Terry Pratchett and the redemption of the Orcs

GoblinIt was Sun Tzu who said, “Always leave an escape route for a surrounded enemy, for a soldier with no prospect of escape will fight with the strength of ten men.”  A person with no escape has nothing to lose, they have lost everything already, and so they will take many with them.

When I was very young I read a collection of horror short-stories.  They were mostly childish waffle except for one which has left a life-long impression on me.

In the story, a successful author begins to receive a series of letters from all across Europe.  The message is the same, “You made me and I am coming to meet you.” Signed with the name of the principal villain in the author’s long-running series of books, the author assumes a prank but calls in the police.  Despite protection, one night the character arrives.

“Is there nothing good in me?” he asks.  “Is there no-one who would mourn my passing? Nothing I did that was good or kind? Am I beyond redemption?”

The author shouts at him, “No, I made you to be a symbol of all that I despise and all that I believe is wrong in the world.  There is no relief for you!”

“Then,” says the villain, “I must do what is in my nature.”

The story ends with police hunting for the author who has gone mysteriously missing.

The lesson for me, young as I was, is that no-one should be placed beyond the realms of compassion and empathy.  If a person is placed in a role from which there is no escape then the people who placed them in that role are as much responsible for their actions as that person.  Perhaps even more so.

Terry Pratchett, writer of the universally successful Discworld series of books, has been one of my favourite authors for more than 25 years.  Even his most evil characters are redeemable.  Pratchett’s compassion and tenderness with his characters is what draws me to them, long after the gags and fantasy have lost their ability to surprise.

As he grapples with Alzheimer’s he is also grappling with literature and life’s more intractable problems.  Adventures need villains.  If we are to be the hero then we must cast someone else in the role of monster.  We need to cheer on one side to the detriment of the other.

“Boromir may fall,” said Pratchett during the launch of his latest novel, Snuff, at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, last Tuesday.

Gamers will be thrilled to know that Pratchett is a keen Oblivion player.  “In the game your job is to kill Goblins who, for some reason, always attack your party mercilessly when you turn up in their caves carrying swords and looking for loot.  I wondered what it would be like to enter their world without having to fight.”

Alzheimer’s is slowly eating away at his fine motor skills.  He sits carefully.  His glass, filled with brandy, is held where he can see it.  He sets it down with full concentration, both hands on it and does not let go until it is placed centrally on the table.  And, to compensate, he is hyper-aware of his surroundings, trying to remember and notice everything.  It must be exhausting.

The only trace of his struggle is occasional long pauses as he keeps track of his thoughts.

“Boromir may fall, but the Orcs and Goblins are irredeemably evil.  And I began to wonder.”

A modder created a magic ring for him and so he entered the caves of the Goblins without having to fight.

In Unseen Academicals, his 37th Discworld novel, he redeems the Orcs.  Now, in Snuff, his 39th and 50th novel overall, he sets out to redeem the Goblins.

Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpok, sets the theme of the book: “Predators respect other predators, do they not?  They may perhaps even respect the prey: the lion may lie down with the lamb, even if only the lion is likely to get up again, but the lion will not lie down with the rat.  Vermin, Drumknott, an entire race reduced to vermin!”

This topic of redemption is well timed.  All over the world, demonstrators blame their leaders, or the “1%” for all of society’s ills.

Consider this statement from the Occupy Wall Street, NYC General Assembly, “We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.”

The Corporations, they claim, are owned by the 1% and the list of ills which are laid at their feet is lengthy (with a footnote to declare that these grievances are not all-inclusive):

  • They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
  • They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
  • They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
  • They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
  • They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
  • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
  • They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
  • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

Like the Spanish Inquisition before them, that one has had the thought that something is possible is all the evidence required to damn someone utterly.

Guilt is obvious, there is no appeal and there is certainly no need for anything so paltry as evidence or a trial.  The 1% are beyond redemption.  And when a body of people is beyond redemption then any form of collective punishment is seen as having divine sanction.  The vermin will be destroyed.

In this way minorities have been corralled and made sacrificial effigies for millennia.

Orcs and Goblins were invented so that we could definitively have something to hate and that we did not need to feel that we should empathise, that we should understand or to look for their needs and grievances.  If something is of its very nature evil then we have no complicity or involvement in their becoming what they are.

Real life is never that obvious or simple.

Pratchett, even as he grapples with the worst illness of the 21st century, demonstrates once more that fearful majorities are capable of terrible cruelty.

He does not condemn, he does not judge.  He offers compassion, empathy and the recognition that we are reflections and interconnections of each other.

