Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Family Feud, 2: The Richter-Thomases, and Why They Fight

Two strange families dominate Spanner and the Dictel trilogy. One of the is the aristocratic and authoritarian Beckets, the subject of my next entry. The other is the Richter-Thomases, the source of almost all the heroes of my stories. What is strange about them, at least compared to most Americans, is the culture they've assembled out of various European and American cultural castoffs: some from the more culturally radical elements of Weimar Germany in the 1920s, others from the cultural revolution in the US, especially California, in the 1960s and '70s.

The Beckets, as I'll explain tomorrow, are primarily Gnostic-fundamentalist elitists who nonetheless openly court the powerful sectarians of the Christian Right, with which they share a violent aversion to cultural freedom. The Richter-Thomases, on the other hand, don't care. Especially in the first generation to take the combined name, they are too busy pushing cultural frontiers to waste too much attention doing battle against the world. Not until the world — and above all a Western power elite growing so conservative as to become increasingly indistinguishable from their ostensible enemy the Jihad — declares war against them in the name of Allah, the enemy of all that is rational and the greatest of all excuses for tyranny.

Some call this family a bunch of cultural extremists. Others call them countercultural; they don't deny this, considering how conservative and sometimes even ascetic the cultural mainstream is at any time. Some call them crazy, which is how they seem to cultural conservatives. Militant conservatives, left- as well as right-wing, call them a danger to all that is right &mdash defined as what the militants believe in, which they always want to force on everybody else, using military and police force if at all possible.

Here are some of the more radical cultural phenomena at least some of the Richter-Thomases have adopted:
  1. Free love, for one thing. Reva, Cedric, and Willa above all are children of the 1970s sexual revolution, and they are the ones most devoted to it and its ideal of free love. They have made sure to educate their children to respect the highest ideals championed by the sexual revolution. They are the first in the Spanner mythos to defend free love, homosexuality, polyamory, and even consensual incest against the traditional values of marriage, which they insist have primarily eugenic purposes and are best served by arranged marriage. Love and desire, on the other hand, know no boundaries of race, tribe, creed, gender, or even family bonds.
  2. Nudism. Once again, for Reva, Cedric, and Willa, this is a product of the '70s cultural revolution, though it first took hold among the 1960s counterculture. But Willa especially reaches farther back to the German Nacktkultur ("nude culture") that began in the late 1800s but reached its high point in the 1920s. Today it is called Freikörperkultur ("free body culture"), but it is dying out in Germany as the Christians there remain determined to wipe it out by banning it nationwide. In prudish America, founded by the harshly ascetic Puritan sectarians, nudism was never allowed to set down any roots and remains relegated to the outer fringes of a now invisible counterculture.
  3. A devotion to physical beauty, health, and strength was always a part of Freikörperkultur. But even the American branches of the family largely valued athleticism. So the Richter-Thomases are devoted to exercise, yoga, martial arts, and various athletic pursuits including not just the traditional sports but also what have today come to be known as "extreme" sports. To take just Willa as an example, she is a devoted mountain climber and a champion triathlete.
  4. Then there's their strong tendency toward political radicalism. All three ancestral clans come by it honestly.
    • The Richters, for example, began by defecting from Britain's Hessian mercenaries to join the American revolutionaries; later, after they had migrated from South Carolina to Louisiana, they fought for the Union against the Confederacy and its ruling feudal aristocracy. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they joined the Populist movement.
    • The family of Cedric Thomas, Sr., fought in the Russian, German, and Spanish revolutions of the 20th century, and then fought with the French and Dutch resistance against the Nazis. But they trace their revolutionary tradition all the way back to the 1848 Revolution.
    • And the Kincaids are proud of fighting the British Empire since even before the dictator Cromwell tried to annihilate the Irish.
    Today the Richter-Thomases champion any number of radical ideologies, especially if anti-authoritarian (I should point out that Stalinism and Maoism are highly authoritarian): libertarianism, anarchism, various forms of socialism (including anarcho-socialism and Marxism, particularly Trotskyism).
  5. Secular and spiritual humanism, feminism, gay rights, and so on. I haven't figured out everything yet.

So you'd expect a family with such a powerful tradition of cultural and political radicalism to clash with an Establishment dominated by powerful authoritarian clans like the Beckets. In fact, it would be a wonder if they did not. Fortunately, they are not willing to let the power elite run roughshod over them, or the people in general (for the majority opinion in the family is that securing and defending freedom for others is necessary if they are to remain free themselves), without a fight. And that's why they fight.

Back to Spanner‘s World...

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