Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Perfection Storm

Horus Rising: Brotherhood In Spiderland (IV)

Lord Commander Eidolon
(copyright unknown)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

There are, in general, three ways by which a Space Marine force can fall to Chaos.  The first is through an external event of sufficient force - a hull breach whilst in the Warp; the finding of some misunderstood daemonic artifact; even a sudden decision by an Inquisitor that an unshakably loyal Chapter has deviated too far from acceptable behaviour, as happened to the Steel Cobras.  The second is through emotional instability, either in their commander or more generally. 

Alternatively, most insidiously, the forces of Chaos have a third option: turn an Astartes philosophy against him.

When we come to discuss in detail the fall of Fulgrim himself, there's little doubt that it was a combination of the first two methods - the second following directly from the first - that actually caused the Primarch to abandon the light of the Emperor (though we note Horus considered him a most likely candidate for rebellion without knowing anything of the events on Laer or the hunt for the Diasporex).  The fall of Emperor's Children as a Legion, though, is somewhat more complicated.  It would be difficult in the extreme to chart the fall of Eidolon and not see his obsession with perfection not being the root cause.

So if we accept the bitter paradox that an army's motivation for the quest for perfection led to them abandoning even the most basic laws of decency, where exactly does the fault in the thinking of the Emperors Children lie?

It cannot be, surely, the desire to strive for perfection.  Taking the entirety of the species into consideration, there can be no human impulse more damaging than deciding we do not need to try any harder; that what we are will suffice. Evil always rises on the backs of people who have decided they're already doing all they can.  No instinct drives us further from our fellow man than the idea that they should do more to accommodate us, because we are already the best we can be.

Such solipsistic laziness should be fought with every fibre of our being, and the Emperor's Children, to their great credit, were well aware of that.  Where the III Legion failed, then, was not their aiming for perfection.  No matter that such a goal is impossible, the attempt to reach it is valuable precisely because the alternative is a selfish, mediocre stasis. The flaw in Fulgrim's approach lay not in asking the question "How does one strive for perfection?", but in its follow-on questions: "What happens when we fail to reach perfection?" and "Who gets to define perfection, anyway?"

There is, as we have argued, no problem with striving for an impossible goal, but this remains true only so long as the inevitable failure is not to be punished.  When one is handing out sanctions for failing to achieve a dream, it causes resentment.  When one hands out those sanctions to oneself in the form of guilt, the situation is much worse.  The human mind is simply not designed to store guilt.  It can only process it into other materials - most commonly anger towards and the blaming of others.  This conversion process practically begs for the subject to find fault in others, and to use those faults as excuses for one's own failures.  Lord Commander Eidolon provides the ultimate example here; a man utterly unable to either accept his own mistakes or to allow his subordinates to own their successes.  The inevitable result of such an approach is to replace an army of comrades with a scrum of individual warriors, for whom battle becomes simply a way to fight against one's comrades for glory and recognition.  It was only ever a matter of time before the Emperor's Children realised this approach would be far more efficient if they were to cut out the middle man.

The second problem comes in how perfection is defined.  One of the principle reasons why perfection lies beyond us is the desperately complicated and intertwined nature of existence.  What is most sensible in one situation is desperately foolish in another. More to the point, many circumstances require complex balancing acts in dozens of different directions.  At such times, it is far from clear that the perfect action even exists, let alone can be recognised.  One can try to do one's best, try to minimise the distance between the resolution one achieves and whatever hypothetical perfect response might exist, but that is all.

The Emperor's Children - and in some ways, the Emperor himself - refused to recognise this. Rather than allow for situations too complicated to allow for the concept of perfection, they instead decided to simplify their worldview to allow a tragically narrow definition of perfection to suffice.  Humans, this argument went, are perfection, ergo aliens are imperfect. Perfection can therefore only be achieved in the shedding of alien blood through human needs.  Even turning the aliens' own weapons against them was to be imperfect, or so Anteus and Eidolon impressed upon Lucius.

It should be obvious that this approach is ultimately counter-productive - a force unwilling to comprehend their enemy is one doomed to be outwitted - but there is a still larger problem. By focusing so completely on the most narrow concerns, the Legion left itself terribly vulnerable to manipulation. Promising superior performance in the few areas the Emperor's Children valued granted one a license to commit almost any crime, as Fabius Bile quickly realised. Fulgrim could have thrown the silver blade into Laeran's seas, and under Bile's administrations the Legion would still ultimately have become unrecognisable, a loose coalition of bickering narcissists competing to see who amongst them could go furthest in altering their bodies to become ever more "perfect" killers.

Fulgrim's mistakes and cupidity caused the Emperor's Children to rebel against their namesake.  Had those mistakes been avoided, it would mean only that Emperor would have had the chance to start the war against them himself.  There was no third possibility, no other alternative the Legion could strive for.  In the final analysis, perfection was simply too important to allow for virtue.


