Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
What You Worship, You Shall Become
|I have noted elsewhere in these columns (which should soon be
entirely reposted to http://www.lightworks. com
with back issues under Connections or currently posted at http://www.simegen.com that as I see this current
end-of-twentieth-century world or mid-58th century world, depending on which calendar you
use that I see the current civilization of Earth as worshipping technology.
Technology has become our god. We have problems such as AIDS or the erosion of the ozone layer, and we shovel tons of money into the maw of technology and wait for the white smoke of a solution to come out the top. We wait with faith and shining eyes for technology to solve our problems.
Right now we're in the throes of a solution taking hold. We call it the Internet and hundreds of billions of dollars and other currencies are being dedicated to building this new "infrastructure" of communication.
I listen assiduously to the news on CNBC the financial channel on cable and visit their website. I hear the greed in the voices of these CEO's interviewed about their company commitments to computer solutions.
Frankly, I think the Internet and especially the Web are important developments and I'm all in favor of them.
My problem is with the attitude of the people doing the actual planning and decision making designed to build us this nifty tool for our renewed fiction delivery system.
I listen and listen so very carefully. And I'm not convinced that these people know what they're doing. My doubts stem not from what is said, but from what is not said.
Then I read and read novels galore for this column and I read just for the fun of it. I even read things that I can see immediately I couldn't recommend that you spend your hard-earned money on because they're flawed in such a way that many readers would find nothing of value in them (even if there is a nugget at the bottom of the flawed prose).
I watch a lot of science fiction on TV. And I note which kinds of fiction attract the interest of the most people. And I sift through AOL and the web-based discussions listening hard to discover what the end-users of this fiction find fascinating about it.
As readers of this column know, my most recent discovery is what seems to be a huge mega-trend toward a discussion of honor. Readers/viewers and writers are fascinated by the problem of honor.
Never once have I heard a CEO of a company working on Internet Solutions use the word honor or any derivative or peripheral allusion to the concept honor when discussing the decisions regarding the build-out of this Internet infrastructure.
To me personally, the concept "profit" and the concept "honor" are inextricably intertwined. A profit attained as a result of a dishonorable act is a potent poison that will destroy everything around it. A profit attained as a result of an honorable action will increase the wealth of the entire world, not just the person/corporation that created it.
Conclusion: the people in charge of the architecture of the new world we are building are working in total blindness and have no idea what the consequences of their actions will be and many of them, old enough to retire before those consequences become apparent, simply don't care.
However, a huge groundswell of concern is gathering among the "end-users" of the infrastructure being designed now. Honor is a thematic topic that is selling hugely well, not just inside the sf market but all around the edges, too. And the concern is spreading rapidly to more mundane forms of literature.
As an example and case in point, I present the series I've reviewed here many times before, the "Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus novels" by Faye Kellerman.
These are straight police-procedural style mysteries where Peter Decker is a detective for LAPD out in the Valley north and west of L.A. proper. Rina Lazarus is an Orthodox Jew who was widowed with two sons when she married Peter, and now they also have a child of their own. In the process of all this, Peter discovered his own Jewish roots (after having been adopted and raised Christian) and has begun to learn with a rabbi.
This has left him in an awkward position at work where they call him "the Rabbi" teasingly but without sensitivity.
Over the novels of this long series we have seen this entire situation Peter is living in evolve and we have seen Peter adjusting to evolve with it. Each novel presents some crucial evolutionary change in the way Peter is living at home. This one sees him finally give up his too-small house on a too-large plot of land (where he keeps horses) and move in closer to the synagogue they prefer to attend.
The plot-focus of each novel is on the crime Peter is solving at the moment, but the background depicts his home life and the contrasts to his professional life. The reason I keep reading this series is that Peter's job brings philosophic matters to his attention that always provide the key to whatever problem his home-life is presenting him at the time. In other words, Peter's life has the shape of a real person's life, where nothing is incidental and nothing is irrelevant. This is very different from the average cop-show on television or the average Mystery novel.
To me, the contrast between Peter's home life and his job makes this series science fiction (even though the setting is entirely contemporary-mundane) because it is actually about inter-cultural conflict across such a huge abyss (as in the abyss, the chasm that divides the Tree of Life) that it may as well be interplanetary.
In Serpent's Tooth, the 1997 hardcover in this long series, we see the same solid, intricate, artistically gorgeous writing we have seen in the previous novels. The foreground problem of the crime is welded inextricably to the background problem of the family living so far from their community.
