Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pride Before The Fall

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (I)

Lucius (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Captain Lucius of the Emperor's Children. Lucius the Eternal.  Lucius the damned. Is there any other Astartes in the 31st Millennium whom can claim a poorer reason for having turned traitor?  For Lucius there was no active attempt to persuade the galaxy needed rebellion, no divided loyalty between Emperor and Primarch, not even the utterly unedifying but ultimately understandable urge to follow the Warmaster once the virus bombs had been unleashed and stepping out of line became something clearly pointless and punishable by death.  Even Erebus and his fellow Word Bearers could claim religious revelation forced their hands.

Lucius changed sides because he wanted more people to tell him how wonderful he was.

But there is great danger in simply dismissing Lucius as uniquely depraved and moving on. As always in such cases, whilst our subject might represent the far end of the bell curve of human behaviour, trying to separate him fully from that curve risks obscuring the fact that many others could be near as bad, or become near as bad. We comfort ourselves by demonising Lucius (and yes, we are aware of the irony in using that term) when we should be tracing the route his humanity took to lead him to so such extremes.

The first area to consider here is in how Lucius differed from his fellow Astartes. Astartes, remember, are generalists. Even the most lethal sharp-shooter in a Legion is expected to excel with the chainsword. The best tank commander in a battle group still needs to know how to pull ion a jump-pack,  Lucius showed no interest in this wide-ranging approach to combat preparation, however. Mastering his power sword was the only aspect of warfare in which he took interest. This is far from the approach expected of Astartes. Indeed, ironic as it given his ultimate fate as a champion of Slaanesh, Lucius' obsession resembles nothing so much as that of an Eldar Exarch.

It is no easy task for the human mind to grasp what motivates the Eldar, of course. It is difficult then to be certain how Lucius' approach led to such different results to that of those unable to abandon the Path of the Warrior. The most simplistic suggestion would be that Exarchs are protected from Slaanesh primarily by their full and horrible knowledge of what the Prince of Deceit represents. There are other explanations, however. Perhaps the most likely amongst them is that this is all a question of pride.

Strange as it might seem in this dark time, when the defenders of humanity and general and the Adeptus Astartes in particular can barely walk ten paces without announcing how proud they are of their responsibility and ability to destroy the enemies of mankind, but there was a time when pride was considered a serious flaw. It's not hard to understand why; take pride too far, and you reach levels of superiority within which you begin to stop seeing others as worth what you are. Fifty thousand years of recorded history has shown us how that works out, however patchy those records are.

A galaxy without pride is its own problem, of course; there needs to be some motivator to continual improvement. For the Eldar this is the mastery of themselves, and the furtherance of their race - or at least, those are the most palatable aspects of Eldar pride, there are many others far less laudable. What's key here is that we recognise what we take pride on is simply part of larger concerns. The balancing act is in ensuring we take pride in those areas in which we work hard and excel, without devaluing the areas in which we fail to impress. Lucius' failing was not necessarily in valuing his own duelling ability (though of course there is a long way to walk from taking pride in your skills and narcissistic personality disorder), but in finding nothing of worth in the actions of anyone else.

This is what caught out Lucius. The actual utility of his skill at arms became completely forgotten in his drive to become better. The aims of the Great Crusade became utterly irrelevant so long as it afforded a chance for him to swing his sword arm. But then, this can hardly be considered a surprise.  There can be little doubt that Lucius is suffering from a fairly classic case of narcissistic personality disorder. It is shielded from sight only by Lucius' deliberate scarring of his own face, which rather violates the central manifestation of the condition as it generally manifests. Narcissists are not necessarily obsessed with their looks, however; a driving need for power or prestige falls in the same category.

It is worth it at this point to consider the most common symptoms associated with the disorder, according to the most up-to-date information available from Imperial physikers:
  • Expects recognition of superiority, irrespective of their actual accomplishments;
  • Expects to be constantly admired and complimented;
  • Envies others and assumes they envy him/her;
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of great success;
  • Cannot empathise;
  • Is arrogant;
  • Expects special treatment that is unrealistic.
At the barest minimum, five of these parallel Luicus' nature perfectly, and those that don't only fail to completely match because Lucius really is at least approximately as good as he thinks he is.

But does this remote diagnosis, hundreds of light years and thousands of years from the patient in question, allow us to feel any sympathy for Lucius? If, indeed, he was suffering from a disorder, does that mitigate the horror of what he did on Istvaan III? Alas, surely not.  Even if we were to forgive Lucius' self-absorption and truculence and his inability to follow the orders of his superior in accordance with the fundamental rules of the armed force he volunteered to join, his obsession with receiving due respect for his skill with a sword and receiving command because of it had an obvious route available to him: challenge Tarvitz for command via a sword fight. I'd hope we can at least agree that if one's personality disorder drives you to try and oust your superior, you should do it for the reasons your disorder fixates on, using the methods your disorder insists you excel in.  Condemning thousands to death because it might keep you alive longer is grotesque cowardice whatever your motivation up to that point.

Like every other narcissist, diagnosable or not, Lucius is a past master at deciding what he wants and spinning justifications around them later. We should not feel compelled to play that game. No-one should require that our heroes be good company, or always willing to fall in line immediately, or even be in any way tolerable at all. And what would it even mean to demand psychological "normalcy" from those we genetically alter to run screaming towards towering greenskins, indestructible automatons, or gibbering daemons?

