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Dune and Catastrophe, or, Why Charismatic Leaders Ought to Include a Warning Label


**Spoiler Alert: This text incorporates spoilers for the film Dune and for the primary two books of the Dune collection.**

“Put not your belief in princes, in a son of man, in whom there isn’t a salvation.” 

~Psalm 146:3

This isn’t a full evaluation of Denis Villeneuve’s distinctive film Dune, apart from to say that I’ve watched it thrice and I find it irresistible. As a fan of Frank Herbert’s novel, I can confidently say that Villeneuve condenses the numerous wealthy layers of that means within the e-book right into a fantastically crafted, audiovisual poem, devoted to the deeper meanings of Dune even when it departs in among the particulars (as any display screen adaptation should, particularly one with such philosophical and psychological supply materials). The movie largely foregoes exposition and voiceover to clarify itself, utilizing as a substitute Hans Zimmer’s “hallucinatory” and “religious” rating to correctly tune our feelings to the second: we really feel the reality even with out figuring out all of the info. The grandeur of Villeneuve’s cinematography and world-building is balanced by the intimacy of the relationships he paints between father, mom, and son. The way in which he brings the “Duniverse” to the display screen rivals the richness of Tolkein’s Center Earth, and the household tragedy is positively Shakespearean. IMAX by no means had it so good.

Paul Atreides is an image of how somebody initially good might be pushed ahead right into a future that turns horribly unsuitable.

However like I mentioned, I’m not right here to evaluation it, a lot as to run with it. The truth that the movie is so exquisitely produced and well-acted will hopefully make Herbert’s cautionary message somewhat simpler to swallow. A spoonful of sugar, as they are saying. 

Dune takes place some 20,000 years sooner or later amidst a feudal, interstellar society that’s thick with non secular perception and political intrigue. The story follows the Atreides household—Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), his concubine and Bene Gesserit acolyte Girl Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and his vision-haunted teenage son Paul (Timothée Chalamet). Home Atreides has been referred to as to tackle stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis (a.okay.a. Dune), a coveted and harmful fief and sole producer of “the spice” on which intergalactic journey runs. In jealous worry, the galactic emperor and Dune’s former stewards (home Harkonnen) betray Home Atreides and all however destroy it. Paul and Jessica survive the assault and be a part of the fierce, Bedouin-like desert tribe of the Fremen, whose prophecies of a coming messiah prime them to welcome Paul as a lot as they hated their Harkonnen oppressors. As an alternative of fleeing off-world, Paul chooses to stay on Arrakis and undertake the methods of the Fremen, leaving open the opportunity of avenging his father’s dying and regaining his birthright. The movie ends about midway into the novel.

As Okay. B. Hoyle factors out in her wonderful article on Dune: Half One, by viewing this movie as Paul’s coming-of-age story, his private journey from childhood to maturity, it may possibly stand by itself as a whole arc. When Dune’s credit begin rolling, we nonetheless have a superb hero. Fifteen-year-old Paul is noble, loyal, affectionate, robust, perceptive, courageous, and honorable. Some viewers unfamiliar with the novel complained at what felt just like the movie’s abrupt conclusion. However as somebody who is aware of what’s coming subsequent, I’m grateful for the place Villeneuve stopped the story, permitting it to be concerning the lack of Paul’s innocence fairly than the rise of a messiah. 

However Herbert was all the time occupied with ecology—within the net of relationships which make up a world—and within the long-term penalties of human decisions over a long time, centuries, and millennia. Herbert follows Paul past his particular person life, exploring what his evolution into the Kwitsatz Haderach (the thoughts that bridges house and time, previous and future) means for the Fremen, for the nice homes of the Landsraad, and for the entire galaxy. “The distinction between a hero and an antihero,” Frank Herbert mentioned, “is the place you cease the story.” Preserve it going lengthy sufficient, and the pragmatic, morally expedient determination of the second could turn out to be a degree of no return for a future flood of catastrophe. One man’s ascendancy could imply the annihilation of worlds.

When Paul chooses (towards his mom’s needs) to remain on Arrakis and be a part of himself to the Fremen’s “desert energy,” his bloody visions of the longer term go from the realm of the potential into the predestined. “That is solely the start,” the mysterious younger girl of Paul’s goals hints, as she turns round to talk to him within the film’s closing scene (and a slight smile spreads throughout his lips in return). However the final “phrase” of the film is given to Jessica’s apprehensive eyes. The start of what? they appear to say, as she watches her son stroll towards the dawn.

YouTube screenshot photos from titealicia0108, “Girl Jessica & Paul Atreides in The Finish”

Herbert started the unique Dune trilogy as one lengthy story about “the messianic convulsions that periodically overtake us.” He as soon as mentioned, “I wrote the Dune Saga as a result of I had this concept that charismatic1 leaders ought to come back with a warning label on the brow: Could also be harmful to your well being.”

