Letters Column for November 2006: To Feast on Particulate Suffering


Genki desu ka?

December is kicking off very well for me. I hope the same is true for you!

Thank you for your kind words,

Aliasi (“us poor saps had to wait day by day!”)
cariset (“Beautiful.”)
David Goldfarb (“Just…yeah. Wow.”)
Eric (“A clever bit”)
Ford Dent (“I add my kind words to everyone else’s”)
Fox (“shades of Diane Duane”)
GoldenH (“really good”)
Luc (“I’m just going to stand here and make little Keanu Reeves ‘whoa’ noises”)
mneme (“every RPG should come with a Rebecca”)
Ninjacrat (“Yes. Oh, yes.”)
Penultimate Minion (“Ezekiel, from the looks of it”)
Recherche (“wow=wow++;”)
rpuchalsky (“something in the world is, simply, cool”)
tikitu (“blinks in the sudden light”)
tylercat (“I am simultaneously in awe”)
villum (“rather brilliant”)
Vincent Avatar (“the lofty heights which it has achieved are far too glorious for mere brilliance to relate.”)

Hee. How did you all like _Island of the Centipede?_ I admit that I’m looking forward to writing some fluffy legends for a while—at least this month—but I’m quite pleased with it.

I think that the next step is Liril and Micah.

I didn’t mean to leave them for so long. Things went askew at my end. Still, there we are.


It looks like there is a good chance that Island of the Centipede—or at least part of it—will be redone as manwha. So someday we may see kung fu Sid and Max. Anyone want to list favorite scenes, bits that they think should be visual?

So pleased with it. You have no idea, applaud though you may. ^_^

Things got hectic and so Society of Flowers is still at 86.67%. By hectic, I mean “medication upheaval, Thanksgiving, finishing the Island of the Centipede, and a bunch of shiny new projects on my plate.”

That said, hey!

I’ll probably push that up past 90% by January 15. ^_^

Donations for November totalled $44.09. If you’re wondering, those digits also represent the Yama Kings’ social security number; they only get one, since the United States government is habitually unsure how many Yama Kings there are. Thank you!

(Kung Fu Teilhard) has the church lean on him to the point where he has to publish posthumously
— rpuchalsky

I can’t help adding the Kung Fu to the referent and imagining it something like this.

“O Pope! Leave me be to rest in Chardin Heaven!”


The Pope slams his staff into the ground.

“Teilhard, come out!”

“No! Not even your Seven-Cardinal Stance can drag me from this grave! I won’t write another word!”

“This isn’t seven cardinal stance, you dolt! These are seven actual cardinals.”

Cardinals: “Hey.” “Hi.” “Hello.” “Yo.”

But: “I won’t do it!”

“I say you will,” says the Pope, and then he strikes a pose. “Ex Cathedra style!”

And then there’s nothing Teilhard de Chardin can do. Even though he’s an ancestor! If the Pope tells you to do something ex cathedra, you’ll do it, and that’s why the Pope is responsible for everything good or bad that is done in all this world.

Anyway, I think it’s worth note that humanity isn’t necessarily the superior state in Hitherby.

It’s certainly considered a superior state to being a random fish or rock, but the truth is, Hitherby is nonsectarian regarding the relative merits of most dharmas. Evolution towards a telos, if it existed in Hitherby, wouldn’t focus on humanity so much as the layers of information and clarity that can coalesce around any basic signal.

I’m not sure, but I guess what I’m saying is that it’s based off the idea of “personal growth” evolution rather than biological evolution.

What you might discern from our exchange over the past few letters columns is that I’m actually equivocating a bit on what I mean when I talk about evolution, between something you’d consider correct and something you wouldn’t. And that’s true. And I’m doing that for a reason: the ultimate expression of what I’m talking about hasn’t formed in my head yet, and the equivocation is necessary to catch the whole breadth of the concept. ^_^

If I’m not imagining things, isn’t each age broken into a Kingdom and a Tyranny? For some reason, I had thought that Uri’s rule was the Second Kingdom and Cronos’ the Second Tyranny (or maybe just part of Cronos’ rule).

