This is Part IV of our four-and-three-quarters part series (I, II, IIIa, IIIb, interlude) on the Fremen Mirage. We began by sketching out the basic outline of this pop theory of history: that a lack of wealth and sophistication leads to moral purity, which in turn leads to military prowess, which consequently produces a cycle of history wherein rich and decadent societies are forever being overthrown by poor, but hardy ‘Fremen’ who then become rich and decadent in their turn. Or, as the meme, originally coined by G. Michael Hopf puts it, “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.”
In Part I and II of this series, we put this idea to the test, trying to see if it actually served as an accurate description of historical processes. And by and large, we found that…no, it did not. Far from being superior warriors, ‘Fremen’ societies (those that correspond to the ‘hard time-strong men’ trope) tended to lose more often than they won. Often in absolutely appalling amounts. ‘Fremen’ success often came at the end of centuries of bloody failure – when it came at all – and was itself often transitory. States generally found their fiercest adversaries not in the Fremen of the frontiers, but in other states – peer competitors with matching levels of sophistication and capabilities for violence.
In Part III (‘a‘ and ‘b‘) we asked – if this Mirage isn’t a useful analytical tool for understanding history or conflict (modern or pre-modern, as we’ll see in a moment) – why do we have it? We found this mode of thinking emerged largely out of the ‘decadent’ societies’ own self-criticism and self-definition: the myth was never about the Fremen at all, but about the settled people who fought them, a mix of nostalgia, deflected political criticism and a deep concern present in seemingly all societies that proper, martial masculinity – true manliness – was being steadily eroded by the times.
But those ancient texts – which were never about the Fremen – were picked up in the modern period (especially the 19th century) and became a foundation for nationalist – frequently racist – identity-construction in much of the West. The Mirage reached its modern form mixed with a toxic brew of orientalism (where ‘decadence’ no longer described the self, but was now placed on Eastern societies) and so-called ‘scientific’ racism. And because the Mirage both fit the cultural zeitgeist and the policy aims of states looking to harness nationalism during a very formative period both for the discipline of history and for the development of public education, the idea of the Mirage ended up deeply embedded in the popular understanding of history in a variety of Western cultures, at least until its purest form was discredited in the fires of the Second World War.
Yet, as we’ve seen with our look at Dune more closely, the idea of the Mirage survived the demolition of the political ideologies it was mobilized to support, passing into the popular culture as a ‘fact’ everyone ‘knows’ about history, despite the fact that it was never intended as an objective description at any point.
Today, I want to close out by talking about some of the generally proposed exceptions to the rule: the true Fremen, who supposedly live up to the billing that all of our previous Fremen have failed to match. So we’re going to talk about – above and away – the most successful category of non-state actors in the pre-modern world: Horse-borne nomads (mostly that means steppe nomads, but much of what we’ll say will also cover horse-borne desert nomads). And then we’ll take a look at modern non-state actors to see how they measure up. And finally, we’ll ask why the Mirage is so tenacious and also why, as a system for understanding the present as well as the past, it is so unhelpful.
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On with the show!
…Unless You Are the Mongols
Horse-borne nomads – and steppe nomads in particular – serve as the most obvious exception to the general rule that non-state ‘hard men’ fail to live up to their billing in the Mirage. Of steppe nomads, the Mongols of course serve as the standouts – easily the most successful single group of steppe nomads – but even more generally, a steppe nomad fighting as a mounted archer was, in his day, probably the most dangerous man-for-man combatant on any battlefield. The hype – which absolutely resounds from the sources in the period – was real.
Steppe nomads and their image in popular culture is something I want to return to in greater depth in a later series, so I don’t want to get too into-the-weeds here, but I will note that the popular conception of steppe nomads – presented often as big, burly, facial-hair-wearing brutes (think the Dothraki) – isn’t quite right. For one, Steppe nomads – past and present – generally seem to have been fairly small, compact fellows, not towering hulking brutes (although their style of warfare does require a lot of strength in the arms and shoulders to work the composite bow). And while steppe nomad society often had extremely limited literacy and ‘cultural refinement’ (by the standards of their agrarian neighbors), once they moved into the settled zone, steppe nomads are notable for picking up elements of agrarian culture with surprising speed. so even these most Fremen of the Fremen don’t quite fit the stereotype.
