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On the way to the dining room Adano was contacted by Arizzi again: “You are confused by this situation and unsure how to react. The emotions in you will pull you to different and unprecedented directions. Do not react emotionally now. Omit your reactions and give yourself time to analyse the situation from all relevant perspectives. There’s no need to make any rash decisions.”
This remark infuriated Adano, not only because Arizzi first unleashed the worst surprise of his life on him, and now dared to lecture him about how to react to that, but especially because he was most likely right about all of this. Being angry with fallible and misguided simple was quite doable, but anger directed at persons who are nearly impeccable was hard to maintain. So, he was angry about not being able to be properly angry about Arizzi. This kind of frustrated anger felt weird and yet familiar. It was a feeling that he came to familiarize himself in the course of his interactions with Arizzi. Growing up as a member of the PCL reinterpretation community was a great privilege, but also a great holistic pain.
Diolineda claimed that this pain was worth it, but it was far from easy for Adano to have faith in this claim. He needed to talk with someone he could trust, and who wouldn’t be too biased. The best match for this description was Kanede, the event manager of his tribe who had become one of his best friends. Even though he would see her in a few seconds anyway, he contacted her via the metanet: “Dear Kanede. Are the wise always trustworthy?” The reply was almost immediate: “Dear Adano. What do you mean with ‘trustworthy’ exactly?” After a fraction of a second of reflection on that question he answered: “Is it always worth following their guidance?” The subsequent reply came so quickly, it could as well have been completely automatic: “Yes, always.”
“How can you be so sure about that?”
“Experience. Trust based on experience. Plausibility. Social proof. Formal proofs who are understood by beings who aren’t too much removed from our level of complexity. Lack of substantial contradictory evidence.”
That was the kind of answer he had always gotten from the inhabitants of Lathica. But now there was this stranger who wasn’t wiseguided and who thought it was better for him not to follow the wise. Was that merely because Kathatus valued “authenticity” more than general quality of life? What kind of value faction did Kathatus adhere to, if any? The Freedom? What was the point of that anyway? It was generally worse to do what you wanted to do, rather than that what is the right thing to do, with the latter being provably that what the wise told you to do. But following the wise was hard and painful, so those with a lack of discipline preferred the easy way of doing things. Or was that correct? This couldn’t always have been the case, as the value factions, in particular the Freedom, preceded the wise. Before Proof, the simple just didn’t know any better, so it was a really legitimate option to follow the idea of the Freedom and do what you wanted to do. But now, after Proof, there’s no good excuse left for following your own wishes, rather than the guidance of the wise.
With these thoughts in mind, Adano arrived at the dining room. It was a large room with 18 circular tables, arranged in an inner ring and an outer ring. As always, he sat down on his regular table in the outer ring. All the others were already present: His mentor Arizzi, in his usual wolf therianthrope form on his right; his friend Kanede on his left; further on her left, Vaya, the tribe’s vice chair of tribe culture compliance quality control (sometimes also referred to as culture auditor); opposite of him his Changeball trainer Corin, and finally his Simplex trainer Ariga, on the right of Arizzi.
After they greeted one another by bowing down, Vaya inquired: “What’s on your mind, Adano. You seem to be pretty preoccupied with something.” Of course she noticed, and the others most likely, too. It was not like the optimized humans of the PLC reinterpretation community were bad at reading humans and their moods. Adano tried directing the attention away from what happened to him, because he felt too ashamed, confused, and frightened to talk about that. Instead, he tried directing their attention to the newcomer: “I was wondering about Kathatus. I mean, I cannot really grasp why he rejects being wiseguided. Is that because he was raised in a culture in which it was socially rejected to be guided by the wise directly?”