Sooner or later, the Fremen will start to worship Paul as their Savior, the success of their prophecies of deliverance. He’ll settle for their worship and make use of it as a substitute of deflecting or neutralizing it. Due to the psychedelic spice, his imaginative and prescient of the previous and future will develop to godlike proportions. Paul, now not in a position to foresee a future with out violence, feels trapped. 

Paul Atreides is an image of how somebody initially good might be pushed ahead right into a future that turns horribly unsuitable. At first, he’s simply making an attempt to deal with his disturbing goals and visions, making an attempt to honor his father’s reminiscence and ethical instance, making an attempt to guard his mom, making an attempt to easily not die. If we admire Paul and really feel inwardly moved by his transformation from a puppy-eyed, skinny boy into a person of braveness, function, and prescience, then Herbert and Villeneuve have us proper the place they need us. Look, they are saying, look how straightforward it’s to fall in love with the hero, to see your self in him, to root for him to seek out his footing and ascend. 

From boy to man to chief to messianic Mahdi of the oppressed, our noble hero will experience the wave of Fremen fanaticism into the galactic jihad of his visions. The Fremen and their prophesied Lisan al-Gaib will kill sixty billion individuals within the holy struggle that marks their ascent to imperial energy. In Villeneuve’s movie, Paul turns into a person; sooner or later, Paul will turn out to be a Hero, a human messiah, and this could fill us with dread. Herbert warns us via the mouth of one in all his characters, “No extra horrible catastrophe might befall your individuals than for them to fall into the palms of a Hero.”

 YouTube screenshot picture from Quinn’s Concepts, “Dune: What Was Paul’s Imaginative and prescient? Defined in FIVE Minutes”

Herbert thought the messiah-seeking impulse of the human coronary heart was a lethal, seductive power: when mixed with a charismatic chief who comes at simply the suitable time, and in simply the suitable approach, it may possibly result in the campaign, the jihad, the holocaust, the genocide—the violent certainties of the self-righteous, satisfied of the justice of their trigger. “Heroes are painful, superheroes are a disaster,” he wrote. “The errors of superheroes contain too many people in catastrophe.”

To Herbert, the superhero doesn’t want preternatural power, particular tech, genetic mutations, or colourful tights (as we’re used to seeing within the MCU): he simply must have a sense for the parable that the individuals of his time live inside, and a capability to inhabit the position they want of him. “Folks have a tendency to offer over each decision-making capability to any chief who can wrap himself within the delusion material of the society,” Herbert wrote. “Hitler did it. Churchill did it. Franklin Roosevelt did it. Stalin did it. Mussolini did it.” These historic superheroes didn’t put on spandex: they wore the tales their individuals wanted them to put on. Generally the outcomes had been superb, however as a rule, they had been ghastly. 

The greatness of a charismatic chief “relies upon partly upon the myth-making creativeness of humankind,” Herbert wrote in Dune. Persons are solely “nice” when they’re imagined to be so by the admiring lots, whose gaze and projections create the heroes simply as certainly because the heroes’ actions and phrases encourage their love. The hero—the human messiah—is a joint creation of the chief and the individuals. The superheroes Herbert noticed in historical past and people he crafted in his novels don’t come to us from the surface as divine Saviors who battle evil on our behalf: they’re fairly a chunk of us, an outgrowth of the individuals, one which emerges at simply the suitable time to precise and fulfill our unconscious wishes by clothes themselves in our “delusion material.” No matter flaws the messianic hero possesses are magnified by his huge affect and repeated by his followers. Whereas such superheroes could promise to avoid wasting us from our enemies, they’ll’t save us from ourselves.

Dune relates an outdated Bene Gesserit proverb which works like this:

When faith and politics journey in the identical cart, the riders consider nothing can stand of their approach. Their motion turns into headlong–quicker and quicker and quicker. They put apart all considered obstacles and overlook {that a} precipice doesn’t present itself to the person in a blind rush till it’s too late.

As Paul Atreides garments himself within the Fremen delusion of the Lisan al-Gaib, it’s “solely the start” and “too late” on the identical time. The good aristocratic homes with their political clout, and the manipulative Bene Gesserit (who planted seeds of non secular mythology now ripe for prophetic success), have been touring in the identical cart for 1000’s of years, trying to steer the course of human historical past via political alliances and the curation of bloodlines. Collectively, they appeared unstoppable. And now Paul should face the results of the machinations of each political and non secular forces, these overconfident riders which have handed him the reins and positioned him as the motive force of this cart because it races towards the precipice. Paul senses in his visions the bloody hell that waits all of them on the backside, and the way—it doesn’t matter what he chooses this late within the sport—the autumn appears unavoidable. For all of the warnings Herbert offers about charismatic leaders, it’s clear that those that take part within the set-up beforehand, and people followers who let themselves get swept away with admiration (and religion) within the second, are equally culpable.

