Planetary energy grid

The ancient Chinese had a name for it: Feng Shui. We call it energy flow. It is the same thing, the same thought: energy is everywhere, but only a fraction of it is tapped by humans for their purposes. Now the Progenitors have taught us that we can tap not only our own latent abilities, but the latent abilities of the Universe itself.

— Prophet Cha Dawn, “Planet Rising”

The teachings of Feng Shui do indeed concern themselves with energy flows. These flows are, however, ever so slightly more metaphorical than Cha Dawn make it out to be. When applied to interior decoration – a topic both more and less science fiction than one would imagine – the gist of it is to keep the energy pathways clear, so as to allow it to flow freely throughout your domicile. When applied to one’s personal life, it centers on not leaving things undone or unfinished, since doing so will tie up your energies and prevent you from going with the flow (wherever it might take you). To phrase it inelegantly, it’s about not getting caught up in the past and allowing your present being to become the full extent of what it could be (a thought not too dissimilar from Aristotle’s notion of flourishing).

It makes sense to carry the analogy over to an energy based economy. The smoother, faster and more frictionless energy can move from one place to another, the more readily it can do what it needs to accomplish. Here, surprisingly, the Cultists find themselves in agreement with Morgan’s notion that energy is life, and thus that the more energy can be mobilized, the more life can be brought about. Where Morgan sees this through the lens of a relentless free marketeering ideology, Cha Dawn approaches it through the prism of Chinese philosophy. Both agree that the uninterrupted flow of energy is the way to go, but one wonders just how far this agreement will carry them.

As to tapping the energies of the Universe, it is an open question how much of this comes down to marveling at the Progenitor ability to perceive and alter resonance fields, and how much further Cha Dawn carries the principle into a more universalized notion of energy. It stands to reason that the colonists, upon having encountered the strange energy fields employed by the aliens, become fascinated by this new manifestation of reality that was there all along without anyone noticing. It also stands to reason that the same principle might apply to other previously hidden dimensions, just waiting to be discovered by intrepid researchers or spiritual seekers. The tangible economic results (such as the planetary energy grid) will ensure that no-nonsense, data driven researchers will keep searching for said dimensions using all available tools of the trade (tricks, as Becker would have it). The slightly less tangible results, in turn, will ensure that spiritual seekers of all stripes will dig in and use every secret recipe in their renegade repertoires to uncover yet another facet of the Mystery. It may very well be that resonance fields are the quantum mechanics of the 23rd century, sparking inspiring discoveries in the scientific realm and completely unrelated set of inspirations in its cultural counterpart.

The Empath Guild

Symbols are the key to telepathy. The mind wraps its secrets in symbols; when we discover the symbols that shape our enemy’s thought, we can penetrate the vault of his mind.

— Lady Deirdre Skye, “Our Secret War”

With the advent of Centauri empathy, it follows that there will be specialists focusing on this specific area of inquiry. Modern societies rely on an ever fine grained division of labor, and it is only natural that communing with the ecology in general and Planet in particular becomes another field of expertise. While everyone is affected by technological changes, only those involved with developing or applying it will see the nitty gritty details of the process. The rest will see the results of said process, but will mostly be too preoccupied with their own specialization to pay any further heed than that.

The quote suggests that the new emotional maturity attained through researching the prerequisite technology is weaponized against other factions. By means of semiotics – the study of signs and symbols – the secret of mind reading will finally be unlocked. Backed up by the Secrets of the human brain, this might be more literal than a first glance would suggest. The image of supercharged 20th century media studies scholars running roughshod over the unwitting minds of 23rd century colonists is too good to pass up.

Empathetic readers might detect a slight case of scepticism on my part as to the feasibility of this approach. This is partly due to my background in media studies, where semiotics used to be the big thing but (with apologies to Barthes) has been demoted to the status of a commonly known trope, and is mostly taught as a means to give historical context to the development of the discipline. More importantly, it is due to the dissonance between the implications of the parent technology and the explications of this secret project. It makes sense for it to allow the creation of a guild of especially adept diplomats, able to broker deals and facilitate beneficial developments through strategic application of understanding and empathy (with all the advantages that comes from being a first mover). It does not, however, make sense to posit said guild as a pointed intelligence force masterminding its way into the semiotic secret vaults of one’s enemies. It is an ambition that is too emotionally small for the level of maturity it presupposes.

