Maggie A's Meanderings




 July 15, 2012

Dune, Evil and the Bene Gesserit

I recently finished re-reading Frank Herbert's six Dune books.* Through the years, I had read the first four (Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune) multiple times. But this was only my second read of the last two Dune books written by Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune. I had read them once when I first got them years ago, but hadn't bothered to reread them. In reading the books back-to-back, it struck me why I didn't really care for the last two Dune books. It's because I couldn't empathize with the protagonists, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood.

The first four novels deal with the Atreides dynasty. It's about the Atreides rise to power and the empire they establish. One of the forces the Atreides go against is the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. In the last two novels, Heretics and Chapterhouse, the Atreides dynasty is over and the 
protagonist is now the Bene Gesserit sisterhood.

Except this is what we know of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood:

The Bene Gesserit Murder Children

This we know about the BG from the very beginning when they're introduced in Dune. If a child fails their "human" test, the child is poisoned and killed. But they not only kill children for not meeting the BG definition of "human," they will also kill children they think have dangerous abilities (abilities the Bene Gesserit bred into the child in the first place) as we learned in Heretics that two of Darwi Odrade's children are put to death for those dangerous abilities.

The Bene Gesserit Are Kidnappers

If someone has a gene potential that the Bene Gesserit want, the BG will kidnap that person. All four of Murbella and Duncan's daughters are kidnapped as soon as they're born. But it isn't just babies that the BG kidnap. In his last scene in Heretics before he died, Miles Teg thinks about how there will be a "scrambling for his offspring" and contemplates the fate of his daughter, Dimela, who had chosen not to join the BG, but had married, had three children and was running the family farm, "They would pick up Dimela for their Breeding Mistresses of course" --- what a way to describe kidnapping someone and tearing them away from their chosen life, all so the BG could have her genes. (The Breeding Mistresses are BG sisters who control the Bene Gesserit breeding program which means they tell other sisters who to get pregnant by.)

Once kidnapped, the BG will never release that person. If the person is a young enough, they will be brainwashed into either becoming a BG (if female) or into serving the BG (if male). If the person is too old for the brainwashing, they will be held prisoner for the rest of their life and any children they have will be kidnapped to be brainwashed. Even female children who fail in BG training still aren't released from the BG, but "become nurses, servants, laborers, casual breeders. They filled niches of necessity wherever the Sisterhood required them." Once the Bene Gesserit have someone in their clutches they never let go --- only the Atreides managed to escape the BG and that was only while the Atreides ruled the Empire.

The Bene Gesserit Practice Eugenics

The BG do selective breeding to improve not the human race, but their own genetic stock and to get powers that they can use.

"Control the breeders: Control their offspring" (Heretics, p 219)

If someone does not meet their requirements, that person may be killed as a child as previously mentioned. However, sometimes a child passes the "human" test, but flaws become evident later. Then that person is sterilized and not allowed to procreate (like Sister Baram). Because the BG control the breeding of their sisterhood. The sisters are told who they can breed with. A few sisters are assigned as "Station Mothers" and are assigned to a permanent breeding partner to live out their life with a man they've been told to breed with. Most sisters are sent out to have sex with different men in order to get pregnant by them. In Heretics we learn that Darwi Odrade had "borne nineteen children for the Bene Gesserit......Each child by a different father." (And two of those children had been killed for their potential dangerous abilities.)

A "Station Mother" will be allowed to raise her children. But for the other sisters, as soon as the sister gives birth to the child, the baby is immediately removed. That's because.......

The Bene Gesserit Do Not Love

They see love as a flaw, something to use to manipulate a non-BG. But it is not something they should feel themselves. It's dangerous and shouldn't be experienced by the BG. Maternal love is a weakness. If a child has experienced maternal love, it is a flaw to be dug out and removed during training. The love between a man and a woman is an anathema to them. It's called "the Jessica crime!" BG who experience this, who fall in love with a man, are failures sent to punishment stations for the rest of their lives.

Throughout Heretics "love" is discussed time and again. Love is an emotion which once had a purpose for the human race but that the BG are too mature to need.........through their breeding programs and training, they're supposed to be too advanced to do anything as primitive as "love." This is the Bene Gesserit view of love, "Love is a very ancient force, which served its purpose in its day but no longer is essential for the survival of the species." (p 17)

"Love had nothing to do with it...Reverend Mothers did not act from such mundane motives." p 15
"that thing which the Sisterhood so distrusted ---- love." p 16
"Love leads to misery." p 17
"Love, damnable love, weakening love." p 117
"Love clouded reason. It diverted the Sisters from their duties. Love could be tolerated only where it caused no immediate and obvious disruptions or where it served the larger purposes of the Bene Gesserit. Otherwise it was to be avoided. Always, though, it remained an object of disquieting watchfulness." p 118
"A life without love can be devoted more intensely to the Sisterhood." p 182
"Dangerous and mind-clouding affections." p 344

Contrast that attitude with the attitude of the Atreides ruler, God Emperor Leto II. By the end of his life Leto II had metamorphosized into a seven meter long, five ton pre-worm with the only things recognizably human being his face, arms and hands. But he was still more human than the Bene Gesserit. Leto II believed in love and knew love could strengthen. This was said to Leto II by the person who knew him the best, "I know the only thing that you truly understand...Love, that is what you understand. Love, and that is all of it." (God Emperor, p 393)

The Bene Gesserit Are Rapists

They have trained some of their sisterhood to be the living biological equivalent of GHB or roofies (date rape drugs)...........impossible to resist. They're called "Imprinters." And they are used to obtain sperm the BG want or to fixate (imprint) a man on the BG so they can use him. (The last Duncan ghola's ability to resist a BG Imprinter was highly unusual.) In my world, when someone has their power to choose to have sexual intercourse taken away from them that's rape. You can go to prison for that. For the Bene Gesserit, that's business as usual.