It’s hard for me to imagine the First Kingdom, let alone prehistory. The time of Uri already seems so elemental, it’s hard to think of how it could get even more so.
— rpuchalsky

Each age is broken into a Kingdom and a Tyranny.

I might have made a mistake on this at some point and possibly even corrected it later. I know I caught myself about to post an error in this at one point.

But the canonical answer is: Cronos and Uri were both the Second Kingdom, and the Second Tyranny began with Cronos eating Hestia or, possibly, Demeter.

I haven’t revisited Round Man, so I don’t know to what degree he’s the same person as Uri. I have enough information to know for sure, but I don’t want to think about it yet.

(Feel free to keep thinking they’re the same. That’s a good theory and could very well be accurate. I just don’t want people to run too wild with it in case it’s not the case!)

This may be the place to share my crazy Greek-Christian myth fusion that came to me a while ago. In my imagination, Zeus had sex with Mary (the Virgin bit was later PR), coming to her in the form of a dove. But Zeus didn’t know that Mary was Metis reincarnate. So her son Jesus grew up and ascended to godhood (after of course dying and passing through the Underworld) and overthrew him, as Zeus had previously overthrown Chronos who had overthrown Ouranos.
— David Goldfarb

That’s a pretty good idea!

I think that Mary as Metis is really neat, but the biggest problem is that Jesus on the throne of the world is . . . possibly unfaithful to his story in some ways.

It’s interesting to me, the timing of Jesus’ birth—it’s a poor correlate to most of the exact dates that are going around, but it’s close to two interesting ones.

One of those is the return of the Lotus Sutra to the world from the realm of dragons, which is theoretically around 38 BCE and historically around 100 CE. The other is the end of the age of enlightenment and the beginning of the age of meditation—one imagines this is around 3 CE, as the best date I can give for the Buddha’s death in canon is currently 496 BCE.

I imagine that I’ll cover his story in Chapter 4.

But perhaps I won’t!

Perhaps he’ll just be something that’s going on in the background, as it were. It’s not like my readership will be baffled by offhand references.

So, I suppose I’m wondering: what is your current thinking on the status of Hitherby as theodicy?
— ADamiani

I think that I want Hitherby to be the story of how to live with evil / suffering, not the story of how we “have” to have them.

I don’t know how much the two overlap.

See, I think that the more I think upon the world, the more I see reasons why bad things are . . .


Why they must exist, if you understand me.

But the trick of Hitherby isn’t to focus on that. In a way, it’s a distraction—it’s the kind of thing that can make someone an isn’t, if you get me, spending too much time worrying about why bad things happen.

The point of life is ultimately what you do, and that isn’t as dependent on the reasons for things around you as you might think.

Really I think that our food and drink in this world is evil—the substance of evil, if you understand me, the same particulate essence as gives rise to suffering.

We are—

We bother to be—

Because things happen to tell us that we do not know everything; that we do not see everything; that we are not alone.

That is our meat. That is our bread. That is the fire of the world.

And it is the distinct character of suffering and evil that to eliminate them is to eliminate the things we do not know; the things we do not see; to eliminate, ultimately, everyone else whose interests, as other people, are disparate from our own; whose motives, as other people, are disparate from our own; and whose errors, like ours, lead to evil on any sufficiently long random walk through life.

Is that theodicy?

No; because I am not ready. I am not able to tell you that is true. I am not able to defend it. I just kind of see it in the distance.

Maybe someday I’ll carve out that thought, but I won’t need to for Hitherby.

The answer of Hitherby is: wash your eyes.

When you see evil, wash your eyes; see the good; and, if still necessary, oppose the force of things that shouldn’t happen with the efforts of your life.

Why you should have to do that, rather than floating in a cloud of bliss, is a different story.

An aside: is there anywhere I can find a summary of “Island of the Centipede”?
— ADamiani

One of the themes of the story is that some things take time. ^_^

That said, and put simply:

Max hurt Sid.

Sid wanted to forgive him. But nothing he could do could make what Max did okay.

Sid noticed that the connection between “make it okay” and “forgive” existed only in his head, and they lived happily ever after.

