Matt Perryman

Is there any point to writing online anymore?

By Matt Perryman

Word has it that J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, didn’t care for Frank Herbert’s Dune.

“How could that be when these are two classics of nerd-dom?” shrieks a soyjak on reddit.

I don’t know Tolkien’s precise reasons, but I can take a quick stab at it. Fantastic a tale as it may be, Dune is a postmodern adventure into the deconstruction of individuality and meaning.

There is no joy or happiness in Dune. Religion, faith, hope, any form of higher meaning beyond this life, is unmasked as an illusion, somebody else’s thousand-year breeding program, or a straight-up manipulation by some unseen drugged-up mastermind lurking in the future.

The message of Dune is that the individual does not matter. The desert planet with its raging storms, total absence of water, and of course the sandworms, has more agency than any of its human characters.

The human individual is no more than the hands and eyes of forces that work in us and through us.

Frank Herbert was no nihilist. There is hope in Dune. It won’t be found in the traditional Hero, who is a man of action and the prophesized Messiah.

The hope of Dune is salvation by sheer survival of the species.

Which is a big clue to what Tolkien didn’t like.

His stories reveal a fundamentally different worldview. There are heroes in Middle-earth. There is courage and hope. There’s the small pleasures of home, family, friends, and good food.

And sometimes, small good can win against great evil.

What’s so interesting is that you’d find the two men agreeing on a great deal of substance.

Neither Tolkien nor Herbert would have much time for our present obsession with machines doing the thinking for us.

Dune’s lore tells of a jihad against the machines that thought like men and proved a threat to our continued existence. The great enemy in Lord of the Rings is a dark lord who operates suspiciously like a magic-powered industrialist seeking to impose his vision of order.

They both saw dangers there.

And here we are a few decades later with frictionless technologies that we keep in our pockets. They require no effort from us. They don’t engage thought or emotion. They transform us into passive consumers.

Many people aren’t thinking, or even feeling, for themselves now. They let the machines do it for them.

Why think when there’s an algorithm to do the cognitive labor of researching, reading, interpreting, and drawing conclusions? What should you feel? Whatever outrage meme is spreading in Tick-Tock today.

It’s a bigger problem than the phones, what with the way that such creations as the law and the economy are now machine-like entities that rule over us in ways hard to see. So much of life now is unthinking and mechanical.

It makes me ask myself if there’s any point in writing at all. Who is going to read a 600 word mini-article on the ideas behind Dune and Lord of the Rings?

Then I realize, that’s the wrong question. This is my daily writing practice. When I sit here and type this out, I’m engaging my mind and being most un-mechanical.

It’s benevolent self-interest on my part.

You read it and absorb whatever you get from it, and maybe you do think a little bit before you head back to the machine.

Matt Perryman

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