5. THE TRAGEDY OF THE PERVERTS

Such was the state of affairs when, in the main galactic “continent,” the mad United Empires concentrated their power upon the few worlds that were not merely sane but of superior mental rank. The attention of the Symbiotics and their colleagues in the supremely civilized sub-galaxy had long been withdrawn from the petty affairs of the “continent.” It was given instead to the cosmos as a whole and to the inner discipline of the spirit. But the first of the three murders perpetrated by the United Empires upon a population far more developed than themselves seems to have caused a penetrating reverberation to echo, so to speak, through all the loftier spheres of existence. Even in the full flight of their career, the Sub-Galactics took cognizance. Once more attention was directed telepathically to the neighboring continent of stars. While the situation was being studied, the second murder was committed. The Sub-Galactics knew that they had power to prevent any further disaster. Yet, to our surprise, our horror and incomprehension, they calmly awaited the third murder. Still more strange, the doomed worlds themselves, though in telepathic communication with the Sub-Galaxy, made no appeal for help. Victims and spectators alike studied the situation with quiet interest, even with a sort of bright exultation not wholly unlike amusement. From our lowlier plane this detachment, this seeming levity, at first appeared less angelic than inhuman. Here was a whole world of sensitive and intelligent beings in the full tide of eager life and communal activity. Here were lovers newly come together, scientists in the midst of profound research, artists intent on new delicacies of apprehension, workers in a thousand practical social undertakings of which man has no conception, here in fact was all the rich diversity of personal lives that go to make up a highly developed world in action. And each of these individual minds participated in the communal mind of all; each experienced not only as a private individual but as the very spirit of his race. Yet these calm beings faced the destruction of their world with no more distress seemingly than one of us would feel at the prospect of resigning his part in some interesting game. And in the minds of the spectators of this impending tragedy we observed no agony of compassion, but only such commiseration, tinged with humor, as we might feel for some distinguished tennis-player who was knocked out in the first round of a tournament by some trivial accident such as a sprained ankle.

With difficulty we came to understand the source of this strange equanimity. Spectators and victims alike were so absorbed in cosmological research, so conscious of the richness and potentiality of the cosmos, and above all so possessed by spiritual contemplation, that the destruction was seen, even by the victims themselves, from the point of view which men would call divine. Their gay exaltation and their seeming frivolity were rooted in the fact that to them the personal life, and even the life and death of individual worlds, appeared chiefly as vital themes contributing to the life of the cosmos. From the cosmical point of view the disaster was after all a very small though poignant matter. Moreover, if by the sacrifice of another group of worlds, even of splendidly awakened worlds, greater insight could be attained into the insanity of the Mad Empires, the sacrifice was well worth while.

So the third murder was committed. Then came the miracle. The telepathic skill of the Sub-Galaxy was far more developed than that of the scattered superior worlds on the galactic “continent.” It could dispense with the aid of normal intercourse, and it could overcome every resistance. It could reach right down to the buried chrysalis of the spirit even in the most perverted individual. This was not a merely destructive power, blotting out the communal mind hypnotically; it was a kindling, an awakening power, brought to bear on the sane but dormant core of each individual. This skill was now exercised upon the galactic continent with triumphant but also tragic effect; for even this skill was not omnipotent. There appeared here and there among the mad worlds a strange and spreading “disease” of the mind. To the orthodox imperialists in those worlds themselves it seemed a madness; but it was in fact a late and ineffectual waking into sanity on the part of beings whose nature had been molded through and through for madness in a mad environment.

The course of this “disease” of sanity in a mad world ran generally as follows. Individuals here and there, while still playing their part in the well-disciplined action and communal thought of the world, would find themselves teased by private doubts and disgusts opposed to the dearest assumptions of the world in which they lived, doubts of the worth of record-breaking travel and record-breaking empire, and disgust with the cult of mechanical triumph and intellectual servility and the divinity of the race. As these disturbing thoughts increased, the bewildered individuals would begin to fear for their own “sanity.” Presently they would cautiously sound their neighbors. Little by little, doubt would become more widespread and more vocal, until at last considerable minorities in each world, though still playing their official part, would lose contact with the communal mind, and become mere isolated individuals; but individuals at heart more sane than the lofty communal mind from which they had fallen. The orthodox majority, horrified at this mental disintegration, would then apply the familiar ruthless methods that had been used so successfully in the uncivilized outposts of empire. The dissentients would be arrested, and either destroyed outright or concentrated upon the most inhospitable planet, in the hope that their torture might prove an effective warning to others.

This policy failed. The strange mental disease spread more and more rapidly, till the “lunatics” outnumbered the “sane.” There followed civil wars, mass-martyrdom of devoted pacifists, dissension among the imperialists, a steady increase of “lunacy” in every world of the empire. The whole imperial organization fell to pieces; and since the aristocratic worlds that formed the backbone of empire were as impotent as soldier-ants to maintain themselves without the service and tribute of the subject worlds, the loss of empire doomed them to death. When almost the whole population of such a world had gone sane, great efforts would be made to reorganize its life for self-sufficiency and peace. It might have been expected that this task, though difficult, would not have defeated a population of beings whose sheer intelligence and social loyalty were incomparably greater than anything known on earth. But there were unexpected difficulties, not economic but psychological. These beings had been fashioned for war, tyranny and empire. Though telepathic stimulation from superior minds could touch into life the slumbering germ of the spirit in them, and help them to realize the triviality of their world’s whole purpose, telepathic influence could not refashion their nature to such an extent that they could henceforth actually live for the spirit and renounce the old life. In spite of heroic self-discipline, they tended to sink into inertia, like wild beasts domesticated; or to run amok, and exercise against one another those impulses of domination which hitherto had been directed upon subject worlds. And all this they did with profound consciousness of guilt.

For us it was heartrending to watch the agony of these worlds. Never did the newly enlightened beings lose their vision of true community and of the spiritual life; but though the vision haunted them, the power to realize it in the detail of action was lost. Moreover, there were times when the change of heart that they had suffered seemed to them actually a change for the worse. Formerly all individuals had been perfectly disciplined to the common will, and perfectly happy in executing that will without the heart-searchings of individual responsibility. But now individuals were mere individuals; and all were tormented by mutual suspicion and by violent propensities for self-seeking.

The issue of this appalling struggle in the minds of these former imperialists depended on the extent to which specialization for empire had affected them. In a few young worlds, in which specialization had not gone deep, a period of chaos was followed by a period of reorientation and world-planning, and in due season by sane Utopia. But in most of these worlds no such escape was possible. Either chaos persisted till racial decline set in, and the world sank to the human, the sub-human, the merely animal states; or else, in a few cases only, the discrepancy between the ideal and the actual was so distressing that the whole race committed suicide.

We could not long endure the spectacle of scores of worlds falling into psychological ruin. Yet the Sub-Galactics who had caused these strange events, and continued to use their power to clarify and so destroy these minds, watched their handiwork unflinchingly. Pity they felt, pity such as we feel for a child that has broken its toy; but no indignation against fate.

Within a few thousand years every one of the imperial worlds had either transformed itself or fallen into barbarism or committed suicide.