The Bene Gesserit Practice Slavery

The BG willingly sell their sisters into slavery. Jessica was sold to Duke Leto Atreides and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen asks why his uncle never bought a Bene Gesserit. The BG practice slavery even though this is what the BG have to say about it, "Slaves, dangerous imbalance....It was a pattern the Sisterhood had long recognized: the inevitable failure of slavery and peonage. You created a reservoir of hate." (Chapterhouse, p 160)

Yet even recognizing that about slavery, the BG participated in slavery. It was a universe where slavery was pervasive. Secretaries, mentats, gholas, medics, sex toys --- people are wares to be bought and sold. And the Bene Gesserit both sold and bought slaves.

Apparently the Bene Gesserit think of themselves as the Dune universe equivalent of Gone with the Wind where their slaves are happy and don't want to be freed because they're so well treated and taken care of. (Though nowhere in GwtW is it ever discussed why, if the Tara plantation slaves had it so good, the vast majority of them ran away when they had the chance -- only four stayed. I'd say the slave owners' perceptions of the experience of slavery didn't match with the slaves' perceptions of their slavery.)

So the Bene Gesserit practice slavery sailing along thinking its consequences don't apply to them just as the BG are incapable of recognizing that their practice of kidnapping must also create a reservoir of hate. But that's because.............

The Bene Gesserit Are Obsessed with Power

All this breeding and kidnapping and killing and brainwashing the BG do is to gain power. Before the Atreides dynasty took over, they controlled who was going to be on the throne. They breed people for the abilities they will bring to the BG. They use sex to implant hidden hypnotic commands in men's minds. They develop religions they use to manipulate billions. The Bene Gesserit want power, but don't want to use it too openly as that would be dangerous to the BG. Their motto is they "exist only to serve" but what they truly serve is the BG quest for power.

The Bene Gesserit Are Mass Murderers

In Heretics, the BG want to get rid of the sandworms of Rakis. Rakis is a populated planet. They had the military manpower (by Chapterhouse they had a military numbering six million troops) and technology to eliminate the species themselves and the sandworms are easily lured to a spot. But instead of going in and killing the sandworms themselves, the BG come up with an elaborate plot to lure an enemy (the Honored Matres) to Rakis and get the enemy to destroy the entire planet and its population ---- to sterilize the planet and leave it a charred cinder in space. The leader of the BG's reaction when she realized her plan had worked and the planet was being attacked and was going to be wiped out was "I have won!"

The Bene Gesserit's Number One Goal Is the Survival of the Bene Gesserit

What matters most to the BG is the BG and their own survival. This is stated over and over. Survival of the Bene Gesserit is basically the theme of Chapterhouse. Unlike the God Emperor Leto II (who the BG refer to as "the Tyrant") who sacrificed his humanity and his very life for the survival of the human race, that is something the BG would never do. They had the ability and knowledge to do so, but did not. Because, fundamentally, the human race doesn't matter to them. Only the Bene Gesserit matter to them.

Ironically, that plan to have Rakis destroyed backfired on the Bene Gesserit as the Honored Matres then went after the BG and destroyed many of the BG planets. It would almost be funny if not for all the non-BGs who were also killed on those worlds along with the BG plus all the other species and ecosystems that are destroyed.

So those are the Bene Gesserit: power obsessed, child murdering, mass murdering kidnappers and rapists. Yet the Bene Gesserit think they're superior to the rest of humanity. They think that to the extent that the Bene Gesserit don't think much of the rest of humanity even qualifies as "human." (We're just walking, talking animals in human form.) In reading the Dune books, I've spent six novels thinking that it's the Bene Gesserit who have lost something essential to their humanity.

Then, suddenly, in Heretics and Chapterhouse, the Bene Gesserit are the protagonists (the side I'm supposed to "be on") while the Honored Matres are the antagonists. No wonder I can't really feel any sense of identification with the BG or with those last two books. It would be like World War II if your choice were between Mussolini and Hitler. Sure, one's the lesser of the two evils. But they're both still evil. And you want both of them gone.

Bene Gesserit sister with spice addicted eyes

* I've only read one of the Dune books not written by Frank Herbert. It was one of the Dune prequels. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. It was pure dreck, having none of the deftness, depth or intellectual breadth that Frank Herbert brought to his novels. It was nothing but a science-fiction action-adventure novel and even those events which were taken from FH's Dune were done in a completely ham-handed way. The book was so very bad, I did something with the book that I've never done before or since........I returned it and got my money back. (And I didn't even bother to do that with Thomas Harris' Hannibal or the sequel to Gone with the Wind, and I'd bought those in hard cover while the dreadful Dune prequel I got in paperback.) So you can imagine I've never bothered to read any more of the non-Frank Herbert books. Read more? I'd like to wipe the one I had the misfortune to read out of my memory.

For more on my take on books, read "4 Classic Novels that Are Way More Depressing than You Think They Are Based on the Movies" and "The Usual Characters."

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