“ . . . And the Darkness Overcame it Not” — A Guest Post by Alma Boykin

*AKA our very own TXRed.  For those wondering about the sudden number of guest posts — this week and until Monday there will be more than I intend to keep to go on with, but I’m REALLY trying to finish books!  And Alma is always worth it. Give her nice comments and buy her books!*

In the Northern Hemisphere on Earth, this is the season of cold and darkness, as the sun creeps low on the southern horizon and ice begins building while snow becomes a resident instead of a passing guest. For many cultures through the centuries, light-centered festivals helped to bring the sun back and drive the dark and cold away. Human history also shows a pattern of light and darkness, of bright moments and long slogs through the valley of shadow. Yet someone always kept a light burning, someone always looked to the better, brighter time. I see Human Wave stories as part of that long tradition.

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie described the patterns of cold and warm climate that influenced French history as being secular—that is, the cycle repeated but not on a set schedule. The rises and falls of human history are much like that. Chinese dynasties rose and flourished, good times came, then something went astray, the wheels wobbled, chaos spread, and the dynasty collapsed while a new one took its place. The history of the West is very similar. Rome established order and spread culture (and running water, and public toilets, and two common languages [koine Greek and Latin], and heated rooms), then fell apart, allowing northern Europe to sink into what used to be called the Dark Ages.* The climb back up began with Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance, brought us the High Middle Ages with the great Gothic cathedrals and the stabilization of Christendom, and then dropped back into a trough with the Little Ice Age, Hundred Years War, and the Black Death.

Yet people kept working, kept looking up and out. The Renaissance, in its various forms, led to the spread of ideas, as did the Reformation. Life flourished despite the trials and tribulations. Then along came the Seventeenth Century and “whap,” pretty much everyone on the planet endured a hundred years of cold, privation, war, and basic misery. But out of that came the Scottish Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, the rise of technology and the sense that things could get better and were getting better, until optimism peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (after a minor setback in the 1870s.) A second peak followed WWII in the US, before the forces of doom, gloom, socialism, and post-modernism inflicted hair shirts on the rest of us.

Through all of these ups and downs, someone kept the ideals bright. Someone always said, “we can make it better if we try,” and “people have value because they are people, not only because they are kings or abbots.” Human Wave stories tap that tradition and we can be those voices if we try.

It ain’t easy and doesn’t come with instant gratification. One of my great heroes is Alfred of Wessex, the only British monarch called “the Great.” He fought both the Vikings and ignorance, reestablishing schools, stabilizing the church, and establishing lines of defense that helped southern England stay Viking free for the next generation. He looked back to Charlemagne and to Rome, but also tapped Saxon ideas and pushed (as best we can tell) for new technology and organizations. And those ideas and organizations worked, not perfectly, but they worked. And biographers recorded his life, using it as a model and example of what a ruler could do, even when all seemed against him.

Human Wave stories are not about plaster saints or the “hero” as victim. Human Wave history isn’t either, and never has been. If you read saints’ lives, (and not the 1950s Catholic School versions where the proto-saints never set a foot wrong and always helped their parents and cleaned up their rooms and always remind me of “that kid”), you find a whole bunch of really flawed people who somehow managed to get it together and accomplish something. St. Dunstan lost his temper. Ignatius Loyola led troops in a civil war that turned rather uncivil when the French got involved. Saints become saints, and heroes become heroes, despite themselves, and sometimes in spite of (or to spite) their families and societies. The real people of history had warts and “minor” flaws too. The climb back up to the mountaintop has always been a hard and messy slog, even after we invented flush toilets and water purification systems, and the internal combustion engine.

The best of Human Wave lights a beacon. It says, “people matter.” It proclaims, “Some high prices are very much worth paying.” Do we always get a happy ending? 99% of the time we do, but it’s probably not “happily ever after.” Athena gets her Kit, and the basket of kittens that inhabit his brain, and his family, and his home world. Lucius gets Nat, and a whole lot of work and headaches and trying to learn how to raise a bunch of kids and puppies that chew on everything and oh, yeah, there’s still a war on. The prince slays the dragon, wins the princess, and then they get married and, as the traditional German fairy-tale ending puts it, “Unless they’ve died, they’re living still.” But the fight is worth the effort, even though there may still be a few dragons, evil wizards, and potential usurpers lurking in the underbrush. There’s a new pocket of order in a crazy world, a new story of courage and triumph, “a standard where a standard never flew.”

