Introduction

This page is for the generalized impact of technological advances on society. The next page focuses on specific technologies.


Technology: the progressives dream and the reactionary's nightmare. Advances in technology have been creating upheavals in society all the way back to the start of the Bronze age and further.

But things really shifted into high gear with the Industrial Revolution. Technology started industrializing the United States around 1790, changing it from an agricultural society into a manufacturing society.

Things seemed to settle down until some clown invented television and the inhabitants of sleepy little United States towns had their minds blown by the realization that people who lived in other places were (gasp) different! That was just awful! Well, actually it was just change, which was bad enough to these folk. They didn't even notice the real problem: technology was starting the transformation of the United States from a manufacturing society into a service society.

The reactionaries started freaking out with the exodus of good-paying jobs from rural areas into the cities. And they started foaming at the mouth when technology gave us the internet.

Understand that the angry reactionaries are not just hicks rubes living in the sticks. Many of them are very rich and sophisticated people who happen to be buggy-whip magnates and are upset that the basis of their wealth just evaporated.


The point is, if you the science fiction writer postulate lots of technological advances in your novels, you must at least pay lip service to the sad fact that it will make a sizable segment of your society very angry.


On the other tentacle, progressives will find things bewildering as well.

As of this writing (2017) a person in their 50s will find much about current life to be quite different from when they were young. Nowadays land-line telephones are increasingly rare while mobile cell phones are proliferating. Children do not understand technologies like printed encyclopedias and telephone directories. For us old geezers a "computer" is a box with a monitor and a keyboard, increasingly a computer is a smart phone. Jerry Pournelle predicted that in the far future people could use something like an internet to find answers to their questions, but failed to predict that people would be angry if the answer took longer than three seconds to appear (drat that Google is slow today). There are even jobs that did not exist a couple of decades ago (Search engine optimization expert?)

Neophobia

Funny thing about society in general and people in specific. Back in the 1750's this new thing called "Science" really started coming into its own. It was amazing the things it could discover, and so many of them with marvelously practical uses! It seemed like there was nothing science could not do. Science was going to bring us to a grand and glorious Utopian future. Even now there is some nostalgia for this view, the technical term is "Retro-Futurism".

This all turned to worms in the early 1900's. Suddenly science revealed its dark side. Science unleashed unspeakable horrors, there were things man was not meant to know, and one started to see more and more dystopias in science fiction literature.

Science didn't change, it can't. The change was in the attitude of society.

So what happened? Yes, I know most of you suddenly shouted "The invention of the atom bomb, you moron!". BZZZT! You're wrong, thank you for playing. It was already in full swing long before 1945. So what's the answer?

I believe that master science fiction author and science explainer Isaac Asimov has the answer. He wrote about it in a 1969 essay entitled The Sin of the Scientist (collected in The Stars In Their Courses). He was speculating on what a "scientific sin" would be. Turns out it would be an act that would blacken the very name of science itself.

THE SIN OF THE SCIENTIST

For a long period after 1752, throughout the nineteenth century indeed, science was generally considered the hope of humanity. Oh, there were people who thought this particular scientific advance or that was wicked, and who objected to anesthetics, for instance, or to the theory of evolution, or, for that matter, to the Industrial Revolution—but science in the abstract remained good.

How different it is today! There is a strong and growing element among the population which not only finds scientists suspect, but is finding evil in science in the abstract.

It is the whole concept of science which (to many) seems to have made the world a horror. The advance of medicine has given us a dangerous population growth; the advance of technology has given us a growing pollution danger; a group of ivory-tower, head-in-the-clouds physicists have given us the nuclear bomb; and so on and so on and so on.

But at exactly which point in time did the disillusionment with the "goodness" of science come? When did it start?

Could it have come at the time when some scientist or scientists demonstrated the evil in science beyond any doubt; showed mankind a vision of evil so intense that not only the scientist himself but all of science was darkened past the point where it could be washed clean again?

When was the sin of the scientist committed, then, and who was the scientist?

The easy answer is the nuclear bomb. It was to that which Oppenheimer referred in his remark on sin.

But I say no. The nuclear bomb is a terrible thing that has contributed immeasurably to the insecurity of mankind and to his growing distrust of science, but the nuclear bomb is by no means pure evil.

To develop the nuclear bomb, physicists had to extend, vastly, their knowledge of nuclear physics generally. That has led to cheap radioisotopes that have contributed to research in science and industry in a hundred fruitful directions; to nuclear power stations that may be of tremendous use to mankind, and so on. Even the bombs themselves can be used for useful and constructive purposes (as motive power for spaceships, for one thing). And missiles, which might have hydrogen bombs attached, might have spaceships attached instead.

Besides, even if you argue that the development of the nuclear bomb was sin, I still reply that it wasn't the first sin. The mistrust of science itself antedates the nuclear bomb. That bomb intensified the mistrust but did not originate it.

I find a certain significance in the fact that the play R.U.R. by Karel Capek was first produced in 1921.

It brought the Frankenstein motif up to date. The original Frankenstein, published a century earlier, in 1818, was the last thrust of theological, rather than scientific, sin. In its Faustian plot, a scientist probed forbidden knowledge and offended God rather than man. The monster who in the end killed Frankenstein could easily be understood as the instrument of God's vengeance.

In R.U.R., however, the theological has vanished. Robots are created out of purely scientific motivation with no aura of "forbiddenness." They are tools intended to advance man's good the way the railroad and telegraph did; but they got out of hand and in the end the human race was destroyed.

Science could get out of hand!

The play was an international success (and gave the word "robot" to the world and to science fiction) so its thesis of science out of hand must have touched a responsive chord in mankind.

Why should men be so ready, in 1921, to think that science could get out of hand and do total evil to the human race, when only a few years before, science was still the "Mr. Clean" who would produce a Utopia if allowed to work?

What happened shortly before 1921? World War I happened shortly before 1921.


World War II was a greater and deadlier war than World War I; but World War I was incomparably more stupid in its details.

Men have made colossal misjudgments in a moment of error and may make more to come. Some day, someone will push the wrong button, perhaps, in a moment of panic or lack of understanding, and destroy the world; but never has constant, steady stupidity held sway for weeks, months and years as among the military leaders of World War I. For persistent stupidity, they will never be approached.

A million men and more died at Verdun. Sixty thousand British soldiers died in a single day on the Somme while generals thought they could build a bridge of mangled flesh across the trenches.

Everything about the carnage was horrible, but was there anything which managed to make itself felt above that sickening spectacle of mutual suicide? Was it the new explosives used in unprecedented quantities; the machine guns, the tanks? They were only minor developments of old devices. Was it the airplane, first used in battle, in this war? Not at all! The airplane was actually admired, for it was in itself beautiful, and it clearly had enormous peacetime potential.

No, no! If you want the supreme horror of the war, here it is:

On April 22, 1915, at Ypres, two greenish-yellow clouds of gas rolled toward the Allied line at a point held by Canadian divisions.

It was poison gas; chlorine. When the clouds covered the Allied line, that line caved in. The soldiers fled; they had to; and a five-mile opening appeared.

No gap like that had been seen anywhere before on the Western Front, but the Germans muffed their opportunity. For one thing, they hadn't really believed it would work (even though they had earlier experimented with gas in a smaller way against the Russians), and were caught flat-footed. For another, they hesitated to advance until the cloud had quite dissipated.

The Canadians were able to rally, and after the clouds drifted away, their line re-formed. By the time of the next gas attack, all were prepared and the gas mask was in use.

That was the horror of World War I, for before the war was over poison gases far more horrible than the relatively innocuous chlorine were put into use by both sides.

So grisly was the threat of poison gas, so insidious its onset, so helpless an unprepared group of victims and, what's more, so devastatingly atrocious did it seem to make war upon breathing—that common, constant need of all men —that after World War I gas warfare was outlawed.

In all of World War II, poison gas was not used no matter what the provocation, and in wars since, even the use of tear gas arouses violent opposition. Military men argue endlessly that poison gas is really humane; that it frequently incapacitates without killing or permanent harm; that it does not maim horribly the way shells and bullets do. People nevertheless will not brook interference with breathing. Shells and bullets might miss; one might hide from them. But how escape or avoid the creeping approach of gas?

And what, after all, is the other side of poison gas? It has only one use; to harm, incapacitate and kill. It has no other use. When World War I was over and the Allies found themselves left with many tons of poison gas, to what peaceful use could those tons be converted? To none. The poison gas had to be buried at sea or disposed of clumsily in some other fashion. Was even theoretical knowledge gained? No!

Poison gas warfare was developed knowingly by a scientist with only destruction in mind. The only excuse for it was patriotism, and is that enough of an excuse?

There is a story that during the Crimean War of 1853-56, the British government asked Michael Faraday, the greatest living scientist of the day, two questions: 1) Was it possible to develop poison gas in quantities sufficient to use on the battlefield? And 2) would Faraday head a project to accomplish the task?

Faraday said "Yes" to the first and an emphatic "No" to the second. He did not consider patriotism excuse enough. During World War I, Ernest Rutherford of Great Britain refused to involve himself in war work, maintaining that his research was more important.


In the name of German patriotism, however, poison gas warfare was introduced in World War I, and it was the product of science. No one could miss that. Poison gas was invented by the clever chemists of the German Empire. And the gas poisoned not only thousands of men, but the very name of science. For the first time, millions became aware that science could be perverted to monstrous evil, and science has never been the same again.

Poison gas was the sin of the scientist.

And can we name the sinner?

Yes, we can. He was Fritz Haber, an earnest German patriot of the most narrow type, who considered nothing bad if it brought good (according to his lights) to the Fatherland. (Alas, this way of thinking is held by too many people of all nations and is not confined to Germany.)

Haber had developed the "Haber process" which produced ammonia out of the nitrogen of the air. The ammonia could be used to manufacture explosives. Without that process, Germany would have run out of ammunition by 1916, thanks to the British blockade. With that process, she ran out of food, men and morale, but never out of ammunition. This, however, will scarcely qualify as a scientific sin, since the Haber process can be used to prepare useful explosives and fertilizers.

During the war, however, Haber labored unceasingly to develop methods of producing poison gas in quantity and supervised that first chlorine attack.

His reward for his unspotted devotion to his nation was a most ironic one. In 1933, Hitler came to power and, as it happened, Haber was Jewish. He had to leave the country and died in sad exile within the year.

That he got out of Germany safely was in part due to the labors of Rutherford, who moved mountains to rescue as many German scientists as he could from the heavy hand of the Nazi psychopaths. Rutherford personally greeted those who reached England, shaking hands with them in the fraternal comradeship of science.

He would not, however, shake hands with Haber. That would, in his view, have been going too far, for Haber, by his work on poison gas, had put himself beyond Rutherford's pale.

I can only hope that Rutherford was not reacting out of offended national patriotism, but out of the horror of a scientist who recognized scientific sin when he saw it.

Even today, we can still recognize the difference. The men who developed the nuclear bombs and missile technology are not in disgrace. Some of them have suffered agonies of conscience but they know, and we all know, that their work can be turned to great good, if only all of us display wisdom enough. Even Edward Teller, in so far as his work may result in useful fusion power some day, may be forgiven by some his fatherhood of the H-bomb.

But what about the anonymous, hidden people, who in various nations work on nerve gas and on disease germs? To whom are they heroes?

To what constructive use can nerve gas in ton-lot quantities be put? To what constructive use can plague bacilli in endless rows of flasks be put?

The sin of the scientist is multiplied endlessly in these people and for their sake—to make matters theological once again—all mankind may yet be cursed.

From THE SIN OF THE SCIENTIST by Isaac Asimov (1969)
TECHNOLOGY

Like the Romantics before them, genre-sf writers have generally been on the side of Faust, convinced that the quest for knowledge was a sacred one, no matter how fondly a jealous God might prefer blind faith. Characters in bad Hollywood Monster Movies might be able to sign off with a resigned admission that "there are things Man was not meant to know", but nothing could be more alien to the ethos of genre sf.

Even in early pulp sf, technology was a means rather than an end, and, however much Campbell's writers were inclined to the celebration of the competence of the engineer, there remained a visionary element in their work which centralized the Conceptual Breakthrough as the peak experience of human existence. The hi-tech future of pulp sf was not the "Utopia of Comforts" so bitterly criticized by such sceptical writers as S Fowler Wright but rather a reaching-out for further horizons.

Space Flight became and remained the central myth of sf because it was the ultimate window of opportunity, through which the entire Universe could be viewed – and, ultimately, known. In genre sf, the ultimate aim of technological progress is, in the words of Mack Reynolds, "total understanding of the cosmos". This is clearly reflected in the increasing interest which post-World War Two sf has taken in the traditional questions of religion and in the evolution of science-fictional ideas of the Superman.

From The Encylopedia of Science Fiction entry TECHNOLOGY
THE STARS ARE OURS!

THE FIRST GALACTIC exploratory and colonization flight came as a direct outgrowth of a peculiar sociological-political situation on the planet Terra. As a result of a series of wars between nationalistic divisions atomic power was discovered. Afraid of the demon they had so loosed the nations then engaged in so-called "cold wars" during which all countries raced to outbuild each other in the stock piling of new and more drastic weapons and the mobilization of manpower into the ancient "armies."

Scientific training became valued only for the aid it could render in helping to arm and fit a nation for war. For some time scientists and techneers of all classes were kept in a form of peonage by "security" regulations. But a unification of scientists fostered in a secret underground movement resulted in the formation of "Free Scientist" teams, groups of experts and specialists who sold their services to both private industry and governments as research workers. Since they gave no attention to the racial, political, or religious antecedents of their members, they became truly international and planet-, instead of nation-, minded—a situation both hated and feared by their employers.

Under the stimulus of Free Scientist encouragement man achieved interplanetary flight. Terra was the third in a series of nine planets revolving about the sun, Sol I. It possessed one satellite, Luna.

Exploration ships made landings on Luna, and the two neighboring planets, Mars and Venus. None of these worlds were suitable for human colonization without vast expenditure, and they offered little or no return for such effort. Consequently, after the first flurry of interest, space flight died down, and there were few visitors to the other worlds, except for the purpose of research.

Three "space stations" had been constructed to serve Terra as artificial satellites. These were used for refueling interplanetary ships and astronomical and meteorological observation. One of these provided the weapon the nationalists had been searching for in their war against the "Free Scientists."

The station was invaded and occupied by a party of unidentified armed men (later studies suggest that these men were mercenaries in the pay of nationalist forces). And this group, either by ignorant chance or with deliberate purpose, turned certain installations in the station into weapons for an attack upon Terra. There are indications that they themselves had no idea of the power they unleashed, and that it was at once beyond their control.

As a result the major portion of the thickly populated sections of the planet were completely devastated and no one was ever able to reckon the loss of life.

Among those who were the sole survivors of an entire family group was Arturo Renzi. Renzi, a man of unusual magnetic personality, was a believer in narrow and fanatical nationalist doctrines. Because of his personal loss he began to preach the evil of science (with propaganda that the Free Scientists themselves had turned the station against the earth that had apparently been carefully prepared even before the act) and the necessity for man to return to the simple life on the soil to save himself and Terra.

To a people already in psychic shock from the enormity of the disaster, Renzi appeared the great leader they needed and his party came into power around the world. But, fanatic and narrow as he was, his voiced policies were still too liberal for some of his supporters.

Renzi's assassination, an act committed by a man arbitrarily identified as an outlawed Free Scientist, touched off the terrible purge which lasted three days. At the end of which time the few scientists and techneers still alive had been driven into hiding, to be hunted down one by one through the following years as chance or man betrayed them.

Saxon Bort, a lieutenant of Renzi's, assumed command of the leader's forces and organized the tight dictatorship of the Company of Pax.

Learning, unless one was a privileged "Peaceman," became suspect Society was formed into three classes, the nobility as represented by the Peacemen of various grades, the peasantry on the land, and the work-slaves—descendants of suspected scientists or techneers.

With the stranglehold of Pax firmly established on Terra, old prejudices against different racial and religious origins again developed. All research, invention, and study was proscribed and the planet was fast slipping into an age of total darkness and retreat. Yet it was at this moment in her history that the first galactic flight was made.

SEE ALSO:

  • Astra: First Colony
  • Free Scientists
  • Renzi, Arturo
  • Terra: Space Flight
From THE STARS ARE OURS! by Andre Norton (1954)

Technological Disruption

A milder but more tech-hostile form of this comes from powerful people whose basis of power is threatened with technological disruption. If you are an ultra-rich oil baron for whom petroleum is the basis of all your wealth and power, you are going to fight the solar power industry like you were a cornered wolverine. Just try to find a CEOs of telephone-directories, newspaper, encyclopedia, and magazine publishers who has anything nice to say about the advent of the internet. All of those publishers are rapidly going bankrupt.

Not to mention the MPAA and the RIAA who have been doing their darndest to stuff the Genie back into the bottle by outlawing the internet.

Such powerful people want the status quo ante, thank you very much. Not for deep-seated psychological reasons, it is just about the money. They will use every tool at their disposal. Everything from buying all the rights to the tech and supressing it, to forcing their bribed politicians to pass laws outlawing the disruptive technology. Remember all those urban legends about the guy who invented an automobile that would run on water, and how they mysteriously vanished never to be seen again? Most likely a legend, but doesn't it seem all too possible that a corporation would be sending a stealth team of elite assasins to kill the researchers developing the technology and burn all the research notes?

On the other hand there are 'powerful people' wannabes who hope to seize power by exploiting a new disruptive technology. They are more or less at war with the status quo group. Examples include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk. Let alone any corporation who have made their profits skyrocket by utilizing this new thing called "the internet."

Science fiction writers sometimes use this as a plot idea. Indeed, the oil industry's fight against solar power was predicted in Robert Heinlein's short story "Let There Be Light" (1940). On a cynical note, Heinlein made a time-line to place all his stories and characters on. In the story the two protagonists Douglas and Martin prevail over the Power Syndicate. On the time-line I noticed that Douglas and Martin died on the same day. I suspect that they were assasinated in revenge by the Power Syndicate.

Another science fiction example of disruptive technology used to destroy a corrupt establishment can be found in Gilpin's Space by Reginald Bretnor.

Eccentric but brilliant scientist Saul Gilpin invents a magic hyperspace faster-than-light propulsion system / antigravity surface-to-orbit gadget which can be cobbled together from parts available from your local hardware store. He mounts it on a submarine and has instant starship. Then he and the submarine depart for parts unknown.

This makes the totalitarian government very unhappy. They want to use this technology, they do not want citizens getting their hands on it. Makes it far to easy to escape the totalitarian state. Then they find out that Gilpin has mailed blueprints of the gadget to quite a few people. Hilarity ensues.


A scifi Maguffin that destroys a corrupt government and frees the oppressed people is a very libertarian idea. Just keep in mind the drawbacks of libertarianism.

TECHNOLOGY CHANGING SOCIETY 1

By the standards of all earlier ages, it was Utopia. Ignorance, disease, poverty and fear had virtually ceased to exist. The memory of war was fading into the past as a nightmare vanishes with the dawn; soon it would lie outside the experience of all living men.

With the energies of mankind directed into constructive channels, the face of the world had been remade. It was, almost literally, a new world. The cities that had been good enough for earlier generations had been rebuilt-or deserted and left as museum specimens when they had ceased to serve any useful purpose. Many cities had already been abandoned in this manner, for the whole pattern of industry and commerce had changed completely. Production had become largely automatic; the robot factories poured forth consumer goods in such unending streams that all the ordinary necessities of life were virtually free. Men worked for the sake of the luxuries they desired; or they did not work at all.

It was One World. The old names of the old countries were still used, but they were no more than convenient postal divisions. There was no one on earth who could not speak English, who could not read, who was not within range of a television set, who could not visit the other side of the planet within twenty-four hours..

Crime had practically vanished. It had become both unnecessary and impossible. When no one lacks anything, there is no point in stealing. Moreover, all potential criminals knew that there could be no escape from the surveillance of the Overlords. In the early days of their rule, they had intervened so effectively on behalf of law and order that the lesson had never been forgotten.

Crimes of passion, though not quite extinct, were almost unheard of. Now that so many of its psychological problems had been removed, humanity was far saner and less irrational. And what earlier ages would have called vice was now no more than eccentricity—or, at the worst, bad manners.

One of the most noticeable changes had been a slowing-down of the mad tempo that had so characterized the twentieth century. Life was more leisurely than it had been for generations. It therefore had less zest for the few, but more tranquillity for the many. Western man had relearned—what the rest of the world had never forgotten—that there was nothing sinful in leisure as long as it did not degenerate into mere sloth.

Whatever problems the future might bring, time did not yet hang heavy on humanity's hands. Education was now much more thorough and much more protracted. Few people left college before twenty—and that was merely the first stage, since they normally returned again at twenty-five for at least three more years, after travel and experience had broadened their minds. Even then, they would probably take refresher courses at intervals for the remainder of their lives in the subjects that particularly interested them.

This extension of human apprenticeship so far past the beginning of physical maturity had given rise to many social changes. Some of these had been necessary for generations, but earlier periods had refused to face the challenge—or had pretended that it did not exist. In particular, the pattern of sexual mores—insofar as there had ever been a single pattern—had altered radically. It had been virtually shattered by two inventions, which were, ironically enough, of purely human origin and owed nothing to the Overlords.

The first was a completely reliable oral contraceptive; the second was an equally infallible method—as certain as fingerprinting, and based on a very detailed analysis of the blood—of identifying the father of any child. The effect of these two inventions upon human society could only be described as devastating, and they had swept away the last remnants of the Puritan aberration.

(ed note: the above was written in 1953. A reasonably reliable oral contraceptive became available in 1960, and highly accurate DNA paternity tests became available in the 1980s. Sadly for Clarke's future history, as of 2016 in the US the Puritans are still with us.)

Another great change was the extreme mobility of the new society. Thanks to the perfection of air transport, everyone was free to go anywhere at a moment's notice. There was more room in the skies than there had ever been on the roads, and the, twenty-first century had repeated, on a larger scale, the great American achievement of putting a nation on wheels.

It had given wings to the world.

Though not literally. The ordinary private flyer or aircar had no wings at all, or indeed any visible control surfaces.

Even the clumsy rotor blades of the old helicopters had been banished. Yet man had not discovered anti-gravity; only the Overlords possessed that ultimate secret. His aircars were propelled by forces which the Wright brothers would have understood. Jet reaction, used both directly and in the more subtle form of boundary layer control, drove his flyers forward and held them in the air. As no laws or edicts of the Overlords could have done, the ubiquitous little aircars had washed away the last barriers between the different tribes of mankind.

From CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)
TECHNOLOGY CHANGING SOCIETY 2

(ed note: this is from a satirical fantasy novel, but still demonstrates how technology changes society. The same concept can be adapted to science fiction.

The race of dwarfs do lots of mining. This means dealing with the dangerously explosive gas called firedamp. A profession arose to deal with firedamp, called "knockermen". And knockermen became leaders. Until...)

     'Thank you for that, corporal. Tell me . . . those robes some of the dwarfs were wearing. I know they wear them on the surface so they're not polluted by the nasty sunlight, but why wear them down there?'
     'It's traditional, sir. Er, they were worn by the . . . well, it's what you'd call the knockermen, sir.'
     'What did they do?'
     'Well, you know about firedamp? It's a gas you get in mines sometimes. It explodes.'
     Vimes saw the images in his mind as Cheery explained . . .

     The miners would clear the area, if they were lucky. And the knockerman would go in wearing layer after layer of chain-mail and leather, carrying his sack of wicker globes stuffed with rags and oil. And his long pole. And his slingshot.
     Down in the mines, all alone, he'd hear the knockers. Agi Hammerthief and all the other things that made noises, deep under the earth.
     There could be no light, because light would mean sudden, roaring death. The knockerman would feel his way through the utter dark, far below the surface.
     There was a type of cricket that lived in the mines. It chirruped loudly in the presence of firedamp. The knockerman would have one in a box, tied to his hat.
     When it sang, a knockerman who was either very confident or extremely suicidal would step back, light the torch on the end of his pole and thrust it ahead of him. The more careful knockerman would step back rather more, and slingshot a ball of burning rags into the unseen death. Either way, he'd trust in his thick leather clothes to protect him from the worst of the blast.
     It was an honorable trade but, at least to start with, it didn't run in families. They didn't have families. Who'd marry a knockerman? They were dead dwarfs walking. But sometimes a young dwarf would ask to become one; his family would be proud, wave him goodbye, and then speak of him as if he was dead, because that made it easier.
     Sometimes, though, knockermen came back. And the ones that survived went on to survive again, because surviving is a matter of practice. And sometimes they would talk a little of what they heard, all alone in the deep mines ... the tap-tapping of dead dwarfs trying to get back into the world, the distant laughter of Agi Hammerthief, the heartbeat of the turtle that carried the world.
     Knockermen became kings.

     Vimes, listening with his mouth open, wondered why the hell it was that dwarfs believed that they had no religion and no priests. Being a dwarf was a religion. People went into the dark for the good of the clan, and heard things, and were changed, and came back to tell...

     And then, fifty years ago, a dwarf tinkering in Ankh-Morpork had found that if you put a simple fine mesh over your lantern flame it'd burn blue in the presence of the gas but wouldn't explode. It was a discovery of immense value to the good of dwarfkind and, as so often happens with such discoveries, almost immediately led to a war.
     'And afterwards there were two kinds of dwarf,' said Cheery sadly. 'There's the Copperheads, who all use the lamp and the patent gas exploder, and the Schmaltzbergers, who stick to the old ways. Of course we're all dwarfs,' she said, 'but relations are rather . . . strained.'
     'I bet they are.'
     'Oh, no, all dwarfs recognize the need for the Low King, it's just that . . .'
     ' . . they don't quite see why knockermen are still so powerful?'
     'It's all very sad,' said Cheery.

From THE FIFTH ELEPHANT by Terry Pratchett (1999)
TECHNOLOGY CHANGING SOCIETY 3

#1. Eli Whitney Accidentally Causes The Civil War

The American South, the 1790s. The plantation slavery model was in trouble. The old crops of rice, tobacco, and indigo weren't profitable any more. Neither was cotton, due to the labor-intensive process of jerking the seeds out. It took days of combing bush to remove all the sticky seed and get everyone to stop laughing at all the euphemisms.

Cue Eli Whitney and his cotton gin. A relatively quick and easy spur-of-the-moment invention, the gin was capable of whipping out 55 pounds of cotton in a single day. In comparison, teasing out the seeds by hand might get you a whole pound for a day's work. Hooray! The plantations were saved!

Yeah, about that ...

Before the cotton gin came around, slavery had been on the way out. Slaves were expensive to maintain, and poor production was making it exceedingly pointless to keep them. Thanks to the gin, cotton became super profitable, and the cotton economy exploded. There was one catch: While the gin super effectively processed cotton by separating it from its seeds, it did precisely jack s**t to pick it. So by making processing profitable and much more efficient, it massively raised the need for pickers. That is, slaves.

