Sedartis thinks we are far from doomed as a species. That, he makes me understand, is the good news. The bad news, as far as he is concerned, is that we are hopelessly inefficient. We evolve, but reluctantly so, and so slowly. He makes me feel this is my personal responsibility, and in a way it is: we have some ten, twenty, thirty thousand years of civilisation behind us, and we still allow ourselves to be stuck in our ‘from zero’ troubles: the wars, the bloodshed, the struggle for survival, the hunger, the despair, the fighting each other over trivial issues and slices of land, the ideological battles, the religious zeal, the blind and wilful stupidity.
The blind and wilful stupidity. That, above all, is a crime. Sedartis doesn’t mince words when he thinks his essential thoughts:
‘Stupidity is a crime.’ Not, he hastens to add—aware and fearful in equal measure that this part of his thought may get lost, and he now forever be misunderstood—‘not,’ he emphasises, ‘not the crime of the stupid. You cannot blame the people who are imprisoned in an unevolved mind for being stupid. The responsibility for allowing the perpetuation of lethal stupidity—the kind of stupidity that leads someone to speak of “deplorables,” which is undiplomatic, but contains an essence of truth—lies with the educated and the informed much more than with the trapped; the leaders much more than the followers. Unless you’ve been given a taste for learning and an insight into what insight opens you up to, you cannot —not unless you’re exceptional—rescue yourself from stupidity. Dullness of mind begets dullness of mind, enlightenment enlightens, it has ever been thus.
‘But,’ Sedartis continues, with a note of concern that troubles me just as much as his observation: ‘your problem is not that you don’t have wisdom: you have it in spades.’ I like the way he uses the word ‘spades’ in the context of ‘wisdom.’ It seems incongruous and grounded both at the same time. ‘Your problem is that it reaches nowhere near far enough fast enough, and you allow the majority of your species to treat it with disdain. You grow entire generations in whom nine out of ten individuals don’t ever entertain any notion of wisdom; don’t even know what it means, let alone recognise it as something that might just be worth aspiring to.’
I realise this is true. And sad. Who even uses the word ‘wisdom’ and doesn’t inwardly smirk? Have we lost, entirely, the way of the wise?…
‘Your problem is that you have to keep starting from scratch. Every human born has the potential to be wise and enlightened, gentle and kind; generous, strong, humane and embracing of human nature as well as of nature itself, though evolved from the baseline of simple survival. And yet only a fraction reach their potential.
‘Never even mind your developing nations, the poverty stricken and the destitute—why are they poverty stricken, still, why, after all this time, after so many centuries of science, of progress, technology, wealth, are they still destitute, why?—never even mind these (and they are your responsibility too), but your most advanced societies, your richest and best connected: you still allow half of their populations to get to the point only where they can barely fend for themselves; where they still feel they have to fend for themselves. How is such a thing possible?’
His inflexion tells me that this is no rhetorical question. It beggars belief, I know, and I wonder. Often. And I know Sedartis thinks me these thoughts in response to my puzzlement at where we are.
‘Your problem is you keep having to start from scratch.’ I appreciate the nuance. ‘Every single individual specimen of your species is born with an empty brain. It’s a beautiful thing, this potential, this clean slate, this Innocence Innate; and you think of it as inherently human, because it is.’
I believe it is. This Innocence Innate: it is inherently human. Could we love our children, if it weren’t so?
‘It’s also incredibly inefficient.’ This, I fear, may be more bad news. Sedartis thinks not, he thinks it a challenge, he wants to convince me that this is not a good thing nor is it a bad thing either, it is just a thing, and one we need to embrace:
‘If you want to advance to the next level, if you want to take your next major leap, you are going to have to do something you may think of—paradoxically—as inconceivable, but that will become as normal to you as walking upright and speaking in sentences has become normal to you now: become hybrid. With your own invention, information technology. It is part of you already, you created it: far from being separate from or alien to you, it is you. Augmented intelligence. You’re already augmenting your physical capability all the time, you’re building body parts, you’re transplanting at will, you’ll be printing organs ere long. You shy away very briefly before you embrace the advantages of a body that works, and overcome any squeamishness you may have about manipulating what you were given by nature. Your next step, unless you want to stay stuck in this repetition of ‘from zero’ learning—which entails all your quirky, adorable failings—is to tap your brains into the network and allow new generations to start from a base above zero.’
That, I instinctively shudder, is surely wildly problematic. ‘Indeed,’ thinks Sedartis, ‘it is. Your ethical challenges have just gone exponential. You have a task on your hands; there is no way around it, because this is as inescapable as reading glasses or pacemakers were at their time, and you’ve quite readily got used to them too; but this is a step of a different magnitude, and, beyond magnitude, of a different kind altogether: you will have to think about what you want your species to be. You have to actually, consciously, define what it is to be human.
‘Shudder you may, and recoil for a moment, but then you have to get over yourself and grasp this nettle like all the others you’ve grasped, and take your people with you. Allow not half of you to be left behind and become the servants—the, dare I say, slaves—of those who push forward. Allow not your species to be torn apart into two, three tiers with some going all the way, and some being left stranded, and some unable, unwilling or unallowed to proceed, simply because they do not understand. If they understand and choose different, that is another matter. But help them at least understand. You’re on the brink of a development that will set the tone for the next few hundred, maybe few thousand years of your species. Do this well: you have everything riding on it.’
Do this well…