The military strength of steppe nomads came out of the intersection of their method of subsistence with their style of warfare. Steppe warriors battled with tactics learned from the hunt and engaged in operations with logistics they used for every day survival. But it isn’t the ‘hardness’ of this way of life that provided the military advantage (if it was, one might expect non-horse cultures on similarly marginal lands to be equally militarily effective and – as we’ve shown – they were not), it was the overlap of very specific skills (namely riding, horse archery and the logistics of steppe pastoralism) that led to the military advantage.
Indeed, if we’re talking about the Mongols, they weren’t even the least stratified, least-wealthy ‘hardest’ men around. Individuals that couldn’t fit within the confines of the strongly communal steppe society, or whose communities broke or shattered (as did Chinggis’ own in his youth) were pushed into the life of forest hunters – rugged individuals living off of their own hunting skill alone or in smaller, more isolated groups. Except that the forest was no place to have a herd of animals – and thus no place for horses, horse archery or steppe logistics (indeed the ‘forest people’ who found themselves, perhaps by a lucky raid, possessed of a herd would move out onto the steppe) – and so, deprived of the very specific skills that made the steppe way of war work, these ultra-Fremen of the forest were never so militarily strong as their herd-owning pastoralist neighbors, despite their harder lifestyle (on this, see P. Ratchnevsky Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy, trans. T.N. Haining (1991), 5-7, 22-24). ‘Hardness’ was not the steppe advantage, specific skills were.
That said, those skills were a hell of a combination when a charismatic leader could assemble a large enough group of steppe warriors (one of the main military weakness of steppe societies, like most non-state peoples, being maintaining large group-size). Steppe nomad armies could move very fast at the operational or strategic level and could bring their logistics (read: herds) with them, giving them tremendous flexibility anywhere there was sufficient pasturage (which to be fair, was not everywhere, but it was a huge band of land stretching over Eurasia). Meanwhile, just the regular tactics of mounted steppe warfare (which in turn relied heavily on the tactics of the hunt) placed agrarian armies under tremendous psychological stress. This military package was very effective.
Now, we also do need some caveats on the difference between the popular perception of the dominance of steppe nomads and their actual performance. Put bluntly: the Mongols are not typical of steppe nomads in terms of scale or success. Quite the opposite: while Mongol military power is deeply rooted in Steppe subsistence patterns, a great deal of their success is rooted in Chinggis’ willingness to radically rework elements of Mongol culture, particularly to resolve scalability issues. Scalability is one of the major limits of non-state actors: systems of organization that work well for smaller groups often don’t scale up to very large groups; the success of the state as an institution is that it scales up very well (sidenote: in practice, Ibn Khaldun’s concept of asabiyah is all about the failure of clan solidarity to scale-up effectively to a state-level). Chinggis radically remade parts of Mongol culture to resolve some of these problems. He functionally abolished the traditional Steppe hierarchy, substituting it with a merit-based system under his control. He also implemented a ‘decimal’ system of organization with systematically obliterates pre-existing clan and tribal distinctions and power structures, instead tying them all directly to him. All of this works to resolve these scale issues, but also make the Mongols fairly unique as a Steppe polity. In short: not every Steppe society could do this.
(Note: missing from this list of reforms is anything to deal with Steppe partible inheritance – the tradition that all heirs are equally entitled to, and may split, the inheritance. That cultural practice plays a key role in the relatively rapid fragmentation and disintegration of Chinggis’ empire after his death.)
We should also note that Steppe nomad effectiveness did not guarantee the ability to successfully operate offensively beyond the Steppe. China – severely exposed to the Eurasian Steppe – provides a clear example. Periods of nomad dominance are actually rare and the most severe threats to most dynasties (as long as you aren’t the Song) were other settled states – and indeed, mostly other Han Chinese peer competitors at that. As with Rome (where the greatest threat was the Sassanian peer-competitor), for most Chinese states, the greatest threat was meeting yourself: another sophisticated, highly stratified, wealthy Chinese state. Consider the timeline (I should note this is a vast simplification and the territory that defines ‘China’ in each of these periods changes a lot, but for the purpose of demonstrating this point, it will serve):
- 771-221: Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period. Intense state on state conflict overshadows Steppe threat.
- 221-207: Qin Dynasty. China unified under an agrarian, non-nomadic state.
- 202BC – 220AD: Han dynasty. China unified under an agrarian, non-nomadic state.
