The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: July 2006

On Fanatics and Delusional Minds

On July 27th a Texas jury found Andrea Yates, who confessed to drowning her five children in a bathtub, not guilty by reason of insanity and possessing a delusional mind.

Two weeks ago, Israel began a retaliatory assault on Lebanon in self-defense against the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which has launched hundreds of rockets into Israel. Its forces also reentered Gaza for the same reason, to cripple Hamas, another terrorist organization, which also was sending rockets into Israel.

Both Israeli incursions were sparked by the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by terrorists. The scale of destruction wrought by Israel in Lebanon and Gaza is significant. But much of the news media and the press, many politicians in Europe and the U.S., and of course the United Nations, have found Lebanon and the Palestinians not guilty by reason of being victims of Israel’s “disproportionate” military response.

There has been far more sympathetic news coverage of the plight of Lebanese fleeing Israel’s wrath than of the victims of Hezbollah’s rocket attacks (shall we say, “disproportionate” coverage?) The response to Hezbollah’s depredations can be characterized as a frown of embarrassment; the response to Israel’s justified actions, wild-eyed, fist-shaking outrage.

We are to never mind the fact that most Lebanese tolerate the marriage of their “democratic” government and a terrorist organization. Nor are we to place any importance on the fact that most of the Americans evacuated from Lebanon are Shi’ite Muslims holding dual citizenship, and who sympathize, not with Israel, but with Hezbollah.

Nor are we to observe that President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and others are tip-toeing around the knowledge that Hezbollah’s military “might” is sustained and made possible by Iran by way of Syria, and that Hezbollah is a solely-owned paramilitary franchise of Tehran’s.

But, is there an arguable connection between the Yates verdict and the actions of Islamic terrorists?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines delusion as “a false belief held in spite of invalidating evidence, especially as a condition of mental illness.” The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines it as “a form of madness.”

Yates murdered her children to “save them from Satan.” She killed them because she had dreams of each of them falling under the influence of Satan. Presumably, she imagined she was sending them to heaven.

A jihadist of any stripe you care to name murders Westerners, Jews, apostates, and others damned by the Koran because they are said to be under the influence of Satan, in order to send them to hell. If he is a member of Al Quada, Hezbollah or Hamas, and is killed in the process of assaulting the “People of the Book,” or martyrs himself as a suicide bomber, the jihadist expects to go to heaven.

Frankly, I do not see a syllogism’s worth of difference between Yates’s actions and those of any random Islamic terrorist. Yates and the terrorist acted from faith, from an unsupportable belief. From a delusion.

Yates and the jihadist acted “morally,” in conformance with their beliefs. Psychologically, morally, in practice, there is little difference between Yates being consistent with the dictates of her faith, and the jihadist being consistent with his. The difference is in the scale of criminal behavior.

I won’t be the first to say that a belief in a deity, regardless of its name, is a delusion, invalidated by the provable existence of the universe and by the unprovable existence of a deity. Our policy of pursuing “peace at any price” is also a delusion, a belief invalidated by a history of “peace movements” that only have lead to war. (See Thomas Sowell’s excellent article, “Pacifists versus Peace” from July 24th on Capitalism Magazine.) And, about ninety-nine percent of humanity, since it believes in some form of deity, can be said to be governed by a delusion. I leave it to the reader to evaluate the mental health of humanity.

The important point here is that the Texas jury succumbed to the “delusional mind” argument of Yates’s defence. The jury could not deny that the children were murdered, and that Yates murdered them. Nor could it admit that the murders were a moral or rational action.

But even though Yates was a (nominally) rational person, able to function in a civilized society, because she committed the crime while “deluded” — but at the same time sensed it was wrong to commit the murders — the jury in effect forgave her, and instead of concluding that she had forfeited her life — that she was responsible for her actions — decided to sustain it and commit her to a mental institution, partially exonerating her of the responsibility for her actions.

My rhetorical question is: If we can disregard the “delusional” mind-set of a common holdup artist, who acts on the premise that force is a practical way of living, and sentence him to prison, why should we make an exception for a murderer, any murderer? Shouldn’t the contents of a murderer’s mind be deemed irrelevant, as well? After all, Yates thought that murdering her children was a practical and moral way of saving their souls, just as a holdup artist thinks that force is a way of preserving his life.

The jury, in effect, said that Yates “meant well,” but she went about it in a horrific way. One can only suspect that part of the jury’s consensus was an unwillingness to challenge Yates’s Christian motivation. Questioning her “delusional” motivation would have meant questioning Christian morality itself, all the way down to its root: sacrificing oneself to God. In this instance, they might have concluded that Yates was willing to sacrifice her freedom in order to save her children’s souls.

But, why is a jihadist’s mental state considered less delusional than Yates’s? After all, he, too, acts from his beliefs.

