I want to dig a subterranean passage. Some progress must be made. My station up there is much too high. We are digging the pit of Babel.
– Franz Kafka, “Parables and paradoxes”, Datalinks
In the previous two chapters, we saw the laying of the foundations for what is to come. Chapter one answered the question (or solved the problem) of magnets and how they even work on this new planet. The premade ideas and tools brought from Earth were, by definition, initially not wholly adapted to the unique new circumstances the colonists found themselves in, and had to be adjusted accordingly. A new way of life requires a new way of thinking, and the only way to get into a new way of thinking is to learn by doing.
Chapter two, subsequently, answered the question of what happened when these immediate problems were solved and slightly more indirect issues had to be faced – issues such as how to organize a society, how to allocate limited resources, and how to cope with the exigencies imposed by a hostile environment and/or hostile factions. No longer were the colonists primarily responding to the immediate threats of survival, and the time to take a good long sit down to think things through had arrived. Building an ad hoc systems of wires to power the first fledgling outpost is one thing, but designing an entire infrastructural grid for a new base built to operate from the word go – that’s a taller order.
This chapter answers a third question: what comes next? What comes after ensuring the initial survival on a new planet (as players of colony building simulators know all too well, not a guaranteed outcome), and after the establishment of societal institutions designed to carry the bulk of human activities on their incorporeal shoulders? In other words – what happens after the immediate problems have been solved to such an extent that they can be delegated to specialists? Where does a society go after this?
The Kafka quote adorning the top of this page gives us an indication. The foremen and administrators, looking at the impossibility of building the Tower of Babel, conclude that admitting said impossibility would look very bad indeed on their performance reviews. They therefore swiftly proceed to reclassify their efforts to something more doable. Some progress must be made, and they are the ones who have to make it. Thus, rather than aspiring upwards, towards what we intuitively understand to be the conclusion of the project of building a tower, each specific branch of human activity digs in and becomes more of itself. Biologists become better at biology, engineers better at engineering, soldiers better at soldiering – and so on. The essence of specialization is to become good at a limited number of activities, a process which does not end merely because the initial problems that caused the specialization to appear have been – at least temporarily – solved. Progress will be made, even if it has to be invented.
Humans are territorial animals, which applies in equal measure to physical terrain as to societal divisions of labor. When urban theorist Jane Jacobs wrote of “turfs”, she pointed both to the literal interpretation of gangs claiming sections of urban territory as their own, and to the tendency of administrators and specialists to claim certain realms of human activity as their exclusive domain. Depending on where you are in the hierarchy of colonial society on Chiron, you may find yourself targeted by either or both of these claims to power. Drones are more likely to be caught up in the criminal undercurrents arising in all advanced societies, while talents are more likely to engage in the often inscrutable competition for promotion to the higher ranks of specialized fields. In either case, the olden days of taking things one day at a time are irrevocably over. You are either part of a specialization (formal or informal), or you get left behind.
The same tendency has been described in more terrestrial terms as well. Ulrich Beck called it the second modernity, to differentiate it from the first one (which we glimpsed in the last chapter). Late Bauman called it a liquid modernity, after having called it postmodernity for many years. Castells wrote of an information society, emerging wholly anew from the old order. There are a number authors making similar claims, but the overall trajectory is clear: something new is happening, which can not be explained fully in terms of the past. In our world, this means the dissolution of the expectation stable worklifes and the placement of everything under permanent precarity until further notice. Everything solid melts into air, as Marx phrased it. On Chiron, it means that the training wheels are off and that things are starting to become really science fiction-y real fast. Thus we return to Kafka’s introductory statement:
Some progress must be made. We are digging the Pit of Babel. From here on out, things will only ever become more of themselves. Dig in.