Deconstruction of worldview models (C.S. Lewis)


I can remember when I was in secondary school, I had a lot of scientific subjects, and one of the teachers started the course with a bit of science philosophy. ‘Science is always an approximation’ is the one sentence I can remember from that lesson (I also remember finding the idea of logical positivism uninteresting, boring and implausible, even at age 16, and I still do… I am still amazed about how this very basic idea is alien to a lot of people, even in a world full of people who talk about ‘deconstruction’ and have all kind of postmodern relativism (not always under that name) built into their intellectual operating system.

I’ve used the ’emerging church’ lingo for years, and looked at these things from a supposedly postmodern angle, but I’m wondering now if the postmoderns (or their students) really got that lesson at all when everything is said and done. Probably not.

So instead of turning to the postmoderns and the hip contemporary thinkers, let’s go to an older source, rooted in more than 2 millennia of Western thinking. C.S. Lewis’ last words of the epilogue of ‘the discarded image’ (yes, a book on medieval renaissance art) still gives the best explanation about what ‘deconstruction’ should be, and about how our worldview/paradigm-building will never be 100%:

“I hope no one will think that I am recommending a return to the Medieval Model. I am only suggesting considerations that may induce us to regard all Models in the right way, respecting each and idolising none. We are all, very properly, familiar with the idea that in every age the human mind is deeply influenced by the accepted Model of the universe. But there is a two-way traffic ; the Model is also influenced by the prevailing temper of mind. We must recognise that what has been called ‘a taste in universes’ is not only pardonable but inevitable. We can no longer dismiss the change of Models as a simple pro­gress from error to truth. No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get in all the phenomena known at a given period, and each succeeds in getting in a great many. But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age’s knowledge. Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical.It is not impossible that our own Model will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts-unprovoked as the nova of 1572. But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our des­cendants demand that it should. The new Model will not be set up without evidence, but the evidence will turn up when the inner need for it becomes sufficiently great. It will be true evidence. But nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her. Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good cross-examiner can do wonders. He will not indeed elicit falsehoods from an honest witness. But, in relation to the total truth in the witness’s mind, the structure of the examination is like a stencil. It determines how much of that total truth will appear and what pattern it will suggest.”

This is what a lot of postmodern philosophy should have been, instead of falling into hermetic unreadable texts or new catalogues of ultimate realities. Let alone the new grand narrative that reduces people to just one aspect of reality (Foucaultean power dynamics for example, in pop-critical theory) as if people could ever be reduced to one thing. In that way the pop-critical theory is the ultimate betrayal and inversion of postmodernism even.

Same with the way the word ‘deconstruction’ is used by deconverted ex-Christians sometimes nowadays. The emerging church thinkers certainly used it in the postmodern way, and in a way consistent with the Lewis quote here. Brian McLaren uses the quote in ‘a new kind of Christian’, noting that Lewis sounds almost postmodern here. I’m not sure anymore, I’d say the postmoderns almost sound like the Western philosophical tradition that Lewis is exemplifying here, in line with old epistemologically humble semiplatonist realism. But if your deconstruction is nothing but leaving one humanly constructed worldview (‘Model’ in the text here) for another, then you’re not doing the hard and humble world of deconstruction, you’re merely worldview-shopping, or even hopping, from one dogmatic rigid system to the other.

A lot of the people who talk about ‘social constructs’ and ‘deconstruction’ have no idea about the basic idea at all. Anything that is a social construct should always be open for deconstruction and reconstruction, and using it as a definition written in stone is already disregarding the whole social construct idea (or very strong cultural colonialism if you are more aware of the implications of what a social construct is, instead of ‘this is my version of the social construct show me yours they fall into ‘my version can be the only one and other interpretations cannot exist’, which is again postmodernism utterly betraying itself).

In the end we should always be humble in our epistemology.

What do you think?

peace

Bram

Reread: Madelein L’Engle – Many Waters


What do you do when you are an author, and you find the biblical story of Noah rather uncomfortable? In the case of Madeleine L’Engle the answer seems to be to write a strange children’s book (but not really) about it that doesn’t solve any problem with the story but makes it even weirder and more questionable! At least, that was the idea I got when re-reading ‘Many Waters'(1986), the fourth book in the ‘time quintet’, written years after the first book, the fascinating and unparalleled ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, which is part Narnia, part a sci-fi thriller for kids, culminating in a grim dystopian climax. This combination of fantasy, highly complicated science and religious themes comes back in different ways in the later books too, which are all among some the weirdest books I know at points in several different way. They are also some of the philosophically and theologically most mind-stretching and challenging books. And I love them for it. It’s a pity that I couldn’t read them as a kid (only A Wrinkle in Time has been translated anyway, and I couldn’t read English at that age) but for an adult who loves fantasy, sci-fi and out-of-the-box stuff they are also both entertaining and very deep in unexpected ways. Even though there are a few things that make me go ‘what on Earth is going on here’ too in some of the books.

Warning: This probably has a lot of spoilers!!!

‘Many waters’ might in a way be the weirdest of the quintet, in a completely different way than the others. The atmosphere is completely different from the other books, and the usual main characters like Meg and Charles Wallace Murry are mostly absent. Instead the story centres around the twins Sandy and Denys, usually the more normal members of the family of Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and the most down-to-Earth ones. In the other books they don’t believe in magical and mystical stuff, but by an experiment that goes wrong they end up in a biblical and deeply mythological time at the oasis where the family of Noah lives just before the flood, which they don’t seem to realise for most of the first half of the book. They don’t just meet characters from the book of genesis -Noah and his family, as well as grandfather Lamech- but also shapeshifting nephilim and seraphim, tiny pet mammoths, a rather stupid manticore and (what they call) virtual quantum unicorns that need to be believed in to be seen and touched. Like in some mythologies these unicorns only be touched by virgins -like the 2 twin boys, it’s clear boys can be virgins too- and have some weird teleportation skills. And oh, all people were smaller in those days, so the twins are called ‘the good giants’ by most characters.

Yes, this is certainly the weirdest bible fanfic I’ve ever read! The worldbuilding is intriguing, with a mix with strange magical mythological elements and a extreme literal reading of genesis that has some strange consequences (the long ages mean that a woman with the age of around 100 years old is still almost a teenager and considered too young too marry for example!) and some added elements from other mythologies like the book of Enoch. which is a bit puzzling sometimes. On the one hand it seems that she plays with the idea of older times being more magical and mythological than ours, but on the other hand some things more look like ‘taking this part of genesis literally as history can only lead to very far out weirdness’.

While the worldbuilding is weird, the plot is rather simple. There’s not much to the bible story used, and the added story element are rather mundane: twins that have lost each other, a coming of age story, a father-son conflict between Lamech and Noah and some kidnapping and attempts at seduction. Well, that and hungry manticores that try to eat mammoths the size of dogs and Nephilim that can change into animals who marry human women and other slice of life elements that seem very normal in the late antediluvian world. More weirdness and some heaviness enters with the dialogues and philosophical ponderings of the twins, and their theological consequences. They know what’s going to happen, and can’t tell anyone except for one of the angelic beings. The idea that, except for the family of Noah, all people in the oasis are going to drown soon is also rather disturbing, and while the seraphim seem rather apathetic to that, Sandy and Denys certainly don’t. (There seems to be a bit of a cold war feeling of ‘we can get nuked any minute to it’ in the background somewhere) Oh wait, not all. There’s one Enoch-style ‘go directly to heaven’ escape from the flood too.
On top of that there is a kind of sexual coming of age theme too, although not in a way that the boys end up ‘unable to touch a unicorn’ though. They will need those unicorns to get home anyway. The weird love triangle between the two twins and Noahs youngest daughter Yalith, who doesn’t seem to see them as separate beings and falls in love with both is something that makes me wonder… And then there’s Tiglah, wife (or girlfriend?) of one of the Nephilim and send to seduce them and find out what they are doing there. Not that they would be able to answer that question even if they wanted, and whether their arrival was planned by El or an accident remains a big enigma throughout the book.

