Disregarding the unjust competition of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Dune can arguably be considered the first “chosen one” sci-fi novel ever to appear. Luke, Neo, Aragorn, Potter, all of them owe at least some of their powers to Paul Atreides, and, of course, to Frank Herbert. But what really caught my attention right from the start of the book was Herbert’s (sort of) Objectivist tendencies. If I had to pick one single word to represent Objectivism, that word would be “reason”. If I had to pick one for Dune, it would also be… — OK, it would be “sandworms” — but the next choice would be “reason”, as well.
The story takes place far from Earth, in a desert planet called Arrakis. The surface theme is power struggle. The main contenders are the House of Atreides (the good) and the House of Harkonnen (the bad), but the conflict involves a conspiracy where everybody has something at stake, including the very Emperor (the ugly).
But the deeper theme is religion, or the power religion has on people. At the center of it all is the Fremen, the toughened war-like and deeply religious local people, who have a strong and mystical relationship with the melange (the “spice”), the main natural resource of Arrakis. That’s what moves the world of Dune and the war we witness.
But there is nothing — NOTHING — in Dune to imply a God. A diet rich in melange enhances reasoning and creates something like “prescient” powers. The Bene Gesserit “witches” plant legends amidst the peoples as a backup for their machinations. That’s it.
To “prove” my point, I don’t think I need to dwell on the feasibility of religious conspiracies. You cannot honestly think the whole Middle-Eastern mess is just about God.
But you might think prescient powers imply mysticism. I say they don’t.
What is thinking? According to Objectivism, it is integration of concretes; it is looking at the world as it is and extracting patterns from it. Think Newton watching an apple fall and abstracting the law of gravity, but also you predicting daily traffic or the weather.
Now, think of experienced chess players, who foresee ten to fifteen moves ahead in each of dozens of simultaneous games, blindfolded!
Think also what coffee does to you. Well, at least I think a lot better with a good dose of cafeine. In fact, I would probably write like a three-year-old if I didn’t have two large cups of coffee first thing in the morning.
Now, feed generations of expert chess players with the melange (think “Red Bull with steroids”) for thousands of years, and indoctrinate them within a whole culture of reason, a culture that use it to separate lesser humans from humans just like Aristotle and Ayn Rand did to separate animals from men. What would the abilities of such people look like to us?
In a world like Dune, our “spiced-up” grandmasters would become prophets! In a world like ours, however, they would burn at the stake.