Written in the Sand Podcast – There is a Harkonnen Among You

Written in the Sand

Episode 10: There is a Harkonnen Among You

If you are just joining us today for the first time, I usually have something here to strongly hint that you should go back to the first episode and listen to them all in order. I’m not necessarily going to do that today because this is a minisode, a break in continuity where I talk about things that have to do with the podcast in general and so can be safely listened to out of order.

For returning listeners, yes, I went with the mini episode option, and I have posted the entire transcript because I wanted this one fully available. The reason why I decided to do these things is actually multiple reasons, not the least of which is that shortly after posting this episode I will be knee-deep in forest, tent, and camp fires, rather than a couple of days to myself where I can refine the normal episode format, and then record and edit it.

There is a holiday for me and the rest of the US this weekend, and it occurs to me, and I’m not sure how I managed it — although I assure you it was not intentional — that the release of my episodes seems to coincide with a number of holidays, and at least one wedding, so far. I have to say it is amazing what one will subconsciously subject oneself to when plotting things out. But I still persevere in the happy thought that any day now will come a conveniently long stretch of peace and quiet where I will magically be able to get a lot of things done in a single go.

So what will I talk about in this shorter, non-canon episode? Happily, it will be a bit of this and a bit of that. Yes, quite definitely. Unfortunately, while doing the last two episodes I noticed a certain amount of dryness that distressed me, but of course not enough for me to not go ahead with them stubbornly. Of course, my subject matter was decidedly depressing, nonetheless I feel that I do want to take a bit of time to think about some questions of style.

I actually listen to a number of podcasts myself and I’m often quite envious of the more professional ones. Of course some of those podcasts, I suspect, are done in a nice quiet studio with expensive equipment and a team of people paid to make sure it all sounds good. I do not have that luxury, I am a single person, whose equipment is decidedly unprofessional. I am still inspired, however, by a few podcasts that I do listen to that I definitely know have none of those expensive advantages and manage quite well, so I do remain optimistic.

I have spent much my life teaching myself various things and becoming quite good at them over the years. There is always a chance — and there are number of endeavors in my past that have failed utterly — that becoming a one man public orator and sound production team will not be successful. But as I said just a few minutes ago I can be stubborn as all get out.

I am going to be upgrading some of my equipment, though. I realize that it is coming up on a year since I seriously started to plan out getting started and that some of the equipment that I bought at that time was more about frugality then quality. I think it may be time to correct that and also to pick up some other things that I want to bring to bear. One of those will most certainly be a potentially better microphone, as this one, while it works and was within budget at the time, also has to be kept distressingly close to the mouth necessitating a lot more editing of unpleasant noises then I really feel like doing anymore.

And while I’m at it, my computer is also rapidly going out of date so that should be done as well and with all the things that I have planned, there will be a lot of upgrading over the next few months, of various items. We’ll see how it all works out. On the whole I haven’t been to unhappy with what I’ve been producing, but I see plenty of room for improvement.

In listening to other podcasts, and reading the thoughts of other podcasters I notice that all of them complain about their earliest episodes, I think most of us start out not really knowing what we’re doing, but always seek to improve.

One sticking point for me lately has been the monotony of the episodes. A little less humor than I would like, a little too serious — just very long without much flavor. So, I’m going to do better, experiment a little bit with breaking things up with music, at least when I am transitioning subjects, so at least it is not just one big long lecture. While I personally can listen to somebody speak for hours at a time, I worry that there are plenty of people who can’t and so I should work on being at least a little more entertaining.

I know Frank Herbert tried very hard to make his subject matter interesting beyond just the concepts that he was trying to convey. I will try to follow suit as much as I can. I am one of those people that can be fascinated by a topic and talk about it endlessly, I’m sure you’ve noticed, but a podcast must be more than that or else it either doesn’t last very long, or no one cares about it; neither of which I want to see happen, because I very much want to reach as large an audience as I possibly can.

I actually want to take some time to rehash a bit on why I’m doing this. The introduction was so very long ago and I’ve written and spoken so much since then they think it’s important to refresh it from time to time. The things I’m talking about aren’t in the future, nor are they in the past — they happen right now.