Yes, there is mention of several daughters of Noah in the book, and one of them is even married to a shapeshifting fallen angel and births a giant baby from him. And if you’re wondering now whether there is no mention of the names of the wives of Noah and his sons in the bible, the twins ask the same question, and note some concerning aspects of the patriarchal nature of both the culture of the antediluvian patriarchs and the way the old scriptures were written. It’s interesting that the writer uses boys to voice a mild feminist critique of early genesis stories, among other things that make them say ‘I don’t like this story at all’. And to be honest, I can’t blame them. There are some disturbing parts in the story. And some unneeded things, like the way the temptress Tiglah is treated sometimes.

What makes this even weirder is that this is supposed to be a children’s book. Not that (if it were available in Dutch, which wasn’t the case) I couldn’t have enjoyed it at the age of 12, some things are probably not that appropriate for children. But I would have read over them without any problem. I’ve read so many things far beyond my age and just wasn’t interested in things I wasn’t ready for. That was never a problem, at least not for me.

All in all an interesting re-read, and for those who like to read ‘something else’, and who are not afraid from bible stories nor from some hard questions about them, and who can stand tiny pet mammoths and virtual quantum unicorns this is probably a recommended reading…

what do you think?

Peace

Bram

Review: Bob Doto – Sitting with Spirits


Somewhere in August I agreed to receive the ebook Sitting with Spirits by Bob Doto, a featured Speakeasy selection and write a review. But 2020 has been weird in all kinds of ways, and the Covid-crisis has given me a writers block that stopped me from writing anything at all for most of the year, so while I instantly have read most of the book it took me a while to get myself to compose a review.

‘Sitting with Spirits’ is a short book (138 pages) about ‘spirit work’ from a Christian perspective. The book itself not that long, but it seems to be part of a bigger work ‘longer work exploring liminal, shadowy, and magical entry points into the Christ tradition.’ that it probably interesting too. Even with the short length it’s a fascinating read with a lot of stuff to wrestle with, which made it even harder to write a review.

I’ll be honest: The book is like I already said absolutely fascinating, very deep, thoroughly written and yet frustrating at the same time. Doto has some things in his worldview that I don’t agree with (about spirits and afterlife for example), but he also says a lot of interesting things that make a lot of sense, sometimes far away from the actual topic of his book. Indeed sometimes the side-remarks about completely unrelated topics are the deepest parts.
The part about spiritual commodification and ‘Old-Timey Holy Ghost Spirituality’excerpted on Mike Morrells blog for example is in itself worth reading, and certainly something to ponder and wrestle with… He surely says a lot of things that need to be said!

It’s also interesting to read read a book written from an actual spiritist point of view (not just animist, which I am much more familiar and comfortable with) that still identifies as Christian. (Even though it’s a very open-minded progressive form of Christianity that borrows from a lot of other traditions too, and probably the same can be said about his way of engaging ‘espiritismo’ in the book.) It’s the first book as such that I’ve read after only seeing warnings against spiritism being evil and worse all my life, and now my introduction to it is in many ways (certainly not only in name) thoroughly Christian, and very much bible-based. Much more bible-based than a lot of Christian writing I’ve read throughout the years even.
I have indeed been warned about spiritism from a young age in Christian books as a warning. You know the stuff: it’s demonic, the spirits that show up are always devils, and so on. (That and the secular ‘it’s all nonsense, cold reading and theatre’, which is rather boring) I am still wondering about that too by the way, what Doto would said about the prohibitions against consulting the dead, and about how he would exegete the medium of Endor story for example, which at a serious read defies every simplistic ‘all those things are demons in disguise’ theory anyway.

Yes, I hesitate to ascribe every spiritual encounter to demons of the gaps explanations but that still doesn’t mean I agree with Doto’s views of life after death, in which if I understand well -I might be wrong though- we (and other beings) become mostly spirits that wander around here, and might give guidance to those who come after us. He gives a thorough explanation of spiritism, the spirit-filled worldview, and on how to engage the spiritual world, complete with historical and biblical data that are very consistent.

On the other hand, that isn’t the only topic he engages at all: like I already mentioned the book is full of deep explorations of spiritual, religious and psychological themes that make a lot of sense, and at times Doto seems to have more insight in core aspects of Christianity than a lot of more ‘orthodox’ Christians in many traditions do, as well as a much deeper view of spirituality than a lot of ‘spiritual’ modern types. His definition of ‘spiritual’ for example doesn’t only go deeper than wishy-washy modern ‘spiritual not religious’ types, but is a good and very biblical reminder for Christians too:

To Paul, whether a person was spiritual or not was entirely dependent on a person’s relationship to the Spirit of God, what he and his comrades called “the Holy Spirit,” as it was specifically promised by Jesus Christ. Whether or not you meditated had nothing to do with it. (…) Far from being either a statement of belief regarding a person’s outlook on life or a choice one makes to become more peaceful and calm, to be a spiritual person meant you were in direct communion with the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus Christ, as gifted by God.

So the book did several things to me: it was an introduction to a worldview alien to me, it reminded me of basic Christian and other truths that are often watered-down nowadays, and provided interesting interpretations of the bible. Some of his advice is very solid, and in other areas he goes where I wouldn’t go. And even there he’s careful, nuanced, and not falling into a trap of giving methods in a book for things that take years of practice.

So on the one hand there is deep stuff, good reminders, and paradigm-stretching information. On the other hand, there still are things that I have no place for in my worldview, and even things that seem quite dangerous to me as a small o orthodox Christian. Even though I think he is much closer to describing the invisible world than most Christians, even Charismatic Christians who believe in the spiritual world, often get. (Or maybe especially Charismatics, sometimes those who engage in spiritual warfare are extremely weird and creepy to be honest.)

So while I certainly don’t agree with everything I will say it’s an interesting read, and a good introduction to a spiritist worldview -from a more postmodern and open but definitely Christian POV though- anyone who wants to expand their world and explore other paradigms, and pick up a lot of wisdom along the way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook free through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

See how empty it would be, making love if love’s not really there…


close your eyes, and pretend that you are me
see how empty is would be, making love is love’s not really there
Larry Norman – Pardon me

Kevin Max (of DC Talk fame) has posted a song a few days ago that I can’t stop listening to: a cover of ‘pardon me’ by Larry Norman, the ‘father of christian rock’, from his classic 1971 album ‘only visiting this planet’, but . It’s also a song with a rather uncommon theme for Christian rock. The ‘linear notes’ of the original album (his spelling) describe the song with the following words:

Larry takes what is traditionally a woman’s complaint (being pressured for sex by the male) and examines it from his own perspective.

Strangely enough this sad description of loveless sex  reminds me not just about about abuse in loose relationships or one-night-stands -which certainly is what Larry intended- but also about a certain kind of ‘marriage teaching’ that is assumed to be ‘Christian’ according to certain American ‘evangelicals’. (Which still shocks me to be honest) And yes, I certainly use the quote-marks here with a reason, that reason being that i find the idea completely unchristian and completely beyond the pale of what is acceptable in general terms too.

Also because it is a form of sick internalised misandry that makes men into silly animals, an example also of what the feminists rightly call rape culture. And also the very opposite of intimacy.