So should we.

19 replies »

  1. Come on, Gavin. The idea that the “1%” are like the other oppressed minorities throughout history is well beneath your intellect. The 1% are millionaires and billionaires, the ultra-haves who quite explicitly control all the institutions of power and and influence in society. Hardly an oppressed or endangered species.

    And you’ve read even more Pratchett than I have, I suspect. Which means that you know, without question, that the author’s driving ethic is unarguably progressive and communal. Yes, there are strong elemental libertarian strands here and there, but when all is said and done his social ideals demand that a culture’s citizens take care of one another, insisting that the mighty are accountable for the well being of the least.

    To parallel Pratchett’s orcs and goblins with the 1%, even peripherally, isn’t just to miss the point. It’s to get it precisely and diametrically backwards. The orcs and goblins aren’t the 1%, they’re downtrodden BECAUSE OF the 1%.

  2. Yip, and that misses the point too. The 1% sell us stuff. If we bought it, we’re complicit. Claiming that we bought under duress isn’t going to wash. Claiming that the 1% are different from ourselves does a disservice to us.

    And I’m not claiming that the 1% are an oppressed minority. They’re already a minority, that’s a given. I’m saying that making these claims about them will turn them into an oppressed minority.

    • Claiming that the 1% are different from ourselves does a disservice to us.

      Which is precisely why the Occupy movement is so important. Our current crop of elites behave like sociopaths drunk on wealth and limitless power. In truth, a good percentage of the 99%, were they to find themselves with a billion dollars, would probably wind up acting the same way. Throughout history, wealth and power have propagated greed and a lust for even more power in just about every society of any magnitude that we’ve seen.

      This is why the reforms and structures that the Occupy crowd are pushing for are so important, because society has to be insulated against the excesses of its wealthiest and against the corrosive forces inherent in wide have/have not gaps. Only laws and structures to enforce them can prevent the abuses historically associated with runaway greed.

  3. I thought your piece was an excellent meditation on what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

  4. I’d just like to say something about the 1%. They have used their resources to bend the laws in their favor, especially the tax laws. This has caused the gap between the lower 99% and them to widen amazingly in the last ten years. The middle class is suffering because of the machinations in boardrooms, investment banks, and the back rooms in Congress.

    I worked in banking and as a federal bank examiner before starting a family and I can tell you that the mortgage-backed-securities debacle was criminal and preventable. If you read a history of the mess and the subsequent lack of criminal prosecution you can see our elected officials very busy at the work of stopping the investigations by the SEC, the Federal Reserve and the lower Manhattan office of the Justice Department.

    I think what OWS people are trying to say is that we need to tell the people we elected that WE know they are responsible for literally selling us out. If we just sit back and let it continue then we are culpable.

    And don’t give me that nonsense about the 1% making all the things we buy and gifting us with the wonderful jobs that are available. Look at US jobs – GE alone has sent one in every five of its US jobs overseas in the past 9 years and pays no federal taxes on record profits. How is that benefiting this country? And the 99% (around the world) are the ones actually making the goods we buy.

    US corporations’ share of federal taxes paid has gone from 30% in the fifties to 6.6% in 2009. They benefit from our infrastructure – roads, fire and police protection – and our political stability, and do not pay their share of the costs.

    I’m a huge Terry Pratchett fan and it makes me feel a little queasy to see his writing used to support a political viewpoint.

  5. What if Alzheimer’s were a child of the 1%. Look at the scientific literature on Alzheimer’s.

    The tangles are in the network filaments that feed the neurons. The tangles cause the death of the neurons.

    The tangles occur because the proteins don’t fold properly. When scanned at the molecular level, the tangles nearly always show the presence of a powerful neuro-toxic agent.

    A vast propaganda machine says that the cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown. They lie even before they see the evidence. Any treatment that attempts to gain any traction is already scoffed at.

    Metallic Aluminum has only existed in quantity since WWII. Metallic Aluminum is partially responsible for the protein folding badly.

    Aluminum is ubiquitous, but how does it get to the brain? Understanding this may be the key to preventing or treating Alzheimer’s.

    This is an intentional policy of aggressive ignorance carried out by the 1%, A policy that causes, and will continue to cause untold suffering.

    We could literally drown these rats in the tears that their greed has caused. Justice must look away, when these people are made an example.