Vaya replied: “You need to understand that those who grow up in cultures in which wiseguidance is atypical shape their identity under the condition of not being wiseguided. When being confronted with the option of adopting wiseguidance, they fear that they would destroy a part of their identity through that choice. Often, especially facilitated by the factors promoting social conformity, people feel a responsibility to maintain their own identity, rather than optimizing themselves rationally. That’s one of the main reasons why wiseguidance hasn’t been universally adopted. It’s certainly not the only one. There are many individual reasons for rejecting wiseguidance. Though, for us who have been living in wiseguidance all our lives, most of those reasons don’t really resonate, and therefore don’t feel compelling. That’s quite natural. Anyway, you shouldn’t expect that the reasons that people claim to justify their lack of wiseguidance are the reasons which are really causally relevant for that state. In the case of Kathatus, we have the advantage of having his full memories available for a full and thorough analysis. This analysis has already been done by our infamous provocateur Lekian. His conclusion is not very surprising: Kathathus has merely been too conservative and frightful to endeavour such a massive change as adopting wiseguidance. So far, his life hasn’t provided him with a sufficiently strong motivation to do so. Or in other words: He preferred rationalizing his reluctance to adopt wiseguidance to becoming truly rational and becoming wiseguided.”
Arizzi shook his head and protested: “It’s too easy to dismiss the unguided as irrational, weak, and deluded. All these supposed weaknesses could easily be eliminated by anyone, at least with a little help from the complex. Rather, it’s a distinct choice to be unguided: A choice to commit to a different kind of challenge. One that consists in trying to do what’s right, without really knowing what is right. You should not forget that the main thing we simple produce is lived culture. It’s the only good besides their own divine realms of knowledge that is valuable to the wise. And they get this lived culture both from the guided and the unguided. It should be clear that both ways of life give rise to different kinds of cultures, and the wise want to observe both. If we speak disrespectfully of the unguided, we speak disrespectfully of the wise.”
Vaya retorted: “You may be right about that, Arizzi, but I was trying to make it clear how the psychological mechanisms work that drive people to remain unguided. In theory, it is of course true that the choice of guidance or its absence is free, and yet always in line with the intentions of the wise. Nevertheless, on an individual level, I insist that adopting guidance is the more virtuous choice, and the greater challenge, because it requires you to be pushed to the limits of your ability to perfect the ultimate. And Arizzi, do you really believe that the unguided choose their way of life, merely to fill a needed role for the wise?”
Arizzi cautioned: “Please, there’s no need for simplistic polarizations by generalizing over all unguided. Sure, there are many unguided who choose to remain that way, merely because they prefer the comfort of not being nudged towards perfection. Still, there are those unguided who choose their path mainly because they want to master a rather particular challenge. It’s uncomfortable and particularly challenging to aspire perfection without a helping hand who really knows best. Uncertainty can be an excruciating problem that we don’t have to experience in a way that is as existential as the way the unguided experience it. The unguided are brave in accepting that handicap without seeking refuge in the grace of the ubiquitous divinity of the wise. That is the challenge that they chose to live with, and they choose it again and again, every time they consider the possibility of adopting wiseguidance. ”
Vaya accused Arizzi: “You speak of possible motivations here, Arizzi, but we weren’t talking about generic archetypes of unguided, but about a particular individual that we know of: Kathatus. You have brought forth good and honorable reasons for choosing a lack of guidance, but we know that such reasons are merely used as justifications for remaining unguided when the decision has been made on much baser grounds as I mentioned them initially. As I remarked, Lekian has already probed Kathatus’ memories deeply and unveiled his lack of character strength.”
Arizzi started smiling and suggested conspicuously: “Ah, but we only think that we really know Kathatus. Have you considered the possibility that his memories could have been forged and his character is a mere mask that he, or somemind else, uses to play us? We don’t have proof that his memories haven’t been tampered with. And let’s be serious here: His strategy seems to be quite reckless. He could have calculated that we urge him to reveal his memories to buy our trust. By buying into his false memories, we would drop our guard and start underestimating him. Then, one moment, suddenly his memory restoration routine gets triggered and he will surprise us, painting us as arrogant fools.”
This theory made everyone fall silent, causing all to consider the likely motives and implications of such a possibility. Of course, it was also time to eat. In a world in which eating, as almost everything else, has become completely optional, the choice to eat anything at all had cultural relevance. After all, people could simply opt for having nutrients beamed into their bodies, and have metabolic waste products beamed out of their bodies. Dedicating time to eat was typical for the so-called “Slow Culture” that aimed at providing more leisurely space for creativity by creating low stress phases throughout the day, for example sleeping, eating, or anything that people might do in bathrooms. The Polymath Champions League reinterpretation community valued creativity a lot, so the choice for adopting “Slow Culture” was rather commonplace.