So the number of slaves in the South quintupled between 1800 and 1850, and by 1860, the region was an agricultural powerhouse, its wealth based on King Cotton and slave labor. As for Eli Whitney, he was a scholar and an inventor who never owned slaves himself, so the whole "slavery explosion" part of the equation possibly hadn't even occurred to him. And even if that didn't come as a shock to him, what happened afterwards most certainly did.

When abolitionists up North began to suggest that maybe the South shouldn't be making bank on the bloody backs of human beings, *it threatened the livelihoods of every rich man down there*. Said rich men weren't taking that from a bunch of Yankees, so next came talk of secession, and you know what happened next. 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War, all tracing back to Eli's humble cotton engine. Which, by the way, he never made much money from, because his device was easily copied and patent law sucked.

Luckily for him, Eli had gained a solid reputation as an innovator, and was eventually consoled with a massive government order. Of guns.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE 1

(ed note: A nasty Congressional committee orders an uppity ranch owner to testify. He does so, and on national TV describes how to easily construct in your home workshop a laser sidearm powerful enough to slice and dice an army tank using only materials commonly found in one's garage. The consequence is that such a weapon would allow libertarian minded people to hold off entire army battalions, and there are quite a few garage workshops in the US. As it turns out, this was precisely the reason that the ranch owner testified on national TV, since he was libertarian enough to want to render the US government impotent. He made sure by mailing a few hundred copies of the blueprints to various places. This is weaponized technological disruption.

Just keep in mind the drawbacks of libertarianism)

(ed note: William T. Custer goes to Washington to testify before the committee of the whole)

      “During last winter’s slack season,” Custer said, “two of my men and I worked on a project we’ve had in the works for three years—to develop a sustained-emission laser device.
     Custer opened his briefcase, slid out a fat aluminum tube mounted on a pistol grip with a conventional appearing trigger.
     “This is quite harmless,” he said. “I didn’t bring the power pack.”
     “That is… this is your weapon?” Tiborough asked.
     “Calling this a weapon is misleading,” Custer said. “The term limits and oversimpfies. This is also a brush-cutter, a substitute for a logger’s saw and axe, a diamond cutter, a milling machine…and a weapon. It is also a turning point in history.”
     “Come now, isn’t that a bit pretentious?” Tiborough asked.
     “We tend to think of history as something old and slow,” Custer said. “But history is, as a matter of fact, extremely rapid and immediate. A President is assassinated, a bomb explodes over a city, a dam break, a revolutionary device is announced.”
     “Lasers have been known for quite a few years,” Tiborough said. He looked at the papers the colonel had given him. “The principle dates from 1956 or thereahouts.”
     “I don't wish it to appear that I’m taking credit for inventing this device,” Custer said. “Nor am I claiming sole credit for developing the sustained-emission laser. I was merely one of a team. But I do hold the device here in my hand, gentlemen.”

     “Exhibit, Mr. Custer,” Plowers reminded him. “How is this an exhibit?”
     “May I explain first how it works?” Custer asked. “That will make the rest of my statement much easier.”
     Tiborough looked at Plowers, back to Custer. “If you will tie this all together, Mr. Custer,” Tiborough said. “I want to…the bearing of this device on our—we are hearing a particular bill in this room.”

     “Certainly, Senator,” Custer said. He looked at his device. “A ninety-volt radio battery drives this particular model. We have some that require less voltage, some that use more. We aimed for a construction with simple parts. Our crystals are common quartz. We shattered them by bringing them to a boil in water and then plunging them into ice water…repeatedly. We chose twenty pieces of very close to the same size—about one gram, slightly more than fifteen grains each."
     Custer unscrewed the back of the tube, slid out a round length of plastic trailing lengths of red, green, brown, blue and yellow wire.
     Wallace noted how the cameras of the TV men centered on the object in Custer’s hands. Even the senators were leaning forward, staring.
     We’re gadget crazy people, Wallace thought.
     “The crystals were dipped in thinned household cement and then into iron filings,” Custer said. “We made a little jig out of a fly-tying device and opened a passage in the filings at opposite ends of the crystals. We then made some common celluloid—nitrocellulose, acetic acid, gelatin and alcohol—all very common products, and formed it into a length of garden hose just long enough to take the crystals end to end. The crystals were inserted in the hose, the celluloid poured over them and the whole thing was seated in a magnetic waveguide, while the celluloid was cooling. This centered and aligned the crystals. The waveguide was constructed from wire salvaged from an old TV set and built following the directions in the Radio Amateur's Handbook.”
     Custer reinserted the length of plastic into the tube, adjusted the wires. There was an unearthly silence in the room with only the cameras whirring. It was as though everyone were holding his breath.
     “A laser requires a resonant cavity, but that’s complicated,” Custer said. “Instead, we wound two layers of fine copper wire around our tube, immersed it in the celluloid solution to coat it and then filed one end flat. This end took a piece of mirror cut to fit. We then pressed a number eight embroidery needle at right angles into the mirror end of the tube until it touched the side of the number one crystal.”
     Custer cleared his throat.
     Two of the senators leaned back. Plowers coughed. Tiborough glanced at the banks of TV cameras and there was a questioning look in his eyes.
     “We then determined the master frequency of our crystal series,” Custer said. “We used a test signal and oscilloscope, but any radio amateur could do it without the oscilloscope. We constructed an oscillator of that master frequency, attached it at the needle and a bare spot scraped in the opposite end of the waveguide.”

     “And this…ah… worked?” Tiborough asked.
     “No.” Custer shook his head. “When we fed power through a voltage multiplier into the system we produced an estimated four hundred joules emission and melted half the tube. So we started all over again.”
     “You are going to tie this in?” Tiborough asked. He frowned at the papers in his hands, glanced toward the door where the colonel had gone.
     “I am, sir, believe me,” Custer said.
     “Very Well, then,” Tiborough said.

     “So we started all over,” Custer said. “But for the second celluloid dip we added bismuth—a saturate solution, actually. It stayed gummy and we had to paint over it with a sealing coat of the straight celluloid. We then coupled this bismuth layer through a pulse circuit so that it was bathed in a counter wave—180 degrees out of phase with the master frequency. We had, in effect, immersed the unit in a thermoelectric cooler that exactly countered the heat production. A thin beam issued from the unmirrored end when we powered it. We have yet to find something that thin beam cannot cut.”
     “Diamonds?” Tiborough asked.
     “Powered by less than two hundred volts, this device could cut our planet in half like a ripe tomato,” Custer said. “One man could destroy an aerial armada with it, knock down ICBMs before they touched atmosphere, sink a fleet, pulverize a city. I’m afraid, sir, that I haven’t mentally catalogued all the violent implications of this device. The mind tends to boggle at the enormous power focused in…"

     “Shut down those TV cameras!”
     It was Tiborough shouting, leaping to his feet and making a sweeping gesture to include the banks of cameras, The abrupt violence of his voice and gesture fell on the room like an explosion. “Guards!” he called. “You there at the door. Cordon off that door and don’t let anyone out who heard this fool!” He whirled back to face Custer. “You irresponsible idiot!”
     “I'm afraid, Senator,” Custer said, “that you’re locking the barn door many weeks too late.”
     For a long minute of silence Tiborough glared at Custer, Then: “You did this deliberately, eh?”
     “Senator, if I'd waited any longer, there might have been no hope for us at all.”
     Tiborough sat back into his chair, still keeping his attention fastened on Custer. Plowers and Johnstone on his right had their heads close together whispering fiercely. The other senators were dividing their attention between Custer and Tiborough, their eyes wide and with no attempt to conceal their astonishment.
     Wallace, growing conscious of the implications in what Custer had said, tried to wet his lips with his tongue. This stupid cowpoke has sold us all down the river!
     Tiborough signaled an aide, spoke briefly with him, beckoned the colonel from the door. There was a buzzing of excited conversation in the room. Several of the press and TV crew were huddled near the windows on Custer’s left, arguing. One of their number—a florid-faced man with gray hair and horn-rirnmed glasses, started across the roorn toward Tiborough, was stopped by a committee aide. They began a low-voiced argument with violent gestures.
     A loud curse sounded from the door. Poxman, the syndicated columnist, was trying to push past the guards there.
     Poxman!” Tiborough called. The columnist turned. “My orders are that no one leaves,” Tiborough said. “You are not an exception.” He turned back to face Custer. The room had fallen into a semblance of quiet, although here still were pockets of muttering and there was the sound of running feet and a hurrying about in the hall outside.
     “Two channels went out of here live,” Tiborough said. "Nothing much we can do about them, although we will trace down as many of their viewers as we can. Every bit of film in this room and every sound tape will be confiscated, however.” His voice rose as protests sounded from the press section. “Our national security is at stake. The President has been notified. Such measures as are necessary will be taken.”
     The colonel came hurrying into the room, crossed to Tiborough, quietly said something.
     “You should’ve warned me!” Tiborough snapped. “I had no idea that…”
     The colonel interrupted with a whispered comment.
     “These papers… your damned report is not clear!” Tiborough said.

     He looked around at Custer. “I see you’re smiling, Mr. Custer. I don’t think you’ll find much to smile about before long.”
     “Senator, this is not a happy smile,” Custer said. “But I told myself several days ago you’d fail to see the implications of this thing.” He tapped the pistol-shaped device he had rested on the table. “I told myself you’d fall back into the old, useless pattem.”
     “Is that what you told yourself, really?” Tiborough said.
     Wallace, hearing the venom in the senator’s voice, moved his chair a few inches farther away from Custer.
     Tiborough looked at the laser projector. “Is that thing really disarmed?”
     “Yes, sir.”
     “If I order one of my men to take it from you, you will not resist?”
     “Which of your men will you trust with it, Senator?” Custer asked.
     In the long silence that followed, someone in the press section emitted a nervous guffaw.

     “Virtually every man on my ranch has one of these things,” Custer said. “We fell trees with them, cut firewood, make fence posts. Every letter written to me as a result of my patent application has been answered candidly. More than a thousand sets of schematics and instructions on how to build this device have been sent out to varied places in the world.
     “You vicious traitor!” Tiborough rasped.
     “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, Senator,” Custer said. “But I warn you I’ve had time for considerably more concentrated and considerably more painful thought than you’ve applied to this problem In my estimation, I had no choice. Every week I waited to make this thing public, every day, every minute, merely raised the odds that humanity would be destroyed by—”
     “You said this thing applied to the hearings on the grazing act,” Plowers protested, and there was a plaintive note of complaint in his voice.
     “Senator, I told you the truth,” Custer said. “There’s no real reason to change the act, now. We intend to go on operating under it—with the agreement of our neighbors and others concerned. People are still going to need food.”

     Tiborough glared at him. “You’re saying we can’t force you to…” He broke off at a disturbance in the doorway. A rope barrier had been stretched there and a line of Marines stood with their backs to it, facing the hall. A mob of people was trying to press through. Press cards were being waved.
     “Colonel, I told you to clear the halll” Tiborough barked.
     The colonel ran to the barrier. “Use your bayonets if you have to!” he shouted.
     The disturbance subsided at the sound of his voice. More uniformed men could be seen moving in along the barrier. Presently, the noise receded.

     Tiborough tumed back to Custer. “You make Benedict Arnold look like the greatest friend the United States ever had,” he said.
     “Cursing me isn’t going to help you,” Custer said. “You are going to have to live with this thing; so you’d better try understanding it.”
     “That appears to be simple,” Tiborough said. “All I have to do is send twenty-five cents to the Patent office for the schematics and then write you a letter."
     “The world already was headed toward suicide,” Custer said. “Only fools failed to realize—”
     “So you decided to give us a little push,” Tiborough said.

     “H. G. Wells warned us,” Custer said. “That’s how far back it goes, but nobody listened. Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe,’ Wells said. But those were just words. Many scientists have remarked the growth curve on the amount of raw energy becoming available to humans—and the diminishing curve on the number of persons required to use that energy. For a long time now, more and more violent power was being made available to fewer and fewer people. It was only a matter of time until total destruction was put into the hands of single individuals.

     “And you didn’t think you could take your government into your confidence.”
     “The govemment already was committed to a political course diametrically opposite the one this device requires,” Custer said. “Virtually every man in the government has a vested interest in not reversing that course."
     “So you set yourself above the government?”
     “I’m probably wasting my time,” Custer said, “but I'll try to explain it. Virtually every government in the world is dedicated to manipulating something called the ‘mass man.’ That’s how governments have stayed in power. But there is no such man. When you elevate the non-existent ‘mass man’ you degrade the individual. And obviously it was only a matter of time until all of us were at the mercy of the individual holding power.
     “You talk like a commie!”
     “They'll say I’m a goddamn’ capitalist pawn,” Custer said. “Let me ask you, Senator, to visualize a poor radio technician in a South American country. Brazil, for example. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence, ground down by an overbearing, unimaginative, essentially uncouth ruling oligarchy. What is he going to do when this device comes into his hands?”
     “Murder, robbery and anarchy.”
     “You could be right,” Custer said. “But we might reach an understanding out of ultimate necessity—that each of us must cooperate in maintaining the dignity of all.”

     Tiborough stared at him, began to speak musingly: “We’ll have to control the essential materials for constructing this thing…and there may be trouble for a while, but …”
     “You’re a vicious fool.”
     In the cold silence that followed, Custer said: “It was too late to try that ten years ago. I’m telling you this thing can be patchworked out of a wide variety of materials that are already scattered over the earth. It can be made in basements and mud huts, in palaces and shacks. The key item is the crystals, but other crystals will work, too. That's obvious. A patient man can grow crystals…and this world is full of patient men.

     “I’m going to place you under arrest,” Tiborough said. “You have outraged every rule—”
     “You’re living in a dream world,” Custer said. “I refuse to threaten you, but I’ll defend myself from any attempt to oppress or degrade me. If I cannot defend myself, my friends will defend me. No man who understands what this device means will permit his dignity to be taken from him.”
     Custer allowed a moment for his words to sink in, then: “And don’t twist those words to imply a threat. Refusal to threaten a fellow human is an absolute requirement in the day that has just dawned on us.”
     “You haven’t changed a thing!” Tiborough raged. “If one man is powerful with that thing, a hundred are….”
     “All previous insults aside,” Custer said, “I think you are a highly intelligent man, Senator. I ask you to think long and hard about this device. Use of power is no longer the deciding factor because one man is as powerful as a million. Restraint—self-restraint is now the key to survival. Each of us is at the mercy of his neighbor’s good will. Each of us, Senator—the man in the palace and the man in the shack. We’d better do all we can to increase that good will—not attempting to buy it, but simply recognizing that individual dignity is the one inalienable right of …”

     “Don’t you preach at me, you commie traitor!” Tiberough rasped. “You’re a living example of …”
     “Senator!”
     It was one of the TV cameramen in the left rear of the room.
     “Let’s stop insulting Mr. Custer and hear him out,” the cameraman said.
     “Get that man’s name,” Tiborough told an aide. “If he…”
     ‘I'm an expert electronic technician, Senator,” the man said. “You can’t threaten me now.”
     Custer smiled, turned to face Tiborough.
     “The revolution begins,” Custer said. He waved a hand as the senator started to whirl away. “Sit down, Senator.”

     Wallace, watching the senator obey, saw how the balance of control had changed in this room.
     “Ideas are in the wind,” Custer said. “There comes a time for a thing to develop. It comes into being. The spinning jenny came into being because that was its time. It was based on countless ideas that had preceded it.”
     "And this is the age of the laser?” Tiborough asked.
     “It was bound to come,” Custer said. “But the number of people in the world who’re filled with hate and frustration and violence has been growing with terrible speed. You add to that the enormous danger that this might fall into the hands of just one group or nation or…” Custer shrugged.
     “This is too much power to be confined to one man or group with the hope they’ll administer wisely. I didn’t dare delay. Thats why I spread this thing now and announced it as broadly as I could.”
     Tiborough leaned back in his chair, his hands in his lap. His face was pale and beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead.
     "We won’t make it.”
     "I hope you're wrong, Senator,” Custer said. “But the only thing I know for sure is that we'd have had less chance of making it tomorrow than we have today.”

From COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE by Frank Herbert (1965)
POWER TO THE PEOPLE 2

(ed note: In the future, a nasty tyrant named Tyler used nuclear weapons to seize control of Terra and establish a global dictatorship called the "Square Deal" Directorate. Among other things he sent Interstellar Task Force One to a trans-Neptunian planet to mine and process thousands of tons of plutonium. Can't have too many atom bombs. Twenty years later the job is finished and the small fleet returns to Terra. Our heroes, Barstow and Cameron, have been accused by the Secret Police of conspiracy to commit mutiny, and are returning in chains.

However when the fleet nears Terra, it is silent. Admiral Hudd sends a scout ship to Fortress America on Luna, which finds it abandoned. But all the missiles with atomic warheads used to control Terra are still in their silos. Another scout is sent to investigate Terra, under command of an obnoxious runt bully named Lord, who is in the natural state of mankind {nasty, brutish and short}. Our Heroes are in the mission due to their technical expertise, but are closely guarded by the secret police due to their political unreliability. They land at the capital city of Americania only to find it abandoned as well. What is disturbing is the items left behind, such as sacks containing millions of dollars of currency.

As you read this keep in mind the drawbacks of libertarianism)

      “Civilians, huh ?” Sitting pygmy-like between his two husky guards, Lord turned condescendingly to Cameron. “But Mr. Hudd insisted you must come, so let’s have your expert opinion.”
     He stressed the adjective too strongly, but Cameron answered quietly: “I rather expect we’ll find the ultimate result of what the old economists used to call the division of labor.
     At the time, I failed to see the real significance of the interchange that followed, though it proved the key to much that happened later. I was merely annoyed at Cameron, and somewhat alarmed, because his talk plainly angered Lord.
     “Explain!” Lord rapped, imperiously.
     “If you like — though I'm afraid the historical principle runs counter to Squaredeal ideology.” Cameron was a little too grave. “Because I don’t believe the Directorate was created by Tyler’s unique statesmanship (i.e., nuclear blackmail), or even by the emergent dictatorship of the little man. It was. I think, just one of the end-products of the division of labor.”
     Lord blinked his heavy-lidded eyes, apparently uncertain whether this was double-talk or high treason. I kicked Cameron's foot, in a vain effort to suggest the wisdom of discretion.
     “Explain yourself,” Lord commanded sharply.
     “Nothing to it,” Cameron said easily. “The division of labor was hailed as something, wonderful—before its unpleasant final consequences came to light. One man made arrows, another hunted, and they both had more to eat. That was very fine, back in the Stone Age.
     Cameron stretched out his legs, cheerful and relaxed.
     “But it went a little farther, in the modern world. Division of labor divided mankind, and set special interests against the common good. It made specialists in mining coal, in scientific research, and even in political power, Mr. Lord. The specialists formed pressure groups, and fought to advance their own class interests—with weapons incidentally created by that same division of labor.
     “When specialists fight, the winners are apt to he the experts in war,” he continued brightly. “Thus government becomes a function of military technology, which of course derives from the basic industrial technology. The prevailing form of government, therefore—dictatorship or democracy—depends on the current status of the division of labor. That interesting relation of technology and politics was pointed out by the old philosopher, Silas McKinley.”
     Lord’s sleepy eyes glittered suspiciously. “He’s forbidden ! Where do you keep such pernicious literature ?”
     Cameron grinned, quizzically. “Once I had permission to do some research in Mr. Hudd’s very excellent library.”
     “And you’re apt to suffer for the dangerous ideas you acquired there,” Lord commented acidly. “Now what’s this nonsense, about technology and government?”

     “Political power reflects military power,” Cameron cheerfully explained. “When war is fought with cheap, simple weapons, easy for the amateur to use, then the military importance of the ordinary, citizen is reflected in his political freedom. Democracy in America was established by the flintlock, and maintained by Colt’s revolver.
     “But democracy is always threatened by any increase in specialization, especially military specialization. When weapons are expensive and complicated, requiring a class of military experts, then the ordinary man can’t defend his rights—and he therefore has no rights.
     "Democracy was murdered, on a desert in New Mexico, in 1945. Already, for a hundred years, the increasing division of labor had been forcing it into a slow decline. The same specialization that created the bomber and the tank had already reduced the free citizen to a pathetic little man, at the mercy of the corporation manager, the union leader, and the bureaucrat.
     “The atom bomb was the finish, to freedom. Because it was the final limit, to specialization. The most complicated and costly weapon, ever, its production and use required a fantastically complex division of labor. Politics had to follow the trend of technology, and totalitarian control destroyed the individual.
     Sitting half upright in the long reclining chair, Cameron gave the little Squaredealer his wry, sardonic grin.
     “Tyler thought he had conquered the world,” he concluded. “But really it was just division of labor that created the new technology of atomic war, and so destroyed the whole world’s freedom. It was just the trend of specialization that made the Directorate and flung Tyler to the top of it — no more responsible than a pebble flung up by a wave.”
     Pressed deep in the cushions, Lord sat peering back with confused suspicion in his yellow, heavy-lidded eyes. Fortunately for Cameron, he was now concerned with dangers more immediate than ideological heresy. His nasal voice rasped angrily:
     “Well? What happened—according to your theory?”
     Cameron answered his sharpness with an easy grin.
     “Quite likely, the division of labor broke down at last.”
     “Watch your manner, mister." Lord didn’t like his cool grin. “What could break it down?”
     “Rebellion, perhaps.” Cameron was properly respectful. “Fort America had a permanent garrison of nine thousand specialists in death. They were prepared to devastate any part of the Earth—or all of it. Perhaps they were just too thorough.”
     Uneasily, the little Squaredealer licked his thin lips.
     “Then why should, the fort itself be silent?”
     “Disease, perhaps—some biological agent out of control.” In Cameron’s blue eyes, I caught a faint glint of malicious amusement. “Or famine—maybe they left the Earth unable to feed them. Or cataclysm.”
     Lord fought the acceleration pressure, to sit bolt upright. His bleak narrow face was filmed with sweat of effort—and of fear.
     “Cataclysm?” He peered into Cameron’s lean, sardonic face. Explain!”
     “Twenty years at space has shown us the insensate hostility of the universe.” Now low and solemn, Cameron’s voice deepened my own unease. “Man lives at the mercy of blind chance, surviving only through a peculiar combination of improbable factors. Just suppose we find the Earth stripped of oxygen.” He grinned at Lord, satanically. “As efficiently as the planets of the Dark Star were robbed of uranium?”

(ed note: At the abandoned spaceport, one of the ships yields a log-book with a cryptic reference. It says the ship made a routine landing, then was abandoned due to something called "the equalizer." The crew left behind the ship's cargo, which was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The scouts leave the city on foot, and soon discover a married couple living in a snug house in the country. The couple are using earth-movers, smelting equipment, and other machinery which uses huge amounts of electricity. Of course Lord and his thugs shoot them dead. He orders our heroes to examine the machines.

Our heroes are mightily puzzled because while the machines use huge amounts of electricity, there does not seem to be any power source. No power cables, no batteries, no broadcast power receptors, and certainly no nuclear reactors. But if you touch the wires you will get a nasty electrical shock.

Then Cameron notices each machine has a peculiar bit of wiring, a piece of plastic surrounded by a double coil of odd, unhelical turns.)

     Cameron came up out of the ravine, carrying something in his hand. It was a piece of thick copper wire, shaped into a double coil of oddly-shaped loops at odd-seeming angles, and held in shape with a transparent plastic rod.
     “This is it,” he said.
     The hushed elation of his low voice told more than his words. I stared at him—for something, I thought, had somehow transformed him. His emaciated body had grown proudly straight. His hollowed face was smiling, with a stern joy which almost frightened me.
     “Well?” Lord retreated a little, as if afraid of the look in Cameron’s blue eyes. His sleek black head made a quick nod, to bring his two gunmen back from the ends of the unfinished dam. “Quick—what is it?”
     Cameron held up that bit of wire on the plastic rod, with both his hands. His face had a look of solern awe—as if the thing in his hands had been, somehow, an utterly priceless treasure.
     “Speak up,” Lord rapped nervously. “What is it?”
     Cameron looked up at Lord again, with no awe at all. His blue eyes showed a sudden glint of ironic amusement. But still he held that bit of wire, as if it were a precious thing.
     “It’s what we’ve all been looking for.” Cameron’s voice held the eager ring of triumph. “It’s the reason men abandoned Fort America, and deserted the cities. It is what happened to the Directorate, and to Tyler.
     Cameron’s eyes turned sardonic.
     “It’s also what is going to happen to the Task Force,” he added softly. “And to Mr. Julian Hudd. And even to you, Mr. Lord.
     Lord’s sleepy yellow eyes slitted dangerously.
“I’ll tolerate no further insubordination,” be snapped savagely. “Just tell me what you’ve got.”
     Cameron ignored his sullenly boiling fury.
     “Chad, you remember that little gadget we called an induction furnace? Well, we were on the right track—if I hadn’t been afraid of blowing up the (spaceship) Great Director. And this is the thing we were looking for.”
     Generously, he gave me far too much credit. I had known, of course, that the device was something more than a furnace—for it made atomic changes in the metal samples we fused in it; and, instead of using power, it generated a dangerous surplus. That much I had known, and held my tongue about it.
     From me, Cameron turned impulsively to Doyle.
     “Listen for just ten minutes, captain, and you’ll be free of Lord and his sort.”
     Confusedly, Doyle shook his head.
     “Careful, Cameron.” I knew he was no friend of Lord’s, but loyalty was part of his being. His voice was shocked. “Watch yourself—that sounds like treason, you know.”
     Cameron gave him a brief, sardonic grin.
     “If there is such a thing, any longer.” His low voice turned grave again. “Though I imagine that this little device has repealed a lot of the old laws.”
     Little Lord was quivering with white-lipped fury. His hand hovered close to his gun. Yet caution or curiosity must have tempered his wrath, for he gestured sharply to halt his black-clad gunmen.
     “Explain this strange behavior, Cameron,” he snapped, “or I’ll have to shoot you down.”
     And Cameron turned back to him, with a gentle gravity.
     “No, I don’t think you’ll do that, Mr. Lord,” he said, very softly. “Because you’re an anachronism, now, along with the dinosaur and the atom bomb. Because technological advancement has passed you by.”

(ed note: Cameron walks away into the forest. Lord foams at the mouth and screams at his thugs to shoot Cameron in the legs and drag him into the brig. Cameron waves the little gizmo and a massive lightning bolt turns a giant tree near Lord into an explosion in a matchstick factory. When they pick themselves up Cameron has vanished into the forest. They all look dumbfounded as burning splinters rain out of the sky.

Lord reports to Admiral Hudd, who proceeds to ream Lord a second rectum. Hudd orders Lord to contact the inhabitants, and discover the location of their government. Then Hudd will turn it into radioactive glass with a nuclear bombardment. Hudd intends to reestablish the Directorate at all costs. Hudd lands the flagship at the location in order to take charge.

