Hello again from the Barsoomian demographer. This time I’ve decided to attack the more complicated than thought subject of the psycho-sociologic substratum of the Barsomian society. I’ve had these months long discussions with Den Valdron on the subject, sometimes agreeing and sometimes not. But the discussions have always been constructive.
To be honest, everything departed from the fan fiction that completes the cycle written by ERB. Though loving the poems, the novels and other works like Den's Torakar - and even declaring it to be "the Barsoomian Bilitis" - I must admit these works were making me a bit uncomfortable: the Barsoomians had begun to look increasingly, well, terrestrial.
I totally agree with Den that the inhabitants of Barsoom are of Terrestrial origin and therefore they must have a human nature. And therefore to be very similar to us, as by the way the novels themselves show them. Besides, the said novels have their own increasingly complex and refined vision of the matter, not being all the time as simplistic as one tends to believe at first view. Also, ERB is our “Master” in this universe of his, but by no means a prophet or something, and we the analysts of his Opus have all showed that there are errors and shortcomings here and there. He was also a man of his age, with taboos and old conventions and stuff.
After all these considerations, it would be easy to wash one’s hands and turn Barsoom into a more exotic sort of Earth. It is what most of the works of fanfic do: we see them picturing a society that is increasingly like ours - or like some sort of Victorian one, with both rituals and transgressions, and so on. Barsoomians get drinks, sex, drugs, rock’n-cymbals, divorces, same-sex etc.
I’ve had discussions with Den, as I’ve said above, and talked about how “realistic” this thing can get, considering ERB’s vision as sublimated and idealistic. He started to convince me of his points and I was tempted to give in, especially since I’m not such a big idealist myself, I love ERB without worshipping his opus, and I sort of fancy a more “naughtier” vision of Barsoom.
But then I had a revelation. The whole point of writing essays and analysis like Den’s, or mine, or Johnson’s, is the fact of proving the unbelievable aspects of the opus to be somehow possible! That’s what Den has always done! Just look at his incredible pains and skills mobilized to prove the fact the Barsoomian languages have a substance! Or his reconstruction of Eurobus! Or more recently, his analysis of Barsoomian oviparity!
So I’ve decided to change my optics: instead of finding reasons for the Barsoomians to be similar to us, I took upon me to find reasons why they can’t be like us. I have to prove that they can be as ERB described them without seeming irrealistic.
So, let’s see. Why wouldn’t they be like us? Let’s spread on the sheet the basic facts:
- They inhabit a dying ecosystem, and know it.
- They are telepathic.
- They come forth almost adolescents, from eggs, after years of gestation.
- They are very long-lived.
- They are the products of incredibly long and stable cultures, and are surrounded by long-lasting items and customs.
The dying ecosystem
It is said somewhere in the books that the planet is a place of great silences, every thing alive feeling the coming of the close doom. It is said that even the birds don’t sing upon Barsoom. It logically follows that the humans must be a bit into the melancholia as well. And a melancholic state of mind doesn’t make one a very merry character. There are some for whom the closeness of death induces excessive behavior, but in general, the most encountered attitude in such a case is a sort of apathy. Especially if the death is long to come, as in a long illness or extreme old age. And if we have to do with a martial society, it is likely that the dominant state of mind would be a sort of melancholic Zen.
Of course, the Barsoomians are not depicted as gloomy at all. ERB seems to overlook this aspect and describes a quite lively and dynamic society. He even mentions the chatting of the people, apparently forgetting they are supposed to be telepathic and to talk only by bits. But he also says about their music that it is quite minimalist and stately, not unlike the traditional Japanese one, I assume. And there definitely is a certain “amor fati” attitude, that pervades all along the cycle.