The psychologist Carl Jung, whose concepts closely influenced Herbert’s fiction, wrote that the best hazard to humanity doesn’t come from pure disasters or most cancers or pandemics, however from man himself, as a result of we can not defend ourselves from “psychic epidemics, that are infinitely extra devastating than the worst of pure catastrophes . . . The best hazard of all comes from the lots,” Jung insisted, “in whom the consequences of the unconscious pile up cumulatively and the reasonableness of the acutely aware thoughts is stifled . . . It lets free results which no man needs and no man can cease.”

It might be a lot too handy in charge Paul alone for the holy struggle through which billions of individuals die. Sure, Paul rides atop that unstoppable wave of mass irrationality, however he didn’t generate these violent wishes, or the circumstances through which they’d discover their expression. The multi-generational collective unconscious of “we the individuals” is what creates catastrophe. We keep away from consciousness of our complicity by scapegoating the entrance man when all of it falls to items. Because the major non secular textual content of the Dune universe places it, 

“Beware the seeds you sow and the crops you reap. Don’t curse God for the punishment you inflict upon your self” (The Orange Catholic Bible).

Harmful leaders seldom inflict themselves upon us: as a rule, we create them and hand them the reins, usually with the most effective of intentions. The Bene Gesserit, the Landsraad, the Imperium, the Spacing Guild, the Fremen—all play a component, alongside Paul, in creating the horrible, inexorable future.

Right here’s the place we change from Frank Herbert’s saga and Villeneuve’s movie studio, to church sanctuaries and social media accounts. The damaging nature of messianic leaders is each a non secular and a political drawback. Evangelical church buildings in America, with their distinctive lack of a unified institutional hierarchy, have lengthy been susceptible to the lure of charismatic preachers whose skills allow them to rise to the highest. When preaching is valued over each sacraments and private integrity, then the most effective church is the one with the most effective speaker: top-down authority is changed by bottom-up persona cults. Amplify these skills with an web algorithm, and also you’ve obtained a digital megachurch superhero. Leaders (and social media influencers) are naturally incentivized to attract a crowd and replicate again to them what they need to hear, and as Saint Paul warned us, congregations are all the time tempted to “heap up academics attuned to their very own preferences” (2 Tim. 4:3).

Frank Herbert suggested individuals to “run like hell” from something that smelled like a persona cult, through which “the primary” relishes being first.

Just like the Fremen, we Christians aren’t resistant to the longing to see a pacesetter draped in our personal distinctive “delusion material” (akin to what we prefer to name a “worldview”), to listen to our cherished doctrines and moral stances articulated with rhetorical flourish, even perhaps to look at these sermons or speeches “go viral” (for the sake of the gospel, in fact!). We too, like Paul as he joins with the Fremen, are liable to fall into the lure of ethical expediency—the temptation to care extra about successful (successful souls, successful elections, successful the tradition struggle) than about holiness and humble service. 

We overlook Martin Luther King, Jr.’s warning, that by inserting the church and the state within the cart collectively, the church is liable to turn out to be both the state’s grasp or its servant, forfeiting its prophetic position because the state’s conscience and critic. We will come to champion politicians who promise us pragmatic victories for our values—Supreme Court docket justices, judges, and legal guidelines—no matter that particular person’s lack of private integrity. Within the phrases of historian Molly Worthen, American evangelicals “[want] a hero who would arise for his or her instincts about human nature, social order, and biblical legislation.” If he dons our delusion material and he can get issues carried out, then he’s our man. 

Two personalities instantly come to thoughts—one non secular and one political—whose meteoric rise to fame and affect speaks on to our want for Dune’s sharp warning about charismatic leaders. Mark Driscoll, former pastor of the community of Mars Hill church buildings in Seattle, is a distinguished instance of a pastoral megachurch “superhero” who was as soon as the proficient darling of the Younger, Stressed, and Reformed motion. However His anger, large ego, and controlling persona led to the implosion of his church and a world of damage for 1000’s. 
After all the schadenfreude of scapegoating Driscoll alone is a eager temptation. What Pharisee doesn’t enjoy well-produced “failure porn”? (I’m responsible of binge-listening to CT’s podcast about him much more greedily than I drank up his sermons within the late aughts). However hopefully Driscoll’s rise and fall will set off soul-searching on the a part of the evangelical church: how is it that we’re collectively producing and rewarding such leaders, and the way can we cease doing so? What if “charisma” is now not a divine reward of grace to these prophets who renew society’s ethical core and reinvigorate its traditions? What if at the moment’s charisma is solely the sport Kierkegaard warned us about? “For to win a crowd isn’t so nice a trick; one solely wants some expertise, a sure dose of untruth, and somewhat acquaintance with the human passions.”