Anyone seen to possess a “delusional mind” can be forgiven horrendous crimes. Irrationality can be tolerated, but rational actions that require “violence” — such as Israel defending itself, or even one’s own self-defense with a gun against a burglar or rapist — are regarded as intolerable and “disproportionate.” This is why terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas can be tolerated and even forgiven (they are, say the media and our State Department, “freedom fighters”), but Israel receives not a word of moral approbation.

One could say, to paraphrase President Bush’s assertion that Islam is a “religion of peace” hijacked by fanatics (or “extremists”), that Yates’s Christianity was “hijacked,” as well. He would likely agree with that, if anyone had nerve enough to put it to him. If individuals deny the existence of God, according to Christian dogma, they are likewise condemned to an eternity in hell. Before the Catholic Church’s political power and influence were diluted by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the Church pursued heretics and apostates with the same fervor as Islamists do today, with the same consequence: death.

“Fanaticism” is largely a pejorative term, connoting an obsession with consistency or purity. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a fanatic as “a person possessed by an excessive zeal for an uncritical attachment to a cause or position.” Thus, Islamic terrorists who obey the injunctions of the Koran to wage jihad against infidels, are deemed “fanatics” or “extremists.” No judgment is made of Islam itself (nor of Christianity or any other creed).

What is “extremism” but applying a moral code in its purist, most uncompromised, unadulterated form to one’s actions? The “extremism” of altruism is self-destruction. The “extremism” of Christianity is the constant sacrifice of one’s values for lesser or non-values. The “extremism” of Islam is the sacrifice of all to Allah.

If Andrea Yates can be found not guilty of multiple murders by reason of insanity and delusion, what is sanity? Again, the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “soundness of judgment or reason.” Consistent, conscientious sanity might also be a form of “extremism,” that is, rationality in all things.

It is disgraceful that the West, particularly the U.S., is allowing Israel to fight our true Mideast enemy, Iran, by proxy. Sanity would have us annihilate Iran and Syria (and, for good measure, vaporize North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its million-man army). But sanity is not the ruling philosophy in politics or morality. Delusional “world opinion” forgives Andrea Yates in a Texas courtroom, just as it forgives the Lebanese for wishing to coexist with killers. It is the delusion of non-responsibility that permits such obscenities.

Sparrowhawk: Observations of a Book Signer

During my numerous booksignings at Colonial Williamsburg, I have made countless observations and acquired sales skills which I did not know I had the patience and fortitude to develop (I am not naturally an extrovert). The observations center on the motivations people exhibit in coming to see “Revolutionary City” (that is Colonial Williamsburg’s current theme) and in their interest in my Sparrowhawk novels.

One observation is that, when I am booksigning with other authors at the same time, which is frequently, I am not in competition with them. People who are colonial era “buffs” will gravitate to those authors who have written about colonial life or some military aspect of the time. The ideas that moved the Founders do not interest them as much as do the accouterments and customs of the period. People who find interesting a book about the adventures of a colonial era squirrel are not going to be interested in an epic of pre-Revolutionary America. And people who are interested in having mere facts spoon-fed to them show no interest in the circumstances of those facts, and cannot be persuaded to crack open a book to acquire them, whether it is a novel or a history.

One can only pity the patrons of the colonial squirrel. But I have grown an antipathy for those interested only in facts, an antipathy that can only extend to those who pander to such mentalities.

A couple appears often at the Colonial Williamsburg bookstore whom I shall refer to only as the “Chart People.” They do a lot of business at the store, and occupy an entire corner of the Visitor’s Center arcade. Their product is not a book, but a chart, a huge, gaudy schematic of the times between 1762 and 1783, which, as they explain it to anyone interested, “for the first time puts the whole Revolutionary War in one place.” The chart resembles the periodic table of elements.

Their sales pitch goes something like this, and is almost self-explanatory:

“Just give me sixty seconds of your time. You can become an instant expert, and this takes all the confusion from the Revolutionary War. Everything is in chronological order. All you have to do is follow the colored dots, red for British, blue for American, to know when all the battles were fought and who was doing what when…..See the picture here? Here’s George Washington, and you can follow his career just by following the dots….You can use the chart here or our CD and watch the slide show. By watching the slide show four or five times, you’ll learn all about the Revolution….Just $19.95….By the way, we’re planning a chart for the Civil War, too!”

It is not so much what they say about their chart that I find so revolting, as what they wordlessly imply in their tone and manner and in what they cater to when speaking to prospective customers:

“You or your kids don’t have to think about it. We’ve done all the thinking for you. All you have to do is stick to the color-coding and get instant information. We’ve saved you the effort of reading and thinking, of acquiring and evaluating any fundamental knowledge. If you’re interested in just facts, so your kids can pass a test or something, we don’t bother them with causal relationships or motivations or context or any of that heavy stuff. They won’t have to bother with books ever again.”

