aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Interlude ח: War and Peace

Exodus 15:3 says “The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is His Name.” But this verse is ambiguous: “man of war” can mean either a type of Portuguese jellyfish or a type of British warship. Which one is the LORD?

I suggest that He is the latter. A jellyfish is a primitive and ignorant animal, unworthy to be compared to the glories of God. But a warship is mighty and inspires awe, and divine comparisons are entirely suitable; indeed, God may be the only thing worthy of being compared to it. For it is written, “The LORD alone is worthy of warship.”

— From “A Call To Arms”, by Aaron Smith-Teller
Submitted for the January 2017 issue of the Stevensite Standard
Rejected with extreme prejudice by editor Erica Lowry


It’s hard for me to imagine what it must have been like to be alive in ’69, to see the demons spill forth from the ground and the angels descend from the clouds.

But – okay, personal disclosure time. When I was little, six or seven, I thought Nazis were a kind of fictional monster.

You’d see movies where the heroes fought zombies. You’d see movies where the heroes fought vampires. And then you’d see other movies where the heroes fought Nazis. Zombies spoke with a silly slow droning voice and said BRAAAAAINS a lot. Vampires spoke with a silly Eastern European accent and said “I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD” a lot. Nazis spoke with a silly German accent and said “HEIL HITLER” a lot. Zombies dressed in ragged clothes that were falling apart. Vampires dressed in stylish black capes. Nazis dressed in brown uniforms with snazzy red armbands. In any case, the point was that they were this weird subspecies of humanity that didn’t follow normal rules, that was out to kill everybody for unspecified reasons, and you could shoot them without feeling guilty.

And then when I was eight I picked up a history book, and it was all in there, and I felt sick and vomited for the rest of the evening. And that night I was too scared to sleep. Not scared of Nazis – the history book explained that they had been beaten decisively a long time ago, and besides they never made it to America anyway – but scared of vampires coming to suck my blood. After all, if I could be wrong about one thing, who was to say I wasn’t wrong about everything else?

And that must have been how it felt to be alive in ’69, to learn that something you’d previously assumed was a legend used to scare children was terribly, terribly real. And then you wondered what else might be real. And then you started to panic.

The hardest hit were the atheists. They’d spent their whole lives smugly telling everyone else that God and the Devil were fairy tales and really wasn’t it time to put away fairy tales and act like mature adults, and then suddenly anyone with a good pair of binoculars can see angels in the sky. It was rough. Rough for the Marxists, who had embraced it more than anyone. Rough for the scientific community, who had never come out and said SCIENCE PROVES THERE IS NO GOD ALSO WE ARE SMARTER THAN YOU but you could kind of read it between the lines. Rough for all the New Age hippies who were revolting against the tired old Biblical morality of their parents.

Stephen Jay Gould, a biologist working at Harvard University, tried to stabilize the burgeoning philosophical disaster with his theory of “non-overlapping magisteria”. He said that while religion might have access to certain factual truths, like that angels existed or that the souls of the damned spent eternity writhing in a land of fire thousands of miles beneath the Earth, it was powerless to discuss human values and age-old questions like “what is the Good?” or “what is the purpose of my existence?” Atheistic science should be thought of not as a literal attempt to say things like “space is infinite and full of stars” or “humankind evolved from apes” that were now known to be untrue, but as an attempt to record, in the form of stories, our ancestors’ answers to those great questions. When a scientist says “space is infinite and full of stars”, she does not literally mean that the crystal sphere surrounding the Earth doesn’t exist. She is metaphorically referring to the infinitude of the human spirit, the limitless possibilities it offers, and the brightness and enlightenment waiting to be discovered. Or when a scientist says “humankind evolved from apes”, she is not literally doubting the word of the archangel Uriel that humankind was created ex nihilo on October 13, 3761 BC and evolution added only as part of a later retconning – she is saying that humankind has an animal nature that it has barely transcended and to which it is always at risk of returning. When religious people mocked atheists for supposedly getting their cosmology wrong, they were missing the true grandeur and beauty of atheism, a grandeur which had been passed on undiminished from Democritus to the present day and connected us to the great thinkers of times past.

Nobody was very impressed by these logical contortions, but for some reason a bunch of people kept repeating them anyway.


Also unimpressed were the Soviets. They had been taking the problems kind of in stride right until June 1969 when the legions of Hell started swarming out of Lake Baikal. The Russians had been carefully guarding the borders with NATO, with China, and especially the Bering Strait where they almost touched America. They’d forgotten the oldest border of all. Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world, but it sits on a rift even deeper than that. A dozen generations of shamans had warned first the czar, then the communists that the rock on the island in the center of the lake wasn’t a rock at all so much as a plug blocking a hole that really needed to stay blocked, but no one had listened. Without any troops in their way, the demons had taken over pretty much all of Siberia east of the Yenisei within a year. Yakutsk was their capital, the rumors said, and had been the site of terrible massacres.

But the demons, too, had forgotten something: this was Russia. What a normal country would call getting suddenly invaded by a vastly more powerful adversary who committed unspeakable atrocities in their wake, the Russians just called Tuesday. Even the nature of the foe didn’t much faze them; this was the fiftieth year of the Soviet state, and they’d spent so long hearing that their enemies were demons that it was almost an anticlimax when it all proved true.

So the Soviets mobilized their military machine, the largest in the world, and trudged to the Yenesei, which they dutifully started defending. Another country would have called it a terrible battle that made the rivers run red with blood and the piled corpses reach almost to the sky. The Russians just called it Wednesday. Hell’s legions stalled temporarily, caught flat-footed by Moscow’s ability to throw its citizens’ lives away defending every square meter of land.

(In Soviet Russia, demons shocked by atrocities of you!)

But there were only so many Russians with so much blood to shed, and very slowly the front started advancing west again.


Atheist materialist communism doesn’t cut it when you’re fighting literal demons, and Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria was hardly a warrior faith. The Soviets convened a conference of Marxist theorists and Russian Orthodox clergy to try to hammer together an official metaphysics, but the two sides had trouble finding common ground. Meanwhile, people were starting to talk about sephirot and klipot and the Names of God. This wasn’t just a supernatural incursion, this was a specifically Jewish supernatural incursion. Brezhnev told the Politburo that a meeting of Marxists and Orthodox priests wasn’t enough. They needed Jews.

Unfortunately, they’d spent the last forty years or so denouncing religion as regressive, and thanks to Stalin’s anti-Semitism Jews had suffered disproportionately in the transition to Glorious Scientific Modernity. There were probably still a few learned rabbis in the Soviet Union, but none who would go up to Leonid Brezhnev and admit they were learned rabbis. The conference stalled. Moscow took the extraordinary step of asking for help from international Jewry. Europeans, Israelis, even Americans would be welcome, as long as they could quote Torah and tell him how to update Marxism for a post-scientific age.

International Jewry promptly told him that many of them had just finished risking their lives to get out of Russia, and also they hated Russia, and they didn’t care how desperately Russia need their help, he was crazy if he thought they were going back there.

A singer is someone who tries to be good.

Isaac Bashevis Singer had always tried to be good. After escaping Russian-occupied Poland for the United States, he spent the fifties and sixties as one of the country’s top intellectuals, using his fame to support and protect Jews around the world. But he was an advocate not only to his own people but for oppressed peoples around the world – not to mention animals, for whose sake he became a fierce and early advocate of the vegetarian movement. Although he’d been fervently anti-Communist for years, he couldn’t deny the extremity of the Soviets’ need. He was no kabbalist – but his father had been a Hasidic rabbi, and he had several thousand pages of notes for a book he was writing about the Baal Shem Tov, and as the Comet King would later say, “somebody has to and no one else will”. Singer got on the next plane for Moscow.