A helicopter arrives containing three inhabitants, and Cameron. They recover the bodies of the couple that Lord and his thugs had slain, and tell the scouts that they want to arrest Lord and his thugs on the charge of murder. Hudd lower the ship's ramp to come down to parlay. One of the inhabitants covers him with a hand weapon. Barstow is shocked to see that the weapon is not a pistol. It is a miniature guided missile launcher, that is it's a anti-ship weapon. He isn't covering Admiral Hudd, he's covering the flagship.

Admiral Hudd wants to know where the inhabitant's government is, and says they have to surrender or Fort America will plaster the place with atom bombs. He is astonished to learn that there is no government. And is told to fork over Lord and his thugs or face the consequences. The inhabitants do not seem to be concerned about a mere nuclear bombardment. Cameron asks the inhabitants for half an hour to try and explain the facts of life to Admiral Hudd, and grudgingly gets it. )

     Hudd sat down on a hummock of grass, breathing hard with the effort of moving his clumsy bulk. His massive shoulders bunched with bold defiance. Only the quick movements of his eyes betrayed the intense and desperate working of his mind—they were the eyes of a fighting animal, fearful, yet audacious, and altogether ruthless.
     “Now!” he gasped. “This equalizer ?”
     Cameron squatted on his heels, facing Hudd.
     “I heard the story last night. The beginning of the equalizer takes us back nearly twenty years.” Cameron’s tired, dark-smudged eyes came for a moment to me. "To your own father, Chad.”
     His haggard and yet animated face turned back to Hudd. “I think you remember Dane Barstow ?”
     "The traitor?” rumbled Hudd. "He died, I believe, in the labor camps.”
     "But he didn’t,” Cameron said. "Because Tyler learned that he was on the trail of something remarkable, and had him taken out of the camps, out to a solitary cell at Fort America. The SBI went to work on him there, with extreme interrogation (i.e., torture).”
     "Finally,” he went on, “Barstow talked. He told the SBI what he had done, and admitted all he had hoped to do. He even agreed to complete his interrupted work. Though he was half-blind and crippled from the extreme treatment, and sometimes out of his head, they took pretty drastic precautions. They kept him locked in that steel cell on the Moon. Two guards were always with him. He was allowed paper and pencil, but no other equipment. If he wanted calculations made, or any experiments tried, that was done for him by Atomic Service engineers.”
     Cameron briefly smiled, as if he shared my pride.
     “Yes, Chad, your old man was all right. Working under such difficult conditions, shattered as he was, he charted a new science and created a new technology. And then—when we (on their 20 year mission) had been out at space about two years with the Task Force—he overturned the Directorate.

     Hudd started ponderously, at Cameron's last words, and gasped heavily for his breath, and wheezed incredulously:
     "How could he do that?”
     “Not so hard, with the equalizer.” Cameron grinned at Hudd's blinking, startled stare. “Barstow smashed the Directorate, from his cell on the Moon. He didn’t need any weapons, or any equipment. All he had to do was tell his jailers what he had discovered.”
     Hudd made a hollow, croaking sound. "How’s that?”
     “The news of the equalizer spread, from one man to another,” Cameron said. “Those same engineers, who had been assigned to get the invention from him, set up a little illicit transmitter and beamed the details back to Earth with equalizer power, on every frequency they could get through the ionosphere.
     “That finished the Directorate.”

     Hudd picked up a red pebble and began nervously tapping the sod with it. “That’s too much!” His loud voice was harshly unbelieving. “No mere fact of science could defeat the Atomic Service, or wreck the Squaredeal Machine.”
     “Barstow’s equalizer did,” Cameron assured him gravely. “Perhaps because the old technology of the Atomic Age had already reached the breaking point of over-complexity and super-centralization. When Barstow created this new technology, there was a natural swing to the opposite extreme—to simplicity, individualism, and complete personal freedom.”

     “So?” Hudd thumped on 'the sod with his pebble, scowling at Cameron. “Just how does it work, this equalizer?”
     Cameron glanced doubtfully at Frank Enlow.
     “Tell him.” the gaunt man said. “Barstow wanted every man to know, and generally it has a good effect.” He glanced at a watch on his brown wrist. “But hurry—your time is running out.”
     And Cameron launched into his explanation. His fatigue seemed forgotten, and some inner excitement made his haggard face almost vivacious.

     “The old atomic power pile, you know, was an enormously clumsy and wasteful and dangerous way of doing an extremely simple thing. Pure energy exists in the atom, and that is what we want. But the pile used intractable and inadequate processes, to change kinetic and electrical and binding energy into heat, and then required expensive and inefficient machinery to turn a little of that heat back into electricity.
     “Even with all its elaborate complexity, the pile could tap only a little of the binding energy, which holds electrons and protons and neutrons together into atoms. The mass energy of the particles themselves, composing nearly all the actual energy of the atom, it couldn’t even reach.
     “Barstow’s dream—like my own—was merely a simple way of doing a simple thing. Material energy exists, as Einstein first demonstrated. Barstow dreamed of a simple way to let it flow. The equalizer is his dream, realized.”
     I couldn’t help the breathless interruption:
     “That piece of wire ?”
     “Just a solenoid.” Cameron nodded. “But wound in a certain way, not helically, so that its field slightly alters the co-ordinates of space, and slightly changes the interaction of mass and energy. The atomic particles of the solenoid are equalized, as your father termed the process, and the converted energy appears as direct current in the wire.
     “The fact is simple—even though the tensors of a new geometry are required to describe the solenoid field. That apparent complexity is more in the awkward description, however, than in the vital fact. The actual specifications of the equalizer can be memorized in five minutes.
     Cameron’s intent, elated eyes looked aside at me.
     “The safety feature is what threw us, Chad, with our induction furnace experiments,” he told me. “Our gadget annihilated matter — degenerating iron atoms into sodium — and produced electric current. The increased output intensified the conversion field, and the intensified field increased the output. An excellent arrangement, if you want a matter bomb—but highly unsafe for a power plant.
     “Your father solved that problem, Chad—very simply, too. Just a secondary solenoid, in series with the primary, which develops an opposing voltage as the equalizing field expands. It gives you a safe, guaranteed maximum voltage—the value determined by the way it’s wound.”

     Hudd’s deep-sunken eyes blinked skeptically.
     “You mean, you can generate electricity ?” he rasped. “With just a coil of wire?”
     “And a few stray ions to excite it,” Cameron told him. “A pound of copper solenoid would drive the cruiser, yonder, out to the Dark Star. Or iron, or silver—the metal doesn't matter; it’s only the precise shape and alignment and spacing of the turns of wire.
     Hudd shook his head, in massive unbelief.
     “Perpetual motion!” he scoffed.
     “Almost.” Cameron grinned. “Equalized mass is converted into energy, according to the Einstein equation. The solenoid wastes away—but slowly. One pound of solenoid will generate ten billion kilowatt hours of electricity.
     “If it’s all that simple,” Hudd objected shrewdly, “somebody would have stumbled on it, by accident.”
     “Very likely, men did,” Cameron agreed. “Not many—the shape of the coils is not one you would want, for anything else; and the turns must be very exactly formed and aligned, or else the regenerative effect is damped out. The few who did it must have been instantly electrocuted—because they didn’t also stumble on Barstow’s safety-winding.”

     “You have ten minutes to give up the killers, Mr. Hudd,” drawled Frank Enlow. “Or you’ll see a better demonstration.”
     Hudd snorted: a blast of defiance.
     “I’ll wait for it,” he gasped. “You can’t bluff me.”

     A shadow came over Cameron’s haggard face. His tired eyes closed for a moment, and I saw the blue stains under them. He sat back on his heels, his emaciated body sagging as if from a punishing blow.
     “It’s no bluff, Mr. Hudd.” He paused as if to gather himself for a weary and yet vehement protest. “You just don’t grasp what the equalizer means. It ended the Atomic Age. The Directorate was part of that lost era. You can’t hope to restore it, now, any more than you could revive a fossil tyrannosaur. You can only cause needless bloodshed and death.

     Hudd’s mouth hardened, with an unconvinced hostility.
     “Tyler spilled plenty of blood, building the first Directorate,” he commented coldly. “Perhaps I’ll have to pay the same price again, but I expect to win. Maybe Tyler's men mutinied, when they heard about this wonderful equalizer. But mine have better discipline—and they won’t hear about it.”
     “It wasn't mutiny, Mr. Hudd,” Cameron insisted. “There was no fighting. The Directorate wasn’t overthrown—it simply ceased to exist. When the equalizer happened, there was no more reason for Fort America than there is for arrow makers. The officers recognized that, as well as the men. The garrison just packed up and came home.
     “Home to what?” Hudd challenged, scowling shaggily. “The people here were already deserting the cities, leaving nearly everything they owned. There must have been something else—perhaps some frightful biotoxin, loose—to cause such panic.”
     “You still don’t get it.” Cameron shook his head, with a tired impatience. “The equalizer freed the city dwellers, just as it did the garrison. Because most people didn’t live in cities by choice. They were huddled into them by the old division of labor-specialized cogs in a social machine grown ruinously complex.
     “But the equalizer abolished the division of labor—at least in military technology. Every man with a piece of wire became a complete military specialist, competent to defend himself. With the new control of atomic and molecular processes, he could also provide for nearly all his own ordinary wants. Complexity was replaced with stark simplicity.
     “Take the couple who lived here.” He nodded regretfully at the empty house behind us. “They built their own home, made their own food and clothing. They were setting up this dam, when they were murdered, to save their own land from erosion. They weren’t slaves of any single skill, or prisoners of any class; and they had no reason to hate or fear their neighbors—until we came along.”

     Hudd blinked, still doubtful.
     “But why were the cities so utterly abandoned?” he questioned. “And all that money left behind, as Lord reports?”
     Cameron glanced up at the great frowning ship, uneasily.
     “The cities were a product of the old technology, and they died with it,” he argued doggedly. “The day of the equalizer, workers walked out and services stopped. There was no food, no power, no water, no sewage disposal. City life was impossible, without division of labor.
     “As for money, paper dollars were only shares in the extinct Atomic Age. Metal was still useful—but the equalizer must have made it easier to refine new metal than to wreck the cities.
“Don’t you have worse criminals?” Hudd demanded. “Those who do use the equalizer?”     Enlow shook his head.
     “The users of the equalizer have very little economic reason for crime,” he said. “And people armed with it aren’t very likely victims. It’s just because crime has become so rare, that the Hawkinses weren’t alert.”

     Hudd pulled absently at his thick lower lip.
     “If you’ve got no government,” his harsh rasp came, “then I think you’ve got a madhouse—and all the madmen armed with insane weapons.”
     Enlow shook his dark head, with a lean dignity.
     “You’re living under a false philosophy, Mr. Hudd,” he said softly. “You believe that men are evil, that they have to be driven. Fortunately, that philosophy is mistaken—because men with equalizers can’t be driven.”

(ed note: Lord thinks that Hudd is about to hand him over to be tried for murder. Lord panics. He shoots his thugs, kicks them out the hatch, and tries to escape in the scoutship. One of the thugs is only wounded, but both are incinerated by the rocket exhaust. The scoutship starts to vanish in the distance. Enlow sighs, and shoots his miniature guided missile launcher. Lord and the entire scoutship are vaporized by the miniature missile.

Hudd freaks out and runs back to the flagship, vowing to carpet bomb the place with atomic bombs. Only to discover that the crew won't let him in. It seems that Cameron had helped the inhabitants get into radio contact with the task force crew and explained how to make equalizers. All the crews of all the ships in the task force have joined the inhabitants. )

From THE EQUALIZER by Jack Williamson (1947)
POWER TO THE PEOPLE 3

(ed note: Seetee is antimatter (from the work Contraterrene or C.T.) In the story it can be found in antimatter meteor drifts in the asteroid belt. The Brand Transmitter is a species of power broadcast. Naturally the powers that be are angry at this threat to their monopoly on fission power because no empire has ever survived an energy-related phase shift with its full power intact.)

      A dull, hopeless anger took hold of Jenkins. He hated the stubborn stupidity of old Bruce O’Banion, and raged against the anonymous leaders of the, Free Space Party. He detested the complacent aristocracy of the Interplanet directors, despised the sordid greed of the Mandate bureaucrats, and bitterly scorned the cynical schemes of his uncle.
     All humanity, it seemed to him, impelled by its confusion of ignorant fears and blind desires, was somehow involved in a monstrous conspiracy against the bright dream of the Fifth Freedom. The engineering problems of the Brand transmitter were solved long ago, but the human difficulties loomed gigantic, complex beyond solution. The great barrier to human progress stood revealed as the nature of man himself.
     Urgently, he tugged at O’Banion’s arm.
     “Listen!” he whispered. “Your revolt has failed—but the Brand transmitter hasn’t. It can still bring peace and freedom to the people of the rocks—and all the planets.”

     “Physical power is the basis of political power,” he went on grimly. “The Mandate is able to oppress you because the governments of its member planets bave joined to establish a monopoly of the fissionable elements and fission energy. Your rebellion has failed to break that monopoly of power. But there is another way to do it, with a new power-source—the seetee drift!”
     They still listened, their lean, battle-soiled faces bleakly mistrustful.
     “Free power!” he whispered huskily. “Just look at the actual meaning of that. The Brand transmitter, that we’re trying to build on Freedonia, can supply free seetee energy to all men everywhere. That will mean economic freedom, and economic freedom will create political freedom. Our Freedonia plant can set you free of the Mandate and also from the rule of your own Party leaders.”

(ed note: The protagonist is dying from Seetee Shock: radiation sickness caused by being too close to a matter-antimatter explosion)

     But he towed them into place. He aligned them, with painful care. Groggily, swaying at the task, he tightened the connections and brazed them with condulloy metal. He inspected the assembly, tested all the circuits, and straightened triumphantly in the chafing confinement of his armor.
     The Brand transmitter was finished!

     Awkward now in the powered suit, he missed the high control platform. He plunged on past it, fumbling feebly at the control studs, toward the untouchable metal of the upper hemisphere and the red signs that warned: SEETEE—KEEP OFF!
     The steel rails of the terrene barrier caught him. His trembling fingers found the studs again, and he alighted at last on the platform. Abruptly ill, he vomited again. Darkness came down upon him, and he thought he was blind.
     He lay a long time, merely clinging to the platform rail, until he found that he could see again. Nearly too weak to move the stiff armor, he drew himself erect. He waited for his head to clear, and make meaning come back to the gauges and controls before him. He pressed buttons and pulled switches.
     The generator ran.
     A green indicator light told him that the Levin-Dahlberg field was functioning. The fuel-milling machines ran silently in that airless space, grinding terrene and seetee rock to dust. Separator coils refined the fuel, and paragravity injectors metered it into the reaction field.
     Matter was annihilated there, but Jenkins saw no frightful fire. He heard no ultimate crash. He was not destroyed. For the reaction field contained that raving energy, and converted it into a silent tide of power flowing in the condulloy coils.
     Meter needles crept over, as that river of tamed energy flooded higher. They steadied, as full output of the generator built up the power field extending beyond the far sun to the limits of the solar system. They dropped back suddenly, as the full potential was established and automatic relays shut off the flow of fuel.
     Swaying over the board, Jenkins pressed one final button. Fever was burning his body. Unquenchable thirst consumed him. He felt the drip of unstaunchable blood from his nose. Illness crushed him down, until only the cruel stiffness of the armor supported him. Yet he clung to consciousness, and tried to listen.

     “People of all the planets—”

     Those triumphant words came faintly from the speaker in his helmet, spoken in the deep voice of old Jim Drake. A red photophone light was flickering on the board, and his mind could see the powerful automatic photophone and ultra-wave beam transmitters above, sweeping every rock and planet in the ecliptic with that recorded announcement, as Freedonia turned.

     “The Fifth Freedom has arrived!” Drake’s canned voice proclaimed—for he had planned and toiled against this crucial hour. “Free power is flowing out from our contraterrene plant, and all you who hear can tap the power field with simple tri-polar receptors.
     “Receptor voltage is set by the dimensions of the elements, current output limited only by circuit resistance. Specifications are—”

     Jenkins vomited again, into the rubber bag beneath his chin. Sweat was clammy on his body, and the vast, untouchable machines beyond the barriers blurred and dimmed. But he tried to listen, and he heard Drake’s recorded voice again.

     “… benefit all men. But there are men too blind to see the good. There are a few selfish men and women, anxious to preserve their cruel old monopoly of power, who will attempt to stop the Brand transmitter. We beg all common men, everywhere, not to let that happen.”

     A pause, and then the tape repeated:

     “People of all the planets—

     “Open this.” Smiling mysteriously, she gave him a little package. “Ann wanted me to bring flowers, but Rick said you’d like this better. Even if it’s just a toy.”
     Eagerly, he opened the box. He found a small light bulb and another tiny gadget made of insulating plastic, sheet copper, and a few turns of wire. Peering at it, he caught his breath.
     “A Brand receptor !” he whispered. “Does it work?”
     “Try it.”
     Anxiously, he twisted the bulb into the gadget. It lit—and its tiny glow was enough to show him the illimitable might of the Brand power field, pervading all the planets of man. It was a searchlight, probing feebly into the misty splendor of a new human era.

From SEETEE SHOCK by Jack Williamson (1949)

Technological Unemployment

Technological Unemployment is when a machine steals your job.

The classic example is back in the 1800s when all the artisan weavers angrily became Luddites because power looms stole their jobs and gave jobs to low-skilled cheap laborers.

(But the term "sabotage" did not come from Luddites tossing their wooden clog sabots into the the machinery. That is not supported by the etymology. I don't care what Lt. Valeris said in Star Trek VI. It is a common story, though.)

Anyway the economists will assure you that history proves there is nothing to worry about. Yes there will be some short-term pain as all the buggy-whip making jobs vanish, but in the long-term the march of technology will create more new jobs than were originally lost. Believing otherwise means you are an economic ignoramus making the mistake of falling for the Luddite Fallacy.


But around 2013 more and more economists became alarmed that this time it was different.

Up until now, machines were taking away jobs by replacing human strength. Now they were taking away jobs by replacing human intellect. Yuval Harari said “Humans only have two basic abilities — physical and cognitive. When machines replaced us in physical abilities, we moved on to jobs that require cognitive abilities. ... If AI becomes better than us in that, there is no third field humans can move to.”

It started slow. Personal computers with word-processing software drastically reduced the number of secretarial jobs. Income tax preparation software drastically reduced the number of tax preparation companies. Currently many fast food franchises are replacing food preparation workers with robots.

But that's OK said the economists. The displaced workers just need some more education so they can find jobs which have not been computerized yet. And they will be higher paying jobs, just you wait and see!


The economists got a rude shock when computers started taking away high-education jobs. That wasn't supposed to happen. It was also a chilling wake-up call to those with high-education jobs who had been smugly saying their jobs were safe.

For example, a new company called Enlitic applied Google's deep learning software TensorFlow to the task of diagnosing lung cancer by examining lung CT scans. They easily trained the software to do the work. Then they did a test where a panel of four of the world’s top human radiologists competed with the software. The results were dramatic. The human radiologists had a false positive rate (incorrectly diagnosing cancer) of 66%. The software had a false positive rate of only 47%. What is worse, the human radiologists had a false negative rate (missing a cancer diagnosis) of 7% while the software had a false negative rate of Zero.

Which means that once Enlitic trains their software on the other diseases, human radiologists will suddenly find themselves out of a job. The software will be cheaper than a radiologist's salary ($286,000/year), and can work 24-7. OK Mr. Economist, what sort of education would you suggest so these suddenly unemployed radiologists can find a better-paying job? Preferably a job that will NOT become lost to computer software before they even complete their education.

Such software is also making inroads into stealing such jobs as writing sports stories, journalism, computer programming, sewing garments, marketing, doing the job of junior lawyers by sorting through previous court cases and legal resources to find precedents, money management, and writing legal briefs. Not to mention financial analysts. And it is just a matter of time before general medical diagnosis falls as well.

As one commentor noted: It's not that complicated. Automation will go from freeing us up to do what we're good at, to being better than us at what we're good at. That's why it's different.


The mood among economists is becoming grim. While many are still maintaining that new jobs will eventually replaced the vanished ones, their pronouncements are starting to sound a bit hollow. The economists who believe the jobs will not be coming back used to be a tiny minority, but a 2014 Pew Research revealed such economists are now more like 48%. Technology is now destroying more jobs than it creates. The Luddite Fallacy is on very shaky ground.

Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne published a study with the findings that almost half of U.S. jobs are at high risk of computerization over the next 20 years. Positions that are particularly vulnerable to automation include telemarketers, tax preparers, watch repairers, insurance underwriters, cargo and freight agents, and mathematical technicians. Driving jobs on mining sites are already being automated and long-distance truck drivers, forklift operators and agricultural drivers could be replaced within five to 10 years.

A more recent McKinsey report suggested today's technology could feasibly replace 45% of jobs right now.

And for jobs requiring lower education lost to automation, even if they are eventually replace in the long-term, the short-term can wreck the entire US economy if the number of jobs is huge enough. It can be a disaster if the transition is too fast. The advent of autonomous cars and driverless trucks could put five million people in the US out of a job. The point being that the US economy does not have the ability to create five million new jobs fast enough to employ these people.

There are those who say: but what about creative jobs? A robot might be stronger and a computer might be smarter, but can they make art? The first point is if you actually think you can solve the unemployment problem by teaching the unemployed to be artists, well good luck with that. The second point is yes, computers are starting to make art.


Taken to its logical extreme, eventually there won't be any more jobs. None, everything will be done by robots and computers. Which is a problem since in modern society one needs money in order to avoid starving to death. And there are not a lot of ways to get money without a job. Not legal ways at any rate. The only people with money will be the ones that own the robots, or have income from either stocks or being independently wealthy.

Yes, corporations that manufacture goods for sale are shooting themselves in the foot by firing all their employees and replacing them with robots. This reduces the number of potential customers (ones who have money to purchase your product at any rate). However this is a "tragedy of the commons" situation. Basically each company figures the declining number of customers is Somebody Else's Problem, not their problem. Even worse, if a company decides to virtuously hang on to their workers to maintain the number of consumers, the company will find itself at a competitive disadvantage with respect to all their evil competitors who use robots. The virtuous companies will go bankrupt from the unfair competition from the evil companies.

But the big point is any society is only three missed meals away from violent anarchy. If widespread technological unemployment increases, the problem will be solved either elegantly by government and society, or it will solve itself inelegantly by natural forces. Probably food riots and angry hungry people setting up lots of guillotines to take care of the robot owners. The French Revolution was over 200 years ago, but the situation is much the same and if we are unlucky so will be the solution. Everything old is new again.

And obviously the food riots are not going to hold off until 100% unemployment happens. They will start much sooner than that.


So what are the elegant solutions?

Banning/refusing innovation
Somehow slow down the rate of technological innovation. Yeah, like that's ever going to work. There is too much money to be made by corporations through innovation. And you'll need global enforcement, or innovation-banned nations cannot compete with illegal innovation-allowed nations (see Butlerian Jihad). Practically all economists won't even consider this as a solution.
Welfare payments
Subsidies and hand outs to those affected. This is a band-aid trying to treat a sucking chest wound. Welfare is intended to be a temporary solution to until the situation fixes itself. Unfortunately this situation is permanent and "those affected" will include about 90% of the population.
Basic Income
Give everybody a salary large enough for food and housing, for free. Of course the first question that arises is "where is all that money going to come from" and the answer is usually "by taxing the rich" (though there are some schemes that somehow privatize the money source). Some say it is a bad idea because it will be a disincentive to work, which overlooks the fact that the problem is there isn't any work to be had. There are many who say such a scheme will be inevitable because the only alternative is guillotines.
Education
This is a re-hash of the "educate displaced workers with skills to get new jobs." Try telling that to the radiologists (who will probably become so enraged that they will double the number of bones in your body). Besides, there won't be any jobs to be educated into.
Public Works
In other words, create enough fake jobs composed of worthless busy-work to give everybody a job (see Featherbedding). This creates the illusion of full employment. Again the question arises: where will the money come from?
Shorter Working Hours
This boils down to "as the amount of available work shrinks, it will have to be rationed so everybody can have a job." Obviously this is a stop-gap measure, not a solution. If the amount of available work is now zero, so will be the size of your work-ration.
Broadening the ownership of technological assets
If the only way to make money is by either owning robots or owning stock, then the government will have to give everybody free robots and stock so they can live. Again, who is going to pay for this?

And there are those who say that the rich should foot the bill for a solution, telling them that this is the fee for "guillotine insurance."

But a commentator named Kalin said: The elites will share their wealth only insofar as it's cheaper to do that (bread and circuses) than it is to keep the proles at bay through force. What Marx saw as an inexorable trend towards socialism may have in fact just been a temporary consequence of the industrial revolution, wherein labor was especially important and the power of an individual worker was large in historical terms. It's not impossible to imagine a sort of "Neo Feudalism" where a small minority of elites find it cheaper to maintain control via technological force-multipliers than to share their earnings such that everyone is actually happy or nearly so.

In other words, the rich will do the math and may well discover that a private army is cheaper than funding a Basic Income.

EWreckedSean observed: "This is how we get a Kwisatz Haderach..."

DEMOCRACY TO AUTOCRACY

Mass automation is undermining our democracy in a very specific way: it's acting as the ultimate "resource curse."

"Countries with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources."

Scholars debate the causes of the resource curse, but one popular theory has to do with the way autocrats fund themselves relative to democracies.

Autocrats, it turns out, need a lot of wealth to pay their cronies. No dictator rules alone; they need someone to run the military, someone to collect the taxes, and someone to enforce the laws. Those people have to be paid, and handsomely, or they'll overthrow the dictator (or just allow the dictator to be overthrown). This is called "selectorate theory" and this video is a great introduction.

Oil wealth, specifically, undermines democracy because when autocrats have access to oil wealth, they don't need to depend on their citizens very much. (Indeed, many oil-rich autocratic countries just allow other countries to come in and drill it, keeping local labor entirely out of the loop.)

Resource-cursed autocracies tend to democratize when the oil wealth runs out and they need to rely on the people's productivity to deliver wealth to cronies. When autocrats are forced to allow people to educate themselves and communicate with one another, democracy ensues.

It can work the other way, too. In every democracy, there's a group of folks asking themselves a question: is now the time to try a coup, to replace democracy with an autocracy? As the value of capital increases and the value of human labor decreases, the advantages of staging a coup become more and more enticing.

For years we've thought of human labor as the "ultimate resource." But it turns out that human labor isn't the ultimate resource. Robot labor that's just as good if not better than human labor is a resource beyond any we've ever seen.

But that means that we're discovering/inventing the ultimate resource curse.

