Commentary III:38

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At Last We Meet, but Are You Him?

This week’s chapter was made a bit more difficult due to writing through the delirium, and quasi-conscious state induced by the worst flu I’ve had in at least 20 years, and the commentary has been delayed by me playing some catchup on next week, which is likely to prove difficult, as conflicts threaten to come to a head.

Surprisingly little new here… to me. Theseus, though he was once long ago simply “Moria” (which is an intentional muddling of Moire†) is a very old character in my intentions. He came into the thought process of the world barely after the the White Lady (Navi,) and honestly maybe even shortly before. Soon after he was tangled up with Laurel and the dark-companion problem. Laurel was nudged into astronomy by the ghost, as he tried to run away from his past of being pressured into prophecy. No, I never claimed Theseus is nice exactly. This got a scattering of hints perhaps too subtle to notice in Book I.

† Apparently I need to go back and fix the first mention ever in book 1 that I ‘correctly’ wrote as Moire. Truly, I am human.

Theseus gets his name from the Theseus paradox which is descriptive of how he became what he is. There is a bit attributed to him, that I’m no longer actually sure made it into an opening after all. Something to the effect of: “My eyes failed me, I adapted. My ears went deaf, I adapted. My memory faded, I adapted. My flesh failed, I barely noticed.” The legends say he went on to teach his class as a ghost, and sometimes the legends are true.

There was too much I wanted Theseus to say to quibble over what I have or have not spelled out, and so I decided there was little wrong with a crotchety slightly mad old professor doing a little ghost-splaining, and lecture on for a bit to bring everything back together. Well, as much as he knows. The main thing however, the point he was here to deliver, was the long standing intention of the nature of the dark-companion.

When looking for something that cannot be seen, or interacted with any way but gravity, consider perhaps that in a sense it’s not even there. Yes, I’m speculating on dark matter in the midst of fantasy fiction, I’m obtuse like that. I think I was no older than thirteen the first time it struck me that if mass and energy were supposedly interchangeable, and light is at least sometimes a wave, our obsession with a physical universe is nothing but a deluded hangup. Now of course it’s only been in the past decade, over twenty years later, that the talking heads of public science have stopped beating around the bush in describing this assertion, and imply, yes, there may be no there there.

Of course I’m lumping on all kinds of gobeldey-gook here, for fun, but I am trying to be somewhat consistent. The actual implication if one looks closely is that whatever dark mater is made of, has an inverted time’s arrow to the “normal” space time. An inverted times arrow likely would manifest in part in entropy running backwards, since that’s the only way time can run backwards. What happens when time and anti-time collide? Madness. Kind of literally. At a raw mechanical level things are trying to happen, and unhappen at once. Waves, and roots of cause and effect all tangled up in a non-linear knot growing infinitely more complex. Life, seems almost a given under such conditions.

Of course introduce this effect to a dead world, one gets life, but introduce too much of this effect to an already living world, life likely gets crushed under the raging energies of a cataclysm we can barely comprehend. Thats Theseus’s thesis any way. He has looked out upon a nearly barren world, when life should be everywhere, and found a certain terror in the silence of the wastelands.

My characters have a problem of being too clever, and frankly I almost feel like it’s taken too long for Katrisha to put together what she has about Amalia’s mother, and even then we needed a nudge from Adria, and Theseus to reveal the pieces.

I really debate if this was the right time for Lota to show up, and drop the knowledge that she does, but I’m not sure when would have been better. Lota herself was something of a left field for me, in that she’s only been around as long as I introduced her, and has kind of hijacked the Torta narrative, which itself kind of wormed it’s way in, in a vaguely self consistent way.

It all stems back to when I took the initial generic fantasy elements, and put little twists on them to make things different. Sylvans, not Elves, who still get some traditionally elvish traits by being feline, agile, forest dwellers. The wolves are in there mostly to give me a cats vs dogs historical conflict. I take this all very seriously, but try not to take it too seriously. Ultimately because shaping, and dire evolution are involved the wolves picked up the retractable claws, which are seen sometimes in dire wolves as well. Rarely. More often they develop harsh talons. Clearly Aster did not neglect practicality in making her new servant.

Dire creatures were simply the gifted of the world, benefiting from intelligent adaptations, particularly to injury. The Torta were a case of carrying things then to the next logical conclusion. Emphasis on intelligent adaptation, and rather than give them bigger brains for all that complicated language stuff, I created the fox hive mind. Yet each individual fox is an individual, and they are clearly capable of hiding some things from each other. It takes vested self interest.

As we come to the close of the chapter the intractability of everything is clearly weighing heavily on Katrisha, and the news that gods, and political strife are nothing, does not help.

I spend a lot of time thinking about intractable problems, to the point of even thinking about the very nature of such struggles. I work in software for my day job, and throughout the industry I have seen, and observed a microcosm of the same bedrock of not necessarily malicious, but ultimately destructive basic human failing.

There is an old aphorism about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The corollary, or at least the counter point however gets less attention; Don’t let the expedient be the enemy of the sustainable. The problem being that we you don’t even have time for the quick solution half the time, mostly because we are rushing from one crisis to the next. No, they aren’t all imploding dumpster fires, yet.

Complex systems are valuable in their capacity to do things that simple one’s cannot. They are problematic in their ever rising cost of upkeep and ever increasing resistance to change because so many interdependent parts threaten to fall down if you try and fix a problem in the middle. One place I worked we had a saying about driving a car while building the engine.

That’s the nature of society. Humans individually are complex systems to begin with, with massive evolutionary baggage. We invented language, and culture through another complex overlaid evolutionary process. Society is almost another layer on top, though it gets hard to separate from language and culture, it’s not impossible. Throughout the ages, people have picked up what little they could carry, dumped their society, and made new ones.