Every time I hear this unspoken spiel, I cannot help but recall Ayn Rand’s comments in The Journals about a particular species of looter, comments she made in notes in preparation for writing Atlas Shrugged. The Chart People pander to that species.

“…The arrogance of the ‘common man’: he expects ‘to be convinced,’ with no mental effort on his own part….He wants mental food to be pre-digested and automatic. Also — he is firmly convinced that the main job of the thinkers (perhaps the only job) is to convince him, to educate him. If asked how one could go about educating him (or making him understand anything), his answer would be: ‘I don’t know. That’s your job. You’ve got to educate me — both give me the right ideas and invent a way to convince me that they are the right ideas….'” (The Journals, p. 546.)

The Chart People do not even offer pre-digested ideas, but merely pre-digested “facts” on a subject many people want knowledge of but without they or their children having to exert much or any effort to acquire it. The Chart People bill their product as an “educational tool,” calling it “learning with ease.” They are willing to serve the looters of spirit and intellect. And, I am not in competition with them, and people seeking only effortless, automatic knowledge would never be my customers, either.

I am convinced that parents who innocently fall for the “chart” do their children a disservice. Knowledge that children might gain by such a means will not become permanent knowledge of the Revolution or of any other subject. Once it has served its purpose (for a course, a test, a term paper), it will vanish from their minds as just so much extraneous, disposable data. The charts will be rolled up and stowed in a closet or garage, and the CD buried in a pile of video game CDs.

Offsetting the presence of the Chart People, for me, at least (and, in fact, erasing them from existence), are the visitors who find in my novels an incomparable value. The common theme among parents looking for something with which to educate and entertain their children is desperation for something that brings history to life or that counteracts politically correct textbooks. Long ago I lost count of the number of eight- or nine-year-olds who read the first page of Book One: Jack Frake, whose eyes lit up, and glanced up at their father or mother with a silent “Yes!” and a big smile.

And the first sentence of that title is a long one, breaking the rule that opening sentences should be short and punchy. I wrote it so that it would address the soul of anyone who read it, regardless of his age (“soul” here meaning the sum of one’s character and philosophical and moral premises). It is a “grabber,” to put it in editorial jargon, especially for those who still have a “soul” they can call their own. Often that “Yes” is enough to convince an adult, parent or a child that Sparrowhawk is worth reading and pursuing clear to the end of the series. At times I must assure a parent that there are no lurid or graphic sex scenes, no gory battle details or no profanity in the series.

Another gratifying occurrence is when someone buys Book One, reads it overnight in his hotel room, and returns to my table the next morning to get the next in the series or the even whole series. Visitors are often people who have driven from neighboring states to talk with me or have their copies signed when they know I will be at the bookstore. Teachers become intrigued by the series and arrange with the bookstore or the publisher to supply their classes with it.

The only two nationalities that have shown no interest in the series are the Japanese and the French: the Japanese because they are there solely to take pictures, and the French, because they lost (or rather, their ancestors did). More amusing are what I call the “missing links,” visitors who espy the covers of the books from across the arcade, come over to the table, stare dumbly at the covers for longer than is necessary for anyone to read the print, then realize that they are looking at books, not pictures, and shuffle away.

There are also the “sadists” who express interest, fondle the books, engage me in long conversations about the period, then walk away with a smug “I’m not convinced” attitude that Rand described. Their parting words always give them away; they “fooled” me, enjoyed wasting my time and passion on them, and dashing my hopes for a sale. These, too, are Rand’s “looters” of the spirit. They are the only visitors who give me the sense of having been robbed.

They are overwhelmingly outnumbered, however, by people seeking literary and esthetic values, and who find them at my table, and more often than not express their gratitude personally or in fan mail. The Visitors Center bookstore is both a terminus and an embarkation point for tens of thousands of people, from across the country, from across the world. If I manage to persuade one half of one percent of the people who pass through the Center to merely sample one of the titles, I will consider the series successful. The store certainly considers it a success.

Sparrowhawk: Lacunæ and Artistic License

Someone may ask about Sparrowhawk: If one of my purposes was to recreate a world of heroes and the era that saw the birth of the United States, how can one create one’s own world in a historical novel, when one’s characters must conform to the historical record?

The answer is: When there is no historical record for them to conform to. Moreover, the question is asked on the premise that it is impossible to recreate a historical period and also write a Romantic novel in which the characters exercise volition and can choose and pursue their values in that period. It certainly is an achievable literary goal, and Sparrowhawk sets no precedent in this regard. Victor Hugo, Sir Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas (père) and other nineteenth century novelists and playwrights did it without risking the charge that they rewrote history.

