Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On the Glorious 25th of May: What Sir Terry Taught Me

May 25 is Geek Pride Day, where all of us who love Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Cosplay, Gaming and what have you are free to let our freak (geek?) flags fly, though I would kind of argue that's pretty much every day. It's also Towel Day, when we celebrate the life and works of Douglas Adams, which is a noble and worthy cause, of course.

But for another subset of geek culture, a large, but often relatively quiet fandom compared to the t-shirt-wearing, movie-quoting masses, the 25th of May is significant for another reason. It marks the date of the People's Revolution of the Glorious 25th of May, from Terry Pratchett's 2002 book, Night Watch.

Pratchett has long been one of my favorite authors, and Night Watch probably remains one of my favorite books from his Discworld series. It confronts some pretty grim subject matter, but still manages to maintain humor and humanity, and it closely examines a lot of our issues and assumptions about politics, revolution and human nature. It's got a bit of Les Miserables about it, a bit of English history, a bit of the '60s and a lot of Pratchett. Read it, you won't regret it.

Aside from just this book, though, the Discworld series and associated books have taught me a lot over the nearly 20 years I've been reading them, and Pratchett's death a year ago hit me pretty hard (especially as it came at a time when I was still mourning a more personal loss). But some of the lessons from his stories have become core parts of who I am. Among them:

  • There are many ways to sin, and many ways to be evil, but they all start with treating people as things. Once we stop seeing people as individuals and look at them as pawns in a game, as stereotypes, as means to an end, we head down the wrong path. Sometimes even if we set out with the best of intentions. 
  • Darkness isn't the opposite of light, it's simply it's absence. It's up to us to be a light in dark places, and to not let indifference or complacency make us part of them. And, when all is said and done, and the odds are against you, sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness. 
  • Stories matter. They make up who we are and tell us why we're here. And sometimes belief and faith are extremely important, including belief in things that we may objectively know not to be real. You can't weigh justice, you can't measure out a cup of mercy but those things are important to making us human. Our belief in these things gives them a reality which, although it may only exist within the confines of our own skulls, has the power to shape the world, and lets us become what we are, the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape. 
  • Personal isn't the same as important. This is a harsh truth and one that can be hard to live by. Sometimes what matters most to us isn't what matters in the grand scheme of things. 
  • At the same time, the small things do matter. In a vast, uncaring universe our tiny, insignificant and brief lives are all unique and precious. And the fact that we have the ability to look up into the night sky and contemplate infinity, fully aware of how tiny we are in the face of it all, and in the next breath return to wondering what we should make for dinner is not a flaw. 
  • People, even when they don't look like what you may think of as "people" are pretty much the same everywhere. For the most part they want the same things, a good meal, the company of friends, and to go about their day knowing that the world they live in is relatively sane and stable from one day to the next. People are also different from "The People," in that nobody's actually met the latter, but it's a phrase often used by those who think they know what's best for "The People" regardless of what actual people want (which is another road to Treating People As Things). 
  • The most powerful magic is understanding how people think. Failing that, actual magic is pretty cool, but a big stick is often more useful. 
  • Ideals and ideas are wonderful, but somebody still has to bake the bread and clean the privy (preferably not at the same time). 
  • It's very tempting to divide the world into Us and Them, and to think that all of the bad things are the fault of Them. It's more comfortable to blame it all on Them, but in reality there is not Them, there's only Us. 
  • Real Freedom includes the freedom to suffer the consequences of your decisions. The freedom to suceed goes hand in hand with the freedom to fail. 
  • Don't give up, in order to have a last-minute change of fortune, you have to take your fortune to the last minute. 
  • Making bad choices for good reasons makes it easier to make them for bad reasons later on
  • Sometimes the best answer is a more interesting question
  • Knowing how bad you can be is the best encouragement for being good. 
  • Doing the right thing can mean your lose everything, but doing the wrong thing can mean you lose  yourself
  • The best way to face everything, good or bad, is with curiousity, humor and compassion. 
How do they rise up? 

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