Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Seanchan

This post is going to reference The Wheel of Time, but it's using the Wheel of Time to discuss a bigger topic, so feel free to read even if you don't love the Wheel of Time.

Also, it's only going to reference cultures, not plot points in the Wheel of Time. So more of a setting and less of a spoiler discussion. 

In The Wheel of Time, there is a powerful people called the Seanchan. Their culture has a very rigid hierarchy, where everyone knows their place and doesn't seek to expand beyond their place. Part of their hierarchy involves slavery. 

Related (though it may not seem to be), the Wheel of Time has magicians called "channelers". What they do is not important. What is important is that the Seanchan enslave their channelers. It's a rather horrid practice. They "leash" their channelers, basically putting a collar on their neck that has a leash that connects to a band on another woman's wrist. (It's always a woman channeler, aka "damane", and a woman leash holder, "sul'dam". Men have their own can of worms that are unimportant to this discussion.) What makes it particularly horrid is that the collared woman, the damane, can do nothing without the sul'dam's permission. If the sul'dam takes off her wrist band, a damane can't do anything--she can't move away without experiencing immense pain (from the wrist/collar device). The damane is taught from the moment she is labelled as a channeler that she is worthless and useless and nothing and then the most she can aspire to in her life is being treated as a pampered pet. It is very very terrible.

And I think we can all agree. Slavery is wrong. No person (magician or not) should think of themselves as not a person, as horrible piece of crap that's only worthwhile because someone else is controlling them. This is a terrible, terrible, terrible practice. 

Also in the Wheel of Time universe, there is a group of creatures called "Trollocs". They are innately evil beasts that have features that mix bear, goat, man, whatever. It's not that which makes them evil though. They are essentially created by the Dark Lord (bum bum buuuuuuummmmm) and he created them with innate darkness. They spend their entire lives murdering, raping, and pillaging. Do they enslave people? No. Because they capture them and rape them and EAT them. Seriously. It's really terrible.

So yes, with that in mind let's go on with the conversation.

There is a Wheel of Time re-read I follow on past week's post covered a chapter that deals with a different people who are in opposition to the Seanchan, so that brought up some discussion about the Seanchan people. And the comments for these posts are always really long discussions. I don't usually comment, because my Wheel of Time knowledge cannot even begin to compare to other people. But on occasion, someone strikes a chord and I just have to say something. This week someone made the following comment:

"....[the Seanchan] are abhorrent and deserve to die, more so even than Trollocs in my opinion...."

To which my reaction was WHOA!  WHOA? WHAT? Did someone really just say that? A people group deserves genocide? GENOCIDE? 

Now maybe they didn't mean it that way. Maybe they mean Seanchan practices are abhorrent and those practices deserve to die. But that's not how it reads. What they seem to be saying is that a group of people, made up of good and bad people, deserve to die because of cultural practices that we--from our cultural perspective--view as bad. That they deserve to die even more than an innately evil group of monsters who pillage, rape, and eat people.

I'm sure my little sister would have something to say about being "ethnocentric" in all of this. But whatever. Let's say we all agree that slavery is evil. And I think that's a fairly decent point. (My sister may not agree, but she is an anthropologist, which is why she gets into these shades of gray cultural arguments. Heck, she writes papers on objectively viewing human sacrifice. Anthropologists are weird.). I disagree with how the Seanchan treat their channelers. I think it's inhuman, wrong, and yes, even evil. But does an evil practice of a people warrant the genocide of that people?

Do two wrongs make a right?

Let's look at it this way. Nazism? Bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. They tried to commit genocide of another people! But is the appropriate reaction to that to commit genocide on every German? NO! The appropriate reaction is to make them stop the practice and then rehabilitate their culture. 

No one is irredeemable. No people is irredeemable. 

To quote the Wheel of Time, "no one is so far in the dark, they can't see the light."

It's will take work, but the Seanchan can be saved. I think they are worth saving. 

Yes, they're fictional, but this sort of view of fictional peoples frightens me, because it so easily translates into the real world. 

Every people is worth saving. Every culture has some worth in it. No matter how "evil" a culture might be, genocide is not the answer.

Genocide is never the answer.

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