And, there is a certain irrelevancy to the question. One doesn’t choose to write a Romantic-historical novel solely to recreate a particular period. One may as well write a history. If the period is important to one’s fiction-writing purposes — and certainly the pre-Revolutionary period in the American colonies and Britain was integral to mine — then the characters one creates must be able to act freely in it, just as they should in a story set in one’s own time.

In writing Sparrowhawk, it was important for me to heed and respect the historical record, because my characters are depicted as contributing to some of the events of the time. In recreating the events in the Virginia General Assembly and the House of Commons, for example, it was crucial that they be portrayed objectively and in character. This meant availing myself of the extant records and journals of both institutions.

And in those records and journals I discovered significant gaps. Of course, there were no such members of the Commons as Dogmael Jones and Henoch Pannell, no rotten boroughs as Swansditch and Canovan. On this side of the Atlantic, there was no such county as Queen Anne in Virginia, and no burgesses by the names of Hugh Kenrick and Edgar Cullis to represent it in the General Assembly. The boroughs, county and characters are all pure creations.

But, it was not a journalistic, naturalistic novel I wished to write. The gaps in the historical record made it easier for me to recreate the culture and politics of the period in Romantic terms, and to fill those gaps with my story. As Ayn Rand noted in her Introduction to Hugo’s Ninety-Three, “To a Romanticist, a background is just a background, not a theme. His vision is always focused on man — on the fundamentals of man’s nature, on those problems and aspects of his character which apply to any age and any country.” A background is similar to a theatrical setting, a stage on which men may think and act in a plotted story. The props, the costumes, the lighting, and so on, are all a means of establishing time and place, merely “special effects” subsumed by the story. (Today, special effects in film and on the stage are becoming the dominant focus, at the expense of the story, when there is one.)

While the records of Parliament in Sparrowhawk‘s period are abundant (though still incomplete), there is a paucity of records of the General Assembly, and what exists of them is colorless and dry, thick with the yawn-inducing minutiæ of mundane, unimportant issues. On the other hand, in reading the accounts of the debates in Parliament on the Stamp Act, one encounters a startling mix of eloquence and rude manners, unbridled passion and sly connivance.

Where the record was incomplete, I relied on secondary sources, such as diaries, letters, and newspaper accounts to reconstruct events. Even then, I had to fall back on my deductive powers and imagination when the records were lacking or so vague or sketchy as to be useless. For example, the numbers of the Virginia Gazette, published in Williamsburg, that might have reported what actually happened in the General Assembly in May 1765 when Patrick Henry introduced his Resolves, are missing. Furthermore, I found that I had to write Henry’s “Cæsar had his Brutus” speech, because there is no written record of it, only memorable fragments recalled by men years after the event.

Let me cite two important events, the debates on the Stamp Act in Parliament, and the debates over the Stamp Act Resolves in the General Assembly, dramatized in Book Four: Empire.

Many of the actual speeches made by George Grenville, Isaac Barré, and other actual members of the Commons are excerpted in the novel. The two major fictive speeches made by Dogmael Jones and Henoch Pannell represent the fundamental, opposing positions taken by the parties, Pannell’s an expression of contempt for the colonies, Jones’s a spirited defense of them. But, the climax of the debates was the vote on the Stamp Act. The record shows that it was unanimous, with no dissenting votes noted.

Jones, of course, would have voted against the Act, and his would have been the single, lone dissent. To “conform” to the actual record, and to underscore the venality rife in the Commons at that time, I have Grenville’s secretary bribe the House clerk not to record Jones’s dissenting vote in the official journal.

Hugh Kenrick calls the General Assembly a “cameo” of Parliament. Complementing the absence of Jones’s dissenting vote in the Commons journal was the subsequent expunction of Patrick Henry’s fifth Resolve, and probably the sixth and seventh, as well, from the Burgesses’ journal. There are contradictory accounts on whether or not the sixth and seventh were even introduced, debated and voted on, one by an anonymous Frenchman who witnessed the debates, the other by Lieutenant-Governor Francis Fauquier in his official report to the Board of Trade in London.

The contradictory accounts create a unique lacuna. Which account is true? Whose veracity, the Frenchman’s or the Lieutenant-Governor’s, should one place more weight on? Without any supporting evidence one way or the other, and in this instance there is none, it is anyone’s educated guess about what actually happened. One would think that such an epochal event would have been meticulously documented. But, either it was not, or if it was, the records perished, or are molding undiscovered in someone’s attic or in some library’s special collections.

The greater gap was the means by which all seven of Henry’s Resolves were broadcast to colonial newspapers outside of Virginia. There is no record of who was responsible for sending them. Henry at that time was a freshman burgess for his county, and it is doubtful that he knew any of the editors of those newspapers. Accounts of the event and biographies of the principal actors simply gloss over the subject. (My own unsupported theory is that it was Richard Henry Lee, burgess for Westmoreland County, who, because of the animus between him and the conservative Tidewater gentry that controlled the House, was not present during the Resolves debates that spring but who published his own protest of the Stamp Act.)

