Header image by Diego Rivera
Long ago, all the way back when I first hit a thousand followers on my Twitter account, I promised that I would compile a worldbuilding ‘sourcebook’ based on my Goddess of Anarchy setting. While some initial moves were made in this direction, my writing process quickly halted, thanks to a combination of absent motivation and base dissatisfaction. To put it simply, what I was putting to paper just didn’t suit the setting I was trying to create. Thus I dallied, going on to create a few more pieces within the GoA universe, but without elaborating too much on their interconnectedness. As I had known all along, this was kind of the point of my creation: I had been looking for a world which could unify some thematically similar fictions, while still allowing myself ample room to improvise this background’s details. An over-explained setting would only hamper my deliberate use of openness.
Here was my quandary then: I had chosen to define that which ought to be unlimited. The more I wrote, the less it would serve my purposes. Besides, did I even really like the answers I was coming up with? No, what I really needed was a system that would help me start fresh every time, using some prompt from a greater constellation of facts and inspiration to set me on another journey. This would also fit with the RPG-inspired writing style I was looking to emulate. A sourcebook which reveals everything just leaves no room for adventure!
In the end, the answer to my question had been staring me in the face all along: Goddess of Anarchy would need to be a process as much a setting. If the uncertainty of my writing could become an inherent part of this universe, then I would be forever free to build and rebuild within its basic framework. It wasn’t like I had no idea of what a GoA narrative ought to be like; I had just been restricting myself to pointless details rather than core tendencies. My priorities would have to shift.
Excused by my rudimentary knowledge of history and philosophy, I would appeal to a more relativist understanding of narrative reality. There was no need for me to establish a singular, objective ‘universe’ if instead I could offer several interesting and mostly coherent varieties on the narrative I was trying to convey. Hence, I came to the concept of Paradigms, general world-perspectives which would allow me to skip between some different yet overlapping accounts of the same setting. Even within them, there would be sufficient space for both expansion and correction. Basically, without fundamentally compromising the integrity of the total picture, I would be free to change my mind at almost any time and place in the larger story. Exactly how I liked it!
And so, if I am to impart the basic features of the Goddess of Anarchy universe, it is best to start here, with the tenuous reality provided by the Chaos of the Paradigms. If the process is the point, then let us now begin to make some sense of it all.
What are Paradigms?
The concept of a ‘paradigm’ is one I have rudely repurposed from the philosophy of science. Within the practice of scientific theorizing, a paradigm is a discrete set of interconnected models and assumptions, which together define a certain area of physical reality. Their limited applicability is essential: not only can new paradigms come to supersede old ones, but their validity might falter drastically outside of its explicit parameters. A classic example of this is the way that Newtonian physics fail in describing even the simplest phenomena of the quantum realm; while its formulas are still useful in their common usage, this exotic environment merits a new paradigm.
Of course, this is the scientific meaning of the paradigm. In the world of A Goddess of Anarchy, the difference between paradigms is perhaps a little more radical. Here, even the basic structure of the universe’s physics and metaphysics can hardly be agreed upon, as the laws of its operation seem to elude coherence at every turn. Imagine if scientific consensus was as unattainable as its political variant, if not more so: it’s not that nobody is attempting to understand the world, it just that it looks too different from each angle. Thus, any specific paradigm can only hope to capture a glimpse of what must really be going on.
To be fair, these paradigm problems mostly appear on a cosmic level, where the interaction of various realms and godlike entities must be considered. Most of this universe’s denizens will not be bothered by the incongruence of their larger reality, lacking either the will or the power to notice such things. Then again, the sudden breakdown of a given reality can see this confusion forced upon those who survive it. That is far from a rarity. Many worlds aren’t very stable to begin with, and even those which are will be overturned eventually. The simple tragedy of this universe is that no paradigm can ever account for all of its phenomena, certainly not for long. In the end, only Chaos persists.
Why are the Paradigms in Chaos?
Trying to explain the Chaos of the Paradigms is about as useless as they are themselves. After all, wouldn’t this just be a Paradigm of Paradigms? Nevertheless, some such hypotheses have still been attempted, with the resulting explanations ranging from an Eternally Uncertain Creator to the disconcerting intuition that a wholly stable universe would be far stranger altogether. One particular species of meta-paradigm supposes that the instability of this universe is an accelerating process, although it is still fiercely debated whether this “Universal Entropy” occurs naturally, manually, or accidentally. To some extent, the very paradigm you hold to will bias you towards one of these theories; an objective perspective is obviously impossible.
