i’d only been doing this for a few millenia, so in hindsight i shouldn’t have been surprised by a new story. after a hundred thousand or so same variations on the same theme, a new melody stands out, i guess.
the outer edge of the orion arm of the galaxy is more or less like the outer edges of the other arms, from what i’ve been told. a lack of heavier elements – they’re much rarer out here than they are closer in to the center – makes it harder for these cultures to develop computing technology. i’d been spending the last millennium meeting with a few storymasters on every one of these planets still connected to the dream grid. up until proxima 21.224, the stories had all developed along the projected iconographic theme: people tried building a tower to the stars, which pissed off the gods who made them all unable to understand one another. all good stuff.
most of the outer-arm cultures still believed in the gods, but had decided it was more efficient to fight over how to worship one god, rather than which god to worship. we didn’t really have to bother keeping the lid on those dream-nodes – they did that for themselves. it had been sad at first, but as the distances between nodes grew larger, it just made more and more sense. fear of strangers and all that. they’d go from fighting about why the gods were pissed off to which way to please the gods to which gods to please to which gods were real to what was real to whether uncomputable functions should be banned along with possession of large primes. it’s sad to watch at first, until you start thinking about what would happen if they got out…
every time i met with the storymaster for one node, i’d get a grasp on where the next nodes were by looking for gap-attractors in the accumulated mythologies. when a goddess of the hunt lives on the moon and rides a wolf, you expect the economy to be driven primarily by the tides. so when you have an artimis, but the economy is driven by sunspots, then there are probably neighbors nearby. the moon powers the tides, so a guy who figures out how the tides work can make himself ‘master of water’ by claiming he’s doing it himself. bringing irrigation to your citystate is a great way to get yourself immortalized. you’d need a damn good story for it to be more compelling than ‘i can make the water move’ – so there’d have to be some reason you were looking elsewhere.
most people think the military has all the power. a few people have figured out that the local police are generally more in charge, and the guys at the top will all say it’s the sanitation and plumbing crews that make the world shake. all of those men are telling each other stories – which tells you where the real power lies.
a sunspot-driven economy makes sense if your planet has no moon. you’d expect that. yes, plasma harmonics are a bit trickier to figure out than gravitational lensing of the oceans, but it’s not as if any of these guys understood calculus at a conceptual level when they made their stories up. they just worked through their dreams until they’d found patterns that made sense, and went with it. a man showing thousands of others he can predict which trees will grow tall and which will shrivel up is hard to believe; we are not surprised when we are told that same man believes his pet cat speaks to him telepathically. if anything, the story becomes more believable. so he tells them he’s a god, while he knows the cat has figured it all out – and we know he’s accessing our computer through the dreamnet. you can only explain the absurd with nonsense.
i found this latest node after a few of those sunspot-based economies showed up around each other. of the 172,353 planets i’d harvested, there were 1,712 such sunspot-economies. of those, 1,571 collapsed in the same generation that the tower-schism occurred. all of the trust they’d placed in their leader dried up like an old riverbed once the tower they’d built to try and get to the stars stopped growing. typically, the old man thought his cat had ran away – and it had – but he knew he was gone if he told them that. so he lied and said the first thing that came to his head – that the gods were mad because we were trying to get up to where they live, and that people had made too much noise doing so. it made sense to him; he hated the racket of the builders trying to find out why their plans weren’t working, and he was god, right? he’d typically started believing it himself by now.
so he’d come down and say “those darned gods up there have punished us by confusing our tongues”. as this man who had all of their trust explained to them the concept of distrust, they all grew to fighting like so many children over how best to keep quiet so dad doesn’t come beat us. the introduction of the “property” concept – reserved for the nobility, of course – also helped ensure propagation of emotional awareness to at least some fraction of the population, who’d then leak it out without understanding what it meant. the remaining 141 sunspot-economies had produced just 5 reunions at the 100-generation mark, a rate which is more or less typical for economies driven by energy fluctuations at that scale.
so when i saw five of these sunspot economies – on planets with moon-wolf-huntress-goddesses – in the span of a few centuries, i knew something was up. why were so many nodes in the dreamnet here fixated on the sun? and how had four of them come out of it so well? once i had data from the network, i found a star wobbling in a close enough region, so i went down to that dreamnode for a look. the planet was tide-locked to the star. this meant half of the planet was always dark, and half was always light. the population lived in a band near the equator, slightly closer to the sun than away from it. i talked with one of the dreamkeepers there. the place was fascinating.
they are still in hunter-gatherer mode. they have no notion of hierarchy or property, and yet they have more than enough to eat. they spend their days like most hunter-gatherers – socializing, having sex, and occasionally hunting. they raise their children communally, and apparently most people see how much more stressed the parents are, and decide it isn’t worth it. they use sheepgut condoms just like most hunter-gatherers, and without written language they haven’t been able to convince themselves that this is a bad idea. in most places, the joy of children, and the desire to protect their young causes communities to find ways to grow as big as they can. somehow, on always-sunny proxima 21.224, the “artificial limit” on the population placed by awareness of how stressful kids are was apparently enough to keep them from bothering to claim territory. the tribes stayed small because only a few people had children. everybody raised them, and for most of them, watching their sibling’s stress levels go up was enough to keep them from having children of their own. the groups just kind of wandered around the planet, happy to bump into cousins every now and then.
it isn’t a strict sense of duty to gaia or respect for nature that keeps them from poisoning their water with fear and their minds with sugar – it’s basic awareness of the stress of having children, coupled with a lack of hierarchy preventing leaves from feeling worse the parent nodes. it’s as if they find less joy in having children? or perhaps they have no strong need of joy, being content and happy to do as they please all day.
obviously, something was wrong here. i had a little trouble putting my finger on it, until i realized you’re going to have a hard time convincing people to build a tower to the stars if it never gets dark