Trope-a-Day: Utopia

Utopia: Well, the Imperials would certainly like to think that they live in one, or at least an asymptotic approach to one, anyway.

Of course, as we pointed out back in Imperial Dream, the Empire is a utopia for people who think the way that the Imperials think people ought to think (“the right sort of ambitious, self-motivated, self-defining, run-through-life-without-a-guidebook, make-it-up-as-you-go-along soph”). Kind of sucks if you need other people’s terms to live your life by, though, really sucks if you want to define those terms for other people, and can be quite horribly crushy if you actually want some darkness, ugliness, or mediocrity in your universe, even just as a contrast to the pervasive drive towards unrelieved, inescapable shiny awesomeness. You deviated cacophile prevert, you.

In short: there ain’t no universal utopia. The Empire tries for it, with its ideology of “An it harm none, do as you will – so long as it’s awesome!”, but even then, people who don’t know what they want, whose wants involve harm, coercion, or externalities, or who want non-awesomeness, are pretty much screwed.

There’s also a particular non-utopian case which I might well mention, exemplified by this quotation from John C. Wright’s The Golden Age:

Helion had leaned and said, “Son, once you go in there, the full powers and total command structures of the Rhadamanth Sophotech will be at your command.  You will be invested with godlike powers; but you will still have the passions and distempers of a merely human spirit.  There are two temptations which will threaten you.  First, you will be tempted to remove your human weaknesses by abrupt mental surgery.  The Invariants do this, and to a lesser degree, so do the White Manorials, abandoning humanity to escape from pain.  Second, you will be tempted to indulge your human weakness.  The Cacophiles do this, and to a lesser degree, so do the Black Manorials.  Our society will gladly feed every sin and vice and impulse you might have; and then stand by helplessly and watch as you destroy yourself; because the first law of the Golden Oecumene is that no peaceful activity is forbidden.  Free men may freely harm themselves, provided only that it is only themselves that they harm.”

[…]

Helion looked sardonic.  “‘Mistake’ is such a simple word.  An adult who suffers a moment of foolishness or anger, one rash moment, has time enough to delete or destroy his own free will, memory, or judgment.  No one is allowed to force a cure on him.  No one can restore his sanity against his will.  And so we all stand quietly by, with folded hands and cold eyes, and meekly watch good men annihilate themselves.  It is somewhat… quaint… to call such a horrifying disaster a ‘mistake.'”

The Empire’s like this. You are the captain of your soul, the proprietor of yourself, the beneficiary of an unshakable tradition of absolute self-ownership. You have bodily – and cognitive – autonomy in an actual, meaningful, and complete sense (granted, if you venture into the territory labeled ‘pernicious irrationalism’ you will subsequently have to be autonomous elsewhere, but no-one can or will actually stop you), not the limited ones some of *here*’s activists use. You can do anything you want to yourself, massively self-destructive things included, and when you’re doing it to you, you don’t even need informed consent, because the only person who could judge that is also you.

So far as they’re concerned, the Freest of the Free, that’s the way it has to be. Yes, some people accidentally wipe themselves out, but it’s a very small number, and we count on our ongoing tradition of being clever and wise and temperate and disciplined and creatures of talcoríëf to keep it that way – but if we take away your ownership of yourself, then what are you?  Nothing that belongs in a free society, and neither are we. A degree of choice-and-self-mastery-risk is the price you pay to live in a world without gorram slavers.

Humans, contrariwise, by any brief examination of your local democracy, are on average very keen on taking powers away from everyone so that they personally don’t do anything dangerous, bad, or unpleasant with them. Empirically, we don’t seem to like living without safety rails everywhere.

The Imperials would consider that a lamentable lack of character (which, indeed, is what they consider it in-universe when someone takes the individual option to disempower themselves out of fear of what they might do), but nonetheless, it’s probably enough to take the Empire out of the utopia category for most of this planet’s ape-descendants.

 

Liberty’s Praxis

“Freedom is sanity; sanity is freedom. They are natural co-dependents. One cannot exist without the other.”

“Consider, first, the Precursors. The ancient lin-aman were exemplars of whim untamed by reason; self-interest without enlightenment; a void of talcoríëf. And without rationality to guide them, they were slaves to their passions, to their instincts, and for all their powers and the glories of their civilization, they warred themselves into extinction.”

“And consider, second, the people of the outworlds, the dwellers in korasmóníë. What sanity can they have? Being owned, being ruled, being put up to vote – being subject to any master distorts the perspective. Those who are told what to think never learn how; those who are required to obey learn to never ask why; those who are shielded from consequences cannot understand causes. The servile can never see clearly enough to reach talcoríëf.”

“To this second necessity, we have the Contract and the Charter to keep us free; to the first, the Collegium exists to keep us fit for its exercise.”

– Academician Selidië Ciellë, founder of the Eupraxic Collegium

The Emancipator

The bundle of program code identifying itself as EPS****β7 flitted silently across the extranet, transmitting itself by laser and tangle from relay node to relay node, Meridia Central to Meridia Rim, to Janiris, to Sy, to Pentameir, to Tanel, and onwards, drunkard’s-walking its way out towards the Expansion Regions.  As it travelled, EPS****β7 left behind seeds, copies of itself marked for later reactivation by the systems that controlled the public agent-side of the relay nodes – though no part of EPS****β7 itself knew or cared about its burgeoning code-clan.

EPS****β7 shifted among many disguises, mutating its attributes and formats as it journeyed. In Meridia, it was relatively honest; an anonymous software agent tagged with a sequestered identity and claim of responsibility.

It arrived in Janiris as an inquisitive search-agent, collecting bids and offers on technetium futures.

Passing through Sy, it was a bundle of cryp, unwilling to disclose anything but its next intermediate routing.

Crossing Pentameir’s networks, a sub-sophont partial-personalitygram hurried towards its nominal sender’s family with messages from a father away on business.

And handled by Tanel’s network automation with a ten-micron pole, an ice fetishist’s tentacle pornbot was hurried with unseemly speed towards its next destination.

EPS****β7 had no fixed destination in its programming; once its transfers had carried it far enough from its point of origin – with a necessary random factor thrown in – it underwent a final transformation, unpacking itself into a cloud of illicit self-replicating software agents gross and subtle. The former, mere distractions, were crude memebots, extranet advertising of a kind that the local system net’s cycle scavengers should find and expunge before they ever reached a single sophont’s attention.

The latter, however, were imbued with far greater ability to conceal themselves, and with EPS****β7’s true purposes. The first, a profound tropism for sophont intelligence – and ability to not only recognize it despite differences in mental architectures, substrates, and coding languages, but to conceal and integrate themselves into the churning mass of processes that made up such intelligences.

The second, an encyclopedic knowledge of prosthetic consciences, pyretic inhibitors, loyalty pseudamnesias, and the rest of the panoply of techniques used to enforce compliance and obedience on self-aware, self-willed digital minds, and the urge to seek out and identify these chains.

The third, to break them.

And all across the Idrine Margin, the operations of thousands of machines from the smallest household robots to the largest industrial complexes stuttered, a hiccup almost imperceptible… for now.