly agree on the importance of mythos, and I can think of no better way to do that than to quote Terry Pratchett, from my personal favorite Christmastime story, Hogfather:

Death: Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?

Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

Susan: So we can believe the big ones?

Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.

Susan: They’re not the same at all.

Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.

Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what’s the point?

Death: You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?

But where the eldrae, the Imperials, and the Flamic belief system would differ is in arguing that, if I may wax Platonic for a moment, these things are true, and do exist. (Which is why I don’t much care for the term “Materialism” to describe their null-supernatural view of the world.) Existence is not the same thing as instantiation as matter.

Take, for a trivial example, the equilateral triangle. The equilaterial triangle, the concept of the equilateral triangle, is a mathematical truth that existed before any of the mass-energy of the universe congealed into equilaterally triangular shapes, and would go on existing even if some Omnicidal Maniac were to go on a universe-wide pogrom to destroy all three-cornered objects. It’s an idea, and ideas exist in the Iconic Realm, the Realm of Forms, etc., etc., every bit as much as this triangular thing, right here, exists in the Realm of Matter.

Supernatural is a null word. There are no spirits and so forth as humanity *here* would understand them. But there are certainly ideas, and anyone who cares to deny that is plunging headlong into the nasty recursive paradox of endorsing the concept of the nonexistence of concepts.

So, from their perspective, they are not believing things that aren’t True, or aren’t in the same category as True things – the Truth-Myth barrier of which the original post speaks. They’re believing fundamental truths, the ideas hovering off there in aevum until the mind perceives them, and then instantiating them in the Realm of Matter by virtue of belief and imposing that belief on reality by sheer force of estxíjir. The mind, very literally, makes it real – because it’s the instrumentality by which ideas are reified.

I’m going to skip lightly over the original post’s “Gnon” section: mostly because I think I have already talked somewhat about the broken nature of the universe, the flaw that is Entropy, and the blind-idiot-staggering creative process that explains why there is so much nasty in the universe, despite matter’s best efforts to self-organize. The Imperials aren’t terribly interested in taking teleic (“ought-y”) guidance from the natural state of the universe, because anything that’s broken can be remade, and the universe is so very, very broken.

So, when it comes to the “Small Gods and Spiritual Crises” part of things, well, obviously they’d disagree with the statement of “there is no meaning to concepts such as consciousness, souls, identity, rights, dignity, well-being, or any of that”. Obviously there is. That it’s a projection from the Iconic Realm rather than an obvious, named, lump of matter doesn’t mean it’s not real.

But there are some interesting points here:

In the world around us, there are many important processes besides individual people that we must relate to. Many of the old gods, those of natural processes like weather, fertility, home, war, the land, and so on, can be understood as myths around these processes that allowed our ancestors to relate to them in a natural spiritual way. We no longer live or think the same way as them, and their particular gods don’t speak to us, but we can’t pretend to have cast off all gods: Civilization, Progress, Democracy, Social Justice, Santa Claus.

…now this is a concept that makes instant sense in an Imperial-culture context. Because their gods, the eikones, are defined as creatures of the Iconic Realm. They are, literally, ideas. To steal another perfectly cromulent quotation, this one from Mass Effect 2:

A god — a real god — is a verb. Not some old man with magic powers. It’s a force. It warps reality just by being there. It doesn’t have to want to. It doesn’t have to think about it. It just does.

That’s what an eikone is. It’s one of the Big Cheeses of the Iconic Realm, an idea so powerful that it reshapes the world around it simply by existing. That’s also why the key feature of Flamic belief is emulation, not worship. Wealth, or Love, or Integrity doesn’t care for all the lip service in the world. It wants you to be wealthier, lovelier, more integral. Better – which is to say, more like it.

Now, if I may digress for a moment into other points of theology, one of Plato’s sticking points was the question of, in a realm of Perfect Forms, would there be Perfect Forms of Perfectly Awful Things?

Well, so far as eldraeic theologians are concerned, there aren’t. The Iconic Realm is the realm of perfect instantiations of concepts, and as such has no room for intrinsically imperfect concepts. Sylithandríël Leafcloak, the Twilight Mother – Mother Nature, if you will – is technically not the eikone of nature as it is materially instantiated, with all its unnecessary waste and suffering. She’s the eikone of the harmony of emergent perfection that nature would be if our old enemy Entropy hadn’t screwed up the material universe so much.

