The Post-Apocalyptic To Do List For Non-Preppers

What I have learned from a study of post-apocalyptic literature and film.

  1. First and most obviously, you really need lots of guns. LOTS of fucking guns. Get those as quick as possible. If you already have them, you’re ahead of the game, but if you have time we recommend duct-taping a bunch of jaggedy things on them, in case that makes them look more intimidating than, I don’t know, having a GUN! Remember, ammo will be scarce, so ideally you want a gun that makes those motherfuckers wet themselves and faint just by displaying them in a holster. Try one of those chainsaw bayonets the media warned us about last year. There have to be some around.
  2. Keep lots of alcohol on hand. You should be able to do this now: you have guns. Alcohol keeps practically forever, is good for trade and purifying water, and when bottled or pressurized can make a dandy flamethrower or bomb. And, given the shit that’s coming down, you might just want to stay drunk. Except when you’re familiarizing yourself with how the guns work, of course.
  3. Next, acquire a silver nose, eyepatch, or gauntlet that looks like you’ve replaced your hand. That scares the fuck out of people.
  4. Of course, if you’re REALLY feeling hardcore, or are among those of us who are unmuscularly slender or grossly overweight, and who look about as intimidating scantily clad (and you will be scantily clad. Clothes are at a premium, and NICE clothes are now a sign saying “Kill Me For Food”*) as an eight year-old boy flexing in Underoos, go ahead and amputate a limb and replace it with car parts. That scares the ever-living fuck out of people. This is painful, but quick and easy, especially if you aren’t very familiar with your new guns.
  5. Q.E.D. Swear a fuckload more than you do in real life. Otherwise, you’re pretty much volunteering for fucking slavery by virtue of not being intimidating enough.
  6. Really I can’t emphasize this point enough: kill and subjugate those Society For Creative Anachronism motherfuckers as fast as you can with those bullets before you run out. Partly because with their preindustrial knowledge, they’re going  to be your greatest long-term threat, but ALSO because it’s going to be funnier than shit to watch “Duke” Edward, “King” Jason and “Queen” Alicia realize that their twenty years of learning blacksmithing and weaving has uniquely fitted them to be the most valuable and closely-watched slaves in your new Empire Of Terror. And it’s the apocalypse, so you need the laughs.
  7. Don’t worry too much about medicine except for disinfectants (which you’re set for, because you have all that alcohol) and of course, The Plague that is creeping over the countryside, and doesn’t have a cure anyway. No one ever seems to get ordinarily sick after the apocalypse.
  8. Finally, make sure to take the mufflers off your car and install afterburners and as many jagged rusty metal bits as you can. This pretty much guarantees you’ll always find a supply of gas.
  9. Oh, yes, and the films especially suggest that you probably don’t want to make the mistake of being female unless you own Thunderdome.

Happy Hunting!

 

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I Cast Missile Magicis: Hagrid Edition

You know how Hagrid “bought” Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback from “some bloke in a pub?” And how he always was getting creatures from people?

Yup, that’s right. The Leaky Cauldron is That Tavern where all the Parties get their Quests.

“Why are we going after Black Dragon Eggs?”

“I dunno. Some big guy in The Tavern with more gold than sense is paying top dollar.”

“Is this gonna be like the time with the three-headed dog? Because we lost the bard when we went after the Giant Flobberworms.”

“Are you gonna bring that up again? I didn’t know they didn’t have ears. I thought that’s what the so-impressive bardic knowledge was for.”

“Oh, well excuse me for thinking that a ranger might know something about animals.”

“Go screw a drider.”

 

I Cast Missile Magicis

It occurred to me today that so much  would be explained if Dungeons and Dragons was actually supplying the Potterverse with its stuff. I just picture some Harry Potter wizards accidentally Apparating into a D&D plane and turning it into a gold mine. For example, this is a gelatinous cube:

Image result for gelatinous cube

As you can deduce, it’s a big monster that dissolves things. Swords aren’t much help, but maybe a couple of wizards stumble on it:

“What the hell is that, Nigel?”

“Our meal ticket this month, Rupert. Wands out. And Freezing Charm on three: One… two…”

And a few heavy blows with a hammer later, you’ve got the Acid Pops that they kept selling to the students in Hogsmeade.

