Copyright 2014 Douglas Daniel
TO: The Supreme Investigator, Department of Cultural Survey and Contact, the Shanzar Hegemony.
FROM: Gartishan, Eggling of the Fifth Prime, Tenth Spawning of Loor, Commander of the Upsilon Quadrant Survey Expedition.
Subject: Cultural Survey Report 15AlphaQ-198Tzed- ‘Humanity’
Boss– per my hyper-wave of the last cycle, I am forwarding this informal abstract of the formal cultural survey of system 15AlphaQ, reference 198Tzed, which is following via standard channels. I wanted to get this abstract before your eyes as soon as possible, so you are aware of some pretty oddball stuff, and one big problem.
I’ll spare you the technical details of the particular solar system in this survey– it is utterly ordinary, even sub-normal in some respects– for example, some of the planets don’t even have ring systems. The inhabited world is small, Class Zed122, but quite habitable, with an active and diverse biosphere.
At least, in its natural state. The biosphere is currently suffering serious degradation, largely because of the activities of the sole sentient race on the planet (although there may potentially be other sentient species extant we had no time or opportunity to closely observe– see Appendix A of the full report, “On Dolphins, Dogs and Ants”). It is unclear why the primary sentient species is in the process of destroying its own habitat– several members of the Cultural Ecology team believe that the damage is accidental. Considering our overall assessment of the species, we cannot exclude this explanation.
They call themselves Homo Sapiens, which means “wise person” in one of their ancient languages. This is surely one of the greatest pieces of self-delusion we have ever seen in an alien species.
In twenty-five epochs of survey work I have never encountered a more bizarre, confusing, and paradoxical species. On the technological achievement scale, they rate a 12.6, just shy of the contact threshold– in fact, they are probably only a few generations away from star flight, for they are on the verge of describing the functioning relationship between gravitation and quantum mechanics. And this from a technological civilization that is not yet three centuries old. Even our glorious hegemony took three thousand to go from steam power to fusion. This rate of development is unprecedented.
Paradoxically, however, on the socio-cultural scale they cannot be rated any higher than 3.4. That’s not an error– we ran the numbers several times. In the first place, this species’ planet-wide population is currently divided among several thousand extant, distinct cultural traditions. One tradition, entitled “The Western” for no logical reason we can discern, has managed to impose a sort of global dominance, particularly in relation to technology, but in many planetary regions it is no more than a patina– basic cultural assumptions vary widely across human populations. I don’t need to tell you how out of the ordinary this is– with a 12.6 on the technology scale, this race should already have achieved at least a 9.3 on the socio-cultural, representing the achievement of consensus of a common cultural pattern species-wide. Instead, these humans rate no higher than the egregious Turlanians, and we both know what kind of disorganized slobs they are.
Worse, this cultural chaos is spread, very unevenly, across dozens of political units of wildly varying sizes and strengths. Were a decision taken to contact this species (not recommended– see “Conclusions and Recommendations” in the formal report), we would have severe difficulties negotiating the intricacies of planetary politics.
This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that, at any given moment, any number of these political units, called “nations”, are at war with each other. That’s right, war– the kind of conflict between organized political units that nearly all other sentient species leave behind at about 10 on the tech scale. Worse, sometimes the conflicts are between factions within nations, or between conspiratorial groups, often with obscure goals, against nations or other groups. And this is not ritualized warfare of the sort most sentient species understand– it is often unlimited, bloody, and utterly vicious, as if the two sides were members of two separate species and not members of one.
Within the last century this species has survived two conflicts large and far-reaching enough to termed “world” wars, encompassing the entire (or, at least, the majority) of the planet, and causing casualties in the tens of millions (yes, millions) and widespread destruction. Among the humans there is considerable speculation about the possibility of a third world war, with the understanding that it might spell the extinction of their race, but little of substance is done to prevent it.
These beings fight each other over just about everything—land, economic domination, ideology, affronts to “national honor” (a strange concept that supposes that an abstraction such as a nation can have an honor to be offended). These humans even fight each other over religion. Religion, boss. That concept was so shocking that one of our junior ethnologists cocooned herself and went into a hysterical hibernation, from which we have to yet to rouse her.