Picture: Mars Hill Church’s now defunct Flickr account.
“President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outdoors St. John’s Church throughout Lafayette Park from the White Home Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington.” (Patrick Semansky/AP Photograph)

And no matter you could consider Donald Trump, it’s honest to say that he has been in a position to wrap himself within the “delusion material” of a section of our society (together with 80% of evangelicals), and generate outstanding devotion and loyalty to himself personally, above and past his platform or celebration. The instantaneous international attain of Trump’s (former) Twitter account magnified his misdeeds and his preventing phrases on the grandest of scales. Our frequent political life has been in convulsions ever since he took workplace. The January sixth rebellion on the Capitol, which was the fruits of Trump’s nigh-refusal to depart workplace, is living proof.

Because the polarization of our nation intensifies, it’s value asking whether or not we as non secular believers are moving into the identical cart with political actions (of both celebration), and racing headlong in the direction of the sting of a precipice? And might we actually place all of the blame on the leaders driving these carts towards potential catastrophe if we’re those who created the circumstances for his or her rise, and we’re those handing them the reins? We’re those who’ve given over our decision-making capability to the leaders most keenly attuned to our preferences and whose superpowers embody the flexibility to channel the worst angels of our nature. 

I’m not saying that we should always cease imitating individuals with admirable qualities—removed from it. Evangelicals want their saints simply as a lot as Catholics do, these concrete and extremely explicit examples of goodness in motion. The apostle Paul considered himself because the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), and but he nonetheless mentioned, “Imitate me, simply as I additionally imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Whether or not we prefer it or not, hierarchies of all types are inevitable, and so is our behavior of imitating these larger up within the ranks. However the one approach that hierarchy and imitation keep wholesome is when they’re hierarchies of holiness and humility, not of energy and charisma. Christian’s ought to honor hierarchies of kenosis, through which the primary makes himself final, and the servant of all (Mark 9:35).

Frank Herbert suggested individuals to “run like hell” from something that smelled like a persona cult, through which “the primary” relishes being first. He inspired us to ask penetrating questions and assume for ourselves (which isn’t to say “do your personal analysis,” or get “red-pilled,” however fairly to have a wholesome skepticism in the direction of individuals’s motivations—together with your personal—heck, together with mine!). The selection earlier than each charismatic chief and each mass motion is identical selection introduced to every of us in moments of battle: to place the blade into our enemy’s again, or to select up the cross and carry it. If a charismatic persona factors a finger of blame anyplace however towards his personal coronary heart, be very cautious.

There is just one true Savior, Jesus the Anointed, and he refused to select up the sword towards his Roman oppressors. Christ’s execution by the state was not a second of weak spot, however was fairly the start of His victory over the powers of darkness: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15, emphasis added). He didn’t triumph via an rebellion or a non secular struggle, however via self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and resurrection. Within the phrases of thinker Rene Girard, “The God of Christianity isn’t the violent God of archaic faith, however the non-violent God who willingly turns into a sufferer in an effort to free us from our violence.” Jesus is the one hero who doesn’t require a warning label. His love and holiness are incorruptible. 

However if you happen to assume you’re exempt from the lure of watching your all-too-human heroes rise—if you happen to assume you’re unaffected by messianic longings that may connect themselves to a charismatic particular person with toes of clay—simply keep in mind how a lot you resonated with younger Paul Atreides on the display screen. Keep in mind how impressed you felt by him, how a lot his story gripped you. Keep in mind the way you willed him via the Gom Jabbar, raced with him as he fled the sand worms, held your breath as he battled Jamis, smiled as he adopted Chani to his new residence within the desert. Now you’re ready eagerly for Dune: Half Two, identical to me. 

However are you able to hear Herbert whispering: good intentions don’t all the time result in good outcomes; heroes don’t all the time stay heroes; your enemies aren’t fabricated from essentially totally different stuff from you.

We will love Paul, for positive; we simply can’t belief him. Neither can we belief ourselves. None of us are immune. 

Lead us not into temptation,
And ship us from evil.
Amen.

YouTube screenshot picture from Quinn’s Concepts, “Dune: What Was Paul’s Imaginative and prescient? Defined in FIVE Minutes”

1 The phrase “charismatic” is used all through this piece for its adjectival that means: “exercising a compelling appeal which evokes devotion in others.” By no means am I referring to, or criticizing, the “Charismatic Motion” inside Christianity which emphasizes the items of the Holy Spirit in and thru the church.



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