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_The Steep Approach to Garbadale_, and a few observations

January 2, 2010

I am working my way toward writing the post I’ve been meaning to, going further with some of the ideas that grew out of (or wouldn’t fit into) the recent Right Lifestyle, or Right Livelihood? post, along with responding to Kaosu‘s and Lindsay‘s comments on it. Also Kaosu’s Activism and Mind/Body Dualism post at the great newish Xenon Apocalypse. 🙂

So many ideas, so little in the way of spoons and keyboard access recently! With any luck, I’ll get that one done within the next few days.

I finished reading Iain BanksThe Steep Approach to Garbadale a couple of days ago. I had mostly read his SF books–published under Iain M. Banks–before this, but would like to pick up more of his non-genre fiction.

A few passages in this one really resonated with me, and express some of the things I’ve been thinking more succinctly than I’d be able to. The first one sums up the frustration and occasional apathy I find falling into far too easy:

What did he really want? What was he really attempting to achieve?…

Why should he know? Nobody else seemed to know, or if they did, they weren’t acting on it in any obviously sensible way. He wanted peace and love and all that shit for the whole fucking world and you’d imagine that sort of stuff would be fairly near the top of everybody’s wish list, but it was all going in the other direction, descending into madness and barbarism, reverting to a mind-numbing, morality-sapping set of cruel, mutually intolerant superstitions and authoritarianisms. Stupidity and viciousness were rewarded, illegality not just tolerated but encouraged, lying profoundly worked, and torture was justified–even lauded. Meanwhile the whole world was warming up, getting ready to drown.

Everybody should know better. Nobody did.

Every fucker was mad, nobody paid any attention whatso-bleeding-ever to whatever was in their best interests, so how the hell was he supposed to be any better or different?

It’s not entirely clear from my selection, but the protagonist, Alban McGill, is also connecting confusion and frustration in his private life with larger (wétiko) societal patterns. Alban eventually reaches similar conclusions to the ones which usually keep me chugging along the best I can:

Some hopes and ambitions were mainfest only as a direction, not a destination. Maybe the trick was to realise you were involved in a process, not aiming at a completely achievable end result, and accept that, but travel hopefully anyway.

The trouble was that so many people seemed to feel a need for certainty, for clear paths leading to set objectives with tickable goalboxes, for the assuredly do-able with guaranteed happiness or fulfillment or enlightenment apparently promised as a result. And so many other people were determined to offer them just those things, through schemes or programmes or sets of rules or institutions or tribalistic, other-exclusing, difference-fearing cliques, but always through some sort of faith: whether it was faith in the person peddling their patent fix or whether it was faith in a full-blown religion or whatever secular belief system had partially replaced such primitive creeds and was currently in vogue–once Marxism, now the market.

Always flocks, always priests.

He shook his head.

Still: to travel hopefully.

Peace is a process. Pretty much all of life is, to the point that it’s fairly hackneyed by now.

BTW, that approach was one of the major things that made Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Beliefs really click with me a few years ago. He presents things in terms of action and process, rather than in terms of precepts. This very different treatment is particularly refreshing if organized Western religion has left a bad enough taste for you. I ran across an excellent post a few days ago, on this sort of conflict: Buddhism and the Category of Religion.

It still gets frustrating, trying to start into some processes, such as peace-making, based in progressive pragmatism when the vast majority of other people you’re dealing with have been taught from the cradle that they need some complex of authoritarian systems with people in charge to dictate the “Right” way of doing things. Finding common ground is harder than it might be otherwise. What can we do besides keep chugging along, though?

To close, here’s another one from The Steep Approach to Garbadale:

I was trying to explain to Tony here that, from where I stand, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam don’t even look like separate religions, just different cults within this one big, mad, misogynistic religion founded by a schizophrenic who heard voices telling him to kill his son. And I do indeed believe in evolution rather than magic. I take a pretty firm line on lightning not being divine thunderbolts, too.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2010 2:07 am

    I’d never heard of Iain Banks before now; he sounds interesting.

    Thanks for bringing him to my attention!

    • urocyon permalink
      January 6, 2010 2:00 pm

      On the SF side, I was going to say that the politics are not so overt, but they’re pretty overt in a different way. His Culture novels show a working anarchist society, and–refreshingly–he’s not dragging the same old colonialism into space, as a given. When it does show up, the contrast to sane and reasonable behavior is fairly clear. 🙂

      For all that, they’re not heavy-handed, and that’s just kind of an extra draw for me.

      Looking at Banks’s website when I wrote this post, it does at least look like his latest book was published in the US too. They only seem to be up to the mid-’90s releasing his older titles on the US market, but hopefully they’ll catch up before too long.

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