The Barsoomians are reported to be mildly telepathic. Enough to pass the simple states of mind without words. And enough, also, to make big lies quasi-impossible. One might lie by omission or hiding, but not by telling into someone’s face something complicately false. Can an Earthling imagine this? There we have a huge excuse for the Barsoomians to be simple and direct like big kids: there’s simply no room to manoeuver one’s mind into increasingly complex patterns of hiding and masking thoughts, and even less so into interracting with other minds according to the same schema. Do you readers remember some of the great novels of litterature, whether French or Russian, written in the period between the1800s and the early 1900s? Except Proust, or maybe somehow the authors of Rocambole or Arsene Lupin, there’s none left from all these authors to match the standards of cunningness of our generation. We lie and manipulate as we breathe. All the likings of Balzac, Wilde and co. seem childish to us or, at most, witty but not phenomenal. All this because the society has become much more complex and changing. Simplicity of living means a bigger purity of mind and soul, it’s a fact. Not necessarily virtue, but purity. Even vices are “simpler” in such a case. When you are compelled to let all your cards show, you just can’t get very refined. Especially if you and everybody around are born like that and none has ever known or heard of a different situation.
Now, we see exceptions to this: the Therns or the priests of Tur tell a lot of lies, for eons, and apparently no one detects them until JC comes up. These facts just can’t be explained and are obviously a limit of ERB’s capability of imagining a world of telepaths or maybe more so, of inventing adventures and surprises in such a world. . . .
Anyway, telepathy also goes, normally, as a sort of censorship to everyone’s temptations: it is likely that not only individuals but also collectivities exchange thoughts. Even upon our orb, there definitely is such thing as the ethos of each community. A lot of people conform to ethnic or cultural stereotypes just because of the peer pressure or the desire to enforce the image of the group. Now let’s imagine how could one possibly be a non conformist if the ethos of his group was an actual voice and psychic entity, and was all the time whispering in his brain: “doooooonnn’t doooo thaaaaat… dooooo ooonnnlllyyy thiiiiissss…” Don’t we see all along the books the entire population mobilizing itself in a moment at the appeal of the chief? And the quasi-worsphipping of the named chief? It is clear that there has to be a sort of telepathic emulation pervading the spirits.
Now that I think about it, it seems quite fair to assume that the Barsoomian agoraphobia is also explainable by the group telepathy. For the ones of you that haven’t read my essay on demography and economy (ERBzine 1518), I said somewhere in it that the existence of so many unknown areas upon a world much smaller than ours and which knows the art of flying for ages cannot be explained otherwise than by a gigantic agoraphobia that stops most people from quitting the populated areas and exploring the wilderness. Now that I’ve delved a bit more on the question of the telepathy, I realize that the amount of it generated by the social body of each nation must exert a strong influence upon each individual component of it, subliminally forcing him to feel so connected to the general body that it inhibates a good part of the individualistic instincts and temptations like the one to quit or get far from the social body of one’s birth and have adventures that are rewarding for the individual but inefficient for the nation. After all, the beings of the planet are wired on the ideea of survival, or “post catastrophic traumatic stress” as Den describes it. So it would be only natural for the situation to be just like that.
It’s by no accident that I’ve put this aspect in the succession of the one above. In fact sitting in an egg for years, in the middle of a society of telepaths, really doesn’t help future non-conformity. An adult still can counterract the influence of the social body around him by the exercise of his autonomy. But a quasi-comatose closeted being, totally passive, bathing for years in the ethos of the people around him, what are the odds for him to refuse the conformity once he’s out of his shell? He’s been pre-formed by the surrounding telepathy without ever answering back.
The egg-laying has another result: there’s far less interraction with the parents, the most tender years of the kid being invisible to them, and his most helpless period being very sheltered and unaware of any exterior danger for him. The young feels their thoughts and feelings but since there’s no direct contact of any kind, their relation can be only schematic. I suspect the family relations in general to be relatively superficial, at least when compared to ours. Far less emotion by the force of things. True, the same telepathy could make emotion pass easier. Could also account for the generally quick time in which most appear to fall in love. But nevertheless nothing beats cuddling, babbling-listening, playing with a small kid and serving him in his total helplessness for years upon years. The absence of this must be a part of the reason why so many gladly go to war, upon Barsoom: many of our pacifists are as such because they can’t stand the idea of risking the lives of their kids. Or, upon Barsoom, the investment of feelings, emotion and time in a kid is minimal.
