She didn’t nod but was intrigued if I read her expression correctly, so I pressed on. “The thing is, the universe isn’t actually that brutal. That’s just how it appears to a small, frightened animal which is what you still are in your heart of hearts. The experience of being driven underground by my ancestors left a permanent scar on your souls, around which all of your psychology then formed.
It’s like how the racists I knew on the surface almost all became that way because of a humiliating, traumatic experience being bullied by one or more children of a different race when they were very young. They then built a revenge-focused worldview around that trauma, allowing it to define who they turned into as they grew up. You’re the same way but it’s your entire civilization.
Because of that you may find this difficult to believe, but if you come at the universe with softness and beauty, sometimes you get the same in return. Otters holding hands as they fall asleep so that they do not drift apart…as do seahorses, albeit with their tails. There is a species of penguin which proposes to its lifemate with an offering of a single pebble. Dolphins have names for each other, cows have friends of different degrees of closeness and ravens play pranks on each other.
This is the warmth and gentleness that exists in nature if you would only see it and respond with your hearts. Instead, you come at the universe with clenched fists. So do not be surprised or feel in any way justified in your victim mentality when it is a fist that you get in return. You get back what you send out.”
It was the first time I ever saw her look sincerely stupefied. It was an immense satisfaction to have interrupted her insufferable smug demeanor. “That…cannot be right. Can it? It would mean everything we’ve done wasn’t necessary.”
I asked if she meant to say it wasn’t allowed to be right. She gave me an exasperated look. “Well it’s not as if we can start feeling bad about what we’ve done now, so late in the game. If we started having those kinds of feelings it would never stop. That’s the same reason it’s a mistake to start apologizing, it never ends and just becomes a foothold for those you’re apologizing to. A way to get what they want from you.”
I asked what’s so bad about that. “Because it opens the door to the menagerie!” she cried, pounding the floor with her clenched fist. “To that messy, complicated grey area and the suffering, the humiliation which results no matter how intelligently you try to integrate everybody. They still are different from each other and cannot stop being conscious of it, however hard you try to condition them not to be.
It is merciful to prevent that grey area from existing. It is the same sort of preventative compassion by which you justify elective abortion-” I cut her off here, assuring her I hadn’t somehow forgotten the reasoning she explained to me just moments prior.
“What it seems like to me, perhaps just because of my tiny homo sapien brain, is that you’re trapped by your own reasoning. Or rather, your overconfidence in the validity of your own reasoning.
I have seen this many times in very intelligent people. They are thoroughly products of their own life experiences and reactions to those experiences. If this turns them into a monster, they cannot help but be a monster because when they look back at the reasoning which got them there, they can see no faults.
Only an outsider can see the plain reality that they aren’t happy with what they have become. That it isn’t ideal, however justified it may seem by their complicated and exhaustive reasoning. As an outsider to your entire civilization, I can recognize that about it, and about you.
This is not the ideal outcome. The ideal outcome would be one which accepts and nourishes every living emanation of nature, conserving and enabling it to thrive in whatever way is necessary. You have the technology you need to accomplish this. You decline to do so because it is inefficient, not because it is unkind in some grand way that I am unable to understand.
That is just how you rationalize it to yourselves. The more powerful a brain, the more powerful its capacity for rationalization, and it’s always exactly enough to fool you into thinking you’re just being objective. But what it really comes down to is the result. Is it ideal?”
She pondered that for a moment. “Out of the mouth of babes, as you might say. But what would you prescribe for us?” I rolled over to gaze at her. She really was beautiful. Now that she’d had what appeared to be a moment of sincere critical self-examination I felt as if I could allow myself to acknowledge it.
“The only way out of that irreversible one-way road to becoming a monster that I’ve ever found is to subvert your own reason. You cannot escape it by the powers of your conscious, rational mind or you already would’ve. The more you try to use that tool to escape this trap, the more deeply it ensnares you.
When I recognized this process happening to other people, I decided I would set aside a small part of my own mind with just one job. To veto the rest, should reason and experience start turning me into a monster.
I still hold the power to throw out everything which inclines me to be harsh and to instead arbitrarily do whatever is gentlest. Just like that. You speak of hard and fast decisions which are difficult in the moment but close the door to untold suffering. This is just such a decision.”
She fiddled with the handle of her staff, still plainly deep in thought as she answered me. “That assumes you always know what is actually gentlest, though.” I admitted as much, but with a critical caveat.
“The process of evolution which you venerate by patterning your ideals after what you consider to be immutable laws of nature is not an intelligent one. It is in fact extremely simple minded, deciding on a case by case basis whether the genes of individuals will be passed on or not by who survives long enough to reproduce.
The compounded effect of all these little, simple decisions is the breathtakingly, elegant complexity of living creatures and of your own brains, before you began making what you thought were improvements.
I have learned to be very skeptical of anybody who thinks the wisdom of human engineers who have lived a few decades can produce better designs than two billion years of trial and error, accumulating right answers by observing simple, emergent rules.
If you just build yourself and your societies in this step by step manner, always choosing the immediately gentler of any two options you encounter, the ultimate outcome will be that the development of your people and your society will trend towards inclusion, supportiveness and warmth in ways too complex for any one of you to have planned.
This does not require grand intelligence. Just a stubborn prior commitment to ultimately achieving a gentle, magnanimous outcome.” She again looked staggered. Her tone was now no longer that of the patient teacher but of someone sincerely busted to the floor and open to hearing new ideas which could be better.
“Is it not the sleep of reason which breeds monsters, though? Have there been no governments which committed atrocities because they believed their overall commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable world justified any means necessary to achieve that end?”
I searched my memory for the quote, as there was something naggingly familiar about it, though I eventually resigned myself to my inability to place it. “That’s true. But because, like you, they imagined that they had a more developed and far-seeing definition of kindness by which they rationalized their human rights abuses.
Had they instead adhered to the method I described, such atrocities would have been impossible. At the very moment one of them first cowered in fear of another holding a weapon or raised fist, the prior commitment to gentleness in the attacker’s mind which he has fixed permanently in the driver’s seat would force him to recognize that things have gone wrong…no matter how strongly reason and experience up to that point seemed to inarguably justify what he was about to do.”
She studied me closely as I spoke as if trying to read my mind. Could she? My staff certainly could before I ditched it in that field. Could her own staff surveil the processes going on in my brain and report the contents to her?
“Alright, that’s enough for now. I do not necessarily concede to any of what you have said but will consider the matter further as my studies allow. For the time being I have decided only that you must never speak about this matter openly around my father.”
Stay Tuned for Part 41!