Let’s give an example: from a to love, honor and vacuum post, on ‘sexual favors’ when a man is having ‘a hard time’ because his wife doesn’t want sex during her period (paraphrased from the sources Sheila Gregoire is criticizing):

“Most of the books taught a 72-hour rule, where men needed to be given sexual release every 72 hours or they would lust and be tempted to watch porn or have an affair.”

I am not known for using f-words lightly in the English language, but a WTF is way too light a reaction if you ask me. And yes, the ‘books’ in question are American Christian marriage books and the 72 hour rule being that the wife must give the husband sex (or ‘sexual favors’) at least every 72 hour.

Because otherwise what?

Eh, what on Earth?

I really don’t know how anyone could ever start from an actual Christian worldview based on the teachings of Christ (or even from a common sense humanist worldview) and ever come up with such ideas. It’s completely opposed to even the bits of ‘purity culture’ that I’ve been exposed to in my life. Self-control was a normal virtue for both men and women, and ‘not having sex’ (while being a bit of an unhealthy obsession sometimes) was certainly not seen as an impossibility but as a requirement. Maybe one that was seen as simpler than it actually was for a lot of people, but at least it was a very possible thing.

This whole mentality is not just the opposite of what was healthy in any Christian teaching on sex I’ve encountered, it’s also a very low view of men. I’ve called it internalised misandry before, and I stand by that. Men are not fragile little animals without self control that will do God-knows-what when they don’t have sex-as-a-physical-release every 72 hours. How far can people go in defending their lazy selfish depravity that they insult their own sex like that?

(Yes, I know it isn’t unique to American evangelicals, Incels and the like are even worse, but that’s not for now)

close your eyes, and pretend that you are me
see how empty is would be, making love is love’s not really there

The definition of ‘sex’ as what is required in the sexual relationship/marriage here already is nonsensical, devoid of love, completely unchristian, and more like something one would expect from evolutionary psychology of the silliest kind. Just getting biological relief is not enough to have a healthy sex life and does not mean there is intimacy either (I refer again to Sheile Gregoire here, who says we need a new definition of sex) Sure, sex is a part of a healthy marriage relationship, but loveless sex will not make it better for anyone, and can only make it worse. Without sex being loving it will destroy intimacy and make the relationship worse, not better, instead of bringing the partners closer to each other in love…

The whole idea of ‘obligated sex’ is actually very creepy on several levels: how can anyone at all who loves their partner enjoy sex with the awareness that their partner doesn’t enjoy it. If that isn’t a turn-off then you’re not a lover at all but a selfish creep who is using their supposed lover as a means of masturbation.

‘Making love if love is not really there’ is not just empty as Larry Norman calls it. It is an impossibility and an euphemism for things that are fucked-up. And when it happens in a marriage in the form of an obligation that is not enjoyed at all by on of the partners we enter marital rape territory.

How can anyone consider themself a man, or even a human being if you believe you need sex every 72 hour but don’t even care about what your lover feels? You’re a mere animal then, controlled by impulses, stuck in sin, and far away from love. If it wasn’t much worse for your partner to be in such a situation I’d say you’re in one the most pitiable possible states…

If anyone is even the least bit of a lover, and loves their sexual partner even a tiny bit, they will care about how their lover enjoys it during sex. Actually, I can’t even imagining having sex without the giving part being one of the main focuses.

How can you make love otherwise? Why would you even want sex otherwise? It’s just selfish and empty and dirty, and not better than the stuff porn is made of.

(Which might exactly be the problem here. I’ve noted before that this American pseudochristian marriage culture and porn culture have very similar attitudes to sex, and very toxic ones at that.)

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

See also:
US-style ‘Dating’, or the Opposite of what Relationships are supposed to be…Sexual entitlement, Involuntary celibacy, porn and losing your humanity
Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…
I don’t understand ‘complementarianism’
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’

In the CD-player: Suggs – the lone ranger (1995)


Welcome to a new feature called ‘In the CD-player’ where I describe an album in my collection.

(Yes, I like CD’s, and LP’s more than streaming services. I think owning a record is important and I don’t trust streaming services to have important music available to me.)

Today’s CD is ‘the lone ranger’ by Suggs, A CD I once found in a CD sale, and one that improved over the years for me. It’s the first solo album of the singer of the English ska-pop band madness, which had a lot of hits in the UK in the eighties (a bit less in Belgium but still enough, and only one in the Us, the rather atypical ‘our house’).

I found this album rather over-produced at the time, but over the years it has become one of those background albums for the summer. Ska-pop and funky Reggae/dub songs are interlayered with some more poppy slows. Half the album was produced by the legendary Jamaican rhytm section Sly and Robbie, which is a high quality of standard in the genre (much more than madness even I dare to say ).

Overall it is a good pop album. The songwriting is not bad, and the arrangements are interesting (although a bit overproduced, like happened in the early nineties), and it’s a pity that the musicians are not credited anywhere in the booklet. Some will probably find the 2 covers horrible (‘I’m only waiting’ by the beatles and ‘Cecilia’ by Simon and Garfunkl) but they certainly have their charm, especially the first one.

Favourite songs are the bealtes cover ‘I’m only sleeping’, the celebration of the multicultural London neighbourhood in ‘Camden Town’, and ‘4 AM’ which was later re-recorded by madness.

Goes well together with white port with too much ice cubes and olives with feta.

Lessons from Thule: Living in a nonviolent female-led Utopia


The interesting part of literature like utopian stories and sociological science fiction is that it gives you a chance to explore how a world with other basic constants would look like. For that reason I’ve always been a fan of Ursula Le Guins sociological scifi stories, like ‘Planet of Exiles’, ‘the Word for world is forest’, and ‘the Telling’. (Yeah, I know, canon says I should like ‘the dispossessed’ and ‘the left hand of darkness’, but those aren’t my favourites personally, especially not when reading pleasure is in-calculated) It helps us to look at our own culture and question the unquestioned, to help us see the water we’re swimming in as fishes. Human societies can take completely different and sometimes opposite things for granted, which is why stories in which completely other things are taken as self-evident are important. No culture is ever neutral, no person is an objective observer untainted by bias.

Our own worldview itself, as well as all of our culture is just constructed over time, and usually more or less an accident of history. Virtually nothing of our culture is completely ‘an imperative of the laws of nature’. There are endless possibilities of how it could have ended up completely differently. We could have a high society without wheels (like the Inca empire), we could have a society completely integrated into nature (like a lot of rainforest tribes), a world where the unhealthy male gaze is obsessed with the male body instead of the female body (like the old Greeks), a culture where pink is the colour for boys and blue the colour for girls (which existed not that long ago) and so on…

The Beckman, 1974 (picture: wikipedia)

Just looking at cultures around the world can give us a lot of variety in how things could be different, but there are way much more possibilities than we find actualised around us in this era. And that’s why we need  utopian and dystopian fiction as a way of exploring what could be. And all of that is just one of the reasons that I like -among many other pieces of fiction- Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy: she gives us insight into a possible world where humans have abolished violence, and made women the natural leaders of society. That seems to be a rather rare combination, even in fiction. I cannot remember having read a story about a combination of a friendly culture based on respect for every life and a strong matriarchy, but it is fascinating still.

 

See also in this series: and Lessons from Thule: A description of Thulene and Badener society

The society of Thule in the books is based on what they consider to be ‘female values’ of compassion, caring for all life, balance and intuition. I have no idea if these ideas are indeed more female than male, but apart from the imbalances in the reversal of gender roles (especially in book 1) I’d say there aren’t that many aspects that could be seen as unhealthy in a damaging way in their culture. The friendly and non-violent culture will be for another post, but as a Christian I can also add that the Thulenes, while ‘Pagans’ as the Badeners call them with their almost nonreligious reverence of Mother Earth, are much closer to living out the teachings of Christ and the Kingdom of God than the supposedly Christian Badeners, who have retained a ‘mutilated’ form of Christianity and use religion for oppression as the first book calls it.