Human Wave distills what Eamon said earlier – that people, especially Americans, clean up the messes and work together to put the pieces back together, and we do it best with minimal meddling from above. Human Wave stories are sparks that ignite the kindling that feeds the flame that lights the bonfire that dispels the cold and darkness. And one bonfire inspires a second, and a third, especially when people are peering into the darkness looking for a sign of something better.

It’s an awful lot to ask of a story, isn’t it? But we never know what stories will stick with people, what will ignite that spark that lights a fire that dries up the Grey Goo or that provides hope in confusing times. Someone always tells the stories. Someone always looks back at what was and ahead at what can be. The village story tellers recounting the adventures of a local noble who fought off some raiders and used bits of old Roman culture in his household could not have imagined that, a thousand years later, King Arthur would combine with the Christianity to produce Courtly Love, the Peace of God, and the ideas of chivalry. We can be those storytellers, and the darkness will overcome us not.

 

*The current academic term is “Late Antiquity.” But if you were one of the people being flooded, frozen, plague-ridden, or overrun by Vandals/Huns/Avars/Magyars/Baiuvari/Saxons or Angles, it was pretty dang dark.

 

 

140 responses to ““ . . . And the Darkness Overcame it Not” — A Guest Post by Alma Boykin

  1. Eh, the reason why the Dark Ages are now called the Dark Ages was the paucity of surviving records. But the evidence points away from the Renaissance’s self-aggrandizing interpretation. For instance, archeology evidence shows there were no major population shifts; there were attacks, but it was not an age of migrations. The Angles and Saxons appear to have been about as numerous as the Normans.

    And there were definitely improvements. The effective end of slavery (for a time), for instance; the miserable lot of a medieval serf was vastly improved on that of the slave. The new plow that rendered much of Europe arable for the first time. Crop rotation. Water mills were not new, but the actual wide-spread use of them was; Romans thought they were a curiosity, and medievals thought they were a replacement for human labor. They also invented or adopted and vastly improved the wind mill.

  2. Interesting post.

  3. Christopher M. Chupik

    I prefer the term “Dark Ages” because it sounds cooler. Shallow, I know.

    • Just this afternoon I was asked whether I had any darks for the laundry and had to demand clarification as to whether the request was for clothing of darker hue (No – already in) or clothing that was turning toward the Dark Side (in which case there’s a pair of undershorts of which I am growing suspicious.)

      Just so do I think of “Dark Ages” as indicating a trend from the relative peace, tranquility and general respect characterizing Middle Ages Europe and toward the Dark Side, characterized by the Renaissance and its associated evils.

  4. Human Wave stories are sparks that ignite the kindling that feeds the flame that lights the bonfire that dispels the cold and darkness. And one bonfire inspires a second, and a third, especially when people are peering into the darkness looking for a sign of something better.

    Out in the wilds of the internet I’ve run across this idea that any sort of positive outlook is propaganda, pointless optimism. Hope is for the weak, reassurance is for children, stand alone and embrace your inevitable doom! This is coming from our side. :-|

    There appears to be this tendency to believe that unless people lose all hope, we cannot correct the course and ‘save ourselves’ or ‘return to our greatness.’ Bleh. I’ve seen people without hope and there was no saving going on, and returns? Well, reversions, maybe.

    Also, stupid masses, ignorant majority and whatever else further in this vein. Many of us pride ourselves on our individuality and independence. We celebrate individualism and the opportunities enshrined in law and culture to explore individualism. And then we lump all ‘opposition’ under one banner, often scrawling stupid across it and go on about the doom and gloom again.

    Grab that quote again: And one bonfire inspires a second, and a third, especially when people are peering into the darkness looking for a sign of something better.

    Our illustrious guest has captured a core idea here, and tracked it back through history. I want to be lighting bonfires. And if that turns out to be rage, rage against the dying of the light, then I’ll take that as a fine last stand.