The Resolves, to our knowledge, were not reported in the Virginia Gazette, which was controlled by the Lieutenant-Governor, who dissolved the Assembly over the Resolves. The numbers of the Gazette from that period are missing. Perhaps one of Henry’s allies in the House was responsible. The evidence of responsibility is simply absent. So, I hit upon a means for the Resolves to be sent “abroad.”

It was important that I devise a means of disseminating the Resolves, for they served to unite the colonies for the first time in a common cause, which was to challenge Parliamentary authority. I date the true beginning of the Revolution to the summer of 1765.

Sparrowhawk: Some Stones of Style

Some readers have posted requests on the “Sparrowhawk: The Project” comment page that I discuss “fiction writing in general,” and provide some insights gained from writing the series.

First, I will say that my principles of fiction writing differ not a whit from Ayn Rand’s. The difference is that she articulated them first, and then better than I ever could. (See her The Art of Fiction, edited by Tore Boeckmann.) There are also her notes on The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in The Journals. Years ago, I remember sitting with nearly open-mouthed astonishment when I listened to her taped course on this subject; virtually every point she made about dialogue, characterization, narrative, description, and so on, I’d thought of or was already applying to my own writing.

As for insights, those I needed to have before I could write a single paragraph. All the novels I wrote before beginning Sparrowhawk I considered training to write about the 18th century, and everything I learned by writing those novels in terms of economy and style enabled me to write the six titles of the series. I consider Whisper the Guns, finished in 1972, my first polished novel. I wrote two before that one, and actually found literary representation for them.

That being said, allow me to demonstrate one technique I’ve used to establish and maintain relationships between all the major and minor characters in the Sparrowhawk series, in this instance between Dogmael Jones and Henoch Pannell, two members of the House of Commons, and minor characters in the series. Both are accomplished speakers and are on opposite sides of every political question in Parliament. They are not so much rivals as antagonists. Pannell revels in the sordid, corrupt character of Parliament; Jones despises and fights against it. Their animosity reflects an intimacy possible only in politics.

Pannell most resembles Casper Gutman, a villain in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon; he is a large, blustery man who likes to talk, hear himself talk, and waste people’s time (although I did not model him on the Hammett character; that honor went to the actor Charles Laughton). Jones is a career barrister and trial lawyer, introduced in Book Two at the Pippin trial.

Jones, member for Swansditch, a rotten borough, makes his maiden speech in the Commons in Chapter 25 of Book Three: Caxton. The subject is the House’s proposal to expel John Wilkes from the House for allegedly libelous remarks he made about King George the Third in a private political publication. Jones is defending Wilkes’s right to speak his mind, in or out of the House.

Henoch Pannell, member for Canovan, another rotten borough, sitting on the Treasury or government side of the House, remarks to another M.P. during Jones’s speech, “He is effective, very effective. I like his style. It may be his undoing. He stabs with words, and wounds, and shames, and invites a round of stone-casting.”

His companion answers that Jones has “a pile of stones to cast, while they [Jones’s enemies] are armed with soft, worn pebbles. Hardly an equal contest, sir.”

Pannell answers that against “his wounding words of stone will be the energy of inertia and what he calls ‘sheer funk.’ Together, they will wear down his stallion spirit! Yes, sir! For each stone he casts, a hundred emery pebbles will answer!”

Now, all that was preparation for their next appearance (but presumably not their first encounter, I leave that to the reader’s imagination) in Book Four: Empire, in the Purgatory Tavern, years later, just before another session of the Commons (Chapter 10). The literary device is stone, playing on the homily from the Bible (“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” — St. John, Chapter 8. verse7), although there are no religious references or innuendoes intended in the dialogue. Jones is “without sin,” while Pannell is boastfully and contentedly corrupt.

Readers may also recall the scene in Book One: Jack Frake, when a crowd of spectators tosses stones at Isham Leith at the Falmouth gallows, and the scene in Book Two: Hugh Kenrick, on the Charing Cross pillory, when Hugh hurls stones back at a mob in defense of his friends.

Jones is in the Tavern, taking notes and preparing to argue in the House against passage of the Stamp Act. Pannell, who has argued in the Commons for more stringent controls on the American colonies, and who knows that Jones could possibly harm chances of the Act’s passage, has hunted him down in order to apprise his opponent.

Pannell regarded him with smug jollity. “Composing more injurious eloquence, Sir Dogmael?” he asked.

Jones glowered up at him, not only because he disliked the man, but because he had interrupted a thought. “Yes,” he answered. “And, like Demosthenes, I shall spit stones.”

