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Thursday, January 02, 2020

Terry Pratchett knew the Gamma

From his very good NIGHT WATCH:

"You couldn't trust either of them. But they hated Keel with that gnawing, nerve-sapping hatred that only the mediocre can really bring to bear, and that was useful."

Novelists are, first and foremost, observers of human behavior. This is why one can clearly see Gammas described and portrayed, though obviously not identified as such, throughout the literature of cultures that range from Heian Japan to modern America.

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40 Comments:

Blogger xavier January 02, 2020 9:00 PM  

Are gammas a universal archtype easily recognizable in all cultures? Or do cultural differences mitigate somewhat the archtype?

Blogger prplmnky January 02, 2020 9:33 PM  

Didn't know VD read Pratchett. A welcome surprise. The Night Watch series is arguably his best cast of characters.

Blogger John Rockwell January 02, 2020 9:39 PM  

Gammas either are reformed or they are to be permanent persona no grata.

Blogger Zaklog the Great January 02, 2020 9:49 PM  

An on-topic opportunity to ask a question I’ve been meaning to for a while: Do you know any good examples from literature of gamma characters? Especially of gammas reforming and moving up? If you know any from the Bible, that would be even better.

Blogger Ska_Boss January 02, 2020 9:53 PM  

Thanks to Vox's SSH works, I can now easily identify where most of my male peers stand. It helps a lot when you know what motivates others.

Blogger RobertDWood January 02, 2020 10:32 PM  

Re biblical, I posted this comment on another post but it answers you:

He starts in Exodus with Moses as literally just the mouth, he's the voice for the one who really gets it done.

He evolves to help develop and create the golden calf idol and leads the people immediately into idolatry.

But he learns from hard lessons (sons consumed in wrath) and grows into a leader (stands between death and the living after the korite rebellion) whom the people genuinely mourn upon his death (30 days weeping)

Peter can also be this example, from the braggart who doesn't get it to the humbled by the cross to the coward after resurrection to the Lion in Jerusalem after Pentecost.
Slips when Paul has to rebuke him but by all accounts returns to grace.

Blogger Ingemar January 02, 2020 10:56 PM  

I think Judas Iscariot definitely is a Gamma. He had the gall to tell others how they should spend their treasure on the Lord and when he was corrected, betrayed Christ for a petty prize. And when he saw what wrong he did, rather than face correction he killed himself.

Blogger Sargent.matrim January 02, 2020 11:06 PM  

Absalom, David's son might be a good example of a gamma. But his end is very bad.

The way John presents the Jewish leaders in his gospel makes them appear gamma. Some of those leaders are redeemed in Acts 2.

Jacob appears to be a gamma, who is redeemed. A deceptive little mumma's boy, who learns the hard way the pain of being a deceiver.

Blogger tublecane January 03, 2020 1:23 AM  

I have Pratchett slotted in a Children's Author hole in my mind for some reason. Maybe because I saw some movie or t.v. adaptation at some point. So I can't speak on his more famous series, with the universal turtle, or whatever it is.

You talked at one point on this blog about modern audience-unfriendly literature and the "not a wasted word" crowd. Pure, golden brown and silky smooth observation of human behavior is difficult to find amongst them. It is abundant in reader-friendly books with actual narratives to tell.

Heckfire, I can barely remember any catchphrases or standout passages from my favorite authors. Jokes, perhaps. But jokes are meant to be relatable.

What I remember, instead, is the Human Truth presented. Observation of everything, really, from social hierarchy to flowers. Among such observable things is included unfortunately the gamma.

Reading Conrad's Secret Agent recently, I find all manner of anti-social types. Anarchist terrorists who take great pleasure in their squalid condition, hating everything, and having the choice to blow themselves up if necessary. I'm real life they'd be insufferable. In literature, they serve a purpose.

Blogger cyrus83 January 03, 2020 1:47 AM  

Cain and Judas are Biblical examples of gammas although their appearances are brief.

The Fool of New York City is a recent novel to consider if looking for a gamma and redemption.

Blogger Lazarus January 03, 2020 4:21 AM  

RobertDWood wrote:He evolves to help develop and create the golden calf idol and leads the people immediately into idolatry.

I think you need to reread that part.

Blogger Zander Stander January 03, 2020 4:53 AM  

Judas Iscariot?

Blogger sammibandit January 03, 2020 4:54 AM  

Not a cut straight one, but Dr. Frankenstein has some supremely gamma moments. When his relatives are murdered he's more concerned about himself than his family. Ultimately he bakes this tendency into the monster he makes, a monster who spends about 1/3 of the book "writing a wall of text" about how hard done by he is even though he's a cold blooded serial murderer. Viktor Frankenstein comes into somewhat of a delta attitude, however. He single-mindedly chases down the monster to the ends of the earth but only after his bride is murdered.

Blogger Zander Stander January 03, 2020 4:55 AM  

I should read all posts before firing from the hip, starting now.