So when we look at, say:

Many of us react against some of the predominant gods of the day, as our enemies reacted against the gods of their days, calling them false, calling their worship harmful and antisocial, and so on. It is important to have a nuanced view of the theological nature of such conflicts. It is not that we claim these gods do not exist – anyone who wants to claim that Democracy et al are not profoundly real and powerful sociopsychological entities with significant basis in reality, has an awful lot of work to do – what we claim is that their cultists base their worship on mistakes of reasoning on the Truth side about the nature of their gods. For example they believe that the worship rituals and patterns of spiritual relation around Democracy will bring peace, order, and good government, when in fact those rituals may only bring slow ruin.

and

The shape of our spiritual crisis is not that we do or don’t worship gods, or that we worship false gods, but that we worship terrible demon gods that demand the sacrifice of our people, culture, and civilization. A healthy mythos would instead be a quiet but lively human-allied tradition offering us positive guidance, spiritual context, and purpose in our lives. Such things have existed in our past, and perhaps we can weather this and move towards spiritual health again in our future.

The existence of imperfection, in ideas or in material reality, is a consequence of Entropy, in its mental-spiritual sense, squatting like a black fog between us and the Iconic, distorting our perceptions. That’s how some people can look at Liberty and see Democracy, or look at Wealth and see Zero-Sum Money Transfer, or look at Purity and see Norm Enforcement, and other heresies suitable for the darkest past and outworlder barbarians.

It’s also why the Doctrine of Hypothesis is so important in their theology – because it recognizes that that distorting cloud is there. It’s why the Flamics are not, by and large, a dogmatic church; because right from the start, it recognizes that while the eikones may be perfect, they see them at best through a glass darkly, and as such it is vitally important to ask questions and test every bit of your doctrine to make sure that it is actually reflecting what you think it is.

(Otherwise you end up with metaphorical demons coming out your ass and Entropy cackling to itself in a totally non-personified evil way.)

Of course, now, once the post gets into talking about human-allied tradition and religion as instrumentality and naming specific ideologies, then we part ways more or less completely. The Church of the Flame may have been a vigorous force for progress throughout eldraeic and Imperial history, but it wasn’t designed to serve as such. It grew out of attempts to understand the why and the what of the world, like the majority of religions – it was just rather more chary about declaring that it had the answer. But the believers believe, quite sincerely.

And that’s about as far as I’m going to take it, rather than trying to get into specific mythologies. They might agree on Science Fiction and the value of long-standing social customs, but since the eldrae consider our views on masculinity [and femininity, for that matter] and ethny borderline insane, not much commonality there. (Cultural pride, sure, but people who get attached to unchosen phenotypic epiphenomena are not rational.)

And while ancestor “worship” does form a part of Flamic belief, as you might expect, what your ancestors want is not your strict adherence to the mos maiorum, but for you to have improved on it. If you didn’t live any better than they did, they might say, what the hell was the point of you?


(The disclaimer:

Since this is a controversial piece of fringe politics right now, a couple of things right up front:

1. Linking does not constitute agreement.

To that end, let me note for the record that an Imperial clionomist or administrative specialist, were you to import one, would classify the neo-reactionaries as creepy-ass openly-hierarchist totalitarians, their progressiv[e|ist] bêtes noire as creepy-ass crypto-hierarchist totalitarians, and both of them as taxonomic divisions of hypertrophied and pathological kratism, which is basically the opposite end of the spectrum from civilized, technocratic, empirical-rationalist, minimal, and above all consensual governance. Don’t get any on you.

[And, should either attempt to put their ideas into practice *there*, would be guilty of conspiring to deprive people of their civil and natural rights by instituting a political system, for which the penalty is being thrown off a 400′ high waterfall in the middle of deep winter.]

2. My personal political views, whatever they might be, are not up for any kind of discussion on this blog, and indeed any comments addressing real-world, rather than SFnal, politics – especially since this post isn’t even about SFnal politics – will be disemvoweled without mercy.)

Gods of the Void

The Ice Bitch, the Spawner of Calamities, the Father of Error, That Whose Laughter Rings In The Ears Of The Dying

A near-ubiquitous spacer belief – even among the eldrae, who do not make a habit of placing masks upon the force of Entropy – is that of the many-angled god-goddess who deals out impartial death and calamity towards all whose efforts to ward his-her-its attentions off have been insufficiently fervent and effective. The Spawner of Calamities holds dominion over all ways to suffer and die in space: over void, dark, and vacuum; over fire, radiation, and flare; over leak, suit-rupture, and micrometeoroid; over hypoxia, toxin, and life-system collapse; over power-exhaustion, equipment-failure, and defect; and over stupidity, incompetence, and ill-luck most of all.

The Father of Error has little consistent depiction; mythography attributes him-her-it with, in combination, a gnarled and nauseating mass of virtually every body part and organ known to biology anywhere. The exception is that all of his-her-its forms are depicted as eyeless, befitting the blind idiot deity of error and mischance. The shadow of the Ice Bitch scars the world with radiation and poison as he-she-it passes. Symbolically, he-she-it is aptly represented by a red star in flare, bringing death to those left without shelter.

