Written in the Sand
Dune, Book One, Chapter Two part 1
And in this Corner, Floating like a Bumblebee
At the end of our last episode we completed Chapter One. It was a Five parter with one Mini-sode in the middle. As I said, some chapters are going to take longer than others. One thing I’m planning to do sometime this week is synopsize the the meta points we went over and post them in a list for the chapter for easy reference. I know in the mini-episode I talked about other plans and those are still in the works, I beg your patience on those. It should be obvious by now I don’t do frivolous and simple, and things will come as I feel they’re ready. I think it’ll be worth it.
Today, in this installment, we’re going to concentrate primarily on the Baron Harkonnen and his immediate associates, but that will be through a lens on the nature of evil, and a specific breed of evil. I’m breaking this chapter into only two installments. One on the character of the personalities in it, and another about the allegories present in some of the comments. This chapter does not entail one of those long analysis that requires many installments – and that surprised me just as much as I’m sure that it surprises you. What topic could be more complex than evil and the main villain of the first book? Shouldn’t that deserve multiple installments?
The answer to both those questions is yes. Unfortunately, because we are going chapter by chapter this particular piece happens to be about the Harkonnens and I hate to break it to anyone who is a “fan” of the baron’s villainous status but, Baron Harkonnen is boring. Baron Harkonnen is simply just obvious as a villain. Like black hat levels of bad guy. No pun intended, he’s the type of villain you can see coming from a mile away. Dune isn’t exactly about the obvious enemy. We’re definitely going to talk about him, but there is no warning needed for someone like the Baron.
Regarding this chapter, what the Harkonnens are is an opposite of the Atreides. The Weaknesses of the Harkonnens are the Strengths in the Atreides, and vice versa. The Harkonnens are repulsive and scary, but they are not as dangerous as one would think. Not quite. They are close, but they are too petty and emotional to be a primary evil.
If, in this episode, it seems like I’m getting irritable, it is because I seem to have reached a point where power plays and politics have become repellent to me. Perhaps it’s the current political landscape, and by current I mean the past decade or two. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but there is a part of me that has reached an almost unbearable level of, how should I put this, impatience with people from all different groups and in all levels of power who would gladly watch the world burn for a tiny morsel of personal advancement.
What I am going to do with this chapter is take this opportunity to discuss certain personality types which are relevant here. These tend to fall under the psychological diagnosis of antisocial personality disorders. Bear in mind that I am not a mental health professional, so my descriptions will not necessarily be entirely kosher. What I’m trying to do is define terminology at this point. In layman’s terms we are more familiar with sociopath, psychopath, and narcissist. Depending on who you ask, narcissism and socio-pathology are interchangeable; I want to keep them separate for my own perceptions of subtle differences.
With some variations on behavior, as well as differences in causes, these three conditions all tend to display some similar signs. All will have abnormally low levels of apparent empathy. All of them are manipulative and self-centered. For all intents and purposes, people with these conditions should be avoided whenever you recognize what they are. They will fuck up your life, and it can be very hard to recognize until it is too late.
The first one I’m going to talk about is the psychopath, a person whose brain processes little to no empathy. Put simply, they are born with low emotional response. This is exemplified in this chapter by Piter De Vries. Piter, as we learn, is a twisted mentat. What this means is that he has been genetically created to be able to perform superhuman feats of mental calculation while also being devoid of anything resembling a conscience. We will talk about Mentats another time, I just want to clarify that there are Mentats that are not genetically engineered, and are perfectly normal and human.
Contrasting with the Bene Gesserit abhorrence for gaining a Kwisatz Hadderach artificially, Piter was made to order, the Baron wanted a Mentat that would be capable of depravity, so that is what he bought. Any normal emotion that Piter displays is a mask. One of the most telling signs in this chapter is that when he is laughing, because he thinks the Baron wants him to, once the Baron tells them to stop he simply stops. His laughter is a learned mimicry of an emotional display, it is under his complete control, unlike true laughter. To explain in the terms of humor I outlined in a prior episode, Piter isn’t afraid of death and injury, so he has no reason to laugh, other than to help him fit in with normal people.
Piter has very high levels of blood lust. As the Baron points out, Piter enjoys pain. A very telling feature here is that Piter doesn’t care who is in pain. He would enjoy watching the Baron die just as much as he would enjoy the brutal death of Duke Leto. Piter only serves the Baron because the Baron allows him to feed his addictions, including his addiction to cruelty. Piter understands that the Baron is preening for Feyd Rautha, his puncturing of the Baron’s ego in front of Feyd is meant to hurt the Baron. This, of course, works. Piter definitely shows the outrageous ego that is present in all antisocial personalities. The basic reason for this is that, to Piter, much like others with Anti-social Personalities, his own self is the only thing he understands or cares about.
continued in podcast…
The relevant book for the episode will always be in resources. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you should.
THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR Martha Stout, Ph.d.
I first read this a while ago. At the time I was interested in this type of personality disorders for personal reasons and this book kind of opened my mind to the possibility of sociopaths who were not crazy killers, but people that could be encountered in everyday life.
Without Conscience Robert D. O’Hare, Ph.d.
A more advanced book on this subject, the author spent quite a bit of time studying these low empathy disorders.
If you want popular opinion or anecdotes, a quick Google search will provide you with plenty. Take it with a grain of salt, but I don’t think of it is entirely unrealistic. People who have dealt with these types of personalities have shockingly similar tales.
Intro and Outro Music:
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0