Blogger God Emperor Memes January 03, 2020 5:28 AM  

The original paperback prints of the Discworld novels featured cover art by Josh Kirby, whose style and bright colouration appealed to teenagers and preteens. They were later released with more 'adult' covers, when the publisher/s realised a lot of adult potential readers were put off by the childish pictures. - I recall having a school librarian suggest the Discworld series to me and rejecting it for that very reason. I didn't read 'The Light Fantastic' until I was nearly twenty, and the loss was mine.

Blogger God Emperor Memes January 03, 2020 5:33 AM  

Re: Biblical Gammas. I wonder if Ishmael would be the ultimate Biblical Gamma? - He is described as a wild donkey of a man, always quarrelling with his neighbours and unable to live in peace with others. He is also said to be the patriarch of the Arabs, which might explain a lot about them.

Blogger steb January 03, 2020 5:49 AM  

Discworld is a great look at the tension in liberal thinking between their theoretical belief in equality and their romantic infatuation with philosopher kings. All of his stories hinge on a morally good anti-establishment character stepping 'beyond good and evil' to face some particular threat, and then agonising about the implications.

Carrott is a kind of sexless alpha. He's always shown as having all the qualifications needed to be king, including a total lack of ambition to wear the crown. In theory we ought to be cheering for him to discover his destiny, but in fact the books always treat the natural plotline with suspicion.

I think it shows a delta worldview: resenting alphas, even while seeing them as necessary. Authority is temporarily granted to leaders to deal with a specific situation, with a constant fear that the alpha will start to see his authority as god given and unquestionable.

Obama is a good real world example: he was made king to slay the racism dragon, but then the deltas swung over to Trump because the Democrat party started acting like it ruled by divine right.

Blogger Vaughan Williams January 03, 2020 6:29 AM  

You speak of Carrot, but omit the Patrician. Was it ever resolved what he was? It is implied that he might be part Vampire in one of the books, but nothing I could pin down.

Blogger steb January 03, 2020 6:55 AM  

Vaughan Williams wrote:You speak of Carrot, but omit the Patrician. Was it ever resolved what he was? It is implied that he might be part Vampire in one of the books, but nothing I could pin down.

It's been a few years since I read them. Certainly one book went into his backstory in the Assassins Guild, but I don't think they ever explained fully who he was.

Orignally I think he was supposed to be the amoral foil for Vimes, but Ankh-Morpork was such a corrupt place that he became a more sympathetic character as the series progressed - being the only one who could keep the city together.

The reason Terry Pratchett was so good was that he never let his beliefs override what was best for the story. He might have wanted to make Vetinari a vampire, but it would have made the stories too dark. The Watch would have had to overthrow him. Instead, they keep an uneasy balance.

Blogger Doktor Jeep January 03, 2020 7:18 AM  

George Miller also features SSH roles quite prominently in Mad Max 1 and 2.

Blogger VFM #7634 January 03, 2020 7:33 AM  

I wasn't aware that Pratchett was that hilarious. Maybe I should get a couple of his books.

Blogger Zaklog the Great January 03, 2020 8:25 AM  

@21 I wasn't aware that Pratchett was that hilarious. Maybe I should get a couple of his books.

I'd say definitely aim for the middle of the Discworld series. The first two or three, he hadn't quite figured out what he was doing. The last three or four, his talent was in decline. That leaves quite a few in the middle that are very worthwhile.

Blogger RobertDWood January 03, 2020 10:07 AM  

Ex 32:2-24.

My words are precise and accurate to the text.

Blogger The Observer January 03, 2020 10:09 AM  

The last three or four, his talent was in decline.

I maintain my suspicion that his daughter Rhianna was ghostwriting for him on and off near the end, especially his YA Tiffany Aching works. I have no hard evidence of this, but can't shake off the feeling.

Blogger IAMSpartacus0000 January 03, 2020 10:32 AM  

VD: Slightly off topic but is the Discworld series worth investing time in? I did search your site and most of your comments seem mixed as you think it should have ended with "Making Money". Is it still worth the time?

Side note: Really liking the Audio Book for Throne of Bones. Your narrator Jeremy Daw is fantastic. Not sure I can read any of the books now with out his voice and accent.

Blogger Polemicist January 03, 2020 11:04 AM  

@22 Sir Terry did suffer from early-onset Alzheimer's. I recall when he was diagnosed he said something along the lines of

- At this point it is customary to ask 'Is there anything I can do?', but - unless you work in high end brain surgery - I wouldn't bother.

I prefer his earlier works. In the later ones, the greater attention given to plotting and the attempts to introduce a political message was sometimes at the expense of the humour and insights which gave him his deserved reputation.

Blogger Vaughan Williams January 03, 2020 11:46 AM  

@19 Steb, perhaps not too dark. As the series progressed there was the vampires "temperance union" who drank tomato juice when they felt tempted. And it was revealed that vampires had been "breeding" all of Ankh-Morpork's elite for centuries, according to their own selection criteria. Which, given the stuff Anonymous Conservative has been posting recently, sounds like the exact truth. Old Pterry knew. And not just the nobility, although they get extra special attention.