It’s often a lot easier in a complex enough system to start over than it is to fix it. Not necessarily the right move, because I’m not sure there has ever been a serious saying about the easy thing, always being the right one. Except in evolution. There was a long time, in which this solution worked. Family gets too big, build another house in the tribe. Tribe gets too big, go found a new tribe. Nation gets too big, or do disparate, agree to disagree, and split. It’s easy, but it’s not always resource efficient.

And as soon as the plenty runs out, and the rapid expansion meets a roadblock, well, then you realize you already had systems you didn’t even know was there. The first peoples who spread out got it easy. Colonialism without moral implication. I mean, they did cause the occasional extinction of another species, but those happen, that’s just part of evolution, and we weren’t really clued into it yet.

Evolution was a blind process, but then someone started monkeying with it, literally. Humanity reshaped ecosystems, and species of every sort. We reverse engineered evolution eons before Darwin got a bunch of creationists in a snit. Pick the animals, or the plans with the desired traits, and breed them, eliminate the problem ones. It was the most successful evolution yet. Guided. Meta-genetics driven by this new fangled thing called intelligence. We also didn’t always get it right, and right gets subjective.

The species humanity has created are not always viable without us. We have made things dependent on us, and we have made ourselves dependent on them. Complex systems. Food chains and economies, and now we face the collapse of the whole system any which way we turn. Our economies are threatening our environment, but if they collapse things will actually get worse, and we will do more damage reverting to a more primitive state at our current level of population and technology.

The problem is how do you fix it? Simple answers won’t suffice, and I do not mean this as a knock on the bulk of humanity, but the bulk of humanity is really only emotionally equipped for simple solutions. Because as a method for managing complex systems, we intentionally have kept people simpler to manipulate them. Discouraging, let alone not pressing them to learn more, because if everyone is always asking questions nothing gets done. Critical thinking is great, but not good for moving fast.

Those sneaky forces of evolution are always waiting there in the wings. The simple measuring stick of survival success. Specialized systems are more efficient, and our complex systems slowly evolve into ones that are not robust, but very good at doing one thing quickly, however inefficiently. Does that sound contrary? It’s just organic growth.

When you evolve systems through random, or even guided but variable experimentation funny things happen. You get weird closed little loops that seem to have no output, and defiantly obtuse patterns that seem to do nothing, but if the whole thing works you are stuck in a remarkable arcana cult where you don’t know how, just that there is something there, and moving any little thing could cause the whole to collapse.

This is where Katrisha is breaking down in this final scene. On the one side we have the Clarions, who some minority of will not stop short of anything to convert the world to their idea of perfection, some further minority who are just using it for power at any level of self-awareness or delusion. Hard to say if Amalia and her rebellion are much better. I mean the Clarions are just undertaking the birthright of all humans, to leverage their natural advantages to bend the world to their supreme will. Will even a ‘god,’ whatever a god truly looks like in the scheme of powers, make the transition from one age to another any less bloody? Didn’t go so well with dragons.

Katrisha learned a hard, and scaring lesson on Eastroad, one that keeps haunting her, and Liora, who she was genuinely starting to like, killing, and trying to kill Elise, who she had also briefly liked, it just hammered that lesson home harder. You can’t save them all. You can’t protect them all. When they are determined to fight to the death each for their own unreconcilable certainty.

Live, and let live, some think the highest moral code, but it is passive, and does not strive to correct wrongs. Live and let live, breaks down, when not all are agreed to the terms. Where do the lines lie? What harms are beyond the right of nations, political figures, and parents to inflict upon their wards. Where do we divide wrongs done today from the bright and shiny promise of some future right they might provide. Revolutions against tyrannies, and civil wars against oppressions, or rolling into foreign nations to liberate a people. It sometimes works out, but it really does seem like the minority.

Usually it just gets worse for a long while, and then, probably no better eventually. Truly the entropy, and perversity of the universe tends to a maximum. The wheels of the world grind down and crack.

I have farther ideas in mind, but (I think) I have implied that part of the intention of “breaking the plan” was to divorce what is right and wrong from uncertain ends, and judge them on their own merit again. Which turns out to still be terribly hard, because sometimes, without a knowable outcome, there is just a whole lot of subjective and objective wrong in every direction, because of complex systems.

Some Clarions are a problem with power, most, just live their lives, but many still wind up doing small pieces of harm to each other, themselves, and their children by denying who they are, and punishing them for things that are entirely in their nature. Which one does, for the violently inclined. Nothing wrong with that of course, so why not for other ‘harmful’ natural wrongs. I mean, it is a mater of argument of what’s harmful, and if the one true purpose is ascension, then there are a great many harms in fleshly ways. They know this with such certainty, and it is their duty, and the right thing to enforce this truth upon the week, that they be lifted up. Good excuse, helped slavers and colonials who found no where new to expand, that wasn’t already claimed. If the lesser people were being lifted up, surely any condition in the great Empire is better than their feral animal societies.

It is not my intent in the least to show the door to apathy in a world with no right, but to be quite honest of the sometimes hopeless quest. Stagnancy is ultimately the problem. Closed complex systems don’t stay closed, no matter how hard you try. Yet consistency is what keeps a society alive. Risk, and security in balance, and stagnant ideology creeps in all the time when you aren’t looking. It digs in, and becomes normal.

On the subject of complex systems, the Bronze Age collapse is a fascinating subject that the following video series does a good job covering in broad strokes (4 parts, Extra Credit if you get all the way through Systems Collapse:)

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