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In Defence of Steampunk, the Pastoral and Empire  
04:46pm 28/10/2010
 
 
a_wahnsinger

So I have seen the recent blog entries, and I have heard the baying of the hounds calling for my head, and the head of any other who vaunt such corpora of literature as steampunk or fantasy, though the calls may come from brothers in arms of the speculative realm. There is an issue here that I must needs address, and now I come to it: I have heard enough of this rodent speech, these vagrant's lies and ne'er-do-well's slander! I have had enough of this empire bashing!

Do they who slander the noble concepts of imperialism and hierarchy truly understand what they critique? Are they unaware of both the natural slide in history towards the imperial ideal, and against whatever fantasy they conjure up to tell themselves that they, indeed, live in the best of all possible worlds? Let me tell you something about empires - the achievements we take for granted, the works of art that steal our breath away, the grand histories that inspire and warn us; without empire, these simply would not have been.

Do we stand in awe of the arc de triomphe? Do we not marvel at St. Peter's Square, or stare in hushed silence at the grandeur of the Taj Mahal? These achievements of architecture would not have been possible if not for the noble vision of great families, seeing in history and in their resources the opportunity to make something tremendous, powerful, nay, transcendental with the work of mere mortals' hands!

But perhaps architecture speaks to too little? Where would the arts be without the patronage of royals? Where would the sciences be without the leisure opportunities of the ruling classes affording the masters of mankind the luxury of speculation and investigation, the capital to endeavour with bold, new instruments to explore the mysteries of the natural realm? Whether 'twas by heredity or lording of industry (two spheres that are not distantly related), we have naught but empire to blame for the great things we enjoy!

As the ideal of the empire was muddied with populist misconceptions, subjugated in equal parts to both "the market" and "the proletariat," the quality and endurance of all these achievements have deteriorated. We've watched as grand cathedrals were replaced with anonymous glass obelisks, as rich poesy has been reduced to minimalist doggerel.

And the sciences, yes, the sciences, you might say, have made life so swell for all! They have given industry such unparalleled opportunities, brought discovery to such unknown heights! And to that I must say you could have a point. We cure diseases, even as we come to trademark brand new and unconquerable ones. We derive through alchemy and slavery new wonders that we send out to the masses, that we placate them with, that we use to convince them that all's right in the world – and the dross left behind from our philosopher's stone comes in the mercury-blighted waters, the toxin drenched soils, the dead-eyed gaze of small, brown children half the world over that we ignore as we relish our rare-earth minerals and precarious perch on the top of the economic heap. Oh, what opportunities science has indeed afforded us, and what leaps forward we've made!

Perhaps you are catching on to how I speak persistently in the collective first person, that I do not exclude myself and my ilk from participation in these forces, equally terrible and wonderful in the mind of the rabble? I do this with purpose; I do this to address the greatest conceit in all of these miscreants' accusations, that namely being that the imperial paradigm has somehow been displaced. Oh, yes, dynasties will rise and fall; fortunes will be won and lost through marriage, market and massacre! What, praytel, for an instant makes us think that the way things were are not the way they still are? Did China grow powerful through democratisation? Was it not its naked imperial aspirations, and its due treatment of the hoi polloi precisely what has ingratiated it to the West so much, as to ultimately bring it to a place of economic supremacy? And what about the West? Has it not been our transnational subjugation of indigenous peoples, our economic spheres of influence in the "developing" world that have allowed our longevity to increase, our comforts to mollycoddle us into oblivion (and in your dissent, I hear softly that assumption that a longer life is a better life – again, what rubbish!)?

And at what cost, you might wonder, have our supposed empire-free great leaps forward come? Have you seen the hacked and scarred remains of the world we've left behind? The environmental tolls that were simply impossible to rack up in the world gone by? None of this affects me, of course, but I am of this ilk that you purport to loathe. Yet I agree, in the grandest way, that there should be no reigning in of science and industry! But what utter hypocrisy to say, that in liberating these things, we must somehow shackle the will of the ruling elite? I say it is both hypocritical and foolish, for the ruling elite makes itself such through these very devices upon which the modern world is built, and those who aid the ruling elite in such endeavours receive the prestige of joining them as masters of the world!

