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04 November 2016 @ 03:13 pm
Full rights for demonic fish people  
I read, or rather listened to, The Litany of Earth when it ran on The Drabblecast, and I thought it was a good story that I really didn't like. Turning the people of Innsmouth into a metaphor for cultural appropriation and oppression due to government policy, like Japanese internment, meant that it wasn't really deep ones in the story, just fish people, and it ran into the main problem with any attempt to equate an oppressed group with superheroes or mutants or wizards or anyone else with supernatural powers--supernatural powers themselves change the equation. As Charles Stross wrote in The Rhesus Chart:
"There's a fundamental difference between a vampire and a regular human minority, Pete: normal people don't have super-strength, mind control powers, and a thirst for blood."
Normal people don't live forever, transform into fish creatures, or having living gods they can call upon for aid. The story doesn't really address that, except in a kind of condescending, "They feared us because they didn't understand us," way.

And now I'm reading "The Same Deep Waters As You" by Brian Hodge from New Cthulhu 2, which I think covers the issue much better without turning the deep ones into fish people and Cthulhu into just another religion. It raises the question of whether the deep one are, if not people, at least close enough to people to be understood by humans and comes to an inconclusive answer, but it made me think about human rights and the mythos.

Cthulhutech handles this by saying that anything that's not human isn't entitled to human rights, but the game is set during a war when rights would be curtailed anyway. One of the most compelling reasons I've heard not to extend human rights is that the receiver is either unwilling or unable to grant them those to others, which is why we limit the rights of criminals (in the first case) and don't give them to animals (in the second case). Which is it in the case of deep ones? The first or the second?

Many deep ones were once human, which would imply the first. When they sacrifice humans to Cthulhu at Devil's Reef as is their custom, they're doing it with full knowledge of human moral codes and should be treated as murderers, but only when convicted in a court. They should thus posses full rights. But that assumes that the process of going into the water doesn't produce mental changes as well as physical ones, and the stories don't actually provide an answer to that. I mean, deep ones practice human sacrifice and sing praises to gods that modern humans would consider horrific, but so did a lot of real-world human cultures. That doesn't make them innately monstrous, it just means they have monstrous cultural practices. And maybe that's just the deep ones at Innsmouth, Massachusetts, and the deep ones in, say, Innsmouth, England, are much more convivial.

On the other hand, deep ones can live indefinitely until killed. We don't really have any precedent for that in human law or psychology. How much does someone like Pth’thya-l’yi, who's eighty thousand years old, care about human life? About the existence of any particular human city or nation? Is it something they are even capable of caring of? What kind of deterrent is even forty or fifty years' imprisonment to a being that has already lived 200 times that span? It'd be the equivalent of three months in jail for first degree murder for a human.

And that's discounting the Delta Green-style idea that the mythos is psychic cancer, and is innately damaging to human mental stability. If that's true, then the whole thing becomes tragic. Whether deep ones are capable of following human mores or not, we cannot afford to grant them human rights because interaction with deep ones results in humans who cannot follow human mores. That's a real horror game, at least for me. It's like a less over-the-top version of Warhammer 40K, where the universe simply does not allow mercy because the cost of granting it is too high.

Tentacles and chanting are all well and good, but this kind of thing is what I like to read about in my modern mythos fiction.
 
 
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nelcnelc on November 5th, 2016 05:34 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that Litany of Earth is a conscious inversion of the alienforeign-as-something-to-be-feared that Lovecraft seems to rely on in some of his work. The Innsmouthers (Innsmouthians? Innsmouthites?) similarities to regular humans are played up in order to underline humanity's bad habit of underplaying other humans' humanity. And that's a message that needs to be underlined in our world.

As a filthy athiest, I of course regard all religions as 'just another religion'; if the Innsmouthans' religion actually has a living god who can do stuff (when he's awake or at least stirring), then that's an interesting feature, but it's still just another religion for all that, with traditions and lines of authority and obligation. Not a lot different from modern cults, really, except the central figure in all this is potentially more powerful than a merely human sociopath using the material wealth his followers gather to support his hedonistic lifestyle.

dorchadasdorchadas on November 5th, 2016 07:11 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I agree with the second paragraph. One of the primary characteristics of the One True Religion (as Bob Howard would put it) to my mind is that its practices and objects of veneration are innately injurious to human mental stability. I can understand taking that out to make a point about the way many humans tend to believe that already about religions different from the one they practice themselves--"underplaying other humans' humanity," as you say--but it takes out the most interesting part of cosmic horror to me. If the answer to "[Being X] cannot interact with humans without causing them injury, what do we do" is "We don't have to do anything, it's just human prejudice that led to that impression and it doesn't have any innate truth," it seems like a cop-out. Dealing with the problem by saying it doesn't exist at all and the problem is actually something completely different.
nelcnelc on November 6th, 2016 01:43 am (UTC)
Sure, and LoE is doing that because it isn't about cosmic horror at all; it's about humanity's inhumanity masquerading as unsolvable and incomprehensible cosmic horror projected onto the Other. So much easier to deal with fellow sentients if we can pretend that they are alien aliens, and that we are not only justified in dropping depth charges on their reefs, but telling ourselves that they don't feel the pain of genocide like real true humans.

dorchadasdorchadas on November 6th, 2016 02:31 am (UTC)
All of that is true! But that's why I said it was a good story that I didn't like.