The Soviets were not impressed. Not a rabbi, barely even a believer, how did he think he was going to reconcile Marx and the kabbalah?

“Reconcile?” asked Singer. “Marx is already the kabbalah. Isn’t it obvious?”

Gebron and Eleazar define kabbalah as hidden unity made manifest through the invocation of symbols and angels. But unity is communion, and symbols are marks on a piece of paper. So “unity made manifest by symbols and angels” equals “Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels”. The supposed atheism of Communists was a sham; after all, did they not regard Marx with a devotion almost equivalent to worship? But the name Karl Marx comes from Germanic “Carl”, meaning “man”, and “Marx”, coming from Latin “Marcus”, itself from the older Latin “Martius”, meaning “of Mars” or “of war”. So the name “Karl Marx” means “man of war”. But Exodus 15:3 says “The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is His Name.” The LORD is His Name, indeed. Every tribute the Soviets had given Marx, they were praising God without knowing it.

(and for that matter, the kabbalistic Avgad cipher decodes “Lenin” into “Moses”. This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.)

But aside from etymology, Marx’s whole system was only a veneer of materialism placed over the Lurianic kabbalah. God made Man in his own image; therefore Man went through the same Lurianic process as God did, only in reverse. Just as God’s descent was channeled into a series of sephirot, so the ascent of Man was channeled into a series of class structures ordered in dialectic steps. But these class structures were unable to contain the human will and shattered in violent system-ending revolutions, leading to the next class-structure in the series. Our own world is the chaotic combination of sparks of sacred humanity and debris from the accumulated advantages of all the previous shattered class structures. Marx refers to this second group by the German word “kapital”, a perfect Hebrew anagram of “klipot”. The sparks of humanity must self-organize to redirect the human will and capital into a proper configuration, realization of which will constitute tikkun olam and usher in the arrival of the Moshiach and the terrestrial paradise. But just as the spiritual klipot can self-organize into demons, so the earthly capital can self-organize into the reactionary forces trying to prevent revolution and keep the world shattered and confused. The Soviet Union was under attack by both at once, besieged by capitalists and demons – but only because the great work was almost complete, only because this was their last chance to prevent the final triumph of the light over the darkness forever.

Now that was a warrior faith.

Leninist pamphlets in one hand, Torah scroll in the others, the new acolytes of Marxist-Lurianism set out across Russia exhorting people to defend the Motherland, telling them that the hour of Moshiach was near at hand.


In 1960, the Chinese had split with the Soviets over different interpretations of Communism, and the two countries had been on bad terms ever since. When the demons took over Yakutsk, Mao had watched warily to see if they would make any foray toward the Chinese border. When they didn’t, he’d issued a strongly worded statement saying that killing tens of millions of Russians was probably a bad thing, then turned his attention back to internal affairs.

This was the era of the Cultural Revolution, so people were starving to death left and right – mostly left, since the right tended to die in ways much more dramatic and violent. Those who rebelled were mowed down mercilessly; those who disagreed were sent to prison camps. Mao was old, but clung to life tenaciously, as if he wasn’t going to go out before taking a big chunk of the Chinese population with him.

It was in this atmosphere that an underfed peasant on a collective farm had a strange dream. A gloriously shining figure showed him letters in a tongue he didn’t understand. When he woke up he figured it was just a dream, but he remembered the letters anyway. That afternoon when he was digging a well, he struck something too hard for his makeshift spade to pry through. After a little exploration he found his way into an underground chamber holding an amazing treasure. Eight thousand terracotta soldiers, horseman, and chariots, all perfectly lifelike, frozen in warlike postures.

Moved by an impulse he didn’t quite understand, he wrote the mysterious letters from his dream on the forehead of one of the warriors, and it sprung to life, ready to serve him.

Six months later Mao was dead, the peasant was the first Harmonious Jade Dragon Emperor, the terracotta golems were back in their underground chamber until their country needed them a second time, and China was on the up-and-up again.


Winston Churchill had once said “If Hitler were fighting Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil.” Richard Nixon was familiar with this quote. Richard Nixon had no sense of humor.

“I’ve been working my [expletive deleted] off to protect this country from Communism for twenty years,” he told the Cabinet, “and [expletive deleted] if I’m going to stop now just because there’s a moral grey area. I just want you to think big, for Chrissakes. A chance to end this [expletive deleted] once and for all. By God, people, this is our chance!”

The overt meaning of “kiss” is “to press the lips against another person as a sign of affection.”

The kabbalistic meaning is “to betray divinity.”

This we derive from the story of Judas Iscariot, who for thirty pieces of silver agreed to identify Jesus to the Roman authorities. He kissed him in the Garden of Gethsemane as a signal for the legionaries to swoop in and arrest him. When Jesus was later worshipped as the Son of God, Judas’ name became so synonmous with betrayal that Dante gave him an exclusive position as one of the three greatest sinners of all time.

Most people don’t know a would-be Messiah to backstab, but there are other ways to betray divinity. The yetzer ha-tov, the inclination to do good in every one of us, is divine in origin. When we stifle it, we betray divinity.

But a singer is someone who tries to be good. So somebody who betrays the divine urge toward goodness inside himself again and again, playing Judas so many times that his own yetzer ha-tov withers and dies – such a person might have a name like –

Kissinger nodded as the President spoke. “We should act quickly,” he said. “Our leverage will be higher the sooner we make our move, and the Soviets cannot be allowed to learn anything. It will be a hard sell to the American people, but the bolder and swifter the action, the more daring it will seem. The American people like a government that does what needs to be done.”

In 1972, the President, Mr. Kissinger, and several other high officials took an unexpected trip to Yakutsk, where they opened full diplomatic relations with Hell. Nixon and Thamiel agreed to respect the boundary at the Bering Strait and cooperate economically and militarily against their mutual enemy.

True to Kissinger’s words, opinion-makers hailed the treaty as a masterstroke. One of the nation’s most dangerous opponents had been converted to a working partner in a single week of whirlwind diplomacy. Kissinger was lauded, but the real praise fell on Nixon, whose stern anti-communist stance had given him the moral credentials he needed to forcefully defend his action. Thus the saying that sprang up in the wake of the trip: “Only Nixon can go to Hell.”

(later, after the Outer Gate scandal, the word “only” was removed from the saying.)

But outside the Beltway, the reaction was less positive. Preachers in small town churches railed against the President. Human rights advocates expressed concern. Noam Chomsky wrote a scathing article in The Nation. Student leaders organized protests at universities. Polls in the South and Midwest, once solid Nixon country, showed increasing concern.

The backlash was stronger still in America’s foreign allies. The Archbishop of Canterbury led a candlelight vigil against the treaty. Italian syndicalists set off bombs. The Christian Democrats brought down the French government, and were denounced as Communist sympathizers. In Iran, Shia Muslim protesters took to the streets, shouting Marg bar Shaytan-e bozorg! – “Death to the Great Satan”. The Shah’s riot police attacked the protesters, the protesters fought back, and the disturbance was calmed only when a loyal Ayatollah stated that it was not the duty of Muslims to fight against Hell bodily, but only spiritually, for Hell itself was created by God for a reason. Thus the quote from Khayyam’s rubaiyat eight hundred years earlier:

O thou, who burns with tears for those who burn
In Hell, whose fires will find thee in thy turn
Hope not the Lord thy God to mercy teach
For who art thou to teach, or He to learn?