Image result for Acid Pops

 

 

Video Games Inspired By My Daughter: Our Town, The Reckoning

This post began when I informed my children that we would be leaving them with the grandparental units while we went out to see “Our Town.” My daughter, Wednesday* asked what it was. So I told her it was a famous play. And in great excitement she asked, “Is there a movie? If it’s famous, there should be a movie! And a video game!”

These are the kinds of things that get me thinking. Probably a bad thing.

I hadn’t ever seen “Our Town.” But when I watched it, I just couldn’t stop watching it with an eye to making it into a video game.

The opening screen: OUR TOWN: The Reckoning scrawled across the screen over the typical shapes of a small American town: two-story sided houses with a small factory in the background. The smiling face of the Stage Manager rises over Our Town. Something about his smile is just a little bit… wrong.

Your character materializes on the siding, just outside the Town Square. Walking into Grover’s Corners, pop. 2,493, you notice that the numbers are faded, and you think the 2 might once have been a 3.

As you walk into town you see a number of buildings you can venture into. The General Store, the Newspaper, and the Hospital. There are also a number of houses that you can get into that are locked, and a few more that are abandoned.

If you stay out in the Town Square long enough, you’ll see an energetic figure talking to and about people going about the more or less cheery routines of their daily lives. As he touches them, their shadows grow a bit darker, but you might not notice that.

Stay in the Town Square too long, and he’ll come over to you. He’ll be very friendly. Maybe too friendly. He’ll ask your name, and you’ll tell him. He’ll be very excited to learn that you might be thinking of settling into Grover’s Corners. He’ll start telling you about the prominent citizens: the milkman, the newspaper editor, Mr. Webb who lives alone with his wife now that their children are dead, and Old Doc Gibbs whose wife died and left him living with his son. They raise his grandchildren together since his daughter-in-law also died. You notice that that this Stage Manager seems to know a lot about the folks who have died, and you think he actually told you when one of them will die, but you take his directions to the Hotel.

As you pass the Methodist Church basement, you hear someone call out to you. That’s creepy, but the young lady who has called your name tells you that you’re in terrible danger if you don’t come with her.

She introduces you to a few people hiding in the Church basement. It’s the only place that the “Stage Manager” won’t come. The only safe place. The young woman won’t tell you her name, just that it’s changed since she got out, and she’s trying to rescue her brother, but he won’t come with her. No one but him must know that she is here. She asks for your help.

As you go through the game, you are at first confused and later horrified as your choices take you into contact with the relentlessly cheerful people of Grover’s Corners, living on as they always have, with their town dying around them, their children dying young but staying here nevertheless. You avoid the increasingly ubiquitous Stage Manager, and you realize that this is not his name, that his name is something far older.

In desperation you ascend to the Graveyard atop the hill, but only in the day, and encounter the unquiet dead resting there, concentrating desperately on the weather and the stars lest they think too much on their stolen lives: lives stolen by Satanas Mephistopheles, who remains, ever the same, nondescript middle-aged… man? Woman? You can’t recall. And it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it waits and is watching for you to return and challenge it for the lives and souls of every human left alive in Grover’s Corners.

Will you withstand its power? Will you free Our Town..?

*Not her real name. But it SHOULD have been.

Luke Skywalker, Rookie Cop

Have you ever imagined what Star Wars would be like if it were remade as a gritty cop drama? Like, in the real world, where the closest analogue to the way we see Jedi behave is, well, a police force, out to protect the weak and bring the bad guys to justice. And now, the mafia has effectively taken over the city, after hunting down the cops. So, here we have one of the last surviving policemen in the city, a crazy dude who lives in a slum under a partly-assumed name who the Empire leaves alone because basically he’s too much trouble to bother with. And his solution is: train some other poor young schmuck to be a cop. Completely unsupported by other cops. Imagine…

“I was once a policeman, like your father.”

“I wish I’d known him.”

“He was the best driver in Gotham, and an excellent shot. Which reminds me: your father wanted you to have this, when you were old enough.”

“What is it?”

“Your father’s Glock. This is the weapon of a LEO. Not as clumsy or random as a Saturday Night Special. An elegant  weapon for a more…”

“Let me stop you right there before you embarrass yourself further.”

“All right, a mass-produced weapon for a more bureaucratic, but still more civilized age. For over a century, the police were the guardians of peace and justice in this city. Before the Mafia.”

“How did my father die?”