(Actually, the happily ever after was earlier in the story.)

I’m annoyed at American society, and possibly modern society in general, because it tends to have the theory that guilt transforms people into monsters, while non-monsters can’t really do anything bad. I think one of the biggest things this culture needs is the ability to say, “What you did isn’t okay. No more, no less.”

Maybe, for instance, there’d be a better rape conviction rate if people stopped trying to figure out if the rapist was a monster in some spiritual, terrible sense—someone pre-Othered in a Calvinist sense—and paid more attention to what’s important:

Did they cause hurt to the victim?

Would a reasonable person have known that their actions would hurt the victim?

Her character isn’t important, and neither is his.

One quibble: I don’t believe that Martin promised to make Sid an is. Max told him to, and Martin didn’t say he wouldn’t — but he didn’t say he would either, he just called Max a “ridiculous dolt”. (Which Max deserved, to be sure.)
— David Goldfarb

I wanted to respond to this ’cause I’m kind of pleased.

It’s pretty reasonable to assume at this point that Martin sent Max west to make Sid an is. I think that adds a pleasant extra layer to Martin’s scorn there. ^_^

But I like the basic idea, so here’s another stab. Uri started off the Second age by excluding the problematic things. Cronos included them again, causing conflict that people were powerless to change. Zeus gave people the power to change, but they were still bound by dharma, preventing them from truly changing. And Siddhartha freed people from dharma, but they’re still subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

That is, even freeing everyone from dharma didn’t prevent them from choosing to do nasty stuff to others. The monster can still come in and wreak havoc with people’s lives, Ii Ma can still suck them out of the reality, and there’s still suffering. It’s not bound to dharma, or appropriateness, or whether one is included in the boundaries of the world; it’s, well, it’s something that if I could identify, I might actually be able to start doing something about it in my daily life. :/

Or perhaps to put it another way, with Uri, suffering was concentrated outside the world. Cronos decentralized the suffering, spread it out over everything in a thin layer controlled by himself. Zeus decentralized the control, spreading it out into each person’s individual dharma. And (and here I’m *really* reaching) Siddhartha broke apart each person’s dharma into the choices and situations that surround them?
— cariset

Not at all sure where to cut this for response. ^_^

Jane tried to make sense of the kingdoms and tyrannies once; her thoughts are found here, in the Tyranny of the Mundane.

She only saw some of it, though, back then.

I’d thought I might spoil what Zeus did in this series, but I guess it’s a bit further out. However, I think it’s fair to say that what he did was very comparable to what Siddhartha did—he took away something that was trapping people.

I think that the suffering is from—


But I don’t think you can free people from hubris.

So there’s this other thing, though, that’s a big big problem.

People think in terms of outcomes but they don’t control outcomes. People judge others based on intentions but they don’t know others’ intentions. People act, in short, like they’re cutting their hair in the mirror—everything they do comes out backwards but they can’t see why.

The why is that the mirror of you only has outcomes, while you only have actions.

So you try to cut on your left action side and you wind up lopping off hair from your right outcome side.

That’s not a thing that saviors can fix either, but they can try.

Like the Buddha.

Or Zeus.

Or Cronos.

Nobody wins, though, at least not yet. They’re in the same bind as everyone else: if they set forth to win, they won’t, but if they don’t, they won’t win either.

That’s why Dukkha is so annoying.

You don’t get to “win.”

You just get to live.

I think I meant by Ophion. Ophion tried to kill Cronos (it’s not entirely clear to me whether intentionally or not) and was locked away; and this was the genesis of his desire to bring the things locked away back into the world.
— David Goldfarb

Intention ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. ^_^

Ophion’s of the siggort sort, not a siggort, you know, but a *problem*.

That said, I don’t think Cronos felt abused.

The perception of abuse requires communication—inferential or otherwise. One of the worst injuries in my life came from someone falling on me when I was in a really bad position to have that happen, but it wasn’t abuse. It feels very different: all the pain, but not the ick!

It would certainly have been there if he’d laughed and told me he’d planned that.

I think this version of Cronos is incapable of perceiving an intentional boundary violation or a coercive use of force in Ophion’s actions, so he isn’t a victim in that sense.