That was the end of Iranian resistance to the alliance. And the quote made it to America, Europe, and all the other countries of the world, became a sort of motto, an excuse, a “well, who are we to say that allying with the forces of Hell isn’t the sort of thing that might be part of the divine plan after all?”

(But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din
List the ominous stern whisper, from the Delphic cave within
They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.)

(“It’s not a ‘compromise with sin’, per se, just a strategic alliance with the Devil.”)


(“Okay, fine, whatever, maybe it’s kind of a compromise with sin.”)

But as the demons very slowly pushed their way toward Moscow, buoyed by their new partnerships, people grew wary again. If Russia did fall, what then? Western Europe, India, and the entire Middle East sat there ripe for the taking. And the Americans couldn’t help but reflect that the Bering Strait was seeming a lot smaller than they would like.

“Kissinger, are you sure this was a good idea?”

“There is never any surety in politics, only probability.”

“But you think it’s probable this was a good idea?”


“What about our [expletive deleted] souls, Kissinger?”

“I fail to see how they are relevant to geopolitics.”

So passed the first quarter of the 1970s.

There is a new author’s note up here

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143 Responses to Interlude ח: War and Peace

  1. Great interlude. Minor quibble – kapital is קפיטל, and klipot is קליפות. Aside from the lack of a vav, there’s also a tet/tav difference.

  2. Kyre says:

    You, sir, have a twisted mind. Love the “non-overlapping magisteria” turned on its head. The kabbalistic derivation of Kissinger and “only Nixon can go to Hell” nearly made me snort tea up my nose.

    Also, the bit with Issac Singer juxtaposing kabbalah, political rhetoric and faith all in a single instance of “write your bottom line first then fill in the evidence” – very nice.

  3. Daniel Blank says:

    Tvtropes page is now confirmed to be written by Scott, making parenthetical voice 1 more likely to be the Messiah.

  4. ton says:

    Whereas God’s descent was channeled into a series of sephirot, so the ascent of Man was channeled into a series of class structures ordered in dialectic steps.

    Not grammatically correct. Whereas doesn’t match so.

    • Orodalf says:

      Pretty sure this is grammatically correct. “Whereas” is used as a subordinating conjunction meaning “the following being the case,” “so” is used as an adverb meaning “in the same manner as aforementioned.” The first clause is dependent, the second is independent (subject “ascent of Man” verb “was channeled”).

  5. Sniffnoy says:

    OK, I cracked up at “Only Nixon can go to Hell”. (The joke after it is kind of redundant, really.)

  6. Haugmag says:

    The Stephen Jay Gould paragraph is the best one in the book yet. Also the most quotable out of context.

    Typo thread: “somebody who betrays divine the urge”.

    • Deiseach says:

      Stephen Jay Gould, a biologist working at Harvard University, tried to stabilize the burgeoning philosophical disaster with his theory of “non-overlapping magisteria”.

      This whole interlude makes me very, very happy, but particularly this part. Not because I have any particular animus for Gould, but hey! he didn’t invent the use of the term magisterium, you know!

      I have never seen anything, in either critical or laudatory mentions of Gould’s idea of overlapping magisterial, that acknowledges this; Gould himself alludes to the magisterium in one sentence in an article that I have read and then goes on to develop his NOMA, but other commenters seem to ignore it entirely as irrelevant (some hokey old term from religion) or seemingly have no idea but that he coined the term himself.

      • Deiseach says:

        The reason I’m making a big deal of this is because the magisterium is not simply “the stuff Catholics are supposed to believe”, it has a very definite technical definition and is bound up with papal infallibility. So Gould claiming a “separate but equal if not superior” magisterium for science is making a bigger claim than on the face of it.

        More of that ” SCIENCE PROVES THERE IS NO GOD ALSO WE ARE SMARTER THAN YOU but you could kind of read it between the lines” idea 🙂

  7. Daniel says:

    Typo: “divine the urge toward goodness” – should be “the divine urge toward goodness”

    • Ethan Bradford says:

      On typos,”prevent the final triumph of the light over the darkness forever” seems backward. Either “prevent” should be “promote”, or the triumpher should switch.

    • KaynanK says:

      Also, “he was was crazy if he thought they were going back there”

    • Vamair says:

      “The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is His Name(“). But this verse is ambiguous – missing quotation mark
      Wiki says it’s Yenisei, not Yenesei.

  8. According to the Talmud, there are 36 righteous men in each generation and if they are withdrawn the world will collapse. According to Atlas Shrugged, there were also 36 strikers in Galt’s Gulch. When they were withdrawn the world did collapse.

    In this universe, Ayn Rand was giving a lecture in San Francisco in June 1970. She reacted to events by praising God. This took the form of shouting “EXISTENCE EXISTS!” Unfortunately, that turned out to be a translation of the Mortal name.

    By the way, if a singer is someone who tries to do good, what does that imply about sewing machines?

    • Huh, interesting connection.

      (also, note the correspondence between lamedvavniks and LWers – there should probably be a lamed vav t-shirt along with the big yud one)

      I’ve been thinking a lot about that. The Singer of Singer Sewing Machines’ full name was Isaac Merritt Singer. Since Isaac means “to laugh” in Hebrew, my interpretation of that is “Man’s attempts to do good merit laughter”.

      I’m not sure if I’m going to get a chance to work that in anywhere – it looks like the main potentially plot-relevant location, the Singer Building in New York, was demolished the year before the sky cracked.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sewing machines join two separate pieces of cloth into one and make garments to clothe the nakedness of fallen Mankind. Do you not see the parallel with joining the heavenly and the earthly for the redemption of Malkuth? 🙂

  9. Emma says:

    Why not just nuke the demons? Had nuclear weapons stopped working at this point?

    • The short answer is “yes”, the long answer is an interlude I’m still working on.

      • They were kabbalistically replaced by unclear weapons?

        By the way, why is that Macintosh computers still work?

      • Ninmesara says:

        You don’t need them when you can have mutually assured destruction with the Wrathful Name. I wonder if Edward Teller turned his investigations towards Kabbalah when physics stopped working. If so, it is strange that his nephew didn’t mention it already, but it seems appropriate.

      • Sammy says:

        Is there any more information on exactly which technologies stopped working and when? The Soviet Union in 1969 had enormously powerful conventional forces, along with spectacular amounts of conventional artillery and bombers and other long range weapons that I couldn’t see how a deamon could counter. How would an army of Deamons resist an area-bombing campaign like those in WW2, but with much larger numbers of aircraft?

    • Walter says:

      Well, Angels reincarnate if killed, right? Unless the job is done by Thamiel’s bident anyway. So maybe Demons do likewise? If so, nuking them would ruin central Russia, and have no lasting benefit.

  10. Does givewell’s “give ten percent” count as compromise with sin? Based on the previous responses to the passage (being less than maximally saintly is exactly compromise with sin), I’d say yes.
    But there’s a fundamental moral difference between the way people compromise with sin here (by closing their eyes to hell) and givewell’s ten percent goal. I think it’s about lying to yourself – the people ignoring hell are rationalizing away what they know is a bad decision, while the people who reach the 10% goal are, well, correctly observing that the practical alternative is probably to do nothing. But I’m not sure if this is a difference of principles, or just an object-level issue of the givewell guys being more right.