The Thulenes do have love for their neighbour, love for the least, they are responsible for all of creation and almost have a world where ‘the lion can sleep next to the lamb’ (or the Badener next to the bear at least, to the astonishment of Kilian). And much more ‘love your enemy’ than most historical Christian societies. So in terms of ‘positive values’ the Thulenes actually live out the important rules of all major religions: don’t kill, don’t hate, respect others, don’t take what isn’t yours, be honest,… And those are rooted I respect and love for all life, a form of encompassing pro-life philosophy: All lives matter, human and non-human, and should be treated well.

This way of life has become deeply ingrained throughout the centuries that have passed since the arrival of Sigrid Helgadottir in Thule. The Thulenes don’t really know much male violence after centuries of female nonviolent caring-for-all-life dominance. The idea of men fighting is seen as almost obscene, sexual harassment is a taboo, and men don’t ever get the chance to become leaders. So there is nothing rational to fear, for them there are no examples of what can go wrong with men in leadership it is just assumed it will go wrong.
The justification of those views of men also lies in ‘the Great Catastrophe’, World War III; when men almost destroyed the planet and all life on it. Which is a clear sign that men are not to be trusted.

Once, an unthinkably long time ago, Kimora had told him, things had been different: In spite of their greater talents, sensitiveness, and importance women didn’t have power. Men had led the world, which hadn’t really worked out. Century after century injustice, cruelty and selfishness had ruled, and century after century rivers of blood had flowed. People had hated each other and didn’t know what to come up with to harm each other as much as possible. It had been dark times and the inevitable happened, and it ended badly. (Children of Mother Earth, p. 20)

The more extreme parts of the ‘only women can have leadership’ ideas in Thule are not completely rooted in reality, but also shrouded in myth. The Great Catastrophe has become a myth about the destructiveness of men, and the Konega and her Council of Women just like the situation as it is, even though it is, as her husband calls it, a ‘soft oppression’ for men, for half of the population.

The funny thing is that the Badeners, who indeed provide an example of a male-led culture that rather seems to prove the myth of how dangerous it is to have male leadership, are the catalyst to end the imbalance of the ‘soft oppression’: the help of Konega-husband Rajo and Konega-son Christian and other men, even in positions of responsibility and leaders, is needed to save Thule from this danger. It is only the extreme situations that give Rajo and Christian the courage to stand against the -indeed extremely conservative- Council of women. The Council doesn’t want things to change, and like it as it is, which is dangerous in situations when crisis management is needed, as was the case when the Konega had to deal with the Badeners while the rest of the Council of Women was back to their own districts, and she had to take measures that were bordering on taboo to prevent even worse.

The second and third book have lost the tension of the ‘soft oppression’, and have less restrictions for men. But it’s still only a few men at the women Council (Christian the Konega-son and Rajo her husband in book 2) against 26 women or so. Which is an enormous step forward that is seen as enough.

Anyone who is shocked by that idea, 2 men on almost 30 people being enough equality; must think of the inverse situations in our worlds that are -both by men and women- also seen as sufficient. I think Thea Beckman really intends the (young) reader to think about that too.

And unlike our world (and the Badener empire, where most people are oppressed and in dire circumstances)) the ‘soft oppression’ is not killing people and leading to abuse and violence, just keeping people from higher positions. Which I certainly would prefer over the world we have now. I’d rather be a man without power -I don’t have much power myself anyway personally with the place I occupy as a teacher- in a female-led world where literally every life matters (human, animal, plant) and I know my life is safe and people will be friendly to each other nonetheless than living in a world where my own sex is ruling and screwing it up as we so often see in our world.

I have no idea how a female-led world would look like in the real world. There probably are as many possibilities as with a male-led world, some healthy and other more dystopian and dehumanising than the old Spartan polis. But fiction gives us ideas of what could be, and I must confess that the land of Thule is one I would very much like to live in, even as a man, for a lot of reasons (some of which will appear in following posts)…

And sometimes we need to open up our mind for new possibilities!

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

Boys do cry, according to Genesis


‘Sorrowing old man’ by Vincent Van Gogh (public domain)

Yes, I know that according to the Cure, boys don’t cry, but according to Genesis they certainly do cry. Not just boys, but grown men even! I’m not really speaking of the band here though, but of the ancient book that opens the collection of holy scripture that is commonly called the Bible. It is also a common sentiment in some more macho cultures (not all though): boys don’t cry, men don’t show their feelings. Men don’t show affection even often.

Which is a quite stupid and unhealthy thing for boys and men. Not being able to show emotions, never even learning how to understand your own emotions, and acting like they don’t exist is just a recipe for disaster in personal relationships and for general unrecognized unhappiness.

How easily people take things for granted because they are part of their culture… I know from stories in other times and cultures that there are places as well it is obvious that men do weep, show feelings extravagantly, and are affectionate with each other. Most Mediterranean and Mid-Eastern cultures for example, macho as they are, have no problem with weeping men and men being affectionate.
And that seems to have been the case from very early on in biblical times even. I found an interesting example of that when I was reading parts of the book of Genesis on the patriarchs lately I noticed that the culture of Abraham and Jacob, which is completely different from my own culture and any current culture I know of, doesn’t have any problem with men weeping, or showing emotions and affection. Jacob himself is very emotional when he meets Laban for example, as well as rather affectionate with embraces and kisses towards Laban; a family member that he has never seen before:

(Let’s use the KJV for dramatic effect)

Genesis 29:10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rebekah’s son: and she ran and told her father. 13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things. (KJV)

A few chapters and I think 20 years later he repeats the same emotional and affectionate thing with his brother Esua, who tried to kill him just a few chapters (and also some 20 years) before:

Genesis 33:1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men.(…) 4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. (KJV)

Same for example with Joseph and his brothers later on, who even weeps so loud that it’s heard outside:

Genesis 45: 1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
(…) 
14 And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him. (KJV)

Now, what does that mean? Apart from being a description of a culture in which men express their feelings and are rather affectionate with each other it doesn’t mean’Boys don’t cry’ is a stupid idea, unsupported by the bible and not healthy for men. A lot of men in the bible (and Mediterranean cultures) are much more emotional and affective, with Jacob and Jesus as examples. much more than that in some cultures this is normal and ‘boys don’t cry’ would be abnormal and alien.
It’s not because something is in the bible that it should be emulated, and the time and culture of the patriarchs is certainly full of things we shouldn’t emulate. Abraham lied, Lot wanted to give his daughters to a gang of rapists, Jacob cheated on everyone who came close to him except for his wives, but then again having four wives (or 2 wives and 2 concubines that are slaves of your actual wives) isn’t a very good idea either.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Wept_(Jésus_pleura)_-_James_Tissot

Jacques Joseph Tissot, detail from ‘Jesus wept’ (public domain)

But there are better examples here that show that in biblical times it was normal for men to cry.
Jesus Himself, the Incarnate Christ, cried according to the shortest verse in the entire bible in most English bibles. (Jesus wept – John 11:35) Jesus is weeping here for the death of His friend Lazarus, even though He knows that Lazarus will be raised from the dead by a miracle later that day. But He is also said elsewhere to be weeping for Jerusalem. Just as other men weep and cry all over the bible.

