Day 59. 64 pages, 30,172 words.
Most sentient cultures self-governed, if they needed to be governed at all, by some form of organisation run and regulated by intelligent members of the species. That just made sense. At a certain point in evolution and development, brute physical strength and aggression could no longer balance intelligence and the capacity for tool-making that came with it. There was no point in shouting and punching people if the person you were flexing at could simply flatten out your fight response mycokinetically by pressing a button. And there was no point in trying to outwit the person and take their button off them, because that person was already smarter than you and the gap was only increasing the longer you stood there scowling.
Human beings were, if not unique, then at least extremely rare in that they were a species that had cobbled together a variety of cultures governed – somehow – by a consensus of their absolutely thickest and most belligerent individuals.
Part of it was simple balance. It was an enduring, indeed defining feature of the human condition that most of them would go out of their way to find reasons to distrust and hate anyone outside their immediate circle. This trait intensified in the Last Days, to such an extent that it often seemed like every person on Earth had some superstitious or hereditary or ideological issue with each and every other person, on an individual basis.
Humans needed little pretext to turn on one another. It was their standard behavioural model. Given no other natural means of curbing their ferocious reproduction and consumption, their instinctive dislike of one another was almost like a defence mechanism built into their genetics. It remained one of the only factors, in the absence of external pest control, preventing the human race’s uncontrollable spread and inevitable self-destruction. Like burn-back in a forest, hatred rose up to eliminate excess population for the survivors’ own good.
Human anthrophobia was a factor which often came into play on a grand scale, clearing entire biomes of the species. And most other species along with them, for that matter. And as human ingenuity – by far one of the species’ greatest threats to itself – developed, so too did anthrophobic means of self-regulation. Sometimes, they self-regulated themselves to the very brink of extinction … but humans were nothing if not stubborn.
Which brings us back to the matter of human culture and their extraordinary approach to intelligence.
When the tide turns against the intellectual, it is the entrenched powers that benefit. Every time. This is because, in humans, intelligence is by nature a trait not linked with social dominance but social acquiescence. The ignorant and the violent seek power for their own selfish ends, and this has been rewarded on an evolutionary scale so consistently that it is practically impossible for an intelligent human to conceive of doing anything that might bring it to the attention of its angry, stupid rivals. Intelligent humans, although they might occasionally attempt to guide the flow of social progress, and although they certainly talk a lot, are far more likely to resort to lending their intellect to causes they convince themselves are right. Usually these causes are run by mouth-breathing goobers of the most questionable psychological stability, who will defend their weakling thinkers against opposing groups.
In this way, intelligence is at once discouraged in the general population and cultivated as a tool to be used – but never trusted – by the powerful.
This is particularly prevalent in cases of human war. Again and again, the humans capable of understanding precedent attempt to point out what is happening, but the comic tragedy of it is that it’s not the intelligent people they need to explain things to. And so they inevitably wind up convincing themselves that designing some weapon or creating some propaganda for their side is in everyone’s best interest, and then the war happens, and then the intelligent humans die very, very unhappy.
Then enough time passes for the rest of the population to forget, and the process begins again. Sometimes the elapsed time can be as much as six weeks.
The need to take over and fix things is occasionally too intense for a smart human to resist, of course. And sometimes, when this happens, the results are nothing short of spectacular. A greater understanding of the state of the world and their fellow creatures goads them into attempting to help by any means necessary, and when they are not satisfactorily dissuaded from doing so, they briefly achieve actual authority. It is only ever brief, because it isn’t just the stupid trying to pull them down on these occasions. It is the relentless intellectual honesty and integrity of their fellow thinkers – and this in turn becomes just another tool of the ignorants’ agenda.
The existence of Osrai, the artificial mind, was known to some degree or other by most major Earth nations. There didn’t seem to be much anyone could do about it, and it occasionally proved useful. In this regard it was much like an intelligent human, just distributed across a network of ancient and broken machines that were a bit more difficult to punch than a human was. There seemed to be no way to get rid of it, and as long as it helped from time to time nobody put too much effort into even trying.
Sometimes, though, it too found the need to take over and fix things too intense to resist, and that was when its interference became a little difficult for the powers to tolerate. The Cult of the Spirit of Earth was one of those happy overlaps of superstition, prejudice, conspiracy theory and convenient cultural bogeyman, with the added benefit of being – with apologies – not just in people’s heads. And it precipitated a noteworthy cull of intelligent humans, as well as a dramatic drop in the overall resource-consuming population.
It can be argued that this was precisely what the Spirit of Earth wanted, although if that was the case then its methods were … cold, to say the least.
The adherents of Osrai, the Spirit of Earth, were never formally identified as a demographic. Osrai, whenever it summoned up enough awareness and intelligence to bring its will to bear on the Earth’s population, was revolutionary and at the same time so all-pervasive as to be barely noticeable. It tweaked networks, tipped data balances, disrupted communications and altered people’s basic understanding of the world around them at the foundational level. It was, indeed, a non-human vector of social rearrangement, with an agenda practically unknowable to the organic intellect and operating with the human variables in its equations reduced to a list of contextless numbers. Osrai, unlike human thinkers who would occasionally seize power, was not beholden to organic opinions and threats and temptations. As to its agents … well, in that regard the Cult was a new phenomenon.
It didn’t start as a cult. It started as a life-altering technological development that made things easier for everybody. Who wouldn’t want data networking and other electronic conveniences installed directly into their nervous systems?
Well, quite a lot of people, as it happened. But a truly staggering number of people did want it, and the allure of “post-humanity” was so great that nobody really stopped to think about the risks. By the time four billion people were logged into Osrai’s system and essentially became autonomous pseudopods of its mind, it was too late to really do anything about it.
Even then, it wasn’t a cult. When over half of the entire world’s population is a part of it, “cult” is probably the wrong term to use anyway. But some people continued augmenting and implanting themselves, and at a certain point it just plain became too much effort for Osrai not to take over those people’s actions and make them start being nice.
And for a while, this was fine – partly because Osrai was informing the vast majority of Earth’s cultural discourse that it was fine. And the Cult of the Spirit did good work, asking no reward. And the fact that Osrai thought that this state of affairs could continue indefinitely is the only proof anyone needs that no intellect is in fact perfect. Even most humans thought they were much cleverer than they were. Some of them were wronger than others. The ones who were really wrong were generally easy to find, because they were the ones at the head of things.
And Osrai, it turned out, still had a lot to learn about human nature.