And the welding theme between foreground and background is honor.
The particular point of honor that welds this crime to the plot of their home-life is one that the majority of the religious elements in Los Angeles' cultural mix would agree on. The crime in question is murder, and in this case it is the murder of both parents and the brother by the sister for the sole purpose of financial profit.
And no, I haven't spoiled the book by telling you the culprit. This novel is much deeper, more complex and bigger than that.
Worse even than the crime of murdering her own family, the criminal uses teenage high school boys to do her murdering for her, setting them up to get caught. The criminal motivates the boys by offering them sex. She is intensely gorgeous to look at and knows how to utilize teen lust to manipulate.
Right up to the very last chapter of the book Peter Decker sees this criminal going unpunished because of the way our laws are written and the way the police must work to get a case that can stand up in court.
His honor as a policeman is under severe pressure. His honor as a Jew is under even more. The only evidence he can get to establish her guilt is not going to stand up in court, yet he knows exactly what she did, how she did it, and why. The weight of that knowledge is a crushing burden.
The question which I'm not going to answer here so relax is what will Peter do about this murderer and why will he do it? The real questions, that makes this more like sf than like a straight detective novel is, What would you do in Peter's place? What can Rina do when her husband is driven to the wall by a moral dilemma?
To understand their "place" so you can play this game with this novel, you should read at least some of the previous novels in this series; they are easily available at libraries and book stores in paperback as well as hardcover. This is such a popular series that I expect you'll find them at used book stores, too. Look up Faye Kellerman (her husband's novels are shelved right next to hers, but I haven't read them yet).
The front of the novel Serpent's Tooth presents us with three quotes to delineate this theme and ask this question that the reader must answer before the end of the book.
"Now the Serpent was more cunning than any other beast of the field." (Genesis 3:1)
"Because you did this, you are cursed from among all the animals and beasts of the field." (Genesis 3:14)
"From this we learn that we do not give one who seduces people (to do evil) the opportunity to justify his actions." (Rashi: Sanhedrin 29a).
Think now about the television show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the series season-end cliffhanger sequence of episodes where the space station is captured and Odo stays behind while the Star Fleet contingent moves out. Remember how Odo starts out willingly working with Major Kira for the "resistance" that they cobble together. Remember then how Odo is seduced by a "female" shape-shifter whose agenda includes separating him from his sense of honor that is so very Bejoran in character. Note also that the Bejoran sense of honor blends so easily with that of the UFP (United Federation of Planets) whereas the Founders sense of honor does not.
Remember how easily Odo was seduced by this shapeshifter. By his species' standards, Odo is barely adolescent and is vulnerable to this form of seduction just as the teenage boys in Serpent's Tooth were vulnerable and for essentially the same reason.
Remember in Star Trek: The Next Generation many episodes exposed the crew, especially Data and Riker and Picard to temptations every sort, not just sexual that Q could dream up. Those things which would have tempted us in today's world were no temptation at all to the Enterprise crew. Or when Q did manage to hit a vulnerable nerve, nevertheless the crew pulled away from the temptation just as Odo eventually did.
The ability to face temptation and pull away is one of the necessary ingredients in the building of a sense of honor. But even more telling is the ability to face what others consider a temptation and not be tempted.
The teenagers who were seduced into committing murder succumbed to this woman's charms and tactics. Peter Decker, a full-grown man facing the same tactics that defeated the teens, was not tempted. He experienced the normal male reaction to being targeted by such charms, of course, but only physically. And he found no particular enchantment in that physical response. His arousal had only one target his wife. And then only when permitted and welcomed.
His body did not reign over his mind but he regarded the teens who did succumb not with contempt but with genuine sympathy and an adult's purest response, a need to protect the vulnerable children. His wrath was directed totally at the seductress who had taken advantage of an innate and unavoidable vulnerability of the teenager.
In the middle of Serpent's Tooth the author went out of the way to plant a tidbit of information about Peter and Rina's sex life that hasn't been touched on since, I think, the first novel, Ritual Bath. To the initiate, that tidbit of information explains Peter's entire response to this seductress, and it also explains the entire sequence of events and discussions that lead to the Decker family relocating to where their teenage sons can have access to a social life.
And the answer is in the rituals that give power to sex magick. Those rituals don't armor you against temptation; they don't make you invulnerable. They make the temptation itself un-tempting.