“A young policeman named Darth Vader, who was pupil of mine at the Academy, helped the Don hunt down the police. He betrayed and murdered your father. Now the police are all but extinct. Vader took the power that comes from breaking the Law.”

“Um, what’s the Law?”

“The Law is what gives the police his power. It’s a social contract created by all the people. It surrounds and penetrates us. It binds society together. You must learn the ways of the Law, if you are to come with me.”

“Um, yeah, and do what with that? The Mafia pretty much makes the Law these days. And then they kill you if you disobey them.”

“Um, yes, that would be ‘illegitimate’ Law. Law created by force. The dark side of the Law.”

“The ‘dark side’ of the Law. Which is still just as powerful as actual, legitimate law. Stronger, even.”

“No, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”

“Uh, and stronger, because they make the rules and kill anyone who breaks them and have most of the guns. And killed all the police. You literally just said that. And all that’s left is one tiny Neighborhood Watch association that’s hiding in their own houses from the Mob. So what am I supposed to do with my father’s Glock? Join the Neighborhood Watch and kill them all?”

“No, a policeman uses the Law for knowledge and defense. Never for attack.”

“That does not seem to have a history of success around here.”

“Only a fully-trained policeman, with the Law as his ally, will overthrow Vader and his Mafia Don.”

“What? You just admitted that there was once a whole Academy-trained police force, not that long ago, who enforced the Law, and the Mafia Don slaughtered all of them and imposed gang rule. And you, by yourself…”

“And Commissioner Yoda.”

“Commissioner Yoda? Who’s he?”

“The Police Chief who taught me.”

“So you, and the only other policeman older than you are going to train me, by yourselves to without violence take down this Mafia Don who took over the entire city after murdering an entire functional police force?”

“Yes.”

“How does this Glock work?”

“With your finger away from the trigger, take the weapon off safety.”

“Here?”

“Yes.”

<BANG!>

The Antitheist’s Nightmare

 

For Sunday, another column I wrote for SciPhi Journal, with apologies to Bertrand Russell

The eminent antitheist and essayist Dr. Brussels dreamed that he died and found himself, against all expectation, at a pair of immense gates that shone like great pearls. He was shocked and rather apprehensive as he was met by a being that looked astonishingly human, like a king, with wings twice as long as he was tall.

“I see that I must be ill and hallucinating, or having an end-of-life experience,” he said. “For nothing else could explain the anthropomorphic delusion I am currently suffering.”

“You are not ill, but you are having an ‘end-of-life experience,’ said the being. “It is called Heaven.”

“Heaven could hardly exist,” Brussels replied, “And if it did, it certainly would not look at all like a mere Human conception.”

The being smiled. “Heaven can look as It pleases, though Its reality is indeed far deeper than any one species of the Creation could fathom, at least at first. You are expected.”

“But how could I be expected in Heaven?”

“That is hardly for me to judge, man,” said the being. “I am to take you to the Eternal.” And in no very long time, he was led through the glories of the Celestial City, where, to his great surprise, Brussels found himself standing in the Presence.

“My child,” said The Eternal. “You have come at last.”

“You cannot possibly judge me. Amid all the planets of all the stars of all the galaxies of the Universe, how could you possibly know who I am, let alone presume to judge my motivations, my circumstances, and my actions?”

“My dear child,” said The Eternal. “No one has yet mentioned judgment. But you devoted your life to the study of the Universe. How is it that you do not understand what “infinite” means? How could I possibly not know all about you? Is My time limited?”

“Of course I know what ‘infinite’ means,” said Dr. Brussels. “But I can hardly be expected to have spent much time upon speculation about Your attributes. My study was the facts of the Universe that were proven, and not about Your existence, which was entirely unproven.”

The Eternal replied, “And did your studies not teach you that the Universe I created had a beginning and was likely to have an end? And surely you learned that your own life had a beginning and an end: that was much more provable. You believed that because of your small size and short life, I could not possibly take any interest in you, and yet you devoted that almost nonexistent life to the study of the lifespan of a Thing that was also limited, but merely much larger. Did you think this a wise use of the time I had granted you?”

“Well,” he sputtered, “But You did not give me adequate proof of Your existence to make me think that studying You was likely to be of value.”

“I see,” smiled the Eternal. “And the fact that the vast majority of your fellow-humans spent a great deal of time on that very endeavor suggested nothing to you?”