That said, the present state of affairs does not appear to be eternal in nature. Previous universal configurations are said to have been far more stable, with the difference between paradigms seeming more like a matter of opinion rather than one of metaphysics. To distinguish this earlier creation from our own Chaos, we make use of the concept of ‘Kalpa’. The use of this term denotes a certain generational succession, where one cataclysmic shift or another changes the entire balance and form of the Paradigms. Insofar as there is a consensus on the Kalpas—and there isn’t—it seems like the contemporary universe is only the Second Kalpa to exist, though this may or may not include an original Zeroth Kalpa. Whether there is likely to be a Third Kalpa is itself a matter of dispute; those who propose the deliberate excitement of Kalpic Revolution are aggressively opposed by those who fear the immense change or suffering this would entail. Once again, there is little agreement to be found in this world.
Could you name some of the major Paradigms?
Certainly! While any list of paradigms one might care to compile would surely be incomplete, this is not to say that all of them are equally prominent. Some seem to have more staying power than others, though whether this is the result of evolution or fortune is exceedingly unknown. Nevertheless, here are three paradigms you are likely to come across in your travels and adventures:
- The Central Committee
Within this Paradigm, the universe is the domain of countless gods, powerful beings who shape reality through their action and interaction. While there is no clear-cut definition of godhood, many of them make up a universal legislative body known as the Central Committee. The enlightened idealism on which this organization was founded has slowly given way to complacency and deadlock, with numerous rivalling parties now searching for any way to halt or escape the Second Kalpa’s tailspin. One of the few sources of actual political change is the faction aligned with Care, a minor goddess whose growing desperation is leading her down an ever more radical path.
Metafictionally, this Paradigm takes its primary inspiration from philosophical anarchism. Its basic premise is that the power exercised by the gods has always already been a force of evil, and that their present hopelessness is merely the natural result of eons of tyranny. These metaphysical Founding Fathers will have to be kicked from their pedestals before any useful work might be done in saving the Second Kalpa. Whether Care can truly realize this revolution is yet undecided; she is still a goddess, after all.
- The Course of Nature
Within this Paradigm, the affairs of the gods are reduced to their barest residue; any claim to supernatural authority is but a pitiful wail in the face of an overwhelming Nature. This primary and primordial force knows no equal, as it determines most if not all within the Second Kalpa. Those who try to resist or subvert its Course will find only calamity, whereas those who can accord with it can achieve great wonders with the barest effort. Or so it is said by the Coursairs, the great followers of the Course. Whether they truly understand Nature or not is an open question.
Metafictionally, this Paradigm takes its primary inspiration from philosophical Daoism, where the eponymous Dao is the Way by which all phenomena ultimately proceed. That said, one should feel free to pull in other philosophical angles, as long as the main subject of discourse is a vague and totalizing concept of Nature. Any gods should take a backseat to the workings of this supreme power.
- Absolute Agnosia
Within this Paradigm, knowledge itself is increasingly impossible. As long as the urge to understand is also one to control, this reality will prove inherently hostile to understanding. The only wisdom one can cling to is ignorance, the acknowledgement that conventional ‘knowing’ has little to do with ultimate truth. With this in mind, all that exists reveals itself as mere illusion, as momentary formations that we imbue with some false permanence. It is said that those who truly realize this perspective can attain miraculous powers because of it. Then again, perhaps this power over reality is just another illusion, a final will to control that must be transcended. With all this uncertainty, who can say for sure?
Metafictionally, this Paradigm takes its primary inspiration from philosophical Buddhism, pointing to the illusory nature of reality and our persistent drive towards attachment. True enlightenment within this world will prove exceedingly, especially because the temptation of absolute ego plagues even the higher realms of consciousness. Yet wherever selflessness is really attained, be sure to emphasize its wondrous influence.
As is probably clear from these three examples, the construction of a Paradigm takes a particular combination of politics and worldbuilding. The key is to incorporate a basic social-philosophical issue into the very structure of the universe; this forefronts the systemic nature of both the given problem and its potential solution. The latter must be presented carefully, as something that takes a lot of effort. The Second Kalpa is a dying world, after all, and its revival should not be any easier than one might imagine the end of our climate crisis to be. Indeed, by keeping this kind of mass challenge in mind, along with any political theories that might be arrayed against it, creating a new Paradigm should be no trouble at all. Let liberation be your guide!
If there is one thing I’d like you to take away from all this, it would be the notion of incompleteness. I came up with the Chaos of the Paradigms in order to safeguard the openness of my worldbuilding. Of course, along the way, it has also become something else. Being an inherent part of this reality, it is something all its denizens have to grapple with, whether they realize it or not. In their struggle with it, some interesting questions are raised: is the Chaos natural or artificial? Is it benevolent, malicious, or merely neutral to our interests. If it could be dispelled, then which Paradigm should ultimately remain? The thing about all of these questions is that I don’t have these answers either; I expect you to ponder them in your own adaptation of this material. Maybe a true answer will be forever absent. However, if there’s anything I’ve learned from studying philosophy, it’s that the asking of questions is itself a worthwhile pursuit. In short, embrace the Chaos!