Dreamed 1985/6/12 by Chris Wayan
I'm visiting a poor planet. Cool and dry, with a sparse biosphere, and few minerals or fossil fuels. It was colonized by a group who had to scatter to survive as foresters and hardscrabble farmers. Isolated, backward, often malnourished, they look like Appalachian hillbillies.
Then a bunch of high-tech yuppies landed. They farm one large valley and have built the world's only city.
Some hillbillies drift into town looking for work. They staff a factory making blue amphorae--storage pots, basically. I meet one woman there who's pretty cute--doesn't have that malnourished look. I'd ask her out, but she has a lover and a child. Oh well, just friends, then! Play with her baby--toss a red tasseled ball, and the baby tries to toss it back, fascinated by the bright shiny thing... like this city, a bauble on the dusty breast of this sad world.
The hillbillies decide to invade Yuptown. An army converges on the city. We ride a bus in. Wow. The developed area is fifty miles wide, intensively farmed, bright with electric lights. Almost like old Earth! Their infrastructure is big enough to have surpluses--the first this world's ever seen! I think "They aren't colonists any more. They're here to stay, no matter what changes." But the hillbilly girl says "The energy they used to build their shiny city is a good chunk of our whole world's supply of fossil fuel." Her husband adds "and their pollution's killing the woods and fields downwind, and the groundwater's dropping. A richer world could take the strain, but not this one."
They meet with a Yuptown representative. He shows us a 3D holodisplay of prosperity and economic output, over time. It's a long flat curve that suddenly steepens and rises off the chart, like old Earth's population curve. He says "We're in the crisis at the sharp bend of the curve. We call it the "platform"--the dangerous place you step onto the train. When a people reaches that point in their development, they need guidance, and the system must divert its surplus to them to get them started on the upswing. Once they're USED to change, they can progress on their own. But on THIS poor world, we have such a small amount of surplus even now that we had to decide whether to give it out equally, or to the poorest people, or to those on the platform. We chose the platform. We'll innovate gradually here in the city, let those who move here join in the system, but leave the hills mostly alone, so the people don't go through a shock. The trick is to limit the number of people going through the transition at one time... to keep the flow even. Thus we won't overtax our resources." In the display cube, I see ghostly people walking up to the platform and one by one leaping into the air, and zooming up along the path of the transparent curve. Exponential flyers!
It sounds sensible--a little self-indulgent, but not the pure selfishness I suspected. They do plan to give the hillbillies their fair share--if they want it.
But the hillbillies are neither jealous nor Luddites. They have their own calculations--and they're grim. "The ecosystem can't handle it. Even the amenities you Yups think are basic, like your TVs and stereos and all your electric lights, must be cut way back. More darkness, more silence. Even hanging out in cafes and talking like this too much... it's a stress. You can't sustain it. It must stop. And if you WON'T stop... we'll MAKE you stop. With violence, if need be."
I think "Oh, shit." And wake.
NOTE NEXT MORNING
Uh-oh. I treat my social reluctance as neurotic, as a saboteur. But according to ITS calculations, I'm at the limit of my resources--too much stress. Just being around people is too much now. At least my hillbilly, my BODY, feels so strongly it's on the verge of violent rebellion! Am I truly deluded about what I can handle?
NOTE YEARS LATER
That day at work, I had a new task: lugging books from the Stanford Library backlog, to catalog them at last. It was hot and stifling and endless. I got sick! I thought it was just the heat and heavy lifting. I didn't know yet I was reacting to pesticides sprayed on the books to prevent insect damage, or that I'd react every single time I handled those books, over the next weeks and months. Or that my co-workers were reacting too, without knowing why. No one warned us, of course! But already, the first day, my body knew. Bodies aren't fools. They make their own deductions.
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