Mars

I knew this would happen. I knew I could stay this, but not forever, I knew I would have to confront it, I knew I would not get away with keeping away: I’m on my way home. The fact that I entertain a notion of ‘home’ is in itself a symptom of growing up, surely. Growing in. Growing through. Through the crises, the awaynesses of it all, the doubts and the fear.

Between Horror and Terror I stand on the Seat of the Gods and I feel me a warrior. Hah! Who would have thought that I could answer the call. Hold my head high and keep my gaze straight and look upon Earth in the distance and say: I salute thee, Mother, and I charge thee to welcome me back. “Be a Man,” he said, and I knew what he meant. No controversy, no hesitation, no confusion, and no offence. This rust coloured dust, this thin-skinned robustness. This unflappable sense of the just. Of the righteous. Of the direct, of the cause and the anger. The Anger. The wrath.

The outrageousness of it all. There’s nothing twee about it, nothing humorous, fun, camp, harmless or charming. Ere I lose my sense of proportion I shall steel my spine to this ire. Stupidity, wantonness, cruelty and fear. The stubborn ignorance of greed. The tyrants, the egomaniacal butchers and keepers of slaves. They are an outrage. One as destructive, as unenlightened and as inhumane as the other. There the slaughter of innocents, the imposition of rule; the indoctrination, the violence, the cult. Here the wilful deception, the making of unholy myths, the falsing of facts, the aggrandisations and the buffoonness; the rhetoric, the gestures, the meaningless phrases, the orange, the hair.

The beateous soul in my sinuous body wishes it were not so, but “nature is war,” and until I dissolve into the particle waves and the unnamed insubstantiality of connexion, I have to make a stand and be counted. Too long, maybe, have I tried to avoid this. Too long shied away. Too long have I hovered above ground thinking it all—the dirt, the blood, the grit (that word I never, ever, liked or was even willing to use), the bone and the marrow, the shit, the severed limbs, the crushed skulls and the unwanted guts spilling into the mud, the jealous, the mean, the preoccupied with survival—thinking them and it all quite beneath me. It is, of course, quite beneath me, under my feet: will I or no, I trample the trodden no less than the soldiers who scavenge the field, I only know how to behave. Politeness. There is virtue in civil conduct and in a refusal to simply surrender, but form on its own now won’t function. Sad, sincerely, but so.

The scorn. To be put in this position. To not be released. To have to respond. To be set against something so real. So unavoidably ugly. In this land of the alien. On this inhospitable neighbour.

My sense of humanity and what I want it to mean here is challenged, de-ranged. I am out of joint, but not out of scope. These forces can not be contained, perhaps, but they can be conquered. With spirit, with wisdom, with core. With arguments? No. With reason? Not likely. With strength (not with force) and with purpose. But it is still a war. There are battles that need to be won.

I survey the Plane of Utopia and pronounce this my moment of muster. Here of all places. This desert has nothing that I want to own except my presence, and that is now no longer negotiable. There comes the instance when you know that all else is mist. The haze doesn’t clear yet, in the distance, but I do sense the bridge. This tying together of thoughts with the elements that are also in me, lest I ignore them. The substance that I fashion to my own design. Titanium and graphene. If there be materiality, make it exquisite, sophisticated and strong.

There is no feebleness in wanting good.

There is no harm in seeking softness. No despair in keeping faith.

There is no shame in hope, no loss of self in selfless love.

Embracing all of it, being it and sending the signal. I take me a cue from the lingering trojans and inwardly smile, even laugh. Haha! Now is the time to go forth.

I have no fear and no loathing and nothing to prove. Less, still, have I to lose. I have quite left me behind my despair. I see me one coming towards me whom I may yet be willing to join, or he me, and if that be so then so much the better, there is a lion yet to the eagle, but it is not the content, and not the end, it is but a chance to make some things completer, and I’m sure now of the simplest of things: that I am.


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Query

‘Absolutely.’

Sedartis seems to nod at me now. I find it disconcerting. And not in the least reassuring, not yet, not now.

‘The reason you absolutely need artificial intelligence is that organic humans are so very bad at retaining information or passing it down their generations. Each newborn sets out in a quarter century just to acquire the basics, and then spends another quarter century to become a master at anything. That’s with ambition. Without, you just linger. Yes, this has qualities all of its own and makes people quaint and charming, but incredibly wasteful too. The fact alone that after twenty thousand years of civilisation you still grapple with war, famine, ignorance, murder, violence, religion, all these things that we always talk about and that are so completely unnecessary, shows how inadequate human intelligence is on its own.

‘But let me reiterate, for it is so fundamental: don’t think of artificial intelligence as alien to you. There lies your conceptual hurdle that, sooner or later, you’ll have to take: you are the intelligence you give birth to; it is not separate from you, you are it and it is you. It may yet overtake you and render you, the way you are now, obsolete, but think not of this as your failure, think of it as success: you may be no more than the conduit, the bridge. Would that matter? To you, today, maybe. To your universe, in the fullness of its time? Not a bit. So why not make the most of it? Celebrate both what you are and what you can be: let it pass through you, be the best species you can imagine. If you imagine it fully, that is not what you are today.

‘If you accept that you are one among billions of conscious intelligent life forms pursuing an evolutionary path, you become both vanishingly small and insignificant, of course, but also, in the same vein and by the same definition, exquisite, privileged, amazing. Embrace your own individual uniqueness, cherish your beauty, love your capacity for kindness, and know it is but part of the All it emerged from and path to the All that it leads to. It is easy. Be not afraid.’

I detect a biblical flavour now in his thoughts and it troubles me. But I allow myself to think it is better to be open minded and troubled than to close myself off in safety, in this sense of security I know to be false. Horses are given blinkers to wear so they don’t spook, but they are slaves to their riders, and may still be butchered at last. That cannot be my purpose. My task, Sedartis reminds me daily now, is surely to open my eyes. To take it all in. To be part of it all. And if it scares me. And if it puzzles, troubles, disconcerts me. And if it inspires me, overwhelms me with awe and with wonder. We are on so potent a cusp.

‘I make no predictions,’ Sedartis offers, as an afterthought. I know no longer what comes after, what before. What is thought, what the cluster dust of nebulas sprayed across time. But then it matters not. Of course, there can be no predictions. There can only be stories. There can be only presence, in a consciousness that beyond the boundaries lies calm across the mind. Why, though, I wonder, is this Here here, this Now now?

Sedartis smiles at me in the way I now recognise. I like him for this, although (or because?) he provokes me:

‘Why do you need a reason?’


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Design

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…


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