Note that for the second part of where Jacob was different from modern male gender patterns we have also New Testament examples. Men are very affectionate with each other in the New Testament, which includes kisses too. Jesus is betrayed with a kiss, but it’s also very clear that the first Christians greeted each other with a kiss. ‘Greet each other with a holy kiss’ is a command we find at the end of a lot of Pauline letters, but one that few ever quote.

(Although the midst of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic [wold-o-meters link for current state of the whole thing] might not be the best moment to tell people to kiss each other more though.. But you should get the principle.)

And even with the most careful hermeneutics it should be clear that whatever the word ‘biblical’ means, a ‘Boys don’t cry’ mentality certainly isn’t that. The bible shows us a lot of cultures in which men are emotional, and show their tears (also tears of joy) and affectionate with each other. Just as was and is common in a lot of other cultures throughout the ages. Which is the normal and healthy thing.

But as a Christian I think it’s quite obvious to say that if God Incarnate Himself didn’t have a ‘boys don’t cry’ attitude, and wept regularly, that it should be clear that such a mentality cannot be defended at all.

It’s also clear that the whole ‘boys don’t cry’ mentality and everything attached to it isn’t healthy at all, so maybe we best just get rid of it… It’s just silly internalized misandry and taking away a part of your humanity. All people have emotions. It’s not bad for boys and men to cry, nor to be affectionate.

What do you think

peace

Bram

US-style ‘Dating’, or the Opposite of what Relationships are supposed to be…


We were watching what was supposed to be a romantic Hollywood comedy movie last night,  and then it became more of an anthropological analysis of a world that was not only completely alien and terrifying, but also not completely comprehensible.

Thinking more about I wrote a FB post with some thought on the subject of that is called ‘dating’ in modern US-influenced popular culture earlier today, that I also posted in several groups, and which which mostly got agreements and some additions with more nuance from people. The original post read something like (it was posted in several versions and is slightly edited again here):

Yesterday I was having a bit of a cultural disconnect moment while watching a Hollywood movie with my wife (‘He’s not that into you’ or something like that, with Jennifer Aniston and other well-known people that I didn’t recognize myself). She was annoyed with how the women were portrayed as stupid creatures (Well, the men really weren’t much better I’d say) and we couldn’t really figure out what the age of the characters was supposed to be. (For behaviour somewhere early twenties, although they were more than teenagers in a way, but other signs said thirties already, especially for the Jennifer Aniston character).

Now the biggest question was about the whole idea of ‘dating relationships’. I’ve always been rather confused by the way dating functions in US fiction and stuff influenced by it (I have no access to the real world over the ocean except through FB friends and the like though) and the way dates seem to function as liminal moments in which a romantic relationship (including intimacy and sometimes sex) is temporarily present, which is over when the date is over and then becomes something very vague that leads to a lot of stress, insecurity and mostly a lot of pursuit of unhappiness.

The contrast is big with the approach to relationships that I saw when I was young here in Belgium: the most childish way of taking about relationships was ‘het aanmaken’, or ‘het is aan’. When ‘it’ was ‘on’, you had a relationship, when the relationship was over it was ‘off’. So you were in a relationship or you weren’t, even in a stage of hand-holding teenagers, and there really wasn’t that much confusion about that. You are in a relationship or not. Dates could occur in the relationship evidently, but they did in no way define anything. If you’re ‘together’ you need to see each other and do stuff together, not?

I’ve also noted that the word ‘verkering’ (a word usually for teenagers, for a steady and commited but casual relationship, a stage of relationship in between the first kiss or ‘het is aan’ until getting engaged) doesn’t exist in English. Translator services translate it with ‘courtship’ (which sounds extremely formal to me, or reminds me of creepy American purity culture) or with ‘dating’ (see all of this).

It seems to me that the whole dating game that I see in movies (with its strange and contradicting rules that only make it more hell) doesn’t have any way of providing that stability of ‘it’s on’ in child language. Relationships seem quite uncertain until people are engaged or so, and people seem to be dating several people at the same time (rather intimately) without any commitment.

Also, the whole idea of having romantically intimate (or even sexual) dates before you really know each other just creeps me out. Without knowing someone enough as a friend already I would never want to be romantic with anyone, and it sounds like a recipe for disaster actually. How can one start a meaningful relationship without a friendship in which it is possible to talk about important things? Shouldn’t relationships that are supposed to become a family together develop from friendship – ‘verkering’ -engagement – marriage?

So while I certainly am a fan of both dating inside a relationship and hanging around to get to know each other (as friends, without any pressure, and certainly without games and nonsense rules), the whole thing called dating, at least in movies, sounds toxic and and stupid to me, and potentially more a vaccination against good relationships than something that leads to healthy couples.

But maybe my analysis is completely off? What do you think? (crossposted in several very different groups and no-one said my analysis was off yet)

What I didn’t get was reactions that my analysis was completely off. Some people warned me that Hollywood isn’t exactly reality. Luckily that is true, but on the other hand US Americans shouldn’t forget that Hollywood provides a picture of reality that is seen a ‘this is America’ by non-Americans. And it seems that (at least for some Americans) dating culture is a hell even worse than what the movies show.

A main point for a lot of people seems to be that ‘the dating world’, especially in the US it seems, is confusing as hell, and that all people who are married or in a relationship who are happy to not have to participate in it, and that some even are single because of it.

After thinking more about the whole thing there are some points that I think are worth stating.

  1. I strongly believe that the best way to handle romantic relationships that are meant to become a family and a partnership for life (I can’t say much about other relationships, and they don’t really interest me either) is to start from a friendship in which open communication about stuff like for example being anxious about this whole dating world and its mad rules among other things. Without that it’s mad to start something with anyone.
    From that I would go through a stage of ‘verkering’/’going steady’, or a growing romantic and committed relationship, followed by engagement and marriage when the time is ripe. (Not too soon, not too late). I also believe it is very important to be clear on where you are, always.
  2. A lot of other non-Americans seem to find the US situation incomprehensible too. I’m rather glad about that for the rest of the planet, but I offer my condolences to any Americans that are screwed by this culture.
  3. The confusion about not knowing where you are in a relationship (that even was a sexual relationship on the last date) sounds like hell. How can anyone live with that? See what I wrote about a friendship with open communication in point 1. I wouldn’t even have a first kiss with someone that I can’t talk about what kind of relationship we’d be in.
    The strange thing is that it seems that people are really intentional about not defining their relationships (or DTR, there even seems to be an acronym) for reasons that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. There even seems to be an active peer pressure even to not define relationships or even call them relationships because that would put pressure on them or something like that.
    I have no idea what that would even mean but it sounds like a very bad idea and an absolute recipe for disaster. And I’m glad that all of this sounds very alien to me. (My condolences again to those stuck with this kind of screwed-upness)
  4. It seems that both weird forms of evangelical ‘purity culture’ (‘don’t ever be alone with someone of the opposite sex’ madness) and the strange and contradictory rules of ‘the dating game’ try to actively keep people from said friendships in which can be communicated like that. Which is keeping people away from a basic requirement without which relationships will always be unstable. Instead of looking for signs and trying to find out what the other might have meant people should just say that they need to say.
  5. There seems to be an element of consumerism too on ‘the dating market’. When you reduce people to products to consume you’ll never be able to have healthy relationships with them. Aforementioned friendship would already be impossible, or make this approach to human beings impossible… (There are more ways in which consumer capitalism is deadly to relationships, but I’m not the one to go to deep in that rabbit hole and that would divert from the topic of this post)
  6. This is probably the place too to give my opinion on ‘hook-up culture’ and one-night stands, which is not based on religion here but merely on the relational wisdom outlined elsewhere: if you’re not in a relationship with someone that enables you to understand each other very well when talking about sex and intimacy it’s just a very stupid and potentially very destructive idea to have sex with them.
    Let’s add to that that hook-up culture very easily becomes rape culture with just the tiniest hint of either sexual entitlement or peer pressure, both of which seem to be more present too in the US than here by the way.
  7. The idea that men and women cannot be friends is not only nonsense, but also very very very problematic, as you should have gathered from everything else I wrote here. See also: The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)
  8. Speaking of vaccinations against relationships: porn in modern society is probably one of the things that destroy relationships in very different ways. But that’s another topic.
  9. It seems that the words ‘sex’ and ‘intimacy’ are used almost as synonyms sometimes, while they certainly aren’t. There is a lot of intimacy outside of sex and sexual relationships, and a lot of sex isn’t really that intimate at all. Hook-up sex, and whatever porn describes, (as well as the ‘men need sex as a physical release, wife give it to him’ of certain US evangelical marriage books) can be completely devoid of intimacy and even the opposite of it.
  10. Marriage itself when it turns into an obsession more important than your partner themselves can become an idol that is destructive to your relationship. Same with wedding days when they become more important than your partner and your relationship.
  11. If this is what is called ‘Dating’ in the US I understand now that Josh Harris kissed it goodbye. It’s just that not much of the things he proposes instead seems to be a better alternative…
  12. I can understand how this mess turns men into Incels and MGTOW and the like. Which is also a destructive and a rather effective vaccination against healthy relationships.
  13. Saying ‘I love you’ seems very hard for a lot of people even in romantic relationships (also something I don’t really get. I’d think it’s a requirement very early on). But I think it’s important to be able to say those words and mean them.

