On States, Athene, and Dystopia

This essay is primarily about Athene and statehood, but it’s also a series of reflections on the place of an individual in non-ideal political systems.

I vote because I believe that it is my sacred duty, as Athene is the goddess who presides over states and the wisdom of the city. Athene bears the arms of the city. She is one of the gods who patronizes education, especially higher education, because education is done to inform and educate citizens on our roles and responsibilities. Athene is in the courts, in the decisions made by states to advocate for a state’s interest on the international or domestic scale, and in the decision to go to war.

I don’t think that the specific type of state matters to Athene, even if she is associated with democracy. It is my opinion that any state is sacred to Athene simply by existing. It is my opinion that morality is the domain of people and not of gods.

I was thinking about why I hold these opinions instead of nope-ing states in their entirety because I read Rhyd’s post on Gods & Radicals. It sparked the question, “So, if Rhyd and I both believe that this world is dystopian and I agree with many of his arguments, why is my conclusion different? What has led me to my thinking beyond just honoring Athene?” (Beyond the simple fact that I’m not an anarchist.)

First, I think that gods have power, and they do need to be honored. Participating in the state, even when I write sternly-worded letters to representatives, is an important sacred function. I don’t see a line between religious and nonreligious behavior, and I don’t see a line between the personal and the political. Personally, the way I engage with the state is heavily-informed by my introduction to philosophy through the writings of Thomas Paine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and (yes) Vladimir Lenin. Rousseau has probably had the largest impact on my thoughts.

The second reason is actually more complicated than the first. Some of you may know that I am writing a 1,500,000-word-long epic political science fiction thriller that spans 5,000 years. The time scale means that I have had to train myself to zoom out to look at historical arcs. The time scale means that I read and listen to books by historians who are telling historical narratives (such as The Gay RevolutionAn Indigenous People’s History of the United States, the podcast Hardcore History) or epic poets, not science fiction, because most science fiction is not operating on the same scale I am. When I was in my early twenties, I used to read about the Emperor Julian and try to hold that historical bottleneck in my head.

No historian is objective. Training the mind to look in arcs and how they impact and limit individual decisions means that I have a very different mindset from a person who has spent their life thinking about how an individual can impact the system. Habitual thinking changes the brain. It reinforces neural connections, and mine are being optimized for this.

It is my firm belief that dystopia is a word that we use to indicate the politically alien, as by the very nature of the social contract, every single nation-state, city-state, or governmental entity is dystopian in that individuals are bound within community-held rules and social structures. Most of us wouldn’t describe the United States as an oligarchic dystopia, but we might describe the government in the Hunger Games as a totalitarian, patrician-run dystopia. The United States and fictional societies all have dystopian elements. (My beta readers have called my writing dystopian. My work is not dystopian. It’s what happens when you develop the political infrastructures from scratch, and they are all different enough from our own that people notice what’s wrong.) America was founded on the blood of Native nations, and the Erinyes punish blood crimes. America is an oligarchy controlled by the ideology of capitalist consumerism as a patriotic act and by cultural imperialism grounded in Manifest Destiny. America still punishes deviance from Christian moral values.

I think that part of the reason I vote isn’t that I am operating out of a position of severe cognitive dissonance. I think that it’s because, from my perspective, statehood is about historical arcs. Beyond just honoring Athene, it is an expression of my mortality and my knowledge that I am an individual operating within a system and a story that is much larger than myself — a story whose beginnings are miasmic and polluted, a story within which I will play my part, and a story for which I will never know the end.


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