But let's at least demand those that want to be seen as better show themselves to be better. There is no limit to the problems mankind suffers from we could curb or even eradicate, if only that one rule could be followed.  It's not a likely scenario - man's self-obsession and omnidirectional bitterness is probably more eternal than Lucius himself is.  But it's something to aim for.

And in the end, what we've aimed for is the only thing that will matter at all.


(Bit of a short one this week, what with this chapter consisting almost entirely of Lucius being in a fight, then betraying Tarvitz. More next week, I hope.)

What Was

If the Emperor was so utterly dead set against religion, why do the Emperor's Children have chaplains?

Maybe it's just a title.

They must do something, though. They get black armour. No-one else gets black armour. Well, the Raven Guard and the Iron Hands. And the Dark Angels.  And Abaddon's mob. But not the Emperor' Children.

Perhaps they bury the dead.

And say what? "We're all super bummed out Frank is dead, but let's remember that the idea there's a soul is laughable and he clearly was just meat that's stopped moving now." I can just about see how you could have people charged with the spiritual well-being of atheists-

Or their mental well-being, like psychiatrists.

-Or that, yes, but when I think of someone flying around in space offering comfort devoid of religious trappings, you know who comes to mind? Counsellor Troi. Not really the sort of person you'd think would fit in with battle-crazed Astartes.

She got on fine with Klingons.

With Worf, maybe.  He might have talked a good game, but he hardly ever killed anyone.

"Hardly ever killed anyone".

I'm serious.  The dude is famous for failing to kill people.  There's entire Youtube videos dedicated to it.

He must have occasionally killed someone.

I must check this immediately!  There must be an answer to hand; this is the internet.  A-ha! According to this, he managed precisely 22 kills during TNG, but of those only 14 were a) deliberate, b) done when he could see his foe, c) something actually alive rather than a hologram, and d) not done whilst he was mutated in that freaking ridiculous episode where Murdock turned into a spider.  Also, only four of those 14 weren't Borg drones.

But how many kills did the rest of the cast manage?

That's not important.  The point is that any given Emperor's Child could crank out four brutal murders before their first coffee. Troi would be vomiting in horror before she could say "He's hiding something".

I'd have a thought a Chaplain's job would be covered by Sindermann and his mates, anyway.

Good point. But maybe that's what the Chaplains are. Remembrancers for Astartes.  Following the other Astartes around in battle and saying "Ouch; that looks like it must hurt.  Hope it hasn't made you believe in God."

Maybe they just knock heads on new worlds until all the religion falls out?

Ah maybe. I think that was mentioned in False Gods, actually. So this whole discussion has been pointless, even by our standards. Sorry.

What Is

I'm not sure there's much point talking about anything this week other than Lucius.  I know you're not surprised by his betrayal, but was it inevitable? Was there anything Tarvitz or Loken could have done to forestall or prevent it?  And can we have any sympathy for Lucius at all?

Ah.  Lucius.

Also known as "Lucius the dick".

Not by everyone.

Really? There's the people who think he's betrayed them, and the people he's about to betray.  I don't see many people who are going to put their cross in the "non-dick" box.

Fair point. Tarvitz is definitely about to end his undecided streak, at least.

Is there any way Tarvitz could have headed this off at the pass?

I don't think so.

Even if he gave Lucius command?

No. First of all, Lucius essentially already has command; I don't even know what Tarvitz is doing. 

Liaising, I think. But yeah, it's far from clear.

And second of all, you yourself said "give" Lucius command.  Lucius doesn't want that.  It'll just piss him off even more.

True. Even if Tarvitz spun some BS about how Lucius clearly deserved it more and Tarvitz had no right to give orders, I think Lucius would still sulk about it.

Plus, it's not like Lucius couldn't have challenged Tarvitz for command directly, instead of all the passive-aggressive moaning, 

So no sympathy for Lucius at all, then?

If I do have any, it's only because something has clearly got in his head after that fight with the Warsinger.

I think you mean Vardus Praal.

Whatever.  It might even be that Eidolon sent Lucius down there to take hold of whatever powers Praal had.

That's a cool idea, though of course even if Eidolon is directly responsible for what's gotten into Lucius, that only works as an excuse for the final few steps of Lucius' long sachet into the realm of Unconscionable Dickitude.

Actually, what I'd really like would be if Lucius is actually planning on attempting an assassination.

You mean a double-double-cross?

Basically.  He might want to get close to Horus so he can try and kill him, and get the Warmaster's rank in the process.

That's a lovely idea, though it doesn't fit in with that line about Lucius (briefly) feeling guilty about what he's about to do.

Maybe he really is going to hand over Tarvitz, though, to strengthen the deception.

Maybe. Or maybe he has narcissistic personality disorder. I figured that out when writing the other half of this post, and found the seven classic signs.

How many does Lucius fit?

Between five and seven, depending on how you look at it.

And how many do you fit?

How dare you! Absolutely no more than, er, six.  Probably. It might be seven.

(I couldn't really admit to this it in the top half of this post, but I'm indebted to Wikipedia for information about narcissistic personality disorder).

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