Wolf Time: Part I

I propose to separate discussion of Lars Walker's Wolf Time into three discussions, starting today, Wednesday, and Friday. Of course this is a community discussion, so it may be that there are aspects of the work that others wish to discuss than the ones I've identified. If so, we can fit them in here, or start a separate section if one of my co-bloggers wants to do so.

In today's discussion, I want to begin with the predictions about the dangerous developments of political correctness and its hostility to human life and Aristotelian purpose. The book probably struck reviewers in 1999, when it was new, as ridiculously hyperbolic. In our own day, we have seen things very like the "Happy Endings" clinic, in which perfectly healthy people kill themselves because they are tired of being alcoholics. A healthy woman in Belgium was granted permission to die because of suicidal thoughts.

We see less open talk about what the book calls Extinctionism than you might expect, but it definitely lurks -- and sometimes comes out -- in the debates about the environment.

So let's start with that. These are slippery slope arguments, and people will tell you that the slippery slope is a logical fallacy because there is no guarantee that the slope will play out. Nevertheless, it very often does play out: saying that it is a fallacy simply means that logic does not guarantee that it will play out. Logic does nothing to stop it from playing out. It is very often worth paying attention to slippery slope arguments, as they very often do play out. A mind primed to think in a given way in one case can easily come to think that way in another, even if it is not logically necessary that they should.

Where did these predictions go right? Where wrong? When wrong, is it just that we haven't gotten there yet, or are there cases where we won't get there for some reason?


On Wednesday, I'll want to use this discussion as a springboard to take on the more general theme of how to live a good life in such an ethically confused time. How can one do it? Is it possible? What virtues are the right ones for such a life? It does not seem as if they are courage or boldness -- or are they, but in a different way than in the more ancient expression? We'll pick that up on Wednesday.

On Friday, I'll raise an objection to the book's conception of Odin and his mission. This is a minor topic of no interest to anyone but me, and likely Lars Walker, but I don't think I agree with the book's basic conception of what Odin was about. This last discussion will be harder to follow and of less general interest, so we'll save it until we've dealt with the matters of more general interest and meaning.


douglas said...

Hmm, I'll have to give this a bit more thought before going further, but I'd have thought the critique would be that it's 'appeal to extreme' more so than slippery slope. That said, my gut feeling is it isn't truly wrong anywhere (as these things haven't played out fully yet), and the real question is how right is it? Could this actually happen?

By the way, thanks for doing this and recommending the book. I made time this weekend to read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I want my son to read it next.

Robert Macaulay said...

I think just as interesting is the way that the church has lost its way, both in the book and in the real world. There are parallel struggle in Wolf Time for how good (secular) people live in a lost society and how good (religious) people live in a lost church. Both have to deal with the question of when is violence in self defense if not in response to an immediate attack. Can you initiate violence to defend your faith?
One criticism I have is that there are a number of long speeches where characters explain their thinking or provide background. This isn't uncommon for an author's early work, and I haven't found any such in Year of the Warrior, so I think Mr. Walker learned quickly.

Grim said...

"Both have to deal with the question of when is violence in self defense if not in response to an immediate attack. Can you initiate violence to defend your faith?"

I had that line of thought vis a vis the preacher responding to his church aide who, asked to take care of a suicidal teenager, drove her to the suicide clinic. Defending herself, she takes umbrage at the suggestion that anyone would doubt her compassion. What's the right response to that, if violence is ruled out and society has deemed this semi-murder to be legal -- even compassionate?

Ori Pomerantz said...

I believe these things haven't played out fully, and never will. Our society has an abnormal aversion to violence(1). This is the result of several trends, but it requires a society very much like ours to preserve.

A society like Wolf Time wouldn't be able to get the violence professionals (cops, military, etc.) to be loyal to it. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but people who can use both are much more likely to win.

(1) By which I mean, our levels of violence are extremely low by historical standards.

Grim said...

You may be right, Ori. I am not sure I would be able to adhere to these notions of nonviolence if we slipped the rest of the way down the slope. Indeed, I am not sure that I ought to do so.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Our nonviolence is a truce, a contract. If enough of society violate it, it is no longer valid.

Tom said...

I'm not sure what you're saying, Ori. There are plenty of odious regimes who get violence professionals to do their dirty deeds for them, usually dirt cheap. What am I missing?

Ori Pomerantz said...

Those odious regimes are evil, but they are a human evil. They get thugs by paying them and treating them (and their families, clans, etc.) better than they do most of their subjects. The government in Wolf Time isn't nearly as odious, but it is inhuman and ignorant (the sort of sequel, Death's Doors, gives an explanation of that). That is why it won't get loyalty.

Grim said...

Social contract theory is a modern approach. Aristotle's argument is that we build political systems because that's the kind of animal we are. Political science is thus the science of the human good, he says, since these political systems are how we work out common goods.

That's not to say that you can't get to the point that enough of society has violated the underlying sense of justice to enable a revolution. He has a whole chapter about how revolutions happen in the Politics. But none of it, interestingly for this discussion, turns on the ruling class coming to violate human norms like opposing suicide; it's always about power relationships, like whether the rich will or will not have their wealth forcibly redistributed by political systems.

Grim said...

So, to make the link to Wolf Time explicit, the view of government and society it promotes is not merely untethered from the Aristotelian ideal. It is actively opposed to Aristotle's ideas about human good and human flourishing.

This government and this society is evil, not to put to fine a point on it. It doesn't matter what we've agreed to. There's a standard -- for Aristotelians, to include Catholics -- against which this approach is diametrically opposed.

douglas said...