We might use automation to fund universal basic income, or a class of elites could use it to undermine "unnecessary" citizens (the "unnecessariat"), establishing a corporate fascism.

When the government depends on human productivity for our tax base, the government needs to keep us all well-educated and healthy. But soon, government won't depend on human labor.

"Is now the time?" they're asking. And, increasingly, the answer is "yes."

WHO GETS THE REMAINING JOBS?

Rank Has Its Privileges. That had never been more true than during the first decades of space development. One odd and predictable—yet unexpected—consequence of automation and excess productive capacity had been the re-emergence of the class system. The old aristocracy, diminished (but never quite destroyed) during the days of world-wide poverty and experimental social programs, had returned; and there were some curious additions to their ranks.

It had been surprising, but inevitable. When all of Earth's manufacturing moved to the computer-controlled assembly lines, employment needs went down as efficiency went up. Soon it was learned that in the fuzzy areas of "management" and "government," most business and development decisions could also be routinely (and more effectively) handled by computer. At the same time, lack of results and impatience with academic studies had squeezed education to a few years of mandatory schooling.

The unemployment rate grew to ninety percent. The available jobs on Earth called for no special skills—so who would get them?

Naturally, those with well-placed friends and relatives. There had been a wonderful blossoming of nepotism, unmatched within the previous thousand years. Many positions called for prospective employees to possess a "stable base of operations and adequate working materials." With living accommodations and family possessions passed on across the generations, the advantage lay always with those from the old families.

Meanwhile, away from Earth there was a real need for people. The solar system was ripe for development. It offered an environment that was demanding, dangerous, and full of unbounded opportunities. And it had a nasty habit of cancelling any man-made advantage derived from birth, wealth, or spurious academic "qualifications." Cancelling permanently.

The rich and the royal were not without their own shrewdness. After a quick look at space, they stayed home on Earth, the one place in the system where their safety, superiority, and status were all assured. It was the low-born, seeing no upward mobility on Earth, who took the big leap—outward.

The result was too effective to be the work of human planners. The tough, desperate commoners fought their way to space, generation after generation. The introduction of the Mattin Link quadrupled the rate of exodus, and the society that was left on Earth became more and more titled and self-conscious. Well-protected from material want and free from external pressures, it naturally developed an ever-increasing disdain for the emigrants— "vulgar commoners" spreading their low-born and classless fecundity through the solar system and out to the stars. Earth was the place to be for the aristocrats. The only place to be, on the Big Marble itself. Where else could anyone live who despised crudity, esteemed breeding and culture, and demanded a certain sophistication of life-style?

King Bester was a king, a genuine monarch who traced his line across thirty-two generations to the House of Saxe-Coburg. He was one of seventeen thousand royals reigning on and under Earth's surface. He regarded Tatty Snipes, Princess Tatiana Sinai-Peres of the Cabot-Kasnoggi's, as rather an upstart. She had only six centuries and twenty-two generations in her lineage. He did not say it, of course, in her presence—Tatty would have knocked the side of his royal head in with one blow of her carefully-manicured and aristocratic fist. But he certainly thought it.

And King Bester, like Tatty, was nobody's fool. He realized very well that the real power had moved away from Earth. The Quarantine operated by Solar Security applied only to people moving outward from Earth. Bester could sense the brawling, raw strength that lay in people like Luther Brachis. It ran right through the off-planet culture, and he was afraid of it. Far better to stay home, operate within the familiar rituals of the Big Marble, and take a little when the opportunity came from visitors like Mondrian and his colleagues. Those visitors were far more numerous than System government liked to admit, and they came down to Earth for reasons rarely shown on any travel permits.

From THE MIND POOL by Charles Sheffield (1993)
GUARANTEED BASIC INCOME

People could indulge in such whims, because they had both the time and the money. The abolition of armed forces had at once almost doubled the world’s effective wealth, and increased production had done the rest. As a result, it was difficult to compare the standard of living of twenty-first-century man with that of any of his predecessors.

Everything was so cheap that the necessities of life were free, provided as a public service by the community as roads, water, street lighting and drainage had once been. A man could travel anywhere he pleased, eat whatever food he fancied—without handing over any money. He had earned the right to do this by being a productive member of the community.

There were, of course, some drones, but the number of people sufficiently strong-willed to indulge in a life of complete idleness is much smaller than is generally supposed. Supporting such parasites was considerably less of a burden than providing the armies of ticket-collectors, shop assistants, bank clerks, stockbrokers and so forth whose main function, when one took the global point of view, was to transfer items from one ledger to another.

From CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)
GUARANTEED BASIC INCOME 2

"Good God, just how big is this underground city?"

"It goes down seventeen levels and now extends nearly to our South Eastern coastline."

Gaynor shook his head slowly, fumbled in his pocket and produced an empty (cigarette) packet. "Ah, well."

"Try one of ours." Michael tossed him one. "They're not superb but they don't turn your ears green like your brands. In the first place they're not synthetic and in the second we have manufacturing standards. No, there's no tip, just suck in a couple of times. If you are fortunate enough to join our community you'll get forty a week basic."

"Basic?"

"Unlike the Administration we maintain the aged and physically unemployable. For these there is the basic: free accommodation, food, beamed entertainment and a few minor luxuries."

"Your economic system seems well worked out."


"Excellent." Relling rubbed his hands as if he had accomplished something important. "Now let's go out and spend some money."

"What money?" Perplexity made Gaynor sound aggressive.

"Mine for demonstrable purposes. You have only basic, a hundred units a week, which is not enough to go rash on. Of course, as soon as you decide on this job, you will get a salary plus basic."

From THE PRODIGAL SUN by Philip E. High (1964)
PROLETARIAT

No one worried about a Prole. They were the outcasts of the new feudalism, the nightmare of the politician, the barrier to economic recovery, the burden of the privileged classes. It had not come to pogroms or mass extermination yet, but it had been talked about and was getting very close indeed.

The Proles! Six billion labor-class entities who, with an average I.Q. of only ninety, could not be fitted into the structure of society, who had to be carried by a sagging, groaning economic structure already on the verge of collapse. What the hell could you do with them? Anything they could do the machines could do six times as fast and twenty times more efficiently. No wonder, despite government subsidies, the Combines often lost patience and tossed some of the burden into the street. (where they are murdered by roving gangs of psychopaths)


(ed note: Then the supercomputer "Mother" is brought into the situation, where it makes a startling announcement)

"Permit me to state here that there are no Proles. Not only is such demarcation between the peoples of the same race undemocratic; it is completely false.

"Let me explain to you briefly how this division of classes came into being. As the machine displaced more and more workers, the I.Q. tests were correspondingly narrowed. As a result, those whose individual capacities extended beyond these tests were automatically ruled out and branded morons. The hypnads confined the field of intelligence even more, and soon your society was carrying a burden of unemployed which threatened to destroy its economy. Let me stress, however, that these alleged Proles were not intellectually inferior; potentially they were as intellectual as their fellows, but the structure of your society prevented the exercise of their talents.

"Permit me to quote examples. In the last few hours I have been scrutinizing individual files, and from the ranks of these alleged Proles I can bring you enough talent to rebuild the world."

From THE MAD METROPOLIS by Philip E. High (1966)
PIRACY PREFERRED

HIGH IN THE DEEP BLUE OF THE afternoon sky rode a tiny speck of glistening metal, scarcely visible in the glare of the sun. The workers on the machines below glanced up for a moment, then back to their work, though little enough it was on these automatic cultivators. Even this minor diversion was of interest in the dull monotony of green. These endless fields of castor bean plants had to be cultivated, but with the great machines that did the work it required but a few dozen men to cultivate an entire county.

From PIRACY PREFERRED by John W. Campbell, Jr. (1930)
KNOWLEDGE CRASH

Hatred for the damned frozen planet and the damned Ring that had sucked the life out of him and wrecked his career.

And hatred for the Knowledge Crash. If you could hate something that might not even have happened. That was perhaps the surpassing irony: no one was ever quite sure if the Knowledge Crash had even taken place. Some argued that the very state of being uncertain whether or not the Crash had occurred proved that it had.

Briefly put, the K-Crash theory was that Earth had reached the point where additional education, improved (but more expensive) technology, more and better information, and faster communications had negative value.

If, the theory went on, there had not been a Knowledge Crash, the state of the world information economy would be orderly enough to confirm the fact that it hadn’t happened. That chaos and uncertainty held such sway therefore demonstrated that the appropriate information wasn’t being handled properly. QED, the Crash was real.

An economic collapse had come, that much was certain. Now that the economy was a mess, learned economists were pointing quite precisely at this point in the graph, or that part of the table, or that stage in the actuarial tables to explain why. Everyone could predict it, now that it had happened, and there were as many theories as predictions. The Knowledge Crash was merely the most popular idea.

But correct or not, the K-Crash theory was as good an explanation as any for what had happened to the Earth’s economy. Certainly there had to be some reason for the global downturn. Just as certainly, there had been a great deal of knowledge, coming in from many sources, headed toward a lot of people, for a long time.

The cultural radicals—the Naked Purples, the Final Clan, all of them—were supposed to be a direct offshoot of the same info-neurosis that had ultimately caused the Crash. There were Whole communities who rejected the overinformed lifestyle of Earth and reached for something else—anything else—so long as it was different. Raphael did not approve of the rads. But he could easily believe they were pushed over the edge by societal neuroses.

The mental institutions of Earth were full of info-neurotics, people who had simply become overwhelmed by all they needed to know. Information psychosis was an officially recognized—and highly prevalent—mental disorder. Living in the modern world simply took more knowledge than some people were capable of absorbing. The age-old coping mechanisms of denial, withdrawal, phobic reaction and regression expressed themselves in response to brand-new mental crises.

Granted, therefore, that too much data could give a person a nervous breakdown. Could the same thing have happened to the whole planet?

The time needed for the training required to do the average technical job was sucking up the time that should have gone to doing the job. There were cases, far too many of them, of workers going straight from training program to retirement, with never a day of productive labor in between. Such cases were extreme, but for many professions, the initial training period was substantially longer than the period of productive labor—and the need for periodic retraining only made the situation worse.

Not merely the time, but the expense required for all that training was incredible. No matter how it was subsidized or reapportioned or provided via scholarship or grant program, the education was expensive, a substantial drain on the Gross Planetary Product.

Bloated with information, choked with the needs of a world-girdling bureaucracy required to track information and put it to use, strangled by the data security nets that kept knowledge out of the wrong hands, lost in the endless maze of storing and accessing all the data required merely to keep things on an even keel, Earth’s economy had simply ground to a halt. The world was so busy learning how to work that it never got the chance to do the work. The planet was losing so much time gathering vital data that it didn’t have a chance to put the data to use. Earth’s economy was writhing in agony. Both the planet generally, and the U.N. Astrophysical Foundation specifically, could scarcely afford necessities. They certainly could not afford luxuries—especially ones that could only add to the knowledge burden. Such as the Ring of Charon.

From THE RING OF CHARON by Roger MacBride Allen (1990)
THE ROBOT CORPORATION

(ed note: in the far future the short-sided scientist Bari Horn creates the first artificial intelligence which is regrettably utterly evil. Bari puts the intelligent computer brain into a large robot body, a "technomaton". He names it Malgarth. Shortly afterwards the robot figures it is illogical to be a slave to this puny human and mortally wounds Bari. The robot and the AI technology had been sold to The Robot Corporation.)

      Malgarth was left master of the laboratory. Deliberately, the robot set about the making of a second black brain and a second metal body— both, I perceived, inferior to its own. Malgarth, clearly, would avoid his creator's error!
     Presently, when shareholders in the Robot Corporation appeared to claim their property, Malgarth met them. Bari Horn's laboratory records, it seemed, had unfortunately been destroyed. His discoveries now reposed only in the synthetic brain of Malgarth. And Malgarth would declose them only in return for a controlling interest in the Corporation!
     The baffled investors finally yielded— and it seemed ironically fitting that the director of the Robot Corporation should be himself a robot. A new factory began turning out robot technomatons.
     Some of these, intended for domestic or public service, were almost human in appearance. Others, designed for industrial work, were queer-looking monstrosities of metal and rubber and plastics, each specialized for its own task.
     The technomatons were swifter and stronger than men; they required no food or rest or recreation, but only a yearly charge of atomic power in their stellidyne cells. The rental of a robot from Malgarth's Corporation was less than the hire of a human worker. Consequently the Corporation prospered exceedingly.
     Soon long red space-cruisers, bearing the black cogwheel that was the trademark of the Corporation, were carrying technomatons through all the Galactic Empire. The agencies of Malgarth, with grim-lensed robots presiding over desks and counters, were set up on every inhabited planet; branch factories in every civilized system.
     Any man, presently, from one spiral arm of the Galaxy to the opposite, could hire a quick, efficient technomaton to perform any conceivable task— for less than the cost of human labor. And a golden tide of currency and exchange flowed into the agencies of Malgarth, until the Corporation was richer than the Empire.
     Civilization, for a time, rejoiced in the strength and efficiency of these super-machines. Bari Horn, the inventor, was widely honored as the supreme benefactor of mankind.

     "Malgarth still rules the Corporation," he said. "And the Corporation has grown mightier than the Empire. Your prophesied return is in good time, Barihorn, for the struggle is at hand! It will be the robots, or mankind— both cannot survive. Men have been enslaved," rang the voice of Kel Aran. "Now they fight for freedom. We have cruised the Galaxy from Koridos to Tenephron, and everywhere there is rebellion— brave and yet hopeless rebellion against the iron might of the Space Police and the fleets of the Galactic Guard! For Malgarth moves the Emperor like a puppet, to the murder of his own wretched kind.
     In the confused intervals of half-awakening, I learned a little of the three companions of Kel Aran, and how they had come to join the Earthman's outlaw crusade against the Corporation. Each of them had suffered some grave injury from the robots.
     For the ultimate object of Malgarth, they believed, was the total extirpation of mankind. On every planet the agencies of the far-flung Corporation had been growing more wealthy, at the expense of human owners. The robot legions of Malgarth's Space Police were gathering power. Everywhere it was becoming more and more difficult for a mere human being to own anything, to find a job, to feed himself and his dependents, or even to get into the relief lines to receive synthetic gruel.
     "Why waste with human labor?" ran an old slogan of the Corporation. "Let a robot do your work— efficiently."
     And now the very existence of mankind, said Jeron Roc, seemed a waste to Malgarth. The Corporation's loftily-named "technomitanization" campaign was in reality a cunning and ruthless effort to supplant mankind.
     Jeron Roc, navigator of the Barihorn, was a native of Saturn. He was massively tall, dark-skinned, with the piercing eyes of intellectual power. He came of a proud and ancient family; his father had been the foremost astronomer of the solar system— until a new edict of the Emperor reserved scientific research for the robots alone.
     "The will of Malgarth is now the law of the Empire," he explained. "For the Corporation owns nine tenths of the property in the Empire. Without the taxes paid by the robots, the Emperor and his bureaucrats would starve. Therefore the fleets of the Galactic Guard support the outrageous claims of the Corporation."
     The cook, Zerek Oom, was inordinately fat, totally bald, and extremely white— being a native of one of the cloud-veiled worlds of Canopus. He was decorated with the most brilliant and remarkable tattooing I had ever seen. He had inherited vast estates, but the "technomitanization" laws had forced him to discharge his human laborers to starve, and rent robots in their stead; then, when a hungry world had no money to buy his crops, he went bankrupt, and the Corporation took his lands in lieu of robot-hire.

From AFTER WORLD'S END by Jack Williamson (1939)

Smart Crooks

For dishonest people, technological advances can provide new and improved ways to steal money. A fact learned the hard way by the victims of internet fraud, since the internet was not commonly available prior to 1993.

While some crimes are just an updating of age-old scams (the Nigerian Email fraud is a re-hash of the 1800's "Spanish Prisoner" confidence trick), some are new. Such as credit card skimmers and ransomware style cyberattacks.

The point is that such cutting edge scams require intelligent criminals; since they have to quickly learn the new techology, spot weak points to adapt to a scam, and implement the attack. Since such attacks seem to explode with each technological advance, the implication is that there are lots and lots of smart crooks.

TELEGRAPH CRIME

Ever since people have invented things, other people have found ways to put those things to criminal use.

"It is a well-known fact that no other section of the population avail themselves more readily and speedily of the latest triumphs of science than the criminal class," declared Inspector John Bonfield, a Chicago policeman, to the Chicago Herald in 1888. "The educated criminal skims the cream from every new invention, if he can make use of it."

The telegraph was no exception. It provided unscrupulous individuals with novel opportunities for fraud, theft, and deception.

From THE VICTORIAN INTERNET by Tom Standage (1998)
TOO MANY SMART PEOPLE ARE CROOKS

(ed note: Richard Seaton and Martin Crane invented a power source that delivers electricity at a ridiculously inexpensive rate, and a faster-than-light spaceship drive. They are startled at the effect these have on the economy of Terra. Tellus=Terra.)

She reached up, twitched the button out of his ear, and tossed it onto a table. "Will you please lay off of that stuff for a minute, Dick?" she demanded. "I'm fed up to the eyeballs with this business of you killing yourself with all time work and no time sleep. You never had any such horrible black circles under your eyes before and you're getting positively scrawny. You've got to quit it: Can't you let somebody else carry some of the load? Delegate some authority?"

"I'm delegating all I possibly can already, Red-Top." Seaton absently rubbed his ear.

Until Dorothy had flipped it away, the button had been carrying to him a transcription of the taped reports of more than one hundred Planetary Observers from the planet of Norlamin, each with the IQ of an Einstein and the sagacity of an owl. The last report had had to do with plentiful supplies of X metal that had been turned up on a planet of Omicron Eridani, and the decision to dispatch a fleet of cargo-carrying ships to fetch them away.

But he admitted grudgingly to himself that that particular decision had already been made. His wife was a nearer problem. Paying full attention to her now, he put his arm around her and squeezed.

"Converting a whole planet practically all at once to use fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-order stuff is a job of work, believe me. It's all so new and so tough that not too many people can handle any part of it. It takes brains. And what makes it extra tough is that altogether too many people who are smart enough to learn it are crooks. Shysters-hoodlers-sticky- fingers generally. But I think we're just about over the hump. I wouldn't wonder if these Norlaminian Observers'—snoopers, really—from the Country of Youth will turn out to be the answer to prayer."


WHEN Seaton and Crane had begun to supply the Earth with ridiculously cheap power, they had expected an economic boom and a significant improvement in the standard of living. Neither of them had any idea, however, of the effect upon the world's economy that their space-flights would have; but many tycoons of industry did.

They were shrewd operators, those tycoons. As one man they licked their chops at the idea of interstellar passages made in days. They gloated over thoughts of the multifold increase in productive capacity that would have to be made so soon; as soon as commerce was opened up with dozens and then with hundreds of Tellus-type worlds, inhabited by human beings as human as those of Earth. And when they envisioned hundreds and hundreds of uninhabited Tellus-type worlds, each begging to be grabbed and exploited by whoever got to it first with enough stuff to hold it and to develop it... they positively drooled.

These men did not think of money as money, but as their most effective and most important tool: a tool to be used as knowledgeably as the old-time lumberjack used his axe.

Thus, Earth was going through convulsions of change more revolutionary by far than any it had experienced throughout all previous history. All those pressures building up at once had blown the lid completely off. Seaton and Crane and their associates had been working fifteen hours a day for months training people in previously unimagined skills; trying to keep the literally exploding economy from degenerating into complete chaos.

From SKYLARK DUQUESNE by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1966)

Since we were falling free in a 24-hour circular orbit, with everything weightless and floating, you'd think that shooting craps was impossible. But a radioman named Peters figured a dodge to substitute steel dice and a magnetic field. He also eliminated the element of chance, so we fired him.

From DELILAH AND THE SPACE-RIGGER by Robert Heinlein (1949)
STAINLESS STEEL RAT

My life is so different from that of the overwhelming majority of people in our society that I doubt if I could even explain it to them. They exist in a fat, rich union of worlds that have almost forgotten the, meaning of the word crime. There are few malcontents and even fewer that are socially maladjusted. The few of these that are born, in spite of centuries of genetic control, are caught early and the aberration quickly adjusted. Some don’t show their weakness until they are adults, they are the ones who try their hand at petty crime — burglary, shoplifting or such. They get away with it for a week or two or a month or two, depending on the degree of their native intelligence. But sure as atomic decay — and just as predestined — the police reach out and pull them in.

That is almost the full extent of crime in our organized, dandified society. Ninety-nine per cent of it, let’s say. It is that last and vital one per cent that keeps the police departments in business. That one per cent is me, and a handful of men scattered around the galaxy. Theoretically we can’t exist, and if we do exist we can’t operate — but we do. We are the rats in the wainscoting of society — we operate outside of their barriers and outside of their rules. Society had more rats when the rules were looser; just as the old wooden buildings had more rats than the concrete buildings that came later. But they still had rats. Now that society is all ferroconcrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps between the joints, and it takes a smart rat to find them. A stainless steel rat is right at home in this environment.

It is a proud and lonely thing to be a stainless steel rat — and it is the greatest experience in the galaxy if you can get away with it. The sociological experts can’t seem to agree why we exist, some even doubt that we do. The most widely accepted theory says that we are victims of delayed psychological disturbance that shows no evidence in childhood when it can be detected and corrected and only appears later in life. I have naturally given a lot of thought to the topic and I don’t hold with that idea at all.

From THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT by Harry Harrison (1961)

Future Shock

One of the many ways of classifying personally types in twain is into "Neophiles" and "Neophobes." The former love and enjoy changes and new things, the latter instead hate and feel threatened by the same. Neophobes are hostile to series of changes, with responses ranging from "Stop The World, I Want To Get Off" to full blown Reactionary feelings.

And when the changes start coming faster and faster (i.e, the rate of change increases), Neophobes become more and more frantic. Which makes the current world situation a pretty dire place for Neophobes, since accelerated change is exactly what is happening. None of the Neophobe attempts to turn the clock back have any effect (generally because large corporations are making too much money exploiting the changes). At some point a given Neophobe is going to snap.

This threatens advancement along a tech tree since technological advancement is by definition a series of changes. Such technological changes always have a social impact. Just ask anybody who used to have a job on an automobile assembly line. Or people forced to be caregivers for their elderly parents who were granted longer lifespans by advancements in medical technology (welcome to the Sandwich Generation).


You also see this in any hierarchical organization, such as a corporation or an academy of science. Physicist Max Planck observed "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." Or more tersely "Truth never triumphs—its opponents just die out."

Thomas Kuhn wrote about much the same thing in his award-winning monograph The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

The hidebound, fossilized, longtime, conservative members of such an organization are usually called the "Old Guard." The agile, free-thinking, new, innovative members of such an organization are usually called the "Young Turks." I remember some old aphorism about how a new idea will never become accepted until the last of the old guard opposing it has died of old age, but Google has failed me.

One of the potential problems with immortality is that the old guard never dies, which puts the brakes on progress.


The concept (and the very term itself) of Future Shock was popularized by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book. As of this writing (2016) Toffler's book has been shown to be quite accurate by current events. There is a worryingly large segement of the population that is so oppressed by Future Shock that they apparently have undergone a psychological break, and now refuse to accept facts from science and indeed from reality in general.


Characteristically science fiction authors have some future shock aversion themselves, because it makes writing science fiction so much more difficult. There are many literary methods.

FUTURE SHOCK

Future Shock is a book written by the futurist Alvin Toffler in 1970. In the book, Toffler defines the term "future shock" as a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies. His shortest definition for the term is a personal perception of "too much change in too short a period of time". The book, which became an international bestseller, grew out of an article "The Future as a Way of Life" in Horizon magazine, Summer 1965 issue. The book has sold over 6 million copies and has been widely translated.

Term

Toffler argued that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a "super-industrial society". This change overwhelms people. He believed the accelerated rate of technological and social change left people disconnected and suffering from "shattering stress and disorientation"—future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems are symptoms of future shock. In his discussion of the components of such shock, he popularized the term "information overload."

Development of society and production

Alvin Toffler distinguished three stages in development of society and production: agrarian, industrial and post-industrial.

The first stage began in the period of the Neolithic Era when people invented agriculture, thereby passing from barbarity to a civilization. The second stage began in England with the Industrial Revolution during which people invented the machine tool and the steam engine. The third stage began in the second half of the 20th century in the West when people invented automatic production, robotics and the computer. The services sector attained great value.

Toffler proposed one criterion for distinguishing between industrial society and post-industrial society: the share of the population occupied in agriculture versus the share of city labor occupied in the services sector. In a post-industrial society, the share of the people occupied in agriculture does not exceed 15%, and the share of city laborers occupied in the services sector exceeds 50%. Thus, the share of the people occupied with brainwork greatly exceeds the share of the people occupied with physical work in post-industrial society.

Fear of the future

Alvin Toffler's main thought consists of the fact that modern man feels shock from rapid changes. For example, Toffler's daughter went to shop in New York City and she couldn't find a shop in its previous location. Thus New York has become a city without a history. The urban population doubles every 11 years. The overall production of goods and services doubles each 50 years in developed countries. Society experiences an increasing number of changes with an increasing rapidity, while people are losing the familiarity that old institutions (religion, family, national identity, profession) once provided. The so-called "brain drain" – the emigration of European scientists to the United States – is both an indicator of the changes in society and also one of their causes.

From the Wikipedia entry for FUTURE SHOCK
A WORKING HYPOTHESIS

Rather, I'd just like to note that the past decade or so seems to have been marked by a worldwide upwelling of bigotry and intolerance

This stuff is pervasive; you can come up with alarming news of authoritarian excesses in every corner of the globe.

What's going on?

Reading Robert Altermeyer's The Authoritarians gives one or two pointers, but the narrow focus — on authoritarian followers in politics — begs the question of where all this authoritarianism is coming from.

The term Future Shock was coined by Alvin and Heidi Toffler in the 1960s to describe a syndrome brought about by the experience of "too much change in too short a period of time". Per Wikipedia (my copy of Future Shock is buried in a heap of books in the room next door) "Toffler argues that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a 'super-industrial society'. This change will overwhelm people, the accelerated rate of technological and social change leaving them disconnected and suffering from 'shattering stress and disorientation' — future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems were symptoms of the future shock. In his discussion of the components of such shock, he also popularized the term information overload."

It's about forty years since "Future Shock" was published, and it seems to have withstood the test of time. More to the point, the Tofflers' predictions for how the symptoms would be manifest appear to be roughly on target. They predicted a growth of cults and religious fundamentalism; rejection of modernism: irrational authoritarianism: and widespread insecurity. They didn't nail the other great source of insecurity today, the hollowing-out of state infrastructure and externally imposed asset-stripping in the name of economic orthodoxy that Naomi Klein highlighted in The Shock Doctrine, but to the extent that Friedmanite disaster capitalism can be seen as a predatory corporate response to massive political and economic change, I'm inclined to put disaster capitalism down as being another facet of the same problem. (And it looks as if the UK and USA are finally on the receiving end of disaster capitalism at home, in the post-2008 banking crisis era.)