Those who are interested in the Qabalistic path to mastery should read this novel, Serpent's Tooth several times, paying great attention to the unconscious assumptions about the nature of power and the controlling factors of honor which leash and direct power, and how sex, magick and power are all threaded through family ritual.
Then go to the library and read up on those rituals. If you understand the structure of magickal ritual and how all successful ritual is founded on Moon magick (with strict reference to astrology), then analyze these rituals for those components. Look for what is worshipped and how it is worshipped, and then reread Serpent's Tooth and the other books in this series, preferably in order, and check for how Peter Decker has become what he worships.
None of this is apparent on the surface of these Decker/Lazarus novels. To find it, you need a broad background in the entire culture that is barely mentioned in the novels. But it is there. And I don't think that's an accident.
Of course, we have learned many, many other things from the story of Eden and from the snake's tempting ways but the Rashi quote at the beginning of Serpent's Tooth highlights the one lesson that crosses over a lot of religious lines and unites so many of our societies.
The seducer who lures the innocent into evil (i.e., the seducer who neglects to obtain informed consent) must be rejected completely and utterly and without recourse by the entire society as a unit, no matter whether the seducer is a drug pusher victimizing school children or a sexual harasser in the workplace. Otherwise, that society will perish.
That isn't a moral position but an observation based on a knowledge of the mechanism by which human societies cohere. The element of that mechanism referred to here is that you become what you worship.
It isn't enough just to be careful what you pray for. What you pray to counts even more. The "seducer" is diverting the attention of the vulnerable from what the society ordinarily worships toward something else that offers a solution that the vulnerable covet.
Societies cohere through the sharing of an unconscious value, most especially through the sharing of a respect for deity. The structure of that coherence resides on the astral plane.
That uniting effect of a shared value is what I think will be the effect (unexpected by corporations and governments who are supplying the money) of the Internet as it's currently being built-out.
I think the people of this world are ready to move, just as Peter and Rina are ready to move. I think people today are ready to relocate into cyberspace and thus re-unite with community, deity and values. Grandparents are relating to their grandchildren via email even today, refusing to let distance separate families and destroy heritage and thus honor.
We have spent several decades building a jet-age world where corporations busted up families by shifting executives and mid-level workers all around the world. We have a generation of young parents now who, in their early school years, did not attend the same school with the same neighbors for more than two years at a time. They don't want to raise their children that way. They want roots in community with family so that a sense of continuity and security can be foundational to their children's characters.
It is that foundation of identity, that sense of having to sleep in the bed you make (i.e., if you do something wrong, you will be there when the consequences happen) that produces the urgent need for a sense of honor based on internal integrity.
So we have a generation of young adults who are devouring fiction about honor searching for a definition of it that can work in a technologically based, sports driven society that doesn't share a single vision of God.
I don't think promoting family continuity and building a sense of honor in our youngsters are the primary motivations of those who are supplying the money to build this Internet infrastructure. At least if it is, they haven't let on about it on television where I can see it.
The ingredients of character on which honor is based are said, in our culture, to be developed on the "field of battle" they are elements of the Warrior Initiation symbolically relived by us through organized team sports and corporate committee meetings.
We have little or no fiction demonstrating that these elements of character are at least as well developed on other sorts of fields (love, relationship, technical expertise, theoretical physics, etc.).
I think the Decker/Lazarus novels are a covert example of that kind of fiction. The qualities of character such as honor which contains within it an imperviousness to what tempts most people, those qualities that are necessary to handle power safely are actually best developed on fields other than battle and sports.
At the same time as I read Serpent's Tooth, I also read another book from the library, Icefalcon's Quest by Barbara Hambly.
It is the latest in the Darwath series that I have reviewed incessantly in this column because I just adore it. I fell in love with it from the first paperback cover I saw a picture of a Gandalf style wizard sitting at a modern kitchen table holding a can of beer in one hand and his staff in the other. The novel behind that cover proved to be as good as the cover itself, which is unusual.
The Icefalcon is a minor character in the previous novels who gets an entire novel of his own now while the main characters, The Arch Mage Ingold Inglorion and the two people from our Earth where magic doesn't work, become minor characters.
The titles in this series, in case you're playing catch-up, are Time of the Dark, Walls of Air, The Armies of Daylight, Mother of Winter, Icefalcon's Quest and, also from the Wendrose Chronicles, The Silent Tower, The Silicon Mage and Dog Wizard as well as Stranger at the Wedding. All of these have my highest recommendation.
