A Science Fiction Yarn

 

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, and not so very far away, there roamed a Traveler. This Traveler was a very different creature from those that you and I are familiar with. For one thing, the Traveler had no physical body, in the sense that all of the creatures we are familiar with have bodies. And while a fairly young and inexperienced member of its species, it was quite ancient and long-lived by our standards. Our tale begins in the time when our Traveler was wandering about, seeking adventure, excitement, and things interesting. Being a very curious intellect, and of limited experience in the Universe at large, our Traveler was seeking places from which to learn, and excitement that could relieve the boredom. After all, simply traveling from place to place can get quite boring, if there is nothing interesting to see or do. For all of the Traveler's sophisticated technology, and marvelous capabilities, voyaging from star to star still took a distressingly long time. Especially for one so curious and eager to learn.

As chance would have it, our Traveler stumbled across a planet inhabited by a fascinating species of creature, unlike any that the Traveler was familiar with. These creatures displayed a degree of self-awareness, and possessed an elementary level of technology. Although they were a quite primitive species by the standards of the Traveler, the Traveler recognized that these very odd creatures possessed the early rudiments of the same kind of intelligence that the Traveler possessed. And their manner of social interplay was fascinatingly complex and varied. The Traveler was not a member of a social species, so the intricacies of social interplay were intriguingly new and strange. Across the land that the Traveler could see, these primitives displayed many varied forms of culture and social structure. All this was of great interest to our Traveler. "Here", thought the traveler, "I can observe and learn all sorts of wonderful things. Perhaps I can learn more about my own form of intelligence by watching these creatures develop theirs." So the Traveler decided to stick around a while and observe these primitives, and see what could be learned.

The primitive creatures that thus became the focus of the Traveler's studies, possessed a quite unsophisticated level of intelligence (at least in the opinion of our Traveler). The result was a distressing degree of simplicity in their motivations and behavior reactions. Combined with the very elementary forms of their cultural developments, this made for a quite simple and relatively unchallenging field of study. The creatures banded together in family-based groups, and spent most of their time merely surviving. And while their social interactions were fascinatingly different and varied, it did not take long for obvious patterns to be observed. For an intellect of the Traveler's undoubted genius (well at least the Traveler had no doubt of the superior level of genius involved), it did not take over long to understand the behaviors and motivations of the day to day affairs of these creatures. Not too many generations of the creatures passed beneath the Traveler's careful observation, before the Traveler began to feel that the study was becoming boringly repetitious. After that, it became a patient wait for those rare occasions when the creatures displayed something unexpected. Unfortunately, being an intellect of limited experience, patience was not something that our Traveler possessed in great amounts. As you might expect, it didn't take too long for our Traveler to become impatient with merely watching. These silly primitives were all wrapped up in their own day to day living. They simply did not do enough interesting things to keep the Traveler from being bored.

Thus began the history of the Traveler's interventions and interference in the life of these primitive creatures. Now, as I have explained, the Traveler was quite a different sort of creature from these primitives that were so fascinating. It was not possible, given this great difference, for any face-to-face meeting between our Traveler and any of the creatures being watched. The traveler did not actually possess a face, or even a body, in our common concept of the terms. But the Traveler did have a much more advanced technology, and was fully aware of Clark's Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"). So to get around the problem of face-to-face communication, the Traveler manufactured a series of images that could be used as surrogates for personal presence. And by making many copies of each image, they also had the advantage of allowing the Traveler appear to be many places at once. To make it easier for the primitives to accept these images, the Traveler built the images to mimic the shape and form of the particular creatures with which communications would be established. And to ensure that the messages were received with the proper sense of respect, the images were equipped with a number of the Traveler's more spectacular forms of "magic".

You must remember that the Traveler's purpose was to get these primitive creatures to display new and interesting forms of behavior. The Traveler had already spent a considerable amount of time observing and understanding the day to day behaviors of these creatures. Or at least I should say that the Traveler felt that it was a considerable amount of time. But then, as I have already explained, our Traveler did not have an over abundance of patience, so it is anybody's guess how long this "considerable amount of time" really was. So, new and interesting forms of behavior was the Traveler's objective. To achieve this, the Traveler had to convince the creatures to behave in ways that they did not normally choose. Thus, it was clear to the Traveler, that these creatures had to be given some reason they would accept for behaving in ways that they had not behaved before. The Traveler had to use the communications channel through the surrogate images, to give these primitive creatures new reasons to behave in different and interesting ways. Like any good scientist, the Traveler wanted to provide new and varied stimuli to these creatures, and observe how they reacted, and how their social and cultural structures coped.