So, to summarize, my own relationship advice: be honest, be yourself, be open, form a strong frelovelutionriendship before you even think of ‘intimacy’ (which is a lie anyway without a relationship, you can’t communicate love that isn’t there), talk about everything, and look for someone with whom you can run away from all the dating game nonsense.

The best way to have a healthy relationship is to just short-circuit all the nonsense, and go your own way together. So anyway, before you ‘date’ or whatever you call it with someone, it’s probably good to form a friendship deep enough to talk about how to evade, subvert and completely ignore the whole nonsense of dating, and then face the madness world together.

That sounds like a very good bonding experience by the way…

What do you people think?

Peace

Bram

Other posts:
Joshua Harris, unkissed frogs and false promises
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Women need respect, men need love (3) Men need love, and not just sex…
Sexual entitlement, Involuntary celibacy, porn and losing your humanity

Lessons from Thule: A description of Thulene and Badener society


The Beckman, 1974 (picture: wikipedia)

Like I said in my last post I’ve been rereading Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy recently. There are several interesting ideas in the books that are worth blogging about, which is problematic since they are only available in Dutch. So in this post I will try to summarise the most important details of the intriguing worldbuilding of the trilogy as a reference for further posts in this series.

In a way the books are built around a simple post-apocalyptic reboot of humanity, in which some cultures have learnt from ‘the Great Catastrophe’ (nuclear world warIII), and others haven’t a thousand years later: The Thulenes have a nonviolent culture based on respect for life and the leadership of women, while their opponents the Badeners are a dystopian mix of the negative aspects of European cultures of the last few centuries that isn’t actually that unrealistic.

See also:

The land of Thule
The land of Thule is a temperate-climate Greenland in a world where the North pole has moved to Japan and the South pole to South America. It is inhabited by people of mixed race, mostly descendants of Danish colonists and Inuit from before the Great Catastrophe. The capital is Gothab. The language is Thulene, which isn’t used in the books, but is the place and person names are a good indication that it falls something in between Inuit languages and Scandinavian too. People on the coast often known some Kanadene as a second language, descended from English and still mutually intelligible with the languages of the Merikans and Brits.

Thule: General culture:
Thule has a simple and rather low-tech culture, depending on horses and windmills. No-one is poor and no-one except for the royal Konega-family is rich. Communities share most of their stuff: houses, boats and horses belong to the whole community, but people do have personal property too. They also use silver money, but part of the wages is paid in various stuff. Children in school don’t just learn theory but also how to build houses and other practical stuff, and most people make furniture themselves.

He (Kilian) would have to search for a job, because his academic degrees were worthless here in this country. Thulenes had a completely different education than children in the Badener Empire. Here they were taught carpentry, sailing, cooking, shipbuilding, and all kinds of practical matters. And what were his skills? Nothing like that… (THP p.262)

Frederiksborg is an important university city. 80% of the university population is female, since men are rather rare in higher jobs. Thulenes have printing presses and colour print. Gunpowder is known but normally only used for fireworks or mining. Fire-arms are unknown orand later considered taboo. The only weapon used is a kind of stun-gun with little poisoned arrows, or the thorns of which the poison comes, that make an animal or human fall unconscious for a while. Men with weapons are seen as extremely indecent, except in the case of woodsmen. The idea of men fighting is shameful, almost obscene.

Important areas are the Capital Gothab on the West coast, the Holtak-district where the vases vases with gold-dust are made in the middle, and Kulus in the East. The Mining districts are in the North, where winters are still cold. Gold is exported to Kanada for wheat, and most trade with other countries is barter.
The population runs in the millions, but no-one has ever counted how much Thulenes there are, since people are not registered. They only have first names, except for the women descending from the ‘Mother of the Motherland’ Sigrid Helgadottir who are called ‘Dottir’ and are considered some kind of nobility. Most of the dottirs seem to be connected to trade.

Thule: Nature
Thulenes live very close to nature, and feel like themselves are a part of nature. Destruction of nature is punishable. Hunting is generally forbidden, and for every tree that is cut down a new sapling must be planted. Killing an animal is seen as murder almost as much as killing a human. The Thulenes import wild animals from Kanada for the balance of nature, and have a very diverse wildlife with deer, 4 species of bears (it’s implied that ice bears have survived too in the North, and adapted to a more temperate climate), wolves, foxes, moose, and much more. The people are friendly to animals, even predators and are in return rarely attacked by them and often treated as friends by animals.

I don’t understand, Kilian thought. This wilderness is full of devouring beasts, but this morning a wolf only woke me up and then ran away from me. And I seem to have slept in the arms of a bear, which didn’t do me any harm either. Shouldn’t people feer them at all?
No, he answered his own question. Not if the bear thought you were a Thulene. (THP p. 226)

Marine mammals are also friends of the Thulenes, and orcas even know the difference between the Thulene language of friendly humans and the Badener language of enemies who want to kill them. Elvira knows to ward off an orca that wants to attack the lifeboat after her ship has sunk by talking to it in Thulene, although it tries to attack people speaking Badeners.

Meat is eaten though, but only from old animals that have lived a happy life, which makes all meat extremely chewy. Birds are never eaten or killed. Eating fish is less of a taboo than eating meat, but in the dolphin season fish is left for dolphins and humans and not fished by people.
Poaching and destruction of nature get punished harshly with a mark in the face. (see later)

Thule: Gender roles
Thule is clearly a matriarchy: women are leaders in every aspect of society, they held most jobs with power, and they are seen as the more responsible sex. Men are seen as not to be trusted with power, which is connected to the stories about the Great Catastrophe, when the world was almost destroyed by men. Apart from that the society of Thule is not only very friendly but also egalitarian. There are hardly any class distinctions and people of all classes mingle with each other.