    • bassicallyboss says:

      Does givewell’s “give ten percent” count as compromise with sin? … I’d say yes.

      Then later, in the middle of rationalizing givewell’s approach, you contrast givewell with those in the story who rationalize away what they know is a bad decision.

      I agree with Giving What We Can’s goals, and I think the “give 10%” approach is a good one. But your comment made me laugh. Part of the whole idea of the 10% thing is to set a sort of baseline; a way for people to say “I am a good person” and feel like they’ve done their due without being maximally saintly. In other words, to mark out giving beyond a certain point as supererogatory. If it was compromise with sin when St. Francis’ contemporaries did it, it is now, too.

      You’re right that it’s different from Nixon and Kissinger, though. A compromise with sin reconciles the idea that humans are imperfect with the need to do good. An alliance with sin like Nixon and Kissinger is an agreement to pursue the Devil’s goals in exchange for him pursuing yours. It basically amounts to selling your soul for a favor–or in this case, selling the USA’s soul.

      This talk of Giving What We Can and being maximally saintly has got me thinking, though. Assuming consequentialist ethics, earning to give is at least sometimes more effective than just giving up your possessions and ministering to the poor. If you’re earning to give, you need to keep some for yourself to keep healthy/sane/motivated/etc. We can then define keeping only exactly that amount as being maximally saintly, at least in this case. How much it is probably varies from person to person, but I wonder what the distribution is like?

      Moreover, the “10% pledge” could be changed to the “X% pledge.” Graphing money donated vs. X, should give us something like a Laffer curve–the highest point on which will be the point of maximum saintliness. (For the organizers of the pledge, at least. Pledgers should still give at their individual maximum level in order to be maximally saintly.)

      • Roy says:

        I think this conflates somewhat the idea of saintliness and spirituality with effectiveness. You don’t need either money or capital to be maximally saintly. In fact, giving $10 as a destitute monk is probably more saintly than giving $1,000 as a billionaire. Not more effective, but more giving (can’t feed as many homeless ducks, but you might actually care more about homeless ducks). Also, less of your life energy has to be devoted to the self-perpetuating trap of accumulating money that in theory you will totally, like, use to help people…. …starting tomorrow.

        I think there’s an interesting dynamic if you consider saintliness and power/capital separately. Bill Gates, for example, is now turning his money and power to some great works. But just due to the nature of the earlier accumulatory years, does he have a lot of negative karma to overcome? Whereas someone who just immediately went for helping out in Africa might have a totally different karma graph over time.
        In order to make if fair, we kind-of have to bring in another measure, something like “life time”. “Life time” being just, the amount of energy/time you have available over your life that you could use for doing good. If we treat “life time” as the seed for obtaining any karma, saintly or selfish, then presumably the Bill Gates graph looks like something that dips highly negative (for the sake of argument due to negative side-effects of obtaining self-owned Billions), and then starts to climb back up, whereas maximally saintly individual steadily grows in a somewhat linear fashion, never dipping negative. That’s a hard initial negative ~50 years to overcome, for gates, even if his later ~25 years on average are spent doing 100% karmically positive stuff.

        I’ve digressed, but the point is that being saintly literally requires $0 capital, and falling into the trapped habit of thinking that you need power & money before you can practice any saintliness will often outweigh the potential for more “effective” saintliness later. Once you create a habit of obtaining money for later good goals, it’s human nature to move the goal posts until they end up 1 day past the day you die.

        • Galle says:

          I don’t think the karmic bank account model of morality is really a helpful way of looking at the issue at all, and in fact may be self-defeating.

          If our hypothetical maximally saintly person’s goal is to maximize their own saintliness, rather than to do good, than you’re correct – they can do that just as well while poor as while rich. It’s clearly more saintly for a penniless man to give $10 than for a rich man to give $1000.

          But wait! Those $1000 are, at the end of the day, still doing more good than those $10. This may not be enough to dock the maximally saintly person’s karma on its own, but only because they don’t have the option of paying $1000.

          What if just before this, they were offered $1000 to steal a $10 watch? Refusing to steal to enrich yourself is obviously saintly. But is refusing to steal in order to help the poor ALSO saintly? What if your motive for refusing to steal in order to help the poor is not the harm you might do to the watch’s owner, but the harm you would do to your own karmic bank account?

          This is where the karmic bank account model eats itself. It reduces morality to a currency, and like any currency, one can try to accumulate it selfishly. If you’re screwing other people over to enrich yourself, what difference does it make whether you’re enriching yourself with karma or with cash?

          • A genuinely saintly person would actually care about the effects of what he was doing, not just about looking saintly. A Bill Gates who genuinely cared about helping the poor *and* knew there was a decent chance of doing more good if he went into tech first would do it, in the same way that a general who truly cared about his men would be able to send them on risky missions, if they were more effective in the long term.

    • MugaSofer says:

      This was the point of the Francisco chapter, no?

  11. Quixote says:

    This is great. Really good. Mind blown. First interlude of book two starting off with a bang.

    • roystgnr says:

      I think cranking up the humor level proportionately to the coincidence-hunting level was a big improvement over doing only the latter (as occurred in an earlier chapter). “Mind blown” is still true, but the subtext is “This is brilliantly creative” rather than “Damn, should I give up bacon and buy some red strings just to hedge my bets?” Rationalist me probably needs to learn to pay more attention to the PETWHAC size and less to narrative tone.

      • Roy says:

        Yeah! etymological connection – making that doesn’t effect the plot, like numerology that can be made of anything (The letters of my name are numeric ascii 114 111 121, summed, that equals 13, an unlucky number, and the year that I first had to get glasses, nothing is coincidence [except when it really, really is]), quickly becomes boring, where as actual humor/satire/inventiveness that drives the plot makes for much more fun reading!

  12. Yossarian says:

    Apparently, the Soviets of this book weren’t genre savvy enough. Didn’t they know that the legions of hell are best stopped not by the waves of cannon fodder of your own, but by a single man, a space marine brave enough to fight alone against all the powers of hell? Well, I guess, they couldn’t have been – it was still about 20 years until the release of DOOM.
    Let’s do some kabbalistic analysis of that thought, though. In DOOM, our hero is a soldier – a man of war, you could say. He fights alone against the forces of hell, and triumphs against all odds – with Lord, all the things are possible. But notice – even though a man of war, he doesn’t come to this fight bearing a sword – for those who live by the sword die by the sword. Instead, he comes bearing a chainsaw. A chainsaw is a tool for cutting wood, so you could say that it is a carpenter’s tool. So, he is a good carpenter (and man of war), descending to Hell for the sake of mankind, and ultimately closing the Hellgate and winning against the Icon of Sin (Thamiel?), thus delivering the humanity from evil and ushering in the next age. And among other demon-killing tools, he uses weapons that chuck white-hot plasma – “spears of stars”, that were once used to open Hell, and now are used to defeat it? Definitely not a coincidence.
    …and yeah, the Triumphant Good should carry a chainsaw. Everything is more awesome when you mix in some chainsaw massacre.

    • LHC says:

      I was just watching a Doom (2016) LP before finding this comment. TINACBNIEAC.

    • You sir, deserve more likes.

      I’d add that Doom introduced of a war with hell into computing, analogous (but in reverse to) Uriel’s introduction of computing to the war against hell.