- 220-280: Three Kingdoms Period. Intense state on state conflict overshadows Steppe threat.
- 280-386: Jin Dynasty. China unified under an agrarian, non-nomadic state.
- 420-589: Northern and Southern dynasties. Northern China controlled to c. 550 by Wei; Dynasty is founded by Xianbei Steppe peoples, but sinicizes.
- 581-618: Sui Dynasty. China unified under an agrarian, non-nomadic state.
- 618-907: Tang Dynasty. China unified under an agrarian, non-nomadic state.
- 900-1270: Division. Steppe nomads (Liao, Jurchin, Xi Xia) control significant parts of China, while the most populous areas remain under the control of the Song dynasty, a Han Chinese agrarian, non-nomadic state.
- 1270-1368: Yuan Dynasty (Mongols): Complete Steppe nomad control over China.
- 1368-1644: Ming Dynasty. China unified under an agrarian, non-nomadic state.
- 1636-1912: Qing Dynasty. While not Han Chinese, the Manchus were largely not nomads, but agrarian peoples who had been settled for some time.
Counting it all up, that’s 98 years of complete (roughly) Steppe nomad control and another c. 540 years of partial nomadic control of Northern China (often far less than half of what we generally think of as China today). Out of a total of 2,683 years of history covered by the timeline. If we give half credit for years of partial control – quite generous given how limited some of that was – nomad control of China makes up about 13% of the timeline (less still, of course, if you include the span from 1912 to the present). Even allowing for the Qing – who, to be fair, certainly liked to represent themselves in some ‘Fremen’ ways – only brings us up to 24% of the total time-span. And remember what we said at the outset of this series: no one lives on marginal lands by choice. If you are in Inner Mongolia or Manchuria, it is by and large because you cannot fight your way into the more resource-rich parts of China proper – it is no great surprise that the Mongols eventually move the capital off the steppe. And for something between 87% and 76% of the time, that was the case for our Steppe Fremen: shut out of the resource rich territories of China, confined to raiding those areas for what could be plundered (and often with only limited success, given the long tenure of the polities that governed those resource-rich lands).
That record is little better than what our ‘Fremen’ achieved on the limes of the Roman Empire.
That said, in parts of Central Asia, the Near East and India, Steppe nomads were far more successful. The Near East in particular was tremendously exposed, geographically, to horse-borne nomads and was repeatedly overrun by them (I think part of the endurance of the myth of the unbeatable Fremen has to do with the relative prominence of the Near East compared to Southern, Eastern or South-Eastern Asia in many ‘World History’ curricula – the Near East, flanked by rough country on three sides is tremendously geographically vulnerable to non-state incursions). As long as we are realistic about our expectations, I think it is fair to say that Steppe nomads often lived up to their billing.
Well, for a time.
What do I mean by that? Well, as we just discussed, nomadic prowess was based on the peculiar intersection of military and subsistence systems: it works because the nomads fight as they hunt. In practice, that means that the power of Steppe nomads is not a general phenomenon, but a contingent one. It doesn’t hold prior to the development of the composite bow or the domestication of the horse for war. If we’re thinking in terms of chariots, that’s c. 2,000 BCE or so (possibly earlier), but the problem with chariots is that they’re expensive and agrarian states could make more of them, so it is really only with the advent of true cavalry (and horse archers), which start reaching the settled world in force in the 9th century BCE (but may have been in use on the Steppe itself as early as c. 4000 BCE). The window for the devastating Steppe nomad package thus really opens up around 1000 BCE with all of the technologies securely in place (and impactful enough that we can see them clearly in the historical record).
And, on the other end, railroads and advanced firearms slam the window shut, as the practice of war decouples from the practice of subsistence on the Steppe. Railroads in particular make the previously impassable Steppe suddenly navigable for armies, but in practice the shift in the balance of power happens even earlier than this. The Qing are able to break the back of steppe power (in part by using their own knowledge of the steppe logistics systems) in the 18th century. On the other end of the Eurasian Steppe, the Russians were accomplishing much the same at roughly the same time. I don’t want to get too in-the-weeds on this, but I think we can fairly say that by 1750, the window for the dominance of the steppe nomad package closes. That’s not to say steppe cavalry become instantly useless, but it will never again effectively compete with leading state powers.
