Earth and Syl Anagist: a Disregard for Human Life

Before class on Monday, I was reading through the blog looking for inspiration for a new post. While I didn’t end up with a specific idea of what I wanted to write about in my next post, I did thoroughly enjoy reading Michee’s post, “The Dehumanization of Civilization.”  I knew I wanted to address her thought-provoking post, but I could not decide what I wanted to focus on in regards to expanding my own thoughts and connecting it to Jemisin’s work. However, in class, Dr. McCoy sarcastically said “life is sacred in Syl Anagist,” and I immediately knew what I wanted to write about. Both Michee’s post and Dr. McCoy’s repetition of a line from The Stone Sky got me thinking more about the value of life both on Earth and in Jemisin’s trilogy. I believe that in addition to the trilogy revealing that life in Jemisin’s worlds is not, indeed, “sacred,” our world today seems to increasingly disregard the value of human life.

Michee refers to the mass shootings that plague our country and asks if she should “cover [her] eyes and shield [her] emotions from the realities of the world.” She follows this with, “While that would be the most comfortable thing for me to do, I would argue that it would be injustice for me to hide from realities that others have no choice but to face at this point.” Given our current political climate, and the recent midterm elections, this quote rings true with me in more ways than one. I am often frustrated when I try to discuss current issues and events with my friends because a lot of them tell me that they “do not know anything about politics,” and “do not care about politics.” To me, through a refusal to learn about politics and current events, my friends are “covering their eyes,” and by saying that they “do not care about politics,” they are unjustly “hiding from realities that others have no choice but to face.” I repeatedly point this out to my friends, saying that a lack of interest in politics and the idea that politics don’t affect them shows their privilege. I say that they should educate themselves and vote for those who are affected by injustice in America and those who cannot vote. I agree with Michee—while it is comfortable and easy to shield oneself from injustice and the horrible events occurring in our country, it is also unjust, because the only way to create change and make sure these things do not happen again is to acknowledge and fight injustice. (Tying this to the midterm elections, one way to do this is to vote). I also agree that the shootings plaguing our country lead to a “dehumanization of civilization” occurring on Earth today. Human life is becoming less and less valued, as many people accept that loss in preventable tragedies (like mass shootings) is just a part of life, and refuse to support or pass legislation that could help prevent more deaths. Mass shootings have become so normalized that I even catch myself feeling less emotionally affected by them each time I hear that more lives have been lost to an attack. I have to remind myself that just because these attacks have become regular occurrences in our country, does not mean that they are acceptable or should be normal. And while hearing about loss of life due to gun violence may be a regular occurrence in America, this is not normal in other countries. In May of 2018, CNN reported that there had been 288 school shootings in the United States since 2009, compared to two in Canada, two in France, one in Germany, and zero in Japan and Italy over the same time period. Clearly it is up to Americans to address the root of the major problem that we experience that other countries do not struggle with, instead of becoming complacent with the laws that do not prevent attacks and accepting widespread suffering as just being “a part of life.” I loved the way Michee concluded her post, referring to this acceptance of loss of life as “we are experiencing what Jemisin would call a Season right now.” In our current political and social climate, human life is being consistently disregarded for the benefit of those in power. In Jemisin’s trilogy, the Seasons occur as a result of this disregard for human life, and then cause the formation of hierarchical structures that perpetuate further disregard for human life. As a result, I agree that the current indifference towards lives threatened by inequality and senseless acts like mass shootings means our current state of living in America could be considered a “Season.”

This brings me to Dr. McCoy’s quoting of The Stone Sky: “Life, you see, is sacred in Syl Anagist” (Jemisin 4). The deeper I get into my reading of The Stone Sky, the more I realize how false this statement is, and how human life is disregarded in Syl Anagist just as it is on Earth today. The Sylanagistine people scapegoat the Niess people out of fear that the group they have conquered will use their more efficient magic to eventually become Syl Anagist’s conquerors. However, once they realize the lies they have spread to dehumanize the Niess are clearly false, they create a “carefully engineered” group of people that “capture the quintessence and power of who the Niess really were” in their fabricated stories (Jemisin 211). They then treat these “engineered” or seemingly genetically altered people as slaves and use them as tools. I believe that the statement “It is illegal to kill in Syl Anagist because life is a valuable resource” supports my point about their disregard for human life (Jemisin 209). I do not believe that seeing life as a “resource” corresponds to viewing it as “sacred.” In fact, I think that this vision reflects quite the opposite: a lack of regard for human existence. Later in the book, the use of people as tools and Sylanagistine disrespect towards life is made even more clear through the use of the Niess people, kept barely-alive and attached to “sinklines” that “take all the magic of life from them save the bare trickle needed to keep them alive” (Jemisin 262). Keeping them barely alive allows them to continue to generate more magic, which benefits the people of Syl Anagist. While Sylanagistines say that life is “sacred” and a “valuable resource,” these mean two separate things to different people. To the Sylanagistines, life is “sacred” because they can use it: they use the genetically engineered bodies they create, and they use the almost-dead, enslaved Niess people to fuel their own wants and needs. However, to most, life is “sacred” in that each human life should be respected and given rights. This is certainly not how the people in power in Syl Anagist treat those that they enslave and force to do their bidding. Here, the dehumanization of civilization that Michee discusses as being present in our world today is also displayed in Syl Anagist.

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