Long life… and a bit on love
Can long life have an effect of enforcing conformism? I’d say yes. One is non-conformist especially if he has the haunting idea that life is really short, that it soon fades and that it must be lived fast and furiously. But we talked already of the likely Zen dominant state of mind and its reasons to be so. And long life must add a lot to the halcyonic mentality.
In addition to the much smaller fear of death and time passing, one should add telepathy to the study – although we’ve already touched the subject. But we have to come back to it since we are about to talk love here. What is love? Well, part instinct, part gregariousness, part fear of death, part pousuit of pleasure, part fascination with the other…etc.
How gregarious can be a telepath who is solidly integrated to his social body by principle? He’s very likely to take his integration for natural, granted etc. He’s very social but without being conscious of it. Den Valdron, in some of our discussions, pointed on the British society of the Georgian and Victorian times to show that a repressed and conservative society could have surprisingly liberal behaviors. And he was right. Except, Barsoomians could not be British, not in a million years… To them total and simple openness is natural, the opposite is almost unseen. For the Brits it’s the opposite that functions.
How vulnerable to fascination can be a telepath? Little, very little.
How fearful of death one who lives young for millenia? Not much.
You see where I’m heading. There definitely is love upon Barsoom, but Anna Karenina or La Dame aux Camelias are very unlikely. Same for Maurois’ Climates. . .
Everything Barsoomains do is -- has to be -- simple, tonic, naturalistic, straightforward, and in 99% of cases, open and honest. Misunderstandings must be simple and easy to overcome – which we see in the books, in fact.
This being said, this one argument is offset big deal by the assassinations. Much more than by the wars, I’d say. Wars appear to be ritualized and very honorable collective duels, mostly. I have my doubts about how many actually die in most of them. Murder is another matter: in Chessmen, we learn that one average day seven people are killed in Helium. That’s around 4500 a year and 4.5 million in a lifetime. This happens in a population of less than 3 million as I have shown in my essay on the demography. This means that in a given population there must be a huge percentage of all people that die murdered – more than half of any age cohort. Now, one could wonder how on Mars could a world of telepaths develop such an industry of murder, for obvious reasons: one could not normally approach another without letting slip at least part of his dark intentions. That’s another weakness of ERB.
It could seem odd that, in general, the main vice of the Barsoomians seems to be the super-implusive violence. Barsoomians seem to have the mentality of pre-adolescents, as a rule: the kind not yet sexed or excessive, but very full of violence and of bravado before death. Even the characters who are willing to commit rape seem to be more driven by impulsive aggression instinct rather than by lust: see the prince of Dusar and Thuvia, he switches easy from desiring her to wanting to eliminate her. Speaking of Thuvia, after Iss-knows how many years as slave of the perverted Therns, in the next novel she’s still defined as "maid" - or, being a princess, the floor-mopping is totally excluded. In Gods she doesn’t seem to say anything about being pervertly defiled: she says the Therns tried to corrupt her and following her refusal they threw her to the banths. Or let’s exemplify Thuvia again, being suddenly desired by Tario, as suddenly stabbing him, and him very quickly sending her to Komal, between two laughs. Again and again do we see the same pattern: violence and blood-lust seeming to supersede the sexual lust – including among the females, quite much so. Why do they all try to stab their stalkers already at the first delict, especially since we know that men seldom kill women? Very “unsexed-but-violent-adolescent” type of behavior, for both sexes. JC, who is quite an eternal adolescent himself, feels at home upon Barsoom.
It is obvious that industrial-scale assassination isn’t part of any cult comparable to the one of the Kali devotees of India. It’s not stated anywhere and it’s not even implied, or so. I have my guess that super-violence must be linked to the telepathic pressure, somehow. What if violence is a rebellion to an otherwise too well-policed state of mind? Think about it: martial life and Zen-like telepathically inforced conformity and xenophobia for 1000 years, respect for hyerarchies, pure marriage at 50 – equivalent for us to marry at 4 – pure monogamy, etc. At times, each one individual should have the urge to kill someone. . . . That might be a reason for everybody to be so tolerant of the phenomenon of mass scale murder. . . Is it a sort of institutionalized rebellion, tolerated because it doesn’t threaten the socio-political order? And why it's exactly JC – far from being a lamb himself – the one who doesn’t accept it as a fact of Barsoomian life? Maybe the fact that he isn’t permeable to the general telepathy has something to do with it. . . .