As a corollary, these nations expend huge proportions of their economic outputs on weapons and military formations. One of the largest nations, Murica, spends more on its weapons and military than most of the other nations combined. Paradoxically, it nevertheless has not launched a campaign to conquer the rest of the planet. Our historiographers are still trying to explain that one.
When they are not fighting each other, these humans spend much of their time engaged in trading goods and services, mostly for symbolic units of value (called “money”), often, gill-scratchingly, with other nations that are potentially—sometimes actually—enemies. This economic exchange consumes enormous amounts of energy, but the humans have taken no real steps to rationalize the process so that goods are equally distributed among groups, which means that many sectors of the planet are impoverished compared to other sectors, just because they don’t have enough of those symbolic units of value. Sometimes large populations in localities actually starve to death because of this, while wealthier sectors go about their business.
It makes you want to scream and swim in circles.
The humans do have a rudimentary global information network (it would be surprisingly, given their technology rating, if they didn’t), but, instead of being focused on information dissemination and education, major portions of it are dedicated to more economic exchange, entertainment, and, weirdly, sex—or, at least, the portrayal of sexual activity, in bewildering varieties and types (see Appendix B—“Sex and the Bipedal Primate”). As difficult as it is for us to grasp, humans are obsessed with sex. Doubtless this is because of their mammalian, and particularly, primate, origins, but they carry this obsession to extremes we have never seen in any other surveyed species. They appear to spend major portions of their short lives either doing it, thinking about doing it, or, (because of perversely complicated and wildly variant taboos) working hard to prevent other humans from doing it. Moreover, all this copulation or semi-copulation is largely divorced from actual procreation. That’s right, Boss—they’re doing it for fun. Seeing all this, the Chief Ethnologist told me, “Thank the gods we’re fish”, and it’s hard to disagree with him.
All of this may give you a clue as to our assessment of the basic psychology of human beings. In our view, they are quarrelsome, aggressive, cold-blooded (metaphorically speaking, of course), cruel, cunning, greedy, and untrustworthy. They routinely betray, enslave and murder one another. One shudders to think what they would do to other sentient species. They are, in short, unpleasant shits.
As to what their relations might be with other sentient races, we have but to look at what they have done and are doing to the sub-sentient species of their own world. Their planet, at this very moment, is undergoing a major extinction event, largely due to human activities. Terrestrial biomes have been ravaged, usually in the name of all that economic exchange. Also, the planetary climate and oceanographic biomes (and they have the most splendid oceans, boss, simply gorgeous) are undergoing radical, and detrimental, changes because of human actions. But, perversely, the humans continue to engage in these activities, which they know are damaging the biosphere of their world. Our Chief Cultural Psychometrician was left speechless for several cycles when he came to an understanding of this self-destructive behavior. He still can’t decide if this mere stupidity or a sign of some deep-seated, species-specific psychosis.
For the details of our recommendations, please see the formal report, but, in short, we advise—rather forcefully—that this planet and this species be placed under a Level Ten quarantine. I know that sounds extreme, but frankly these weird monkeys are frightening. Our historiographers came up with some projections (see Appendix C—“Probable Human Future Histories”), which, although mostly conservative in their numbers, are truly scary—particularly if the humans get star flight sooner rather than later. It is our assessment that this species needs to be isolated immediately, and kept in a state of ignorance from which they cannot threaten us.
Which brings me, unfortunately, to the problem I mentioned.
One of our junior ethnologists was Shinzankeehor, eggling of the tenth spawning of Talakeehor, on his first field expedition. Aside from his high status, he appeared to be a bright and well-informed cultural investigator. A few cycles from the end of our investigation and our departure date, however, his school leader informed that he was exhibiting signs of depression and agitation—not swimming during required exercise periods, not feeding with his school mates, failing to rest in the shaded pool chambers, and so on. As a consequence, knowing how this investigation had upset the entire crew, I went to talk to him privately. I took the precaution of recording our conversation; below is an excerpt—
Gartishan: I hear you’ve been down in the gills, Shinzankeehor. I wanted to check in with you, see how you were doing.
