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March 15th, 2007
04:24 am
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Tattoo tangent: The story of Nobody
I keep meaning to write about the meaning behind my new tattoo ... but every time I do, my mind drifts, and keeps settling back in on the story of Nobody.

That's unfortunate, because Nobody has very little to do with my tattoo. His story's not even one I like. But it's a tale that has stuck with me through decades and distance. Perhaps by sharing it I can come to some sort of peace with it.

---

Disclaimer: Nobody's tale is probably fiction. If so, it isn't my fiction. It's something I was taught a lifetime ago, a story whose origin was lost in the generations since its writing.

I don't remember enough context to know those origins. It might be parable, it might be creative history. It might even be truth ... but if so, it's truth molded into the shape of myth.

---

I call him Nobody because that's literally his name in the texts: Eydrin, "one who isn't."

Nobody, you see, was a shapeshifter. He had names and faces and lives and families, but none of them were him, and none of them were his. None of them were real. Only Nobody was real, and he flitted between forms with ease.

Two of Nobody's identities in particular had brought him great success. In the first, he was a husband and father, a nondescript working man with ties to some shady but well-connected groups. In the second, he was a wealthy merchant, young and single, of high reputation. The two resided in feuding city-states; he profited from a unique ability to move goods safely back and forth to his connections on both sides.

But the political feud, as so many do, turned to war.

The city-states started drafting their citizens. As a quiet and unknown workingman, he could afford to evade the recruiters; but as a young merchant of some prominence, there was too much to lose by disappearing and too much to gain by serving honorably. Nobody's wealth and connections bought him a spot in the officer corps, and he took charge of a squadron at the front lines of the attacking army.

Meanwhile, his oldest son -- not knowing of his father's dual life -- joined the defending army and marched out to guard their city.

When the two armies came together in a giant clash of bodies, Nobody led his men into the fray. They fought honorably and well, pressing against the overwhelmed defenders and ultimately breaking their lines. Then Nobody spied a familiar face.

It was his son, fighting to hold off Nobody's troops as the defenders retreated.

Nobody watched his son fight, outmatched. He looked on as a spear pierced the young man's side. Their eyes locked as the son fell, but the son saw only a stranger, and Nobody didn't betray any recognition.

The victorious army marched through their conquered territory, reaching the city and rampaging through its outskirts before their advance was repulsed. After further back and forth, the armies dug in to a stalemate.

That night, finally able to slip away from his command, Nobody snuck back to his family's home ... only to find that it had been burned in the conquest, and his wife and other children had also been lost.

Heart burning with revenge, he went straight to the leaders of the city-state he'd lived in as a father, and gave them all the military information he could about the side he'd fought for. With that sort of espionage, the defending state rallied its troops and beat back the invaders. Not content with mere survival, they then turned the tables -- pushing the aggressors back to their own city, which was promptly sacked.

Though that counterattack gave Nobody his revenge, all of his business assets were looted or destroyed. He lived the rest of his life alone and penniless.

---

Charming story, innit?

... Yeah.

I used to HATE that damn story last life around.

Because I had Nobody's story BEAT INTO MY HEAD during that lifetime.

In the grand tradition of religious parables, entire generations had grown up with it, COMPLETELY MISSING THE POINT and using it as a bludgeon with no relation to its original intent.

The guiding principle of Thiderean thought is honor. The story was meant as a clear illustration of that principle. Honor has nothing to do with prestige and everything to do with right action. When we let ourselves think that honor means doing things that make others think well of us, our actions can cost us dearly. And when we let ourselves think that honor means vengeance, even more so.

But is that the lesson they try to teach when Eydrin's name comes up? Hell no.

Think of how the story of Sodom has somehow been turned into an argument that god hates gays. In a similar way, the story of Nobody was used as a hammer to illustrate that ... mingling with other races (via shapeshifting) inevitably leads to apocalyptic personal destruction.

*sigh*

--
Edit, 3/16: Sudden and unnecessary cursing removed.

Current Location: ~/computer_desk
Current Mood: thoughtfulreflective
Current Music: "Homesick," Soul Asylum
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(7 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:zuki_san
Date:March 15th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
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To me it looks to be a story about the consequences of deception or living a double life, and about how revenge is ultimately a self-defeating course of action.

Also, about the troubles that come from conflicting loyalties.

Hmmm. I want to think a little bit more about this parable, and what it might have originally intended to illustrate. Mind, I don't know anything about the Thiderean concept of honor, so it's not quite as transparent to me.

From what you've written, I see nothing to do with race at all. That definitely seems to be a missappropriation. Besides, it seems like a somewhat poor example of how interracial interaction leads to bad thing. It's not all that unlikely that two citystates with similiar racial backgrounds could find cause to feud and go to war, is it? Economics, culture, political history can go a long way there.

