Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mythmakers: Human Relationships

       The earlier posts on Mythmaker philosophy dealt with the nature and existence of god(s) and the nature and evils of religion as opposed to the spiritual.  I was also diverted into a discussion of what makes us human, although I'll delve further into this topic later, since it encompasses more Precepts than simply No. 17.  Today I'll talk about how those who can be called human relate to one another.
       I've selected three Precepts that deal specifically with relationships, although the subject arises elsewhere and these three can be applied in other ways as well. There is a lot of overlap among the Precepts.

12. To achieve understanding of the unlike is a divine goal.
       When the Mythmakers refer to something as "divine," they use the word in a general context, i.e. expressing a quality generally attributed to god, even if that god itself cannot be proved to exist.  It's metaphorical, in effect.  Thus, one of the highest things we can achieve is a full acceptance and realization that what is unlike ourselves is of equal value and worthy of equal consideration.  It implies we must not only tolerate diversity, we must learn to appreciate it actively, to seek it out and educate ourselves about it.  It certainly addresses the human proclivity to fear, dislike, and even seek to destroy what is unfamiliar, and it would play into the scenario that will arise when Earthers make first contact with extraterrestrials (and did so in my future history).
       In a later part of "The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars," where Capt. Nikalishin and his crew finally make the first contact with the Bird people, this Precept gets cited three times, once when the crew is entertaining themselves by recounting myths about birds from their various ethnicities (in a section I'll unfortunately probably have to cut out of the final version for the sake of brevity); and twice in the section where the Captain performs a marriage ceremony for two crewmembers (I'll probably have to cut that, too -- how painful!)  After all, when two people form a pair bond, that's what they're doing -- vowing to achieve an "understanding of the unlike."
13. Love is as unknowable as deity, but every soul attests that it exists.
       This reinforces no. 12 and begins to make it more specific.  It equates the term "love" in all its positive meanings with the understanding of the unlike, and the statement that it is inherent in the human "soul" -- the thing that makes us human -- is a display of optimism. 
       But the precept doesn't define "love."  The word is one of the most ambiguous in the English language.  I addressed that in "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," where Kaitrin Oliva is discussing the concept of love with the Kal Communicator Hetsip-dohná:

At the end of the day we were talking about the Inj word “love” – about the Grieks’ concepts of agape and eros and the sloppiness of our contemporary language, with its single word “love” that could mean any number of things. 
Hetsip-dohná was puzzled.  “We have a word, marloha, that means mutual caring – the feelings of one part for another, so that if one component flourishes, the whole is happy, and if one component dies, the remainder sorrows.  And we have another, ketris, that means also mutual caring, but it is that of the being for its society and of the society for all its beings.  And yet both these words mean more; it is difficult to speak of these things in the Chu-sneian tongue.  But we have still another word, bahara, that means – the pleasure two individuals feel in each other’s company, much as you and I do.”
I felt honored by that statement.  Marloha is perhaps akin to our maternal or familial love, ketris may be closer to agape, and bahara – well, the Grieks had a word for that, too – philia – but today it is simply called ‘friendship’!”
Then he queried me about eros, which he had not comprehended at all, and I found myself trying to explain sexual love to a being who could not practice it or achieve any intellectual conception of it.  We ended with a discussion of lust, jealousy, and other concepts that were even more foreign to him. 
“You mean this love of yours can be destructive?” he asked incredulously.  “Then I can see why you would call its meaning ‘sloppy.’  It’s not logical that the same word should possess such opposite connotations, both positive and negative.”
Then I really laughed.  “If you ever get to know us better, Lord Hetsip-dohná, you will learn that the human species is not natively very logical.  In the Age of the Fantasists there was a fictional off-worlder named Spock who made that same point repeatedly.”

14. Let men and women make the vows of love in the music of the bedchamber, not with empty words.
       Finally we have a Precept that addresses sexual love.  Superficially, this seems to say that contracts, pair-bonding, marriage -- whatever you chose to call the ceremony of union -- are unnecessary -- go ahead and jump into bed and have a good time.  This is the interpretation that appeals to 28th-century adolescents! However, the operative words here are "vows" and "empty."  When a vow is made, it implies a permanent commitment, and it can only be made with words, but if these words are "empty" -- spoken only as lip-service -- then the vow means nothing.
       Note also that while the Precept states "men and women," it doesn't say, only one man with one woman.  It can just as easily be applied to two men, two women, or even polygamous relationships.  It also doesn't specify that these relationships must be for the purpose of producing offspring. 
       When Robbin Nikalishin was a 15-year-old student at the Epping Science Academy, he got a girl pregnant and there is a scene where Prf. Alise Doone, who oversees the Academy's humanities curriculum, is counseling him.  Robbie has only the dimmest notion of his responsibilities in this matter.  The following exchange takes place:
       “Now, the Precept you’re probably finding most interesting at this moment of your life is Number 14, about making vows of love in the music of the bedchamber, not with empty words.
       "It was under the apple trees,” mumbled Robbie.
       Prf. Doone made a little throat noise as if she were attempting to laugh, or trying not to.  “The important word there is vows.  Did you and Sharlina make any vows?”
       “No,” he said somewhat disgustedly.  “We just … did it.  There were a few empty words, though.  More like grunts.”     
       Prf. Doone appeared to be strangling again.  “The point of that Precept is that ceremonial words or contracts can’t make a union holy.  When two people can achieve a truly holy union, it’s a highly intangible and fragile thing, spiritually blessed and very personal and unique.  That state can be called marriage, whether there is a ceremony or not."
      “That never happened,” he said.  “I’m not sure that sort of thing exists.”
         Maybe my next Mythmaker post will be a presentation of the extended scene in which this brief exchange occurs.  There is also a point later in "The Man Who found Birds among the Stars" when, as the adult Captain struggles with his own failures as a human being, he rehearses in his mind many of the Precepts and their meanings.  In fact, this ponderous opus taken as a whole is probably a much better exposition of the Precepts than I am managing to present here.

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