This world of imagination is the world of eternity. – William Blake
In a place that is not a place as material beings understand the term, on a plane of existence several levels above our own, three friends came together to share stories of their travels since the last time they had met. I shall refer to them as Red, Green and Blue, but what they actually call themselves (if indeed they use a concept as crude as “name”) I do not know. As was their custom they eventually lapsed into a philosophical discussion, debating various ideas in much the same way as sentient beings everywhere in the multiverse do, and one of the topics they touched upon was the ephemeral nature of the societies created by material beings. Soon the conversation turned to a comparison of these societies, and they began to speculate about which of these had the lowest likelihood of still existing in a recognizable form by the time they got around to visiting it again.
“I visited a world whose inhabitants were expending its resources at a shocking rate,” ventured Red. “They had developed technological means of improving their physical conditions, but made not the slightest effort to calculate the probable supply of the raw materials consumed in the process, nor even the most basic contingency plans for the eventual depletion of those materials. Though enough of them were skilled in the development and use of technology to maintain and even improve their control over their environment, the majority of the population was fixated on an irrational belief system which pretended that beings from higher planes like ourselves had nothing better to do than to watch over them constantly, protecting them from the consequences of their own foolish actions. Though they believed such beings could transcend the laws of nature and violate conservation of energy, they simultaneously imagined that the beings were obsessed with the tiniest details of their behavior, and would dole out reward or punishment based upon how closely each individual could adhere to a set of arbitrary, pointless and mutually contradictory rules. So rather than prepare themselves for the ultimate necessity of modifying their procedures to maintain or improve their current standards of living, they instead devoted tremendous effort to asking nonexistent benefactors to somehow materialize favorable consequences for them, and to spying on each other to ensure nobody was breaking any of the silly rules which they imagined their incorporeal benefactors to care about above all else.
“Surely, such a misguided sense of priorities must eventually result in catastrophe; if they fail to think ahead they must eventually reach a point where their resources run out, and when that happens their society must either collapse or decline into barbarism.”
“That is indeed a sorry situation,” replied Green, “but I think we must all agree that whatever the chances of such a civilization’s survival, they would be lower still if those hapless creatures were burdened with even more deficiencies. I visited a world very like the one you just described, but in addition to the resource depletion, irrational belief system and refusal to face reality, they were also incredibly violent. A large fraction of their already-limited means was expended in the infliction of harm upon one another, and when they could find no sensible reason to do so they invented ridiculous ones. Like the beings you visited, they were obsessed with monitoring each others’ mindless obedience to foolish regulations, but they further believed that they had the right to inflict violence upon each other for even the smallest and most inconsequential violations of those regulations. They even selected from among their number a designated group whose entire purpose was to go about not only looking for rule-breaking, but to actually deceive their fellows into breaking rules so as to provide an excuse for the infliction of violence. Nor was this violence limited by some principle of proportionality; these special agents were allowed to inflict grievous, even fatal harm upon their victims for even the tiniest transgression of the most obscure rule. And when they could not discover a large enough number of rule-breakers to satisfy their assigned quotas, they would simply pick victims at random, falsely accuse them and inflict harm just as though they had actually done whatever it was they were accused of.”
“Incredible!” rejoined Red.
“There’s more. Though there were already so many rules it was totally impossible for any of them to ever learn them all, they designated another group whose entire function was to invent even more of them, and to ensure they were too complicated for the ordinary individual to understand; they were written in a form of code so that none without special training could even hope to comprehend them. And if these rule-makers failed to make enough new rules to satisfy certain other individuals, they were criticized for inefficiency.
“It seems inconceivable that such a civilization could even last long enough to run out of resources; surely they must destroy themselves well before that point.”
But then it was Blue’s turn. “I fear that the world I visited must come to a bad end even more quickly still, for its inhabitants were afflicted by all of the behavioral flaws the two of you have described, and another which I consider still worse. Like many material life-forms, they reproduced sexually and the biological drive to mate was a strong one. But though the act of reproductive union was so pleasant to them that they would use every opportunity to engage in it, even when biological conditions did not allow impregnation, they simultaneously believed that the act rendered them ritually impure. A very large fraction of their arbitrary rules were dedicated to restricting the act of mating, and infractions of these rules were held to be among the most serious of all, and subject to some of the harshest penalties in the society. Furthermore, mated pairs were supposed to be exclusive despite the fact that one of the biological sexes tended to have a much stronger and less selective drive than the other, and though transgressions against that exclusivity were extremely common they all pretended that their own mates would never behave so. An entire profession was dedicated to allowing the expenditure of such urges in a controlled fashion so as to reduce the potential harm resulting from transgressive mating; without this profession the long-term pair-bonding upon which their entire social structure was built would undoubtedly fail far more often than it did. Yet those who practiced it were vilified and stigmatized by most of their societies, even by those who used their services, and the dedicated rule-enforcers spent wildly disproportionate amounts of time and effort in their persecution. Furthermore, they seemed to labor under the delusion that if they could only cage everyone they discovered in this transaction, the biological basis for it would vanish without affecting their rate of population replacement.
“Given that such a large fraction of their racial energies was expended upon a wholly futile task which, if they could somehow succeed at it, would totally destroy the foundations of their society, I cannot believe that this culture still exists in the form I perceived it. Such mass derangement must surely prove disastrous within a relatively small number of generations.”
The friends agreed that the world Blue had visited must indeed have fallen into chaos by now, and was therefore the worst of all those they had seen. Perhaps they were wrong; it may be that as astral entities they had an imperfect understanding of the tenacity and adaptability of material life. Or perhaps the time-scale on which they functioned was so protracted that nearly any society of material beings would perish quickly by their standards; it may be that “soon” to them would be twice ten thousand years by the way we measure time. Conversely, it may be that my poor, ephemeral brain of matter was unable to grasp the true nature of their conversation, and that upon awakening from this vision I filled in the gaps with my own mortal preoccupations. And really, in all likelihood, Red, Green and Blue exist only in my imagination (and now in yours), and this entire tale is but the idle fancy of a tired and cynical mind.
We’d better hope so, anyway.