A Few Things Ill Considered

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 34 Table of Contents Chapter 36

Chapter 35

Prometheus, March 8, 2056

To be honest, the Group 2 debacle was more of a public relations disaster than an ecological one. The damage was dramatic, but relatively restricted. Within 48 hours someone leaked the hazmat team video on the internet and all hell broke loose. The media were all over us.

Rhamaposa survived only with the intervention of the Secretary General and several heads of state, including the Asian Union and the USSA. I have no proof, but I’m sure they knew of the pressure exerted by Corella, a North American corporation.

Edie surprised me by taking to the media attention with relish. I took this to mean that she was getting bored and when I raised the subject after supper one night, she didn’t answer at first.

“I was able to handle all of their questions,” she said after 10 or 15 seconds. “Well, I told them right away not to ask me anything technical because I didn’t know anything about that stuff anyway. I think they just wanted a pretty face on a human interest story, you know?”

I nodded.

“The thing is I didn’t know how to handle the argument from formless fear.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, you know, ‘You are playing with forces humans are not meant to understand,'” she intoned in a mock dramatic voice.

I smiled at her antic.

“How do you deal with that?” she asked quite seriously, then slipped into another rougher voice. “Yes, Oggh, it can burn you, but fire will keep you warm.”

“Prometheus.”

She looked puzzled and I guessed she didn’t know the story. “Prometheus was sentenced to eternal torture for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans.”

“For stealing fire…” She thought about that. “That reminds me of something else I’ve always wondered about. How did the Bearer of Light come to be construed as a devil? I mean, if light is warmth and understanding, then how is that bad? Is knowledge so terrible? Is it that the people who understand always shake things up?”

“It’s like the formless fear argument on the face of it,” I said, “but I think it had more to do with rivalries between early sects and cults than with psychological theories, mythological consistency or theological implications.”

Edie looked doubtful. “Maybe, but the impulse has been there since the beginning. What was the one thing forbidden in the Garden of Eden?”

“The knowledge of good and evil? Or was it the knowledge of sex?”

“Maybe it doesn’t matter what it was. All that really matters is that the authoritarian structure be in place. Do what I say, because I say so.”

I wasn’t sure where she was headed. “Yeah, so?”

“So, how do you know things?”

“What?”

“That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? How do you know things?” she asked.

“Well, there’s all different kinds of learning, of knowledge. Some things one learns without knowing you are doing it, like learning to speak, or learning by imitating your parents…”

“Yeah, but the point is it’s experiential, not doctrinal, and definitely not mystical. It’s not some rule in some book somewhere you have to follow because some authority figure says so. And it’s not out of the wild blue woo woo.”

She paused a second, then asked, “Why are you a scientist?”

I was a little taken aback by her suddenly incisive thoughts. I had never seen this side of her before. “Well originally, it was because I wanted to know. When I was a teenager, I was struck by the beauty and elegance of DNA. As I got older, other things came into it. Lately I’ve been driven more by concern for the future.”

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t know. I just do.”

“That doesn’t sound very scientific.”

I looked at her in surprise.

“Is it because you are afraid of dying?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Is it because you want to get ahead — at the university, in society?”

I shook my head.

“I know it isn’t money,” she said, “not from the pittance of a salary you make. So, why do you put yourself through this? Why do you care so much?”

“If we don’t tame the climate and find a better way to live, billions of people will die,” I said in exasperation.

“So what? Everybody dies.”

“Yes, but not like this, not in an exercise of collective stupidity.”

“Why not? Let the cockroaches have a shot at the golden ring after humans are gone.”

“They will just face the same problems.”

“What?”

“Every successful, intelligent species will reach a stage where it has to come to grips with its use of its planet.”

“Oh really? And how do you know this?”

I gave her a sudden sharp look. “It arises from the basic tenets of ecology. Species always breed to the limit their environment will support.”

“You’re hypothesizing on a base of one.”

“There are a lot of species on Earth. And I don’t see how else it could work on other planets.”

“Failure of imagination is not a valid reason.”

“No, I suppose not, but I just don’t see…”

Edie sat back looking at me intently. “So that’s why you’re doing this?”

“Not entirely.”

She raised an eyebrow at me.

“I cannot stand the thought that humans might trigger a massive extinction event.”

“Well…” she started.

I interrupted her. “No. Listen. You want to really know why? I’ll tell you.” I paused a second, regrouping. “You know about SETI?”

Edie nodded.

“We’ve been listening and watching with scientific instruments now for a hundred years and — nothing. A Great Silence. It looks like there is no other sentient life in the galaxy, certainly not within 1,000 lightyears. That puts a huge obligation on everyone who knows and understands.”

Edie just stared at me.

“Think about that. If we are the only sentient lifeform in the galaxy and we wipe ourselves out, it would be unforgivable — a tragedy beyond compare. That thought haunts me.”

Edie smiled and touched my hand. “There is an old Zen saying you might want to consider.”

“What’s that?”

“The ocean waves, the universe peoples.”

I smiled back. “Perhaps. Then it all comes down to the numbers.”

She wrinkled her forehead.

“I mean, how many in our galaxy and then, where are they?”

There was a substantial thump in the front room. Edie was up in a flash. She darted into the front room and then stopped with a funny expression on her face.

“What is it?”

She lifted her head towards me indicating I would see and a few seconds later, Anna came crawling around the corner of the couch. She paused, looked at her mother’s feet and then kept coming straight toward me. I watched and waited for her to draw near.

“You realize what this means?” I said, as I crouched down to lift Anna.

Edie looked puzzled.

I rubbed noses with Anna, eliciting a joyful gurgle. “Now we have to baby proof the kitchen, the whole house.”


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.

Last modified April 9, 2013

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