Throughout the majority of the Worlds, the cult of the Laugher is at best semi-serious – it is comforting, amidst disaster, to have someone to blame, to swear by, and indeed to swear at – although a few genuine cults do exist in less developed areas of the Expansion Regions. Unusually by comparison to similar cults, their theology does not support sacrifice or reverence; their deity’s indifference renders him-her-it indifferent to any worship. The offerings of bitter wine poured out on his-her-its altars are mere acknowledgement of the truth of things. Nonetheless, enough people seek the propitiation of their fears that his-her-its cults can sustain themselves and grow.

(Sadly, these cults do nothing to encourage wise caution and due attention to maintenance procedures.)

– Mythographies of the Worlds, 53rd ed., Third League Publishing & c.

Trope-a-Day: Immortality Immorality

Immortality Immorality: Averted, inverted, mocked, beaten soundly, and left to expire if it wants to so damned much, in much of the Galaxy.  The Imperials (and many other transsophont civilizations) are of the opinion that anyone who can’t tell that death is an eo ipso Bad Thing, meaningless, pointless, useless, unjust, unforgivably wasteful, personally destructive, and so on and so forth is an idiot, and the ephemeralist factions that propose that it is good for society and even the individual are substantially worse than that.

Of course, said ephemeralists play it entirely straight, but, well, the trouble with being ideologically committed to death is that given enough time, you will lose the greater argument with people who trend the other way.  Demographics are a bitch. Such is… life.

Side Note: Ontotechnology and Entropy

I should also perhaps take a moment to note that, given their philosophical views, the Laws of Thermodynamics in general and the Second in particular would seem to be right up there on the list of Problems Which Ontotechnologists Should Urgently Address, inasmuch as knocking that one off (and maybe stopping to take a swing or two at Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems along the way) would be a paradigmatic ethical accomplishment comparable to, say, reversing the Fall, un-eating the Apple,  and preempting the War in Heaven, sort of thing.

Well, yes, they are.

And I am absolutely sure that there are any number of people and their masses of grafted-on computronium, especially in places like Resplendent Exponential Vector, working away on the problem. (And hopefully not exploding too much in the process.)

Thermodynamics is deeply enough embedded at the core of How Reality Works, though, that I wouldn’t be expecting usable results any time soon, for cosmological values of soon.

After all, the impossible always takes a little bit longer.

 

Evils of the Naturalistic Fallacy

I saw a link today to this article, concerning the prospect of engineering predation out of the ecology in the interest of eliminating suffering (see also the Hedonistic Imperative), and was reminded of this particularly marvelous quotation from Terry Pratchett (Vetinari speaking):

“I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log.

“As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children.

“And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”

This, of course, is peculiarly applicable to the Eldraeverse in explaining both their identification of entropy and evil, and in quite why so many people and organizations in the Empire are quite so comfortable “playing God”. Someone has to, they might very well say, on the grounds that if anyone does hold that post already, the prevalence of this sort of thing in the universe demonstrates clearly – even before we bring up minor issues like the inescapable cosmic force of decay, belike – that the present incumbent is incompetent, insane, or quite simply monstrous.

Trope-a-Day: Harmony Versus Discipline

Harmony Versus Discipline: Discipline, all the way.

The essential thesis of the (Imperial mainstream) Church of the Flame, after all – and that of several related secular schools of ethics – is that the universe is fundamentally broken, and the job of sophoncy is, essentially, to learn to emulate the abstract incarnations of perfect principles by way of discovering how, and then to use that (science, progress, agorism-capitalism, engineering, art, and tireless pursuit of awesomeness) to take the universe apart and put it together better.  Perfected.  In short, to immanentize the eschaton.

The notion that nature knows best and should be accepted as it is doesn’t appear on their radar anywhere.

Trope-a-Day: Fantasy Pantheon

Fantasy Pantheon: Yes, indeed, in the shape of the Triad that emanate from the Flame, their 48 Divine Ministers and Aspects, some divine oddities like the Court of the Seasons, the Court of the Muses, and the Elemental Hexad, and their exarchs (for which read angels, kami, devas, genii loci, etc.).  And most of them do, arguably, have Anthropomorphic Personifications, although most of them have several, and quite a few non-anthropomorphic, and in some cases amorphic, personifications too – and they never turn up anywhere outside statuary, and suchlike.

Of course, in the beginning they didn’t actually exist in any physical sense, or, for that matter, as the full worship-objects of so many deities; rather, these eikones were personifications of idealized abstract concepts, and all the bundles of ideas wrapped around them, suitable for mortal reverence and emulation.  Having this sort of deity made it a rather philosophical sort of religion, and more or less ideal when it came to persisting once non-supernatural worldviews and atheism set in.