My working hypothesis to explain the 21st century is that the Tofflers underestimated how pervasive future shock would be. I think somewhere in the range from 15-30% of our fellow hairless primates are currently in the grip of future shock, to some degree. Symptoms include despair, anxiety, depression, disorientation, paranoia, and a desperate search for certainty in lives that are experiencing unpleasant and uninvited change. It's no surprise that anyone who can offer dogmatic absolute answers is popular, or that the paranoid style is again ascendant in American politics, or that religious certainty is more attractive to many than the nuanced complexities of scientific debate. Climate change is an exceptionally potent trigger for future shock insofar as it promises an unpleasant and unpredictable dose of upcoming instability in the years ahead; denial is an emotionally satisfying response to the threat, if not a sustainable one in the longer term.

Deep craziness: we're in it, and there's probably not going to be any reduction in the prevalence of authoritarian escapism until we collectively become accustomed to the pace of change. Which will, at a minimum, not happen until the older generations have died of old age — and maybe not even then.

From A WORKING HYPOTHESIS by Charles Stross (2010)

The elderly are all involuntary refugees in an alien culture that is the future version of their own childhood home.

Also, their knees hurt! (This is why so many of them are grumpy.)

Charles Stross (2017)
STAR RANGERS

(ed note: During the fall of the Galactic Empire the Vegan Scout Starfire was sent on a bogus mission into unexplored space, basically to die in the wilderness. The ship gradually falls apart due to lack of spares and proper engineers. Finally it crashes on an unknown planet, the ship a total wreck. But Captain Vibor snaps and calmly orders the crew to fix the unfixable ship.)

     “Let’s have it,” he said and sat down on a bedroll. He was aware that the tension which had held them all for a second or two was relaxing. And he knew that the rangers would follow his lead—they would wait for his decision.
     “(Captain) Vibor is no longer with us—he’s—he’s cracked.” Smitt fumbled for words. And Kartr read in him a rising fear and desolation.
     “Is it because of his loss of sight? If that is so, the condition may be only temporary. When he becomes resigned to that—”
     “No. He has been heading for a breakdown for a long time. The responsibility of command under present conditions—that fight with the Greenies—he was good friends with Tork, remember? The ship falling to pieces bit by bit and no chance for repairs— It’s added up to drive him under. Now he’s just refusing to accept a present he doesn’t dare believe in. He’s retired into a world of his own where things go right instead of wrong. And he wants us in there with him.
     …But Kartr could at this moment understand the odd incidents of the past months, certain inconsistencies in Vibor’s orders—one or two remarks he had overheard.
     “You think that there is no chance of his recovering?”
     “No. The crash pushed him over the edge. The orders he’s given during the past hour or so—I tell you—he’s finished!”

(ed note: This is the fate of those suffering from acute Future Shock)

From STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton, 1953.
Collected in STAR SOLDIERS (2001), currently a free eBook in the Baen free library.
FUTURE SHOCK LEVELS

The first person to introduce the concept of Future Shock was Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book, Future Shock. The main argument is that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a “super-industrial society”. This change will overwhelm people, the accelerated rate of technological and social change will leave them disconnected, suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation” – future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems were symptoms of future shock.

A few years earlier, Gordon Moore in his now famous paper introduced the idea that would eventually be called Moore’s Law, that states that the speed and density of microprocessor design will follow an exponential curve. This was at a time when computers had barely had any impact on society, nearly 20 years before PC’s made hardly a dent on the economic landscape. 30 years later we saw the explosion of the Internet into the world. Now 40 years later, microprocessors speed is doubling almost every year, and its effects are extraordinary. Not a day goes buy now when some scientific or technological advance isn’t hitting the front pages. As Ray Kurzweil suggest with his Law of Accelerating Returns, microprocessor are such an integrated part of our lives of economic progress, that now society too is caught up in this accelerating change, suggesting that we could see as much change in the next 25 years, as we saw in the last 10,000 years combined!

As one of the leading thinkers on the singularity, Eliezer Yudkowsky is someone accustomed to thinking about extremes of future technological change and advancement. After having many wide ranging discussions with futurists of all stripes, he noticed that certain technological implications can be too “far out” or shocking to some groups more than others. So he came up with what he calls Future Shock Levels or the level that different people find themselves in terms of their concept of the future, and what they are willing to consider, or which is too futuristic or even shocking for them.


Shock Level 0

Degree of Change: Flat.

Technologies: Same as today, maybe more TV channels, bigger cars or TV’s.

The legendary average person is comfortable with modern technology – not so much the frontiers of modern technology, but the technology used in everyday life. Most people, TV anchors, journalists, politicians.

For people at this level, the future is seen as pretty much the same as it is today. If you could chart their concept of the future on a graph, you would see change reaching a plateau today and leveling off from here on out. Almost every economic and political paper about the future I’ve read falls into this category. When they discuss wide ranging implications of their policy decisions, there is hardly any mention of technological change at all, and only in the most mundane ways with concepts of Level 1 being described as something to be afraid of, with dangerous out-of-control implications. The current climate of fear over cloning and stem-cell therapy falls into this level.


Shock Level 1

Degree of Change: Logarithmic, then hitting a relative plateau in a decade or two.

Technologies: Virtual reality, living to a hundred, e-commerce, hydrogen economy, ubiquitous computing, stem-cell cloning, minor genetic improvements.

At this level you will find the majority of futurists and future oriented publications. Modern technological frontiers as depicted in WIRED magazine and books like Future Shock and Bill Gates, The Road Ahead. Included in this group are most scientists, novelty-seekers, early-adopters, programmers and technophiles.

Placed on a chart, future progress will continue upwards in a logarithmic fashion, with each year bringing the same amount of change as last year. Eventually this incremental change will lead to people living to a hundred, and optimistically in a society with clean energy, general economic prosperity, and conservative space exploration scenarios.

In my experience most of the people described above think about the future in relatively conservative terms. If you ever read a future oriented article by one of them they often say things like, “This probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but perhaps my children or grandchildren will live to see it”, If you ever read a quote like that you know you’re reading someone at SL1. Almost every report that comes out of NASA is hopelessly stuck at SL1.


Shock Level 2

Degree of Change: Logarithmic to Exponential

Technologies: major genetic engineering, medical immortality, interstellar travel, and new “alien” cultures.

At this level you’ll find your typical SF Fan. Literary SF and cutting edge magazines like Mondo 2000, Omni or Future magazine of days past were filled with Level 2 ideas. Ironically, I don’t know of a single popular SF movie or TV show that exists comfortably at this level. Not even Star Trek qualifies for SL2, as it barely considers life spans past 100, with immortality remaining the exclusive domain of “super-advanced aliens”.

Up and until the 1980’s there wasn’t much discussion of future change past level 2, except in the most limited sense. This is probably because the concept of radical accelerating change was still beyond the radar of almost every forward thinking person at the time. Enabling Level 3 technologies like molecular nanotechnology were not even considered then. The only exceptions I know of are Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary, who were completely at home with post-human evolution (SL3).


Shock Level 3

Degree of Change: Exponential

Technologies: Immortality, nanotechnology, human-equivalent AI, intelligence increase, mind uploading, total body revision, intergalactic exploration, megascale engineering.

Clearly identifiable people didn’t exist at this level until the 1980’s when groups like the Extropians and transhumanists emerged. Writers like Robert Anton Wilson, and Timothy Leary with his SMI2LE concept were the first people to my knowledge who discussed this level in any depth. However, it wasn’t until Eric Drexler published his book Engines of Creation that finally set the stage for concrete, detailed technological speculation of SL3 possibilities.


Shock Level 4

Degree of Change: Exponential to Hyperbolic (Accelerating Acceleration)

Technologies: Singularity, Matrioska “Jupiter” Brains, Powers, complete mental revision, ultraintelligence, posthumanity, Alpha-Point computing, Apotheosis, the total evaporation of “life as we know it.”

The only people I know who are comfortable discussing change at this level are Singularitarians, and some cutting edge psychedelic pioneers like Terence McKenna and John Lilly. Olaf Stapledon in his book Star Maker waxed poetic about SL3 megascale engineering and SL4 ultra-intelligences, and John Lilly discussed multiple encounters with a SL4 intelligences, which he gave names like “ECCO” and “Solid State Entities”. The first writer to bring this into concrete technological terms was Vernor Vinge in his 1993 paper . These ideas were soon picked up by Extropians and Transhumanists, but as far as I know it wasn’t until the Singularitarians that this level was embraced concretely and enthusiastically.


As Eliezer Yudkowsky says, If there’s a Shock Level Five, I’m not sure I want to know about it!

Eliezer goes on to say,

“If somebody is still worried about virtual reality (low end of SL1), you can safely try explaining medical immortality (low-end SL2), but not nanotechnology (SL3) or uploading (high SL3). They might believe you, but they will be frightened – shocked.

That’s not to say you can’t do it. In fact, you can take advantage of the future shock to carry the idea. You just have to be careful.

By a similar token, a Singularitarian can shock a science-fiction fan, but not an Extropian – the Extropian will be interested, perhaps enthusiastic, but not shocked. (Of course, if the person was already enthusiastic about Transhumanism, they might be wildly enthusiastic about the Singularity.) An Extropian can shock your average Wired reader, but should be careful about trying this with the “person on the street” – they may be frightened. And so on. In general, one shock level gets you enthusiasm, two gets you a strong reaction – wild enthusiasm or disbelief, three gets you frightened – not necessarily hostile, but frightened, and four can get you burned at the stake.”

From FUTURE SHOCK LEVELS by Paul Hughes (2004)
NEOPHILES AND NEOPHOBES

(ed note: A decade before the events in the novel, the alien Maseni land on Terra and become our best friends. Sadly, a large percentage of the human population has an acute attack of Future Shock. Neophobes, the entire lot of them.)

     “You have this compulsion to talk with zanies,” Brutus said. “We never encounter a batch of Pure Earthers that you pass by; you’ve always got to stop and have a few words with them.”
     “They fascinate me,” Jessie said.
     “Sometimes, I think you could be one of them, with a little nudge,” the hell hound said, contemptuously.
     Jessie ignored the hound’s sneering remark. He said, “The Pure Earthers are borderline Shockies; if they’d been just a hair more upset by the Maseni landing and all that’s come since, they’d be in one of the homes. I’ll never have the chance to see any real Shockies, but I can get an idea what they must be like from studying the Pure Earthers.”
     “Why this interest in Shockies?” Brutus asked.
     “You know why. My parents are Shockies.”
     “Oh, yeah,” Brutus said. “I forgot.” But he hadn’t forgotten at all. He was just looking for something more to sneer about. “They went starkers when the Maseni touched down, a couple of wide-eyed blubbers.”
     Jessie watched the approaching Pure Earthers. “That’s right.”

     The first Maseni interstellar ships had landed a decade ago, in the second week of October, 1990. Within a year, the population of Earth—regardless of nationality, race, ethnic group, or education—had been roughly divided into three types of reactions.

     First, there were those who were profoundly shocked by these developments, but who were able to cope and reorder the nature of their lives and the limits of their perceptions of the universe. These were about forty-five percent of the population.

     Another forty-five percent were simply unable to adjust. These were the Shockies. They were jolted by the realization that mankind was not the most intelligent species in existence, a fact scientists had predicted for years but which the Shocldes had always rejected as “holcum” or “bunkum” or “crap,” or “heresy” or “craziness”. They were further jolted to discover— thanks to the Maseni—that the supernatural world actually existed, that the denizens of nightmare were real (vampires, werewolves, etc.). And they were crushed to discover that (insert deity of choice) was not quite the being they had always thought. Not only were their patriotic and racial convictions smashed, but so was their spiritual belief…

     Shockies behaved in one of three ways:
  1. Uncontrolled rage that led to murder, bombing, rape and rampages of undirected violence.
  2. As they had always acted before, refusing to acknowledge that the Maseni existed or that their world had changed at all, no matter how much that changed world impinged on their fantasy.
  3. Or they simply became catatonic, staring off into another world, unable to speak, unable to feed themselves or control their own bodily functions.
     Cultural shock, severe, horrible.

     Space-program scientists had long theorized the extent of such a sickness an alien race should ever be found, but none of them had realized how far-reaching the illness would be.

     “Are you going to bleed for them forever?” Brutus asked. “Haven't you ever heard of ‘survival of the fittest’? Did the Cro-Magnon man weep for the Neanderthal?”
     “These were my parents,” Blake said. “My mother and father. If they could have just accepted change, a little bit—”
     “Then they’d have been Pure Earthers,” Brutus said. “Would you have been any happier with that?”
     “I guess not.”

     The Pure Earthers, at first, had no name and operated under no central organization; that development had required five years in the making. But they were all alike, and they could function coherently as a group; the Pure Earth League was an inevitable product of the Maseni landing. Those citizens who had not gone starkers but who were also unable to cope, about ten percent of the world population, agitated for an end of Human-Maseni relations and a return to the simpler life. They were, of course, doomed to extinction. Their own children, more accustomed to seeing Maseni and supernaturals in the streets, were falling away from the older folks; succeeding generations would give fewer and fewer bodies to the Cause.

     Millennium City was a 200-store shopping mall, most of it under a single roof, with indoor pedwalks, indoor and outdoor parks, fountains, convention facilities, hotels, more fountains, amusement centers, free theaters and museums, robot guides to help you find your way, a three hundred million credit wonder that had been completed only a year before. It was staffed exclusively by robots and was efficiently run, enormously profitable.

     Only ten years earlier, it could never have been built —and not only because Maseni technology was required to construct it. Ten years ago, the city of Los Angeles simply would not have had the room, in the heart of its west side, to contain such a lavish, three-hundred-acre structure. Then, there had been too many people, too much crowding.

     Now, a decade after the Maseni landing on Earth, the city was only half as populated as it had been. Forty-five percent of the city’s people had gone starkers and ended up in homes for Shockies. Many of these, in the following ten years, either took their own lives or died from too long in a catatonic trance. For the most part, the Shockies were those who were already hopelessly at odds with their times; they were, in many cases, those who ignored the warnings of ecologists and continued to have large families, polluting the Earth with excess flesh. Removed from the mating cycle, they no longer contributed to the population boom.

     Those who adapted to the Maseni and the other changes, tended to have no families, or small ones. As the Shockies died, the population dropped, and land became available. With the welfare rolls almost wiped out, and with vital services crying for good workers, everyone again had a job and everyone was more affluent than any time in the nation’s history. There was not only room to build Millennium City, but also credits to spend there.

     Old office buildings were torn down, as were rows and rows of shabby houses where no one lived any more. They razed factories that had once produced useless gadgets and flashy gewgaws, for none of these things were now in demand; society had suddenly become aware of its own power and of the true value of possessions. Millennium City not only provided services and products, but a place to feel at ease, a center for commerce which was, at the same time, a business establishment and a community meeting place.

From THE HAUNTED EARTH by Dean Koontz (1973)

You Are Not Ready

This is when a technological advance is so powerful and destructive that some idiot will eventually use it to cause powerful destruction. Things are bad enough when some human researcher stumbles over the advance, but it can be lots worse when the advance is some ultra-high tech paleotechnology from a long extinct Forerunner species. The classic example is the Krell technology from the movie Forbidden Planet.

The important point to note is that the technology is not bad or evil per se, only in the hands of a primitive emotional race such as human beings. Once the human race reaches maturity such technology is safe. Imagine a type of nanotechnology that can be hacked into a form that can turn the entire planet Terra into gray goo, yet simple enough to be made by a bright teenager in their parent's garage. Terra wouldn't last five minutes before it started to dissolve. Some idiot would try it, probably thousands of idiots simultaneously. Morons who what to see what happens, angry people who want to make the entire world pay, depressed people who want to really end it all, those who think such a corrupt world needs a do-over, I'm sure you can think of many others.

However, you cannot child-proof the entire universe. The long term solution is not to suppress technology, but to uplift humanity. Because suppressing technology never works in the long term. When it is steam-engine time, it is steam-engine time.

But sometimes people try. The TV Trope is Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge. An example are the colonists sent to planet Topaz in Andre Norton's The Defiant Agents. The Western Alliance and Greater Russian are both frantically sending interstellar colonists to every planet they can find. They hope to find valuable paleotechnology from the forerunner galactic empire that collapsed about ten thousand years ago. Topaz is supposed to be a Western planet but Russia infiltrates some of their own. Paleotechnology is discovered. However, both sets of colonists realize that if either the Alliance or Russia gets their hands on the alien tech, Terra will be destroyed in the resulting war. So they set themselves up as keepers of forbidden knowledge, with three colonists on each side knowing the secret, and faking the failure of the colony.

YOU ARE NOT READY
The Dragonborn: Surely there's more you can tell me.
Master Arngeir: There is indeed much that we know that you do not. That does not mean that you are ready to understand it.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Commonly uttered phrase by powerful — often Sufficiently Advanced — beings when lesser lifeforms (like our heroes) ask for assistance or technical support. Oftentimes, the heroes get a hold of the information or gear for themselves, and the point is proven or refuted. (If the hero keeps insisting for an answer, they may get an Armor-Piercing Response, which may prove that they're indeed not ready.)

In other situations, this can be a line uttered by either The Mentor or the Big Bad. In the former case, he is telling our young hero not to be brash and preparation is very important (though the hero will rarely listen). In the latter case, it is used as a rather hammy taunt.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even have time to dry.

From THIEF OF TIME by Terry Pratchett (2001)
The Weapon

The room was quiet in the dimness of early evening. Dr. James Graham, key scientist of a very important project, sat in his favorite chair, thinking. It was so still that he could hear the turning of pages in the next room as his son leafed through a picture book.

Often Graham did his best work, his most creative thinking, under these circumstances, sitting alone in an unlighted room in his own apartment after the day’s regular work. But tonight his mind would not work constructively. Mostly he thought about his mentally arrested son–his only son–in the next room. The thoughts were loving thoughts, not the bitter anguish he had felt years ago when he had first learned of the boy’s condition. The boy was happy; wasn’t that the main thing?


He opened the door. A stranger stood there; he said, “Dr. Graham? My name is Niemand; I’d like to talk to you. May I come in a moment?”

The small man interlocked his fingers; he leaned forward. He said, “Dr. Graham, you are the man whose scientific work is more likely than that of any other man to end the human race’s chance for survival.”

A crackpot, Graham thought. Too late now he realized that he should have asked the man’s business before admitting him. It would be an embarrassing interview–he disliked being rude, yet only rudeness was effective.

“Dr. Graham, the weapon on which you are working–”


Niemand’s eyes met Graham’s and he said, “I like him,” with obvious sincerity. He added, “I hope that what you’re going to read to him will always be true.”

Graham didn’t understand. Niemand said, “Chicken Little, I mean. It’s a fine story–but may Chicken Little always be wrong about the sky falling down.”

Graham suddenly had liked Niemand when Niemand had shown liking for the boy. Now he remembered that he must close the interview quickly. He rose, in dismissal.

He said, “I fear you’re wasting your time and mine, Mr. Niemand. I know all the arguments, everything you can say I’ve heard a thousand times. Possibly there is truth in what you believe, but it does not concern me. I’m a scientist, and only a scientist. Yes, it is public knowledge that I am working on a weapon, a rather ultimate one. But, for me personally, that is only a by-product of the fact that I am advancing science. I have thought it through, and I have found that that is my only concern.”

“But, Dr. Graham, is humanity ready for an ultimate weapon?”

Graham frowned. “I have told you my point of view, Mr. Niemand.”


Niemand said, “I took the liberty of bringing a small gift to your son, doctor. I gave it to him while you were getting the drinks for us. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Of course. Thank you. Good night.”

Graham closed the door; he walked through the living room into Harry’s room. He said, “All right, Harry. Now I’ll read to–”

There was sudden sweat on his forehead, but he forced his face and his voice to be calm as he stepped to the side of the bed. “May I see that, Harry?” When he had it safely, his hands shook as he examined it.

He thought, only a madman would give a loaded revolver to an idiot.

From THE WEAPON by Fredric Brown (1951)
KEEPER OF FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE

      Ashe himself and a younger partner, Ross Murdock, had been part of the final action which had solved the mystery, having traced that source of knowledge not to an earlier and forgotten human civilization but to wrecked spaceships from an eon-old galactic empire—an empire which had flourished when glacial ice covered most of Europe and northern America and humans were cave-dwelling primitives.

     Voyage tape fed into the controls of the ship had taken the men, and, when rewound, it had almost miraculously returned them to Earth with a cargo of similar tapes found on a world which might have been the capital for a government comprised of whole solar systems. Tapes—each one was the key to another planet.
     And that ancient galactic knowledge was treasure such as humans had never dreamed of possessing, though many rightly feared that such discoveries could be weapons in hostile hands. Tapes chosen at random had been shared with other nations at a great drawing. But each nation secretly remained convinced that, in spite of the untold riches it might hold as a result of chance, its rivals had done better. Right at this moment, Ashe knew there were Western agents trying to do at the Russian project just what Camdon (the Russian spy) had done there (stolen the coordinates of the Western-own planet Topaz). However, that did not help in solving their present dilemma about Operation Cochise (Western operation to colonize Topaz), now perhaps the most important part of their plan.
     "We test and we test," said the fat man. "Always we test. We move like turtles when it would be better to race like greyhounds. There is such a thing as overcaution, as I have said from the first. One would think"—his accusing glance included Ashe and Kelgarries—"that there had never been any improvising in this project, that all had always been done by the book. I say that this is the time we must take the big gamble, or else we may find we have been outbid for space entirely. Let those others discover even one alien installation they can master and—" his thumb shifted from his lip, grinding down on the desk top as if it were crushing some venturesome but entirely unimportant insect—"and we are finished before we really begin."

(ed note: The Russians claim-jump Topaz and set up their own colony. It includes colonists who are descended from the Tartars, and who are enslaved by a brain control gizmo. They also set up an orbital defense network to destroy the Western colony ship when it arrives.

The Western colony ship shows up, is attacked, but manages to survive for a crash landing. The Russians think the ship was destroyed. The only survivors are the Western colonists, all descended from Apache native americans, and who are still recovering from the Redax treatment. Redax leaves them thinking and reacting just like their distant ancestors. Back on Terra there is also colony teams composed of Eskimos and Pacific Islanders, waiting for appropriate planets to be discovered.

As it turns out, there is indeed a forerunner installation on the planet inside some hidden towers. It is just jam packed with lethal high tech weapons that the human race is not mature enough to use. Luckily the Russians are unaware of the installation.

The Apache team meet up with Tartars who have escaped Russian brain control and they make a common cause against the evil Russian overlords. This will be a challenge since they only have bow & arrows, spears and knives. The Russians have helicopter and machine guns.)

     "Listen," Jil-Lee, his side padded with bandages, stepped closer—"and tell me, younger brother, what is it that you seek in these towers?"
     "On another world there were secrets of the old ones to be found in such ancient buildings. Here that might also be true."
     "Yet, Nolan, I do not believe that it is for more voyage tapes that our younger brother now searches, nor would those do us any good—as our ship will not rise again from here. What is it that you do seek?"
     "Knowledge—weapons, maybe. Can we stand against these machines of the Russians? Yet many of the devices they now use are taken from the star ships they have looted through time. To every weapon there is a defense."
     Nolan blinked and for the first time a hint of interest touched the mask of his face. "To the bow, the rifle," he said softly, "to the rifle, the machine gun, to the cannon, the bomb. The defense can be far worse than the first weapon. So you think that in these towers there may be things which shall be to the Russian's machines as the bomb is to the cannon of the Horse Soldiers?"
     Travis had an inspiration. "Did not our people lay aside the bow for the rifle when we went up against the Bluecoats?"
     "We do not so go up against these Russians!" protested Lupe.
     "Not now. But what if they come across the mountains, perhaps driving the Tatars before them to do their fighting—?"
     "And you believe that if you find weapons in these towers, you will know how to use them?" Jil-Lee asked. "What will give you that knowledge, younger brother?"
     "I do not claim such knowledge," Travis countered. "But this much I do have: Once I studied to be an archaeologist and I have seen other storehouses of these star people. Who else among us can say as much as that?"
     "That is the truth," Jil-Lee acknowledged. "Also there is good sense in this seeking out of the tower things. Let the Russians find such first—if they exist at all—and then we may truly be caught in a box canyon with only death at our heels."

(ed note: Travis Fox finds the forerunner towers, and watches an alien briefing recording)

     But this much he did know—these towers had been built by the bald spacemen (the forerunners), and they were highly important to that vanished stellar civilization. The information in this room, as disjointed as it had been for him, led to a treasure trove on Topaz greater than he had dreamed.
     Travis swayed on the bench. To know so much and yet so little! If Ashe were only here, or some other of the project technicians! A treasure such as Pandora's box had been, peril for one who opened it and did not understand.
     And there was another thing he knew: The Russians must not find this. Such a discovery on their part would not only mean the end of his own people on Topaz, but the end of Earth as well. This place might hold new and alien knowledge that could destroy whole nations at a time!
     If he could—much as his archaeologist's training would argue against it—he would blot out this whole valley above and below ground. But while the Russians might possess a means of such destruction, the Apaches did not. No, he and his people must prevent its discovery by the enemy by doing what he had seen as necessary from the first—wiping out the Russian leaders! And that must be done before they chanced upon the tower!

     Travis slogged on. He was so tired now that only the drug from the ration bars he mouthed at intervals kept him going at a dogged pace, hardly more than a swift walk. And always his mind was haunted by fragments of pictures, pictures he had seen in the reader. The big bomb had been the nightmare of his own world for so long, and what was that against the forces the bald star rovers had been able to command?
     "Towers—" He struggled to keep his wits through the pain and billowing weakness beginning to creep through him. "Russians mustn't get to the towers! Worse than the bomb … end us all!"
     He had a hazy glimpse of Nolan and Jil-Lee closing in about him. The desire to cough tore at him, but they had to know, to believe …
     "Russians get to the towers—everything finished. Not only here … maybe back home too …"

     "I have been thinking of this treasure house in the towers. Suppose we could find new weapons there… ."
     Travis hesitated. He still shrank from the thought of opening the secret places behind those glowing walls, to loose a new peril.
     "If we took weapons from there and lost the fight …" He advanced his first objection and was glad to see the expression of comprehension on Jil-Lee's face.
     "It would be putting the weapons straight into Russian hands," the other agreed.
     "We may have to chance it before we're through," Manulito warned. "Suppose we do get some of their technicians into this trap. We may need a bigger nutcracker than we've ever seen."
     With a return of that queasy feeling he had known in the tower, Travis knew Manulito was speaking sense. They might have to open Pandora's box before the end of this campaign.

