Where power comes from

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georgiedenbro
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Where power comes from

Postby georgiedenbro » 19 Jun 2020 10:26

I was having a political discussion last night, the major focus being the current protests and especially how social media impacts the power structures. The issue was brought up how in the past whenever there was a major debate on a topic you would hear a multitude of different opinions on it, but typically corporations and such were not relevant to these events. There would be no question of whether Gilette or some other company "agreed with" a social cause, but now many companies feel pressured to either agree with, or at least take sides on, battles going on in the social sphere. One person in the debate suggested it's because of social media and how now every person on Twitter can strongly affect whether a company stands or falls based on creating support (or antipathy) towards a company for their position either way, and people with many Twitter followers therefore have a lot of actual power in society. But I immediately took this opportunity to challenge where power really comes from: at first it looks like the 'leader' or a group, whether BLM, or simply someone with a million 'followers', have a lot of power in the conventional sense. They Tweet something, people respond as a result. In the past the only people who had this megaphone were major journalists, often TV anchors like Dan Rather. Hollywood celebrities didn't really have a public voice prior to social media, so only formal institutions had 'leaders' of this kind (including political institutions). But my challenge on this topic was to consider where the power actually comes from.

So naturally I took the opportunity to bring up Dune, and I explained to them that Dune isn't about a guy who leads his great people to victory, but rather a guy who learns that having power means being at the nexus of huge forces out of your control, and your choice is to ride that wave and succumb to it, or to step aside and be nobody. Paul could wander off into the desert with Jessica, letting House Atreides fall, or he could rise up and "rule" the Fremen, which really meant being owned by them. The latter point is made clearer in Messiah, but even in Dune it's clear that the jihad is coming with or without him, and his only choice is whether his family's flag is going to be the one waving in front of it. So did Paul "take power" in the conventional sense? I argue that Dune tells a story of someone who allowed himself to be given power, which came with the price tag of being slave to those giving it. The historical way of seeing power is inverted, where I see FH arguing that we often mistake the direction of the lines of power. Is a 'twitter star' really the one controlling the followers, or rather are they forced into saying and doing the things the followers want, if if they say the "wrong thing" the star will be trashed and forgotten about, with them shifting to someone else? In that case 'power' could better be defined in this context as willingness to take on the persona or actions that the people are demanding.

This can get murky if we go back from social media (where it's more apparent) to conventional power structures, like say dictatorships. Would it really be cogent to argue that a dictator can only wield power because the people in some sense demand someone of that character to take on that role? And that if the dictator failed to provide the theatre they want, that they'd be ousted and replaced with someone who would? Then how do we explain Leto II, who seemingly just 'became a tyrant' and no one could do anything about it?

Thoughts?
Last edited by georgiedenbro on 22 Jun 2020 10:20, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Where power comes from

Postby Freakzilla » 21 Jun 2020 04:42

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Re: Where power comes from

Postby Freakzilla » 21 Jun 2020 04:45

One of the best post you've made, George
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Re: Where power comes from

Postby Freakzilla » 21 Jun 2020 04:47

"Forgive me, Lord."
"What else can I do?" Leto studied Moneo's downcast features.
"You and I, Moneo, whatever else we do, we provide good theater."
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xcalibur
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Re: Where power comes from

Postby xcalibur » 21 Jun 2020 05:24

very good points as always. a youtube channel, CGP Grey, had a pretty good video on how power works:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7niR7gs

tl;dw: every ruler relies on 'keys' to power, and if he doesn't satisfy their demands, he will likely be replaced by another ruler who does.

it's true, history is shaped by larger forces, and even the most powerful individuals are just riding the wave. for example, without the populist uprising, a candidate like Donald Trump could never have been elected President. he saw the divisions in our society, the accumulating discontent, the resentment against the current oligarchy and globalist institutions, and rode the tidal wave as a very effective demagogue. many see President Trump as a cause of the fault lines in US society, when really his presidency is a product thereof.