One might object to this by pointing out that I’ve somehow gotten stuck on the image of warrior media studies scholars. Which would be true. But I maintain – channeling the spirit of Barthes – that the author is wrong. Empathy is not an adversarial unlocking of secrets; it is about placing things in such an explanatory context that the whole notion of secrets becomes orthogonal to the equation. The implications of just what Centauri Empathy entails are not drawn far enough, leaving us with a non-specialist application of a specialist competence. Which, to be fair, is what science fiction is all about (for everyone who is not literally Asimov).

There is a slightly different possible reading of this, and that is that what is connoted is not semiotics, but discourse analysis. Which, for all intents and purposes, is a slightly more evolved supercharged 20th century media studies scholar running roughshod over the unwitting minds of 23th century colonists. This image, too, is also too good to pass up.

The citizen’s defense force

As the writhing, teeming mass of Mind Worms swarmed over the outer perimeter, we saw the defenders recoil in horror. “Stay calm! Use your flame guns!” shouted the commander, but to no avail. It is well known that the Mind Worm Boil uses psychic terror to paralyze its prey, and then carefully implants ravenous larvae in the brains of its still-conscious victims. Even with the best weapons, only the most disciplined troops can resist this horrific attack.

— Lady Deirdre Skye, “Our Secret War”

It is interesting that this wonder requires Intellectual integrity specifically, and not one of the other, more militaristic technologies. It would make sense for it to require, for instance, Doctrine: Loyalty: a population so devoted to the ideological cause that they would join in the base defense at great risk to their own lives. Neural grafting or Advanced military algorithms would also be good candidates – the words “chipping in” would take on a slightly more literal connotation. However, these contrafactuals are not the case, and we are left to face the conundrum of why Intellectual integrity in particular is the required technology.

As we saw in the previous post, the overall aim of said technology was the removal of error and doubt. Not by force, coercion or habit, but by Habermasian reason and the unforced force of the better argument. With a sufficiently stringent application of facts and logic, rallying for the cause of one’s own faction becomes not a duty, obligation or even a paid mercenary gig, but a philosophically borne out necessity. When all is said and done, when all the cards are put on the table, when all facts have been taken into account – it is simply the correct thing to do.

The fact that this is a secret project at all, rather than something every faction gets by default (as implemented in later civ games, such as VI, where every city gets a ranged attack after researching a certain tech) implies that there is something more going on than mere Hegelian patriotism. If the state is the embodiment of the spirit of history, as Hegel put it, then it should apply equally to all factions. The specificity and particularity of universal truth is an unsolved and unsolvable contradiction – if truth is universal, then why am I the only one to see it? Writ large: if truth is universal, then how come other factions arrive at different conclusions?

To be sure, the environmental constraints outline by Deidre in the quote above suggests that anything less than total conviction and dedication to the cause results in instant and painful death at the metaphorical hands of the mind words. Being under attack puts a certain urgency to the question of who is right and who is wrong. In the case of mind worms, the stakes are life and death. In the case of other factions, it becomes slightly murkier. Especially if a creeping doubt seeps in and suggests that the other faction might have been right all along, and that defending against them is – for reasons that can be laid out and scrutinized by the faculties of the mind – objectively wrong. As Sinder Roze implied, you need not destroy your enemy, merely win them over.

The Citizen’s defense force, thus, is less of a military endeavor than a philosophical one. However, on Chiron, these two aspects of the human condition are so intertwined as to be inseparable. Truly, the time of Plato’s guardian class has come.

The planetary transit system

As distances vanish and the people can flow freely from place to place, society will cross a psychological specific heat boundary and enter a new state. No longer a solid or liquid, we have become as a vapor and will expand to fill all available space. And like a gas, we shall not be easily contained.

– Sister Miriam Godwinson, “But for the Grace of God”

Most secret projects are solutions to recurring problems on Chiron. The Planetary transit system solves the problem of how to get from one base to another. Indeed, how to get from any base to any other base. In the early days, taking five steps outside of the perimeter of a base meant a high likelihood of a mind worm having you for breakfast. This is not conducive to planetary-wide commerce or the free exchange of ideas between factions. What it meant was that for most colonists, the base and its immediate surrounding was the entirety of their lifeworld; like an ancient Greek city state, the polis was where it was at.

