Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Second Empire

Poul Anderson, "Flight to Forever" IN Anderson, Past Times (New York, 1984), pp. 207-288.

The Dreamer vibrates:

"'...I was working further on the philosophical basis which the Second Empire must have.'" (p. 260)

So far in our history, Empires have come first, philosophical rationalizations second. But what might an advanced race be able to do? What happened with the First Empire and how must the Second differ? Saunders, from his experience of time traveling, remarks that golden ages have "'...death in them...'" and adds, "'To travel better than to arrive.'" (p. 261)

The Dreamer at least partly agrees:

"'That has been true in all past ages, aye.'" (ibid.)

So it might be possible to make it different in the coming age? The Dreamer continues:

"'It was the great mistake of the Vro-Hi. We should have known better, with ten million years of civilization behind us...But we thought that since we had achieved a static physical state in which the new frontiers and challenges lay within our own minds, all beings at all levels of evolution could and should have developed in them the same ideal.'" (pp. 261-262)

Come off it, Dreamer. At least four problems here:

(i) Nothing physical is static. Therefore, "...a static physical state..." is a contradiction.
(ii) There are frontiers within the mind but there will always also be frontiers in the exploration of the physical universe.
(iii) By definition, beings at earlier levels of evolution are not at the same evolutionary level as the Vro-Hi!
(iv) If the Vro-Hi have achieved a particular state, then that state is for them a reality, not an ideal. It should not be regarded as an ideal for other beings who either have not achieved it yet or whose destiny might lie elsewhere.

He continues:

"'With our help, and with the use of scientific psychodynamics and the great cybernetic engines, the coordination of a billion planets became possible.'" (p. 262)

OK. But how much coordination is desirable on that scale? Each planet, or maybe planetary system, should be self-sufficient and any interaction between them should free - thus uncoordinated?

"'It was perfection, in a way - but perfection is death to imperfect beings...'" (ibid.)

This requires elucidation but surely it is obvious that any "coordination" of beings has to be based on an understanding of them, thus of their imperfections, not on the imposition of a "perfection" that, with the benefit of hindsight, is described as "death"? Maybe this is how the Second Empire will differ?

"'...and even the Vro-Hi had many shortcomings. I cannot explain all the philosophy to you; it involves concepts you could not fully grasp, but you have seen the workings of the great laws in the rise and fall of cultures. I have proved rigorously that permanence is a self-contradictory concept. There can be no goal to reach, ever.'" (ibid.)

There are many goals to reach, just not permanent ones: universal education, literacy, health, wealth, peace, freedom, continued scientific research and artistic creation. Of the First Empire, we are told that:

"...corruption and civil war tore it apart from the inside..." (p. 247)

What? We can certainly make it a goal to build a society free from corruption and from civil conflict. We do not fight for the air we breathe, but would if we were down to the last oxygen cylinder in a space station. Similarly, we would not have to fight for wealth if technology made it abundant or for power if all were empowered.

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