Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"INTIMATE MEDAL OF HONOR"
INTIMATE MEDAL OF HONOR: PART THREE OF FOUR PARTS
Last month, after studying the novel Halfway Human, we ended with a question: Does the "honorable" path depend on whether the person needing help is being truthful with you or not?
Which brings us to the book I'm writing at this moment the third volume of The Biblical Tarot on the Suit of Cups. (Vol. I, "Never Cross A Palm With Silver" is available from amazon.com; Vol. II is in production but going slowly). Yesterday I wrote the chapter on the Six of Cups, which I define (in about 50 pages of dense reasoning) as "Karma" and while I was writing discovered something about Honor that I hadn't known before.
I had extracted a Rabbinical tale which, for me, defines the Six of Cups, and I put that tale into the chapter. It's a story that defines charity as the one commandment that can get you into paradise after you die without the angels at the pearly gates checking on what your intentions were when you did the charitable deed. Helping people especially providing food, clothing and shelter to the poor is such a powerful commandment that your motives for doing it don't matter. In everything else, whether you get karmic credit or not and how much karmic credit you get, depends entirely on your motive. With charity motive doesn't matter.
So I was sitting there staring at what I'd just typed as if I'd never seen the words before, going, "Oh." And "Hmmmm." Because one of the classic definitions of 6 Pentacles Reversed is "Gifts given, but as a bribe."
And suddenly I thought, honor isn't a particular deed or particular decision it isn't following a Warrior's Code or any particular Code.
For some people honor would lie in helping the helpless regardless of whether they're telling the truth or not. For others the truthfulness of the helpless person is the key factor in determining the honorable course. Or in The Enemy Papers the aliens who play "Let's You and Him Fight" would consider it dishonorable to help the weak. The honorable thing for them to do would be to go find someone to fight and obliterate the weak one. To them, genocide is honorable.
The honor doesn't lie in the course of action chosen or in the identity of the person one acts for. Honor doesn't lie in other people's opinions of what you've done or who you are. Honor doesn't even lie in your own opinion of yourself. Or in your choice of goal. Honor is an emotion. It isn't an action and it isn't a philosophy. It's not a particular code. It's an emotion. And like all emotions, it originates in and lies within the subconscious. It is evoked like other emotions, via the free-association chains that reside in the subconscious. Like love. Like hate. Like revenge.
To experience the sensation of the emotion honor is to take a big hit from the pleasure center of the brain. It's primal. And once experienced, one seeks to experience it again. Whatever has triggered that first experience of this particular pleasure hit called honor that is what will be repeated to get the hit again.
If triumph and victory in war are associated with that first pleasure-hit of honor then that is what will always be deemed honorable and it will be transmitted to the next generation as the one true and only source of "real" honor. But if doing charity is considered honorable by your culture and thus your first experience of feeling a "hit" of honor comes associated with having helped the poor, then you will habitually repeat that act to get that hit.
Under what circumstances what alien or galactic conditions can triumph and victory be charitable? And result in a feeling of honor?
I think maybe that is what C. J. Cherryh has written about in Finity's End which was in hardcover in 1997 and probably is available in paperback now.
Here some loose ends from previous "Merchanter" novels are tied up. (This column puts a blanket recommendation on any C. J. Cherryh title.)You may recall that in previous novels, we left one of the Merchanters grounded on a space station because she was pregnant.
Now Captain Neihart brings Finity's End back to the station, Pell, to pick up his crewmember. But she's dead, and the son she bore though an outcast among the Stationers has found a life for himself as a human representative to a proto-sentient species (one of the few in the Merchanter Universe novels) on the planet circled by Pell.
Merchanter honor requires one course of action. Stationer honor requires another. And the kid's honor requires yet another. It's a bear-trap and everyone has adventures getting their tender parts out. And all of them are pursuing honor as they understand it.
Cherryh is a superb story-teller and this is a page-turner. She has done other things I liked more Cuckoo's Egg comes instantly to mind, and the trilogy Foreigner, Invader and Inheritor is at the top of my list of re-readable novels (and I've reviewed all three in this column with highest praise). But I was glad very glad to get this next installment in the Merchanter Universe and wrap up that loose end at Pell.
So what has honor as an emotion, as a motive, as a karma-generator got to do with the training of a magician? What's charity, family loyalty and karma got to do with each other? Questions like that are the reason I read novels. I have more questions than I can possibly answer by myself, and I'm always interested to hear another point of view.
In this case, I have the point of view of a new author, Victoria Strauss.