Shinzankeehor: Forgive me, Commander—I didn’t mean to distract you from your duties….
Gartishan: Nonsense, crew welfare is my duty. How are you feeling?
Shinzankeehor: …I have to admit, Commander, I have not been myself.
Gartishan: How so? Is there something about this investigation that troubles you?
Shinzankeehor: A great deal, Commander, a very great deal indeed.
Gartishan: Your particular brief is assessment of cultural linguistic artifacts, concepts and memes, is it not?
Shinzankeehor: Yes, Commander.
Gartishan: Has something in your studies disturbed you?
Shinzankeehor: Yes, indeed, sir.
Gartishan: Please tell me what is troubling you.
Shinzankeehor: Prayers and songs, Commander—prayers and songs.
Gartishan: I don’t understand….
Shinzankeehor: I have gathered and listened to the songs of the humans. Many are puerile, forgettable—but many others show something about humans you would never guess from their behavior. These beings dream, Commander—and not of blood, or conquest, or riches, but of peace, and righteousness, and a future where there is no want or pain.
Gartishan: Want and pain are part of life….
Shinzankeehor: And yet the humans dream of more—or have been granted visions—
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
Gartishan: What is that?
Shinzankeehor: A passage from a human holy book. There is much in their literature and their songs of such hope.
Commander: Hope for them, after they have conquered and destroyed all things?
Gartishan: No—at their best, their dreams speak of healing, and restoration. It is as if they know their brokenness–
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Gartishan: A lofty sentiment—but you would not see it in their actions.
Shinzankeehor: No, not very often—that is what troubles me—the dichotomy between what the humans dream and what they do. But every major religion now extant on this world speaks of the necessity of righteousness—and the unity of humanity and the other creatures with which they share their world–
Born of Thee, on Thee move mortal creatures; Thou bearest them-the biped and the quadruped; Thine, O Earth, are the five races of men, for whom Surya, as he rises, spreads with his rays the light that is immortal.
Gartishan: Ethnologist, you can’t let the rambles of a species as obviously…deranged as this one trouble you. It is because they are so broken they have to invent fantasies of redemption to assuage their guilt….
Shinzankeehor: And yet there is dignity and courage in their thoughts—a willingness to persevere through failure and loss—
Come, my friends,
It is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
They always believe they are bound for greater things, and a better way, despite their failures and sufferings. It disturbs me, sir– I cannot reconcile their dreams and their crimes.
Gartishan: Ethnologist, I am going to suspend you from duties, and order you to rest; you have obviously taken this all too much to heart. We are leaving this world in a few cycles, anyway, and after that, this benighted species will be someone else’s problem.
Shinzankeehor: Perhaps, sir, perhaps….
Boss, I thought I had settled the youngster down. But after we departed the human solar system we discovered that Shinzankeehor had left the ship just before we left orbit, without telling anyone, and obviously without authorization. Once we were committed to hyper-space and unable to turn back, I received a recorded message from him– “I must discover the truth about these people.”
Desertion is bad enough– but then we found that Shinzankeehor had taken two fabricator units, an educational unit– and a transmogrification device.
Boss, I promise you that every safeguard and lock-down was in place on the device, but somehow Shinzankeehor managed to overcome or bypass them. The Chief Somaticist tells me that, because our ancestors chose to adopt amphibianism and a bipedal stance, the transmogrifier may just be able to give Shinzankeehor a superficially human appearance– it would have been impossible, he says, if we still had more perfectly piscine forms. The process will be agonizing, but it is possible. So it may be that Shinzankeehor will be able to move among the humans with some freedom– and that we will have great difficulty in finding him.
This is why I wanted to send you this informal note before the full report arrives and blows up. Chew my tail off if you want, Boss– obviously I miscalculated with this youngster. I didn’t think he would charge off on some idealistic quest. I tremble to think what he might do. With the equipment Shinzankeehor stole, he could manufacture almost anything short of an FTL drive, and teach the humans how to use it. All our assessments of when the humans might threaten us may be obsolete very soon.
What are we going to do, boss?