“It suggested only that the ignorant love ignorance, for surely even You must agree that humans agree to believe things that are manifestly untrue,” Dr. Brussels riposted.

“Of course, child. You are correct. Tell Me, what sort of evidence would you have found acceptable?”

Feeling a little surer of himself, Dr. Brussels replied, “Any sort of physical evidence of your existence.”

“So you wanted Me, a Being larger than the Universe, to appear inside it?”

“Ah, but surely You could have made Yourself smaller, if You were indeed Infinitely capable.”

“So you believe I could have made myself small enough for you to perceive, but not that I could have paid attention to you? I could indeed have done so, and have,” replied the Eternal. “But then would you not have said that my small size proved Me an impostor?”

“Well,” said Dr. Brussels, “But You could have demonstrated Your power.”

“So, I might have come to Earth, perhaps disguised as a Human, and done miraculous works?” smiled the Infinite. “Or as a pillar of smoke and flame? If only there were records of such an event available for a learned man such as yourself to peruse.”

Dr. Brussels felt himself blushing at the trap he had nearly fallen into. “Records are hardly any use to a scientist concerned with truth!” he stated. “Only that which has been proven is acceptable.”

“I see. Then surely you, Dr. Brussels, performed every experiment of Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, not to mention others we could both name, simply to make sure they were true. I am surprised, however, that you ever had time for anything else.”

“Of course I trusted the testimony of the great experts in my field,” Dr. Brussels said.

“But you did not trust the testimony of Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus?”

“Of course not. Their methodology was flawed and their results untrustworthy.”

“Ah. So the lived experience of scientists about science was trustworthy, even to the extent of trusting them to point out the flaws of less capable scientists. But you could not trust the writings of theologians about theology because you had not shared their experiences directly, and they disagreed with one another.”

“But why,” asked Dr. Brussels, “could You not simply be with us all the time?”

“I believe you would have discovered that the answer to that question in the records to which I earlier referred. I withdrew because humans did not want My company as much as they wanted to discover truth in their own way, regardless of how harmful that could be, both to themselves and others. And now that I have withdrawn, humans ask where I Am. What would you have Me do, child?”

“You could at least, if you are so powerful, present Yourself to those who are honest and would be amenable to reason individually, so that they might have a chance of knowing you!” snapped Dr. Brussels.

“Of course, I could, child,” replied the Infinite. “And it would need to be personal, direct, and in a similar manner, so that those enlightened men you describe would know that it was from Me, and would have cause to humble themselves, and follow.”

“Yes!” cried Brussels. “So why don’t you do that?”

And he awoke in his home.

“Strange, the delusions that will overtake even the most serious and scientific minds,” he muttered.

Lost In Space Opera

A Patreon post I just felt like sharing further.

“Sir, I think we’re in a Space Opera.”
“Why is that, Commander?”
“Well, sir, look at the situation. Here we are in our prototype starship that’s supposed to be able to outfight, outfly and outlast anything that’s ever been put in space.”
“Once we’ve got all the experimental systems working properly.”
“Exactly. And we’re the only ship in the quadrant.”
“On the same day that…”
“…the Treacherous Empire is supposed to parade its decommissioned fleet before our entire Starfleet and sign a Treaty of Eternal Peace and Friendship.”
“Oh, hell.”
“Also, the President’s beautiful and inexplicably intelligent twin daughters are aboard for reasons that will never be fully explained, but allegedly have to do with being so darned smart that they’ll be able to help us out with those experimental systems.”
“Well, commander, it looks as though we’ll need to break it to the crew. They deserve to know. Officers only, though: the men’s morale would plummet. They’re all dead men.”
“And women, sir.”
“This is your first Space Opera, isn’t it, Commander?”
“Which of us do you think is the hero?”
“Let’s think about this, Commander. You started this conversation by bringing me an overthought analysis of the situation we find ourselves in, while I have iron-gray hair and a deep, commanding baritone voice. Are you familiar with my service record?”
“Yes, sir. You have a reputation for troubling High Command with your bold command style and refusal to play by the rules.”
“While you are a graduate of the Academy with top honors and do things by the book.”
“I’m… not getting any while I’m on this ship, am I?”
“Only if it’s an enemy agent desperate to worm secrets out of you, son. Or, you know, an alien who turns out to be male or a gender humans don’t even have. For laughs.”
“Dammit.”