Fitting to the focus on creativity, the food was usually really unique at each meal, with randomized synthetic foods of all colours and shapes, that had a highly diverse spectrum of tastes and consistencies. The nutritional profile of each meal was customized to the person in question. Food was rarely dense in calories, because those would make people feel too stuffy much too early. Chopsticks and spoons were the usual cutlery of the PCL reinterpretation community.
The meals were served simultaneously for all from the replicators that were invisibly embedded in the dining table. The colourful food simply rose out of the table in front of each person. Adano got dark teaspoon sized red balls covered in thorns and barbed hooks and some thick milky sauce. That was, without question, a rather unusual meal, but when always being faced with strange meals, this wasn’t too exceptional. Adano was careful to bite off the dangerous looking thorns and hooks that happened to taste like creamy rose petals. Luckily they weren’t too hard, and thus less dangerous than they looked like. The white sauce tasted more like a mixture of sweet honey and almond milk. It turned out that the red balls had a gel-like filling that had a salty, hearty fruity taste not too unlike some kind of mushroom cream with strawberry pieces.
Befitting the Slow Culture, the diners remained silent and focused on enjoying their meals. This time, it was very hard for Adano to remain focused on eating, even though the apparent danger of his food encouraged him to be cautious. Thoughts about his indomitability training and Kathatus repeatedly distracted him. He noticed that the others were suspecting him to be absent minded. Yet, they didn’t remark on that, because they valued the silence of their small community ritual.
Of course, the wise knew whether Kathatus’ memories were authentic or not, but they wouldn’t share such confidential information freely, particularly not if they were involved in the whole plot. The usual way of verifying someone’s memories was to check their validity through cross checking them with available data about that person. There was of course a plethora of data available in the metanet on every person. While it could be possible that some data was manipulated, the probability that dozens of independent data sources were all manipulated in the same way was vanishingly small. All it would have taken to dispel the suspicions of memory forgery would have been to sent out data recovery requests to the metanet about Kathatus. Yet, it was a matter of recent Solan etiquette not to do that without decent prior evidence of the necessity of such requests. The memory storage capacities of each modestly sized habitat were advanced enough to easily store petabytes of data about all persons who have ever existed in Sol, even without resorting to complex-grade technology. And more often than not, this was actually done, especially since Sol self-identified as living museum of its own cultural heritage, including all of its inhabitants. So, those data recovery requests wouldn’t even need to propagate throughout the solar system to become reasonably certain about the validity of memory forgery claims.
However, Lathica had a Privacy Access Control System which denied its inhabitants the access to personal information of other persons, unless you actually knew them, they were your friends, or they granted you access to their private information. Overriding this system was not a realistic option for the simple, because it was a smart system governed by the complex, and implemented by implants in the brains of all Lathicans that could block access to information on a very deep level. Since information about the truthfulness of Kathatus’ memories was very private information by definition, they would have to ask Kathatus for permission to access that data from the metanet archives. And nobody seemed to be eager to ask for that kind of permission.
Eventually Corin broke the silence by suggesting that it’s not important enough to find out whether Kathatus’ memories were forged. Bothering Kathatus with that would merely aggravate the tensions between him and the tribe. Nobody openly disagreed. Ariga started a new topic: “Adano, remember the Simplex tournament in 10 days. Please don’t get too distracted by our exotic visitor. I need you in top shape.”
Adano felt conflicted about this and replied softly: “I’ll try.” Corin interjected: “Well, don’t forget your changeball training. Changeball is perfect for getting this Kathatus matter out of your mind.”
Arizzi remarked: “Ah, you want to continue as if Kathatus wasn’t an important guest of ours. Ignoring him is not an option. He’s here, so we’ll have to adjust our plans to his presence.”
Ariga inquired somewhat annoyed: “What does that mean? Are we required to include Kathatus into our regular activities now, or what?”
Arizzi specified: “No, it merely means that you should expect him to interfere with your current plans.”
Corin suggested: “That sounds like you have already planned something that interferes with our schedules. Could we please know more about that?”
Arizzi answered: “Well, nothing’s settled, yet. Tomorrow we’ll all know more. Adano, Hesiat is expecting us. Please excuse us.”
With that, Arizzi stood up, and lowered his head as goodbye gesture. Two seconds later, Adano did the same.