Thinking about this a little more, I think the book is a good thought experiment, but that we would not get there. I know too many people who if you asked would tell you they were of the left, but who in their actions, when separated from political and ideological labels, are more traditional (be it traditional liberal or conservative). Many ideas of the left sound good on the surface- in fact I would argue they are primarily designed to be just that- but in practice yield terrible results. I'm starting to think we're getting to the point that many people who consider themselves left leaning are seeing the lunacy that comes of following out some of the left's line of thought and are pulling back. I suspect, the further they go, the more backlash they will discover, but it's a close call I think, as they indoctrinate many to their beliefs. It's a race, and maybe, we can still win it, in the fashion of the turtle- slow and steady.

At least I hope so. If the left gets enough power to be able to enthrall enough people with a promise of some utopia (and power over others in the immediate), the tide can turn easily.

Perhaps what was missing in Wolf time was true believers. There were leaders (of both sorts: the more authentic- Odin, the scammers-Rowan), and the sheep that just sort of get pushed along by the tide, but the only character I would call a 'true believer' would be the Pastor Hardanger-Hanson, so desperate to believe that she believed the secular neo-Christianity, and then jumped happily into Oski's version of the WoW cult. I would think such a society would need more true believers than sheep to achieve critical mass.

Tom said...

Thanks, Ori, that makes sense.

I think I disagree, though. In Holland today they do accept assisted suicide as a positive good. There have been reports that suggest some doctors are simply murdering elderly patients and claiming it was assisted suicide, but no one wants to investigate because it may mean limiting legitimate cases of assisted suicide. They don't seem to have a problem with police loyalty.

Or look at Ratherham, England, where police were so concerned with not being racist that they decided to ignore something like 1400 cases of child sex abuse because the abusers were ethnic Pakistanis. There is evidence the police and town council knew about it for 10 years before doing anything about it. The police were loyal to the council and to the cultural norms of avoiding every appearance of racism, and in doing so allowed great evil.

The flaw in your thinking, I believe, is separating police from the culture they serve in. The culture, education system, and police training systems would all lead to the police adopting their cultural norms and being loyal to their cultures.

In fact, what field dominates police education? Sociology (via criminology), and sociology is the avant-garde of the academic left.

Tom said...

I don't know, douglas. I think some of Europe is already there. I think we could get there, but ... I hope you are right about people on the left waking up.

Tom said...

Robert Macaulay, you bring up some good points. What seems to have happened in the churches (contrary to the book) is that they split in two. I have no idea what the situation is in the Lutheran Church, but the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and some others have divided. For example, the Episcopal Church split and a new group, the Anglican Church of North America, was formed by those who left.

I don't really understand what happened or why it happened in those churches, so that part of the book was both very interesting and a mystery to me. I don't know why Harry decided to stay in the Lutheran Church portrayed in the book. For me, possibly because of that, Harry was the most interesting character in the story.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Tom, maybe you're right. Or maybe it is a transition stage until the people who don't see themselves as belonging to the society, and who are OK with using violence, take over. I suspect that a police force like the one in Ratherham would be very effective against them.

But I may be unreasonably optimistic. I have a tendency to go in that direction.

Tom said...

I'm sorry; it should be Rotherham (not Ra...). My mistake.

You could be right about the transition stage. That's a good point.

Lars Walker said...

This is just fascinating, and I'm deeply moved by the fact that you folks feel my book worth this kind of insightful thought.

The criticism of my long speeches is just, and the diagnosis correct -- this was the first novel I ever wrote, though the second to be published. My dream was to do something along the lines of C.S. Lewis' "That Hideous Strength."

The most cheering news story I've read recently involved the "Scaffold" art installation recently dismantled at the Walker Art Center (no relation) in Minneapolis. The work was intended to comment on capital punishment in general, and the execution of Dakota braves during the 1862 Dakota War in particular. Native Americans complained that it was cultural appropriation and got it dismantled and burned.

It occurred to me that the project of Leftism may be going through a collapse just like the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that when it comes it may surprise us as much as that did (though in retrospect we can see it as inevitable). We may be reaching the point where the whole "scaffolding" of Progressivism has attained fatal instability.

My only fear is that the Right may collapse first, due to our own divisions and dissolving connections.

Tom said...

Lars, thanks for writing a book worth talking about!

Tom said...

So, to make the link to Wolf Time explicit, the view of government and society it promotes is not merely untethered from the Aristotelian ideal.

I'm not sure the novel promotes this view so much as suggests that's where we're heading. But, to get to your point, I take the "social contract" as Locke does. The contract, then, is not just whatever the people agree to. Governments and societies are created to preserve the inherent rights of individual members of those societies, and the contract is that the people should obey the laws as long as the government protects those rights. When the government stops protecting those rights, or infringes on those rights, then the contract is broken.

So, Locke also sets up a standard, but it's not Aristotle's standard. Of course, there are other views of the social contract.

But maybe we're getting into the second discussion here.

Unknown said...

I know I'm rather late to the discussion, but one of the misfires in the book is the smokers re-enfranchisement.
I worked with teenagers from 2000-2011. Tobacco has been thoroughly demonized in the minds of Millennials. I asked a group of 100 whether drinking and driving or smoking and driving was worse and all but one said smoking was more dangerous. Perhaps the generation after the Millennials will rebel and return to tobacco.

However, while I don't see Millennials returning to tobacco, they readily embrace other forms of smoking. Namely marijuana. I've heard "It's all natural," "it's healthy for you," and "it's good for the environment."

So, I think the spirit of the smokers re-enfranchisement in was correct. The focus has just shifted to another product.