Men were nice, strong, often friendly creatures that could do the heavy work, that could plough the land, cut down trees, carry heavy loads and build houses, but couldn’t be trusted with something as sensitive as governing a country. They were too rude for that, too headstrong and selfish… Am I rude and selfish? Christian wondered. Was my father Rajo? (KOMA p.20)

This is also reflected in the political system: Thule is ruled by the Konega with the Council of Women, which consists of all district leaders and sometimes family members of the Konega, but traditionally no men. A small reform at the end of the first book tried to balance the inequality between the sexes by giving the men in the Konega-family a place in the Council of women too. In the third book, 50 years later that means 3 men and 26 women. Other cultures close to Thule like the Kanadenes and the Baffinlanders seem to also be female-led by the way.

Thule: Relationships and Marriage
monogamous marriage based on love seems to be the norm, but with reversal of traditional gender patterns: Christian at the beginning of the first book for example is horrified by the idea that he, as a Konega-son, might have to ask a woman himself instead of her asking him. Apart from that it seems that relationships are both rather relaxed and serious at the same time and based on friendship and intimacy.
Intercultural relationships and marriages, even with Badeners, are not seen as a problem at all if the character of the outsider has proven to be good.

Nanora had told her friends of the weaver mill enthusiastically about the young sailor who was so nice, had such a sweet face, cared so much about his mother and behaved so well. It wasn’t true at all that all of the Badeners were fiddling around with your body, that they were intrusive and brutal and thought that all girls just had to do whatever they liked. Erich was completely different: modest and careful. He left the initiative to his girlfriend, as it should be, and waited quietly until it was time for more intimate caresses. Really, Badeners were okay if you got to know them. (THP p 307)

Women get only a few children, because they have more things to do with their life than being a mother. (I suppose contraception is implied but not named because it is a childrens’ book after all. Nothing is said about sex explicitly.) Girls are sometimes valued above boys, although in theory boys are loved equally. People are very relaxed about nudity and young people are very playful and relaxed about their bodies in general. (Compared to the prudish Badeners) Prostitution is unknown, and harassment of women or violence within a relationship is a strong taboo.

The one exception to people being free to choose their own partner is the succession law for the Konega-family: a Konega-son can traditionally only marry a woman from the ‘dottir’ families, because of the supposed genetic superiority of the family line of Sigrid Helgadottir. This rather eugenic practice is called out as such by Christian, as he struggles with his love for the non-dottir girl Thura, and this law also gets a reform at the end of the first book for Christian and Thura.

Thule: Religion
Thulenes have a rather non-religious reverence for mother Earth, which is mostly just seen as the planet herself. They are not offended when Badeners describe it like that either. There are no priests or religious services, only small open temples in which people can sit in silence. These temples typically have a place on which one or more vases (if possible Holtak-vases made with gold-clay) with flowers are put express thankfulness.

Thule: Political system
Thulenes have a monarchy led by a Konega. The first Konega was Sigrid Helga-dottir, who came from Yselan (Iceland), and the Icelandic matronym ‘dottir’ became a kind of clan name for her female descendants, which were seen as women of great intelligence and intuition. Only a dottir can be a Konega. Thura becomes the first non-dottir Konega-mother, and her daughter Ferika-dottir then became the successor of Christians mother Armina-dottir.

The Council of Women consists of the leaders of all districts of Thule, and is in Gothab with the Konega half of the year and in their own district the rest of the year. District leaders, as well as region and city leaders are chosen democratically by men and women, based on their competence and skills, and always female.

Thule: Punishment system
The last intriguing part of Thulene society is their unique system of punishment. Thulenes never use violence (their worst weapon is a stun gun) and they don’t take away someone’ Continue reading

Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy: The best post-apocalyptic dystopian/utopian fiction that was never translated to English.


The Beckman, 1974 (picture: wikipedia)

Recently I’ve been rereading some books that I liked as a kid that I know to still make sense to me  as an adult and that’s quite an interesting exercise. So when I found ‘Het helse paradijs’ (the infernal paradise) by Thea Beckman in a secondhand bookstore I didn’t even think about it and bought it. It’s a fantastic book, second in a trilogy that I would put on the level of Narnia, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, Astrid Lindgrens Ronja the Robbersdaughter and the ‘Avatar: Legend of Aang’ cartoons.

Thea Beckman (1923-2004) is a rather well-known writer of books for older children (‘jeugdboeken’) in Dutch-speaking areas. I think the three Thule books are 12+ or so, something like what is weirdly called ‘Young Adult’ in the English-speaking world, but I certainly must have been younger than that when I read most of them. She’s famous for high-quality historical fiction, like ‘kruistocht in spijkerbroek’ (available in English as ‘Crusade in Jeans‘, also made into a film in 2006), but also for example for her impressive trilogy around the hundred years’ war. But the books I remember and loved most aren’t historical books but the trilogy about the future land of Thule and its conflicts with the great Badener empire. ‘Het helse paradijs’ is actually the second book of the trilogy, so later that week I went to look for the first one, and I couldn’t resist the third one too. Luckily they are easily found in the better bookshop: even though being written in the eighties they are still reprinted constantly. Rereading the books has been a pleasure, they are still as good as ever so I’m still rereading them; and they contain some very interesting ideas.

See also the next post:

It’s also interesting how European the story is, an American for example wouldn’t write  a story like this. Thea Beckman endured the second world war under the fascism of the nazis (The Netherlands were occupied for most of the war, as was Belgium where I live) and wrote the books in the cold war from inside country that had no influence on the madness of the idiotic arms race between the US and the USSR and the possibility of total destruction of the planet. Both have certainly influenced her views on the future of planet Earth and human civilisation.

Thule and the Baderner Empire
The Thule books are built around a clash between an utopia and a dystopia, and contain intriguing experiments in speculative sociology: what happens when a nonviolent female-dominated culture meets an aggressive colonialist culture that wants to subdue it. How will both sides see each other? How will they react to each other in conflict? The whole series gives a very interesting critique and sometimes outright deconstruction of fascism, militarism, colonialism, male chauvinism, societies based on aggression, industrialism that destroys nature, and so on. The stories follow 2 countries in a recovering post-apocalyptic world some thousand years after a nuclear world war III, which has hit the planet hard: her axis has changed, the continents have been redrawn, and the poles have moved to Japan and South-America. Most of humanity and other life has been killed in the mad nuclear war, but over time nature has stabilised again, and humanity too has come back from near-extinction so new civilisations are rising up again on what’s left of the world. Greenland has become the green land the name has always suggested it was and it is now the matriarchal nation of Thule. Meanwhile in central-Europe an industrial colonial power named the Badeners is rising up to conquer everything in sight in the name of progress and civilisation.

The difference between both cultures couldn’t be bigger: the Thulenes, descendants of a mix of mostly North-Europeans and Inuit that survived the Great Catastrophe, have only women in power, they even believe than men should never have power since men were responsible for the Great Catastrophe, and can be called fanatically non-violent ecofeminist, living in peace with nature, with a rather limited use of money, and a taboo on men having too much power, since that was what led to the Great Catastrophe. The Badeners, named after an area in between Germany and Switzerland, are a violent and (self)destructive culture, combining industrial colonialism with a form of fascism (later replaced by some kind of democracy), and are always trying to expand their territory, having conquered most other European people except for the Brits and supposedly some South-European countries. Fear and oppression as well as poverty and pollution plus a heavy dose of corruption are the price for a ‘great civilisation’.