social media is a structural shift in societal dynamics. unlike the legacy media, which is largely a one-way communication network, it's a two-way communication network. while it's shaped by the accounts with the greatest reach, it's also shaped by the will of the masses, perhaps even more so. let a blue checkmark disagree with Marxist-derived woke culture, and watch them get 'cancelled' (aka excommunicated from a secular religion), and lose their horde of supporters to someone else.

as for Leto II, he completed the task that was only halfway fulfilled by Maud'dib, that is to consolidate power and use/endure it to ensure the long-term survival of the human race. he did this through economic, religious, and environmental means: economically, he instituted hydraulic despotism via control of the spice; in the religious sense, he took on the charismatic leader/messiah role and took it to the hilt; as for environment, his symbiosis gave him the longevity and powers he needed for the task. this touches on a few of Dune's major themes: the dangers of charismatic leadership, the dangers of dependence on a resource, and the significance of environment in shaping human affairs. that last theme is also seen in the Sardaukar, who are the real basis of Corrino power, as well as the gradual degeneration of the Fremen when their planet is terraformed. without his symbiosis with sandworms, without the spice, and without hero-worship, Leto IIs unprecedented reign would not have been possible. there's also control of technology, tranquility enforced by a female army, limitations on travel and social organization, but those are tangents.
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georgiedenbro
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Re: Where power comes from

Postby georgiedenbro » 22 Jun 2020 10:33

I thought of putting it in political, Freak, but I wasn't sure since it's also a Dune question. :confusion-confused:

@ xcalibur, I'll check out the video tonight. About Leto II, though, is it really fair to say he just rode the inevitable wave of history like Paul did? The jihad may have been inevitable, but was hydrolic despotism inevitable? Paul may have ended up the slave of the Fremen's image of mahdi, but did Leto II really occupy any role that people were actually longing to see? Or did he defy their desires utterly, but also so powerfully that they could not depose him and replace him with their preferred star?

I guess on some level I could see an argument for them really wanting a despot, deep-down. I think part of what was troubling about the pre-Scattering wasn't just that they were physically unsafe, all being in one area of space, but that their mentality was unsafe in wanting to stay subject to a single emperor in one empire. In effect, they longed to be ruled in a clear-cut organization, and this perhaps betrays a subconscious attitude towards wanting to be subject to a tyrant in effect. But of course they only want this within certain parameters - the 'tyrant' should put on a good public face with charisma like Paul or his father, and appear to be moral and for the people; and the tyrant should create a positive or jovial atmosphere, through propaganda and other means, rather than actually confronting people with the brutal reality like the Harkonnens did. So maybe Leto II did give them what they secretly wanted - to be ruled, and he gave it to them in the purest form possible such that they had zero freedom and zero fantasy of freedom. It was like the Harkonnens in that sense, which is I guess what kept ticking off the Duncans so much. I suppose this lesson was not only to precipitate the Scattering, but also to change that deep-down desire for slavery into a deep-down desire for some kind of real freedom. Because on a certain level if slavery is what you want you'll find a way (without knowing it) to put someone in power who will be your master. The leadership may represent the people more than we realize.

But even saying all that, no one had the capability to depose Leto II, did they? Or maybe it's hard to say from God Emperor because we don't see all the stuff he doesn't do. Meaning, if he ticked off the Fish Speakers in some way (i.e. failed in the theatre they were expecting) maybe they'd have dumped him immediately in favor of someone else.
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Re: Where power comes from

Postby xcalibur » 23 Jun 2020 23:48

I'd say it's a combination of both the tidal wave of history, and Leto II consolidating poltical/economic/religious power far above and beyond the momentum. he embodied pure despotism to build up pressures that resulted in the Scattering, and to 'teach humanity a lesson their bones would remember', that while we claim to want peace, we really want volatility. it's easier to be a subject or slave when the gauntlet has a velvet glove over it, or is tempered by notions of honor and decency. Leto II took charismatic leadership, despotism, and pax imperium to their logical conclusion. Leto's Peace was what everyone claimed they wanted, the 'happily ever after' ending, and people found it terribly oppressive. his vast reign, spanning many generations, ensured that the lesson was ingrained, and that people would develop a drive for freedom, and become wary of security, tranquility, and pharoahs. this, combined with the breeding of prescience-cloaking genes, ensured the success of the Golden Path.
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Re: Where power comes from