Now, on the one hand, for any military system to be competitive for c. 2750 years is absolutely incredible. This is part of why I say that the Steppe nomads live up to their billing. On the other hand, the state emerges around 3100 BCE (in Egypt and Mesopotamia; this is a conservative date – there are smaller ‘petty’ states in these regions much earlier) and remains the most effective and dominant way to organize humans for war from then to the present. In the c. 5,000 year run of recorded history (which maps over the lifespan of the state as an innovation because of its connection to writing) the steppe nomad system is technologically viable for about half of it – a slice that shrinks every year. Whereas the state has been the dominant form of organizing humans for war for that entire span and remains so today.
Again: that’s not a criticism. That’s a long time to bat well above replacement! But it should put some perspective on the idea that even these most Fremen of the Fremen are somehow generally better at fighting: their system of war made them competitive, but not dominant, and only within a broad, but limited time-frame. Because it was never based on the aspects of the Mirage (purity born of poverty) which ought to offer a permanent advantage but instead based on specific skills and technologies which might be dominant for a time and then fade. The Mongols were absolutely the real deal, but they cannot save the Mirage, because their strength didn’t come from the Mirage.
Desert (and Jungle, and Forest, and…) Power
And that brings us to the modern era. Because it might be argued that, sure, maybe the Mirage never applied to the pre-industrial world – but maybe that is because the living conditions of the poor ‘Fremen’ and your average Roman farmer were never that far apart to begin with. What about now, when the different in quality of life between the richest and poor countries is absolutely massive? Now, I feel that, in light of what we’ve already discussed, this is a bad argument even before we get to application: the Mirage isn’t some modern idea being mistaken retrojected into the past, but in fact an ancient idea which seems to have never applied well, now being applied to the modern period where it makes even less sense. Nevertheless, the Mirage has absolutely been applied as a rubric for understanding non-Western armies in the modern period.
I am by no means the first to note that, particularly after some of the spectacular successes in what we might call wars of national liberation after the end of the Second World War, the trope of the Fremen Mirage was adapted to fit guerilla insurgents all the world over. The application of the Mirage by Europeans and Americans to ‘non-Western’ forces is actually even older than that: the surprising Japanese successes of late 1941 and early 1942 forced an American military establishment to suddenly re-evaluate its view of the Japanese (which had been, in the pre-war years, heavily informed by ideological ‘scientific’ racism which assumed a priori that the Japanese were genetically inferior and therefore would lack strong military capabilities). The sudden success prompted instead a reversion to an analytical script that already existed: the Japanese were reinterpreted as ‘barbaric’ ‘supermen’ unencumbered by Western morality – and there we see the Fremen Mirage again (on this, see for instance, D. Ford, “Dismantling the ‘Lesser Men’ and ‘Supermen’ Myths: US Intelligence on the Imperial Japanese Army after the Fall of the Philippines, Winter 1942 to Spring 1943.” Intelligence and National Security 24.4 (2009): 542-573).
In practice, once the initial period of shock wore off, the Imperial Japanese Army and the land forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy fought hard, but performed poorly, in part due to antiquated tactical doctrines and poor equipment, which in turn derived from a command structure that had embraced its own version of the Mirage and attempted to operationalized it (on this in the IJN, check out J. Parshal and A. Tully, Shattered Sword (2007), and also R. H. Spector At War at Sea (2002); also for the IJA, note S. Ienaga’s Pacific War (1978)). But many Westerners, viewing that initial success did what humans all too often do: they applied a pre-existing mental model – the Fremen Mirage – to a conflict without really checking to see if it fit.
And so too, the Mirage was summoned to explain non-Western fighters who – quite differently from the Imperial Japanese military – were not state actors at all, but insurgents and guerillas. After all, the Mirage was a model of thinking that – thanks to nearly a full century of use as a tool of European (and American) nationalism – was readily available to Western journalists, politicians and strategic thinkers. It was an idea, near to hand, that they fell back on to explain the otherwise unexplainable: the apparent inability of Western armies to win easy victories against non-Western foes. Which again – they had this model close to hand because it had been baked in to much of the teaching of history in the 19th century because of how foundational it was to the nationalisms of the day.