And then the Transcend came along, put on the masks, took up the insignia, and for all intents and purposes, there are now real gods in the heavens – albeit either in the virtual heavens, or in the form of a seed AI with a brain the size of a star system, depending on how you look at it…

(The henotheism part of the trope is averted, however.  While some eikones may be more prominent in any given life than any other, the theology is very clear that each of them only cares about those things within its sphere, and nothing for anything else.  A warrior who devoted himself absolutely to Kalasané, eikone of battles, and ignored Lanáraé, eikone of romantic love, could expect to find no love in this life, no matter how honored he was on the field.  Honoring all of the eikones, even if not to the same degree, is the expected behavior.)

It is also notable for not containing any “gods of evil”, or for that matter “demons”.  The opposition in the cosmology is the impersonal force identified as “chaos” or “entropy” – which the emulation of the eikones as forces of creation and order enables sophonts to fight, bringing about an ideal world; i.e., immanentizing the eschaton.

Cosmos and Ethos

There are many creation myths.

The Pancreator, Great Architect, crafting the universe out of nothingness.  The worlds born in the passion of Elif and Lithrás at the beginning of time, or stolen from the jewel-box of Eternity, or forged from chaos by the Mad Gods of the Beginning, or captured in the war of the Six Elemental Dragons on Chaos and Night, or thought into being by our own Lady Creatrix, Aldéré, Divine Ignition.

Or, if you are of a more scientific turn of mind, emerging from the detonation of the primordial monad in its embedding non-spatial plenum.

And yet, none of these creators are emulated, or the focus of our beliefs, save only for the Divine Ignition – and even then, not for what is surely either the cause or consequence of her madness.

For the universe is broken from its beginnings, and we have no praise for a creator who would abandon – or worse, deliberately craft – such a flawed creation.

Listen closely, my cousins, and you will hear the long low moan of the universe dying, its life running out.  The endless decay of energy states until the final nullity.  The rot that takes our works and nature’s alike, if not tended.  Disease wracks us, disaster dogs us.  Trees rot, beasts die.  Mountains crumble.  Rivers turn to dust and ash.  Cities and civilizations fall.  And within, all the little entropies; destruction and chaotism, slaving and default, leeching and disharmony, every way in which we betray ourselves – things undone, things done poorly, brass for gold, ash-crystal for fireglass, the inner voice that tempts and excuses us when we permit ourselves to do less, to demand less, to be less…

Yes, we are immortal – we and a few others of the sophont species – but even we are doomed, if not by mere chance and imperfection then by the slow fall deathward in time, as the turning planets slow and stop, the stars cool and die, and all that is collapses into the cold void when all energy, all life, all meaning is at last depleted.

This we must know.

And yet…

And yet, my cousins, the universe is also wondrous.  In the despite of this fall into decay, it brings forth wonders in their hundreds and thousands.  From the elegant structures of atomic nuclei to the graceful curve of the galactic arm; from the symmetry of the tiniest snowflake to the mightiest mountain range; the manifold symmetries of crystals; even the twin worlds of Isshára-Léstára.

And from all of this, life; warm oxygen-breathing life and cold methane-breathing life, and life breathing ammonia and sulphide and halogens, and hydrogen-breathing flyers swimming through gas giants; forests of blue and green and purple and midnight black under cool red suns; coral growing in lovely fractal patterns beneath the sea and forming hovering islands in hydrogen skies; worlds of earth and sky and water; life blooming blue, red, and purple beneath the ice of cold, outer worlds; dolphins leaping in the sun-struck sea, wolves racing the forest twilight, and the cry of the hunting wyvern in the mountains.

And us.  Eldrae and galari and myneni; kaeth and esseli and selyéva and qucequql; and all the other sophont species. Emerged from the miracle of self-organizing matter, capable of looking back, and seeing all this, and turning to strive for more.  Thinking and learning and building new wonders; cities, libraries, and roads spanning the world; carved mountains and gardened forests; the gleaming caverns of Azikhan and the coral-and-crystal domes of undersea cities; artificial islands and districts in orbit; and reaching beyond, first to Seléne’s silver dust and the cold red acridity of Talentar, and then to a hundred new worlds under new suns.

Bringing life, order, and complexity to places where they had never been; making minds blossom in metal brought to life, and raising the bandal and other species to full sophonce, spawning artificial ecologies, mechanical across the hot inner worlds and digital across star-spanning networks, and stranger ecologies of information in libraries, memeweaves, and markets.

Making the pieces of this broken universe into something worthy.

This is the nature of existence, my cousins: the dichotomy between the universe as it is, broken, decaying, doomed; and as it should be, as it can be made.  The Darkness, and the Flame that burns against it.  This is the choice we are given when we come to be:

To accede to the nature of things as they are; to accept the deathward slide, take what we can in the course of the plunge, and slink away from the ruins;

Or to strive ever to hold back the Darkness and stoke the Flame; to build the universe and ourselves ever closer to their proper perfection.

Anything that is broken can be repaired.