The Once And Future Blog Post

So, the blog has been on unannounced, extended hiatus for about a month. I am sorry about that: it wasn’t planned, just a lot of things… happened.

This year has been a major period of adjustment for me: I gave up my job, we moved across the country, my wife started working full-time, and I stopped, but am working part-time and what with all that plus the holidays, the little hobdemons of depression jumped on my skull and thwacked. So for the past month, I have not been too busy and wiped out to write… but I have been too busy and wiped out to write HERE. However, I have not given up on the blog, and hope you won’t give up reading it. It is my hope, in fact, to blog more often throughout the coming year.

So, how did the writing go in 2017? Not that great. But, because while I actually believe that people learn a lot (and are sometimes encouraged by hearing about) the failures and difficulties of others, I submit the following:

This is the first year since 2014 that my writing sales have not surpassed the previous year. In fact, it marked my lowest publication output since 2014

Partly, this is because I submitted fewer manuscripts, in the aforementioned craziness, as we uprooted our lives from Kansas and settled back in Wisconsin. Also, for much of the year I was working on finishing up two novel manuscripts instead of short stories. I submitted 57 original manuscripts this year, as opposed to 80 in 2016 and 65 in 2015. On top of this, I was trying tougher markets, with higher rejection rates.

There were some bright spots in 2017: My first (very short) standalone book came out (and is still available on Amazon for just $0.99 on Kindle!) and I made some very valuable contacts and set plans in motion that will hopefully see fruition on 2018. There are still some things I can’t talk about yet.

Nevertheless, the count this year is as follows:

A DOCTOR TO DRAGONS (novelette) from Superversive Press. You can buy it by linking to the sidebar!

“Phoenix For The Amateur Chef” (reprint) became a podcast on FarFetchedFables.

“The Blind Queen’s Daughter” (reprint) became a podcast on FarFetchedFables.

“Abandoned Responsibility” (reprint) was sold to HIC SUNT DRACONES, an anthology from Digital Fiction Publishing League. This makes the first time I’ve sold a reprint twice.

“A Song For The Barren” (reprint) was sold to SCI PHI JOURNAL, and appeared yesterday. I once imagined writing a lot of military SF, but age and experience have taught me that, not having been in the military myself, that such stories would be harder to write well than I imagined. This, therefore, is one of my few pieces of such fiction, and I hope it has succeeded.

This is a bittersweet announcement, because this is also SCI PHI’s last issue. I have been writing the theology column A MOTE IN GOD’S “I” for them for over a year now, and am sorry to see it go. It was my first regular writing gig, and while it paid little, it was fun, and I am very sorry it’s over. However, I will be posting those columns here. Additionally, this story marks the first time that a publication sought one of my stories out, rather than me simply submitting it.

Finally, I have also sold the original short story “Day Of Atonement” to D Avraham’s Holy C.O.W. Anthology – SF Stories from the Center Of the World, a collection of stories set in the Middle East. I really love this story, because it comes from a faith that is central to my life.

Thanks to all who have beta-read and encouraged me this year, and to all of you who have taken the chance and spent your time and/or money on my stories. I deeply appreciate you all.

sciphijournal.org/a-song-for-the-barren/

A Report on the Curious Culture and Religion of the Acirema

As we approach the anniversary of a certain election, I have chosen another column to reprint.

A Report on the Curious Culture and Religion of the Acirema

by

An Alien Visitor

As told to

G. Scott Huggins

Dear Sirs, Mesdames, Glooquot[1],and  Mechaniqa[2]:

I submit herewith my xenological report on the most curious culture to inhabit planet 73SXB1089, called in the major local language, Dirt. The most powerful economic and military culture on the planet is that of the Acirema, who have evolved a religio-political system that I believe to be unprecedented in the known galaxy.

The institution of the God-King is, of course, well documented and known to us all, the hallmark of a thousand primitive cultures. What sets the Acirema apart is their particular variant upon this theme: in their common religion, the central ceremony is the election, every four years, of a God-President. This is a very complicated process, and affects every aspect of Acirema life. The Acirema religion is atypical in many ways, the chief being: 1) The religion has aspects of both monism and dualism. 2) The religion relies on both faith and magic. 3) They deny that they share the same religion. 4) They deny that it is a religion at all.