Kinderen van Moeder Aarde

Men were nice, strong, often friendly creatures that could do the heavy work, that could plough the land, cut down trees, carry heavy loads and build houses, but couldn’t be trusted with something as sensitive as governing a country. They were too rude for that, too headstrong and selfish… Am I rude and selfish? Christian wondered. Was my father Rajo? (p.20)

The first book ‘Kinderen van Moeder Aarde’ (Children of Mother Earth) follows the royal family of Thule at the time of the first expedition of the Badeners to what the old maps called ‘Groenland’. The main character throughout most of the book is the Konega-son Christian, whose name is not referring to Christianity (the Thulenes have an almost non-religious reverence of ‘Mother Earth’ as religion) but just a Scandinavian-sounding name like most of the royal family has, with them being descended from a legendary family from Yselan. Christian is the son of the matriarchal monarch of Thule, Armina-dottir the Konega but just as his father he has no special title or role. He is just a man. (A bit like a princess in a kingdom where only men can be king)
One storyline revolves around his family, the disappearance and reappearance of his father Rajo, and the problems of being a man in a female-led society with as his father calls it the ‘gentle oppression of men’. The Women Council of Thule is extremely conservative, and men are not supposed to have any power because that is dangerous (it is what led to the Great Catastrophe) There also is the problem of Christian being the only child of the Konega-family and being only a boy, so he will be expected to marry a Dottir (a woman from the royal bloodline) to hopefully one day father a girl who can become the new Konega.
The arrival of the Badenfelder and the reaction of both cultures to each other is another big part of the story. Both cultures are completely alien for each other, and they completely get lost in translation even though there is a language they can both use(Brits and Kanadene are still mostly mutually intelligible language). The Badeners try to start with diplomacy and talk about friendship and alliances, but don’t they just want to conquer the whole country? Christian is interested in the other culture, but still skeptical. At a certain point the ‘prince’  as the Badeners see him gets ‘kidnapped’ (actually he joins them willingly, trying to understand them more as he was assigned by his mother) by the commander and asked to show them the inland and he takes them on a crazy hike to the wilderness, where he learns by their reaction what the true (murderous) nature of their culture is.
A third storyline is the impossible love-story between Christian and Thura, a young-captain-in-training and certainly not a Dottir, a fierce, intelligent and unyielding personality with a lot of Inuit blood. She turns out to be one of the most courageous and tactical defenders of her country though, and will play an important role in conquering the Badeners, who are not killed but prevented from ever returning and assimilated in the Thulene society.

Het  Helse Paradijs

The Konega looked straight at Kilian. ‘You are right,’ she spoke. ‘We tried deliberately to kill all of you when it became clear that you didn’t want to abort the invasion attempt. It was you who convinced us of that. We wanted to smother what was left by the hurricane, the rat disease and the swamps in fire and smoke. We had thought out much more natural disasters for you. But it became too much, we couldn’t go on. Pity choked us. It is against our nature to be cruel and ruthless. (P. 271)

In the second book ‘het helse paradijs’ (the infernal paradise) we get more insight in the culture of the Badeners. Kilian Werfel, a young linguist, is summoned by the Egon, the dictator, together with an admiral, a Government Commissioner, and a geologist, to go on a new expedition to Greenland after the disappearance of the Badenfelder 2 years ago. The fleet consists of 5 warships and around 1000 soldiers that takes over the harbor of Kulus and Kilian will have the impossible task to try to connect to an enemy whose new tactic is mostly to completely ignore them.  He’ll also have the misfortune of falling in love with Thulene spokesperson Thura, who is completely unreachable as the fiancée of the Konega-son.
And on top of that none of the leaders of the invasion is ever happy with the messages he needs to carry from the other side, which is that they just have to leave Thule or will be ‘destroyed by Mother Earth’.

The Thulenes led by the Konega and Thura don’t use any conventional warfare, but they are very successful against the Badeners. They move in stealth and stun the invaders whenever they misbehave, to leave them to wake up stripped of weapons and uniforms elsewhere. At a certain point the whole invasion army wakes up in their underwear, robbed of a lot of stuff, with a red mark of a criminal in their face. And that’s just the beginning: the warships get sabotaged and the big march over land to Gothab, the capitol, gets stuck in the middle of nowhere before a blown-up bridge with a ‘city of gold’ just out of reach on the other side, plagued by diseases and natural disasters.

Kilian himself gets more bad luck and is accused of treason after he brings another message from Thura (‘go back to Kulus, you won’t survive the winter here’) to his superiors. He barely escapes alive, and then wanders around as beggar and stranger, marked as a crimnlal  through Thule to end up in a hospital, while the Badener army goes rogue destroying a village and then finds its demise in natural disasters as a reaction.

In the end the second invasion will have a similar outcome as the first one: none of the Badeners will see their homeland again, but this time with a lot of casualties. Assimilating the remaining Badeners into the Thulene culture is much harder this time, but the Konega-family mobilises Kilian, whom they’ve picked up along the way to Gothab and who knows both cultures now as their own mediator to explain the culture to the scattered left-overs of the invasion-army.

Het Gulden Vlies van Thule

Elvira shook her head, rather hopelessly. ‘Lady Thura, please understand! If I go to Gothab, and make myself known as the mediator chosen by the Thulenes… The head-governor will roll over with laughter. He will say ‘child, don’t be silly, go get married, get six children, and that’s how you’ll do a service to the fatherland.’
‘That man couldn’t be that stupid,’ Thura said. (p.178)

The third book ‘het Gulden Vlies van Thule’ (the Golden Fleece of Thule) is set half a century later and is written again from a Badener point of view, but this time the main characters are female. The Badener Empire has moved on from dictatorship to democracy, but is in a lot of problems, which it tries to solve with new colonies overseas. Four coastal Thulene cities including the capital Gothab have been conquered and are under Badener rule, but the colonisation isn’t very successful and the Thulenes are doing endless acts of sabotage while rarely being seen or caught. The Badeners don’t understand anything of the Thulenes, and don’t really try to understand their culture and language, seeing them as just stupid and primitive cowards for them.

The book first follows Elvira, daughter of a  deputy governor. She sees the need to understand the Thulene language and culture, and she even gets help in secret from a Thulene woman to learn it. Her father is sent to join a punitive expedition to the inland where no-one ever returns from when he protests the corruption of the governor, and doesn’t come back. Finally she goes into Thulene country to find him. She meets a district leader who tells her the fate of her father, and meets the Konega-son Tjalk who  hates the Badener who killed half his family, but still brings him to temporary capitol Holtak, known for its expensive vases made with gold-clay to meet Thura, an old woman now but still the fierce leader of the resistance.  She predicts the end of the Badener colonies, and wants her to be a negotiator with the Badener government.

Another storyline follows the three daughters of the new head governor of the added territories of Thule. Being a nobleman of ill fortune he tries to find a new chance for his family in the colonies, which are in bad condition already when he arrives. Unlike his predecessor he is more interested in trade and diplomacy, and sees the importance of learning the language and culture of the native Thulenes, so he orders his daughters to study it.
After a while the three girls will do their own attempt to reach Holtak where the famed vases made of gold-clay originate, to try to make trade possible between Thulenes and Badeners. When they finally reach Holtak they are received by Thura and the Konega, who tells them that friendship is impossible as long as the Thulene cities are occupied, . Together with Elvira they are sent back, and find the capitol in worse state than ever, with rats everywhere and workers on strike. The head governor sends a message to the motherland, and finally a diplomat arrives to talk with the Konega, even though the idea of talking with women is rather ridiculous to him. The cultural misunderstandings are big and the demands of Thura and the Konega-family are high,  but there is one trump that the Thulenes use to buy off the Badeners (one which is hinted at in the title already) to get their country back.

It really is a pity that the books have never been translated. They are very intelligently written, and help one ask questions and see through the nonsense of society.

Some themes will be worth exploring more in future posts.

Peace

Bram