Theme of *Dune* novels - collective uprising over decadent wealth?

In the what is an NFT? thread, there was a post which referenced a Buzzfeed article:

If there is one throughline to be found across all the sequels and prequels, it is the power of collective uprisings against the old noble houses grown decadent with ill-gotten wealth.

and later

For Saqib, Dune’s parable of the power of collective world-changing, decentralized action sounds a lot like the new promise of cryptocurrency and blockchain.

I read these and I said Ohhhhhhhkay…

Because I really don’t see these things as being major “themes” of the Dune books as I remember them.

Mostly, I remember mass collective uprisings (e.g. the Fremen & Butlerian jihads) being horrific, destructive forces erasing star systems worth of humanity and accumulated wealth. But then, I have different view of crypto/NFTs/DAOs than the subject and writer of the article probably do.

So tell me - did you read the Dune books as they are portrayed in the article?

Sounds like it was written by someone who thinks Paul is the hero of Dune Messiah, or that anyone in God Emperor was a good guy.

I think Dune is warning of the dangers of a collective uprising, and how something that starts by overthrowing one oppressor can end up being an even worse oppressor.

Alex Blechman put it best.

If I had to lay out the major theme of Dune, including prequels and successor novels, it is that we are all victims of both our past, and the futures we wish to create.

In the prequels, the characters are tormented by their own past greatness and failings, in trying to live up to or past them, to the point of insanity.

In the ‘core’ novels, Paul and Leto II are trapped by their own visions of the future and the their efforts to avoid or assure them. The Duncan and Miles of the later books are trapped by the expectations put upon them, never able to choose their own paths.

And the successor novels have an example of how the perfect knowledge of the future = death.

You are never, ever free of who you are and who you choose to be.

Class, money, etc - those are all tools and trappings. Free will is the ultimate wealth, but at a great cost.

“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong - faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.”

If anything, that’s the theme of Dune.

Back when I became aware of the novels, I read or saw an interview with Herbert who said they were about the danger of messiahs/heroes. I’ve yet to see much that contradicts that, and that’s a much more poetic way of saying it.

The quote is from Dune itself, although I don’t remember who said it to whom. Herbert had a clear grasp of what he was trying to say.

I came in to say this. The Fremen want a savior. They get one. This turns out to be a very bad thing. The Bene Gesserit want a kwizatz haderach. They get one. This turns out to be a very bad thing.

Yeah, the simple way to express the central idea that Dune keeps coming back to is “be careful what you wish for.”

I agree.

Now on the other hand: I want a small tub of ice-cream. This turns out to be a very good thing!

Sounds like it until you realize that all ice cream is distributed by a global conglomerate with political power to rival most governments and relies on Third World manufacturers for their supply, and there’s this billionaire trust fund kid who’s just moved there and is whipping up the poor workers who work in the ice cream factories to rebel and take control of the entire business in his name.

The ice must flow.

It was a Bene Gesserit proverb that Paul recalls.

It’s a lot like crypto/NFTs/DAO in that the people glom onto some new idea, whether it’s some new tech, Muab Dib, or Make America Great Again and become some convinced they are right and everything that stands in their way is wrong that they don’t care about the consequences. I think that’s the central point of the Dune books.

Funnily enough I visited St. Petersburg decades ago when it was run by the Soviet Union Communist Party.
Although the political system was generally poor, some things were done well by the Government:

  • cheap public transport (by Metro)
  • cheap housing (often in poorly-equipped tower blocks)
  • cheap but tasty ice-cream (available on street corners)

“I wrote the Dune series because I had this idea that charismatic leaders ought to come with a warning label on their forehead: “May be dangerous to your health.” One of the most dangerous presidents we had in this century was John Kennedy because people said “Yes Sir Mr. Charismatic Leader what do we do next?” and we wound up in Vietnam. And I think probably the most valuable president of this century was Richard Nixon. Because he taught us to distrust government and he did it by example.”

Yeah, that’s what I remember! Thanks for finding the quote, @Ike_Witt ! Where did you find it?

I searched for Frank Herbert charismatic leader and found the quote. I’m 99% positive that there is video of him saying something similar. I think it my be from a talk he gave at UCLA but haven’t been able to time stamp it yet.

Cryptocurrency types claiming to be embracing a message of the masses rising against decadent wealth???

That is just Og-damn beyond parody.

(And feeling Jodorowsky’s hot mess of a 1970-sensibilities acid trip concept represents that?)

The only liberation the cryptoboys care about is their liberation from there being any authority anywhere with the power to regulate and tax them and that can garnish their gains if they break the rules. (In the Duneverse even the Great Houses were accountable to one another in the Landsraad and no one had true absolute power – until the God-Emperor came along; we know how pleasant was THAT for the common man.)

My impressions come from reading summaries of all the books other than the original, which I’ve read. The impression I got was that it was a dystopia in which the good guys have no chance of winning (defined here as living happy and peaceful lives that don’t rely on the oppression of others) because the leaders are all bad guys in one way or another. Maybe Leto I could have been a good guy, but he had no chance of emerging victorious.

Some years ago, 4 of us were sitting around in the aftermath of a family shit show, shaking our heads. One perked up and said, “look! We all have our drug of choice!”: one had a beer, one a joint, one a glass wine, and I had a Haagen Daas “Dixie cup.” The consensus was mine was probably the most dangerous