Jones, of course, is making an ironic pun on the Athenian statesman and orator, Demosthenes, who corrected his stammer by practicing oratory with pebbles in his mouth (and who also roused the Greeks to oppose the Persian Philip the Second), but not at Demosthenes’s expense, nor at his own, because he is not burdened with a speech impediment. He is saying that he plans to make some damaging points against the Stamp Act. Pannell is inferring that Jones’s skill at oratory and rhetoric can hurt the cause of the government party to secure passage of the Act.

That, in brief, is how to set up a meeting and a clash of minds, and a single instance of how to establish a credible relationship between characters. The fulcrum point, if you will, is stones; what Pannell and Jones say about stones is determined by their characters. The technique is repeated numerous times throughout the series, using devices other than stones, such as gorget. It was made possible by context and an organized subconscious geared to feed my conscious mind the right information, vocabulary, style of speech, and so on. My goal in most of the dialogue in Sparrowhawk was to accomplish precision and understatement at the same time. That’s the beauty of articulate, written and spoken British-English.

In answer to Chris, who queried about a new Merritt Fury novel: I wrote two more Fury novels, one of which, We Three Kings, finished in 1980, deals directly with what can now be called “Islamic totalitarians.” In it, Fury is pitted against a Saudi sheik, who is given carte blanche by our State Department to deal with Fury. Sound familiar? I can’t predict that it will ever be published. I have a suspicion that American publishers are still burdened with Danish cartoon funk.

More, later.

Sparrowhawk: The Project

At the suggestion of Nick Provenzo, I will occasionally discuss various aspects of my Sparrowhawk novels here.

I wrote nine novels before embarking on the Sparrowhawk project: three suspense novels and six detective novels; only two of the nine have been published. The Sparrowhawk series of six titles, each a full-length novel in its own right, will total over 2,000 pages and some seven million words.

There comes a point in any writer’s career when he knows he is ready to tackle a book idea that has perhaps simmered in the back of his head for years. A novel about the causes of the Revolution was mine. The point for me was reached in 1992, when I attended an Objectivist conference in Williamsburg. I had just finished a second Roaring Twenties detective novel, and Whisper the Guns, my first suspense novel, had been recently published by the Atlantean Press.

What convinced me I was ready to begin work on what I imagined would be a two-volume novel was a combination of three things: John Ridpath’s moving lecture on the founding of Jamestown; my discovery of Colonial Williamsburg, just down the road from the conference’s hotel; and the most recent remake of James Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, which devoted about five seconds to the conflict between colonial Americans and the British during the French and Indian War. All that served to click in my subconscious and tell me: Now is the time to begin it.

Thirteen years later, in the spring of 2005, I finished Book Six-War. My purpose from the beginning was not to write about the Revolutionary War itself. That had been done in numerous novels by other writers. What I saw lacking in American fiction was a serious treatment of the causes of the move for independence. The causes were ideas, ideas taken seriously, and for the ideas to be taken seriously, meant, of course, a sea change in men’s thinking about their relationship with government and with each other. More importantly, it implied a change in how men thought about themselves. If men simply regarded themselves as members of a collective, or simply resented their servitude, they would hardly be drawn to a political philosophy that encouraged a radical individualism. No, a revolution would have had to occur first in the men themselves, they would have had to acquire the virtue of self-esteem first before they could ever act on those ideas.

In drawing up an outline and making notes for the first title of the series, I almost immediately discarded the idea of introducing the principal heroes as American colonials. That would have been too easy. The colonials had a head-start in that respect, separated from the mother country by an ocean and living on a continent that demanded more of their actual independence, ingenuity and self-sufficiency. To better dramatize the role of ideas that led to the Revolution, I decided to make the principal heroes British, or English, if you prefer, born and raised in the milieu of British culture and politics, and then brought to America where they become Americans. Why do they come to America? Because they will not relinquish their minds or their self-esteem, they alienate themselves from the culture they were born into.

At the same time, I wanted to give them both an anchor for the ideas. Ever conscious of the role of art in my own life, and in that of others, I created a fictive novel that dramatized what both thought ought to be: Hyperborea. Just as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged served to help shape my own character and convictions, Hyperborea served in the same manner for Jack Frake and Hugh Kenrick. No actual 18th century novel could have done that. At the same time, however, this fictive novel had to be of the 18th century but anticipate the Romantic novels of the 19th century. Jack and Hugh could hardly be inspired by Samuel Richardson’s or Rousseau’s novels, nor by Voltaire’s. Moreover, the novel could not credibly be written by an “establishment” writer of that time. It had to be penned by a literal and moral outlaw.