    And now for the cheer section:
    YAY! WOOHOO! Fine job, madam, very fine. She is known as Texas Red, naturally it’d be great. ;)cheerleaders exit stage left

    • Well, there’s pessimism and pessimism. From G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

      I venture to say that what is bad in the candid friend is simply that he is not candid. He is keeping something back— his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things. He has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help. This is certainly, I think, what makes a certain sort of anti-patriot irritating to healthy citizens. I do not speak (of course) of the anti-patriotism which only irritates feverish stockbrokers and gushing actresses; that is only patriotism speaking plainly. A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it. But there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the man who says, “I am sorry to say we are ruined,” and is not sorry at all. And he may be said, without rhetoric, to be a traitor; for he is using that ugly knowledge which was allowed him to strengthen the army, to discourage people from joining it. Because he is allowed to be pessimistic as a military adviser he is being pessimistic as a recruiting sergeant. Just in the same way the pessimist (who is the cosmic anti-patriot) uses the freedom that life allows to her counsellors to lure away the people from her flag. Granted that he states only facts, it is still essential to know what are his emotions, what is his motive. It may be that twelve hundred men in Tottenham are down with smallpox; but we want to know whether this is stated by some great philosopher who wants to curse the gods, or only by some common clergyman who wants to help the men.

    • I’m glad to finally see a clarification on TXRed’s name. I’ve always leaned towards “Texas Red”, but sometimes I wondered if TXR was an acronym of some sort (having spent some time in amateur radio, some time in telecommunications, and a lot of time in computer science can do that to you), and the name meant that she was TXR’ed, whatever TXR meant…

    • Thank you. *blushes*

      • Careful, I understand the fair complected are susceptible to blush-burn. Though rosy-cheeked for the holidays wouldn’t be all bad.

        And the more gracious: You’re welcome, ma’am. *tips hat*

    • [S]tand alone and embrace your inevitable doom!

      See, that’s why people hate, hate those stupid Indiana Jones movies. Dumb mudderpocker doesn’t know when he’s lost. Same reason people boo those stupid rebels trying to take out the Death Star in that Star Wars movie. Accept your defeat and take the hit like a man, ya’ snivellin’ wuss.

      • Oh come now. They’re a bit busy proclaiming he’s a coward, overcompensating, making others feel bad, and not a real man for not ‘presenting’ as a sniveling wuss.

      • I know it’s the moment in the movie I’m always waiting for: when our intrepid hero realizes all is lost and sits down for a good mope.

        • Wasn’t that what people praised about Gravity? Sandra Bullock’s acceptance of her fate and acquiescence to it? The calm, peaceful recognition of the inevitability of what confronted her and the serene gracefulness with which she resigned herself to her situation was a role model for all of us.

  5. So . . . we didn’t invent the crumbling of civilization? Dang. That’s as bad as having to admit we didn’t invent sex!

    I think we’ve crossed a technological threshold, where despite the appearance of collapse, we don’t backslide in technology. Or maybe it’s always been like that, and I assumed otherwise. But in the Great Depression we (as a whole) didn’t lose automobiles or even airplanes, even when we went hungry and homeless.

    In a future collapse, there maybe blackouts and intermittent internet access. But we’re not going to lose computers. And most likely it’ll be e-commerce and telecommuting and small jobs on line that take the previous iconic place of selling apples on the corner. But once the worst is over and we’re climbing back, I think the freelance e-work will remain.

    • I had an idea for something the other day, prompted by a comment on a post in the Diner, about how today’s youth don’t need to all be able to do the things that we took for granted in the past, but I don’t have the time or expertise to research the subject. Anyone else want it?

      The premise is that we always hear people lamenting that “young people today” don’t have the skillsets we did in our youth, and how that’s going to be the downfall of civilization, and that this lament has probably been going on for centuries, but really, we only need a fairly small minority of people with those skills to keep them alive, and that is why we don’t have to fear the collapse of technology, unless we have a population collapse of Biblical proportions.

      • Hard to have the perspective necessary to judge so many generations.
        As a former Cub/Boy scout leader, I can say that the number of boys who haven’t used hand tools enough to be comfortable using them is amazing.

