The lives of individuals are meaningless before the greater cause.
In the twenty-first episode of From the New World we are treated to the continuation of what is likely the series’ denouement. We are also informed of the central tenet of the queerat rebellion; a belief that not only motivates the queerats to take up arms against the human villages, but also the resolve to sacrifice both themselves and one another.
To paraphrase a queerat infantryman, they no longer wish to be ruled by tyrannic false gods.
Although bestowed with a god-like power, the humans of From the New World are most certainly not gods. To add to this, and whilst we do not know if they originally claimed godhood or not, we do know that they do not discourage the queerats in thinking them so. Ergo, we can comfortably agree with the charge of false godhood.
What then of the other charge, that of tyranny? Again, we find plentiful evidence that the humans are absolute rulers from a queerat perspective. The humans created and have since bred queerats; they use them for manual labour, they administer the lives and trials of the queerat populous, and they are happy to dispose of the occasional troublesome queerat colony, or indeed colonies, when deemed necessary.
Through modern eyes, tyranny is a bad thing – an outmoded form of governance to be eradicated at every opportunity. Should we, therefore, succumb to the very modern urge and support the queerat rebellion irrespective of how ominously it is painted by the series?
I would argue otherwise.
Within the series, it is indeed the case that one cannot simply excuse all problems present within the humans’ post-apocalyptic society. Yet neither can one wholly support a rebellion which, if successful, will likely lead to much worse conditions. One may build a barricade, but it does not always mean that one holds the high ground.
The primary cause for concern is the once humble Squealer; to be frank, and please do excuse my momentary rudeness, but the queerat Squealer is a devious piece of lettuce who dearly needs to be eradicated in the most painful way possible.
Once bestowed the name Yakomaru, and now queerat messiah, Squealer is very clever. He has managed to weasel his way into power through deception, cunning, and the ability to take advantage of myriad situations. He is a most exemplary politician. But surely, I hear the proverbial peanut gallery cry, he is doing this for the betterment of his species, and that not all problems can be resolved through discussion between political parties. This is arguably true; history teaches us that rebellions have a tendency to be most effective when blood is shed. Yet, the man is without scruple.
He is capable of not only killing his queen, which is not necessarily the best idea in a eusocial society, but destroying her mind and inflicting far worse a fate on her, than she could ever inflict on her own colony. He is willing to capture, manipulate, and effectively destroy children to achieve his revenge. Worse still, he is perfectly happy to send countless of his own species, his own subjects, to their ignoble deaths. Can we really trust a queerat such as he to lead a society without fundamental problems?
Onwards to the second cause for concern: the queerat as human allegory. When I made the assertion that Squealer is without scruple, I chose to describe him as ‘man.’ It might be argued, perhaps even successfully, that the queerats are representative of humankind. They are relatively simple, warmongering, and ambitious; we can see much of us in them. How, then, can one be comfortable with the conclusion that the grass is inherently greener beyond the barricade?
Finally, I am concerned with the knowledge gained by the queerats. As has been explicitly stated in the series, the queerats have likely found a repository of human knowledge – a False Minoshiro. Knowledge is commonly a destabilising force in society; especially knowledge that either goes against current teaching, or a lot of knowledge quickly gained. Fiction – from Stargate, through Lord of Light, to By the Waters of Babylon – has often shown that a lot of information, dispensed in an accelerated fashion, has the capability of radically changing society, and not usually for the better.
Let us assume then, that Squealer’s revolution should not succeed. Does that mean things shouldn’t change?
Not really. The queerats are sentient creatures, and they have discovered a False Minoshiro, so they should perhaps be treated akin to surly adolescents – with respect, but also watched like a hawk.
Of course, this leads to the question of how a more advanced society should act towards a less advanced society and species. Borrowing terminology from the excellent Lord of Light, should the advanced species adopt policies that promote non-interference, or should they adopt an accelerationist attitude and actively advance the lesser species?
The latter is dangerous for reasons akin to those surrounding the False Minoshiro. More so, perhaps, in From the New World, where the humans and queerats must live together, in the same world. Any destabilising of one society will likely bear repercussions on the other.
Yet if one were to assume the former, one must wonder if this is even possible. Total non-interference, such as that enacted by the ascended Ancients (or Alterans if you prefer) is surely impossible once the lesser species knows of the existence of the higher species. Indeed, in From the New World both sides are well known to each other; one having created the other, and both species living in the same world. Perhaps then, the humans should act as overseers to the queerats – keeping watchful eye over their wayward creation, but abstaining from direct input for the most part.
In summary, neither side in their current state is flawless or without crimes. The humans see and treat the queerats as nothing more than beasts, whereas the queerats decide the best method to gain some modicum of equality is genocide.
Tyranny can be useful; it can be benevolent as well as malevolent; it can ensure the survival of an entire race or species. Yet it also has a time and place. Perhaps in From the New World’s setting it’s time that tyranny, and the dynasty of the false gods, should be laid to rest, and a new relationship be formed between human and queerat. A relationship, I stress, that is not headed by members of either species blinded by foolhardy ideas of revenge or resentment, but developed through thoughtful discussion from leaders who remember their duty to those they rule.