    • Ninmesara says:

      They should have hired Alvarez – the man is the master of genre savvy. I was probabbly not available back then, but I can totally imagine him being a Totally Baddass 90s Antihero with a Big Fucking Gun and a Ragtag Band of Misfits on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge while trying to Save the Girl, vowing to kill Thamiel even if it means a Heroic Sacrifice, thus showing tha Death Equals Redemption.

    • Soumynona says:

      So the second head growing out of Thamiel’s shoulder must be the head of John Romero.

      Everything has an upside. At least he won’t make Daikatana in this universe.

  13. Simon says:

    ““man of war” can mean either a type of Portuguese jellyfish or a type of British warship”

    The Portuguese man O’ war (the animal) is so called because of its resemblance to a Portuguese man o’ war (a ship), not because it’s from Portugal. Am I missing something?

    (It’s also not a jelly fish but perhaps that’s being too pedantic.)

    • timorl says:

      Also the interpretation of God as a Portuguese man O’ war is definitely trinitarian heresy.

      • teucer says:

        It asserts that the three persons of the Trinity are like the specialized generically distinct organisms which form, in the man-o-war, a colony we usually take for a singular animal.

    • Ninmesara says:

      As far as I know, the “Man O’ War” isn’t even a Portuguese ship. I have no Idea where the name comes from. In Portugal we call the Animal “Caravela Portuguesa”, a reference to the “caravel” (“caravela” in Portuguese), a much older and totally different kind of ship, and which seems to resemble the animal a lot better because of the relatively small triangular sails. While I can totally see Aaron calling it a “Portuguese jellyfish”, I’d change it to just “a kind of jellyfish”.

      • Simon says:

        It seems to me that “man ‘o war” is just a term the British Navy used for warships (or warships of a specific size/class) at the time. Thus, “Portuguese man o’ war” is simply what the British called the warships that Portugal sailed at that time.

    • Subbak says:

      Obviously it means the LORD returns a creature to its owner’s hand.

      (For those not familiar: this was the first creature with this effect on entering the battlefield, leading to all further similar creatures being nicknamed man-o’-wars)

  14. R Flaum says:

    I actually used to own a book called The Wit and Humor of Richard M. Nixon, which was written while Nixon was still President (in his first term, IIRC). I picked it up at a book sale as soon as I saw the title. And I have to say, it really does seem like Nixon had no sense of humor. The jokes are all terrible — not in the Unsong sense of “Oh God, that’s terrible,” but in the sense of boring and lame and unfunny.

    The fact that Russia was able to mount a semi-effective resistance to Hell seems to indicate that human weapons are effective against demons. The fact that Thamiel was worried about Pete Singer is also supporting evidence here.

  15. Eneasz Brodski says:

    The non overlapping magisteria is great, and super quotable. And I literally laughed aloud for half a minute at the Yakov Smirnoff joke 😀

  16. The Harmonious Jade Empire made me think. Mao is one of the few rulers for which “empire ruled by random peasant” is probably a better alternative. But Mao died two years after the discovery of the Terracotta army, and it seems like his successors were a pretty fast improvement. Opinion from someone who knows more about chinese history?

    • roystgnr says:

      I almost certainly don’t qualify as “someone who knows more about Chinese history”, but IIRC the fast improvement didn’t really start until Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, which weren’t until the late 70s.

      • roystgnr says:

        Wait, that was only a couple years after Mao’s death. For some reason I thought he’d died several years earlier. Probably should have looked that up right *before* posting rather than right *after*.

        Well, at least I got the “don’t qualify” part right.

  17. Paul Ralley says:

    You may have this already, but 1960 was the Great Leap Forward – the Cultural Revolution wasn’t until 1966. And people were used to dieing, but it was due to very stupid economic policy, rather than prison camps (mostly)

  18. zslastman says:

    I laughed out loud at that Steven Jay Gould jab. Excellent work.

  19. Vamair says:

    At least this person was a well-known Soviet rabbi. He was a rabbi of Moscow Choral Synagogue and a leader of its yeshiva.

    • Vamair says:

      So in 1968 there was a large legally working synagogue about 500 meters away from Kremlin. A yeshiva was opened there since 1957. And there was a Conference of Soviet Jewish Clergy in 1971. There probably wouldn’t be that much of a problem to find a learned rabbi at the time.

  20. Aran says:

    So “unity made manifest by symbols and angels” equals “Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels”.

    Aaaaargh and I had just finished recovering from the “man of war” pun.

  21. Aran says:

    After a little exploration he found his way into an underground chamber holding an amazing treasure. Eight thousand terracotta soldiers, horseman, and chariots, all perfectly lifelike, frozen in warlike postures. Moved by an impulse he didn’t quite understand, he wrote the mysterious letters from his dream on the forehead of one of the warriors, and it sprung to life, ready to serve him.

    Something like this also happened in Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times, which is of course a coincidence because everything is always a coincidence.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Many people are getting strange mental impulses in this story. Aaron receiving the Spectral Name by telepathy, Ana getting a compulsion to sing the Zephyr Name, deciding to go to San Francisco of all places. Will this peasant’s dream ever be explained as some kind of Angelic (Demoniac?) machination upon reality or is it just general Kabbahlistic weirdness?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I mean, it’s not a coincidence because in both cases it’s basically coming from the same place — “Hey, what if the terracotta army were an actual army?”

      • Aevylmar says:

        That’s also a suggested plot hook for an Exalted campaign set in the underworld, since whatever you sacrifice in a burial becomes real there – albeit deliberately engineered, in that case…

        It’s just a cool narrative idea, is all. Something lots of people can use.

  22. yay says:

    The whole Russians vs Hell part gives off SUCH a Salvation War vibe.

  23. Ninmesara says:

    This is great! Can I ask for more of this and less of the angel/mythical/West Comet/Indian stuff? Pretty please?

  24. roystgnr says:

    This was funny as hell.

    I was briefly mad when I thought you’d swiped that “warship”/”worship” pun from Star Control 2, but I’ve decided that jokes are meant to be shared and I should fight any ill wrath.

  25. Jack V says:

    Woah. OK, that’s what’s going on with hell. I’d thought that maybe Nixon’s summit with hell was more of a necessary “we at least need to understand where Thamiel (?) is coming from” sort of thing, but it sounds, well, pretty Nixon-y after all.

  26. Immanentizing Eschatons says:

    I’m going to be that guy, not because I didn’t enjoy this chapter (I did enjoy it), but because someone has to.

    Of course, the atheists were right epistemically, even if they turned out to be wrong factually. I know this is about how characters responded in universe, but the standard fantasy tropes about this kind of stuff always annoy me, even though I know that’s not whats being gone for here and Scott is an atheist rationalist, etc.

    So if a supernatural apocalypse happens and demons invade Russia, I still get to be “smug”.

    • Swimmingly says:

      The thing is, in a world where all things are governed by Adam Kadmon and epistemology is more a quaint suggestion – where you can summon rain by the name of a scrabble-letter demon and math itself is mostly the retcon of an autistic archangel – it’s the kabbalists who get to be smug.

      • Vamair says:

        A nice thing with being atheist is that you always say that’s not a faith and you’d turn into kabbalist the day it starts working. That said, I’m not sure that it’s evolution that was the retcon and not the angels, the way Enochian works, the way angels can’t speak Arameic and the way rams were started to be sacrificed. (They don’t sound the same as RAM in Hebrew, right? Was Moses speaking English?) Makes me think that if it was a Buddhist book things could be just as strange – but different.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        Like Vamair said- I would believe in Kabbalah in the world of Unsong. But prior to Uriel’s simulation breaking, atheistic materialism was just as supported as it is in our world. so you can’t really say the atheists were thinking wrong, they were just extremely unlucky. Like how winning at gambling doesn’t mean it was a good idea to play in the first place.