        But then I can’t tell an edible mushroom from instant death, and why would I need to? (Play Jaws music in background)

        All those boys will get good educations and nice office jobs, right? They can pay someone to do the little things around the house, right? They’ll never need to do emergency repairs after a natural disaster or anything like that. And speaking from their experience, never drop out of college and work McJobs here and there while living with their parents.

        • No mushrooms are edible. It’s just that some are actively poisonous, while the others are merely disgusting.

          • Shush you. I like mushrooms.

          • Saaaraaaaah! Ban the heretic!!!

            • I considered it. But bearcat, he’s not so much a heretic as a poor person deprived of palate. It can’t be helped. (Also, my husband and sons have similar issues — as for me mushrooms are nomnomnomnomnom.)

              • Neither of my boys like mushrooms, either, and wife and I both love them.

              • Sib detests mushrooms. I love them, all kinds, shapes, and flavors. Alas, mom and dad wouldn’t let Sib and I sit side-by-side at the supper table, or we’d have been a lot happier. That is, when we weren’t poking, tapping, kicking, harassing, warting, teasing, pestering . . .

                • I used to distract my (ten years older) brother, then steal whatever I liked from his plate. Failing that I “borrowed” it and paid back in stuff I didn’t like and he did. Uh… you know… I think there’s a reason the man is a trotskeyite.

              • You fools — can’t you see what his cunning plan is? The fewer people who eat mushrooms, the more for him!

            • what’s wrong with mushrooms? why aren’t you glad that there’s more for the rest of us?

              • I dislike the taste & texture. Also, I have philosophical issues with them.

                My big problem, however, is the imposition of them. If they were something I could leave to people who liked them, I wouldn’t understand those people, but more joy to them. Rather, they are almost always in dishes I would otherwise like. I then, will need to either disassemble the food in question, decontaminate and repair it (usually not entirely successfully), and reassemble it (which tends to be impolite); or lie and say I’m not hungry, passing up pizza or homemade pasta for McD drive-through on the way home (again impolite). Both of these leave my usual demeanor possible, but a bit threadbare. I’m more willing to try new things than I was when I was younger, but less willing to keep doing/eating those things over and over because someone tells me I should like them.

        • I have to tell this one. It’s all your fault for giving me the opening to tell it, though… *chuckle*

          Six years ago I was still doing odd jobs for the local indie pro circuit. Mostly this meant riding herd on the new trainees, all of whom had to survive setting up and tearing down the ring before the fun started. We also had a few “special” grunts lent to us by the county, giving their service to the community in penance for whatever naughtiness they got themselves up to. Skillsaw was one of those “special” people.

          His name was not always Skillsaw, nor can I tell you that it remains that still, wherever he has gone. “Idiot” might be what other folk called him, for all I know. The boy could not pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel. Oh, he could work just fine, his mental process was just… slow. So we had him fetching and carrying all day long. Twelve foot boards, ring posts, come-alongs, chain hooks, and so on. It helped that there was someone at the truck to hand him these things as we sent him along.

          Anyways, we’re tightening the cables so the ring has just enough flex to be hammered by three hundred pound behemoths without being too rigid (broken cable can take off limbs at that tension) or too loose (big men fall *through* the boards- bad). One breaks, so we need the spare.

          “Tell Grunt number three to get me another come-along!”

          Off he goes. Work proceeds, and we begin to wonder where he’s got off to, about fifteen minutes later… He comes back with the little circular saw we use to cut boards to fit.

          “Here ya go.”

          Color me dumbfounded. How does one confuse the two?

          “This what you call a come-along?”

          “Sure, my daddy and me use them all the time!”

          *headsmack*

          “Skillsaw, take this ‘come-along’ back and tell Richard to get me a real one, please.”

          Skillsaw’s adventures did not end there, but that’s how he got his name. I can see the current generation, growing up, might actually need some of those basic skills. Or at least find them useful. That’s how I ended up paying off my medical loan, when I needed surgery- simple mechanic work. Not only can it save you a bundle (check how much skilled tradesmen make per hour- say, plumbers), it can *make* a bit when everyone else around you hasn’t got those skills… *grin*

          • One has to wonder, did his daddy (who may likely also have been his uncle) call it a come-along also, or did he just tell Skillsaw, “Gimme that.”