That’s a good-sized entry so I’ll leave it there. Replies to comments from the rest of November next time!


14 thoughts on “Letters Column for November 2006: To Feast on Particulate Suffering

  1. One of the themes of the story is that some things take time. ^_^

    wonder if we got parallels to the book of job here.

    I’m annoyed at American society, and possibly modern society in general, because it tends to have the theory that guilt transforms people into monsters, while non-monsters can’t really do anything bad. I think one of the biggest things this culture needs is the ability to say, “What you did isn’t okay. No more, no less.”

    Yeah, that’s part of the reason i still use the word “dude”. Becuase “that’s not cool, dude” is pretty much the perfect pre-modern expression of that saying, imo.

    I like alot of “dude” sayings, really. Dude is like, the buddha of the modern age. You know it’s true! dudette

  2. Hey, cool, you liked my crazy Greek-Christian myth mashup!

    I do want to note that I wasn’t really suggesting that Jesus is on the throne of the Hitherby world. Rather, I think that in our world, it makes some sense to say that Jesus toppled Zeus from his throne.

    How did I like “The Island of the Centipede”?

    I thought it started out a bit slow. Both Max’s story and the Ink-and-Chronos stuff seemed to go on a little long (Ink especially). Sid’s story was great, though, and it did need Max’s story to build on — and Ink’s story in between to give it some space. The ending was long in coming but really worth the wait.

    I found out something interesting from “Island”: that I have some problems with long stretches of canon. I can vividly remember back when we were getting long stretches of legend, back around the start of Chapter 3, feeling starved for canon entries; and now when we had a month of nothing but canon, I found myself wishing for the unbridled surrealism and whimsy of the legends. So it seems that what I like best is a mix.

    That said, I thoroughly applaud the idea of checking back in with Liril and Micah. It seems that they’ve been hanging out in Elm Hill waiting for Tina and Truth for ages.

  3. I enjoyed The Island of the Centipede a lot (as one poem plus two fanfic should illustrate), but I still don’t think that the Max/Sid story as a whole quite works around the constellation of distinctions between outcome, intention, and action that you refer to. The problems with it, as an illustrative story: Max’s intention may not be known in some absolute sense, but seemed rather clearly expressed in his immediate explanation to Sid; the immediate outcome seems to have matched his intention; his action was a rare example of one that could be viewed as intrinsically rather than conditionally bad (going to Hell and dragging someone with you); Max later repeats the same dragging-someone-with-him action and it’s considered okay (when ignoring intention and outcome would seem to leave no difference); the whole concept of Max dragging Sid with him as crime ignores the principle that you seem to want to establish elsewhere that people aren’t controlled by other people’s outcomes (Sid didn’t have to answer Max’s call to Ii Ma’s domain, he could have just left him there — but of course I think that people in close relationships really are highly affected by each other’s outcomes).

    That only affects The Island of the Centipede tangentially, because the story as you summarize it above is really about Sid’s choice of reaction to Max hurting him, and it doesn’t quite matter for the story exactly how Max hurt him.

    But mostly Max seems to have hurt Sid as a *bad idea*. Max is presented as thinking that a course of action would be best for Sid and for the world, and being really wrong about that. The best analogy that I can think of isn’t rape, it’s discovering that Sid is gay and then guilting him into going to one of those Christian re-education programs that are supposed to convert people to heterosexuality.

    That’s why I persistently interpret this as a story about relationship problems rather than something about individual action, intention, outcome.

  4. Hm.
    Point the first:
    The kindness of my words having been deemed unworthy of thanks, I may only conclude that I have been insufficient in my praise. By way of rectification, I always find your work incredibly intriguing, challenging and thought provoking. I have spent the last two hours(it is now 3:30 AM) perusing the works of Saints Thomas Aquinas and Anselm in order to respond to you on a thematic point in your work. I can think of few, if any, other authors whose work would so readily send me scurrying off into delightful and obscure philosophical nooks. For this, I am deeply grateful.

