Chapter 9 THE COMMUNITY OF WORLDS

1. BUSY UTOPIAS

THERE came a time when our new-found communal mind attained such a degree of lucidity that it was able to maintain contact even with worlds that had passed far beyond the mentality of terrestrial man. Of these lofty experiences I, who am once more reduced to the state of a mere individual human being, have only the most confused memory. I am like one who, in the last extremity of mental fatigue, tries to recapture the more penetrating intuitions that he achieved in his lost freshness. He can recover only faint echoes and a vague glamour. But even the most fragmentary recollections of the cosmical experiences which befell me in that lucid State deserve recording.

The sequence of events in the successfully waking world was generally more or less as follows. The starting point, it will be remembered, was a plight like that in which our own Earth now stands. The dialectic of the world’s history had confronted the race with a problem with which the traditional mentality could never cope. The world-situation had grown too complex for lowly intelligences, and it demanded a degree of individual integrity in leaders and in led, such as was as yet possible only to a few minds. Consciousness had already been violently awakened out of the primitive trance into a state of excruciating individualism, of poignant but pitifully restricted self-awareness. And individualism, together with the traditional tribal spirit, now threatened to wreck the world. Only after a long-drawn agony of economic distress and maniac warfare, haunted by an increasingly clear vision of a happier world, could the second stage of waking be achieved. In most cases it was not achieved. “Human nature,” or its equivalent in the many worlds, could not change itself; and the environment could not remake it.

But in a few worlds the spirit reacted to its desperate plight with a miracle. Or, if the reader prefers, the environment miraculously refashioned the spirit. There occurred a widespread and almost sudden waking into a new lucidity of consciousness and a new integrity of will. To call this change miraculous is only to recognize that it could not have been scientifically predicted even from the fullest possible knowledge of “human nature” as manifested in the earlier age. To later generations, however, it appeared as no miracle but as a belated wakening from an almost miraculous stupor into plain sanity.

This unprecedented access of sanity took at first the form of a wide-spread passion for a new social order which should be just and should embrace the whole planet. Such a social fervor was not, of course, entirely new. A small minority had long ago conceived it, and had haltingly tried to devote themselves to it. But now at last, through the scourge of circumstance and the potency of the spirit itself, this social, will became general. And while it was still passionate, and heroic action was still possible to the precariously awakened beings, the whole social structure of the world was reorganized, so that within a generation or two every individual on the planet could count upon the means of life, and the opportunity to exercise his powers fully, for his own delight and for the service of the world community. It was now possible to bring up the new generations to a sense that the world-order was no alien tyranny but an expression of the general will, and that they had indeed been born into a noble heritage, a thing for which it was good to live and suffer and die. To readers of this book such a change may well seem miraculous, and such a state Utopian.

Those of us who had come from less fortunate planets found it at once a heartening and yet a bitter experience to watch world after world successfully emerge from a plight which seemed inescapable, to see a world-population of frustrated and hate-poisoned creatures give place to one in which every individual was generously and shrewdly nurtured, and therefore not warped by unconscious envy and hate. Very soon, though no change had occurred in the biological stock, the new social environment produced a world population which might well have seemed to belong to a new species. In physique, in intelligence, in mental independence and social responsibility, the new individual far outstripped the old, as also in mental wholesomeness and in integrity of will. And though it was sometimes feared that the removal of all sources of grave mental conflict might deprive the mind of all stimulus to creative work, and produce a mediocre population, it was soon found that, far from stagnating, the spirit of the race now passed on to discover new fields of struggle and triumph. The world-population of “aristocrats,” which flourished after the great change, looked back with curiosity and incredulity into the preceding age, and found great difficulty in conceiving the tangled, disreputable and mostly unwitting motives which were the main-springs of action even in the most fortunate individuals among their ancestors. It was recognized that the whole pre-revolutionary population was afflicted with serious mental diseases, with endemic plagues of delusion and obsession, due to mental malnutrition and poisoning. As psychological insight advanced, the same kind of interest was aroused by the old psychology as is wakened in modern Europeans by ancient maps which distort the countries of the world almost beyond recognition. We were inclined to think of the psychological crisis of the waking worlds as being the difficult passage from adolescence to maturity; for in essence it was an outgrowing of juvenile interests, a discarding of toys and childish games, and a discovery of the interests of adult life. Tribal prestige, individual dominance, military glory, industrial triumphs lost their obsessive glamour, and instead the happy creatures delighted in civilized social intercourse, in cultural activities, and in the common enterprise of world-building. During the phase of history which followed the actual surmounting of the spiritual crisis in a waking world the attention of the race was of course still chiefly occupied with social reconstruction. Many heroic tasks had to be undertaken. There was need not only for a new economic system but for new systems of political organization, of world-law, of education. In many cases this period of reconstruction under the guidance of the new mentality was itself a time of serious conflict. For even beings who are sincerely in accord about the goal of social activity may disagree violently about the way. But such conflicts as arose, though heated, were of a very different kind from the earlier conflicts which were inspired by obsessive individualism and obsessive group-hatreds.

