Revisiting: At the Feet of the Arkans

Every third Saturday of the month I intend to re-post something I wrote for one of my assorted old blogs or tumblogs. This week I am revisiting “At the Feet of the Arkans” from the Thinking Grounds, a bit of multiculturalist fantasy asking what we could learn if the Cainites, a people who are always conjoined twins, had a civilization of their own.

Source: Kurt Komoda at flic.kr/p/74SfjJ

Source: Kurt Komoda at flic.kr/p/74SfjJ


At the Feet of the Arkans

At the Weekly Wonders two weeks ago I posted about the Cainites. There have been lots of versions of the descendants of Cain—vampires, monsters, non-vegetarian barbarians—but I was looking at a specific, and very obscure, tradition from Jewish mysticism. It was said that Cain’s children were led by God into a dark cavernous world or place and where each given two heads. Their bicephaly was possibly a reminder of Cain’s brother Abel, who he killed, and thus the need for peace between siblings, but in the stories it usually seems to be a symbol for internal conflict. Solomon rules that Cainites are merely two-headed people rather than sets of twins sharing a body, and so the fact that one head is often pious while the other is wicked is taken as an external, visible sign of every human’s dual nature. Solomon, however, was wrong: two minds in two brains means there are two people. That is all the evidence you need. The land in which these Cainites were said to live is usually called Arka, so I tend to think of them as the Arkans.*

At the end of the Weekly Wonders post, I wondered what Arkan culture might look like:

But more interesting to me is to wonder what the society of Arka […] would be like: What would be their laws? How would they marry? (Note that, in Israel, the Cainite took only one wife rather than two.) What attitude would people with no exclusive claim to their own bodies have toward the ownership of property? What would be the history of their philosophy? Similar questions are posed, and some answers ventured, in other works featuring societies of bicephalic twins: Shelley Jackson’s novel Half-Life and Alluria Publishing’s Remarkable Races: The Taddol RPG supplements. But I would appreciate fuller answers, so you should feel free to offer your own.No one took me up on that question—or not yet, anyway—but I’d still like to hear possibilities.

As I indicate, Alluria Publishing’s taddols are interesting. Their anatomies have particular implications for their culture: for instance, they do not practice strict monogamy or even marriage, I assume because taddols cannot participate in the sort of sexual exclusivity we tend to (rightly or wrongly) imagine is a central component of marriage. But what’s more interesting to me is that they do not have any sense of private property: with their stuff as with their own bodies, their attitude is “You can use it if no one else is.” What they are possessive of is their ideas. The supplement specifically mentions that taddols will hold long grudges or even start battles over philosophical disagreements (though the examples given have a really impoverished sense of what a philosophical disagreement might entail). I trouble following this logic, though: if a taddol is possessive of her ideas because it is the only thing that is truly hers, this implies a contrast to her body, which she shares with her sister. The implication is that she might have different ideas than her sister. However, the supplement suggests that you should play as taddol twins who have significantly different moral alignments, since it would be needlessly difficult to have your characters squabble over every decision, and the description of their culture suggests that taddols tend to do more than quarrel when they disagree.

It seems to me that Alluria Publishing is somewhat mistaken: taddols would be likely to have better, not worse, ways of living with disagreement than we singletons do. And this is why I want to speculate about Arkan culture. I suspect that Arkan culture must contain some wisdom that helps in conflict resolution and living despite disagreement. (I’m thinking of Wade Davis’s suggestion in The Wayfinders that different cultures contain, or even simply are, techniques for addressing different challenges or questions; I discussed that when I wrote about the Majesty 2: Monster Kingdom game.) In real life, there’s been some interest in how conjoined twins resolve their differences; Alice Dormurat Dreger’s One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal deals with this somewhat, but also see the video interviews with Abby Hensel and Brittney Hensel, who freely admit to arguing fairly often. But conjoined twins don’t have a tradition. There’s little sense that they can learn from conjoined twins before them, since conjoined twins rarely even meet anyone else like them, let alone have a chance to learn from them. Each pair must produce their own conflict resolution techniques on their own. The Arkans, though, would have a whole culture which would address this problem. I’ve written before that living with disagreement is a concern of mine, and even used conjoined twins as a brief example; living with disagreement must be done, but I’m still not entirely sure how.

What I’d love is if I had a cosmogony machine with which I could make worlds. I’d create a world which contained Arkans, and let them live for a hundred generations or so. I would let them build a civilization, or civilizations. I would let them write a literature and produce aphorisms and so on. I would give them time to forge a culture. And then I would visit them, and I would sit at their feet and learn.

Or would I? There are, today, experts in conflict resolution. Peacekeepers and diplomats exist. Once upon a time my own country was known for them, though not since our current PM destroyed that reputation with his tactlessness. There may not be a culture of living with disagreement, but there is a scholarly literature in it. I am sure I could sit at the feet of those experts and learn, but I do not. It is easier to imagine perfect teachers and lament their absence than to seek out the ones which exist.

—-

*I shoddy writing a fantasy story in which Arkan citizens petition to be recognized as two persons, meaning they can cast two votes (one per person) and cannot consent to an agreement for one another.

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