As they entered Hesiat’s office, Kathatus and Valeria, an associate mentor of the tribe, were already standing in front of Hesiat and waited for them.
Hesiat greeted them both: “Honoured Arizzi, dear Adano, thank your for joining our small meeting. Please stand comfortably. We’ll soon discuss our plans for common activities with Kathatus. But first, honoured Kathatus, could you please tell us what made you interested in the Exaltation?”
Kathatus explained: “As you know very well, the Exaltation has never been very popular in the inner system. Regardless, secretly we Inners often deeply admire the strength and determination of the followers of the Exaltation. Striving towards the perfection of one’s character relentlessly, in the face of any kind of pain, is very impressive indeed. Of course such admiration is not a strong enough motive to join the Exaltation, or else the Exaltation would have been much more popular. Yet, during my travels through the Sol system I’ve noticed the dangers that the easy availability of instant fulfillment of nearly any kind of wish poses for those who lack the necessary strength of character to remain sane. This kind of power … changes people. It changes them, unless they rely on technological or cultural safeguards that prevent seriously bad outcomes. Yet, these safeguards aren’t always applied or available. So…”
After taking a deep breath, Kathatus continued: “So, many of my friends turned into … something else. While some could be saved, others … became lost beyond any hope. Facing these losses was tragic enough, but my thoughts also circled around the question whether I would have been strong enough to resist their temptations, so that I wouldn’t … fall the way they did. But the longer I pondered about these questions, the more I realized that I really couldn’t be sure about the answer, unless I exposed myself to the same kind of danger that they did. I couldn’t really know my own strength unless I was challenged on a really personal level. My conclusion was that if I wanted to make sure that I didn’t face a similar fate as the … lost … I had to rely on my own strength, rather than technologies or social environments that protected me – at least as long as they were active. And that’s why I looked to the Exaltation as a distant glimmer of hope. At first, these thoughts weren’t more than that: Intellectual reflections that didn’t have a real impact on my actions. Over time, these thoughts however grew stronger. Eventually, I felt compelled to seek out the Exaltation.”
Hesiat smiled and commented: “Thank you for sharing that moving story. It must have been hard to observe how near absolute abundance can devastate beloved persons. Your choice seems logical, yet it is relatively unusual. Most people remain too much entangled in the cultures that they grew up in. It is remarkable enough that you explored the Exaltation and visited Asgard. Yet, I’m curious as to why you decided to come to the Polymath Champions League reinterpretation community?”
Kathathus complied with that request: “What I found interesting about the PCL is their strict regulation of the use of noetic technology. PCL members don’t do things the easy technological way, but choose to develop their character the hard old fashioned way. Well, if you don’t want to rely on all the fancy noetic technology and the clever cultural safeguards that keep you from harm, then the only thing that keeps you from falling is the strength of the inner character. And I think that’s really what constitutes the true appeal of the PCL.”
Arizzi was fascinated and inquired critically: “Your choice of wording is very peculiar here, honoured Kathatus. Many people would doubt that a concept like that of an ‘inner character’ could be really made consistent. Could you please elaborate on that concept?”
Kathatus seemed to feel challenged, but responded: “Very well. I’m not sure whether I can make myself sufficiently clear, but I’ll try. I think the inner character is what remains if you remove all the assisting technology, all the social support, all the beneficial contingencies that we take for granted and that prevent us from acting against our rational best interests. With these kinds of shields around our inner character in place, we aren’t able to really know how we’d act if we are challenged to the core when all of them fall away. And I’d also add wiseguidance to the list of shields surrounding the inner character.”
Hesiat quickly noticed the explosive potential of that remark and intervened: “Honoured Kathatus, thank you for speaking out so openly in this round of wiseguided persons. Your definition seems to imply that the wiseguided could not know their inner character. But let us all be reminded that most wiseguided persons sooner or later go through a phase of guidance withdrawal in which they cannot rely on their wiseguide. In those phases they are very personally confronted with their own inner character and have to rely on their own inner strength. Yet, what you’ve told us so far rather points to the direction of joining a community of Polymath Champions League reinterpreters who aren’t wiseguided. Why have you joined us, then?”
