Written in the Sand
Dune, Book One, Chapter Two part 2
Weaving a Tangle
What we’re doing today is looking at some of the dialogs and actions in Chapter Two and we’re going to talk about some of the underlying ideas. There will be a bit about the governing bodies of the Dune Universe, a bit about attitudes towards certain classes, a dash of this, and a pinch of that. What is being used here are tidbits, so they will be discussed briefly. These are parts that we will use to build bigger ideas with later on.
Shall we begin?
I think the best place to start is to discuss the Baron’s goals here. To understand what the Baron is going after you have to understand the political ladder he is trying to claw his way up. He is seeking power within the Landsraad.
What is the Landsraad? To put it simply, the Landsraad is the ruling body of the Galactic Empire. It is similar to a house of lords. The members of the Landsraad are the landed gentry. The word Landsraad is Norwegian and translates to country counsel. The Landsraad is a kind of Parliament where the ruling classes govern human affairs throughout the Galactic Empire, at least the big things. The small things are governed on a planetary level by the individual rulers. There are major houses, which control entire planets and even multiple planets, and there are minor houses which are very wealthy but do not control things on a worldwide level. The relative rank and power of its members is tracked by standing in CHOAM.
What is CHOAM?
Again we have an etymological puzzle to go through. CHOAM is an acronym that stands for Combined Honnet Ober Advancer Mercantile. Combined and Mercantile indicate that this is a corporation. Indeed, it is the corporation. Honnet is an interesting word because it translates, with different spellings, as Honesty in French, Swedish, and Japanese, a multi-sourced word with a single translation. It stands for trust and honesty and fairness no matter the source.
And then we have Ober, which I’m pronouncing wrong. It is a German word with the simple translation of Waiter. But it doesn’t just mean waiter. It is also the name of a playing card in German deck, where instead of a Queen you would have the Ober. If I had to guess at the etymology in this, the Ober is a servant of the king, indeed a second in command, who is only outranked by the king.
Much like the word valet could refer to a trusted servant of a nobleman, but also refer to the person who parks your car for you, I think that Ober has similar origins. If you think about it, at one time the person who served the king his food, his personal waiter or cup-bearer, was the most trusted and possibly the most powerful person in the kingdom, aside from the king.
So you could translate CHOAM as the association of honest service for the advancement of trade. Which sounds a little corny, but it is what it is.
CHOAM is a massive corporation. What CHOAM does is keep track of the intricate network of exchange of goods. It is the corporation of the movement of merchandise. Advancing Mercantile, if you will. Every transaction in the Galactic Empire goes through CHOAM. Much like how in our current society almost anything can be bought through an Amazon.com style of website. Imagine if one of these type of online marketplaces had a monopoly on all commercial transactions, and the number of shares you own of this company would be how much political power you have. That would be similar to what CHOAM is.
It is an oligarchy, but it is similar to a corporatocracy, as well as a plutocracy, and is also similar to a feudal system. The reason why this system of government seems to resemble some of the other systems is that every single one of these types of systems can be explained as an aristocracy. The aristocratic system has always been humanity’s fall-back system of government. It is one of the things that we will revisit again and again, both in this podcast and throughout the future of our species.
Even in our modern, democratic societies, we still have these types of governments. The only thing that really changes is the method by which the people that rule us are qualified. In the end, whether it is by inheritance, election, or wealth, the end result is always that power is held in the hands of a select few and large amounts of money and privilege pass through those hands. The economic system doesn’t really matter. There could be no money involved, the ruling class will still have the best of everything.
What the Baron is being offered is to serve on the Board of Directors, a place of power and wealth in any corporation. In the galactic system of the Dune universe, this puts them at a level of aristocratic power that we would have no equivalent of in our modern world.
continued in podcast…
The relevant book for the episode will always be in resources. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you should.
Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count by Richard Nesbitt
A returning author here, with a book about intelligence specifically. The factors involved in its enhancement and what we could be doing to allow it to fail.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The classic that you should have read in school. If you didn’t, or need to get a copy to refresh your memory, I got you.
Intro and Outro Music:
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0