Translated by John W. The Loeb Classical Library. Before using any portion of this text in any theme, essay, research paper, thesis, or dissertation, please read the disclaimer.
That having been made clear: The Culture is a group-civilisation formed from seven or eight humanoid species, space-living elements of which established a loose federation approximately nine thousand years ago. The ships and habitats which formed the original alliance required each others' support to pursue and maintain their independence from the political power structures - principally those of mature nation-states and autonomous commercial concerns - they had evolved from.
The galaxy our galaxy in the Culture stories is a place long lived-in, and scattered with a variety of life-forms. In its vast and complicated history it has seen waves of empires, federations, colonisations, die-backs, wars, species-specific dark ages, renaissances, periods of mega-structure building and destruction, and whole ages of benign indifference and malign neglect.
At the time of the Culture stories, there are perhaps a few dozen major space-faring civilisations, hundreds of minor ones, tens of thousands of Wit life altering conditions essay who might develop space-travel, and an uncountable number who have been there, done that, and have either gone into locatable but insular retreats to contemplate who-knows-what, or disappeared from the normal universe altogether to cultivate lives even less comprehensible.
In this era, the Culture is one of the more energetic civilisations, and initially - after its formation, which was not without vicissitudes - by a chance of timing found a relatively quiet galaxy around it, in which there were various other fairly mature civilisations going about their business, traces and relics of the elder cultures scattered about the place, and - due to the fact nobody Wit life altering conditions essay had bothered to go wandering on a grand scale for a comparatively long time - lots of interesting 'undiscovered' star systems to explore The Culture, in its history and its on-going form, is an expression of the idea that the nature of space itself determines the type of civilisations which will thrive there.
The thought processes of a tribe, a clan, a country or a nation-state are essentially two-dimensional, and the nature of their power depends on the same flatness. Territory is all-important; resources, living-space, lines of communication; all are determined by the nature of the plane that the plane is in fact a sphere is irrelevant here ; that surface, and the fact the species concerned are bound to it during their evolution, determines the mind-set of a ground-living species.
The mind-set of an aquatic or avian species is, of course, rather different. Essentially, the contention is that our currently dominant power systems cannot long survive in space; beyond a certain technological level a degree of anarchy is arguably inevitable and anyway preferable.
On a planet, enclaves can be surrounded, besieged, attacked; the superior forces of a state or corporation - hereafter referred to as hegemonies - will tend to prevail. In space, a break-away movement will be far more difficult to control, especially if significant parts of it are based on ships or mobile habitats.
Outright destruction of rebellious ships or habitats - pour encouragez les autres - of course remains an option for the controlling power, but all the usual rules of uprising realpolitik still apply, especially that concerning the peculiar dialectic of dissent which - simply stated - dictates that in all but the most dedicatedly repressive hegemonies, if in a sizable population there are one hundred rebels, all of whom are then rounded up and killed, the number of rebels present at the end of the day is not zero, and not even one hundred, but two hundred or three hundred or more; an equation based on human nature which seems often to baffle the military and political mind.
Rebellion, then once space-going and space-living become commonplacebecomes easier than it might be on the surface of a planet. Even so, this is certainly the most vulnerable point in the time-line of the Culture's existence, the point at which it is easiest to argue for things turning out quite differently, as the extent and sophistication of the hegemony's control mechanisms - and its ability and will to repress - battles against the ingenuity, skill, solidarity and bravery of the rebellious ships and habitats, and indeed the assumption here is that this point has been reached before and the hegemony has won Concomitant with this is the argument that the nature of life in space - that vulnerability, as mentioned above - would mean that while ships and habitats might more easily become independent from each other and from their legally progenitative hegemonies, their crew - or inhabitants - would always be aware of their reliance on each other, and on the technology which allowed them to live in space.
Succinctly; socialism within, anarchy without. This broad result is - in the long run - independent of the initial social and economic conditions which give rise to it. Let me state here a personal conviction that appears, right now, to be profoundly unfashionable; which is that a planned economy can be more productive - and more morally desirable - than one left to market forces.