I should stress here that I did not set out to write an “Objectivist” novel, nor to create, in Jack and Hugh and in the minor heroes, such as Glorious Swain or Dogmael Jones, prototype Objectivist heroes. How could I? The most brilliant minds of that period were not Objectivist — not Jefferson, not Adams, not Franklin, not Washington or any of the other great men to whom we owe thanks. The task was to imbue my characters with the best received wisdom of their time, and then carry it only a little bit further as a measure of their own intellectual efforts. The fundamentals of a correct political and moral philosophy had to wait two hundred years for Ayn Rand to think of them.

One reader commented on Amazon, in response to Book One, that it was a “turgidly argued apologia for Libertarianism”! This person completely missed the point, and descended to a personal attack, as well. If I wanted to write an “apologia,” I’d have written a satire, and Libertarians would have hated it. I will mention that there have been very, very few displeased readers of the series, and their comments on Amazon and elsewhere are of a caliber I would expect of a New York Times reviewer: malicious, irrelevant, snobbish, blind, and possibly even envious. And all I will say to those persons is: Match it. In the context of today’s literary environment, in the context of new novels, there is nothing else like Sparrowhawk.

Furthermore, the series was not written exclusively for an Objectivist readership. The overwhelming number of fans and people who appear at my book-signing table are not Objectivists, but they love the series for the right reasons. If I wanted to summarize the response of non-Objectivist readers, that is, why they value the series so passionately, I would say it is because I told them, in the story: This is what we have lost, and this is what we must regain. To the extent that readers, Objectivist or non-Objectivist, value the series and are inspired by it, that is how much they have regained.

The Force is Upon Us

As a postscript to my commentary of July 13th, “The Force is with them,” I am compelled to cite another article, forwarded to me by a British contact, that more thoroughly discusses the rise of “consensus science” in relation to the alleged “debate” on the causes of global warming (if, indeed, such a phenomenon is occurring). The Financial Post (Canada) article, “Climate consensus and the end of science,” by Terence Corcoran, is more philosophical in its critique of consensus science. Corcoran may be a closet “Objectivist,” because his critique correctly identifies the conflict and illuminates the more abstruse roots of the deterioration of reason and the rise of “belief systems.” Here are a few excerpts, to whet your appetite:

“Back when modern science was born, the battle between consensus and new science worked the other way around. More often than not, the consensus of the time — dictated by religion, prejudice, mysticism and wild speculation, false premises — was wrong. The role of science, from Galileo to Newton and through the centuries, has been to debunk the consensus and move us forward. But now science has been stripped of its basis in experiment, knowledge, reason and the scientific method and made subject to the consensus created by politics and bureaucrats.”

Ayn Rand once quipped, “Fifty million Frenchmen can be as wrong as one.” The relevance of that doesn’t need explication here.

“In short, under the new authoritarian science based on consensus, science doesn’t matter any more. If one scientist’s 1,000-year chart showing rising global temperatures is based on bad data, it doesn’t matter because we still otherwise have a consensus. If a polar bear expert says polar bears appear to be thriving, thus disproving a popular climate theory, the expert and his numbers are dismissed as being outside the consensus.”

And:

“Jasper McKee, professor of physics at the University of Manitoba and editor of Physics in Canada, asked recently: ‘Is scientific fact no longer necessary?’ Apparently it’s not. ‘In the absence of hard scientific fact or causal relationships, a majority vote of scientists can determine scientific truth.'”

This is not irrelevant to the subject, but I might add that these post titles were inspired by the climax of George Lucas’s original Star Wars film (1977), in which Luke Skywalker, trying to shoot a fuzzy electronic torpedo into a vent leading to the Death Star’s power center, hears a voice, “Use the Force, Luke. Don’t think. Just feel.” Or words to that effect. Just feel. Just believe. Never mind your reason, or the evidence of your senses, or your skills, or the fact that you blasted a lot of TIE fighters. Trust your feelings on this one. The Force is with you.

Force, of course, having a double meaning in the context of these posts.

The Force is with them

“The debate in the scientific community is over,” said Al Gore during an ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos to discuss the former vice-president’s sortie into the movie business, “An Inconvenient Truth.” This is a “scientifically based” documentary that asserts that an environmental apocalypse is gathering strength, and that its sole cause is man’s uncontrolled carbon dioxide emissions.

But in a revealing article in the Wall Street Journal (“Don’t Believe the Hype”), Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, writes that there has been no “debate” in the scientific community, and that what passes for truth about global warming is a mere consensus among those who wish to believe that man is the cause of catastrophic climate changes.

After bursting the bubbles of computer models and theoretical projections, and detailing the level of ignorance about climatology among scientists honest enough to admit their ignorance about what causes glaciers to retreat or the frequency of hurricanes, Lindzen concludes his article with, “Lastly, there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods, but by perpetual repetition.”

I would have put it: But by perpetual chanting by savages to entice the rain gods to make rain.

