Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's a Terry Goodkind Kind'a Christmas

Around this time last year, I started reading the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. So far I’ve read up to the Pillars of Creation, but The Faith of the Fallen was by far my least favourite. This post will not be a literary criticism of the novel, as I have no strong feelings about Terry Goodkind as an author one way or the other. Instead, this post is a condemnation of the morality endorsed by the novel’s protagonists, which is almost completely antithetical to my own views of morality, as I have previously outlined.

The first part of Faith of the Fallen focuses on a the war between the New World and the Imperial Order. The New World characters are the protagonists (but not ‘good guys’, not by any definition). Jagang, the villain, is a ruthless conqueror with an army that vastly outnumbers that of the protagonists. How can they win? Kahlan, basically their commander-in-chief, has a solution: become as evil as they are. She has dehumanized her enemy, and dehumanization is the cause of the worst atrocities. They’re monsters, therefore they’re justified in doing anything to stop them, right? More than once I thought ‘Kahlan, you are a monster,’. Kahlan’s first war crime involves a raid on the enemy’s camp, where she slaughters as many of them as she can, making no distinction between soldiers and civilians. Her justification for this is that since the civilians have chosen to support the army (and I think it’s debatable how much choice any of them really had) they’re as much their enemy as the soldiers. I’m sorry, but no. Massacring innocent, helpless civilians is an effing war crime!

Later, as a means of defending their camp, Kahlan releases tonnes of magically produced ground shards of glass into the air to blind invading forces; tens of thousands of men die. Some of these blinded soldiers find their way to the New World camp, and surrender as prisoners of war, begging for help. Kahlan slaughters them, as her motto is essentially ‘no mercy!’ Sorry Kahlan, but good guys have mercy. But wait, there’s more. You see, Kahlan has a sister named Cyrilla, who happens to be Queen of the country Galea. Cyrilla doesn’t want to give Kahlan her army, because they’re vastly outnumbered and the whole war is pointless. Makes sense to me. Kahlan’s reaction to this news is both pure evil and nucking futs. She swears that if the Imperial Order doesn’t destroy Galea, she will, and she’ll throw her sister into a dungeon to be constantly raped for the rest of her life. I would like to mention that later on in the book Kahlan also comes to the conclusion that the war is pointless and goes AWOL. Unbelievable.

I’m sorry, I forgot to mention that Kahlan’s decision was based on reason, whereas Cyrilla’s decision was based on fear. Terry Goodkind is seemingly an atheist (I say seemingly because the guy can be insanely right wing at times) which means the reader is treated to many pompous rants about the virtues of reason and the evils of faith. And emotions. Emotions are also bad, apparently. Here’s a quote from Zedd, on page 460; “Faith and Feelings are the warm marrow of evil… they are a virulent poison giving the numbing illusion of moral sanction to every depravity ever hatched.” Here’s the kicker; on the very next page we are introduced to some D’Haran special forces, rational protagonists, who are unapologetically described as sadistic sociopaths. They cut the right ears off of the people they kill, and make a necklace out of them. They start new necklaces once they reach a hundred, and each soldier has several necklaces. When I first read that, I was physically nauseated, and I don’t feel disgust viscerally very often. Terry Goodkind’s protagonists have literally made me sick. It baffles me how Terry Goodkind blames Faith and emotion for everything, while his protagonists are complete monsters who are commit horrifying atrocities without remorse, because they believe they’re right. Intentionally committing immoral actions because you believe they are justified is pretty much my definition of evil.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not an atheist and I do not agree with their exaltation of reason. Often, maybe even more often than not, amorality and immorality are rational, as demonstrated by Goodkind’s protagonists. I have said before that compassion and empathy, which are emotions, are essential to morality, and you cannot be moral without them. A person cannot function without emotions at all, as any psychologist can tell you. Emotions are as vital as reason, they temper each other. They are yin and yang. As for faith? To believe your life is worth living requires faith, as empirical evidence would seem to indicated otherwise. A person who was truly without faith would fall prey to the existential horror that is Cthulhu, and become overwhelmed by despair.

What’s interesting is that there is one emotion that Terry Goodkind doesn’t condemn. The only masculine emotion; rage. The Sword of Truth runs on rage, and with that rage the wielder can massacre innocents by the thousands… so long as it’s rational, of course. The more feminine attributes of compassion, empathy and charity (that’s more in the later part of the book) are portrayed as weak, if not evil. Macho anger, on the other hand, is portrayed as rational and, along with hatred, is what drives the protagonists. Anger is pathetic. I think that’s from Anne Rice. I think it was Marius, and I think it was Blood and Gold, but I’m not sure. Anger only makes you miserable, and if you give into it you will only make others miserable. The one emotion Goodkind approves of, is the one emotion he should condemn.