Hmm. It seems that one of the major 'slip-ups' Nobody made was in his motivations and choice to join the armies of one of the city states. That does tie in with what you said about how honor is *not* about other's perception of you. It would have looked bad for that identity if he'd fled, and good for it if he performed military service. Hmmmm.
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From:baxil
Date:March 17th, 2007 06:15 am (UTC)
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> To me it looks to be a story about the consequences of deception or living a double life

The thing is, that would be a very straightforward and valid reading of it. But because of the way the story was misused, I find myself leaping to disagree. Not necessarily because you're wrong, but because I'm so sensitive to how it was misused. And I don't think the real problem here was his deception.

(The double irony here being that I do disapprove of double lives; my experience this time around has been that it's been honesty and full disclosure that's gotten me where I am. I have a feeling like if I keep arguing about Nobody, I'm going to talk myself into two opposing corners simultaneously. Oh well ... I am large, I contain multitudes. ;))

I agree with you that it's a warning about conflicting loyalties; I agree that military service was a mistake. But I think that a full reading of the parable shows two major factors to the tragedy, and neither was deception.

His first big choice was whether to serve or not; perhaps he could have taken his family and fled. With his abilities he could have easily started over again. He chose to fight. His second big choice was where to serve. He chose to try to profit from conflict. His third big choice was what to do once he realized that he chose badly. He chose revenge. In each of the cases he picked the path that led deeper into conflict. So his first major mistake was choosing death over life, destruction over protection.

There are certainly bad choices that he made that involved deception. He could have avoided the final outcome if he'd been honest with his family: "Nothing personal, but I'm helping the other guys invade our city. I'd really appreciate it if you guys could flee and I'll find you once the fighting's over and I'm a military superstar." But deception wasn't the problem here. Deception was a symptom. Not caring about his family was the problem -- his second major mistake. He could have found any of a hundred little ways to get them to safety without revealing his secret; he didn't do any of those either.

Arguably, he could have avoided the tragedy by simply being open about what he was from the beginning -- to one city, anyway! He could have used his double life toward a single loyalty and worked as a spy. But, again, it comes back to this: Given the life he had already chosen up until war broke out, what caused the tragedy? It was that he threw away his family, and chose a destructive path. Deception wasn't the true issue.

There are times when deception is necessary (i.e. for personal safety), and when it hurts no-one. Using Nobody's story as a large blunt object against the "deception" of personal concealment, I think, dangerously and wrongly ignores these circumstances.
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From:frameacloud
Date:March 16th, 2007 03:56 am (UTC)
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Wow. That's a very interesting parable. Wow.

By pursuing vengeance, Nobody ensured that the destruction continued: one side of his life, and then the other, leaving him with nothing. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

And since he was allied with both sides, and attacking both sides, each attack was on himself. In the novel Spock's World, an ancient Vulcan philosopher was horrified to hear about the development of bombs so powerful that they could crack the planet, killing all and sparing none. He saw that on that scale, it wasn't possible to think of "them" and "us" anymore, because an attack on anyone would be an attack on everyone. I'm probably paraphrasing, but he said something like "The spear in the other's heart is the spear in your own; his life is yours." That's sort of what happened with Nobody: he kept thinking that he could strike out at "them" without hitting "us," but it should have been plain to him that those were one and the same. It would have been true even if Nobody hadn't had a foot in both city-states, although his situation made it clearer.

Have you seen Woody Allen's The Chameleon Man? It's about a man who was so desperate to fit in that he would often flee to another place and take on a different identity, spontaneously transforming his personality and physical appearance, so he had no clue who he really was. It's a comedy instead of a tragedy, though; its message addresses entirely different things.

I can see why you disliked the story of Nobody and its misuse. Ouch.
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From:baxil
Date:March 17th, 2007 06:50 am (UTC)
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Your mention of the planet-killing bombs tempts me ... aigh ... I cannot resist.

World peace: nobody with nukes.
World War III: Nobody with nukes.

... ;)

Seriously, though. I agree: my reading of the story (see upthread) shows one of his two major mistakes to be choosing conflict over peace. He thought living two lives meant he had nothing to lose; in reality he risked twice as much.

Haven't seen Chameleon. May have to.
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From:kistaro
Date:March 16th, 2007 07:33 am (UTC)
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It interests me how different cultures in different worlds can be so prone to the same phenomena: stories about revenge that destroyed the perpetrator, stories about war and the [person] killing his own [insert relative here], and of course the story with an informative, clear, and blatantly obvious moral being moronically twisted to a completely bogus conclusion because it fit the political mores of the time.

...Now I'm trying to invent some sort of alien psychology that wouldn't write stories like that.
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From:baxil
Date:March 16th, 2007 09:06 am (UTC)
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The Johmarr come to mind.
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From:kistaro
Date:March 16th, 2007 08:02 pm (UTC)
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I thought of them as I wrote that comment, actually. For some reason, though, it didn't seem quite correct; I can't articulate why not, but it's some pseudo-inane quibbling about definitions of "revenge" that don't require more than social and political action- and can have nearly identical results. But just because it can happen in a society doesn't mean they'd bother writing about it!

*is incoherent*
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