We noted that the new world-orders were very diverse. This was, of course, to be expected, since biologically, psychologically, culturally, these worlds were very different. The perfected world-order of an Echinoderm race had of course to be different from that of the symbiotic Ichthyoids and Arachnoids; and this from that of a Nautiloid world, and so on. But we noted also in all these victorious worlds a remarkable identity. For instance, in the loosest possible sense, all were communistic; for in all of them the means of production were communally owned, and no individual could control the labor of others for private profit. Again, in a sense all these world-orders were democratic, since the final sanction of policy was world-opinion. But in many cases there was no democratic machinery, no legal channel for the expression of world-opinion. Instead, a highly specialized bureaucracy, or even a world-dictator, might carry out the business of organizing the world’s activity with legally absolute power, but under constant supervision by popular will expressed through the radio. We were amazed to find that in a truly awakened world even a dictatorship could be in essence democratic. We observed with incredulity situations in which the “absolute” world-government, faced with some exceptionally momentous and doubtful matter of policy, had made urgent appeals for a formal democratic decision, only to receive from all regions the reply, “We cannot advise. You must decide as your professional experience suggests. We will abide by your decision.”

Law in these worlds was based on a very remarkable kind of sanction which could not conceivably work successfully on Earth. There was never any attempt to enforce the law by violence, save against dangerous lunatics, such as sometimes occurred as throw-backs to an earlier age. In some worlds there was a complex body of “laws” regulating the economic and social life of groups, and even the private affairs of individuals. It seemed to us at first that freedom had vanished from such worlds. But later we discovered that the whole intricate system was regarded as we should regard the rules of a game or the canons of an art, or the innumerable extra-legal customs of any long-established society. In the main, everyone kept the law because he had faith in its social value as a guide to conduct. But if ever the law seemed inadequate he would without hesitation break it. His conduct might cause offense or inconvenience or even serious hardship to his neighbors. They would probably protest vigorously. But there was never question of compulsion. If those concerned failed to persuade him that his behavior was socially harmful, his case might be tried by a sort of court of arbitration, backed by the prestige of the world-government. If the decision went against the defendant, and yet he persisted in his illegal behavior, none would restrain him. But such was the power of public censure and social ostracism that disregard of the court’s decision was very rare. The terrible sense of isolation acted on the law-breaker like an ordeal by fire. If his motive was at bottom base, he would sooner or later collapse. But if his case had merely been misjudged, or if his conduct sprang from an intuition of value beyond the range of his fellows, he might persist in his course till he had won over the public.

I mention these social curiosities only to give some illustration of the far-reaching difference between the spirit of these Utopian worlds and the spirit which is familiar to readers of this book. It may be easily imagined that in our wanderings we came upon a wonderful diversity of customs and institutions, but I must not pause to describe even the most remarkable of them. I must be content to outline the activities of the typical waking worlds, so as to be able to press on to tell a story not merely of particular worlds but of our galaxy as a whole. When a waking world had passed through the phase of radical social reconstruction, and had attained a new equilibrium, it would settle into a period of steady economic and cultural advancement. Mechanism, formerly a tyrant over body and mind, but now a faithful servant, would secure for every individual a fullness and diversity of life far beyond anything known on earth. Radio communication and rocket travel would afford to each mind intimate knowledge of every people. Labor-saving machinery would reduce the work of maintaining civilization; all mind-crippling drudgery would vanish, and the best energy of every one of the world-citizens would be freely devoted to social service that was not unworthy of a well-grown intelligent being. And “social service” was apt to be interpreted very broadly. It seemed to permit many lives to be given over wholly to freakish and irresponsible self-expression. The community could well afford a vast amount of such wastage for the sake of the few invaluable jewels of originality which occasionally emerged from it.

This stable and prosperous phase of the waking worlds, which we came to call the Utopian phase, was probably the happiest of all the ages in the life of any world. Tragedy of one sort or another there would still be, but never widespread and futile distress. We remarked, moreover, that, whereas in former ages tragedy had been commonly thought of in terms of physical pain and premature death, now it was conceived more readily as resulting from the clash and mutual yearning and mutual incompatibility of diverse personalities; so rare had the cruder kind of disaster become, and on the other hand so much more subtle and sensitive were the contacts between persons. Widespread physical tragedy, the suffering and annihilation of whole populations, such as we experience in war and plague, were quite unknown, save in those rare cases when a whole race was destroyed by astronomical accident, whether through loss of atmosphere or the bursting of its planet or the plunging of its solar system into some tract of gas or dust.

