January 17, 2010

Gobble-god in Tepper's Beauty

Here's a fantasy novel with a message about our cultural values:

Beauty (Spectra special editions) (Paperback)In this novel by renowned author Sheri S. Tepper, one woman--a young fifteenth century noble, Beauty by name--finds that she is a pivotal character in a number of familiar fairy stories as she haplessly travels through the past and future, and lands real and imagined, on her way to a bizarre destiny.Beauty comes from the pastoral countryside of medieval Europe. Other than living in a castle, she has little or no contact with mechanical technology. Her simple lifestyle, her appreciation of the people and the land, makes her values akin to traditional Native values.

When she's exposed to the horrors of the near future, learns what her civilization has become, here's how she describes it:We have been thwarted at every turn by god. Not the real God. A false one which has been set up by man to expedite his destruction of the earth. He is the gobble-god who bids fair to swallow everything in the name of a totally selfish humanity. His ten commandments are me first (let me live as I please), humans first (let all other living things die for my benefit), sperm first (no birth control), birth first (no abortions), males first (no women's rights), my culture/tribe/language/religion first (separatism/terrorism), my race first (no human rights), my politics first (lousy liberals/rotten reactionaries), my country first (wave the flag, the flag, the flag), and, above all, profit first.

We worship the gobble-god. We burn forests in his name. We kill whales and dolphins in his name. We pave prairies in his name. We have retarded babies in his name. We sell drugs in his name. We set bombs in his name. We worship him everywhere. We call him by different titles and commit blasphemies in the name of worship.

We were given magic to use in creating wonder, and the gobble-god has sucked it dry. His followers reject mystery and madness and marvel. They cannot tolerate questions. They can believe any answer, no matter how false, so long as it is a certainty nailed firmly onto the cross of money. They yearned for the rapture to come, without knowing they have killed rapture forever. (pgs. 320-21)
Comment:  I think this is an excellent summary of the dark side of Western civilization. The values expressed here contrast markedly with traditional Native values: putting the community first, preserving the natural environment, thinking seven generations ahead.

Sure, Natives burned forests and killed whales. But they didn't do it greedily or gleefully, because God ordered them to go forth and multiply. For instance, they were generally apologetic about killing animals, humbly thanking the Creator for the gift.

I trust it's obvious that I'm generalizing about Western and indigenous cultures. Please don't waste my time responding that not all Western practices were bad and not all indigenous practices were good. I already understood the point, decades ago, which is why I'm making general statements, not absolute ones. In case you hadn't heard, exceptions don't disprove the rule, they prove it.

Anyway, this theme is only one of many in Beauty. My reaction to the book is similar to this reviewer's:As a novel, Beauty is all over the place, and I think it suffers from attempting too much at once. Tepper's grasp of her themes is uneven and I doubt all of the book will be to anyone's liking. ... I'm not sure I'd recommend this one, but I didn't regret reading it.Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.

For more on the subject, see Hercules vs. Coyote:  Native and Euro-American Beliefs and The Best Indian Books.