(ed note: A small group of Apaches, lead by Fox, go to the towers for the bare minimum of alien weapons. They only take three disintegration pistols.)

     The Apaches looked into a set of compartments, each holding an object with a barrel, a hand grip, a general resemblance to the sidearms of their own world and time, but sufficiently different to point up the essential strangeness. With infinite care Travis worked one out of the vise-support which held it. The weapon was light in weight, lighter than any automatic he had ever held. Its barrel was long, a good eighteen inches—the grip alien in shape so that it didn't fit comfortably into his hand, the trigger nonexistent, but in its place a button on the lower part of the barrel which could be covered by an outstretched finger.
     Travis sighted the long barrel of the weapon at a small bush backed by a boulder, and he pressed the firing button. There was no way of knowing whether the weapon was loaded except to try it.
     The result of his action was quick—quick and terrifying. There was no sound, no sign of any projectile … laser beam … or whatever might have issued in answer to his finger movement. But the bush—the bush was no more!
     A black smear made a ragged outline of the extinguished branches and leaves on the rock which had stood behind. The earth might still enclose roots under a thin coating of ash, but the bush was gone!
     "The breath of Naye'nezyani—powerful beyond belief!" Buck broke the horrified silence first. "In truth evil is here!"
     Jil-Lee raised his gun—if gun it could be called—aimed at the rock with the bush silhouette plain to see and fired.
     This time they were able to witness disintegration in progress, the crumble of the stone as if its substance was no more than sand lapped by river water. A pile of blackened rubble remained—nothing more.
     "To use this on a living thing?" Buck protested, horror basing the doubt in his voice.
     "We do not use it against living things," Travis promised, "but against the ship of the Russians—to cut that to pieces. This will open the shell of the turtle and let us at its meat."
     Jil-Lee nodded. "Those are true words. But now I agree with your fears of this place, Travis. This is a devil thing and must not be allowed to fall into the hands of those who—"
     "Will use it more freely than we plan to?" Buck wanted to know. "We reserve to ourselves that right because we hold our motives higher? To think that way is also a crooked trail. We will use this means because we must, but afterward …"
     Afterward that warehouse must be closed, the tapes giving the entrance clue destroyed. One part of Travis fought that decision, right though he knew it to be. The towers were the menace he had believed. And what was more discouraging than the risk they now ran, was the belief that the treasure was a poison which could not be destroyed but which might spread from Topaz to Earth.
     Suppose the Western Alliance had discovered that storehouse and explored its riches, would they have been any less eager to exploit them? As Buck had pointed out, one's own ideals could well supply reasons for violence. In the past Earth had been racked by wars of religion, one fanatically held opinion opposed to another. There was no righteousness in such struggles, only fatal ends. The Russians had no right to this new knowledge—but neither did they. It must be locked against the meddling of fools and zealots.
     "Taboo—" Buck spoke that word with an emphasis they could appreciate. Knowledge must be set behind the invisible barriers of taboo, and that could work.
     "These three—no more—we found no other weapons!" Jil-Lee added a warning suggestion.
     "No others," Buck agreed and Travis echoed, adding:
     "We found tombs of the space people, and these were left with them. Because of our great need we borrowed them, but they must be returned to the dead or trouble will follow. And they may only be used against the fortress of the Russians by us, who first found them and have taken unto ourselves the wrath of disturbed spirits."
     "Well thought! That is an answer to give the People. The towers are the tombs of dead ones. When we return these they shall be taboo. We are agreed?" Buck asked.
     "We are agreed!"
     Buck tried his weapon on a sapling, saw it vanish into nothingness. None of the Apaches wanted to carry the strange guns against their bodies; the power made them objects of fear, rather than arms to delight a warrior. And when they returned to their temporary camp, they laid all three on a blanket and covered them up. But they could not cover up the memories of what had happened to bush, rock, and tree.
     "If such are their small weapons," Buck observed that evening, "then what kind of things did they have to balance our heavy armament? Perhaps they were able to burn up worlds!"

     Menlik (the Tartar shaman) pulled at his upper lip. "That is also truth. But now they have no eyes in the sky, and with so many of their men away, they will not patrol too far from camp. I tell you, andas, with these weapons of yours a man could rule a world!"
     Travis looked at him bleakly. "Which is why they are taboo!"
     "Taboo?" Menlik repeated. "In what manner are these forbidden? Do you not carry them openly, use them as you wish? Are they not weapons of your own people?"
     Travis shook his head. "These are the weapons of dead men—if we can name them men at all. These we took from a tomb of the star race who held Topaz when our world was only a hunting ground of wild men wearing the skins of beasts and slaying mammoths with stone spears. They are from a tomb and are cursed, a curse we took upon ourselves with their use."
     There was a strange light deep in the shaman's eyes. Travis did not know who or what Menlik had been before the Red conditioner had returned him to the role of Horde shaman. He might have been a technician or scientist—and deep within him some remnants of that training could now be dismissing everything Travis said as fantastic superstition.
     Yet in another way the Apache spoke the exact truth. There was a curse on these weapons, on every bit of knowledge gathered in that warehouse of the towers. As Menlik had already noted, that curse was power, the power to control Topaz, and then perhaps to reach back across the stars to Earth.
     When the shaman spoke again his words were a half whisper. "It will take a powerful curse to keep these out of the hands of men."
     "With the Russians gone or powerless," Buck asked, "what need will anyone have for them?"
     "And if another ship comes from the skies—to begin all over again?"
     "To that we shall have an answer, also, if and when we must find it," Travis replied. That could well be true … other weapons in the warehouse powerful enough to pluck a spaceship out of the sky, but they did not have to worry about that now.
     "Arms from a tomb. Yes, this is truly dead men's magic. I shall say so to my people. When do we move out?"

(ed note: The Apaches and the free Tartars attack the Russian base. The brain-controlled Tartars are diverted, the three Apaches with disintegrator start carving the Russian starship into confetti. They then enter the ship to destroy all the critical equipment.)

     Darkness! Travis snapped on the torch for an instant, saw about him the relays of a com system, and gave it a full spraying as he pivoted, destroying the eyes and ears of the ship—unless the burnout he had effected below had already done that. A flash of automatic fire from his left, a searing burn along his arm an inch or so below the shoulder—
     Travis' action was purely reflex. He swung the burner (disintegrator pistol) around, even as his mind gave a frantic No! To defend himself with automatic, knife, arrow—yes; but not this way. He huddled against the wall.
     An instant earlier there had been a man there, a living, breathing man—one of his own species, if not of his own beliefs. Then because his own muscles had unconsciously obeyed warrior training, there was this. So easy—to deal death without really meaning to. The weapon in his hands was truly the devil gift they were right to fear. Such weapons were not to be put into the hands of men—any men—no matter how well intentioned.

     "First," the Apache spoke his own thoughts—"we must return these."
     The three alien weapons were lashed into a square of Mongol fabric, hidden from sight, although they could not be so easily shut out of mind. Only a few of the others, Apache or Mongol, had seen them; and they must be returned before their power was generally known.
     "I wonder if in days to come," Buck mused, "they will not say that we pulled lightning out of the sky, as did the Thunder Slayer, to aid us. But this is right. We must return them and make that valley and what it holds taboo."
     "And what if another ship comes—one of yours?" Menlik asked shrewdly.
     Travis stared beyond the Tatar shaman to the men about the fire. His nightmare dragged into the open … What if a ship did come in, one with Ashe, Murdock, men he knew and liked, friends on board? What then of his guardianship of the towers and their knowledge? Could he be as sure of what to do then? He rubbed his hand across his forehead and said slowly:
     "We shall take steps when—or if—that happens—"
     But could they, would they? He began to hope fiercely that it would not happen, at least in his lifetime, and then felt the cold bleakness of the exile they must will themselves into.
     "Whether we like it or not," (was he talking to the others or trying to argue down his own rebellion?) "we cannot let what lies under the towers be known … found … used … unless by men who are wiser and more controlled than we are in our time."
     Menlik drew his shaman's wand, twiddled it between his fingers, and beneath his drooping lids watched the three Apaches with a new kind of measurement.
     "Then I say to you this: Such a guardianship must be a double charge, shared by my people as well. For if they suspect that you alone control these powers and their secret, there will be envy, hatred, fear, a division between us from the first—war … raids … This is a large land and neither of our groups numbers many. Shall we split apart fatally from this day when there is room for all? If these ancient things are evil, then let us both guard them with a common taboo."
     He was right, of course. And they would have to face the truth squarely. To both Apache and Mongol any off-world ship, no matter from which side, would be a menace. Here was where they would remain and set roots. The sooner they began thinking of themselves as people with a common bond, the better it would be. And Menlik's suggestion provided a tie.
     "You speak well," Buck was saying. "This shall be a thing we share. We are three who know. Do you be three also, but choose well, Menlik!"
     "Be assured that I will!" the Tatar returned.
     Perhaps clan and Horde would combine or perhaps they would drift apart—time would tell. But there would be the bond of the guardianship, the determination that what slept in the towers would not be roused—in their lifetime or many lifetimes!
     Travis smiled a bit crookedly. A new religion of sorts, a priesthood with sacred and forbidden knowledge … in time a whole new life and civilization stemming from this night. The bleak cold of his early thought cut less deep. There was a different kind of adventure here.

From THE DEFIANT AGENTS by Andre Norton (1960)
DIY LASER PISTOL

(ed note: William T. Custer goes to Washington to testify before the committee of the whole)

      “During last winter’s slack season,” Custer said, “two of my men and I worked on a project we’ve had in the works for three years—to develop a sustained-emission laser device.
     Custer opened his briefcase, slid out a fat aluminum tube mounted on a pistol grip with a conventional appearing trigger.
     “This is quite harmless,” he said. “I didn’t bring the power pack.”
     “That is… this is your weapon?” Tiborough asked.
     “Calling this a weapon is misleading,” Custer said. “The term limits and oversimpfies. This is also a brush-cutter, a substitute for a logger’s saw and axe, a diamond cutter, a milling machine…and a weapon. It is also a turning point in history.”
     “Come now, isn’t that a bit pretentious?” Tiborough asked.
     “We tend to think of history as something old and slow,” Custer said. “But history is, as a matter of fact, extremely rapid and immediate. A President is assassinated, a bomb explodes over a city, a dam break, a revolutionary device is announced.”
     “Lasers have been known for quite a few years,” Tiborough said. He looked at the papers the colonel had given him. “The principle dates from 1956 or thereahouts.”
     “I don't wish it to appear that I’m taking credit for inventing this device,” Custer said. “Nor am I claiming sole credit for developing the sustained-emission laser. I was merely one of a team. But I do hold the device here in my hand, gentlemen.”

     “Exhibit, Mr. Custer,” Plowers reminded him. “How is this an exhibit?”
     “May I explain first how it works?” Custer asked. “That will make the rest of my statement much easier.”
     Tiborough looked at Plowers, back to Custer. “If you will tie this all together, Mr. Custer,” Tiborough said. “I want to…the bearing of this device on our—we are hearing a particular bill in this room.”

     “Certainly, Senator,” Custer said. He looked at his device. “A ninety-volt radio battery drives this particular model. We have some that require less voltage, some that use more. We aimed for a construction with simple parts. Our crystals are common quartz. We shattered them by bringing them to a boil in water and then plunging them into ice water…repeatedly. We chose twenty pieces of very close to the same size—about one gram, slightly more than fifteen grains each."
     Custer unscrewed the back of the tube, slid out a round length of plastic trailing lengths of red, green, brown, blue and yellow wire.
     Wallace noted how the cameras of the TV men centered on the object in Custer’s hands. Even the senators were leaning forward, staring.
     We’re gadget crazy people, Wallace thought.
     “The crystals were dipped in thinned household cement and then into iron filings,” Custer said. “We made a little jig out of a fly-tying device and opened a passage in the filings at opposite ends of the crystals. We then made some common celluloid—nitrocellulose, acetic acid, gelatin and alcohol—all very common products, and formed it into a length of garden hose just long enough to take the crystals end to end. The crystals were inserted in the hose, the celluloid poured over them and the whole thing was seated in a magnetic waveguide, while the celluloid was cooling. This centered and aligned the crystals. The waveguide was constructed from wire salvaged from an old TV set and built following the directions in the Radio Amateur's Handbook.”
     Custer reinserted the length of plastic into the tube, adjusted the wires. There was an unearthly silence in the room with only the cameras whirring. It was as though everyone were holding his breath.
     “A laser requires a resonant cavity, but that’s complicated,” Custer said. “Instead, we wound two layers of fine copper wire around our tube, immersed it in the celluloid solution to coat it and then filed one end flat. This end took a piece of mirror cut to fit. We then pressed a number eight embroidery needle at right angles into the mirror end of the tube until it touched the side of the number one crystal.”
     Custer cleared his throat.
     Two of the senators leaned back. Plowers coughed. Tiborough glanced at the banks of TV cameras and there was a questioning look in his eyes.
     “We then determined the master frequency of our crystal series,” Custer said. “We used a test signal and oscilloscope, but any radio amateur could do it without the oscilloscope. We constructed an oscillator of that master frequency, attached it at the needle and a bare spot scraped in the opposite end of the waveguide.”

     “And this…ah… worked?” Tiborough asked.
     “No.” Custer shook his head. “When we fed power through a voltage multiplier into the system we produced an estimated four hundred joules emission and melted half the tube. So we started all over again.”
     “You are going to tie this in?” Tiborough asked. He frowned at the papers in his hands, glanced toward the door where the colonel had gone.
     “I am, sir, believe me,” Custer said.
     “Very Well, then,” Tiborough said.

     “So we started all over,” Custer said. “But for the second celluloid dip we added bismuth—a saturate solution, actually. It stayed gummy and we had to paint over it with a sealing coat of the straight celluloid. We then coupled this bismuth layer through a pulse circuit so that it was bathed in a counter wave—180 degrees out of phase with the master frequency. We had, in effect, immersed the unit in a thermoelectric cooler that exactly countered the heat production. A thin beam issued from the unmirrored end when we powered it. We have yet to find something that thin beam cannot cut.”
     “Diamonds?” Tiborough asked.
     “Powered by less than two hundred volts, this device could cut our planet in half like a ripe tomato,” Custer said. “One man could destroy an aerial armada with it, knock down ICBMs before they touched atmosphere, sink a fleet, pulverize a city. I’m afraid, sir, that I haven’t mentally catalogued all the violent implications of this device. The mind tends to boggle at the enormous power focused in…"

     “Shut down those TV cameras!”
     It was Tiborough shouting, leaping to his feet and making a sweeping gesture to include the banks of cameras, The abrupt violence of his voice and gesture fell on the room like an explosion. “Guards!” he called. “You there at the door. Cordon off that door and don’t let anyone out who heard this fool!” He whirled back to face Custer. “You irresponsible idiot!”
     “I'm afraid, Senator,” Custer said, “that you’re locking the barn door many weeks too late.”
     For a long minute of silence Tiborough glared at Custer, Then: “You did this deliberately, eh?”
     “Senator, if I'd waited any longer, there might have been no hope for us at all.”
     Tiborough sat back into his chair, still keeping his attention fastened on Custer. Plowers and Johnstone on his right had their heads close together whispering fiercely. The other senators were dividing their attention between Custer and Tiborough, their eyes wide and with no attempt to conceal their astonishment.
     Wallace, growing conscious of the implications in what Custer had said, tried to wet his lips with his tongue. This stupid cowpoke has sold us all down the river!
     Tiborough signaled an aide, spoke briefly with him, beckoned the colonel from the door. There was a buzzing of excited conversation in the room. Several of the press and TV crew were huddled near the windows on Custer’s left, arguing. One of their number—a florid-faced man with gray hair and horn-rirnmed glasses, started across the roorn toward Tiborough, was stopped by a committee aide. They began a low-voiced argument with violent gestures.
     A loud curse sounded from the door. Poxman, the syndicated columnist, was trying to push past the guards there.
     Poxman!” Tiborough called. The columnist turned. “My orders are that no one leaves,” Tiborough said. “You are not an exception.” He turned back to face Custer. The room had fallen into a semblance of quiet, although here still were pockets of muttering and there was the sound of running feet and a hurrying about in the hall outside.
     “Two channels went out of here live,” Tiborough said. "Nothing much we can do about them, although we will trace down as many of their viewers as we can. Every bit of film in this room and every sound tape will be confiscated, however.” His voice rose as protests sounded from the press section. “Our national security is at stake. The President has been notified. Such measures as are necessary will be taken.”
     The colonel came hurrying into the room, crossed to Tiborough, quietly said something.
     “You should’ve warned me!” Tiborough snapped. “I had no idea that…”
     The colonel interrupted with a whispered comment.
     “These papers… your damned report is not clear!” Tiborough said.

     He looked around at Custer. “I see you’re smiling, Mr. Custer. I don’t think you’ll find much to smile about before long.”
     “Senator, this is not a happy smile,” Custer said. “But I told myself several days ago you’d fail to see the implications of this thing.” He tapped the pistol-shaped device he had rested on the table. “I told myself you’d fall back into the old, useless pattem.”
     “Is that what you told yourself, really?” Tiborough said.
     Wallace, hearing the venom in the senator’s voice, moved his chair a few inches farther away from Custer.
     Tiborough looked at the laser projector. “Is that thing really disarmed?”
     “Yes, sir.”
     “If I order one of my men to take it from you, you will not resist?”
     “Which of your men will you trust with it, Senator?” Custer asked.
     In the long silence that followed, someone in the press section emitted a nervous guffaw.

     “Virtually every man on my ranch has one of these things,” Custer said. “We fell trees with them, cut firewood, make fence posts. Every letter written to me as a result of my patent application has been answered candidly. More than a thousand sets of schematics and instructions on how to build this device have been sent out to varied places in the world.”
     “You vicious traitor!” Tiborough rasped.
     “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, Senator,” Custer said. “But I warn you I’ve had time for considerably more concentrated and considerably more painful thought than you’ve applied to this problem In my estimation, I had no choice. Every week I waited to make this thing public, every day, every minute, merely raised the odds that humanity would be destroyed by—”
     “You said this thing applied to the hearings on the grazing act,” Plowers protested, and there was a plaintive note of complaint in his voice.
     “Senator, I told you the truth,” Custer said. “There’s no real reason to change the act, now. We intend to go on operating under it—with the agreement of our neighbors and others concerned. People are still going to need food.”

     Tiborough glared at him. “You’re saying we can’t force you to…” He broke off at a disturbance in the doorway. A rope barrier had been stretched there and a line of Marines stood with their backs to it, facing the hall. A mob of people was trying to press through. Press cards were being waved.
     “Colonel, I told you to clear the halll” Tiborough barked.
     The colonel ran to the barrier. “Use your bayonets if you have to!” he shouted.
     The disturbance subsided at the sound of his voice. More uniformed men could be seen moving in along the barrier. Presently, the noise receded.

     Tiborough tumed back to Custer. “You make Benedict Arnold look like the greatest friend the United States ever had,” he said.
     “Cursing me isn’t going to help you,” Custer said. “You are going to have to live with this thing; so you’d better try understanding it.”
     “That appears to be simple,” Tiborough said. “All I have to do is send twenty-five cents to the Patent office for the schematics and then write you a letter."
     “The world already was headed toward suicide,” Custer said. “Only fools failed to realize—”
     “So you decided to give us a little push,” Tiborough said.

     “H. G. Wells warned us,” Custer said. “That’s how far back it goes, but nobody listened. Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe,’ Wells said. But those were just words. Many scientists have remarked the growth curve on the amount of raw energy becoming available to humans—and the diminishing curve on the number of persons required to use that energy. For a long time now, more and more violent power was being made available to fewer and fewer people. It was only a matter of time until total destruction was put into the hands of single individuals.

     “And you didn’t think you could take your government into your confidence.”
     “The govemment already was committed to a political course diametrically opposite the one this device requires,” Custer said. “Virtually every man in the government has a vested interest in not reversing that course."
     “So you set yourself above the government?”
     “I’m probably wasting my time,” Custer said, “but I'll try to explain it. Virtually every government in the world is dedicated to manipulating something called the ‘mass man.’ That’s how governments have stayed in power. But there is no such man. When you elevate the non-existent ‘mass man’ you degrade the individual. And obviously it was only a matter of time until all of us were at the mercy of the individual holding power.”
     “You talk like a commie!”
     “They'll say I’m a goddamn’ capitalist pawn,” Custer said. “Let me ask you, Senator, to visualize a poor radio technician in a South American country. Brazil, for example. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence, ground down by an overbearing, unimaginative, essentially uncouth ruling oligarchy. What is he going to do when this device comes into his hands?”
     “Murder, robbery and anarchy.”
     “You could be right,” Custer said. “But we might reach an understanding out of ultimate necessity—that each of us must cooperate in maintaining the dignity of all.”

     Tiborough stared at him, began to speak musingly: “We’ll have to control the essential materials for constructing this thing…and there may be trouble for a while, but …”
     “You’re a vicious fool.”
     In the cold silence that followed, Custer said: “It was too late to try that ten years ago. I’m telling you this thing can be patchworked out of a wide variety of materials that are already scattered over the earth. It can be made in basements and mud huts, in palaces and shacks. The key item is the crystals, but other crystals will work, too. That's obvious. A patient man can grow crystals…and this world is full of patient men.

     “I’m going to place you under arrest,” Tiborough said. “You have outraged every rule—”
     “You’re living in a dream world,” Custer said. “I refuse to threaten you, but I’ll defend myself from any attempt to oppress or degrade me. If I cannot defend myself, my friends will defend me. No man who understands what this device means will permit his dignity to be taken from him.”
     Custer allowed a moment for his words to sink in, then: “And don’t twist those words to imply a threat. Refusal to threaten a fellow human is an absolute requirement in the day that has just dawned on us.”
     “You haven’t changed a thing!” Tiborough raged. “If one man is powerful with that thing, a hundred are….”
     “All previous insults aside,” Custer said, “I think you are a highly intelligent man, Senator. I ask you to think long and hard about this device. Use of power is no longer the deciding factor because one man is as powerful as a million. Restraint—self-restraint is now the key to survival. Each of us is at the mercy of his neighbor’s good will. Each of us, Senator—the man in the palace and the man in the shack. We’d better do all we can to increase that good will—not attempting to buy it, but simply recognizing that individual dignity is the one inalienable right of …”

     “Don’t you preach at me, you commie traitor!” Tiberough rasped. “You’re a living example of …”
     “Senator!”
     It was one of the TV cameramen in the left rear of the room.
     “Let’s stop insulting Mr. Custer and hear him out,” the cameraman said.
     “Get that man’s name,” Tiborough told an aide. “If he…”
     ‘I'm an expert electronic technician, Senator,” the man said. “You can’t threaten me now.”
     Custer smiled, turned to face Tiborough.
     “The revolution begins,” Custer said. He waved a hand as the senator started to whirl away. “Sit down, Senator.”

     Wallace, watching the senator obey, saw how the balance of control had changed in this room.
     “Ideas are in the wind,” Custer said. “There comes a time for a thing to develop. It comes into being. The spinning jenny came into being because that was its time. It was based on countless ideas that had preceded it.”
     "And this is the age of the laser?” Tiborough asked.
     “It was bound to come,” Custer said. “But the number of people in the world who’re filled with hate and frustration and violence has been growing with terrible speed. You add to that the enormous danger that this might fall into the hands of just one group or nation or…” Custer shrugged.
     “This is too much power to be confined to one man or group with the hope they’ll administer wisely. I didn’t dare delay. Thats why I spread this thing now and announced it as broadly as I could.”
     Tiborough leaned back in his chair, his hands in his lap. His face was pale and beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead.
     "We won’t make it.”
     "I hope you're wrong, Senator,” Custer said. “But the only thing I know for sure is that we'd have had less chance of making it tomorrow than we have today.”

From COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE by Frank Herbert (1965)
JOE THE MUTANT

      "There was a chance once," said Webster, almost as if he were speaking to himself. "A chance for new viewpoints, for something that might have wiped out the muddle of four thousand years of human thought. A man muffed that chance."
     Grant stirred uncomfortably, then sat rigid, afraid Webster might have seen him move.
     "That man," said Webster, "was my grandfather."
     Grant knew he must say something, that he could not continue to sit there, unspeaking.
     "Juwain may have been wrong," he said. "He might not have found a new philosophy."
     "That is a thought," declared Webster, "we have used to console ourselves. And yet, it is unlikely. Juwain was a great Martian philosopher, perhaps the greatest Mars had ever known. If he could have lived, there is no doubt in my mind he would have developed that new philosophy.
     But he didn't live. He didn't live because my grandfather couldn't go to Mars."

(ed note: The world government in Geneva found evidence that a race of hyper-intelligent mutants had developed in the Ozarks. They send agent Grant to contact them, and ask if they can complete Juwain's unfinished philosophy. Grant encounters Joe the mutant.)

     Joe's voice broke his thoughts.
     "You're an enumerator, aren't you? Why don't you ask me the questions? Now that you've found me you can't go off and not get it down on paper. My age especially. I'm one hundred sixty-three and I'm scarcely adolescent. Another thousand years at least."
     He hugged his knobby knees against his chest and rocked slowly back and forth. "Another thousand years and if I take good care of myself—"

     "But that isn't all of it," Grant told him, trying to keep his voice calm. "There is something more. Something that you must do for us."
     "For us?"
     "For society," said Grant. "For the human race."
     "Why?"
     Grant stared. "You mean that you don't care."

     Joe shook his head and in the gesture there was no bravado, no defiance of convention. It was just blunt statement of the fact.
     "Money!" suggested Grant.
     Joe waved his hands at the hills about them, at the spreading river valley. "I have this," he said. "I have no need of money."
     "Fame, perhaps?"
     Joe did not spit, but his face looked like he had.
     "The gratitude of the human race?"
     "It doesn't last," said Joe and the old mockery was in his words, the vast amusement just behind his lips.
     "Look, Joe," said Grant and, hard as he tried to keep it out, there was pleading in his voice, "this thing I have for you to do is important … important to generations yet to come, important to the human race, a milestone in our destiny—"
     "And why should I," asked Joe, "do something for someone who isn't even born yet? Why should I look beyond the years of my own life? When I die, I die, and all the shouting and the glory, all the banners and the bugles will be nothing to me. I will not know whether I lived a great life or a very poor one."
     "The race," said Grant.
     Joe laughed, a shout of laughter. "Race preservation, race advancement. That's what you're getting at. Why should you be concerned with that? Or I?"
     The laughter lines smoothed out around his mouth and he shook a finger in mock admonishment. "Race preservation is a myth … a myth that you all have lived by—a sordid thing that has arisen out of your social structure. The race ends every day. When a man dies the race ends for him—so far as he's concerned there is no longer any race."
     "You just don't care," said Grant.
     "That," declared Joe, "is what I've been telling you."