I think you'd better put that name on your "Eyes" List. Did you know amazon.com has this service called "Eyes"? You go to a form and type in Victoria Strauss and when they get a new book by her, they'll send you an email. You get one of these emails, and if you've signed up for one-click ordering, it takes about ten seconds to order the book (if the web is working that day).
The Arm of the Stone is an organization of revolutionaries who have now become entrenched and decadent enough to need a sort of Gestapo to enforce orthodoxy. The novel is about a rebel who wants to overturn the order of orthodoxy.
Nothing new in that description? Nothing interesting?
The "Stone" in question is omniscient. Or maybe that's the wrong word. It has no personal consciousness, but it is an access portal to the total stream of All Reality or maybe the Akashic Record In Real Time. It's a magic implement that can exist only in a world where magic is real.
The thesis of this novel is that long ago, before science arose and took over, science and magic co-existed in balance. In this novel, science is called Hand-Power and magic is called Mind-Power. When Hand Power started to burgeon, it ripped the fabric of reality apart and split the world leaving the magic users adrift in a world where magic didn't work. (I.e., they were the helpless ones who needed charity.)
The distant ancestors of the Arm organization stole the Stone back and led the bedraggled, helpless magic users to this split-off universe fragment where, by use of magic, they re-fabricated a viable reality around themselves.
In other words, they shrugged off accepting charity and went for victory instead. They just walked away from the pain and humiliation of being powerless they abdicated. They left the relationship.
Now, a thousand years later, the last descendant of the family that had held the Stone before the rift, has been handed the heritage of being the one to take the Stone back and change the world. He is one of the main characters. Another is a woman who has a major talent for empathy called "heartsensing" she reads emotions and even thoughts of those nearby. She can map out the neurotic patterns of a person's emotional pathways a print as unique as a fingerprint. With a magic user's print, a magician can construct a prison that will hold a magic user powerless.
This novel solves the problem of shifting point of view by telling the story in short novellas each from a different point of view. It works very well because it's skillfully done. While you are inside one character's head, you are really looking at the world from their point of view and it seems very real indeed. Good writing here.
The main plot-driving mechanism here is karma which could be seen as destiny. Another author might have chosen to structure this story around a prophecy. This approach is much more sophisticated than that.
So we have a main character, Bron, whose heritage is to take the Stone back. He is the son of a poor family with no real prospects. But he has enough magic talent to qualify for training and entry into the Guardians of the Stone the organization of which the Arm of the Stone is a branch. And we have a woman, child of a rich and powerful merchant family, who has such a large talent for heartsensing that despite her high social status, she is accepted into training to become a Guardian of the Stone.
Bron grows up before our eyes and becomes a member of the Arm, and she becomes a respected member of the Guardians. Then their mutual enemy from novice days sics her on Bron looking for evidence of Bron's heresy. She finds that evidence. Meanwhile, she falls in love with Bron.
Now what? What is the honorable course for her? For him? Does she betray him to his enemy? Does he murder her in her sleep to protect his larger cause?
Regardless of who does what to whom, how can this three-way log-jam of a conflict be resolved? What is "the right" resolution for a schism in the world that separates magic from technology?
Other fantasy writers have written superlatively on this problem of magic vs. technology splitting reality into levels and the ethics on both sides of that rift.
Marion Zimmer Bradley (who had an article in the April 25-May 1 TV Guide on Merlin, followed by a two-part miniseries about Merlin) comes instantly to mind with her Mists of Avalon and other Arthurian novels. Andre Norton's Witch World is another such fantasy universe. (Disclosure I have a story in one of MZB's anthologies, another story in her Fantasy Magazine, and another in one of Andre Norton's Witch World anthologies. That's why they come instantly to mind, you see not because they're "better" than all the others but because I know them.) Barbara Hambly's novels also tackle this problem of reality splitting and I've never sold Barbara a story.
I like this thesis of reality being splittable into magic/non-magic levels not because it seems "real" but because the thesis focuses the story's theme on the problem of the use and abuse of power.
Next month, in Part Four of this essay, we'll look at the connection between charity, power, intimacy, and honor. Meanwhile, I suggest you reread and ponder the set of columns I did several years ago on identity which you can once again find posted at http://www.lightworks.com/Connections under my name. Identity is the foundation of Intimacy or in the language of The Tree of Life, Atziluth is the root of Briah. Or put another way, your emotions are the result of your subconsciously held philosophy. So, in your personal philosophy who deserves your Charity?
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg,POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.
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