Wherefore do you cry against hereditary monarchy? A monarch can manage and inspire with as much efficiency and care as any democracy, to wit, they give face to the complex that defines people's lives, and not only a face, but a purpose! And wherefore do you bemoan the yearning for the countryside? It would truly take a phenomenal disconnect from our naturalest yearnings to decry anyone's longing for a clean, uncluttered environment. It was we, in fact, who defrauded many of their lands and forced them into industrial servitude that caused the shift from rural to urban, and cause it to this very day. Again, science paved the way for making it possible, both the disenfranchisement of independent farmers, and their return to slavery in those wonderful pits in the inner-cities!

Now, again, science and commerce have conspired to draw them out from the pits, and shuffle them into suburbs and office buildings. We grow them into creatures resembling spores more than animals, and you blame them for pining for a time when they worked with their hands? We have achieved a surveillance state, which when combined with the current profound apathy,  could potentially silence all rebellion, all freedom, and all hope for eternity, and you try to blame them for looking back at times which while magnificent in their drudgery were yet hope-filled in the way that it afforded them opportunities to get back at us? Could McKinley, Franz Ferdinand, Leopold II and Empress Elisabeth have gone the way they did in this present era? Who has the energy or motivation any more!

The Victorian era was indeed kind to my kind, but we cannot take away that they were tumultuous times wherein the founding members of the INSENSÉ (as well as other groups vying for world domination) had yet to master the science of mass-herding, when the ideas of "classless society" and "historical inevitability" didn't elicit the guffaws from us that they do now. The hopes of ever escaping imperialistic machinations, too, seem to have died with empires.

And what have we now, my detractors? Do we have utopia? Is there a teleology in your transcendence-stripped metaphysic? I tell you no, this is a dystopia of the highest order, and it took great effort on our part to manufacture it this way! Is it assumed, then, that humanity is going forward, onward and upward, science leading the way? What balderdash! What a misapplied appropriation of Lord Darwin's findings, to assume that evolving means improving. Did you not read Wells's documentary notes from the future? Do you not already see the obvious cleavage of society into Moorlocks and Eloi? Do you not see how the selfsame comforts and commodities you vaunt – all made possible by our kind, mind – are creating a future bereft of achievement or hope? Do you think it will go on perpetually, that industry will always sustain itself, that economics are not a zero-sum game? Let me inform you now, despite present opinions otherwise, that all of these things are! And when that end comes – when we have twisted the Sahara into being a rainforest, and reduced the rainforests to deserts; when every last Chinaman, African, Hindustani and Latino has the consumer power and avarice of any Western Europe or Japanese bourgeoisie, do you think Earth will be able to survive?

Do you place faith in (laughter beyond laughter!) our governments or corporations to conjure the magic that will allow interstellar space travel? Certainly, my family mastered this art long ago, but let me also inform you, it will not save us! Our comforts, our commodities, they are but the fever dream that comes before the black sleep of Malthusian certainty! Why, yes, the pastoral does look rather pleasant momentarily, too, now that you ask.

So enough with decrying empire. Enough with decrying these retrospectives towards more "barbaric" and "brutal" times. I pray, too, that you see these excursions, these wish fulfillments, these fantasies precisely for what they are - the magic mirror showing true when upheld to your pristine view of the modern world, and the naïve hope you maintain that humanity will improve, and science will save us all.

I do not care whether we are saved or not; my kind do not care whether we are saved or not. We care only for power, for longevity, for our own lives against the lives of our children and grandchildren, our countrymen and those foreign to us. It matters not. Just remember still that we built this world. It is upon the bedrock of our machinations that you come to critique us from your lofty, comfortable realm of middle-class arrogance.

And it makes us laugh, and bide our time, and even, at points, pine for better days.

Vivat imperium!
August Wahnsinger

 
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