        I’m being super pedantic picking apart a good joke, and preaching to the choir mostly, but Gould isn’t just wrong, hes looking at it in entirely the wrong way. If he wants to validate the atheists of yore all he has to do is point out that all the information at the time pointed towards them being right. If hes talking about people who believe that stuff currently- well in that case they are being super irrational, but I don’t think many people would still believe that, not necessarily because atheists are all superrational ubermenschen but just because… its kind of hard for anyone to deny whats happened. I suppose you might get a few people claiming aliens did it all somehow, but I imagine they would be mostly the kind to be saying that anyways before. If anything I would expect the “these are the tribulations and the Comet King is the Antichrist testing our faith, so called names are Satanic black magic!” type people to be more prevalent though still few in number.

        So the “epistemically correct” behavior is to be an atheist before and a Kabbalhist after, basically.

  27. dsotm says:

    Good one.

    Feels like Birobidzhan should somehow be involved.


    rock on the island in the center of the lake wasn’t a rock at all so much as a plug blocking a hole that really needed to stay blocked

    do you mean the Baikal Seal?

    • Vamair says:

      I think Scott meant Shaman Rock.

      • Unaussprechlichen says:

        There are at least two “Shaman rocks” on Baikal, tho one at the source of Angara, and the on the coast of Olkhon island. Olkhon Buryats, who are shamanists, consider the second to be sacred, and forbidden to be visited by anybody but strongest shamans (although I ashamedly been there, unaware of the ban).
        As for the on on the Angara, not many people would dare to visit it regardless of taboos, as it stands in strong current at 3°C all year round, several hundred meters off both banks.
        There’s also mount Zhima on Olkhon island, which stands directly against the lowest point of the lake.

  28. Peter D says:

    So, can one explain why Thamiel, who seems about as powerful as Uriel, would need to strike any alliances with humans? If he can kill-kill angels with his bident, would he not be unstoppable by humans? Apparently, not, but I just want to understand – is this some kind of rock-paper-scissors where each kind of creatures has some advantage over the others?
    Also, after Sniffnoy mentioned this comment by Scott, it seems to me that we are in for some unexpected turns in this story. Because when one reads the Wikipedia page on Urizen, who Scott says is linked to Uriel, one sees, eg, that he

    represents the fallen, Satanic figure although he is also the creator figure [like Uriel!]. Among the Zoas, he represents the south and the concept of reason. He is described as what binds and controls the universe through creating laws. […] He is said to represent the Heavenly host, but he experiences a Satanic fall in that he desired to rule. He is motivated by his pride and becomes a hypocrite. […] After his fall, Urizen set about creating the material world and his jealousy of mankind brought forth both Wrath and Justice

    So, Uriel is the non-so benign demiurge who, indeed, like Aaron, in his arrogance causes trouble. Not sure what to make of Tharmas yet…
    And Neil Armstrong says that “William Blake was right about everything!” Looks like the key to Unsong could be in really paying attention to William Blake’s mythology

    • Aharon says:

      @Thamiel striking alliances
      I guess he wants to subvert, not to outright destroy – he also wanted Sataniel to convert parts of the heavenly host, instead of trying to destroy all of them outright. And the chapter makes a point about how a strategic alliance with the devil is indeed compromising with sin.

    • Walter says:

      This only barely scratches the surface of what’s up with Thamiel’s invasion. Like, what are the humans fighting? Are demons made out of shattered Divine-Light resistant fountain equivalents like Thamiel, or are they fallen angels? Do they fight with flaming swords or hellfire or what? Do they return when they die (ala angels not killed by Bident)?

      • dsotm says:

        I assume that the demons are ‘turned’ ex-angels from the one third of the heavenly host that Sataniel took to hell,
        Orcs-ex-Elfs style and maybe some of the ones killed by Thamiel ?

      • Galle says:

        Based on When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears, only Thamiel is definitively made out of klipotic matter. The majority of his army is made up of the third of the heavenly host who Sataniel brought with him. We also know that he can conjure monsters out of the corpses of his soldiers before they recoalesce, so I’d guess that demons are mostly “fallen angels” (in the traditional sense, not the Pirindiel sense) and creatures created from them.

  29. bean says:

    I quite like the initial quote (although I don’t think a liner [ship of the line] can hold a candle to a dreadnought as far as inspiration of awe goes), except for the pun. Half of me thinks you should be applauded, the other half thinks you should be shamed.

    • hnau says:

      “Dreadnought” might more appropriately be compared with angels, since they’re often saying “don’t be afraid”.

      • bean says:

        Well, the name Dreadnought (a ship of that name was the first of the type) originates from the phrase “Fear God and dread nought.” This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

  30. hnau says:

    The paragraph about non-overlapping magisteria is wonderful. I wonder if there’s some meta-irony lurking in there? Scott has written before that even in a world where specific religious factual claims were proven to be true, he’d continue to be an atheist based on his philosophical convictions. And whatever he may say about Aaron being the narrator, there are passages that make it obvious that he’s writing Unsong from the same perspective– namely, “even though a bunch of religious claims turned out to be true, the rationalist worldview is still the right way to approach life.”

    Like the Unitarian choir, 90-plus percent of Unsong so far is religious only in the ironic, “wink wink nudge nudge look at how ridiculous this stuff is” sense, even though religion is obviously true in the fictional world (in a sense). So, for all that he’s poking fun at the Non-Overlapping Magisteria view, it sure looks like Scott is subscribing to it in some form.

    I don’t know whether this discrepancy is intentional on Scott’s part, or merely Not A Coincidence. Would be interesting to get confirmation.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      What makes you think Aaron is endorsing Gould’s position here? Scott described the position of a fictional group of German leaders [here]( in exactly the same voice and he was most definitely not endorsing it.

      • hnau says:

        Exactly. Whether it’s Aaron or Scott describing Gould’s position (I think it’s some of each) they clearly don’t think much of it and are trying to make people dislike it. And I agree, Scott has argued directly against versions of this principle. But it seems like Gould’s position actually describes Scott’s (and Aaron’s) attitude toward the Unsong universe’s religious content pretty well. What I’m suggesting is that there’s an inconsistency between Scott’s overt dismissal of Gould’s position and his willingness to apply it (or something a lot like it) in other things that he’s written.

        • Galle says:

          Gould is definitely not describing Scott’s position.

          The humor of this version of Gould is that the roles and contents of his non-overlapping magisteria are reversed. In real life, Gould assigned science to the magisterium of material reality, and religion to the magisterium of metaphor and metaphysics. In Unsong, he does the opposite.

          Scott (and presumably Aaron) maintain that science and rationality belong to the magisterium of material reality even in the Unsong universe. Specific BELIEFS may be invalidated, but the MINDSET is not. Even if the specific claims of religion are true, that doesn’t necessarily justify approaching them with a mystical mindset. Approaching the supernatural with a rationalist mindset has kind of become a staple of rationalist fiction.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I don’t see anything in there resembling “even in a world where specific religious factual claims were proven to be true, he’d continue to be an atheist based on his philosophical convictions”; and even then, it’s entirely possible to interpret that in a way that doesn’t require any “separate magisteria” going on (the God hypothesis is so unlikely that even particular religious claims being true isn’t going to move the needle much). I really don’t see where you’re getting this from.