  6. @Darth Loki – well, congratulations. I doff my cap-with-feather-duster in your general direction. You have managed to turn Alzheimer’s into a conspiracy theory. How very droll. Because, of course, none of the people in the 1% suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s and so have no interest in its treatment. No, as usual, with your razer insight you have identified that the 1% use it as a sophisticated (albeit, slow) method of controlling the 99%.

  7. Do they positively know it causes Alzheimer’s, I would say no.
    Do they protect themselves against any possibility of litigation for Aluminum causing any medical condition? Probably.

    Aluminum is highly neuro-toxic.

    The Koch’s support programs like Nova and other scientific research. In the sciences they have a megaphone to shout down anything which even hints of litigation.

    Corruption isn’t just buying Supreme Court Justices, it can pervade the entire system.

    How could man have developed defenses against metallic aluminum when it is never found in nature? Metallic aluminum, not in a chemically bound form. Oxides of aluminum are commonplace, the metallic form cannot exist in nature except under very unusual circumstances. What if it takes a common infection for the toxicity to become apparent? It is highly likely that Aluminum is involved with Alzheimer’s, but the propaganda machine has been running for over 30 years now. I even fell for it until I dug deeper and started reading the reports.

    They can use lasers to vaporize a small quantity (at the molecular level) of the plaques and can detect trace amounts of aluminum. The propaganda started with them vaporizing an entire brain and then looking for any aluminum in the vapor or the ash. Check how many websites maintain the noise level for ridiculing Aluminum as a cause for Alzheimer’s? Why would people even care, one way or the other, if somebody was not financing that myth? If you believe that aluminum has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s, how did you arrive at that opinion? A pervasive and enforced opinion should not even exist, but yet it does.

  8. @DarthLoki “Do they protect themselves against any possibility of litigation for Aluminum causing any medical condition? Probably.”

    So you don’t have any actual evidence. Can’t tie specific people to your claims but since the theory is in your head it must be true. Now you use this belief to utterly damn an entire class of people simply because they’re in the top income bracket?

    Thanks for making my point for me.

  9. I can tie the National Institute of Health and Medline to the propaganda.

    The NIH doesn’t fund Aluminum-Alzheimers research. Lets see who is on their board that also have connections to the Koch’s or the Aluminum companies. Who controlled the hiring decisions and made sure that only team players were hired?

    When you do a molecular scan of a plaque and you find aluminum, but you don’t find it in normal tissue, what does that say? The real killer of the neuron left that evidence there to fool us into thinking it was aluminum!!!! Is that the argument you are defending?

    It is aluminum and the other environmental toxins. They need to get the government EPA shutdown before the people wake up. If any corporate crime deserved the death penalty this one does.

    Let me guess your defense, you will say that they didn’t know. Fine if they didn’t know and done nothing OK. If you didn’t know, and then you financed a campaign of dis-information, it is not your opinion which made the problem worse, it was your actions. For your ACTIONS you can be condemned.

    To executive privilege without consequences I say “Viva la Revolucion”.

  10. @Gavin Chaitt, I *cannot* believe you could make any connection between the goblins in Snuff who have nothing and and the 1% who have nearly everything. A more careful reading of the book would let you know that the biggest villain of the book, or black ball as Commander Vimes calls him, is the young Lord Gravid Rust; an aristocrat from a very WEALTHY family. It may not, considering how long it takes to get a book ready for publication, be an accusation against the 1% but if you have really read ANY of the City Watch books of the Discworld series you would know that time and time again Commander Vimes and the City Watch have tried to protect the have-nots from the privilege of the haves. The Aristocrats and wealthy Guilds…in other words the 1%.

    I would not be so bold as to put words into the mouth of such a superior author as Sir Terry but I think I could imagine exactly what Commander Vimes would have to say to the Oakland Police Department if they had the misfortune of having him suddenly transport to “Roundworld” (If you don’t get the reference, look it up on the Discworld Wiki or read some of the supplementals). If I were then I would resign immediately before he did it for me with his boot!

    I really do believe you need to re read, if you ever actually read them in the first place, the City Watch books. You so totally missed the point it’s unbelievable.

  11. @Lacesylph – I think you may have missed the point. If you have seen any of Pratchett’s lectures or read books of his, like Jingo or Monstrous Regiment in particular (but any of his books), you’ll know that he tends to disparage INHERITED privilage. Earned privilage is something he recognises and is the entire point of the Sam Vimes character. He has to come to terms with the fact that he is part of the 1%.

    Most importantly, Pratchett writes about respect, tolerance and not demonising anyone. If you save your tolerance and respect only for those you admire then you’ve learned little from him.