     He squinted at the pack upon the ground and a nicker of a smile wove about his lips. "Perhaps," he suggested, "if it interested me—" Grant opened up the pack, brought out the portfolio.
     Almost reluctantly he pulled out the thin sheaf of papers, glanced at the title: "Unfinished Philosophical Proposition and Related Notes of Juwain". He handed it across, sat watching as Joe read swiftly and even as he watched he felt the sickening wrench of terrible failure closing on his brain.

     Back in the Webster house he had thought of a mind that knew no groove of logic, a mind unhampered by four thousand years of moldy human thought. That, he had told himself, might do the trick.
     And here if was. But it still was not enough. There was something lacking—something he had never thought of, something the men in Geneva had never thought of, either.
     Something, a part of the human make-up that everyone, up to this moment, had taken for granted.
     Social pressure was the thing that had held the human race together through all millennia—held the human race together as a unit just as hunger pressure had held the ants enslaved to a social pattern.
     The need of one human being for the approval of his fellow humans, the need for a certain cult of fellowship—a psychological, almost physiological need for approval of one's thought and action. A force that kept men from going off at unsocial tangents, a force that made for social security and human solidarity, for the working together of the human family.
     Men died for that approval, sacrificed for that approval, lived lives they loathed for that approval. For without it a man was on his own, an outcast, an animal that had been driven from the pack.
     It had led to terrible things, of course—to mob psychology, to racial persecution, to mass atrocities in the name of patriotism or religion. But likewise it had been the sizing that held the race together, the thing that from the very start had made human society possible.
     And Joe didn't have it. Joe didn't give a damn. He didn't care what anyone thought of him. He didn't care whether anyone approved or not.
     Grant felt the sun hot upon his back, heard the whisper of the wind that walked in the trees above him. And in some thicket a bird struck up a song.
     Was this the trend of mutancy? This sloughing off of the basic instinct that made man a member of the race?
     Had this man in front of him, reading the legacy of Juwain, found within himself, through his mutancy, a life so full that he could dispense with the necessity for the approval of his fellows? Had he, finally, after all these years, reached that stage of civilization where a man stood independent, disdaining all the artificiality of society?

     Joe looked up.
     "Very interesting," he said. "Why didn't he go ahead and finish it?"
     "He died," said Grant.
     Joe clucked his tongue inside his cheek. "He was wrong in one place." He nipped the pages, jabbed with a finger.
     "Right here. That's where the error cropped up. That's what bogged him down."
     Grant' stammered. "But … but there shouldn't be any error. He died, that's all. He died before he finished it."
     Joe folded the manuscript neatly, tucked it in his pocket.
     "Just as well," he said. "He probably would have botched it."
     "Then you can finish it? You can—" There was. Grant knew, no use of going on. He read the answer in Joe's eyes.

     "You really think," said Joe and his words were terse and measured, "that I'd turn this over to you squalling humans?"

     Grant shrugged in defeat. "I suppose not. I suppose I should have known. A man like you—"
     "I," said Joe, "can use this thing myself."

From CENSUS by Clifford Simak (1944)
SECOND DAWN

(ed note: Of all races in the universe, the Atheleni have safely passed the second armageddon but not the first. They invented but only used one the Telepathic Madness, but have yet to face the challenge of inventing nuclear weapons)

Aretenon glanced at the furnishings of his chamber, recalling with an effort the fact that in his own youth almost everything he saw would have appeared impossible or even meaningless to him. Not even the simplest of tools had existed then, at least in the knowledge of his people. Now there were ships and bridges and houses—and these were only the beginning.

‘I am well satisfied,’ he said. ‘We have, as we planned, diverted the whole stream of our culture, turning it away from the dangers that lay ahead. The powers that made the Madness possible will soon be forgotten: only a handful of us still know of them, and we will take our secrets with us. Perhaps when our descendants rediscover them they will be wise enough to use them properly. But we have uncovered so many new wonders that it may be a thousand generations before we turn again to look into our own minds and to tamper with the forces locked within them.’

They Are Not Ready

This is sort of the inverse of You Are Not Ready. Terran space explorer may run across a planet-bound technologically-primitive alien species. Naïve and idealistic explorers may succumb to the temptation to help out the aliens by giving them a few technological tips.

This is generally a very bad idea:

  • The aliens technological development will become distorted. At the least will be horrible technological disruption, at worse the species may inadvertently or advertently kill themselves off.
  • Do you want Space Barbarians? Because this is how you get space barbarians.

This is more or less the reason for the Star Trek's famed Prime Directive. Author Sylvia Engdahl maintains that she thought of her version of the Prime Directive in 1950 (before Star Trek) though her first novel featuring it was not published until 1970. Though the first example in written science fiction appears to be Olaf Stapledon's classic 1937 novel Star Maker.

In most incarnations of the non-interference claus, the space explorers are forbidden to give the primitive aliens any technological tips. In the extreme version the space explorers are forbidden to let the alien know that the explorers exist. Either the explorers have to restrict their explorations to observing the planet from orbit, or if it is possible for the explorers to disguise themselves as the aliens in question you cannot make any revealing slips.

When does a civilization graduate to being "ready" and no longer subject to the Prime Directive? Generally there is some benchmark. In Star Trek the primitive civilization graduates when they invent a faster-than-light starship. In the CoDominion Universe it is when the level of technology advances to the point where they can put an astronaut into space. In the Anthropology Service Universe it is when the species evolves to the point where they sponaneously develop psionic powers.

ALIEN NON-INTERFERENCE CLAUSE

"As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely."

Starfleet General Order 1 (also known as the Prime Directive), Star Trek

Even without ever having met a real culture from outer space, mankind has experienced firsthand the sort of disaster that can come from First Contact between a technologically-advanced society and a technologically-primitive and/or culturally-different one. Case in point: much of the European age of exploration and colonization included a great deal of war, exploitation, cultural assimilation (both forced and not) and even genocide across Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas, including cultures that, according to modern research, may have been more advanced than we once believed.

It is for this reason and others that Science Fiction writers came up with the concept of the Alien Non-Interference Clause: in the future, it is believed, people will have learned from the mistakes of the past and take steps from preventing the same mistakes from recurring as humans explore space.

Of course, such rules are ultimately an Obstructive Code of Conduct that creates as many problems as it solves. Crash landing on an inhabited world when this rule is in force brings obvious difficulties. Trying to study an alien culture without being discovered is a popular scenario. And where do you draw the line? At exactly what point is a species officially "mature" enough to let them in on the secrets of the universe? Does non-interference mean you're morally obliged to let a species suffer or die because it is their "natural development"? And what will happen when the "protectees" do develop advanced technology and discover that alien races have been watching them for generations… and consider themselves pretty darn righteous for their policy of non-assistance? And what should be done if the "protectees" are looking for extraterrestrial intelligence? There's also the little matter of how one defines a culture's "normal evolution" or "healthy development"; in addition to the aforementioned "letting them all die" aspect, if a society seems happy but social development has "stagnated", does that justify stepping in to nudge them in the right direction, or should you assume that they might possibly be able to do so in their own time?

A common twist on the trope is to have such a law in effect, and then come across an alien race that is eager to gain tech and knowledge from the humans. What happens then? Can you get away with telling the aliens You Are Not Ready? Where does the rule stop being about "preserving alien cultures" and start being about "keeping the humans (or The Federation) as the dominant power"? One ironic inversion is to have a second, more advanced set of aliens show up and refuse to help because they have this exact same clause, essentially turning the tables and putting the protagonist on the receiving end of this "benign neglect".

This also appears as the reason that aliens aware of our existence, or even visiting our planet in secret have not announced their presence to us. Usually, the condition to join interstellar society is the independent development of starships or Faster-Than-Light Travel, or at least to starting to colonise other planets in the Solar System.

Compare Helping Would Be Killstealing. Contrast Technology Uplift, when the aliens don't have this clause. See also Low Culture, High Tech, which is what the violation of this rule can sometimes lead to. Protagonists who tend to say Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! usually treat this as a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

STAR MAKER

Their (the "Symbiotics") little island universe, their outlying cluster of stars, had come wholly under their control. It contained many natural planetary systems. Several of these included worlds which, when the early Arachnoid explorers visited them telepathically, were found to be inhabited by native races of pre-utopian rank. These were left to work out their own destiny, save that in certain crises of their history the Symbiotics secretly brought to bear on them from afar a telepathic influence that might help them to meet their difficulties with increased vigor. Thus when one of these worlds reached the crisis in which Homo sapiens now stands, it passed with seemingly natural ease straight on to the phase of world-unity and the building of Utopia. Great care was taken by the Symbiotic race to keep its existence hidden from the primitives, lest they should lose their independence of mind. Thus, even while the Symbiotics were voyaging among these worlds in rocket vessels and using the mineral resources of neighboring uninhabited planets, the intelligent worlds of pre-utopian rank were left unvisited. Not till these worlds had themselves entered the full Utopian phase and were exploring their neighbor planets were they allowed to discover the truth. By then they were ready to receive it with exultation, rather than disheartenment and fear. Thenceforth, by physical and telepathic intercourse the young-utopia would be speedily brought up to the spiritual rank of the Symbiotics themselves, and would cooperate on an equal footing in a symbiosis of worlds.

Some of these pre-utopian worlds, not malignant but incapable of further advance, were left in peace, and preserved, as we preserve wild animals in national parks, for scientific interest. Aeon after aeon, these beings, tethered by their own futility, struggled in vain to cope with the crisis which modern Europe knows so well. In cycle after cycle civilization would emerge from barbarism, mechanization would bring the peoples into uneasy contact, national wars and class wars would breed the longing for a better world-order, but breed it in vain. Disaster after disaster would undermine the fabric of civilization. Gradually barbarism would return. Aeon after aeon, the process would repeat itself under the calm telepathic observation of the Symbiotics, whose existence was never suspected by the primitive creatures under their gaze. So might we ourselves look down into some rock-pool where lowly creatures repeat with naive zest dramas learned by their ancestors aeons ago.

The Symbiotics could well afford to leave these museum pieces intact, for they had at their disposal scores of planetary systems. Moreover, armed with their highly developed physical sciences and with sub-atomic power, they were able to construct, out in space, artificial planets for permanent habitation. These great hollow globes of artificial super-metals, and artificial transparent adamant, ranged in size from the earliest and smallest structures, which were no bigger than a very small asteroid, to spheres considerably larger than the Earth. They were without external atmosphere, since their mass was generally too slight to prevent the escape of gases. A blanket of repelling force protected them from meteors and cosmic rays.

From STAR MAKER by Olaf Stapledon (1937)
NON-INTERFERENCE CLAUSE 5

A STAR CALLED CYRENE (1966)

(ed note: The exploration ship Stardust is exploring Cyrene. The life forms look like half-meter cubes who can teleport and talk telepathically. They all have perfectly square bodies in various colors. The brutish gray cubes who are invading are crude and have irregular shapes. A battle is coming, and the perfect cubes ask the Stardust crew for help.)

     “I’ve felt since yesterday that we’ve dropped in on a crisis on this planet. Ridiculous, isn’t it? A soundless, motionless crisis. Our boys here are not quite sure what to do about it. I think, since we’ve been identified as intelligent and disciplined, that we represent hope. I think we’re being asked for help.”
     “And how in the ever-loving—” Pegleg paused, glanced at the cube, and then fixed me with a cold eye. “Suppose we could do something, though what, at this moment, I wouldn’t have an idea. But I do know the basic regulation under which the Stardust operates, and so do you. No interference! We discover, we observe, we record and collate data, we make recommendations, but we keep hands off. We don’t take sides. We don’t sit in judgment. We don’t play God!”

     For the first time, I felt a slight pulse from the cube. There was dismay in it, and, I am sure, a plea for further hearing. That, it should have realized, was unnecessary. Nothing could have kept us from finding out everything we could about this unusual situation. But Pegleg’s warning was apropos. We could defend ourselves, but we were forbidden to interfere in the affairs of any aware species.
     I turned back to the cube. I explained that advice—that most plentiful commodity in the Galaxy—was our limit. But if it wanted the benefit of our vast and varied experience, it was available for the asking.
     “Boy, you’re comy," Pegleg said, and I guess I was.

     The cube was gratified, though. Apparently it hadn’t expected or even wanted anything more. And at this point it quit serving as solitary ambassador to us, the Earth visitors. It asked for, and got, assistance.
     “One more thing!” Pegleg’s narrow face was interested and intent, and I’d have sworn he had forgotten all about the no-interference rule. At any rate, he was taking sides as much as I was. “What can you do in your own defense? You must have been able to handle them once, since your ancestors confined them to the Island in the first place."
     The answer was not clear. It was evident that the cubes themselves didn’t know. But they seemed to feel that theirs was a far more refined energy output and control, that weight unit for weight unit they could beat down the grays into permanent disintegration. The size factor made it tricky.
     “Then don‘t go down on the beaches at all,” Pegleg advised. “Keep to the dunes and the slopes back of them. Let the wheels sweep the beaches. And when the grays materialize on the slopes, attack them with organized groups of fours, one from each of the four sides. They’ll probably be scattered enough to make that possible, and four of you can take one of them, can’t you?”
     The wave of comprehending wonderment that washed over us was something I can’t describe. It was like the delighted look on a child’s face when he first is shown how two and two make four.

     Maybe we shouldn’t have done it. Perhaps it was wrong. For there is no doubt that with our simple battle plan we interfered with the logical progress and ultimate end of the life of a planet, a decimating process that already had reduced the myriad ancestral species to four life forms. Had we not involved the wheels, it is likely that the gray imperfects would have overrun the mainland and swallowed up or completely contaminated the rainbow race. With their lack of awareness of the deadliness of the wheels, they may in their turn have been harried out of existence. Then the wheels would have become extinct, for they couldn’t exist on the lettuce alone.
     But that’s second-guessing. That’s looking back. Technically, or at least physically, we didn’t interfere. Advice was our limit. And when we had given it and the satisfaction and relief had welled up around us, suddenly we were alone on the crest of the little slope. A feeling of thanks lingered in the air.

THE INVADERS (1973)

THE LOG OF THE STARDUST

Earth Calendar A.D. 2123. Log entry 41. Roscoe Kissinger, bcologist. Also Dr. Linda Kissinger, Microbiologist and Dr. Pegleg Williams, Geologist.

Twenty-sixth day, post landing.

     Well, we did it.

     It was a judgment thing and maybe we bent the letters of the ISC ruling that says: No interference with the lives or the activities of an aware species. For they are aware. No doubt about that. More than aware. Highly intelligent, with a social structure undoubtedly satisfying and effective.
     They have an ecologically balanced economy that Earth might take note of. And they had—note had—an economic problem. And that’s where we bent the letter. We solved it for them.
     Technically we have an out, I suppose. Without any interference, three crew members would have had to move lively to save the skin of at least one of them. Being that one, I’d have to say that it would have been tricky. But Lindy is good with that laser.
     We didn‘t have to kill the thing. Our hand lasers could have— and did—cause it to cast off appendages. Like its normal species-mates, it probably would have regenerated them in time. But that would have called for more food. And that, I think, was the problem.
     The thing was a mutant, a mutant crab-being. How old it was is an interesting speculation, but we have no data at all. Undoubtedly it grew in proportion to the amount of food they brought it, and every molt upped its requirements for nourishment. And finally its need was greater than the environment could produce. That was why it ran amok.
     I think we saved a race from serious damage or destruction—a civilization, of sorts. I agree that that’s no part of our function. The Galaxy must be full of disintegrating ecosystems. And it could be that maybe we just postponed destruction, because the intense hard radiation in the sun’s rays must cause many a mutation. They may recognize these and do something about them. If so, the giant got away from them.
     It may be judged interference, but I’ll never regret the demise of the mutant. If the International Space Council rules that we've exceeded our mandate, we’ll just have to take our lumps. What do they know? A varmint as tall as a hill, with a diameter as great as the length of a football field, sopping up the biomass of a whole ecosystem and giving nothing but its wastes in retum—uh-uh! If the aware life of this part of the planet were to survive, he had to go. He couldn’t have persisted much longer anyhow.

From THE STARDUST VOYAGES by Stephen Tall (1975)
NON-INTERFERENCE CLAUSE 2

(ed note: Our heroes are from a Terran colony that backslid to about 17th century level technology after the fall of the first galactic empire, and are currently on a covert mission to a colony that backslid to medieval level technology. The representatives of the Empire who only backslid to 2600 CE level technology sternly tell our heroes about the Prime Directive. Trader MacKinnie is one of our heroes. Captain Greenaugh is from the Empire.)

      The contrast between the two officers could not have been greater. One was young, tall, of slight build, his hair an indescribable brown something like damp straw. The other was much older, with lines of care etched around his expressionless eyes, his hair gray where there was hair at all. He was heavy and short, but he had in common with the younger man a look of hardness and dedication; yet, again in contrast to his junior brother in service, there was none of the air of expectancy and anticipation the boy displayed.
     "Trader MacKinnie." The older man said it factually. "I am Captain Greenaugh of His Imperial Majesty's Navy. I command the garrison here and Tombaugh up there in orbit. This is Midshipman Landry, who will be my observer on this stupid voyage of yours."
     MacKinnie stood and bowed slightly to Captain Greenaugh, even less to Landry, making no move to extend his hand when the others did not.
     "Won't you sit down, Captain?" Soliman asked softly. "Some wine, perhaps? Grua?"
     "No. Mr. Landry and I are on duty." The midshipman's face was impassive; or had there been a hint of a smile? It was hard to tell.
     "Then please be seated," Soliman insisted. "I prefer to stand." He turned his attention to MacKinnie. "As you are to be the local in charge of this expedition, sir, it is my duty to caution you that any infringement of Imperial regulations on the part of any member of this expedition will result in trial and punishment of both the crew member and you personally. Is that understood?"

     "Yes, Captain," MacKinnie said. He elaborately inspected the large ring on his left hand, then looked up. "I understand perfectly. Tell me why you are so unhappy with me, if you would, please."
     "I am not unhappy with you, sir. It is understandable that you would wish to travel in space. I am unhappy with Mr. Soliman for browbeating me into letting you do it."
     "Browbeating, Captain?" Soliman said in an amused tone. "Why, I merely indicated—"
     "You merely indicated the relevant passages in the Imperial regulations and reminded me of your influence. I don't give a damn about your influence, but I can't ignore the regulations. However, I warn you, MacKinnie, if Mr. Soliman can be sticky about regulations, so can I. You'll get a copy of the pertinent sections before you go, but I decided to see you personally to try to talk you out of this venture."

     "If you please, Captain," Dougal asked, "why are you so opposed to our simple trading expedition? I thought it was Imperial policy to encourage trade among the worlds of the Empire. Your ambassador promises that Prince Samual's World will profit highly through joining the Empire."
     "Sir—" The captain paused and snapped his fingers.
     "Citizen Dougal, sir," the midshipman answered. "In the service of King David."
     "Citizen Dougal, I have all too few officers on this station. I am responsible for the protection of this world from all interference with its development and assimilation into the Empire. There's a nest of outies (rebels) not twenty parsecs away; your King David is in one hell of a hurry to unify this planet against stiff opposition; the survey team keeps borrowing my people; and thanks to this expedition I have to send a junior officer off for the Saints alone know how long. There'll be reports to file, inspections to conduct. And for what? So Mr. Soliman here can add another mega-crown to his bank account, and you people can bring some kind of gimcrack new luxuries to absorb what little capital there is on Prince Samual's World. I don't like it and I don't have to like it."
     "Sorry you feel that way, Captain," MacKinnie said. Inwardly he knew all too well the plight of a military man caught up in the details of government. He would have felt sympathy for Greenaugh, but the memory of Lechfeld was too strong. The Imperials were the enemy. "But you have admitted that you understand our motives for wanting to go. I hope we can get our work accomplished without causing you any trouble."

     "You're damn right you will," Greenaugh snapped. "But before you make your final decision, let me acquaint you with the regulations. Item: you will be supplied with a basic naval study of the planetary languages found in the chief city of Makassar. You will at no time teach any native your own language or Imperial speech. All negotiations will be conducted in one of the planetary languages. Is that understood?"
     MacKinnie nodded, suddenly realizing why all the Imperials he had met spoke a variant of the language of Haven. If you used a man's own language, you weren't likely to tell him anything he didn't know about. He wouldn't even have the words for most advanced concepts.
     "Item: as Imperial subjects," Greenaugh continued, "you would ordinarily be entitled to protection from barbarians and arbitrary imprisonment. In your case we can't extend it. The garrison on Makassar is too small and there's no ship. If you get in trouble, you're on your own."
     The captain took a small notebook-sized object from his pocket, touched a stud on the side of it and glanced at its face before returning it to his scarlet tunic. MacKinnie recognized it as one of the tiny Imperial computers, supposedly equivalent to hundreds of the best mechanical calculators in use in Haven's banks; equivalent and more. The Imperials used them for everything, as notebooks and pocket clocks, for communications and diaries. (to science fiction readers in 1981 this was hot stuff. Nowadays we call them run-of-the-mill smartphones.)

     "Another thing, MacKinnie. Any technical innovation traced to you directly or indirectly can result in a charge of interference. If it results in any severe disruption of the development of that planet, you can get life imprisonment. Assessment of the effects of innovations and your responsibilities for them are up to the Emperor's Lord Judges."
     "Why are the regulations so severe, Captain?" Dougal asked. "It is our understanding that the Empire intends only peace and friendship for its member worlds."
     "Damn right. And sudden technical changes destroy both. I've seen worlds where some smart guy used a little technology and a lot of guts to set himself up as a planetary king. Half the population out of work, the other half in a turmoil. Took the better part of a fleet and a division of Marines to keep order on the place. Mister, it's not going to happen in my sector."

     "The regulations are severe for a purpose," Renaldi added. "There is no telling what the effects of even the most innocent technical revelations can be. Even something as inherently benign as medicines can change the whole pattern of life. There is a famous case, from the early days of the New Empire. The Church went in and with the best of motives taught practical medicine to primitives. The missionaries were particularly concerned with saving children from infant diseases. They intended to give them some new agricultural and industrial techniques, but the people were not ready for them. They rejected the agriculture and industry, but they adopted the medicine. Within fifty standard years, there was famine all over that world. The results were horrible."
     Greenaugh nodded. "Still were when I was young Landry's age. I served a hitch on an escort vessel convoying a provisions fleet. Silliest thing you ever saw. You ever think of how futile it is to try to ship food to a whole world that's starving? If you took every ship in the Navy and merchant service and put them on it, even if the food was free and waiting in the same star system, it wouldn't do any good. But the Emperor's sister got interested in the place and they had to have a try at 'helping.' Did no good at all. Population's thinned out a bit now on Placentia, but the planet'll never be the same."

     "So you see," Soliman said softly, "it is important not to interfere. No matter what the reason. You can always say that things would have been worse if you did not interfere, but you can't know." He sipped his wine. "Besides, people will have adjusted to the evils they are accustomed to. Your attempts to help may introduce evils they don't know, which are always worse to bear and will probably retard their natural development."
     "Thank you," MacKinnie said. "We will be very careful. What else must I know?"
     "Still determined," Greenaugh said. "Thought you would be. Well, if I can't persuade you to give it up, I can't. Bring your crew here tomorrow for inspection. Midshipman Landry will tell you the rest of the details." He strode to the door, then paused and turned back. "Just remember, MacKinnie you were warned. The hell with it." He went briskly out, followed by his midshipman.

     "(our hero) Colonel MacKinnie? I am Dudley Boyd, First Secretary. His Excellency will see you now."
     Boyd cleared his throat. "Your Excellency, may I present Colonel Nathan MacKinnie. Colonel, High Commissioner Sir Alexei Ackoff."
     "Would anyone care for a drink? This will be quite informal."
     "Informal but official," Boyd warned. "Colonel (MacKinnie), you and Freelady Graham have been charged with interfering with the orderly development of a primitive world, to wit, Makassar."
     "But we didn't interfere," Mary protested.
     Ackoff waved impatiently. "Don't be nonsensical. There's always interference when an advanced people move among primitives."
     "I see," MacKinnie said. "You were embarrassed by our ship, and you've chosen us to pay for it."
     "Pronouns," Dudley Boyd said.
     "I beg your pardon?"
     "Wrong pronouns," Boyd said. "You said 'you,' meaning us, and that's not true. You've been arrested by Navy orders, not ours."
     "Makassar is under Navy jurisdiction," Ackoff explained. "There is no civil government there. Captain Greenaugh is within his rights, and he could try you by court martial. You would then have the right to appeal to civil authority, which is to say, to me. We're trying to save time by dealing directly with you."

     "But what did we do?" Mary asked.
     "Captain Greenaugh is still building his case," Ackoff said. "But as it happens, I can put one precise specification to his charge. Horse collars."
     "Horse collars?" MacKinnie frowned. "I hadn't thought the Empire concerned itself with trivia."
     Ackoff laughed. "Trivia? Colonel, the horse collar effectively ended slavery on Earth in pre-atomic times. I see you don't understand.
     "Consider that if you harness a horse by fastening a strap around its neck, the poor beast can't pull very hard because when it pulls it strangles itself. Improperly hitched horses can do about five times as much work as a man. But a horse eats five times as much as a man. Given the choice between a horse and a slave there isn't much in it.
     "But. Add the rigid horse collar so the load goes on to the shoulders, and the horse can do ten times as much work as a man—and it still eats only five times as much. Horses are then clearly preferable to humans for heavy work. Prior to the invention of horse collars there were as many slaves as free people on Earth. Afterwards, slavery became fairly rare and only imposed on people thought inferior. And I see I am indulging my tendency to lecture.

     "My point is simple. I know from the reports—from your own admissions—that you introduced rigid horse collars. Probably a lot of other seemingly minor innovations will have a profound impact. Privately, I expect you did them far more good than harm, but if we want to charge you, we have all the evidence we need."
     "And you can't say you weren't warned," Boyd said. "Captain Greenaugh is adamant on that point. He warned you himself."
     "But—" Graham protested.
     Nathan shook his head. "They've obviously got more to say. Let's hear them out."

(ed note: Ackoff offers a deal that will make Captain Greenaugh think he got revenge but will be satisfactory to our heroes and to Ackoff. )

     
From KING DAVID'S SPACESHIP by Jerry Pournelle (1981)
NON-INTERFERENCE CLAUSE 3

A Service starship is a good place to study; you have lots of free time at your disposal. especially if you are neither part of a survey team nor a member of the crew. But who wants to study all the time? I had never been off my home world before; since I'm from a Service family. even entering the Academy hadn't meant a trip for me. And I was dying to see something! I knew that I would not be permitted to accompany any regular team for a long time. So when the Andrecian situation came up and Father was appointed Senior Agent to handle it, I begged him to take me with him.