To being with, it was obvious to the Traveler that the messages sent through the surrogate images had to be accepted and believed by the audience. To achieve this required degree of believability and acceptance, the Traveler arranged several suitably impressive displays of technological superiority. Naturally enough, and as fully intended, this appeared to the primitives to be an impressive display of "Magic" and of control over the environment. The result, again as fully intended, was a rapid acceptance by the primitive creatures, that there were superior beings that controlled nature at will, and employed powerful magic to achieve their desires. And, again naturally enough, this power and magic was closely associated with the Images that the Traveler caused to appear whenever a new message was to be sent. This ensured that the Traveler's messages were received with a suitable degree of attention, respect, and obedience.

Once this initial degree of responsiveness had been achieved, the Traveler moved on to the next phase of the plan. The Traveler did not want to spend a lot of detailed effort working at the time-pace of the primitive creatures being manipulated. The Traveler's sense of time was quite different from that of the creatures. Working at the time-pace of these primitive creatures was difficult for the Traveler, and required a great deal of concentration. The Traveler merely wanted to set up environmental conditions suitable for the generation of new and interesting behaviors, without a lot of detailed intervention. To achieve this secondary objective, the Traveler determined to choose a very few individuals from the various social structures that had been observed, and make it clear to the rest of the creatures, that these "appointed ones" were to be regarded with special respect and obedience. This would allow the Traveler to concentrate the messages only on the few "Appointed Ones", and leave the problem of obedience to be worried about by these local representatives.

With clever use of Images and Messages, and impressive displays of "Magic", the Traveler created the necessary caste of "Appointed Ones". And because the life-span of these creatures was so relatively short, the Traveler arranged that this caste would be self-perpetuating. The various forms that this self-perpetuation developed was itself very interesting, so the Traveler merely re-enforced the need for self-perpetuation, and did not dictate the required form. The Traveler made it clear that all further messages and instructions would be routed through these "Appointed Ones", and it was to be the "Appointed Ones" responsibility to see to it that the Traveler's instructions were carried out. With this management structure setup and operating properly, the Traveler could relax and return to observation and learning, with only the occasional message required to keep things interesting. The caste of "Appointed Ones" saw to it that any messages received were properly acted upon. And every now and then, the Traveler re-enforced the authority of the "Appointed Ones" with a suitable display of "magic".

For a while, everything proceeded wonderfully. Guided by occasional messages from the Traveler, the creatures of the land built up ever more complex social structures, and displayed a constant stream of new and interesting behaviors. The Traveler was fascinated, and not bored at all. But all good things must come to an end. Eventually, after another "considerable amount of time" (in the Traveler's opinion at least), the complex social behaviors were no longer new and interesting, but repetitious and boring. The Traveler began to search for other ways to get these fascinating creatures to do something less boring. And after a while, an idea came to mind.

Up to this point, the Traveler had been sending the same message through all those surrogate Images, to all of those "Appointed Ones". All of the various elements of the primitives' societies had been getting the same message. Of course, because of the various, and fascinating differences in the cultures of these societies, and in the personalities of the "Appointed Ones", the interpretation and implementation of the messages varied in many fascinating and educational ways across the land and across time. The Traveler had even begun making the messages a little vague, just to enhance the probability of differences in interpretation. But the message transmitted had been the same while it was being sent, even if it resulted in differing consequences where and when it was received. The idea that came to the Traveler's mind, was to explore the consequences that might transpire if the message itself was different for different areas or times. If the consequences of the same message were so fascinatingly different across time and space, what wonders of interesting behavior might result if the message itself varied across time and space. So the Traveler began to have the surrogate Images send contradictory messages through the "Appointed Ones" of different societies.

