I just recently finished reading the Dune Chronicles. Labeled “The Best-Selling Science Fiction Adventure of All Time” the books are in actuality a much more robust exploration of humanity’s trajectory through history than the commonest understanding of science fiction as a genre may suggest.
The ambitious goal of the series, which spans millennia among six books’ worth of stories, is nothing less than a highest-level view of humanity as a collective of interdependent peoples striving together to survive even as they continue to struggle inevitably for power. Delineations dividing one “people” from another are formed on the macro and micro level. The inhabitants of a particular planet often represent one particular race of human, the next planet another, and so on.
Each named planetary society is also split into its own unique factions of citizenry, often comprised of one small aristocratic group that holds ultimate power; another one or two merchant, military, or religious group that hold great influence and the capacity for ultimate power (a middle class); and the workers and/or slaves who keep the machinery of the planet’s society going, and are sometime driven so deeply into the ground or so far out to the perimeter that they eventually become hardened into a powerful force capable of revolution.
Over the course of the series, power changes hands many times, on planets and among them. Much attention is paid, on the part of author Frank Herbert, to the inevitable cyclicality of human political history.
The last of the books, which I just today finished, was published almost thirty years ago. I feel changed, on a deep personal level, after having worked my way through them in only a few months. The philosophical long-view Herbert takes of humanity, built concurrently alongside personal narratives of profound experiential detail, as major players of his imagined future strive to figure out what it means to be human even as humanity continues to cycle perpetually through conflict and power struggle – it’s simply a marvel. Sometimes, to be truthful, it’s also a burden. They aren’t the easiest books to work through – one or two even caused me stress as I continued reading – but they felt important.
I’m going to return to that note about stress in a little bit, but first I want to talk about a phrase I encountered in Chapterhouse Dune, the final book in the series. That phrase: The Tyranny of the Minority.
In context, this phrase helps form a reference to the exploits of a (comparatively) small group of vicious, violent, vengeful people – representing one particular, rigid, narrow, bureaucratically organized belief system – who set about conquering and threatening their way to power over the majority of those other peoples who make up the whole of the books’ primary universe.
Whenever this group is challenged, they retaliate with murderous force. Whenever they gain power, they seek more power. Wherever they suffer defeat, they return in force to destroy everything in sight.
This reminds me of today’s conservative Republicans.
Tomorrow, the federal government will most likely shut down, and responsibility for the hardship this will cause for the majority can be placed squarely upon the shoulders of a loud, willful minority of politicians who, for a variety of insubstantial reasons, would rather see this happen than surrender to the will of the people and to the conclusions of the systems of checks and balances built into what is left of our democracy. This minority, of ultra-conservative Republicans in the House in particular, also appears intent on extending their hostage-taking, extortionist behavior (once again) to a “debate” over the national debt ceiling – a situation which could potentially cause even worse damage to the world at large.
Nominally, Republicans are resorting to these tactics as a means of repealing or effectively crippling or gutting (or at least discrediting) the Affordable Care Act. The details of this situation have been well-covered (though I use that term loosely) in the media.
It’s nonetheless worth pointing out that the Affordable Care Act was: passed by Congress (after much debate), affirmed as the will of the majority (after becoming a major referendum in the 2012 Presidential election, which Republicans lost), and upheld as law (by the Supreme Court). Despite these facts, however, House Republicans in particular have refused to accept reality and move on with the governance of the country (also known as their job). Instead, they waste time and money on efforts to repeal the law anyway, at a time when the rest of us can ill afford to spare much of either essential resource. Having learned the will of the majority, having lost the battle against health care reform, they now threaten us, brazenly invoking our own name as they do it, by refusing to back down, accept reality, and move on to real policy-making and discussion.
Thus we are victimized by The Tyranny of The Minority.
I have read opinions that compare these exploits to those of “spoiled children.” For the past few days, I have tried on similar ideas. The metaphor certainly appears to fit. Denied what they want, Republicans respond by reiterating that they want it. Denied again, they reiterate more loudly and purport to take it anyway by ruining everything else until it is given.
Except this issue is more serious than anything that might involve a child and his or her wants. Children, even spoiled children, often don’t know any better than “demand or destroy.” Adults do know better – even when, under the guise of propaganda and double-speak, they pretend not to know. Self-deception, also, is still deception. Truth still lives underneath.
Make no mistake: conservative Republicans know they are the losers in the health care fight. They know they are a (shrinking) minority. And that is why they are sabotaging everything.
The symbol of past and present power in America is a middle-aged or older white man in a suit, even today, while Barack Obama is President. The symbol of future power in America is not so cut and dry. The white majority is shrinking; feminism thrives; multiculturalism rises inevitably; youth grows up, opens its eyes, and glimpses the injustices, built from the top-down, that continue to plague our society on the whole. Change, the recycling of power – even if its approach is neither clear or broad or fast enough – is assuredly coming.
Our current crop of Republican influencers act as they do now out of fear and desperation. They seek to destroy what they cannot control. They fight health care reform because our legacy version of health care keeps the average citizen tethered to big employers, and/or renders them powerless via the actuality or possibility of steep costs that signify a level of potential financial hardship seldom imagined or experienced in any real way by middle-aged white men in suits.
I said I would return to my observation that the Dune books were sometimes a difficult, burdensome, stressful read. What I mean by this is that I often felt fearful of the consequences of truly considering some of the sadly contradictory human truths exposed by certain passages and sections (and one whole book). But I proceeded through the series anyway. Purely pursued, honestly wrought ideas – they have a way of leading you inevitably towards careful consideration.
I opened my mind and heart to Frank Herbert’s opinions of humanity. This is what we are, for better or worse. Good happens. Bad happens. Always, there are power struggles. Power inevitably corrupts. Always, there are victims. Always, we will wish change could have occurred differently, that fewer could have suffered. Still, change is inevitable. It will be better, if we keep trying to be better. They will lose power, if only because the reins of power, held too long in the same way, by the same hands, dissolve in the absence of adaptation on the part of the rulers, even as the need for Change seizes and alters the hearts of the ruled.
I’ve occasionally grown furious, over the past few days, as I have kept up on the news out of Washington. As is typical of late with me, the fury doesn’t last. I end up only sad, that so many have to suffer undeservedly due to the inability of the few to see the truth for what it is and adapt. I am nonetheless, ultimately, hopeful.
Tyranny breeds contempt. Contempt burns in memory. Bitter memory attaches purpose to change.
If the minority refuses to acknowledge the expressed need of the people for change, let them do their worst with what influence they have left. We will remember. And our memories of such injustices as this unnecessary shutdown, and everything else they have done, will fuel our drive towards a better future – one where the will of the majority is respected, where representation and responsibility mean something once again, and the only aging white men in suits left in power are the ones who acknowledge and respect that the future belongs to the present, as it is…not to some imagined idyllic past that exists only in the minds of fanatics.