  12. The NIH is a corporate partner in denying any connection between Aluminum and Alzheimer’s

    It appears that the National Institute of Health and Medline are actively discouraging any research into potential Aluminum-Alzheimer’s connections.

    I think the Aluminum industry knew about the Aluminum-Alzheimer’s connection more than 30 years ago. They figured that they could just plow a couple of million dollars into Alzheimer’s research and the problem would go away.

    Thirty years later, they still don’t have a cure, or a realistic treatment. What they are doing is cherry picking studies that cover genetics, while actively obstructing any work that might implicate Aluminum or other environmental toxins.

    The most damning evidence would be if a drug like Clioquinol were to be proven effective against Alzheimer’s. The animal studies of Clioquinol look good, but somehow, a full long term clinical study always seems to get blocked. First and LAST Clinical study 2003. It looks like the interference with research began in the late 70’s or early 80’s.

    References Alzheimer’s Aluminum
    This article 21423554 is from Japan and has an extensive reference list. You can access the reference on the right side of the page under Related Information click on References for this PMC Article.

    There are 153 References.
    If it has Aluminum in the title, the study probably wasn’t done in the USA. The NIH and Medline seem to be doing a lot of something about Alzheimer’s, but effective research is not one of them.

    If you have any information that might shed light on persons or organizations responsible, for this please use:

    There is a 3000 character limit for this page. So you may want to use this page to get the FBI to send a Special Agent.

    And No, I am not kidding,

  13. For a more human response, than a hockey mask wearing Jason.

    If you are related to Terry Pratchett you might suggest a medical option that the Gods of Aluminum were blocking. It is called Clioquinol and it is licensed for topical treatment of fungal infections. It also does a nice job of removing aluminum and protein tangles.

    A pharmacist can mix up (compound?) capsules for oral use. You would need to research the best dose level. Don’t let the overdoses in Japan SNOM dissuade you. Animal studies have looked good. The one clinical study had fair results. The Aluminum Gods blocked any further clinical studies.

    Going back on the attack:
    The most damning evidence would be if a drug like Clioquinol were to prove effective against Alzheimer’s. The animal studies of Clioquinol look good, but somehow, a larger long term clinical study, always seems to get blocked. The FIRST and apparently LAST Clinical study was in 2003.

    References Alzheimer’s Aluminum
    This article 21423554 is from Japan and has an extensive reference list. You can access the reference on the right side of the page under Related Information click on References for this PMC Article.

    There are 153 References for this one article.
    If it has Aluminum in the title, the study probably wasn’t done in the USA. The NIH and Medline seem to be doing a lot of something about Alzheimer’s, but effective research is not one of them.

    I suspect that the Aluminum industry found out about the Aluminum-Alzheimer’s connection more than 30 years ago. They figured that they could just plow a couple of million dollars into Alzheimer’s research and the problem would go away. So they used their money and connections to create a good old boy network beginning no later then the late 70’s. At every social gathering, at every professional meeting, persons of power would use tried and true cult techniques to program in the party line. To make sure an individual (genius) couldn’t oppose them, they moved to a consensus system (1977) where they could shape the agenda. By controlling membership in the consensus, they could freeze out any undesirable opinions or facts.

    Thirty years later, they still don’t have a cure, or a realistic treatment. What they are doing is cherry picking studies that cover areas like genetics, while actively obstructing any work that might implicate Aluminum, or any other environmental toxins.

  14. A second point, as people get older then tend to drink a lot of tea. That is bad because some tea plants can absorb a lot of aluminum. So you might also research different types of teas which have low aluminum content. If you have access to a laboratory that can measure aluminum content, you might get the same tea from a different geographic region that has a much lower aluminum content. One of the problem crops at Fukushima is tea, it tends to pull in a lot of heavy metals.

    You will need to reduce dietary intake of Aluminum. Absolutely no orange juice in non-anodized aluminum cups. Get one of those pitchers that filters your water and is effective against aluminum. NEVER drink unfiltered tap water since fluoridation in water can release aluminum from even minor source contact (aluminum cups).

    Research all his foods to reduce aluminum and other heavy metal content.

    • OK, this has gone on long enough, and probably too long. This thread on Pratchett is not a place for rantings about conspiracy theories or the hypothesized causes of Alzheimers Disease. If you don’t have anything useful to say that is ON TOPIC about Pratchett, you’re invited to stop talking. Any further posts on aluminum or conspiracy theories about it will be deleted without hesitation.

  15. Those poor aristocrats, raping and murdering.

    This isn’t a story.

    And the 1% don’t “give” you jobs.