Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Social Satire of Dragon Age: Mages and Templars part 2

Part 1
Part 3

    Perhaps even more controversial than the Rite of Annulment amongst mages is the Rite of Tranquility. As mentioned before, this is a procedure which removes the ability of mages to feel emotions. The resulting figures, called Tranquil, are supernaturally calm and reserved. They are (apparently) immune to possession and no threat to their fellow beings.

    Dragon Age: Asunder shows that, instead of being immune, they are simply undesirable as hosts to demons but this is functionally the same as immunity. A Tranquil is less appealing to a demon than a non-magic-using human and thus not likely to endanger other beings by his mere existence.

    The first encounter with a Tranquil mage in the Mage Origin is one of horror and curiosity as we find someone who was once feeling but has since become otherwise. The Tranquil we meet, Owain, says that he is content with his life but feels no emotions.

    He can be neither happy nor sad, though he expresses some vague displeasure at the horrific destruction wrecked by demons during the "Broken Circle" questline in Origins. Mage player-characters can insult or abuse this figure, calling him an automaton, but this is a poor response given he has already suffered a grievous violation (whether willingly or not).

    Knight Captain Cullen, a figure presented as more-or-less reasonable example of the Templars, has the idea that Tranquility is a moral alternative to executing every mage who proves incapable of resisting demonic temptation.

    But is it?
Without emotion, without feeling, without love, without hate, breath is just a clock. Ticking.
     Much as lobotomies were considered to be a corrective surgery for certain mental illnesses, the serious side effects of the procedure call into question how anyone could believe this to be humane (or even a lesser evil). The sheer horror mages like Anders and Jowan display for Tranquility go a long way to explaining the violent insurrections which take place across the Circles in the Dragon Age games.

    The fact the rite is meant to require both the approval of the Knight Commander as well as First Enchanter does little to mitigate the fear mages have of the procedure being forced upon them. We see, with Ser Alrik, Templars are quite capable of doing the rite on their own initiative.

    However, and this is where the procedure becomes relevant to current discussions regarding Freedom vs. Security--one needs to be wary of FINANCIAL considerations when discussing the Tranquil rite.

    The Second Iraqi War was criticized in some circles, justifiably or not, as having more to do with protecting American oil interests than overthrowing a dictator. President Eisenhower warned against the Military Industrial Complex using its economic might to force the United States into wars for the sake of profit.

    In the case of the Tranquil, they offer an immense financial benefit to both the Templars and the Chantry. This isn't just because they are obedient slaves, though that is a consideration. No, it is because of the fact Tranquil are capable of working with the highly-dangerous substance of lyrium.

    Lyrium is a mystical substance useful as both a drug, a power-source, and an explosive. It's perhaps most potent use, however, is being worked to create magical items. Magical glyphs, while not as potent in Dragon Age as other franchises, can transfer a bow or a sword into a weapon equivalent to a modern day firearm. While dwarves are capable of enchantment too, it is far riskier for them versus Tranquil.

Sandal's "quirks" may be the result of how dangerous lyrium is to even dwarvish users.
    Tranquil are capable of working day and night to produce weapons, armor, or otherwise for the Templars. Furthermore, these goods are sold as seen in the Wonders of Thedas shop, for great amounts of gold.

    Which causes one to wonder if the Chantry does not have a vested interest in always making sure there's Tranquil regardless of the actual capacity of mages. Even if all the money goes back to the Circle, as indicated by the Tranquil at Ostagar, that just shows there is a benefit to the Tranquil's existence beyond preventing possession.

    As we find out with Libertarian mage Adrian and the "recovered" Tranquil Karl (before he returns to that state), many mages would prefer death to Tranquility. Others, horrified by dreams or fearful of the Harrowing, consider it their only hope of salvation and being "freed" from magic. Ex-Tranquil Pharamond expresses less horror than Karl at his past existence but is quite happy to have his emotions restored.

    Which brings us to the Harrowing. The Harrowing is a rite of passage similar to the Jedi Trials or, in an odd way, a driver's test. A mage who passes the Harrowing is no longer an apprentice and receives the full respect of his peers. He is accorded certain rights and privileges like a theoretical immunity to becoming Tranquil.