The market is a good example of evolution in action; the try-everything-and-see-what- -works approach. This might provide a perfectly morally satisfactory resource-management system so long as there was absolutely no question of any sentient creature ever being treated purely as one of those resources.
The market, for all its profoundly inelegant complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is - without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset - intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.
It is, arguably, in the elevation of this profoundly mechanistic and in that sense perversely innocent system to a position above all other moral, philosophical and political values and considerations that humankind displays most convincingly both its present intellectual [immaturity and] - through grossly pursued selfishness rather than the applied hatred of others - a kind of synthetic evil.
Intelligence, which is capable of looking farther ahead than the next aggressive mutation, can set up long-term aims and work towards them; the same amount of raw invention that bursts in all directions from the market can be - to some degree - channelled and directed, so that while the market merely shines and the feudal guttersthe planned lases, reaching out coherently and efficiently towards agreed-on goals.
What is vital for such a scheme, however, and what was always missing in the planned economies of our world's experience, is the continual, intimate and decisive participation of the mass of the citizenry in determining these goals, and designing as well as implementing the plans which should lead towards them.
Of course, there is a place for serendipity and chance in any sensibly envisaged plan, and the degree to which this would affect the higher functions of a democratically designed economy would be one of the most important parameters to be set The Culture, of course, has gone beyond even that, to an economy so much a part of society it is hardly worthy of a separate definition, and which is limited only by imagination, philosophy and mannersand the idea of minimally wasteful elegance; a kind of galactic ecological awareness allied to a desire to create beauty and goodness.
Whatever; in the end practice as ever will outshine theory. As mentioned above, there is another force at work in the Culture aside from the nature of its human inhabitants and the limitations and opportunities presented by life in space, and that is Artificial Intelligence.
This is taken for granted in the Culture stories, and - unlike FTL travel - is not only likely in the future of our own species, but probably inevitable always assuming homo sapiens avoids destruction. Certainly there are arguments against the possibility of Artificial Intelligence, but they tend to boil down to one of three assertions: I leave all the more than nominally self-aware readers to spot the logical problem with that argument.
It is, of course, entirely possible that real AIs will refuse to have anything to do with their human creators or rather, perhaps, the human creators of their non-human creatorsbut assuming that they do - and the design of their software may be amenable to optimization in this regard - I would argue that it is quite possible they would agree to help further the aims of their source civilisation a contention we'll return to shortly.
At this point, regardless of whatever alterations humanity might impose on itself through genetic manipulation, humanity would no longer be a one-sentience-type species. The future of our species would affect, be affected by and coexist with the future of the AI life-forms we create. The Culture reached this phase at around the same time as it began to inhabit space.
Its AIs cooperate with the humans of the civilisation; at first the struggle is simply to survive and thrive in space; later - when the technology required to do so has become mundane - the task becomes less physical, more metaphysical, and the aims of civilisation moral rather than material.
Briefly, nothing and nobody in the Culture is exploited. It is essentially an automated civilisation in its manufacturing processes, with human labour restricted to something indistinguishable from play, or a hobby.
No machine is exploited, either; the idea here being that any job can be automated in such a way as to ensure that it can be done by a machine well below the level of potential consciousness; what to us would be a stunningly sophisticated computer running a factory for example would be looked on by the Culture's AIs as a glorified calculator, and no more exploited than an insect is exploited when it pollinates a fruit tree a human later eats a fruit from.
Where intelligent supervision of a manufacturing or maintenance operation is required, the intellectual challenge involved and the relative lightness of the effort required would make such supervision rewarding and enjoyable, whether for human or machine.
The precise degree of supervision required can be adjusted to a level which satisfies the demand for it arising from the nature of the civilisation's members. People - and, I'd argue, the sort of conscious machines which would happily cooperate with them - hate to feel exploited, but they also hate to feel useless.The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention [Meredith Maran] on leslutinsduphoenix.com *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers.
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