In this happy phase, then, which might last for a few centuries or for many thousands of years, the whole energy of the world would be devoted to perfecting the world-community and raising the caliber of the race by cultural and by eugeni-cal means.

Of the eugenical enterprise of these worlds I shall report little, because much of it would be unintelligible without a minute knowledge of the biological and biochemical nature of each of these non-human world-populations. It is enough to say that the first task of the eugenists was to prevent the perpetuation of inheritable disease and malformation of body and mind. In days before the great psychological change even this modest work had often led to serious abuses. Governments would attempt to breed out all those characters, such as independence of mind, which were distasteful to governments. Ignorant enthusiasts would advocate ruthless and misguided interference in the choice of mates. But in the more enlightened age these dangers were recognized and avoided. Even so, the eugenical venture did often lead to disaster. One splendid race of intelligent avians we saw reduced to the sub-human level by an attempt to extirpate susceptibility to a virulent mental disease. The liability to this disease happened to be genetically linked in an indirect manner with the possibility of normal brain development in the fifth generation. Of positive eugenical enterprises I need only mention improvements of sensory range and acuity (chiefly in sight and touch), the invention of new senses, improvements in memory, in general intelligence, in temporal discrimination. These races came to distinguish ever more minute periods of duration, and at the same time to extend their temporal grasp so as to apprehend ever longer periods as “now.”

Many of the worlds at first devoted much energy to this kind of eugenical work, but later decided that, though it might afford them some new richness of experience, it must be postponed for the sake of more important matters. For instance, with the increasing complexity of life it soon appeared very necessary to retard the maturing of the individual mind, so as to enable it to assimilate its early experience’ more thoroughly. “Before life begins,” it was said, “there should be a lifetime of childhood.” At the same time efforts were made to prolong maturity to three or four times its normal extent, and to reduce senility. In every world that had gained full eugenical power there arose sooner or later a sharp public discussion as to the most suitable length of individual life. All were agreed that life must be prolonged; but, while one party wished to multiply it only three or four times, another insisted that nothing less than a hundred times the normal life-span could afford the race that continuity and depth of experience which all saw to be desirable. Another party even advocated deathlessness, and a permanent race of never-aging immortals. It was argued that the obvious danger of mental rigidity, and the cessation of all advancement, might be avoided by contriving that the permanent physiological state of the deathless population should be one of very early maturity.

Different worlds found different solutions for this problem. Some races assigned to the individual a period no longer than three hundred of our years. Others allowed him fifty thousand. One race of Echinoderms decided on potential immortality, but endowed themselves with an ingenious psychological mechanism by which, if the ancient began to lose touch with changing conditions, he could not fail to recognize the fact, and would thereupon crave and practice I euthanasia, gladly yielding his place to a successor of more modern type.

Many other triumphs of eugenical experiment we observed up and down the worlds. The general level of individual intelligence was, of course, raised far beyond the range of Homo sapiens. But also that super-intelligence which can be attained only by a psychically unified community was greatly developed on the highest practicable plane, that of the conscious individuality of a whole world. This, of course, was impossible till the social cohesion of individuals within the world-community had become as close-knit as the integration of the elements of a nervous system. It demanded also a very great advance of telepathy. Further, it was not possible till the great majority of individuals had reached a breadth of knowledge unknown on earth. The last and most difficult power to be attained by these worlds in the course of their Utopian phase was psychical freedom of time and space, the limited power to observe directly, and even contribute to, events remote from the spatio-temporal location of the observer. Throughout our exploration we had been greatly perplexed by the fact that we, most of whom were beings of a very humble order, should have been able to achieve this freedom, which, as we now discovered, these highly developed worlds found so difficult, to master. The explanation was now given us. No such venture as ours could have been undertaken by our unaided selves. Throughout our exploration we had unwittingly been under the influence of a system of worlds which had attained this freedom only after aeons of research. Not one step could we have taken without the constant support of those brilliant Ichthyoid and Archnoid Symbiotics who played a leading part in the history of our galaxy. They it was who controlled our whole adventure, so that we might report our experiences in our primitive native worlds.

The freedom of space and time, the power of cosmical exploration and of influence by means of telepathic contact, was at once the most potent and the most dangerous asset of the fully awakened Utopian worlds. Through the unwise exercise of it many a glorious and single-minded race came to disaster. Sometimes the adventuring world-mind failed to maintain its sanity in face of the welter of misery and despair that now flooded in upon it telepathically from all the regions of the galaxy. Sometimes the sheer difficulty of comprehending the subtleties that were revealed to it flung it into a mental breakdown from which there was no recovery. Sometimes it became so enthralled by its telepathic adventures that it lost touch with its own life upon its native planet, so that the world-community, deprived of its guiding communal mind, fell into disorder and decay, and the exploring mind itself died.