    Before becoming a Grey Warden, Anders becomes an apostate seven or eight times with only a year in solitary confinement (bad as that may be) due to his having passed the Harrowing. The rite of Tranquility cannot be used punitively by Templars acting within the law. Not that it was ever meant to be used that way to begin with.

    The Harrowing is a test by which a mage is mentally sent into the Fade and displays his ability to fight, resist temptation by, and outsmart demons. At its most basic level, it is meant to demonstrate a mage does not have to be feared as a "possession risk." Theoretically, they are not the sort of beings the general public should have to fear. Unfortunately, the Harrowing is a flawed rite from both the Mage as well as Templar side (more so the former than the later).

Mages can become Abominations voluntarily. Even if this is beyond stupid. Why? Because humans (and elves) are stupid.
    As a test, it is runs the risk of being immoral and as a means of demonstrating a mage is not dangerous--it is decidedly lacking. The Templars kill any subject who becomes an Abomination during this procedure, despite the means to free them being in close access (as we saw with Connor--it is possible to free possessed mages), but this is not necessarily a bad thing given the danger even a single one of their kind can pose.

    As we see with Uldred, even powerful run the risk of possession. The Baroness, a cruel and powerful Orlesian Blood Mage, actually becomes a Pride Demon rather than being possessed by one. Grace, one of the apostates taken to Kirkwall's chantry, becomes a Pride Abomination. Evelyn, another renegade, accepts the help of demons to escape the Templars.

    Anders, himself, accepts a benevolent Fade spirit into his body with their clash of personalities warping the other into an unrecognizable fusion. First Enchanter Orsino believes becoming an abomination to kill more Templars is an even trade-off during a moment of despair (which doesn't work out for him). In short, no mage is entirely free from the risk of possession and the Harrowing is merely a comforting lie which pretends otherwise.

    Worse, the culture around the Harrowing is vile from a moral perspective. Apprentice mages are terrified of the Harrowing and some, like Jowan, resort to drastic means (such as Blood Magic) because of their fear. Some even elect to become Tranquil rather than take it. The fact Enchanters neither allay the fears of these subjects or have an alternatives is highly questionable. The ability to fight demons physically does not provide any insight into whether a mage has moral fiber to resist possession nor does the former provide any insight into the latter.

    The fact the mages know they will be watched during the Harrowing makes it a dubious test for one's ability to resist demonic temptation. Only a complete moron, for example, would make a deal with a demon while a Templar is literally standing over their unconscious bodies. The fact mages are forced to take the Harrowing and sometimes die, on a frequent enough basis to go uncommented on as we see in Dragon Age: Asunder makes it use questionable. In some ways, it is political theater, demonstrating a false triumph in order to allay concerns about a person.

    Which brings us to Blood Magic and Mage Terrorism.

Yes, use your aggressive feelings! Give into your anger!
    Blood Magic is a forbidden school of magic which was taught to the Tevinter Magisters ages ago by the Old God Dumat. During Dragon Age: Origins we find out it is possible to learn this school of magic from both studying it in books (as Jowan did) and from demons.

    As the Rite of Tranquility gives the Chantry a vested financial interest in treating mages as slaves, so does Blood Magic give mages a vested interest in treating non-magical individuals as chattel. Practitioners are known as Maleficar and they are some of the most despised individuals in Thedas.

    Blood Magic, itself, is amoral since it can be used by both moral paragon player-characters as well as villainous monsters. It is a tool, nothing more. However, like a gun or nuclear weapon, its uses are limited beyond inflicting harm. Blood magic deals with the control of demons, mind-control, and the harvesting of human life-force for mystical power. A few individuals, like the Grey Warden Avernus, have found medicinal benefits to the practice but the majority of practitioners seem interested in its use as a weapon or source of easy power.

    As we see with Jowan, feats impossible for a single magic without great amounts of lyrium, become possible with human sacrifice. Even strong-willed mortals like a non-mage Hawke, are incapable of resisting Blood Magic to kill themselves. The aforementioned Avernus used his Blood Magic to assist in the rebellion of Sophie Dryden against the tyrant Arland by mind-controlling individuals into supporting her.

