by whpearson2 min read14th Mar 20186 comments


Personal Blog
..only he saw the lump of shadow that clung to Ged, tearing at his flesh. It was like a black beast, the size of a young child, though it seemed to shrink and swell; it had no head or face, only the four taloned paws with which it gripped and tore.

A Wizard of Earthsea. Ursula K. Le Guin.

To name something is to gain power over it. So I am going to name another member of our pantheon. That is Shadow. Shadow exists in the creaking of the floorboards and the rustling of the leaves. They are the herald of all evil. To ignore them is

Shadow also known as the Black Cloak, often wraps around other nameless horrors obscuring their true nature. Insubstantial, they touch your heart and send you scampering or cowering, weakening you before the real Boss materialises. They have a cruelly whimsical side, sometimes they approach you alone or covering something harmless. Sometimes they appear to you alone, causing your fellows to doubt your sanity.

Moloch draws gobs of Shadow into itself as raw material. In the internal struggle that powers Moloch, Shadow is used to coerce conformity or convince people to buy worthless protective gewgaws.

The Group anoints the Other with Shadow that only the Group can see. Being a member of that Group is to see their Shadow. To spread the Group is to spread their particular Shadow. To question their Shadow

To fight Shadow there are weapons three. Sword, shield and lantern.

The Sword slices through Shadow, revealing clear arc of space and cleaving what is concealed. Sometimes you hit upon a monster, other times you find you are attacking an innocent as you were deceived by Shadow's inky tendrils. Or you slice and slice and slice until you are exhausted only to find nothing their at all.

The Shield will not hurt innocents. But it may not be enough to ward off what lurks beneath. Or fearing that you may build it too big and too heavy, so that you cannot move quickly enough.

The seering light of the Lantern burns away the Shadow, revealing what is beneath. This will allow you to strike true or get an appropriate shield. Some shadows are too inky black to penetrate with the Lantern you have. Hopefully you can find others to help shine their lights and dispel the yawning void.

Pick your weapons well.


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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:28 AM

Cybernetic polytheism is hard to do right, because you have to have a strong sense of cybernetics first. You need to understand and explore the center and the edges of a large scale optimization dynamic, explore the empirical details it entails, and generally get a scientific understanding of it... then, for lulz, you might name it and personify it.

"Evolution" is a good example. This process is instantiated in biology. It operates over heritable patterns of deoxyribonucleic acid whose transcription into protein by living cells constructs new cells and agglomerations of cells in the shape of bacteria and macroscale organisms... each with basically the same DNA as before, but with minor variations. There is math here: punnett squares, fixation, etc.

Now we could just leave it at that. The science is good enough.

But not everyone has time for the biology, or has the patience to learn the math. Also, the existence of biological structures has been attributed by non-biologists to gods with narrative character that doesn't really map that well to the biological principles.

Thus there is a strong temptation to perform a narrative correction and offer "better theology" to translate the science into something with more cogent emotional resonances.

Like... species were not created by a benevolent watch maker who loves us. That's crazy.

Actually, if biological nature (or biological nature's author) has any moral character, that character is at least half evil. This entity thinks nothing of parasitism or infanticide, except to promote them if these processes produce more copies of DNA and censor them of they produce fewer copies of DNA.

It tries countless redundant experiments (the same mutation over and over again) that leads to both misery and death, but even calling these experiments is generous... there is almost no intentional pursuit of knowledge (although HSP genes are pretty cool, and sort of related), no institutional review boards to ensure the experiments are ethical, no grant proposals arguing in favor of the experiments in terms of the value of the knowledge they might produce.

Evolution, construed as a god, is a god we should fear and probably a god we should fight.

We can probably do better than it does, and if we don't do better it will have its terrible way with us. Those who worship this god without major elements of caution and hostility are scary cultists... they are sort selling their great great grand children into slavery to something that won't reward them, and can't possibly feel gratitude. A narrative from old school horror or science fiction, that matches the right general tone, is Azathoth.

But you can't just make up the name Azathoth and say that it is a god and coin a bunch of other weird names, and make up some symbolic tools for dealing with them, and mix it together willy-nilly, and not mention biology or evolution at all.

You have to start with the science and end with the science.

I didn't/don't have time to do the science justice, so I just tried my hand at the esoteric. It was scratching a personal itch, if I get time I might revisit this.

I see below that you're aiming for something like "fear in political situations,". This calls to mind, for me, things like the triangle hypothesis, the Richardson arms race model, and less rigorously but clearly in the same ambit also things like confidence building measures.

These are tough topics and I can see how it might feel right to just "publish something" rather than sit on one's hands. I have the same issue myself (minus the courage to just go for it anyway) which leads me mostly to comment rather than top post. My sympathy... you have it!

This post seems incomplete as it stands. There seems to be some text missing and I did not understand what it was trying to identify.

I actually like the idea of building a "rationalist pantheon" to give us handy, agenty names for important but difficult concepts. This requires more clearly specifying what the concept being named is: can you clarify a bit? Love Wizard of Earthsea, but don't get what you're pointing at here.

It is Fear and the many ways it is used in society and can make a potential problem seem bigger than it is. In the general things like FUD; a concrete example of that being the red scare. Often it seems to have an existence bigger than any individual, which is why it got made a member of the pantheon, albeit a minor one

With regards to the Group, people have found fear of the Other easier to form. Obligatory sociology potential non-replicability warning.

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