Overview:

The Acirema overwhelmingly belong to one of two sects. They have many names among themselves, and among each other, both self-glorifying (for their own sect) and pejorative (for the other). However, the two names that seem to be most in use are the Tarcomed and the Pog. The two sects claim to be as different from one another as possible, but for at least the past few decades their actions have grown more and more indistinguishable, to the point that only experts can tell them apart. The two sects themselves, however, vehemently deny this, so it is instructive to look at the major similarities.

Dualism:

Both sides, every four Dirt years, throw all of the efforts of their disciples into electing the next God-President, which is always one of two Chosen Prophets, one from each sect. Yet both sides have agreed that no God-President shall be elected more than twice, regardless of how well he performs the office. It is an article of faith that this would lead to corruption, as if eight years were not long enough a time to be corrupted. The disciples preach to the masses, who are at least nominal followers of the sects themselves, in order to encourage them to participate in the voting ceremony. The devotion of the masses does lie in some doubt, as it has been many years, if ever, that even half have participated in the actual ceremony. Yet even those who decline to participate in the ceremony itself (which is surprisingly prosaic and unmystical, being simply a matter of counting votes and then multiplying them by a formula based on place of habitation) devote quite a bit of time to watching and listening to the disciples, and chanting formulas in support or dissent of the two sects’ Chosen Prophets. Each side is certain that only their Chosen Prophet, as God-President, can save Acirema from poverty, war, corruption, and tyranny, while the election of the other Chosen Prophet will bring about all these things. So in this sense, the religion is dualistic, with the true believers of each sect certain that the other’s Chosen Prophet will be a God-President of Evil and Darkness.

Monism:

However, once in office, the current God-President is praised (by the disciples of his own sect) for all good things that may happen within the realm of Acirema, while he is universally reviled (by the disciples of the other sect) for all possible bad things. Even those who claim to follow neither sect generally attribute the good or the bad to the decisions and the character of the God-President, whoever he may be. In this sense, therefore, the religion of the Acirema is monistic, as everything that takes place is an aspect of his rule. The chief priests, who go about instilling this belief in the worshippers, are called the “media,” not because they mediate between the people and their God-President, but because they are the only mediators of His decisions and statements to them.

Faith and Magic:

It would be natural to assume that the Acirema might fear and revere their God-President’s power simply because it is vast and unlimited like that of any tyrant, but a short review of their Law (which is indeed fairly well-enforced, though not commonly well-understood or thoroughly read) reveals that this is not so, and that the power attributed to him is entirely based on superstition and faith. The best example of such faith is the miraculous control that they attribute to the God-President over the economy. Yet a cursory review of their Law will show that the God-President has very little power over their sprawling economy, not even the power to make laws. That power is vested in a temple which, every two years they fill with what appears to be a college of wizards (also divided into Tarcomed and Pog sects), who try to influence the economy by what I can only describe as legislemancy: a series of written spells designed to make those who have elected them richer, and those who support their opponents poorer. The spells are so arcane that even many of the wizards no longer know their contents, let alone their eventual consequences. The practice does have this advantage for them, however: since no consequence of the legislemancy can ever be known for sure, there is no effect that cannot be successfully claimed as a triumph for one sect or the other. It is therefore understandable (and one of the last remaining signs of sanity in Acirema culture) that the people’s distrust of these wizards is such that the Acirema have given their temple a name that can mean both the opposite of progress and indiscriminate sexual intercourse (proving that for all their other faults, the Acirema are skilled wordsmiths and ironists). In recent years, the sectarian wizardry has grown more and more oppositional, and the result, of course is that very little gets accomplished. This seems to have been designed into the system by the authors of the Law, who were quite obviously wiser than the current Acirema. This congress, as they call it, however, serves only to reinforce their faith in the power of the God-President.

Identity of Practice:

Both sects have therefore given to the God-President more and more power, seemingly unaware of the fact that the power they give to the God-President that they support carries over to the one they oppose. Both sects encourage their God-President to fight the other sect to the uttermost, both beseech him to wield the full force of the Law without mercy over the other sect, and both call upon him to see that he extends the force of the Law and his powers of government so that more and more of their money will be taken and spent by the government.  So in this way, we may see that the religion they practice is truly the same.