Perpetual repetition it has been for years, and also by dramatic pictures intended to frighten the unwary and persuade the impressionable with guilt. “You wanted your SUV! Well, there’s the result, that avalanche of ice falling off of Greenland!” However, as Dr. Leonard Peikoff years ago remarked about the anti-abortionist tactic of using gruesome photographs of aborted fetuses, “A picture is not an argument.”

And this is the substance of the environmentalists’ scare campaign: impressive sounding but nevertheless bogus science, razzle-dazzle photography, and a belief closed to reason. Remember that today’s environmentalist establishment had its roots in the ecology movement of the anti-establishment hippies and “radicals” of the 1960’s. Those creatures are now the establishment, and tolerate no criticism. If you never credited the power of unopposed irrationality, of faking reality at the price of dismissing or suppressing reason, the success of the environmental establishment ought to convince you of it once and for all.

“I am here to say the debate is over: the science is clear,” Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said in a televised news conference about the alleged dangers of secondhand smoke. In a New York Times article, reporter John O’Neil on June 28th wrote that, according to Carmona’s new report, “the evidence is now ‘indisputable’ that secondhand smoke is an ‘alarming’ public health hazard, responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths among nonsmokers each year.”

Of course, the science of the health effects of smoking and secondhand smoke is not clear, either. The issue has been “debated” on government terms for decades, and is an obsession of those who would impose their “findings” on everyone, regardless of the truth. Anymore, a government report on any subject — whether on secondhand smoke, the dangers of cholesterol, or the thriving of the spotted owl or jeopardized salmon runs or the decline or increase of teenage pregnancies — is an invitation to hard scrutiny. So many government-funded findings and studies, as well as those emanating directly from the government, are just so much a priori number juggling and reality-faking legerdemain.

In the disguise of science, a cohort of totalitarians has ascended to prominence. To what end? Ultimately, to absolute control of the individual, the extinction of selfish pleasure, and the inculcation of voluntary, public-spirited abstinence (from any pleasure you care to name), for the sake of the allergic, for the elderly with heart and respiratory problems, and, of course, for that regular Trojan horse of justification, the children, born and unborn.

“Dr. Carmona warned that measures like no-smoking sections (in restaurants and bars) did not provide adequate protection,” reports the Times article, “adding, ‘Smoke-free environments are the only approach that protects nonsmokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke.'”

Adolf Hitler, a virulent nonsmoker, also intended to impose such a policy on Germany if it had won the war. And, his Aryan scientists could just as well have conducted a study that meshed perfectly with such a policy, one that concluded that a “Jew-free Germany is the only approach that would protect Germany from the dangers of Zionism.”

What is opposing the advance of the nanny-statists? Certainly not reason. Lindzen, writing about the speciousness of the environmentalist premise that man alone is causing global warming, remarks:

“Even among those arguing [in the alleged “debate”], there is general agreement that we can’t attribute any particular hurricane to global warming. To be sure, there is one exception, Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who argues that it must be global warming because he can’t think of anything else.”

That is an example of the consequences of repetition creating a “truth.” It is nothing less than the death of thought. In George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” O’Brien eventually convinces Winston Smith that two plus two equals five. We have been witnessing the same phenomenon, only in slow motion, over a vast field of issues, for decades.

There is little difference between the means and ends of the environmentalists and the anti-smoking brigades in the U.S. and the means and ends of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s preparations for the G8 summit in St. Petersburg this weekend. Under the headline, “Putin cracks the whip for summit,” the Daily Telegraph (London) of July 12th reported that “The Russian authorities have been instructed to banish the poor — and the rain – from St. Petersburg.”

People who are likely to demonstrate are being forced to leave the city, activists are being jailed, stray dogs are being killed, and the homeless evicted for the duration of the summit. To what end? To create the illusion of serenity, stability and order.

“Mr. Putin,” reports the article, “wants to ensure that the world’s most powerful politicians never come face to face with aspects of St. Petersburg that most discomfit him.” In short, he is exercising his power to fake reality. The faking even extends to having the Russian air force on standby “to ‘seed the clouds,’ pumping ions into the air that supposedly will ensure the rain falls anywhere but on the Konstantinovsky Palace, where leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations will stay.”

“I think, therefore I am.” “I wish it to be true, therefore it is true.” And if repetition will not make it “true,” or result in a consensus that will create an “accepted truth,” force will. Force, not facts, will settle the issue. Facts, or the absence of evidence, have always been an “inconvenient truth” to those who wish to resort to force to accomplish their ends when indoctrination and brain-washing have failed. And what is their supreme end? Power, in the name of the “public good.”

When a petit totalitarian reaches for his gun, or threatens to use it unless one submits to his moral or “scientific” authority, then the debate is indeed over.

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