      • hnau says:

        The least convenient possible world is the one where Omega, the completely trustworthy superintelligence who is always right, informs you that God definitely doesn’t value intellectual integrity that much. In fact (Omega tells you) either God does not exist or the Catholics are right about absolutely everything.

        Would you become a Catholic in this world? Or are you willing to admit that maybe your rejection of Pascal’s Wager has less to do with a hypothesized pro-atheism God, and more to do with a belief that it’s wrong to abandon your intellectual integrity on the off chance that a crazy deity is playing a perverted game of blind poker with your eternal soul?

        But in the least convenient possible world, Omega comes along and tells you that sorry, the hole is exactly God-shaped, and anyone without a religion will lead a less-than-optimally-happy life. Do you head down to the nearest church for a baptism? Or do you admit that even if believing something makes you happier, you still don’t want to believe it unless it’s true?

        And from Unsong itself:

        Rumor had it that he was actually religious instead of meta-ironically religious, but no one could tell for certain and the whole idea made us sort of uncomfortable.

        Around 200 BC the Aramaic language started catching on in Israel and most people switched from Biblical Hebrew to the new tongue. Some people started praying in Aramaic, or trying to translate the Torah. The rabbis, who wanted to protect the sacred language at all costs, waged a passionate campaign against Aramaic penetrating into the liturgy, and in the midst of their zeal, they might have kind of told the populace that they had to pray in Hebrew because the angels don’t understand Aramaic. Some people wrote this down, one thing led to another, and it became part of the Talmud. Have I mentioned that the Talmud is kind of crazy?

        Couple of centuries later, the Romans destroy Jerusalem, the Jews are scattered to the seventy nations of the world, and now they’re speaking all of these foreign languages like Yiddish and Arabic and Ladino. They don’t know a word of Hebrew, but they still want to pray. The rabbis want to let them, but there’s this old ruling standing in the way, saying that you should pray in Hebrew because the angels don’t understand Aramaic.

        So the rabbis declare that actually, the angels understand every language except Aramaic. This actually happened.

        And everyone thought it was a joke, but then the sky shattered and we met the angels, and by golly they spoke every language from Albanian to Zulu, but Aramaic was nonsense to them. They couldn’t learn it no matter how hard they tried. It was some kind of fixed mental blind spot. Why did the rabbis’ weird ad hoc decision so perfectly correspond to reality? I don’t know. Nothing is ever a coincidence.

        I’d argue that these passages represent a very Gould-ian way of dealing with inconvenient facts. Yes, you could reinterpret them as statements about probability / epistemology if you’re determined to do so: “well, yeah, that super-unlikely thing happened, but our analysis that said it was super-unlikely was still right.” But that strikes me as no better than the Gould formulation, since it begs the question: if your analysis led you to predict vanishingly small probabilities for things that actually happened, at what point should you reconsider the accuracy of your analysis? Also, in the context of Unsong there’s a much more straightforward counter-argument to the small-probability formulation: “Nothing is ever a coincidence.”

      • Sniffnoy says:

        But your quoted examples don’t deal with “separate magisteria” at all, they deal with the argument from consequences. Do you believe things because because believing them leads to good things, or do you believe them because they’re true? They’re not introducing some “second magisterium”, with multiple kinds of truth; if anything I’d say the spirit is the opposite (I realize that they are not actually in conradiction logically), sticking to a straightforward conception of truth in contrast to one where you believe what produces the best consequences for you (separate magisteria does have a little bit of that flavor).

        The second part of my comment, about the probabilistic interpretation, meanwhile, would seem to be irrelevant if that’s what you’re basing it off of, since none of that involves “specific religious factual claims” in the usual sense (miracles and souls and such); one is an atheist/Catholic disjunction, while the other is an entirely non-supernatural psychological claim that if true is actually evidence against religion (since it increases the chance that people would invent it regardless of its truth).

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Ugh, replied to the wrong comment. Oh well…

        • hnau says:

          Hmm, yeah, I see your point. I still think there’s some of the same flavor there: contrast between “yes, these premises of pro-religion arguments are true” and “I’m still don’t believe these arguments have force, because of certain philosophical premises about why one ought to believe things” (which would presumably fall into Gould’s second magisterium). But I understand that it’s a different enough situation that one can’t make a watertight argument. I just found it interesting, mostly.

  31. philh says:

    Minor factual note – wikiquote gives the Churchill line slightly differently, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

  32. Aegeus says:

    I read another story which did the “non-overlapping magisteria” thing the opposite way – so that religions could distance themselves from the unpleasant facts they had discovered about how the supernatural worked.

    In that story, the church issued a statement along the lines of “Yes, science has proven that people have an ‘animaneural waveform’ that maps suspiciously well to the biblical idea of a soul, but that has nothing to do with your actual immortal soul, which is still the purview of God alone.”

    I wouldn’t be surprised if all the religions which aren’t vindicated by the existence of Kabbalah had issued a statement along the lines of “Yes, we are aware that there are ‘extradimensional entities’ that map suspiciously well to biblical angels and demons, but that has nothing to do with the existence of a real god like Amaterasu/Vishnu/Zoroaster/Whoever, who remains as intangible as ever.”

    • Nick says:

      😀 From Chapter 3 of Aeon Entelechy Evangelion:

      [T]he arcane construct which, sadly, has been given the title of ‘soul’ by a secular scientific establishment, which, by that very deed, seeks to denigrate faith, is not, and cannot be the True Soul. One can live without an animaic waveform, and many do; to lack it is a mere medical condition, which removes the possibility that one can study sorcery or possess parapsychic powers. But no person is born without a True Soul, and one cannot lose one’s True Soul, though the weak and foolish may give it away to the servants of the Adversary. The True Soul is the concern of faith; the animaic waveform is nothing but secular physics.

  33. Judith Babcock says:

    I’m older than most of your readers, I had recently graduated from college when Nixon resigned, in 1974. I love how you portray him, it brings back memories. I could really imagine him joining with hell to fight communist Russia.

  34. Galle says:

    Alright, so this is the most backstory information we’ve gotten at one time. Let’s see if we can put together a timeline of some kind. A lot of this is guesswork on my part, but I’ve used established dates wherever possible. Things that are uncertain are marked with a question mark:

    1968: The sky breaks.
    1969: The Long March. Uriel first contacts humanity. Hell emerges from Lake Baikal and begin their invasion of Russia. Apollo 11 lands on the crystal sphere, and Neil Armstrong passes into Heaven. Thamiel establishes an Earthly capital at Yakutsk.
    1970: Marxism-Lurianism becomes a thing? Mao is overthrown by a peasant farmer with an army of golems made from Qin Shi Huang’s tomb and the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire is founded? The Right Hand of God emerges in San Fransisco.
    1972: The United States forms a strategic alliance with Hell.
    1974: Human religions start evangelizing to the Angels.
    1976: First known appearance of Comet West. Birth of the first Cometspawn, Jalaketu.
    1982: Birth of Sohu.
    1984: American relations with Hell have “really started to go south”. Reagan establishes the fourteen remaining angelic fortresses in the United States as the Strategic Angel Reserve.
    1987: Llull is first programmed?
    1988: George H.W.? Bush elected president.
    1989: The Comet King has already established his capital at Colorado Springs, convinces Bush to create the California Zephyr?
    1990: Sohu goes to study with Uriel.
    1992: The Comet-King and President Bush create UNSONG? Reverend Stevens writes The Temple and the Marketplace?
    1994: A major drop in technological efficacy requires massive refits to the California Zephyr to work on the Motive Name?
    2000: A contested election begins a smouldering conflict on the east coast. George W. Bush wins, but is later assassinated? The Shrouded Constitution becomes a thing?
    2001: Dylan Alvarez assassinates Senator Henderson and most of the archmages of North America, and founds BOOJUM. The Texas Republic is already independent at this point. The Comet King is still alive as of April. The Comet King invades Hell and dies?
    2002: President Cheney cracks down on the Unitarian Universalist Church?
    2007: Malia Ngo becomes director of UNSONG?