Denial of Faith:

One must be careful, however, when traveling among them, never to refer to their religion as such, for both sects will violently deny that it is a religion at all. While much variance on the matter exists within each sect, the Tarcomed are most likely to deny that such a thing as God exists, which may account for their devotion to (or hatred for) the current God-President, as they have no other deity in which to repose their trust. However, even more curious are the Pog, who generally profess to worship another, and far older god. A review of the local literature revealed that this alleged god supposedly came to Earth as a man, and preached love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all of which are markedly absent from Acirema religious debate, aside from the fact that both sects do claim to possess these qualities, while believing their opponents lack them entirely. However, as neither the Pog nor the Tarcomed spend even a quarter of the time discussing or practicing the tenets of this minor “religion” as they do their major one, we may safely discount this quaint folkway as having any real effect upon their actions or beliefs.

Conclusion:

The Acirema are, for now, in a very strange and possibly dangerous religious phase of their culture. There is some evidence that in the past, a saner approach to politics, and we may assume, religion, took place, in which the Acirema recognized that policies rather than superstition and sectarian purity were more likely to affect their economic and diplomatic fortunes, but few, if any of that generation survive today, and since age is not well-respected among the Acirema, any testimony from them can be dismissed as “reactionary” and “out-of-touch.” We may only hope that their children may be as much wiser than the current Acirema as their ancestors were, and hope for more fruitful contact at a later time.

[1] Untranslatable gender

[2] Intelligent machines

Screwtape’s Toast: A Retrospective, Part II

For those of you just joining us, I would encourage a reading of Part I of the Retrospective on the Toast of Screwtape, found here.

But now comes the point. Gastronomically, all this is deplorable. But I hope none of us puts gastronomy first. Is it not, in another and far more serious way, full of hope and promise?

The best use of the squabble between the Corporatist and the Activist leaders is the fact that instead of either working against us, they work primarily against each other, while the masses of humans debate about which is “better.” We, of course, do not care. The important thing is that the real leaders of humanity, the ones with real drive and moral force, will be sucked up into the endless war and co-opted. Even more advantageously for us, the ones who are actually strong in the virtue they call humility will conclude that they are in error and will eventually imitate their fellows out of pride, despair, or cowardice. The few courageous enough to follow their moral convictions will be labeled as cranks and silenced, or better, ignored.

Consider, first, the mere quantity. The quality may be wretched; but we never had souls (of a sort) in more abundance.

And then the triumph. We are tempted to say that such souls — or such residual puddles of what once was soul — are hardly worth damning. Yes, but the Enemy (for whatever inscrutable and perverse reason) thought them worth trying to save. Believe me, He did. You youngsters who have not yet been on active duty have no idea with what labour, with what delicate skill, each of these miserable creatures was finally captured.

The difficulty lay in their very smallness and flabbiness. Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which mortal sin becomes possible. To raise them just enough; but not that fatal millimetre of “too much.” For then, of course, all would possibly have been lost. They might have seen; they might have repented. On the other hand, if they had been raised too little, they would very possibly have qualified for Limbo, as creatures suitable neither for Heaven nor for Hell; things that, having failed to make the grade, are allowed to sink into a more or less contented subhumanity forever.

This problem is one which we have finally surmounted, through a process Screwtape only dimly, if at all, foresaw, and which is worth some discussion. We have at last succeeded in teaching vice as though it was virtue. Not through argumentation, of course, but by encouraging the most glamorous and loudest platforms to those who practice the vices, and by encouraging acceptable lying. In America, we have taught them this very well. Cowardice is now called “pacifism.” Lust and adultery are called “love” and “self-discovery.” Betrayal and disloyalty are called “honesty” and envy is called “justice.” In this way the humans cannot “see and repent” as Screwtape feared. Who can repent of a virtue? And the more they are assailed, the more fiercely they defend it, seeing themselves as martyrs to their chosen vices. And the fact that all of those can be actually virtues only determines the humans to defend them more fiercely. All we need do is to make sure that they never ask themselves WHY doing what they like should be considered virtuous.

In each individual choice of what the Enemy would call the “wrong” turning, such creatures are at first hardly, if at all, in a state of full spiritual responsibility. They do not understand either the source or the real character of the prohibitions they are breaking. Their consciousness hardly exists apart from the social atmosphere that surrounds them. And of course we have contrived that their very language should be all smudge and blur; what would be a bribe in someone else’s profession is a tip or a present in theirs.