The results were nothing if not spectacular. Prior to this latest stage of intervention, the squabbles that inevitably developed between adjacent social or cultural groups had remained low scale and local in nature. Conflicts between family groups were over hunting and gathering territories. They were always economic in nature, and almost always driven by the pressures of growing populations. Now, reinforced and justified by the different messages from their "Appointed Ones", these squabbles spilled over major territories and engulfed neighboring cultures. This was battle on a grander scale. And the behaviors displayed by the creatures, firm in their belief of the messages from their "Appointed Ones" and their "Images", were fascinating to observe. The Traveler learned many new and interesting things about the psychology of these creatures from the way they dealt with these great conflicts. How these creatures rationalized their own individual self-sacrifice, and how the "Appointed Ones" could sell their populations on the advantages of grand conflicts, was a fascinating puzzle to the Traveler. Despite all of the study that the Traveler had done of these creatures, it was difficult for the Traveler to understand why these creatures were so ready to accept and believe messages and instructions that resulted in their destruction.

And the strategy of these conflicts was intriguing itself. War was a concept largely foreign to the Traveler's species. The Traveler's kind were few in number, even if long-lived, and Space is so vast, that there was never cause for more than one or two of the Traveler's kind to be at any one place at any one time. Large scale combat, thus, was only something that the traveler had learned about from others. But being able to observe it was fascinating. The strategies and tactics were intriguing. Here was a whole new area for study. The Traveler modified some of the messages to increase the scale of these conflicts so that the strategies could be better studied.

The great conflicts that flowed across the land were basically economic conflicts over scarce resources. And if that was all that they remained, they would have stayed low-scale and local in nature. It just doesn't make much economic sense to invest a large effort in the destruction of the resources you are attempting to gain. But, with the suitably tailored intervention of the Traveler, the conflicts became invested with social justification and emotional glory by the messages from the "Appointed Ones". So they were fought for more than economic reasons. When economics suggested "Stop here", the emotional and social rationalizations said "Fight on". Although their basic purpose was economic in nature, the Traveler was fascinated to observe how far these primitive creatures would go when pressed on by the messages transmitted through the "Appointed Ones".

While primitive by the Traveler's standards, these were not actually very stupid creatures. And some among them observed that these conflicts were consuming ever greater numbers of their kind, and an ever greater proportion of their collective wealth. These few thinkers began to quest about in search of ideas and approaches to allow more things to be done with fewer workers, more wealth created with less effort. Gradually, over time, the accumulated knowledge that was gathered and passed on by the few inquiring minds among these primitive creatures, began to permit them to manipulate nature in useful ways. In the beginning, the knowledge was helpful in creating more wealth and social comfort with fewer resources. As a consequence of these benefits, the advantages of more knowledge became highly prized. The seekers after knowledge became special people within their societies. Life in general, and victory in battle, became easier because of their contributions. More and more attention began to be paid to the process of seeking after new knowledge, and of exploiting knowledge already gained.

Eventually, the inevitable happened. The ways that these creatures could manipulate nature began to compete, on a very basic level, with the "Magic" employed by the Traveler's Images. It was nowhere near the same level of technological sophistication employed by the Traveler. And of course, it was not regarded as "magic", since the creatures doing the manipulation understood how they were doing it. After a surprisingly short time (surprising to the Traveler, who really should have known better), there arose among the primitive creatures of the land, a culture that focused its attention on understanding how nature actually worked, so that better weapons and tools could be built. All of those conflicts that the Traveler found fascinating enough to encourage, had the inevitable effect of encouraging technological development among the cultures involved in those conflicts. All of the social and psychological factors that permitted the large scale centralized conflicts, also permitted the large scale and centralized dedication of resources to the development of better means of winning those conflicts, and better means of surviving while large amounts of resources were dedicated to fighting.