While I have more than my share of quibbles with Max Boot’s Invisible Armies (2013), he does a good job of documenting the almost bipolar shift from regarding modern insurgents as easily disposed military nuisances to movements composed of unstoppable supermen hardened by the conditions in their (often colonial) homelands. While this new version of the Mirage has its quirks, it falls back on many of the same tropes: the guerillas (or terrorists or insurgents more generally – there are real differences in these terms, but this trope gets applied equally to all of them, so I’ll leave breaking these down for another day) are assumed to be more religiously and morally dedicated than state forces, more tolerant of casualties, more willing to engage in brutal but effective violence, more inured to harsh conditions and poor diets and thus better fighters and more likely to win. Note how I say assumed – you functionally never see anyone try to assess these questions carefully (anyone who assumes Western armies aren’t willing to inflict violence on the level of, say, ISIS must not have been paying attention in either World War). This is a set of assumptions and intellectual categories I should hope by this point we can recognize: it’s the Fremen Mirage again, being applied – because it is the idea easily available and near-to-hand – to yet another group of non-Western fighters, quite apart from how well they actually fit the trope.
Assessing the strength of insurgents and terrorists is susceptible to the same problem as our pre-modern non-state peoples: failed insurgencies and terrorist movements are forgotten, while only the successes are remembered. Insurgencies that draw great attention as going concerns slide out of the news as they wind down unsuccessfully. Boot’s book is a useful corrective to this view, noting that in 443 insurgencies in the modern era, almost two-thirds unambiguously failed and only about a quarter appear to have unambiguously succeeded. Even this, I would argue, gives insurgents a bit of the benefit of the doubt, because Boot’s focus on modern insurgencies in his calculation (he discusses, but does not count pre-modern insurgencies and non-state actors in his book) means that he is mostly sampling the explosion of successful insurgencies which coincided with decolonization and the Cold War, where collapsing European colonial empires and readily available international support (from either side of the Cold War) created ideal conditions for such insurgencies to succeed. I want to note what that means for some of the core assumptions above: that the insurgent is supposedly more dedicated, more willing to stick to the conflict, more willing to take casualties, more willing to put up with bad conditions – evidently not, since most insurgencies are outlasted by the states they fight.
(I should note that this fact – that most insurgencies fail – strikes me as still being underappreciated in the broader Counter-Insurgency (COIN) literature, although that literature has gotten much better over time (read especially E. Simpson, War from the Ground Up (2012); but for a quick primer, check out Lee, Waging War (2016), ch. 14.). The risk is the same cognitive bias that leads people to trust folk-medicine: ‘I took this and got better’ sounds great until you remember that most people who get sick get better naturally. You need a large sample size and careful analysis to figure out if what you took made you get better, or if you just happened to get better anyway. It strikes me this is a weakness, for instance, of J. Nagl’s (very influential) Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (2005), which sets out the classic comparison of COIN operations between British Malaya and the USA in Vietnam, but there are so many confounding variables in both stories.)
When we started this series, we set out to assess the validity of a certain model of history, which at its root posited that history functions in cycles, whereby successful societies, made wealthy by their success inevitably are weakened by that wealth and success and overcome by more supposedly ‘pure’ poorer societies which then repeat the process, unable to halt or arrest its motion. That simple assumption contains within it all sorts of complexities: the idea that poverty makes for better fighters, or more morally pure people, the concept of ‘decadence’ and its effects (which seem always to be framed in terms of panic about declining masculinity among a society’s men) and so on.
With luck, we’ve shown that all of these assumptions are part of the same coherent whole: they are corollaries and extrapolations of each other. The simple version of the Fremen Mirage contained in the oft-repeated Hopf quote (given above) assumes all of those other components – indeed, it makes little sense without them, because the Mirage is not the product of a careful reading of history, but the successive pigeon-holing of one society after another into a literary trope that never described any of them well. This is important to stress here at the end of all of this because the temptation for those attached to parts of the Mirage is to attempt to salvage this or that conclusion from the entire sinking ship. But it cannot be done. The Mirage is broken at the keel, at its foundation – the ship’s super-structure may not be made more seaworthy by sawing it off the hull.
And indeed, the fractures in the Mirage run all the way up. As we saw with the Romans, the assumption that wealth and decadence decay masculinity and military power falls flat: the very Romans complaining about decadence and codifying the very Mirage we’re tracking were writing not in the twilight of their civilization but at the dawn of a long period of power and effectiveness. Thier own future defies the theories they advanced. Meanwhile, our Fremen consistently fail to live up to their billing. The lone set of real exceptions – the steppe nomads – do manage to punch above their weight, but for reasons that have nothing to do with ‘hard times’ and everything to do with a window of time during which a very specific pattern of subsistence mapped very well onto a very specific pattern of war.
