317. Peace (IV)
In Dune (1984), the character Liet Kynes, the imperial ecologist on the planet Dune, decides to throw in his lot with Leto Atreides—a duke sent to take over the planet’s stewardship. He does so because he observes that Atreides cares more for his men—risks his own life to rescue them—than he does for the spice melange they mine, the spice being the most precious material in the galaxy. The sentiment is common in many films and books: the hero cares about people, whereas the villain is greedy or selfish; in this case, a rival aristocratic house that only cares about spice production and is cruel and barbarous to Dune’s inhabitants. Yet this is all a human misnomer.
The opposite to the leader who purportedly cares about his men—cares about human life, we could say—is not the leader who only cares about “spice production”, the greedy or exploitative tyrant. Rather, the virtuous leader is the man who understands value and utilises his men and resources in accordance with their actual value. You will only steward your men well if you understand their true value; and I do not mean that in sentimental terms, in terms of their soul or emotions.
In Dune’s fictional universe, the spice melange is the most valuable substance in existence; it can extend life and it allows for space to be “folded” so that travel is possible over vast distances in an instant. Spice is, therefore, in most circumstances, more valuable than a man’s life—possibly more valuable than the lives of several hundred men. Now, this does not mean men should be squandered in its production, though at the same time it would be foolish to think that men are more valuable than spice; and in the real world the leader who claims to value men more than the spice is usually a tyrant.
The leaders who have squandered millions of lives over the last century had no sense as to a life’s value; they had their proclaimed love of humanity, and this provided no constraints on their actions towards other men—indeed, covertly, they despised mankind. Stalin claimed a true love for the whole human race and Hitler extended his apparently warm affection as far as the German people, and yet we see in them two men who mostly squandered resources; and they did so, in part, because they refused to value anything properly—for them it was all pretended adoration.
The leader who understands the value of his men—his men in their aspect as resources—will be more judicious in his action; if he loses, say, twenty men, he understands the cash value this amounts to in loss; and this helps him to appreciate a life’s value in a deeper sense than any advertised general concern for mankind. Notably, Human Resources departments rarely talk about employees in cash-value terms; they always “care” for people, yet those who really care treat a human as a true resource with a definite value.
A real villain in Dune world would arrive on the planet and proclaim his love and concern for the Fremen, the mystical natives somewhat akin to the Red Indians, and assure everyone that he was not motivated by profit but simply by love for ecology and indigenous culture. In time, he would destroy the planet’s ecology, spice production, and the Fremen themselves. Be assured, men like this—humanists, who use their love of humanity as a veneer—are at work in our world today. Now, perhaps Leto Atreides was not as humanist as all that; his main concern seems to be his family line, he knows the value of that. But the ecologist Kynes, when he repeats humanist platitudes, shows poor judge of character. What we should really look for in our leaders is not that they care for their men more than material goods, but that they look for the real value of things and men; and then steward the value they acquire.