All of the time I spent studying Dune I thought to myself that people in general really should know the things that I was seeing in the pages, and I suspected that many people did. I’m sure there are heaps of books on these topics, some of which I’ve read, and of course there are other the sources that I use that discuss them as well. To me, all of these things are just sitting there waiting for anyone to realize. With enough patience and thought, anyone can do the things I do with the information. It’s easy, you know?

But how may people actually want do it, or think to do it? I strongly suspect not as many as I always hoped there was. There are college courses on The Lord of The Rings, but not, as far as I know, on Dune. I think that’s a shame, but it’s all academic, sometimes.

The problem with academic is that it is loaded with information and it is loaded with things that seem pretty bloody obvious when you read them, but you always find additional evidence, quite quickly, of a large number people who don’t know anything about any of it. How does one reach those people?

Well, you want the honest truth? Rumor and innuendo. Not everyone is going to listen to this podcast, just as there are people that are not going to read those books, or earn degrees in checking up on us as a species. The things I learned from Dune, or was inspired to cultivate because of it, there is no real class for. The Dune that can be defined is not the real Dune.

Sometimes those academics who know everything there is to know about one piece of the puzzle just don’t really talk to other academics who know every inch of the piece that fits right next to it, or at least its general vicinity, and that’s another part of the problem. There is so much information, so many facts; yet so few connections, and regrettably, so few truths, and even fewer truth seekers.

Please don’t misunderstand me, there are many truth-meanderers, and lots of truth gatherers, and certainly a large number of half-truths to play with on the odd night in. I do trust that there are a good number of people who try to understand, but who also can be wrong about so many things. Each time we discover what one of those things is, it breaks us a little. We’ll get over it, of course, and be so much better off and eventually be grateful for the experience, but it still hurts and it’s difficult to face. Some of us give up after too much disappointment.

Those of us who hunger for truth, and hopefully wisdom, tend to believe a lot of lies over the years and I certainly have believed a lot of lies, much to my regret and the regret of people who’ve known me. Eventually, all that belief, and the embarrassing shocks as the foundations crumble and eventually become rebuilt, it all pays off if you keep going. We become very serious in our minds; but a bit jovial, and even flippant, on the outside. We start to understand things, and possibly wish that we didn’t.

As I think I’ve demonstrated and will continue to try to demonstrate is that to understand Dune, you need to pick up a couple secondary sources and pay attention to more than just one thing. You have to be willing to think about things that most people take for granted and check up on ideas accepted as rhetorical. For example, and for the record, I can personally vouchsafe that a watched pot actually does boil. A bit of stubbornness and a certain satisfaction at observing small changes is all that’s required to see for yourself. I know what the phrase is supposed to mean, and I know simple physics will tell you that watching a pot won’t change thermodynamics, but I still wanted to know the satisfaction of being the type of person who would enjoy the process.

Paying attention to processes and practicing details teaches you things. In a certain sense, The macrocosm is in the microcosm. Practicing small things makes bigger things easier to see. Practicing for an hour is such a small thing, but repeated, it becomes 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours of practice does not become mastery. Mastery is in wanting to do so, it is in deriving as much pleasure from the improvements made at hour 900 as was found at the end of 120. It is in losing oneself so much in the process that one has no idea how many hours it has been.

What pleasure I find in examining Dune is in finding little results that justify tiny observations. It’s all little connections, but what drives me are the small successes that allow me to observe the world and occasionally understand it.

Human beings tend to be predictable in myriad ways and after you pay attention enough you start to realize which way the breeze is blowing. Sometimes the wind blows so strongly that you have to be an idiot not to feel it, other times, it’s so light, but there are hints of direction. One of the reasons why I choose now to talk about this in this way has a lot to do with the events that happened a little more than a year ago that inspired me to more strongly consider fulfilling the dream of actually presenting my thoughts on Dune to whatever parts of the world would listen.

I don’t want to bring too much of current events in to this podcast, but I did mention that there were times where I thought it would be appropriate. I think this is one of those times but I’m still going to be circumscribed in my presentation. I would rather flex the rules than break them.

What happened some time previously was that a feeling started to coalesce within a certain portion of the populace. And I saw it, it was so obviously there. I knew there was a lot of anger, and some of that anger was, I felt, certainly justified; but social anger is like a river, as it picks up speed, it picks up debris. Too much debris and one day, you’re lost in a swirling deluge of branches and rocks.