And yet the Fremen Mirage still influences quite a lot of modern thinking I see, particularly in the popular rather than professional understanding of history. And popular history matters! Those mental models are how we make decisions as a society, so it behooves us to keep them accurate! You can see the influence of the Mirage in assumptions about the invincibility of modern terrorists and guerillas, as well as assertions that the only way to defeat those enemies is to become more Fremen like them – something that even a limited acquaintance with modern thinking on COIN suggests is deeply untrue (again, check out Simpson, War from the Ground Up, cited above). The Mirage suggests a vision of war where victory goes to the ruthless and brutish, where sophistication is a liability and deep strategy is for pencil-necked nerds who can’t kick in doors. Needless to say, brutality without strategy is rarely successful, and modern war requires sophistication in spades to manage its ever-growing complexity. Brutal et continu wasn’t a great way to run a war in 1917; it hasn’t gotten any smarter since.
The Mirage also expresses itself in assumptions about the inevitability and irreversibility of social decline, where a state or society is imagined as being like a person, who ages predictably and in only one direction. I routinely encounter people who assume that decline, once having set in, is irreversible; that supposedly ‘decadent’ societies cannot be redeemed, but can only be conquered from the outside by more effective and morally pure Fremen. I can’t help but notice that this discourse dominates quite a lot of declinism in American thinking, with the assumption that virtue can never be regained (which assumes that it has been lost in the first place!) and all that is possible is a doomed rear-guard action against the inevitable forces of decay, decadence and decline. The Roman experience should caution us against such a simplistic view: a state that declined and revived multiple times and – despite being the cultural model for decadence in the West – showed little signs of succumbing to it. Assuming decline is a mono-directional and irreversible process closes the door to both historical understanding and effective responses to modern problems.
As a tool to understand our history or our world now, the Fremen Mirage is worse than useless.
It is also, of course, only one part of a broader cultural discourse. A few of you have noted in the comments how the Fremen Mirage actually shares quite a few elements with the twin Myths of Sparta. Both have their roots in ancient literary tropes which never, in the event, described ancient history very well. Both speak to a concern about the decline in a certain form of masculinity and consequent decline in fighting capabilities (which honestly gets a bit funny when you think of how unmasculine your average Spartiate – effectively unemployed, concerned about his appearance, especially his long hair, and mostly preferring the company of other men to women – would seem by some modern standards; what counts as ‘masculine’ it turns out, changes a lot with the times). Both associate a certain kind of poverty or asceticism with both military prowess and moral virtue (despite the Spartan’s apparent lack of both). They both equate a sort of unsophistication, or even willful ignorance, with a kind of ‘hard’ virtue that produces good soldiers. And, finally, both value those things to the absolute exclusion of any other kind of achievement, praising ruthlessness and detachment from traditional morality in pursuit of this kind of supposed virtue (it is no accident, as a side note, that the Spartan Mirage and the Fremen Mirage both have their renaissance in Europe during the period of Romanticism).
Taken collectively, I think these are two parts of a broader way of thinking about the world in general, and military performance in particular: what I call the Cult of the Badass. That’s a theme I have no doubt we’ll return to in the future, because it is a hydra with many heads and here we have only cauterized two of them. But it is always striking to me how fiercely the Cult of the Badass is held to by its believers, and how poorly it describes actual military success (or any kind of success, really). It is just a singularly unhelpful, counter-productive way to think about military power or state success.
Instead, the lesson of the Fremen Mirage is not a lesson about decline or purity or ‘hard times’ or ‘strong men,’ but rather a lesson about the ways that we understand and misunderstand history. As humans, we are conditioned to think in terms of stories, and as a story, the Fremen Mirage, which turns all of history into a morality play wherein wealth and greed lead to defeat while austerity leads to victory – it is a very attractive story. And so it is all too easy, if we are careless, to let our story – with its roots and motives unexamined – define our understanding of the actual events, rather than the other way around, to treat our hypothesis as dogma and shape our evidence accordingly.
This tendency – like the Fremen Mirage itself – is a trap. And knowing where the trap is – that’s the first step to evading it.