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Well, apparently there’s Egyptian texts where people are complaining that kids today are terrible and that society is going downhill . . . ;-)

      • OTOH, exactly when were those written, and what did Egyptian society look like at the time? There were certainly eras in which it was going downhill, with corruption or lawlessness or both.

        • Well, Egypt did go downhill in the end. And they seem to be close to the bottom still. The scary part is that while there may not be no real total collapses of the whole, there are regional collapses, and if the culture of a region sets on toxic ideals they may not be able to climb out of that collapse for a long, long time. Yes, they get stuff from those parts of the world which are thriving, but their own area just stumbles from one catastrophe to an other, with periods of nothing happening in between – nothing really bad, but no true growth either.

          That is what scares me. I like what West has accomplished, and the ideas, especially the ideas set down in the American revolution, seem pretty solid. Would be a shame if we lost it.

      • I’m pretty sure the first words every spoken translate as “Kids these days…”

  6. Yes, Alma human wave writing is something that could be very important. Every philosophy needs it writers/other entertainers, who also rely on writers sometimes referred to as playwright or script writer, to move it forward. A terrific academic tract may form the foundation of a movement, but it’s the entertainment aspect that will help cement the thing in the eyes of the public. Therefore, I move that we should all take the following Oath of the Human Wave Writer. (A note. I know that Sarah once stated that a person is not a writer until they’ve been published three times. For those of us still struggling, I’m going to widen the definition. A human wave writer is someone who writes human wave. Period. Dot. End of Sentence.)

    I, (state your name) do hereby swear (or affirm if you prefer) the following:

    I am a Human Wave writer. I believe that the human condition is one that is capable of continuous improvement. Dystopia is a nightmare that is not worth writing about.

    I believe in the ability of people to overcome adversity. Life is rough sometimes but my characters will do what they need to do to make things better for themselves and for others.

    I realize that the world is not a Utopia. I will not try to portray it as one. Perfection is unattainable. Making a difference is what counts.

    My purpose is to build up, not tear down. Hatred of others because they make more than me or because they don’t look like I do or belive what I do is not going to improve the world and that is my goal.

    I shall not despair. Things are not as they should be, but my purpose is to help make them better. I will not achieve this if I give up.

    I swear this in front of my fellow human wave writers, so help me (insert deity of choice here.)*.

    *Possible choices include, but are not limited to:

    G-d
    Allah
    Yaweh
    Jehovah
    Zoroaster
    Odin
    Zeus
    Darwin
    Satan
    Flying Spaghetti Monster

    (Ok, so you don’t want to take the oath, and you still want to be a Human Wave writer. Fine. Really. Who am I to tell you what to swear to?)

    • I tend to swear _by_ not to . . . My stuff is anti-despair, but I dunno if it’s really Human Wave, as such.

    • Actually I said you weren’t “professional” until you’d sold your writing three times. That was not my definition, it was SFWAs.
      A writer is someone who writes and works earnestly towards making a living from it. In the new era “published” and “sold” are slippery terms.

      • Well I did sell quite a few short humor pieces to “Men’s” magazines back in the day. As for a good many government documents with my name affixed to the title page, perhaps foisted off is more accurate than sold, however splendidly I was paid for the effort.

      • I stand corrected.

      • By that definition Kafka was no writer.

        Attempts to craft “Rules” (other than of thumb) is how bureaucracies develop. A great part of parenting consists of knowing when to look the other way; I see no reason we cannot adopt the same standard for definitions of writers.

    • Dis Pater seems like a worthwhile god. Even if he later was turned into an underworld deity, something very much like Pluto, he was originally the god of riches, fertile land and underground mineral wealth, and that kind of appeals to me. :)

    • I have to take exception to the ban of dystopia writing: sometimes the setting of collapse of our society makes for interesting yarns, and could stand as a warning as well.

      Indeed, I can think of several Libertarian books that have strong dystopian elements (even if they aren’t strictly dystopian). “The Probability Broach” by L. Neil Smith is one; “Anthem” by Ayn Rand is another; “Alongside Night” by J Neil Schulman is probably one, too (although I haven’t read it, so I can’t say one way or the other whether it’s straight dystopia or not).