What Was

Now that we've spent three chapters with the Emperor's Children and heard a little of their philosophy, how do they compare with the Luna Wolves?

I'm not sure I can see a difference.  Though it's difficult, because we're only following one guy, who we're probably following specifically because he's so much like Loken. The main difference is they don't have their Primarch with them.

What about their quest for perfection?

What quest for perfection?

You know. Tarvitz has a whole internal monologue about it, and how none of the other Legions understand him and neither do his mates.

I guess I haven't seen any evidence of that outside of Tarvitz himself.

Don't be ridiculous. Lucius always wants to be a better swordsman. Eidolon is working towards being the perfect dick.

Yeah, but I figure Lucius just isn't any use at anything else.  There's only one thing he's good at, so of course he keeps working towards it. Like you and video games. 

I'll ignore that.

Everyone's working towards perfection somehow.

I think that comment demonstrates a commendable but ultimately naive view of the slobby mass of humanity.

Even slobs search for, I don't know, the perfect meal.

That's not bettering themselves, though. That's waiting for someone else to perfect something and give it to them to guzzle.

Or the perfect blossom.


You know. Like in The Last Samurai.  That guy spends his whole life searching for the perfect blossom.  Then, just before he dies, he realises they're all perfect.

You mean he's wasted his life?

Look at what you're writing and say that again.

What Is

How does Lord Commander Eidolon strike you, now he's finally arrived in person?

A massive tool. He can't handle not having the good ideas, so punishes those who do, and he twists the beliefs and faiths of others to benefit himself.  He's a glory-hunter; an arse-kisser.

We need a third one, there.

Does it have to be double-barrelled?

It would help. Lyrically speaking, I mean.

Devious bastard.  That's not really double-barrelled, is it?

It'll work.  The hyphen would be silent anyway.

Eidolon and Captain Anteus both seemed pretty horrified by Lucius fighting with an alien weapon. Lucius ends up agreeing. Do you?

No. Are they always going to forgo potential advances just because they come from xenos?

But what if it came to life and, you know, chopped off his face?

Why would it do that?

I dunno. Aliens, man.

But why would the idea even occur to them?

Healthy racist paranoia?

But it would need to be sentient, right? To aim between the eyes.

I meant it as flowery language, Fliss; I'm not suggesting face recognition software.

So it just goes off at random? How is that worth it?  It might just chop his penis off.

Yeah, there's no way cock-severing would cause any problems.

Abnett mentions there were two consequences to Tarvitz blowing up the spiked trees.  Were either/both obvious to you from the start?

It hadn't occurred to me that he could've used the explosives to draw people together. I thought they'd cut the trees down, not start a bonfire.

What I mean is, isn't an obvious idea to use the charges to attract the attention of the others?

I don't think so.  You're not just announcing yourself to your mates, you're doing it to the enemy, which are a) scary, and b) definitely still alive, unlike your friends.  Still, maybe this is what Astartes do with their dead. Maybe they're too souped-up to burn, so they have to be exploded.  It might even been some kind of posthumous punishment for failing in battle.

I wonder how the Astartes deal with their dead, anyway?  If they have no emotions.

They have some emotions.  Just no fear.

Which means no fear of death.  Would you have funeral rites if you don't fear death?  I think there's an essay in this.

Will you write it?


(Eagle-eyed readers that Fliss hasn't mentioned the sudden disappearance of the shield-storms.  She'll kick herself when she reads the next chapter and/or this post).

Those horrible aliens turn out to have cement mixers, spades, and a clear form of industry, as difficult as it is for humans to understand.  Are you still sure leaving these things alone would have been the best course of action?

I'm still not changing my mind. They're clearly more advanced than 21st century humans, and they don't seem to have any interest in reaching for the stars.

Why do you say 'clearly more advanced'?

Because they can change the weather, and they look like they've got genetic engineering.  They clearly just want to be left alone.

What Will Be

Hooray! Tarik Torgaddon has arrived to help blow things up. But now his Speartip has saved Tarvitz and Lucius, what's the next move for our gallant xenophobes?

They'll have to fight for their lives. Get off the planet, or die trying.

Well, yes, that's the plan. Except that last bit, probably.  But will they succeed?

Not all of them. Hopefully Eidolon will soon be dead. Saul will get off-world. He and Loken will love each other. Or hate each other.  They're too similar for anything in-between.  The Empire had better hope Saul and Sindermann don't get together and start swapping notes. Between Sindermann starting to wonder whether there are higher beings out there somewhere and Saul's descriptions of killer aliens that seem from their description to have been created, it might start causing some scary ripples.

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