Monday, November 20, 2017

Fact or Fiction

Picture this:

You are residing in a country, which is currently at a state of civil war. One of the provinces in the country is attempting to secede by supplanting the Government via military revolt.

While the province is not ethnically homogeneous, it is inhabited mostly by a fair-skinned race.  On the other hand, the country is being governed by a darker-skinned race hailing from another province, who have shown themselves to be shrewd and skilled administrators.

The political and economic dominance of the darker-skinned overlords have long brewed discontent among the natives of the province. The natives demand autonomy and exclusivity in a province, where they are culturally and demographically dominant. Not all natives share this view of course. Indeed, many welcome the leadership of the Government and immigrants; and despise the racist overtures of their fellow compatriots.

Further fueling this tension is the Government's decision to outlaw the practice of a particular religion, one that is beloved and widely practiced by the natives of the province. The ban drove the worship of the religion underground, breeding a network of agitated operatives seeking to subvert the Government.

Complicating this issue is the intervention of a foreign power, which has fought two wars with this country.  In the last great war, an uneasy truce was declared after a prolonged stalemate and heavy casualties on both sides. One of the conditions for peace imposed upon the country was that this particular religion be outlawed. Since the signing of the peace treaty, special agents from said foreign power have been brazenly operating within the country's boundaries, exacting extra-judicial punishments on those who dared flout the religious ban.  The Government, cautious to prevent a reversion to hostilities with the foreign power, has remained largely indifferent to these covert operations.  If the foreign power's objective was to agitate the inhabitants of the province, the move, while lacking in subtlety, was a resounding success.

The fair-skinned people, now incited by a charismatic demagogue, have joined a military movement for independence. Their rallying cry, while ostensibly grounded in the struggle for religious freedom, is frequently overshadowed by racist undertones.

The above scenario may be familiar to some of you gamers out there. It is a description of the socio-political settings in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Credit to be given to Bethesda Studios for a game that has been widely lauded and which has provided hours of immersive role play.

What is perhaps troubling is how easily we are able to draw parallels between a fictional world and the world we live in today.  Religion has always been, and will no doubt continue to be, a tool that is readily instrumentalized for political ends. To the secular observer, the transparent exploitation of religion appears to be laughable and the naivete of the religious fanatic seems incredulous. However, one should be slow to doubt the extreme lengths a religious fanatic would go in order to achieve his/her goals, which are often apocalyptic in nature. The day we are rid of religion is the day when we strip political actors of an all-too accessible tool for unleashing mayhem. And the world would be better for it.

For the avoidance of doubt, my Dragonborn joined the Empire and crushed the pitiful rebellion of Ulfric Stormcloak. Skyrim is not just for the Nords.

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