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Why Dune is More Relevant Today Than Ever


With every passing day, it feels like we’re living in a world teetering on the brink of environmental collapse—a world where political upheaval and religious conflicts capture headlines daily. 


Many of us turn to fantasy stories to escape into a different time and place where we can leave our worries behind for just a little while so that we can be renewed.


So, when Legendary Pictures, Villeneuve Films, and Warner Bros. got together to make a long-desired adaptation of Dune, fantasy and science fiction fans rejoiced. Finally, there would be a new avenue of escape, one that was familiar and long-deserving of an adaptation worthy of its immense scale.


But fantasy isn’t just escapism, especially not Dune. It’s emotional and intellectual exercise, a place for us to experience strong emotions and test new ideas in a safe space.


So, what can a story set on a distant, desert planet teach us about survival, power, and destiny in our own time?


I first ventured into the desolate wastes of Arrakis as a reader, captivated by Herbert’s vision of a future where humanity is caught in an intricate dance of ecology, politics, and religion. But as our world began to mirror the complexities of Dune’s universe, my journey took a new turn. I needed to understand why Herbert’s masterpiece felt so urgent, and so prescient in today’s society.



Resources and Power



At the heart of Arrakis lies a struggle over the most precious resource: water. This mirrors our own world’s battles against climate change and environmental degradation. Experts in environmental science and policy draw parallels between the ecological dynamics of Arrakis and Earth’s current environmental crises, emphasizing the importance of sustainable living and conservation efforts.


In Vandana Shiva’s book, Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit, she argues that:


“The war between Israelis and Palestinians is to some extent a war over water. The river under contention is the Jordan River, used by Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank. Israel's extensive industrial agriculture requires the river's water as well as the groundwater of the West Bank. While only 3 percent of the Jordan basin lies in Israel, the river provides for 60 percent of its water needs”

The fight for control over Arrakis and its invaluable spice also mirrors the real-world scramble for resources and influence. 


The Houses of the Imperium are a web of noble families that hold power in the Dune universe. This includes House Atreides. The houses are engaged in a game of intrigue, espionage, and warfare. 


While directly mapping the Houses of the Imperium onto real-world political entities is overly reductive, using it as an exercise to help make sense of our political themes and dynamics can be useful. 


This has always been one of the great powers of fantasy storytelling. It allows us to use the stories we enjoy as a lens to view our lives, our environment, and the structures of powers of our societies.


Eugenics



In the aftermath of World War II, humanity was left to grapple with the haunting realities of eugenics, a dark science that sought to engineer the 'perfect' human, often with catastrophic moral consequences.


Frank Herbert’s Dune, published in 1965, echoed these sentiments through its exploration of selective breeding among the noble houses to produce a superbeing—the Kwisatz Haderach. The concept resonated deeply with a post-war audience, confronting the still-fresh memories of a world where the ideology of 'superior' genetics led to unspeakable horrors.


Dune's reflection on eugenics is a stark reminder of the fine line between genetic advancement and ethical decay, a line that continues to blur even today. And now, as we stand on the brink of our own genetic revolution, with CRISPR and gene-editing technologies making what was once fiction a tangible reality, we're forced to reckon with the same ethical dilemmas that Herbert presented to his readers over half a century ago. 


The manipulation of genes, while holding the promise of eradicating diseases, also poses profound questions about identity, diversity, and the very essence of what it means to be human.


Artificial Intelligence



While not explored in the primary novels, The Butlerian Jihad, explored in the prequel material made canon after Frank Herbert’s death, chronicles the man’s battle with artificial intelligence.


The “Thinking Machines” of this era in the timeline were in direct conflict with humanity. In the Dune universe, it was a turning point for humanity as they cast aside AI and focused on unlocking the depths of human potential.


Today, we’re navigating the complexities of AI ethics, and Dune’s message resonates more than ever. So many of us are yearning to prioritize human connection in an increasingly automated world. 


The Rise of Leadership by Charisma



Dune’s Paul Atreides is also a study in the power and pitfalls of charismatic leadership. His charisma not only rallies people to his cause but also binds them to his vision in ways that blur the lines between devotion and fanaticism. 


This aspect of "Dune" is particularly relevant today as we witness the rise of charismatic figures in various spheres of life, from politics to social movements. Charismatic leaders often have a profound impact on their followers, an impact that may be used for good or evil.


Herbert warns us of the inherent dangers in surrendering our agency to charismatic leaders, encouraging a more discerning approach to leadership that values accountability, critical thinking, and the empowerment of individuals within the community.


Dune can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about the dangers of blind faith and unquestioning obedience, and rulers that lead by the cult of personality. It encourages us to think critically about the motivations and goals of our leaders and to demand accountability for their actions.


No Simple Answers


As a whole, Dune challenges us to consider the consequences of our quest for perfection and progress. What defines humanity? Who decides which traits are 'desirable'? And at what cost does knowledge and efficiency come?


Dune is a complex work that explores a wide range of themes, including ecology, politics, religion, human nature, and the quest for perfection. The novel has remained relevant and popular for over 50 years because it speaks to universal human concerns and asks questions that are still relevant today.


Dune is not a simple story with easy answers. Rather, it is a challenging and thought-provoking work that encourages readers to question their assumptions about the world and to think critically about the future.




If you love epic stories like Dune, you'll love all that Emergent Realms has to offer!



 

Shiva, Vandana. Water wars: Privatization, pollution, and profit. North Atlantic Books, 2016.

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