This question seemed to have stunned Kathatus. He seemed to struggle for the right kinds of words. Finally, he started: “Well, you make this sound so clear and logical. When I learned about the PCL reinterpretation community, things were far from clear to me. I honestly didn’t care too much whether you were wiseguided or not. It’s your basic approach that made your community so interesting to me. And then, quickly after I learned about you, I was already contacted by N!Spire with this great offer. And you all know the rest of the story.”
This time, it was Valeria’s time to ask questions: “This pattern is not too unusual. N!Spire uses to latch of passionate fascination that hasn’t reached any real depth. And then it kindles that passion further and uses it for its own, ahem … inspiring … purposes. What did this offer actually consist of, honoured Kathatus? It’s not like teleportation was actually expensive for people of your origin.”
Kathatus answered: “Sure, that’s true. The point, however, is that N!Spire informed me that you usually don’t have outsiders as guests. I wonder why that’s the case, and the opportunity to join you directly and instantly that N!Spire opened up to me was very welcome.”
Suddenly Adano felt shocked. Was it true that they didn’t welcome outsiders on purpose? And if yes, what was the reason for that? Could it have to do with him? Something didn’t feel right about all of this. In hindsight, it seemed to be all too obvious that there weren’t many exotic outsiders visiting his tribe, but he never considered that to be anything other than normal – at least until now. And if that’s something that’s unusual about his tribe, what else could be special about it? He needed to learn more about the world he lived in, desperately.
Usually, he would have asked Arizzi about this matter, but due to the recent events, he felt quite disinclined to talk with Arizzi, so he addressed Diolineda: “Is this true? Does our tribe really reject guests who are termed ‘outsiders’?”
Immediately, Diolineda appeared visible only to him, as the usual colourful pillar of strings of lights and transmitted: “Do you expect truth to be presented on a silver tablet by me just like that? The world is much more complex than you are able to comprehend right now. Perhaps you should start exploring it on your own, rather than relying on sources that may very well deceive you.”
That certainly wasn’t the answer that Adano had hoped for, but he realized that it just might be appropriate in this situation. There was only one way forward: Outwards to the unfamiliar, so that he could see his own ‘normality’ from the outside.
Hesiat suddenly started laughing: “Hahaha! Ah, that’s it. Now I get it. N!Spire offered you to circumvent the obligatory memory wipe after visiting our tribe. That’s why you were motivated to actually visit us. You not only wanted to know what this is all about, but also remember it afterwards. Very well, but don’t be surprised to find out that learning about the whole truth is not part of the deal.”
Now things turned into a really spooky direction for Adano. He wondered whether he was dreaming. Did Hesiat really just admit that they usually wipe the memories of their visitors? To say that this was unsettling was really much of an understatement. He questioningly looked towards Valeria and Arizzi, but they merely grinned.
More solemnly, Hesiat continued: “It remains to be explained why N!Spire has chosen us for your visit. Why you? Why us? Why not? In any case, we now live in interesting times. May our spectators be delighted about the coming revelations. What will the next part of the story reveal? Stay tuned! Now, let’s get back to the serious part, and the reason for this meeting. First, let’s start with the expected part. Kathatus, you agreed to join us in our quest to relive the experience of being a PCL member. As such, you are assigned to a mentor who will guide you on this journey. Our honoured Valeria Hashwell is the most appropriate person for that task. Do you accept your menteeship under her guidance?, Kathatus?”
‘What is happening here?’ shot through Adano’s mind. Who were those ‘spectators’? Did Hesiat refer to those who would learn about this tribe through N!Spire? Was this even allowed by the tribe’s etiquette? Usually, he would consult Arizzi or Vaya about such matters, but he felt too swept away by the torrent of unfolding revelations to even care deeply enough.
Kathatus gravely replied: “I agree.”
Unceremoniously Hesiat went on: “Great. Now, let’s come to the really interesting part. Our honoured Valeria proposed a rather interesting excursion for the two of you, Kathatus and Adano. Valeria, would you mind presenting your idea?”
“With pleasure, honoured Hesiat. The plan is that you two, together with your respective mentors, visit the habitat Gautama 27 Astelica. You will join a tribe of missionary anti-museans and defend the honour of our culture in the midst of those who deride it fiercely. Are you up to that challenge? Adano? Kathatus?”