What I really worried about was who was going to harness it and what they would do. Then, there was one person who seemed to be very good at it. The more I watched him be very good at it, the more distressed I became. It was like watching a clock go around and seeing the hands approach 12 again, and you know that the door is going to open and the damn cuckoo is going to come out, and there’s not a lot that you’re going to be able to do to stop it without breaking the clock, but you paid a lot of money for it because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

As I said, I’ve started to become practiced, over the years, in seeing the inevitable. What I realized a little more than a year ago was who was inevitably going to win, and the closer that came to the fulfillment of that reality, the less I wanted it to happen. The more I hoped it wouldn’t happen, the more I had to repress the little voice in my head that told me that my hopes were unfounded. Someone always comes along who listens to the ugliness in the mob and tells the mob what they want to be really angry about and the mob listens right back at them. It happens on all sides and in both directions, so don’t try to get defensive or self-righteous depending on what side of whatever argument it is you happen to be on.

There is a Harkonnen among us — not the first, won’t be the last, but here he is. During, the previous two episodes, I hope I was able to impress upon you what a Harkonnen is. Brilliant, selfish, and short sighted enough to fail spectacularly. Hopefully, you have read enough of the books to understand that the Harkonnens ultimately fail, because they are smart enough to figure out how to get to the top, but too stupid to realize what not to do when they get there. You actually need to understand people in order to navigate the choppy waters at the top. Getting there requires much less skill than staying there. That’s why successful businesses will disappear overnight. Maintaining balance is extremely hard to do, and the peak of some mountains is as narrow as it gets, and sometimes you only have enough room to stand on 1 foot.

Now, I’m not so practiced In observation that I know exactly what’s coming. All I know is that these types of people always fall. That failure will be bad, for lack of a better word; and it will be messy; and it will be regrettable. The reaction to a bad thing, though, can be just as bad — if not worse — than the thing itself. So, I worry about where the ripples go from here. When you look back at the French Revolution, for example, the reason for the revolution happening was pretty awful. What followed the revolution was double ungood, and what came after terrorized an entire continent and shook the world.

People like the Baron Harkonnen don’t show up every day, but for those times when they, or someone worse comes, we should be prepared. There are some solid checks and balances in place to help cushion us from the most dire consequences right now, but nothing lasts forever. One day those checks and balances won’t be there. We need consider building them within ourselves so that they can last.


I’ll keep plugging away week after week, talking to whoever is listening and hoping for the best from what they learn and do with it. It’s my little obsession with my little sandbox. Seriously, I’m a madman with a microphone and unobtainable dreams that I nonetheless get closer to one episode at a time. I can be good at a lot of things, but talking to everyone isn’t exactly one of them. I don’t have the skills, the lifetime, or the network to reach millions people wherever they are, and at whatever level they may be.

You do.

There are 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon, so who else is within 6 degrees of here? If you understand the things that I talk about, who do you know that needs to hear it? Not the way that I would say it, but in the way you would? And maybe I also need to hear you say something.

So feel free to contact me. Visit the website, there is a contact form that goes directly to me. I actually do want to hear your thoughts, and I do actually want to hear your suggestions. I don’t know everything — no one does. We do things together, and we do them separately; that’s the only way it will ever work. And, if you have a question, I’ll do my best to answer it if I can. I may just answer it in an episode, and I’ll let you know about that.

And as always I would love for you to rate and recommend this podcast to whoever you think would like it. Let’s make the sandbox as big as we can, shall we?

I returned to Dhaka by Kevin MacLeod for this episode, it can be found on his website at Incompetech.com and is used under the Creative Commons License. I’ll spend some time hunting up some more music just to give us a little bit of variety. I do seriously want this podcast to get better in production value and I promise to work on it. I will be back with the opening episode of chapter 3 when I return. The subject I specifically want to talk about will be the components of prophecy that we will be beginning to touch the edges of in the next chapter, although we started on it today.

Frank Herbert tried very hard to not get into the traditional science-fiction trope of impossible devices when he constructed Dune, he instead brought in some fantastical capabilities within the human mind. Not as fanciful as outright magic, but possibly just as improbable. We will begin to speculate about this one for the first time, but not the last.

Thank you again for stopping by and we will talk more about that when we come again and see what is written in the sand.

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