Postby Naib » 24 Jun 2020 11:47

Leto's prescience would be a hugely demoralising factor and made everyone feel powerless. How does a population cope with a power that can't be removed by might or will? They have no choice but to submit. The prescience would weaken the will to resist to the point that revenge is pointless because Leto could simply pre-empt any violence against him or avoid it at the very least. However, this really only applies to groups strong enough to even think of any attempt at violence; namely the Guild, CHOAM, and the Bene Gesserit. Once they are under Leto's thumb, the rest is just details.

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Re: Where power comes from

Postby georgiedenbro » 25 Jun 2020 10:32

Naib wrote:Leto's prescience would be a hugely demoralising factor and made everyone feel powerless.


Right, but let's look at what's demoralizing about that. At first glance, you might think it would be awfully reassuring to know that your leader has such foresight that he's not going to make "stupid" mistakes, failing to take into account what's to come. Right now our chief difficulty is that leaders are interested in little more than the next election, and can't plan further ahead than that. So grand projects, movements to help ourselves generations down the line - these sorts of thinking are impossible for politicians in our age. Wouldn't it be heartening to know someone can literally see what's going to happen and plan everything in advance, even hundreds or thousands of years in advance? Well maybe if that goes too far, as you say, it goes from heartening to demoralizing, when the foresight is so powerful that they can literally see everything and your own input is irrelevant. So maybe this is saying that people actually want a certain degree of unpredictable chaos. Or if they don't want it, they need to learn to want it.

If the final conclusion of the "rule us" mentality is someone who thinks for you as well, then that's effectively a return to the Butlerian Jihad and thinking machines; the ultimate tyrant ends up being a stand-in for AI that takes away your ability or need to think for yourself.

How does a population cope with a power that can't be removed by might or will? They have no choice but to submit.


This is really my question here: is it actually true that Leto II's power could not be removed by might or will? I'll admit that when I had read the book in the past it sort of felt like he was omnipotent in a sense and the universe was his plaything until he decided it was time to pass on. But maybe I was wrong, and I need to check it for different things next time. Maybe he did actually have to submit in some sense and 'perform' in order for this to go on for so long. Maybe Sianoq was absolutely requisite to keep the Fish Speakers at his side; maybe his attention to irrigating Arrakis was necessary to keeping the Fremen (or their descendants) pleased; maybe being as tyrannical as he was was a form of theatre in some way, where anything less would have inspired less confidence in him.

I'll try to look for signs of this when I read it again.
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Re: Where power comes from

Postby xcalibur » 26 Jun 2020 06:32

georgiedenbro wrote:If the final conclusion of the "rule us" mentality is someone who thinks for you as well, then that's effectively a return to the Butlerian Jihad and thinking machines; the ultimate tyrant ends up being a stand-in for AI that takes away your ability or need to think for yourself.

I believe it was Leto II who said that the target of the Jihad was a 'machine-attitude' just as much as the machines themselves. that is, the tendency to become over-reliant on computers -- using them as a crutch, not just as an enhancement or supplement. we see it already, eg people who use calculators/apps for arithmetic instead of doing it in their head, or looking up info on search engines/wikipedia when they should know it offhand.

to the reader, the Butlerian Jihad seems like a combination of Luddites and Current Year insanity. but there's a positive angle: they wanted to ensure human agency and self-reliance, and thinking-machines posed a threat to this.

Leto II saw that pharaonic government and charismatic leadership were just as much a threat to freedom as the 'machine-attitude' was, so he embodied their most extreme forms, taking these trends to their logical conclusion to demonstrate the dangers.
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Re: Where power comes from

Postby Freakzilla » 10 Jul 2020 09:07

Also, treating people like machines was part of the "machine attitude".

"I point out to you, Marcus Claire Luyseyal, a lesson from past over-machined societies which you appear not to have learned. The devices themselves condition the users to employ each other the way they employ machines."
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Paul of Dune was so bad it gave me a seizure that dislocated both of my shoulders and prolapsed my anus.
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