Uses of the Undead: Part One

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters -- Goya (1797)

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters — Goya (1797)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that those who feel helpless, must be in want of a monster.

Well, maybe not universally, but so it seems to me. When events concatenate in a way too complex for our hunter-gatherer minds, we find it useful to simplify. Animism is one often successful way of doing this: by personifying external entities or events, humans can bring their immense “mind-reading” abilities to bear on otherwise intractable complexity.

When we turn this our simplification engine towards other human beings, we manufacture monsters, which are preferable to feeling that we are subject to forces beyond our control or even understanding. (In a sense, H.P. Lovecraft definitively deconstructed monsters for all time by presenting a world in which that feeling is utterly and finally true, without recourse or salvation.)

Unfortunately, it seems that these days we won’t settle for just one monster. When we were children we were satisfied with a monster under the bed. But now that we’ve put away childish things, we demand a grotesquerie of monsters: everything from my-neighbor-might-be monsters like sex offenders or terrorists or drug dealers to the inhabitants of the floridly-imagined bestiaries of people like Alex Jones or David Ickes.

Life in a Teratocracy

We can call monsters from the vasty deep…but what happens when they answer? There are several problems with the multiplication of monsters engendered by our increasing sense of helplessness.

These monsters are immortal. Monstrosity (along with its sibling Scapegoat) ranks among the Powers and Principalities that Paul spoke of, which Walter Wink has so brilliantly re-illuminated and recharged for our Age as the Domination System. Its children’s names may change, along with their particular mode of terror, but they have all been with us from the beginning, and cannot die the true death.

These monsters have power. They are the real-life equivalent of the Id Monster of Forbidden Planet, and capable of even more damage, albeit almost entirely from our reaction to them. Dr. Morbius’s unconscious creation menaced a couple of dozen people; the War on Drugs, invented to kill the Drug-Dealer Monster, kills that many people every two to four hours, and that’s just in the United States. (Note that a “War on X” necessarily implies a monster.)

These monsters give power. Foolish and ignorant men and women who crave dominance over others wield them fiercely, never hearing the Furies’ wings hurrying closer. Monsters have ever been a means of political control, perhaps equal to the gun in that regard. Certainly, they help aim the guns or, in nominally more peaceful cultures, the ballots. But when monsters become the dominant currency of political discourse, as today, blind Justice becomes deaf, dumb, and palsied as well.

Next week: Why political action never works against monsters, and what we can learn by crapping in the nativity scene, here.


About Dave Trowbridge

Dave Trowbridge has been writing high-tech marketing copy for almost thirty years. This has made him an expert in what he calls “pulling stuff out of the cave of the flying monkeys,” so science fiction comes naturally. He abandoned corporate life in 2007 — actually, it abandoned him — but not before attaining the rank of Dark Lord of Documentation, a title which still appears on his business card and serves to identify clients he’d rather not work with (the ones who don’t laugh). He much prefers the godlike powers of a science fiction author (hah!) to troglodyte status in dark corporate mills, and the universe is slowly coming around to his point of view. Dave is currently laboring over the second edition of the space-opera series Exordium with his co-author Sherwood Smith, and looking forward to writing more stories in that universe. He lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with his writer wife and fellow BVC member, Deborah J. Ross, and a tri-lingual German Shepherd Dog responsible for three cats. When not writing, Dave may be found wrangling vegetables—both domesticated and feral — in the garden.


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