In Faith of the Fallen, the Imperial Order is driven by Utopianism. Utopianism is bad, but not as bad as dehumanization. If you believe you can create a perfect world, which you can’t, then you can justify any atrocity you have to commit to create that Utopia, which is what Jagang does. Jagang is trying to turn the whole world into a socialist utopia. Personally, I think he was a better villain when he was just a brutal tyrant. But in Faith of the Fallen, he’s Jagang the Just. The second half of the book is basically a communist straw dystopia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro capitalist (but not laissez faire capitalism), but the way the Imperial Order is portrayed it really comes across as a condemnation of charity and altruism. Given my limited understanding of economics, communism/socialism relies on government bureaucrats to decide how resources are utilized and how goods and services are distributed to the population. Since governments are inherently incompetent, this results in chronic supply shortages and other problems which are avoided by the supply and demand mechanism of capitalism. Nicki spends an inordinate amount of time in breadlines, and Richard quips that with so many people wanting bread you’d think more people would open up bakeries. With this, I’m inclined to agree. The Imperial Order also garnishes people’s wages (sometimes all of them) to provide for the needy, making it more profitable to be unemployed. This widespread unemployment, coupled with all the red tape businesses have to deal with, results in insufficient production and therefore poverty. Nicki’s father was a successful armourer, and his business was key to the local economy. When he died, Nicki’s mother ran the business into the ground with her charity (practically a profanity in Goodkind’s lexicon), thus causing the once thriving local economy to crumble.

I’m not defending the economic system employed by the Imperial Order: it’s clearly a bad system. What I have a problem with is that it’s not the system itself Goodkind blames for the people’s misery, but rather the very concept of charity itself. For those of you that don’t know, Terry Goodkind is an Uber-admirer of Ayn Rand, and thus subscribes to the philosophy of Rational Egotism (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one). This Sith-like philosophy believes that only actions which are in someone’s own self interests are rational. According to Ayn Rand, rationality is the highest Human virtue (I disagree), and every rational individual should hold their own lives as their highest values. Terry Goodkind actually calls altruism and selflessness chains that bind people in slavery. Seriously, doesn’t that sound like something a Sith would believe? Such narcissism and solipsism are as contemptible as they are ridiculous. How is it rational to believe that you are more important than anyone else? What empirical evidence is that based on, hmm? You are one person among billions, and you are no more deserving of your needs and desires than anyone else. Why should one pursue their own needs at the expense of many? How is that rational, I ask you? I’ve outline my moral credo before, wherein I claim the Golden Rule is essential to morality. If you were in need, and you would have others help you, then you have a moral obligation to help those who are in need. I acknowledge that alleviating poverty is more complicated than taking from the rich and giving to the poor, that people need a vibrant economy, which wouldn’t be possible if every business were required to give all their profits to charity, as they are in the Imperial Order. I simply reject Goodkind’s condemnation of altruism. Selflessness is a virtue. Think of Gandhi, enduring a long hunger strike for the sake of others, and tell me he was not a noble man.

So based on Faith of the Fallen, I can only conclude that Terry Goodkind is a right wing macho atheist who is opposed to Pacifism, Mercy, Forgiveness, Charity, Selflessness, The Geneva Conventions, Faith, yucky girl feelings like empathy and compassion, Sunshine, Puppies, and basic Human Rights. Not only is Goodkind’s credo counter to my own, but it’s counter to the teachings of Jesus himself. Let me make myself clear here: Goodkind is not simply criticizing Christianity as a religion, which he is fully entitled to do. Goodkind is saying that the actual moral teachings of Jesus himself are wrong. Oy vey. I have no opinion one way or the other on Jesus’s metaphysical status, but I do consider him to be a great moral teacher. The fact that Goodkind’s morality is so antithetical to Jesus’s is … not good. Again, it’s vaguely Sith like.

What’s most baffling about Faith of the Fallen is that both the protagonists and antagonists commit horrible atrocities because they believe they are right, so what exactly is the point? When Kahlan learns that the Jagang is waging this war because he believes it is just, her response is “That’s just nonsense,” and there’s not the slightest bit of irony here. WTF? The only thing that can possibly make any sort of sense of this is that Goodkind is an Objectivist (Ayn Rand again) . He believes in an objective reality (which I don’t, really), so while both Kahlan and Jagang believe they’re right, Kahlan is really right because her belief is based on reason, so she can do no wrong, whereas Jagang is a monster. Yeeeaaahhhh… I don’t think so. There is an external reality, don’t get me wrong, but we each have a unique and subjection experience of that reality, and no one’s experience is necessarily any more or less valid than anyone else’s. There is no truth, only Truthiness. My opinion of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, or Rational Egotism, or anything to do with her, can be summed up in two words; atheist nonsense. Sadly, that’s also my opinion of Terry Goodkind’s ideology. The atheism in Anne Rice’s earlier novels was at least intelligent, except perhaps for Queen of the Damned, which was more stereotypical, but Goodkind’s ideology is just gibberish. When you believe that genocide is a just punishment for pacifism, you made a wrong turn somewhere.

In case anyone is wondering, In spite of my tirade here, I will be reading the rest of the Sword of Truth series. I’m reading Merrick right now, and afterwards I may read A Game of Thrones, and if I like that I’ll eventually read the whole Song of Ice and Fire series, but I will also continue to read Terry Goodkind. I may not like the ideology, but I enjoy the stories sufficiently that I want to see it through to the end. I’ve heard that Naked Empire is the worst, but that the Chainfire trilogy returns more to the fantasy feeling of the first novel, so hopefully Naked Empire will be worth it. I’m not going to say if I’ll read the Omen Machine until it comes out and I know what it’s about. It’s the ideology I dislike, not the books themselves.

Oh, and if Terry Goodkind should ever chance to read this, I mean you no personal disrespect. Just as you felt a need to share your ideology with us, I simply felt a need to share my distaste with that ideology. At least you got to read this for free.

Merry Christmas Y’all!

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