    Things that are still too unclear for even a vague placement: Aaron’s personal timeline (we actually have no idea how long has passed between his being kicked out of Stanford at the age of 22 and the “present day”, at least not that I can find) and the history of ritual magic and placebomancy (we have no dates for that at all).

    I’m definitely guessing on both Bushes, but thus far, the breaking of the sky seems to have had zero effect on any US presidential elections, so it seems like a safe guess.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I think the Shrouded Constitution is probably considerably earlier than you’ve put it.

      • Galle says:

        Possible. That guess was based on the reference to “Shroudies” in the Dylan Alvarez chapter I can’t recall the name of offhand, which implied the Shrouded Constitution was definitely a thing by 2001.

        Of course, we don’t really know what the Shroud Constitution IS. It’s probably linked to the break-down of the United States somehow, but despite being in place by 2001, the map is still of “the United States” rather than “the Untied States”, so it can’t have been a simple “screw it, states can do whatever they want” deal. Of course, that also means the Texas Republic predates the Untied States as well and ow my head hurts.

        The main interesting thing I found here is that we can now get a sense of the basic eras of the Unsong universe – the 70s saw the American-Hell alliance against the Soviets, the 80s saw that relationship break down and the rise of the theonomic corporations, the 90s were the heyday of the Comet King, and the 00s appear to have been where everything went horribly wrong again.

        • LHC says:



        • Sniffnoy says:

          Yes, I assumed it was linked to the breakdown of the United States, but I suppose that could be wrong. But the Shroudies, whoever they may be, had apparently built up quite a reptutation by 2001, so regardless I don’t think they can be so new then.

          Somehow I didn’t notice that Chapter 8 consistently refers to the “United States”. It’s possible this is just a mistake, maybe? :-/ Otherwise yeah that’s confusing.

  35. Does Hell have a seat on the Security Council? If it does, would the Hellish embassy to the UN be at 666 5th Avenue?

  36. multiheaded says:

    So the Soviets mobilized their military machine, the largest in the world, and trudged to the Yenesei, which they dutifully started defending. Another country would have called it a terrible battle that made the rivers run red with blood and the piled corpses reach almost to the sky. The Russians just called it Wednesday.

    1) Sorry, but fuck you so much for that shit, Scott. Read a decent history book. :/
    2) The people who helped originate and propagate that trope in English-speaking countries literally ought to have been hanged. Not because they said bad things about the USSR, but because they actually were the, uh, demons.

    • multiheaded says:

      (yes, I’ve read them. Manstein, von Mellenthin, wonderfully reliable and disinterested accounts all.)

    • multiheaded says:

      It still seems astonishing that the Soviet army has put up resistance against our troops that they have not encountered in previous campaigns. They fight with a stolid, almost bestial determination, and sometimes show a contempt of death that is more than remarkable. Participants in the Battle of Sevastopol relate stories of the resistance of the Soviet troops that need explanation if they are not to unsettle a large part of the public.

      The Russians throughout their history have always shown a particularly stubborn and tough manner of defense, while never being particularly gifted at offense. Their national character has a defensive nature. They are stolid and animalistic. They are accustomed to a hard and impoverished existence, and therefore do not hold on to life all that strongly. The average person has less worth than a bicycle. A rapid birthrate quickly replaces any losses. They have a type of primitive toughness that one cannot call bravery. It is entirely different. Bravery is a kind of spiritual courage. The toughness with which the Bolshevists defended their bunkers in Sevastapol was more a bestial drive, and nothing could be more mistaken than to assume that it was the result of Bolshevist views or education. The Russians were always like that, and will likely always remain so. It is also easier to throw a life away when there is no promise to it than when, even at the moment of danger, a distant paradise still seems to beckon.

      Joseph Goebbels, The So-Called Russian Soul

      How do you feel about that, Scott?

      • Peter D says:

        I’m originally from Russia and I don’t understand what the hell is your problem ith what Scott wrote. It cannot be denied that Russians threw soldiers lifes like pennys when they fought. There is even an expression “we’ll bury them with our hats” (“шапками закидаем”) for that. Russian losses were so astronomical in part because of this kind of attitude.

    • Galle says:

      For the record, Scott, while multi is being… very multi about this, supposedly the mainstream consensus among modern historians is, in fact, that the Red Army did NOT fight using human wave tactics, that they did in fact bother to issue every soldier at Stalingrad a rifle, and that the common cliches about them are mostly descended from Nazi propaganda.

      (And in any case, those are cliches about [i]Stalinist[/i] Russia, i.e., the Soviet Union at its absolute peak of psychopathy. Krushchev and Brezhnev would presumably not try to fight a war the same way as Stalin.)

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      I’m rather historically ignorant, my impression is that the Soviet’s use of conscripts as cannon fodder is indeed greatly exaggerated.

      But even assuming the Soviets did use the sort of tactics they are often accused of using I don’t think it makes sense to call it an atrocity- they were desperate and the stakes of the war were really, really high, whether the invaders be Nazis or demons.

      (the Soviets committed plenty of actual atrocities, obviously, but this isn’t really one)

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        Ok, to be clear because this is easily misinterpretable, I’m not saying things like executing deserters/retreaters or anything like that would be excused, what I’m saying is… to survive (literally, on an individual basis, not just as a state), the Soviets had to give basically everything into the war. I don’t think it makes sense to accuse them of atrocity and “throwing lives away” for using high-casualty tactics in that scenario. If there was a clear better alternative that was as effective, sure.

        • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

          “high casualty tactics” does not mean executing your own soldiers here, to be even clearer, I mean the stereotypical mass rushes, having more soldiers available than weapons, etc.

          (I wish we had an edit button like on SSC)

  37. One possible atheist response: “Aha! So the Simulation Hypothesis is correct!”

  38. Subbak says:

    Where exactly do you find people calling themselves “Christian Democrats” in France? There is currently a party (mostly thought of as a joke by the vast majority of people) by that name, but this wasn’t the case before 2005. Maybe you meant Germany, where the CDU is actually the main right-wing party and has been since 1949?

  39. Nadav says:

    A quick look through the Wikipedia article taught me that Yakutsk is responsible for a fifth of the world’s production of diamonds. Appropriate, given the connection between Judeo-Christian demons and matrial wealth and the number 5 (e. G. 5 pointed star)

  40. Nadav says:

    A quick look through the Wikipedia article taught me that Yakutsk is responsible for a fifth of the world’s production of diamonds. Appropriate, given the connection between Judeo-Christian demons and material wealth and the number 5 (e.g. the 5-pointed star)

  41. beoShaffer says:

    Richard Nixon was familiar with this quote. Richard Nixon had no sense of humor.

    If only he had been wearing his electroshock pants when he heard it.

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