In the earliest of early days, the impact of this local focus was a function of necessity rather than anything else. When every day is a new all hands on deck situation, there is little time to think of taking a leisurely trip to the next base over. As the colonists settled things down (in all senses of the word), inter-base travel gradually changed from a hazardous anabasis to a routine commute. Ever so slowly, the hardy pioneers were replaced by conference attendees and motivational speakers going to and fro. The grim realities of survival of an alien world were pushed aside for the more intricate problem of how to survive in a highly specialized industrial economy.

We might compare this project to the expansion of railway systems on Earth. The completed construction of a train station meant not only that trains could arrive, but also that the imperatives of places far away could make themselves felt on a very immediate basis. Local goods could be transported and sold to far-off places, which meant that it became profitable to produce more of them, more than the local population could ever use. If prices went up, this meant good times; if prices went down, the company town faced hard times. In both cases, the fate of a local city was determined by factors far away. What arrived on the train was not only goods and people, but a new social order, where the immediate felt experience could not be relied upon to predict how the future would shape up. The arrival of the railway meant an abstraction of reality.

The same goes for the Planetary transit system. The heat boundary that Miriam mentions marks the transition from a precarious colony barely scraping by to a society where everyone can go everywhere. This means that ‘everywhere’ goes from being a set of very particular places (a city), to becoming possible destinations with varying degrees of sameness (a global village). The thing that separates place a from place b is that it takes slightly longer to get to the one than the other, which in the grand scheme of things is not much of a difference at all. Whether this heralds a new golden age of cosmopolitan exchange (as envisioned by Kant) or the nivellation of difference under the indifferent brutality of sameness (as per Kunstler), remains to be seen.

The Command Nexus

Information, the first principle of warfare, must form the foundation of all your efforts. Know, of course, thine enemy. But in knowing him do not forget above all to know thyself. The commander who embraces this totality of battle shall win even with the inferior force.

– Spartan Battle Manual

Continuing the trend of centralized command structures established in Doctrine: Loyalty, the Command Nexus takes it one step further. While it is reasonable to think that every faction get their own command nexi over time – by necessity, if for no other reason – the Command Nexus represents a singular devotion to integrating military coordination into the fabric of society to such a degree that it happens seemingly automatically. It becomes just another routine thing to include in planning documents and maintenance operations.

The Spartans would, of course, be a natural fit for this secret project. Their inherent ambition to become the best warriors on each and every possible field of battle goes hand in hand with ensuring that everything is known about where there’s a war to be fought. Information must not only flow from where the enemies are, but also where they could potentially be. Not only to be able to muster a defense should they attack along those vectors, but also to enable counterattacks along these very same lines. If the enemy does not know about these potential battlefields, then they provide a means through which to harass, sabotage or even destroy them if caught unawares. Knowing is half the battle.

The other half of the battle is being able to project force wherever and whenever it is warranted. This is, above all else, a question of organization and infrastructure. Knowing which forces are where and what capacities they possess is a prerequisite for issuing orders relevant to the situation; being able to distribute these orders in a swift and reliable manner is not something to be taken for granted. It requires dedicated efforts, hardened lines of communication and extensive drilling to keep the flows of information open and operational. War is, above and beyond anything else, an intensely social activity.

The Spartan Battle Manual is – from what we have seen of it – keen on emphasizing the possibility of inferior forces winning despite the odds. Most of it comes down to organization and readiness. Having more numbers than the enemy means very little when they know where to strike in order to cause chaos and disarray. As Clausewitz pointed out, the main objective of any battle is to disable the enemy’s capacity to resist, not to destroy them. Cut off the lines of communication, split up the troops in disparate contingents and undermine every point where coordinated resistance can be mounted – and victory is achieved.

All of this underscores the importance of a centralized command structure and of integrating it with society as a whole. While the Spartans make a virtue of necessity, other factions will have to follow suit to some degree. As the old saying goes: no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. But planning is essential.

The Virtual World

What do I care for your suffering? Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output.

– Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Essays on Mind and Matter”

The juxtaposition of this secret project with this Yang quote is very reflective of Alpha Centauri’s origin in the 90s. As we saw in the post on the Data Angels, cyberspace was different back then: it was a place where everything was possible, and thus you could throw anything at it to see if it sticks. If virtual reality, then why not real virtuality? There might be something to it, after all.

Hindsight does not help in this particular regard, given that this kind of cybernihilism tends to flower in seedy parts of the web where toxic masculinity is cultivated as a virtue. Twenty years on, as real and virtual have collapsed into one another and become post-digital, the whole notion of a (let alone the) virtual world is rather disingenuous. Sure, disappearing into a virtual world was a tempting proposition back in the days (and it featured prominently in the Alpha Centauri lore books), but we all know someone who’ve disappeared into World of Warcraft, and all that this entails. There was something to it, and it bore unpleasant fruits.

For all this, we have not realized the dream of the Virtual World: a place wherein you fully immerse yourself to the detriment of everything else. The Matrix has yet to materialize (pun intended), but the idea that it inevitably will, or even should, has faded to such a degree that you need a certain cultural sensibility to remember its intensity. As with those who were enthusiastic about 70s music in the 90s, there is a certain remove which marks is as a different experience than actually being there, in time and space. If the Virtual World is a decontextualization device, then it ironically needs to be recontextualized.

Anything is possible in the virtual world. You can be anyone you want, anything you want; Sherry Turkle can write extended passages psychoanalyzing the significance of online avatars. On the internet, no one knows you are a dog. Radical freedom is around the corner, when the bonds of the physical world are shattered and we become free to pursue who we really want to be, given our newfound access to all the great works of art and literature ever created in human history –

It would be dystopic to a fault to posit a virtual world consisting entirely of middling youtube celebs being their personal brands, but it would not be too far off. As a cyberculture, we have received vast quantities of information about what it means to live in a hyperconnected world where phrases such as “surfing on the digital superhighway” makes sense. It turns out that Yang’s phrasing in terms of input and output does not hold. It all becomes a feedback loop where a select few bits of data becomes iterated upon until it ceases to be recognizable from without.

Twenty years later, we have lost all ability to can. Which, considering, might be a good thing.

The Weather Paradigm

I shall not confront Planet as an enemy, but shall accept its mysteries as gifts to be cherished. Nor shall I crudely seek to peel the layers away like the skin from an onion. Instead I shall gather them together as the tree gathers the breeze. The wind shall blow and I shall bend. The sky shall open and I shall drink my fill.

– Gaian Acolyte’s Prayer

The weather paradigm is, at its core, an acceptance of the fact that ecological systems will do what they do regardless of whether you want them to or not, and that in the long run it is better to adapt to it than to resist it. Rains will fall or they will not fall; it will be sunny or it will be cloudy; there will be floods or there will be drought. These things are out of one’s control, and admitting this is the first step towards being able to utilize them more efficiently.

Presented in this way, it might seem obvious. However, it takes a great deal or reflection to arrive at this seemingly straightforward proposition. For starters, this point of view looks at ecology on a systems level rather than at a human level; this is not an answer to the question “what do I need to do in order to increase the output of my farm?” Rather, it is a question of its own: where, knowing what we know about the flows of energy, water and minerals, would it be prudent to locate a farm? The difference is subtle, but crucial. In the former case, you have already decided where to grow things, and now seek to optimize for that position. In the weather paradigm, you constantly keep yourself attuned to the various flows and adjust accordingly, perhaps even moving the farm altogether if that seems the more prudent option.

This is a more overall understanding of ecology, and moreover it is a very dedicated way of organizing a society. No one person can be this in tune with the ecological system, or even gather sufficient data on their own to approach such a state. There is no “I” in “team”, less so in “ecology”. The weather paradigm is above all a societal effort, consisting of data gathering, forecasting, theoretical ecological modeling and – not least – legal flexibility. It is ecological insight turned into societal practice, on every level, with tremendous benefits following from it.

It is interesting to note that this secret project does not reduce ecological damage caused by terraforming efforts – it only makes these efforts easier and faster to complete. Understanding how a system works and how to adapt to it to get the best result does not automatically translate into being in harmony with it. Humanity at this stage might be able to understand Planet and its ways, but that does not necessarily mean Planet likes what humanity is up to. The map is not the territory.