Blogger SirHamster January 03, 2020 12:03 PM  

RobertDWood wrote:My words are precise and accurate to the text.
You left out the name Aaron in your earlier post, which might have created some confusion. I had to read it twice to get who you were talking about.

Other supporting evidence:

Aaron and Miriam tried to usurp Moses role through a whispering campaign criticizing Moses's Cushite wife. (Numbers 12)

In the golden calf incident, Aaron took the lead in creating the idol, but disclaims responsibility when confronted by Moses. Also failed to keep the people in check in Moses's absence.

Gamma is Alpha ambition without ability. So Aaron did exhibit some Gamma behaviors.


Joseph also checks a few flags. Spoiled son, tattle-tale, annoyed his own parents, even triggers his brothers into trying to kill him. Slavery and prison time probably helped mature him.

His forgiveness of his brothers in the end probably included a little, "yeah, I was a punk".

Blogger Servant January 03, 2020 12:08 PM  

Rincewind on the counterweight continent, going postal and making money, and everything vimes are all fantastic stories. His funniest I think were the death stories.

Vimes is considered the right way to do lawful good, for what that's worth.

@sargent.matrim

Not sure what your Bible says but mine says God is good. Jacob was a Nancy boy alpha. It's a weird juxtaposition, but you don't put a gamma in charge of a Nation unless you are retarded. Pro tip, Bible doesn't call him out for anything regarding his decieving and supplanting. In fact, God rewards him repeatedly. Read it again.

Blogger RobertDWood January 03, 2020 2:22 PM  

Thanks for identifying the confusion point.

Good call on Joseph, absolutely agree and I've never put that together.

Blogger Blume January 03, 2020 3:07 PM  

Just because God is Good doesn't mean he won't choose a gamma liar as the patriarch. Most of the patriarchs are horrible sinners that God chose to show his grace and mercy not the rightness of those individuals.

Blogger Student in Blue January 03, 2020 3:19 PM  

Novelists are, first and foremost, observers of human behavior.

This sentence puts a very excellent description on why I, as a child who wasn't that great at social situations, really gravitated toward fiction over non-fiction. The author, through dint of writing the characters, essentially explained what people did and how people reacted in various situations. I've been trying to figure out why that preference existed for the longest time, but Vox managed to encapsulate it rather succinctly. Thank you.

It's along the same vein as the severely autistic only really learning or grasping about people's emotional reactions when peoples' faces are put on front of trains - yeah sure the escapism of fiction is tempting, but that's not the big draw of it for those kinds of people. It's about making the unknown make a little more sense.

Blogger sammibandit January 03, 2020 5:14 PM  

I'd wager your average novelist is more honest than your average anthropologist. For one, the latter is funded by grants, and for two the latter looks for what makes people different (read subversive) than for what makes people similar.

Blogger A guy in a dusty attic January 03, 2020 6:37 PM  

Since I found out about ye old Gamma, I've been trying to find them in my life and memory. It is kind of like reading a Where's Waldo book.

Blogger RedJack January 03, 2020 7:06 PM  

Great book. I read it every May.

And has a lot of great insight in human behavior.

Blogger Sargent.matrim January 03, 2020 8:47 PM  

God takes him through a real time of tribulation because of his deception.

He reaps what he sows in many ways. Just as he deceived Isaac Laban deceives him. Just as he uses food to trade for the blessing, his wives swap food to trade him for sex. The poisonous family structure he creates, by hating one of his wives, comes back to bite him. His sons deceive and lie to him in ways that breaks his heart. But he is reaping what he sowed.

Continually through this process God is shaping him and changing him. And he eventually becomes a very strong and godly leader. Indeed look at his story it's not till many years into his story that he commands his family to put away their false gods. Showing that he was still learning what it meant to follow God. After all he didn't have the Bible like we do. God was patient with him teaching him through encounters and life experience.

God took a very deceitful and broken man and changed him thoroughly. He does the same to Jacobs sons, through their encounters with the grown Joseph.

In many ways the book of Genesis shows the destructiveness of Jacob's behaviour, but the powerfulness abd grace of God in blessing him and redeeming him anyway. Just as he promised Abraham that he would do to his descendents.





Blogger Sargent.matrim January 03, 2020 9:05 PM  

It's Genesis 35 where he finally tells his family to put away their false gods.

Blogger Servant January 03, 2020 9:26 PM  

You've made me think. I need to read it again.

The false gods were brought by Rachel. I've always seen that as a warning against pursuing earthly beauty. Most of the strife comes from that. As for his laboring under Laban he is blessed many times even though Laban sells to use Jacobs blessing for his own profit.

Blogger Sargent.matrim January 04, 2020 1:33 AM  

I think that is a good insight about chasing the earthly beauty getting us into trouble. I didn't think of that as I was teaching through those passages. I may mention that as I go forward, I'm still in Genesis at church.

Jacob was definitely enamoured with Rachel from the start, but by all accounts in Genesis, Leah appears to have been a dedicated wife, who gave him a lot of children.

Thanks for the insight.

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