Not long after the rise of this "Science" focused culture, the level of knowledge of these not-so-primitive creatures rose to the point that many among them began challenging the messages relayed by the "Appointed Ones". With their new found understanding of how nature really worked, the thinkers of the land began to realize that the messages relayed by their "Appointed Ones" conflicted on very basic levels, with the results of their explorations of science. Ever since the Traveler had started sending those messages, in an effort to get the creatures to display ever more interesting behaviors, the Traveler had been forced to construct a complex structure of myth and fiction. After all, the Traveler had to provide some reasonable sounding justification for the instructions being transmitted. Only by constructing an interdependent network of reasonable sounding myths, could the traveler convince the primitives to behave in ways that were basically counter to their natural reactions. And since these natural reactions were the consequence of evolutionary selection, it is only to be expected that the myths and fairy-stories that justified contrary behaviors would be contrary to natural events. So when the thinkers and scientists began to explore the nature of the Universe, they naturally discovered that there were basic conflicts between what Nature seemed to be about, and what the myths and stories talked about. All of this translated into a growing disillusionment with the "Appointed Ones" and their messages. Soon the "Appointed Ones" were largely removed from the ruling elite of the science focused cultures, to be replaced by pragmatic politicians driven by more mundane incentives than messages from the Traveler. With a growing understanding of how Nature really operated, the Traveler's "Magic" was less and less impressive as magic, and more and more impressive as clues towards a better technology.

The Traveler, while temporarily blind to the possibilities inherent in a scientific culture, was none the less aware of the consequences of repeated demonstrations of what used to be "Magic". If these no longer primitive creatures kept developing at their present rate, pretty soon their "Magic" might compete successfully with the Traveler's "Magic". That would not do. So the Traveler began to be much more selective in the nature of the "Magic" that was employed by those message transmitting Images, and in the audience for whom the magic was demonstrated. In any situation where the Traveler's "Magic" might contribute to the rapid advance of the primitive's scientific knowledge, the Traveler refrained. As the culture of science expanded across the land, and included more and more of the many and varied cultures of the creatures of the planet, the times and places where the Traveler felt it would be safe to demonstrate the "Magic" of the Images grew fewer and fewer.

Finally, the Traveler realized that it was no longer sensible to continue intervening in the lives of these primitive creatures. The degree of self-awareness of the creatures had developed to the point where they might easily become aware of the Traveler's interventions. And their technology had developed to the point where they soon might pose a concern to the Traveler. So the Images were dissolved, and the Messages stopped. And that part of the Traveler's mind that had remained operating at the time-pace of the primitives was withdrawn. The Traveler resumed the role initially assumed at the start of this tale - that of an Observer. For the Traveler was still fascinated by these creatures, and their strange psychology and motivations. The Traveler had invested much time toying with these creatures, making them behave in so many interesting ways, and intervening in their lives and cultures so much. Now, the Traveler wanted to see how these creatures would react, once the interference was withdrawn. Would they continue their cultural and technological development? Would they destroy themselves with their new scientific toys? After all of the Traveler's interventions, there were now certainly many more of the creatures on the planet, than the planet could support, given their current technological levels. Would they destroy their planet's environment? Would they revert to the simple primitive cultures of the time when the Traveler first discovered them? All of these were fascinating questions. The Traveler was curious to see what would happen next. And there was plenty of time, after all, the Traveler was still young.

In case you hadn't already guessed, We are the primitive creatures of this small planet that the Traveler stumbled upon. And our scientific culture has a name for the Traveler. I don't know what the Traveler uses as a name, but We call the Traveler "God". Other cultures on this planet use different names for the Traveler, but the meaning is the same. As is our term for the Traveler's "Appointed Ones". We call them "Ministers", "Priests", and the like. Other cultures have called them "Witch Doctors", "Shaman", "Supreme Leader", or even "Comrade". As with the various names that have been used for the Traveler, the words matter not. The meaning is the same. These were the people of our species who carried the message of confusion from the Traveler. These are the people responsible for making us dance to the Traveler's tunes, for making us display "interesting" behaviors.

But we, ourselves, bear a good part of the blame for the role we have played in the Traveler's circus. For we have all laid aside our own good sense and instincts to follow the Shaman. We have all willingly sacrificed all that we are and all that we might be, for the sake of some image of Eden sold to us by a fast talking Despot and Orator. The thug is at least honest. He can steal our wealth and make us cower before his/her use of force. But the Shaman makes us accomplices in his/her dis-honesty, for the Shaman convinces us that our best interests are served best by making sacrifices in the name of some vaguely defined image of Eden. The Shaman knows all about Greed. For it is the strain of greed in all of us that the Shaman draws upon to seal his/her evil. The Shaman, unlike the thug, needs the cooperative sanction of his victims. And it is our shame that we grant it.

[Home]