      Having said that, I think the key to remember is “Despair is a Sin”. One thing I disliked about “1984″ is that there was this claim that the State is Forever, and there is No Escape…both premises of which I find rather unbelievable. That, and I couldn’t help but imagine ways it might be possible to escape that society, if I were determined enough to do so…

      • There’s dystopian setting and there’s dystopian NOVELS. DST and DSR and more so AFGM have dystopian settings. My characters just refuse to take it.
        1984 is due for a “recut” by Hoyt. Not using the setting because… copyright. BUT close enough, and then I drop a Heinlein character in. (Nods and smiles.) Actually that’s pretty close to The Brave and the Free.

      • Poul Anderson’s “Sam Hall”

      • There are perfectly good stories, even great ones that are not Human wave.

  7. Oops, I almost forgot: For those of us who are Special Snowflakes (and also as a salesperson who knows that people are lazy and you’re more likely to sell books if you do this) where is the link to purchase your fine literature?

    Sale Rule Number One: Make it easy for them to give you their money.

  8. “And one bonfire inspires a second, and a third, especially when people are peering into the darkness looking for a sign of something better.”

    Well, I like bonfires, but what I really want to light is the Beacons of Gondor.

    • I thought that was what she was talking about.

      • I am, but also the watch-fires of the Saxons. The trouble with the fires of Gondor is that (in the film at least) they went outward, calling for aid, rather than announcing that someone was leading the fight and that there was still hope.

        • For leading the fight, you need torches!

          That’s it! Torches and pitchforks against the darkne…

          Oops, got carried away there. :-)

        • Finns had those too. They announced the coming of the Vikings, so the people could get their weapons ready (and may I remind you that ancient Finns did have the habit of beating the Vikings. Only after they got the idea of forming a kingdom while Finns were still obstinately holding on to tribes and clans did they get the better of my ancestors :) ).

          • The English language lacks the words to really describe just how bad an idea it is to invade Finland. Swedish, I’m not so sure about. Russian? Well, if they didn’t, I’m pretty sure they do now…

            The average American has no idea at all about Finland and Finns. All they know is Nokia, and those weird Father Christmas videos on YouTube. Few know who Lauri Torni, or Simo Hayha were, or what they did. Which is why most Americans don’t quite “get” Finland in that context.

            Hell, I’ve known quite a few Finns who are second and third generation here in the US, and they’re still very much the same group of depressive mad bastards many of the native Finns I’ve known are. It’s a weird juxtaposition, but the Finns I’ve met in a military context remind me a lot of the Gurkhas: Pleasant people to have as friends, but quite willing to sneak up on you in the dark and slit throats when you’re not their friends. With very disconcerting enthusiasm, I might add…

            • Everybody should know who Simo Hayha. Oh and Nokia is made in Finland? The first thing I think of when Finland is mentioned is Sako.

              • Hey, no more Nokia from here, unless its rubber boots. There is a new phone making company, Jolla, started by some people from Nokia who got disgusted with the way their previous employer started to do things once that company got from small and nimble to big and playing for safe so let’s see how that will manage. And Rovio with their Angry Birds.

            • Odd that. I didn’t know I was Finnish!

            • I think that the Finns have lost much of those admirable traits. The evidence? Stephen Elop didn’t get his throat slit.

        • But it looked dramatic in the movie.

        • Sounds like we need battle standards. Big flaming battle standards that spell out “Live Free or Die” when you zoom waaaaay back.

          *grin*

    • Bonfires are useful for melting tar, an essential task if you want the feathers to cling properly.

  9. For Texas Red: good post showing your personalty and ethos, and highlighting the blog owner’s intention. Well done.

    For Sarah, writing things that pay is more important ot us as well as you. I wan’t to buy the next books you have coming so I don’t mind missing an original blog post to get what I really need.

  10. Sarah, I’m working on a couple of “guest posts,” if you want them. Unfortunately, time is very limited to actually write. I’d say it was due to the medication load (I was taking the maximum effective dose), but the mental midget pain Dr. has cut ti by 45%, so now pain does it, instead. I see him again on 12/23, so I’m going to try to get it back to where I can function again.(20% functional level, instead of only 10%.)

  11. Well written, Red.
    And, of course, more incentive to do what we can and write faster (and harder, if that’s a thing).