Here Screwtape was more prescient. For as we noted, we no longer simply blur the words of their language. We hardly need to. Their own knowledge of it has been so far degraded that they can hardly use it as a tool, anymore than they can use tools. Those whose lifespans are approaching their natural end in their most powerful nation can remember a time when it was a point of pride among men and women to use tools with their hands: to make and repair things because they understood them. Such people were very hard to fool, when Screwtape wrote. But their grandchildren are a different matter. Their machines are now so complex that most of them cannot be understood, let alone repaired, by a single human. We have replaced young men spending their leisure hours working on the engines of cars with frustrated children hanging on the line to tech support. And faced with  problem they turn helpless to the “experts” to replace them. Therefore they are unused to struggle and mastery of their bodies or their minds. Which is exactly where we want them.

The job of their Tempters was first, or course, to harden these choices of the Hellward roads into a habit by steady repetition. But then (and this was all-important) to turn the habit into a principle — a principle the creature is prepared to defend. After that, all will go well. Conformity to the social environment, at first merely instinctive or even mechanical — how should a jelly not conform? — now becomes an unacknowledged creed or ideal of Togetherness or Being Like Folks. Mere ignorance of the law they break now turns into a vague theory about it — remember, they know no history — a theory expressed by calling it conventional or Puritan or bourgeois “morality.”

Again, our task is much easier now. Rather than reject morality for even the slightest of reasons, the children are now taught, and by the time they are adults believe reflexively, that morality is a wardrobe, which can be assembled and worn to suit them, depending on how it makes them feel, and that anyone who says differently is simply out to control them.

Thus gradually there comes to exist at the center of the creature a hard, tight, settled core of resolution to go on being what it is, and even to resist moods that might tend to alter it. It is a very small core; not at all reflective (they are too ignorant) nor defiant (their emotional and imaginative poverty excludes that); almost, in its own way, prim and demure; like a pebble, or a very young cancer. But it will serve our turn. Here at last is a real and deliberate, though not fully articulate, rejection of what the Enemy calls Grace.

This rejection is now automatic. Grace and sin are two concepts that they do not even understand. But they can avoid the first by doing the second in selfish abandon.

These, then, are two welcome phenomena. First, the abundance of our captures: however tasteless our fare, we are in no danger of famine. And secondly, the triumph: the skill of our Tempters has never stood higher. But the third moral, which I have not yet drawn, is the most important of all.

The sort of souls on whose despair and ruin we have — well, I won’t say feasted, but at any rate subsisted — tonight are increasing in numbers and will continue to increase. Our advices from Lower Command assure us that this is so; our directives warn us to orient all our tactics in view of this situation. The “great” sinners, those in whom vivid and genial passions have been pushed beyond the bounds and in whom an immense concentration of will has been devoted to objects which the Enemy abhors, will not disappear. But they will grow rarer. Our catches will be ever more numerous; but they will consist increasingly of trash — trash which we should once have thrown to Cerberus and the hellhounds as unfit for diabolical consumption. And there are two things I want you to understand about this: First, that however depressing it might seem, it is really a change for the better. And secondly, I would draw your attention to the means by which it has been brought about.

It is a change for the better. The great (and toothsome) sinners are made out of the very same material as those horrible phenomena the great Saints. The virtual disappearance of such material may mean insipid meals for us. But is it not utter frustration and famine for the Enemy? He did not create the humans — He did not become one of them and die among them by torture — in order to produce candidates for Limbo, “failed” humans. He wanted to make them Saints; gods; things like Himself. Is the dullness of your present fare not a very small price to pay for the delicious knowledge that His whole great experiment is petering out? But not only that. As the great sinners grow fewer, and the majority lose all individuality, the great sinners become far more effective agents for us. Every dictator or even demagogue — almost every film star or [rock star] — can now draw tens of thousands of the human sheep with him. They give themselves (what there is of them) to him; in him, to us. There may come a time when we shall have no need to bother about individual temptation at all, except for the few. Catch the bellwether, and his whole flock comes after him.

It should hardly be necessary to state that this happy state of affairs has long since been realized on Earth. By rejecting the Enemy, the humans have filled their need for Him with a desire to fling themselves at whatever leader makes them feel closest to that now-unattainable ideal. If they will not worship that which is greater than themselves, they can now be drawn to what looks greater. And we have even regained a great advantage of polytheism, the ability to fling humans at each others’ throats in the names of their little gods, all of them false.