We spin out of control – because we tried to control.
So here we are, sitting in space, looking down on the Earth from the comfy confines of our alien hosts’ ship, and viewing this massive power shift in the civilizations of the planet beneath as our green friends chuckle, in their weird subsonic way, at our bewilderment.
They are used to it, you see. They have the histories of many civilizations at their suction-cup-covered finger tips. They know that civilizations of sentient beings are the most complex organisms in the Universe, and so follow the rules of such. They know that complex systems known as ‘cultures’ can display great peace, calm, civil behaviors as the norm in those that are healthy, stable, and productive for all its members as long as they obey this rule: Order must self-arise from the voluntary interactions of its parts, not from imposed ordering.
They also know that this realization – that trying to act globally to impose Order, no matter how wise the ordering, will always, must always destroy order and collapse the productivity of the system – is always going to be anti-intuitive to any civilization that has grown in its power to the point that the issue becomes important. It hardly mattered if the Romans or the British Raj understood the dangers of the Unintended Consequence when merely the lives and cultures of the lowly millions were at stake. They are just so much empire-fluff, History’s dust-bunnies. Or so the Great Powers thought; deterministic, top-down ordering got them what they wanted, so what matter the blood beneath their wheels?
But as power is spread to more and more of those dust bunnies, comes a different time, a time when technologies bring the lives only lived before by the powerful within the reach, or at least the dreams, of all – when the entire planet has enough wealth that all intelligent beings on it come to want control of their own lives. Things become very different then, and very dangerous: The mistakes a technologically advancing culture can make are powerful enough to snuff out their civilization, and their populations, entirely.
Klaxa and Quionxilla have seen this happen. They know they are watching a tipping-point as the system as a whole behaves in predictable, but to those living it out, bewildering ways; that is, the stable patterns will increasingly wobble nearer to instability until a point is reached where new mass behaviors start to emerge, where behaviors previously accepted as generally the ‘norm’ break into many different streams – bifurcation patterns – including many behaviors followed by large minorities of individuals that are far outside the previously acceptable – and invariably violent.
The entire civilization could collapse, and that’s what Klaxa wants because he’s a blood-thirsty sod, and when Great Civilizations fall, they fall hard, killing many as they do and returning that minority that survives to live in the nature that is left, if any. Quionxilla is a sweetheart – not ‘heart’, exactly, more of a smear of sponge all over the – well, let’s not talk about it, it’s not too pleasant – she’s a sweetwhatever, and she is hoping for the best; that a new norm arises that more effectively meets the needs of that large mass of individuals who tipped it all into chaos in the first place. She wants the silly, rather ugly flesh-lumps beneath to discover that world of peace, decency and comfort that can only come about when its members quit trying to force these good ends on others and instead act locally, and live them themselves, doing what they can for those around them rather than imposing global commands.
But she’s not expecting it either. On their version of the Internet, the Universe-Wide-Snotglob, they’re both betting the same way; they’re shorting Mankind. With Klaxa making a side-bet that the result is an irradiated planet, the slate wiped clean, see what the lower forms can build back up to. I don’t much like Klaxa, really, but I gotta suck up or he’ll throw me out.
That’s why they’re here just now, inviting me along to view in noble ease and with blissful detachment as the World’s Most Powerful Nation decides it doesn’t want to be that any more, and maybe not this messy Democracy crap either. Will we hoomans wake up in time? Will we keep this experiment in self-government going?
They’ve made big bets against. The race doesn’t always go to the swift, but that’s the safe play; and we’ve shown, as the great Walt Kelley once said, all the wisdom of a back molar. Very un-swift.
What they are expecting is that among the individual parts of the evolving culture, with its predictable but wrong-minded dependence on control mechanisms, there will grow an increasing sense of unease, of dis-connection. The particular cause of this for any one individual could be many things, many local conditions, but taken together they emerge as fear, anger and hatred – themselves fairly standard patterns across galaxies. Beings led by intelligence must arise from beings led by emotion, or some analog of it, and will become overwhelmed by that emotion when under stress.
Self-awareness always arises from a state of ‘nature’, whatever that might mean on any given planet, and inevitably comes to see itself as internally a hierarchy with whatever that being pictures as ‘me’ atop it, ordering the brain and body ‘below’ it. I propose that idea as an observation in how all intelligence arises anywhere in the Universe; all organic intelligence must evolve in such a way that it believes itself to be a single entity in hierarchical command of all its processes, even though that isn’t, and cannot be true – intelligence can only be a productive, orderly manifestation of a highly complex system in which that order has naturally arisen, not remotely hierarchical but distributed and variable. Because of this it’s always hard for those beings to resist the urge to see that need for top-down control, that false but needed illusion of internal command structure, in the patterns it sees around it. Our hosts see culture after culture making just this mistake; that the self-arising Order that brings so much productivity doesn’t behave at all like the simple systems needing top-down ordering that the culture is getting so good at making.
That’s why mayhem-loving Klaxa and sweet-natured Quionxilla are here. They see this Drumpf fellow (they have a tradition in their culture of maintaining family names) as hilariously unhinged, but inevitably unimportant. He represents little more than the unintended consequence, important only as he represents the disorder that always follows attempts at imposing order. He is simply the way in which this particular culture spins into deconstructive insanity, himself of no real significance beyond what he represents – the disordering of a culture that had become dangerously dependent on centralized control for the imposition of an order that had become, for too many individuals, constrictive and unresponsive, a false order too removed from the lives of its members as they wanted the freedom to live them. They’d seen it all before, and it seldom works out well; and again, with Klaxa’s side-bet that the funny little Great Orange Prune will, in his comical flailings and rantings, set off the planet’s primitive nuclear weapons.
In fact, Klaxa expects that, within fifty of our planet’s orbital rotations around its star, he will be able to return to a sphere that is little more than a snowball. That’s okay with him – he likes snowballs, and expects to profit from this one. Quionxilla hopes she sees an advanced civilization at peace with itself, with its parts willing to let the other parts be wrong without trying to force rightness on them. She’d like to see that, so that’s her side-bet.
She hasn’t won one of these side-bets yet. She lives in hope.
My bet? That she loses. That Klaxa and Quionxilla don’t exist; that I just made them up. That when we turn our high-powered listening devices upon the Infinite we hear no trace of any other technologically-advanced civilizations because there are none, not anywhere in the Universe. That it’s an unavoidable consequence of the nature of organic intelligence that it will not, can not see beyond its own dependence on the false assumption of an internal top-down ordering far enough to imagine that others might possibly come to do The Good and Right because it is good and right, and not because they’ve been forced to. That no matter the kind of being and the nature of its ‘mind’ it is just too seductive to see itself as a unitary, hierarchical intelligence rather than the distributed one it actually must be. That this always leads to essentially insane beings. That technology will always arise to put great power and force under the command of that internal insanity; unable to imagine that the world can exist without this mad desire of the powerful to impose order on what it sees, organic intelligence always ends up destroying itself, controlling itself to death. I bet that the Universe contains only burnt-out shells where creativity once arose, flickering candles whose brightness shone out only for a short time, and died. That’s my bet.
But they won’t let me bet. They think our money is ridiculous, and dull. Such, while it lasts, is life.