An excerpt from
Insistence of Vision
No one ever said it was easy to be a god, responsible for billions of sapient lives, having to listen to their dreams, anguished cries, and carping criticism.
Try that for a while.
It can get to be a drag, just like any other job.
My new client wore the trim, effortlessly athletic figure of a neo-traditionalist human. Beneath a youthful-looking brow, minimal cranial implants made barely noticeable bulges, resembling the modest horns of some urbane Mephistopheles. Other features were stylishly androgynous, though broad shoulders and a swaggering stride made the male pronoun seem apropos.
House cross-checked our guest’s credentials before ushering him along a glowing guide beam, past the Reality Lab to my private study.
I’ve always been proud of my inner sanctum; the sand garden, raked to fractal perfection by a robot programmed with my own esthetic migrams; the shimmering mist fountain; a grove of hybrid peach-almond trees, forever in bloom and fruiting.
My visitor gazed perfunctorily across the harmonious scene. Alas, it clearly did not stir his human heart.
Well, I thought, charitably. Each modern soul has many homes. Perhaps his true spirit resides outside the skull, in parts of him that are not protoplasm.
“We suspect that repugnant schemes are being planned by certain opponents of good order.”
These were the dour fellow’s first words, as he folded long legs to sit where I indicated, by a low wooden table, hand-crafted from a design of the Japanese Meiji Era.
Single-minded, I diagnosed from my cerebral cortex.
And tactless, added one of my higher brain layers – the one called seer.
Our shared hypothalamus mutely agreed, contributing eloquently wordless feelings of visceral dislike for this caller. Our guest might easily have interpolated from these environs what sort of host I am – the kind who prefers a little polite ritual before plunging into business. It would have cost him little to indulge me.
Ah, rudeness is a privilege too many members of my generation relish. A symptom of the post-deification age, I suppose.
“Can you be more specific?” I asked, pouring tea into porcelain cups.
A light beam flashed as the shoji window screen picted a reminder straight to my left eye. It being Wednesday, a thunder shower was regularly scheduled for 3:14 p.m., slanting over the city from the northwest.
query: shall i close?
I wink-countermanded, ordering the paper screen to stay open. Rain drops make lovely random patterns on the Koi pond. I also wanted to see how my visitor reacted to the breeze. The 3:14 squall features chill, swirling gusts that are always so chaotic, so charmingly varied. They serve to remind me that godhood has limitations.
Chaos has only been tamed, not banished. Not everything in this world is predictable.
“I am referring to certain adversarial groups,” the client said, answering my question, yet remaining obscure. “Factions that are inimical to the lawfully coalesced consensus.”
“Mm. Consensus.” A lovely, misleading word. “Consensus concerning what?”
“Concerning the nature of reality.”
Both seer and cortex had already foreseen that the visitor had this subject in mind. These days, in the vast, peaceful realm of Heaven-on-Earth, only a few issues can drive citizens to passion and acrimony. “Reality” is foremost among them.
I proffered a hand-wrought basin filled with brown granules.
“No thank you. I will add milk, however.”
I began reaching for the pitcher, but stopped when my guest drew a fabrico cube from a vest pocket and held it over his cup. The cube exchanged picts with his left eye, briefly limning the blue-circled pupil, learning his wishes. A soft white spray fell into his tea.
“Milk” is a euphemism, pondered cortex.
House sent a chemical appraisal of the spray, but I closed my left lid against the datablip, politely refusing interest in whatever petty habit or addiction made this creature behave boorishly in my home. I raised my own cup, savoring the bitter-sweetness of gencrafted leptospermum, before resuming our conversation.
“I assume you are referring to the pro-reifers?”
As relayed by the news-spectra, public demonstrations and acts of conscience-provocation had intensified lately, catching the interest of my extrapolation nodes. Both seer and oracle had concluded that event-perturbation ripples would soon affect Heaven’s equilibrium. My client’s concern was unsurprising.
“Pro-reif is an unfortunate slang term. The front organization calls itself Friends of the Unreal.”
For the first time, he made personal eye-contact, offering direct picting. House and prudence gave permission, so I accepted input – a flurry of infodense images sent directly between our hybrid retinas. News reports, public statements and private innuendoes. Faces talking at sixty-times speed. Event-ripple extrapolation charts showing a social trend aimed toward confrontation and crisis.
Of course most of the data went directly to seer, the external portion of my brain best suited to handle such a wealth of detail. Gray matter doesn’t think or evaluate as well as crystal. Still, there are other tasks for antique cortex. Impressions poured through the old brain, as well as the new.
“Your opponents are passionate,” I commented, not without admiration for the people shown in the recordings – believers in a cause, vigorously engaged in a struggle for what they think to be just. Their righteous ardor sets them apart from billions of their fellow citizens, whose worst problem is the modern pandemic of omniscient ennui.
My guest barked disdain. “They seek civil rights for simulated beings! Liberty for artificial bit-streams and fictional characters!”
What could I do but shrug? This new social movement may come as a surprise to many of my peers, but as an expert I found it wholly predictable.
There is a deeply rooted trait of human nature that comes forth prominently, whenever conditions are right. Generosity is extended – sometimes aggressively – to anyone or anything that is perceived as other.
True, this quality was masked or quelled in ancient days. Environmental factors made our animal-like ancestors behave in quite the opposite manner – with oppression and intolerance. The chief cause was fear. Fear of starvation, or violence, or cauterized hope. Fear was a constant companion, back when human beings lived brief violent lives, as little more than brutish beasts – fear so great that only a few in any given generation managed to overcome it and speak for otherness.
But that began to change in the Atomic West, when several successive generations arrived that had no personal experience with hunger, no living memory of invasion or pillaging hordes. As fear gradually gave way to wealth and leisure, our more natural temperaments emerged. Especially a deeply human fascination toward the alien, the outsider. With each downward notching of personal anxiety, people assertively expanded the notion of citizenry, swelling it outward. First to other humans –- groups and individuals who had been oppressed. Then to manlike species – apes and cetaceans. Then whole living ecosystems... artificial intelligences... and laudable works of art. All won protection against capricious power. All attained the three basic material rights – continuity, mutual obligation, and the pursuit of happiness.
So now a group wanted to extend minimum suffrage to simulated beings? I understood the wellsprings of their manifesto.
“What else is left?” I asked. “Now that machines, animals and plants have a say in the running of Heaven? Like all anti-entropic systems, information wants to be free.”
My guest stared at me, blinking so rapidly that he could not pict.
“But... but our nodes extrapolated.... They predicted you would oppose –”
I raised a hand.
“I do. I oppose the reification of simulated beings. It is a foolish notion. Fictitious characters do not deserve the same consideration as palpable beings, resident in crystal and protoplasm.”
“Then why do you –”
“Why do I appear to sympathize with the pro-reifers? Do you recall the four hallmarks of sanity? Of course you do. One of them – extrapolation – requires that we empathize with our opponents. Only then may we fully understand their motives, their goals and likely actions. Only thus may we courteously-but-firmly thwart their efforts to divert reality from the course we prefer.
“To fully grasp the passion and reason of your foe – this is the only true path of victory.”
My guest stared at me, evidently confused. House informed me that he was using a high bandwidth link to seek clarification from his own seer.
Finally, the child-like face smoothed with an amiable smile.
“Forgive me for responding from an overly impulsive hypothalamus,” he said. “Of course your appraisal is correct. My higher brains can see now that we were right in choosing you for this job.”