    Point the second:
    To the extent that I understand you on theodicy: The work is, as I suggested initially, an answer to suffering, rather than an explanation per se– and that while the relationship of good and evil in Hitherby may be inextricably linked (itself a theodicy), the point of the work isn’t exploring the causal and metaphysical relationship between the two so much as the experiential and perceptual link– the way to move past evil and see/reach the good.

    Am I even close?

    Point the third:
    When you discuss the relationship between forgiveness and making-it-ok, I am deeply reminded (by contrast) of the satisfaction theory of sin– but that would only apply in the special case of creator/creation relations, which would only be relevant if this were a theodicy. :)

    Point the fourth:
    There is no hope of monthbooks/chapterbooks any time in the near future, is there?

    I’m going to have to break down and buy a printer, aren’t I?

    That or wait for the Manhwa…

    Point the fifth, directed more to the commenters than the author: Does anyone check Maps anymore? Is there any desire or mechanism to rectify this? The comments section here captures much of the old “Hitherby Dragons” daily forum, but not the “Go Deeper” or “Games” forum, which were at least as interesting. November mentioned something about forum integration back in April?

  5. That said, I thoroughly applaud the idea of checking back in with Liril and Micah. It seems that they’ve been hanging out in Elm Hill waiting for Tina and Truth for ages.

    As long as long neglected absent characters are being mentioned, whatever happened to Sebastein and The Monster?

  6. There is no hope of monthbooks/chapterbooks any time in the near future, is there?

    Hitherby would cost quite a lot as monthbooks. Even without shipping costs, it’d already be something like $400, and Hitherby is only a little past the half-way point. I think that both Rebecca and us would probably do better in a monetary sense if we waited for chapterbooks (or, um, bookbooks) and donated 1/4 of what we would have spent on monthbooks directly.

  7. It is necessary for any world in which people can have desires that conflict, and which does not contain logical contradictions, to contain the possibility that people will experience things they do not want.

    In any world where people actually have conflicting desires (And saying “There’s a world in which people can have conflicting desires but never ever will” is just another way of saying “Conflicting desires are impossible in that world, and also, I am sneaky.”), people will actually have experiences they find to be unpleasant. The degree to which this must occur will depend on how many people occupy that world, and how much their desires and goals conflict.

    If you think that people being able to disagree is a good (And I do, and for that matter I suspect that it’s a requirement for meaningful moral agency, although I don’t have a proof of this that satisfied me ready), then this means that a world must either lack this good, or must contain some level of suffering.

    If the capacity for disagreement is more of a good than the lack of suffering, then on the whole it is better for a world to contain at least a certain amount of suffering.

    That’s my favorite theodicy, or at least, a short summary of it.


  8. For some reason the phrase “2001: A Space Theodicy” is running through my head.

  9. Eric –

    Doesn’t that assume that “experiencing things one does not want” is equivalent to “suffering”? I think there’s another step in between there…

    Personally, I’ve sometimes thought that suffering is the gap between “who we are” and “who we wish we were”, and can generally be helped (in most day-to-day circumstances) by adjusting “who we wish we were” to something more congruent. Which can lead to hero-like problems if one decides to change from “someone who fights monsters and wins” to “someone who fights monsters and tries to win”, for instance…

  10. It just now occurs to me that being “someone who fights suffering and wins” is perfectly compatible with there being a universal characteristic of suffering. It’s like playing whack-a-mole with all the starfish stranded by the sea.

    I’m going to have to think about that…

  11. Cariset:

    Personally, I’ve sometimes thought that suffering is the gap between “who we are” and “who we wish we were”, and can generally be helped (in most day-to-day circumstances) by adjusting “who we wish we were” to something more congruent. Which can lead to hero-like problems if one decides to change from “someone who fights monsters and wins” to “someone who fights monsters and tries to win”, for instance…

    Is this reasonable in Hitherby cosmology, however, bearing in mind that it is Demons who teach acceptance?

  12. This series has been fantastic to read through. Especially Sid’s last words and the description of his smile.

    I also liked the Pope stuff above. *grin*

    As for what might look good in a visual, my suggestion would be scenes from Tara’s ship while it was being attacked or from her attack on the Boss Heap.

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