    To say this is highly unethical is understating matters.

    Demons tend to be in the service of Blood Mages, often appearing in great numbers. Uldred's misuse of it turned the Circle of Magi in Ferelden to a charnel house. Even otherwise-moral Merrill ran the risk of unleashing a Pride Demon on the world despite her precautions. All mages risk corruption by demons but Blood Mages invite them in through the front door because they believe they can be made to behave.

    As we see with Jowan, a mystique has appeared around Blood Magic, and it encourages mages to study it despite the risks it runs to not only the mage themselves but those around them. Zathrian the Elvish Keeper's story shows it can bestow immortality but the price was a hideous curse on the Brecilian Forest's human inhabitants.

    The, admittedly biased, former slave Fenris indicates that many mages turn to Blood Magic because its benefits outweigh its drawbacks if one is immoral. Those mages who turn to Blood Magic are able to dominate their fellows and conquer lesser humans in a way other mages can only dream about due to their endless supply of magical power as long as there's bodies to sacrifice.

    The World of Thedas volume 1 talks about how otherwise content (for as much as one can be) slaves in Tevinter are horrified when their seemingly-benevolent master sacrifices their lives to gain an advantage against a rival. As long as people value their own lives above others, Blood Magic will be an "easy" solution to turn to. One can draw parallels to drug-dealing, weapons-trafficking, and other crimes which are insoluble as they're so good at providing what a subject wants.

    The public interest becomes more threatened by ambitious mages wielding Blood Magic than it does by possessed mages as Maleficar can intentionally inflict the mass-devastation weak-mages can do accidentally. The Old Tevinter Imperium holds a place of cultural horror and trauma in the minds of Thedasians due to the mass human sacrifices, mind-control, and unspeakable rites practiced by its leadership. Perhaps the worst of these being the Blights. The Blights are reputed to have occurred because the Tevinter Magisters used Blood Magic to visit the Maker's Golden City. While the Chantry has mythologized the event, the existence of the Darkspawn Corypheus proves there is some truth to the story.

    In short, mages can destroy villages. Blood Mages can destroy the world.

    The issues become muddled with Mage Terrorism. You wouldn't think that terrorism would be a thing in a Medieval society such as Thedas but it is an on-going theme with the Templar and Mage struggle. The destruction of the Kirkwall Chantry by Anders is easily compared to a modern-day act of terrorism, blowing up a public building as well as civilian structure in order to make a symbolic strike against authority.

Blood Mages look like everyone else. They can also play the role of the misunderstood victim.
    We see another act in the transformation of Templars into Abominations via Blood Magic. Dawn of the Seeker shows Blood Mages working with renegade Chantry members to start a war they both want by assassinating a liberal Divine. Senior Enchanter Adrian commits murder as well as other crimes to force neutral Rhys into turning against the Templars.

    These acts are not attempts to win a convention, or even guerrilla, war against the Templars but designed psychological strikes to demoralize their foe or invite reprisals that will harden their neutral associates. Real-life terrorism has been conducted with the aim of inviting crackdowns which will hurt the innocent, causing individuals to become more sympathetic to the terrorists. This is, in fact, Anders' own aim as the overreaction of Knight Commander Meredith kicks off the Mage-Templar War.

    Mages are a despised minority in Thedas due to a combination of Chantry teachings, the Tevinter Imperium's abuses, and the actual dangers of both Blood Magic and possession. Mages are no better or worse than regular human beings and elves but the potential damage they can cause is disproportionately strong. Leliana, who is otherwise sympathetic to mages in Dragon Age: Origins, believes the Resolutionist faction of mages (liberation through terrorism) represents one of the direst threats to Thedas since the Blight. This may or may not be hyperbole as we will find out in Dragon Age: Inqusitition.

    There is no chance of mages winning a conventional war against the military forces of Thedas and they might only just be able to defeat the Templars as a whole. Even then, such is only the case with a united response from magi. For that, terrorists like Anders have to invite the full wrath of the Templars down in order to convince their fellows that revolt is better than compromise.

We'll get into Peace, Compromise, and Realpolitic with The Social Satire of Dragon Age: Mages and Templars part 3.

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