Speaking of ritualized violence, let’s talk a bit about the politicized and almost divinized obsession that the state of Manator seems to have with human Jetan: it is said that the event is the main one there, and in the palace you see the game represented everywhere in painting and sculptures. I think Manator doesn’t have much war going on, its existence being secret and its expeditions being destined to capturing not killing people, besides duels must be rare also since a mass-slave society can’t afford enmity between the masters; and its cult of mummies seems to stress on its very localist and communionist mentality (dead and living, altogether under the sun in sweet familiar communion). They seem to have a strong cult of the state (“just are the laws of Manator”) and of present order (the importance of the Jeddak) to the point of skipping even the Iss-cult (even though acknowledging it) together with the exterior world. And to the point of fearing the afterworld as malevolent (corphals). So the griefs between the citizens and the slaves, or the ones among the citizens, must be solved ritually before the eyes of the whole social body. From whence come the importance of arena-played Jetan.
There’s a whole work on Manatorian religion and mentality, but the synopsis above just serves to make a point: the case described here only illustrates how direct are the links between culture and violence upon Barsoom. And how violence dictates and defines everything.
The stable culture
The Barsoomians are, to a certain extent, a bit spoiled: except for violence they don’t have much to fear. They live long healthy and youthful lives, in very stable and well-furnished environments. And don’t we see, even here upon Jasoom, many brats doing all sorts of crazy extreme sports – or vices – just to feel life? Maybe a part of the general bravado comes from this state of affairs.
A little discussion about the exceptions to the Barsoomian standards
We talked already of the rapists and have seen that they aren’t that different from the norm after all. What about quasi-sociopaths like Ras Thavas or unchivalric Therns or Black Pirates? These are hidden, isolated cases, twisted by their predatory and self-important image. I’m ready to bet their telepathic communion with the rest of the world is very reduced.
What about marginals like the wandering panthans? Or outlaws, runaways, savages etc. Well their mobility and distance from their original place might help them to develop personnalities much more complex than the average. Den Valdron’s Torakar might exist in such spheres, why not? But are these many? Highly unlikely. What polity would let go many able people, in a world obsessed with war? Ready to assume that people like the panthans must be quite few when compared to the whole population, and are more likely to migrate on long distances once a rumor of war comes from a certain place, thanks to their fliers.
As a general rule, among the quite crudely defined Barsoomians, the exceptions seem to be even grosser. The bad guys seem to have all the defects upon Barsoom, or severe inbalances. A fault in the telepathic conformism? I bet so.
What conclusion can we draw to all this?
The Barsoomians can be very well exactly how ERB described them, and yet once we psychanalyze them a bit, we see their simplicity doesn’t seem that pure anymore. . . So maybe they are very realistic after all, in their own way. . .
They make me think of certain of our computer-geeks, somehow. Sure, Barsoom ignores 99% of the electronics. And unlike our geeks, they really hack people, not just pixels. But nevertheless, telepathy must have upon Barsoomians a similar effect to the overuse of the Internet by some of our nerds. Too easy shallow communication kills true communication. We communicate more and more through screen and yet once we are face-to-face we block.
Barsoomians exchange emotions and simple notions through telepathy, But they don’t discuss Hegel by the same means. Nor Proust. It all looks as if this easiness they have to exchange elementary things has made elementary personnalities out of them. Not shallow people, but elementary people. They are not sociopaths, in general, since the telepathy allows the exchange of emotions, which makes the communication and the integration and intercourse much easier than for us Jasoomians. But easy flow of information definitely doesn’t make one a Tolstoian character. It makes one eternal violent not-very-sexed adolescent.
Which is what most Barsoomians appear to be.
Barsoom Analysis Part I: Demography, Polity, Society and Economy
Barsoomian Analysis II: Sociology and Morality
Barsoomian Analysis III: Girl, Reconstructed
More Barsoomologist and Amtorianist Musings
Tarzan and Nemone of the City of Gold
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