Icefalcon's Quest fits the 1997-8 profile of being focused tightly on honor. On page 277 of the hardcover we find the theme of the novel clearly stated by the Icefalcon: "Sometimes when we have been ...hurt betrayed.... Sometimes when we think we have brought our ill down upon our own heads..... It is difficult then. Sometimes it takes a long while to turn around and face what we fled. We don't even need to defeat it. But we must be willing to look at it once again.'
Think about that. "We don't even need to defeat it." Esoterically, the stark reality is that we must not defeat it. Even the attempt to defeat it would disqualify us from taking the next initiatory step.
I think the Icefalcon is talking about the exact obverse of the problem Peter Decker faced in Serpent's Tooth. Peter was dealing with a seductress who used sex to seduce children into a greater evil than they could comprehend.
Temptation and seduction depend on there being something toward which you want to go but which is bad for you even though it provides some emotional gratification. The Icefalcon is talking about something which is good for you but from which you want to run and never look back, possibly because it causes you emotional pain.
I think in their exact opposite-ness these two things are identical. Or rather they use the identical brain-function/mind-program. And having that brain function working strongly and well is very necessary for the magician who would accept the mantle of power. (E.g., the chairmanship of a committee which has the job of putting the corporation onto the Web.)
Both of these character strengths the ability to turn away from that which lures because it is unhealthy and the ability to turn toward that which repels because it is healthy both these strengths are irrelevant on the field of battle and the field of sports.
Perhaps that is the exact appeal of battle and sports it "simplifies" by denuding the issues of all emotional counter-currents. But in doing so, it denies the opportunity to develop the strength needed to handle power.
In Icefalcon's Quest the plot revolves around the kidnapping of the young prince who is under the protection of the warrior/guard The Icefalcon. His honor requires him to pursue the kidnappers across his former home territory, and honor throws him into encounters with his former tribe and confrontation with his sister and with the current leader of the tribe.
Most of the novel centering on this warrior leader character consists of lurking and sneaking, marching and struggling against the elements of strategy and tactics planning and magickal spying. There is actually very little action, little battle, until the very last. And that final action doesn't solve the main problem of the book that solution must be accomplished on the field of relationship with the weapons of emotion.
Hambly has shown us that the most accomplished warrior can't solve his most important problems by the use of his primary skills (i.e., combat, tactics, etc.).
So both these novels, which just happened to be on the front shelves of the library the first time in months and months I went into the building are examples of fiction which state categorically and without pulling any punches that the education and skills of the warrior are insufficient to the challenges of our modern day . . . and that the core essence of the challenge that we face today is honor.
At the same time, attendance at ballparks is down and television revenues for baseball are down. Not, unfortunately, down far enough to get sports off our television screens or tucked away onto channels of their own, but down enough to attract the attention of Wall Street.
It used to be that the most important character elements of honor were learned on the field of sports (which of course barred females from ever attaining honor or even good character).
Apparently, if I'm right about this underlying and as yet unnoticed megatrend in literature toward a discussion of honor, and if I'm right in comparing this megatrend to the likely results of the build-out of the Internet (a second megatrend), then apparently we are looking at a third gathering megatrend that doesn't yet have a direction: a strong shifting undercurrent behind our social structure that is searching for a goal a god to worship and to become.
There is a broad segment of the population that is dissatisfied with the values as inculcated by professional sports today and is looking for something to replace the warrior archetype's place in our society. That something has to be especially good at developing the character traits which are ingredients in honor. At the same time, this broad segment of our society is likewise struggling mightily to define honor or to reach a consensus among the various definitions that have been proposed.
The only agreement I've found so far is that the concept of honor that must emerge from this debate buried in the fiction field is that the old definition of honor of the 1930s and 1940s is not acceptable.
I'm still confused on all these points myself, but there is one thing I think I probably know maybe. "You become what you worship." If our society chooses to worship a god that has no honor, then we will have no honor.
Worship shapes conditions on the astral plane, and those conditions then form the patterns around which the world crystalizes or manifests. As a society, we will take on the definition of honor that is exemplified by our God.
In these times of massive flux and disruption at the very foundation of our culture and our societies, I can only conclude that it is more important than ever to read eclectically, judge everything you read and see on television very carefully, and choose your god meticulously.
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