     “It's out of the question, Elana," he said gravely. “We are not going on a sightseeing trip. You know that. "
     “Evrek's going! "
     “Evrek has completed Third Phase; he has taken the Oath. He's ready for a field assignment. and while I wouldn't have chosen a thing like this for his first one, it's his job."
     “Please, Father?" I persisted. “I won't be in the way, I promise!"
     “I'm sorry. But it would be dangerous, not only for you but for the mission."
     I didn't reply aloud; though language is a useful tool, sometimes you get further telepathically.
     I'm not afraid…and I'll learn from it!
     You're too young, you're not yet sworn!

All my life I've wanted a career in the Anthropological Service; I've lived and breathed it ever since I was old enough to know what a Youngling world is. But even for someone with my background, the Academy is not easy to get into. The stories you hear about the entrance tests being such an awful ordeal are true. They're carefully designed to be, because you're not meant to pass unless you want to pretty desperately. It's not just a matter of being smart—though you do have to be, of course—or of having high aptitude for the control of psychic powers like psychokinesis and the Shield as well as ordinary telepathy. It's more a question of having the right personality. The Service is not about to turn anybody loose on a Youngling world who's not fitted for the responsibility. So there are all sorts of psychological tests and some other things they throw in to weed out anyone who hasn't sufficient—well, fortitude. Being an agent isn't always fun, and you are supposed to take the first steps toward finding that out before you get in too deep.

So they do everything they can to discourage you—but it's a very good arrangement, because the Service is not just a job. After all, once you take the Oath you are in for life; it's irrevocable. and you renounce your allegiance to your native world. There are a number of reasons why it was set up this way, but the main one is that they just don't want you if you don't feel that strongly about it. The power to influence Youngling civilizations is not a thing to be taken lightly.

But if you are truly serious about it, if you are willing to make the sacrifices the Oath demands. all the worlds of the universe are open to you! If you are not in the Service you will never see anything but Federation planets, for the worlds of Younglings peoples who are not yet mature enough to qualify for Federation membership—are strictly off limits to everyone but trained field agents. The reasons are very complex, but what it boils down to is that if Youngling peoples were to find out that they aren't the most advanced humans in the universe, their civilizations just wouldn't develop properly. They wouldn't ever realize their own potential. The Federation doesn't want to dominate other peoples, only to study them—so we don't reveal ourselves.

The really big thing about the Service, though, the thing that makes you want to give your life to it, is the opportunity to do something worthwhile…more than worthwhile, actually significant. Because, while our main objective is to study the Younglings, there are occasions on which we do take action. There are times when we may, literally, save a world—save its people, I mean, from slavery or from extinction. Not that we meddle in any planet's internal affairs; that is absolutely forbidden, for the Federation knows that however benevolent this might seem in some cases, it would be ultimately harmful. But we do try to save Youngling peoples from each other, when we can.

For some Youngling civilizations, the most advanced ones, have starships. It takes a lot less maturity to build a starship than to understand what to do with one when you get it. With their starships, they begin to expand to planets besides their own, which is both natural and right. The trouble is, they don't stick to uninhabited planets; occasionally they grab one that belongs to somebody else: either they invade it, or they unwittingly destroy its culture through peaceful contact. We stop that if it's feasible, but we do it in a very quiet manner. Oh, it would be easy to use force! It would be easy to lay down ultimatums and that kind of thing, because we of the Federation have all sorts of powers that nobody else has; but we'd do more harm than good that way.

So we don't send in a fully armed starship and an army of men. We send two or three field agents, unarmed, just as if it were an ordinary data—gathering expedition.

It's a frustrating problem. It's heartbreaking, even, when you really think about it. We have so much power, yet we can accomplish so little! Our primary mission is to observe and to learn. The sad fact is that Youngling peoples are often wiped out, either through colonization of their planet or through some other disaster that we haven't any idea of how to prevent and we may not even know about it until it's too late. Once in a while, though, it happens that we are in the right place at the right time to come to the rescue.

Meanwhile, I turned back to the text that I had been studying:

It is by now a well-known fact that the human peoples of the universe have similar histories—not that the specific details are similar, but the same patterns emerge on every home world. Each must pass through three stages: first childhood, when all is full of wonder, when the people of a world admit that much is unknown to them, calling it "supernatural," yet believing; then adolescence, when they discard superstition and revere science, feeling that they have charted its realms and have only to conquer them —never dreaming that certain "supernatural" wonders should not be set aside, but understood. And at last maturity, when the discovery ls made that what was termed “supernatural” has been perfectly natural all along, and is in reality a part of the very science that sought to reject it…

But I don't want to read about all that, I thought, I want to see it! What sort of people are down there on Andrecia? What sort of emergency is it that's taken us off course and is serious enough for a team to be sent in—for them to risk contact, maybe, or even their lives?

Contact is a thing that's seldom permitted, except under very compelling circumstances. Younglings are not allowed to know that the Federation even exists. That's the most unbreakable rule we have, because a Youngling culture could be irreparably damaged by that awareness. You have to be willing to die rather than make an illegal disclosure; in fact one of the provisions of the Oath binds you to do just that. So contact, when it's necessary, requires a cover of some sort. And any mission involving this can be very risky indeed.

I canceled out the text and instructed the computer to give me all the facts it had on Andrecia. It didn't have many. There was a survey not too many years ago, but as the Andrecian culture is a very rudimentary one, there was not much technology for the team to study. But they were a very vulnerable people Andrecia was a good planet, a rich one. Too rich! It didn't take much imagination to guess the nature of the current trouble.

I knew, with my mind if not yet with my emotions, that the danger could be real. You might think that no Youngling could be much of a match for a Federation citizen, but any field agent knows better. The thing is, you can't always use your advantage. It's not only that the use of non— native physical weapons is prohibited—some of the psychic powers are too revealing, too. There's a rather well-known case where an agent made a small slip, and then had to let herself be put to death for witchcraft rather than go on to an actual disclosure.

From ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS by Sylvia Engdahl (1970)
NON-INTERFERENCE CLAUSE 4

The provisions of the GAIL noninterference policy place strict limits on the methods used by the Study Project. The Remusans must not become aware that they are being studied by advanced races from other planets. In itself, this knowledge would profoundly alter their natural development. Consequently, the Project Staff takes extreme precautions to preclude discovery. Though the station travels in a low orbit, a special light-absorbing field surrounds it, preventing it from being seen from the surface, even with optical telescopes. Except in very special circumstances, approved in advance by GAIL, the Project Staff must avoid direct contact with the Remusans. Studies of their culture must be carried out by extensive use of sophisticated sensing devices and the occasional photographing of written documents.

The Project would not have had much value if we hadn’t studied the physiology of the Remusans. Although Remusans regularly engage in the deliberate slaughter of their own kind, GAIL forbids this practice by its members. Yet taking live Remusans for study and returning them to the surface would have revealed GAlL’s existence. We solved this problem by developing techniques for hypnotizing our specimens so they are subsequently unaware that they have been taken and examined. Generally they can recall only the few brief moments before their capture and the fact that they had “lost” several hours, or sometimes days of time.

We make it a practice to take individuals while they walk alone, usually at night, so none of their fellows witness their kidnapping. To date, some 150 Remusans from different parts of the planet have been examined in this way. The practice has been strictly controlled. Two people are never taken from the same village or tribe. In most cases, the specimen’s fellows don’t believe the story of his capture, discounting it as possession by devils, religious visions, or outright fabrication. We have now obtained a complete physiological data base, so the number of specimens studied in the future will be limited to ten per century.

Staff members at the station cooperate very closely. Each day we hold meetings to discuss the day’s planned operations. The station houses two antigrav shuttles designed for transport between the station and the surface of Remus. Except for maintenance days, these vehicles fly missions around the clock. Most missions are routine and involve planting sensor arrays and repairing defective units. The sensors have been designed as self-contained units and will self-destruct if disturbed from their original placement or if their power drops to a critically low level. Retrieving these devices would be expensive and possibly hazardous, particularly if the device should be discovered by the natives. Special cloaking fields shield the shuttle craft and cause them to reflect their backgrounds. When viewed from the ground, the shuttlecraft assumes the color of the sky overhead. When viewed against a backdrop of trees, the shuttlecraft appears to be green or grey or whatever color the trees might be that season. I love the excitement of surface missions and generally go on one each week that I’m in space. Missions may be as simple as filming a battle from the spacecraft hovering just over a nearby forest, or they may involve entering a monarch’s walled fortress under cover of darkness to copy records and documents reserved for royal eyes. I find the suspense of nearly being discovered exhilarating. I enjoy being close to discovery but sufficiently in control of a situation that I can escape undetected at the last second.

I had my closest call while escaping from the castle of the Whar (monarch) of Zarobar. I had just taken a furtive picture of the Treaty of Zweig, a pact that would end war among ten tribes covering a third of a continent. I slipped out the door of her private closet moments before the Whar returned and headed for a nearby balcony, intending to launch myself into the air with my antigrav pack. ]ust before I engaged the drive, I noticed a young female guard staring at me. Her mouth was starting to open, and I knew that in the next second she would call for help. Calmly, with the experience gained by more than seventy missions, I took the neural neutralizer from my belt and fired it at her.

The neural neutralizer causes a temporary loss of consciousness without corresponding loss of motor functions. The target feels as if she has gone into a trance very like a lapse of memory in the thirty seconds she remained dazed, I made my escape through the air to the waiting shuttlecraft. Each time a field Worker uses the neutralizer, he or she must file a written report. The neutralizer is used only in moments of direct contact with Remusans. Too many contacts would be indicative that observers are getting careless and that security procedures need to be tightened. This was the only time I’ve had to use my neutralizer, the lowest record for any field sociologist with three years of service. I haven’t been able to assess the effect of this incident on the culture, but I suspect the guard felt she had seen a spirit rather than an alien being. Belief in such spirits forms part of the religion of Zarobar’s natives.

From HANDBOOK FOR SPACE PIONEERS by L. Stephen Wolfe and Roy L. Wysack (1977)
YOU ARE NOW READY 1

(ed note: Our heroes are from a Terran colony Prince Samual's World that backslid to about 17th century level technology after the fall of the first galactic empire. The representatives of the reborn Empire, who only backslid to 2600 CE level technology, discover Prince Samual's World. Which will be incorporated into the Empire according to The Rules.)

      The reason was not hard to find, for in one corner of the crowded bar three officers of the Imperial Navy held court, buying drinks for anyone on Prince Samual's World who would sit with them and laugh at their jokes.
     Across from Jefferson a young native, browned by field work, too young to be in the Blue Bottle pub if he were not sitting with the Emperor's overlords, beamed at his new friend and shouted approval of the song. "Great, Lieu—uh, Jeff, great. Tell us more about what it's like out there. Tell us about other worlds. Are we the most backward place you've ever seen?"
     Lieutenant Jefferson belched loudly, murmured an automatic apology, and focused dizzily on his admirers. "Oh hell, no, Simom, not by a full broadside. Samual's got guns, and factories, and—and long-distance communications, and hydroelectric power; man, you've got nothing to be ashamed of. You've got no world government, and those wars you're always in stomp you down or for sure you'd be Class Two status in the Empire instead of a colony (but you did indeed get stomped down by the wars, so Prince Samual's world is doomed to be an enslaved colony instead of a Class Two). When I think how bad you got torn up in the Secession Wars, it's amazing you got this far in a few centuries . . . standard centuries, that is. You're doing fine here. Simom, we've been to places where they don't even have hydrocarbon power, no electricity, no pellet guns, nothing but horses and men running around in iron pants the way you see—well, the way we see in Imperial history books, books about the time when Earth was all there was to it. Friend, you almost have space travel. Another hundred years, another fifty years even, you'd have found us instead of the other way around. Too bad you didn't," he added, his voice changing. "Been better for you if you had. Class Two status for sure, maybe Class One, if you'd had real space flight before we got here. Not your fault; the survey ship just happened by looking for a gas giant to scoop some fuel from and decided to look you over. A real pity."
     As the headwaiter brought more drinks, Simom asked, "What was it like, that place (planet Makassar) where they wore iron pants? Is it far from here? Have you colonized it? Can we go there?"
     "Ho, one at a time," Jefferson shouted. "Far? Not more than twelve light-years, one jump from here, I think. Let's see, yeah, there's nothing between the two suns and theirs is a big one; hell, it's that thing you people call the Eye of the Needle; you could see it right now if you went outside. And no, no colonies there, not enough to make it worthwhile yet. And we're spread so thin. Keep a little observation post there to watch for outies (interstellar rebels), a first lieutenant and a couple of middies, few Marines. Not even a ship in orbit. Detection gear, observation satellite, that's about all. Nothing important there, except, of course, their Temple."
     Jefferson had allowed his voice to drop for a moment, a note of weariness creeping in as he thought of the immense task of the Imperial Navy trying to reclaim the pieces of an Empire lost and shattered in the Secession Wars, the capital itself only reaching for the stars decades ago. His Majesty hoped to knit together the fragments before another war could send mankind staggering back to primitive conditions. There had been no winners of the last war, and the next would be worse. There must not be a next one, he said to himself. Never again. Then he brightened as the raucous humor and obvious friendship of the natives washed over him. Best enjoy it now, he thought. They wouldn't be so friendly to the Navy after the colonists arrived—but that was years away, and the night was young.
     "The funny part, Simom, is that the Temple is worth more to them than the whole bloody planet, if they only knew it! They were right to make it a holy place and preserve it, but if they only knew! Why, there's a whole Old-Empire subsection library in that rabbit warren they've built up around what used to be the Viceroy's Palace! The Service librarians almost went out of their minds, some of the history books and things they found there. Even a few science books, operating manuals for old Imperial Fleet stuff; you name it, it's there, or bits and pieces of it are.
     "They don't even know what it all is! Wouldn't do them any good if they did, no technology to understand it anyway. And my sweet Savior, how they guard that stuff! Thought we'd never get any of it copied for the archives. If we'd taken just one of those cubes out—yeah, cubes, the library was geared to a computer. Not much like your books. Took a lot of work to get that fixed, I'll tell you. And those priests watched every second we were there. Never did make copies of most of the stuff; we'll get it some day. Be a great job for some historian. We had to sneak in, convince their bishops we were from the stars— they still haven't told the people in the city about us. And the chaplain had to get in on the act, convince them we were religiously orthodox, gave them some song and dance about how we, too, believed that God spoke from their archives. The chaplain said it was all right, the first thing they copied was a Bible, so he didn't lie about it. Couldn't harm a thing copying the stuff or they'd have boiled up so thick it'd take a battleship to kill them all. Can't do that, they're good people. We'll need everyone in this sector one day.

(Mercenary Colonel MacKinnie finds himself out of a job, after the Imperials stop his calvary attack with an air-to-surface missile fired from a surface-to-orbit spacecraft. He finds himself kidnapped by Dougal, chief of the secret police. Dougal has a plan to aid Prince Samual's World, and is trying to enlist MacKinnie's help.)     "Tell me what you know of the plans the Imperial Navy has for Prince Samual, Colonel MacKinnie."
     "Precious little. They appeared less than a year ago, and almost immediately settled in Haven. At first they didn't interfere with the planetary governments, but then they made an alliance with your King David—"
     "Your king also, Colonel," Dougal interrupted.
     "With King David. They helped you conquer the other city-states around Haven, and finally did for you what no Haven army had ever been able to do. They gave you Orleans. I don't know who's next, but I presume this goes on until Haven takes all of North Continent. After that . . . who knows, the Southies, I suppose."
     "And then what will they do, Colonel?"
     "Your newspapers keep telling us they'll help us, give us all kinds of scientific marvels, but I've yet to see any of them. You Havenites have kept them all."
     "We haven't, because there have been none. Every assistance the Imperials have given us has been direct, with their Marines operating the weapons and none of my people even allowed to see their new technology. Go on, what after that?"
     "Once you have conquered the whole blasted planet, I guess they take you into their Empire, with David Second as planetary king."
     "And you find that unpleasant?" Dougal smiled.
     "What do you want me to say, Citizen Dougal? You've told me you head the secret police. You want me to say treason out of my own mouth?"
     Malcolm Dougal poured more chickeest, carefully, not spilling a drop, and took a long sip before replying. "Appreciate your situation, Colonel. If I meant you harm, it would happen to you. I need no evidence, and there would be no trial. No one knows you're here but my most trusted men, and if you never leave this room, why, who will know it? I'm interested in what you think, Iron Man MacKinnie, and it's damned important to Haven and the whole planet. Now stop being coy and answer my questions."
     "Yes, I find that unpleasant. I can think of more unpleasant things, such as domination of the planet by one of the Southie despots, but after what you've done to Orleans, damned right I find it unpleasant."
     "Thank you." Dougal was speaking in his normal tone, an apologetic note to his voice, but the resemblance to a rabbit was gone. Now he merely looked like a businessman. "Would you find absolute domination by an Imperial Viceroy even less pleasant?"
     "Of course."
     "And why?" Dougal waved in an imperious manner. "I know why. For the same reason that you drink chickeest, bitter as it is. Because he is an outlander, a foreigner, not of Samual at all, and we belong here. This is our world and our home, and I tell you, Colonel MacKinnie, that we will never be slaves to that Empire. Not while I live and not while my sons live."
     "So you hope to escape that by using the Imperial Marines and Navy to conquer the planet?"
     "No. I had hoped to do so, but it won't work. Colonel, once their colonists and viceroy land here, King David will have no more influence over this planet than your sergeant. I thought you knew little of them. Few know anything at all."
     Dougal dismissed Solon with a wave and pointed to the papers. "This is the only Imperial artifact we have been able to obtain. It appears to be some kind of work of fiction, about the adventures of a naval officer on a newly settled planet. But it also gives us much information about the structure of the Imperial government, just as one of Cadace's best-sellers would tell them a lot about the government of Haven even though there's not a line in it intended to do so. Do you understand?" MacKinnie nodded.
     "Then," the policeman continued, "understand this. The Empire has several kinds of planetary governments within it. There is Earth itself, which is the honorary capital, but is mostly uninhabitable because of the aftermath of the Secession Wars. For their own reasons they keep some institutions including their naval and military academies there, but the real capital is called Sparta, and is in another planetary system entirely. After the capitals there are what they call Member Kingdoms, which are planetary governments strong enough to give the Imperial Navy a good fight if the Empire tried to interfere with their internal affairs.
     "Then there are Class One and Class Two worlds. We can't tell the difference between them, but they have less authority over their own affairs than the Member Kingdoms. They do have representation on the capital in one house of a multi-house advisory council, and some of their people are officers in the Imperial services. The two classes refer to some differences in technology which we do not understand, but the relevant factors are the technology levels when admission to the Empire takes place. They both seem to have something called atomic power which fascinates the physicists at the University, and their own spaceships."
     MacKinnie nodded, recalling some remarks made by the drunken lieutenant in the Blue Bottle. He mentioned this to Dougal, who nodded.
     "Good," Dougal said. "You are here because you overheard him. You see, Colonel, after the Class One and Class Two worlds, there's nothing left but colonies. And that's what we'll be."
     "What's the status of colonies?" MacKinnie asked.
     "They have none. Imperial citizens are imported as an aristocracy to impart civilization. A viceroy governs in the Emperor's name, and the Navy keeps a garrison to see that no trouble develops. The colonists end in complete control of everything, and the locals do as they're told or else."
     "How can they govern a whole planet against everybody's will? What good does it do them to burn half the world to ashes like Lechfeld?" MacKinnie drank the last of his now cooled chickeest, then answered his own question. "But of course they don't have to fight their own battles, do they? There's always a local government ready to toady to the Imperials. Someone to do their dirty work for them." He looked significantly at Dougal.
     Malcolm Dougal pretended not to notice. "Yes. There is always one. If not King David, then one of the Southie despots. But it won't happen, MacKinnie. I've found a way to win this fight and get Class Two status for Samual. I've found a way, a chance, but I can't do it alone. I need your help." Dougal leaned across the desk looking intently at Nathan MacKinnie.
     "What are you going to do?"
     "But you must have heard him. You were there when he babbled about the Old Empire library on a planet at the Eye of the Needle."
     MacKinnie thought for a moment, then said, "Yes, but I don't see how that can help us."
     "You haven't thought about this for months, as I have. We found that book not long after they landed, Colonel. It took only a few weeks to understand most of the language. It's not all that different from ours, at least the written forms, which is why the Imperials get around Haven so easily."
     The policeman lit a 'robac cigar, leaned back in his chair, and glared at the ceiling. "Ever since I could read that thing, I've thought of little else but ways to escape this trap. There's no way to avoid being part of the Empire, but by the Saints we can make them take us in as human beings, not slaves!"
     "If you had the book so early, you must have understood what they wanted before Haven made the alliance with them."
     "Of course. It was on my advice that His Majesty entered the alliance. Unless we consolidate Prince Samual's World under a planetary government, we have no chance at all of escaping colonization. And unless it's under King David, I won't have any influence over the planetary government, and you will pardon me if I think I may be better at this kind of intrigue than some of the, shall we say, more honorable men of the other city-states?"
     "All right," MacKinnie said. "So you're a master of intrigue. I still don't see what we can do."
     Dougal laughed. "You've drunk too much whiskey, Iron Man MacKinnie. Tonight and other nights. You're not above a bit of duplicity yourself. You used several very clever dodges on us. Your record, Colonel—I have it here—your record says you are more than just a simple combat soldier. But it's pleasing to be able to instruct you."
     Dougal poured more chickeest. "That library is the key to it all. If we had the knowledge that must be there—our people at the University, and the industrial barons of Orleans and Haven, and the miners of Clanranald—what couldn't they do? We could build a spaceship. A starship, perhaps. And by their own rules the Imperials would have to admit us as a classified world, not a colony. We'd still have to knuckle under to them, but we'd be subjects, not slaves."
     MacKinnie took a deep breath. "That's quite a plan."
     "It's the only possible plan."
     MacKinnie shook his head. "I don't see how you can keep them from finding out, but you're better at that than me. But you can't get at the library without a ship, and we can't build a ship without the library. Even if we had one, we couldn't operate it. There's been nobody on this planet who ever saw the inside of a starship for hundreds of years. Until the Imperials came, most of the population thought that history before the Secession Wars was just a lot of legends. How in hell do you propose that we get to the Eye of the Needle?"
     "That's the simplest part of the plan, Colonel. The Imperials have already offered to take us there." He smiled at Nathan's startled look. "They're not all Navy and Military, you know. Some Imperial citizens are Traders. There's one batch of them right now negotiating with King David over the rights to grua. They think our brandy will be worth a fortune on their capital.
     "They want platinum and iridium, too; those metals seem to be very useful to them and in short supply. But there isn't much they can give us in return, because the Navy won't let them sell us what we really want—technology. The Navy rule is, you can't trade anything more technologically advanced than what your customer already has without special permission from the Imperial Council. We offered to buy those little devices they all carry around like notebooks. 'Pocket computers,' the Navy men call them. They seem to be machines. They can't sell those."
     "What can they sell?"
     "Not much, it appears. But they have offered the king transportation to a world less advanced than ours, someplace where we can try our luck at selling. They suggested a planet at the star we call the Eye of the Needle as the closest, and we are already discussing an expedition to go there and try to organize trade . . . ."
     "The Navy will permit this?" MacKinnie asked.
     "Under conditions. Stringent conditions, I might add. We can't take anything more advanced than the natives already have. The Navy inspects our trade mission and goods before we go to the planet. But they will let us go. It appears that the Imperial Traders Association has a good-sized block of votes in the Imperial Council. I don't pretend to understand capital politics, but the ITA seems very influential. They can force the Navy to let us trade with that planet, Makassar, it's called."
     "Won't they be watching to see that we don't get near the library?" MacKinnie asked. The whiskey fog was gone from his mind now, but more than that, he felt useful again, as if there were something he might do which could not be taken away by a whim of fate. He listened to Dougal with keen interest, not noticing that Sergeant Stark was stirring on the couch to his right.
     "They have never mentioned the library," Dougal said. "Until that young lieutenant babbled about it in the Blue Bottle, I never knew it existed. I think the library's an anomaly in their records, not listed as an advanced artifact because it's so old and the people on Makassar don't know how to use it. That's only a guess. I do know they've been willing to let us go there."

From KING DAVID'S SPACESHIP by Jerry Pournelle (1981)
TECHNOLOGY EMBARGO

The government of Yiktor was at the feudal stage.…Thus the existing balance of power was a delicate thing. This meant for us Traders brain lock, weapon lock, nuisances though they were and much as we disliked them.

Far back in Free Trading, for their own protection against the power of the Patrol and the wrath of Control (the galactic empire), the Traders themselves had realized the necessity of these two safeguards on primitive planets. Certain technical information was not an item to be traded, no matter how high the inducement. Arms from off-world, or the knowledge of their manufacture, were set behind a barrier of No Sale. When we planeted on such a world, all weapons other than belt stunners were put into a lock stass which would not be released until the ship rose from that earth. We also passed a brain lock inhibiting any such information being won from us. This might seem to make us unarmed prey for any ambitious lord who might wish to wring us hard for such facts. But the law of the fair gave us complete immunity from danger—as long as we stayed within the limits set by the priests on the first day.

From MOON OF THREE RINGS by Andre Norton (1966)
NEITHER OF YOU ARE READY

(ed note: In Andre Norton's novel FORERUNNER, there is an amusing example of the Prime Directive rebounding in a sort of "turnabout is fair play" "right-back-atcha" manner.

The protagonist is a young woman named Simsa living on a medieval level planet, in the ancient city of Kuxortal. She is humanoid, but of an unknown species, and the elderly lady who raised her died of old age before telling revealing her origin.

The planet is irregularly visited by Terran starships who trade for some local items, but mostly use the place for money laundering and transshipping illegal cargoes hidden from the eyes of the the Patrol. There is a Prime-Directive technology-embargo against selling high-tech Terran equipment to the natives, since They Are Not Ready.

The punch line comes when Simsa and her fellow protagonist discover in the desert of death a zillion year old Forerunner site with lots of Forerunner spacecraft and ultra-high-tech Forerunner technology. Which is a bad thing since it is being looted by Terran criminals ("Jacks", short for hijack), especially the Forerunner ultra-high-tech weapons. These will be sold to the highest bidder.

The reason people know this is bad is because they have found former Forerunner planets where such weapons had been used. These are commonly called "Burnt-Off planets" due to their resemblance to a planet-sized charcoal briquette.

In other words, the high-tech Terrans Are Not Ready for Forerunner weapons, so the Terrans need to be subject to a Prime-Directive technology-embargo on Forerunner tech.)

(ed note: Simsa and Thorn the Terran arrive at the edge of the desert of death in a little sail boat. Simsa is rather upset when she discovers that Thorn had cut up the sail in order to make some contraption. This means they are marooned, the boat is now worthless.)

      The mad off-worlder! While she had been lazing away the day he had done this!
     Not only had he stripped away most of the decking on the main portion of the boat, but he had taken the sail, slit it into strips. To make what? The thing which rested on the shingle was a monstrous mixture of hide-cloth from the sail, pieces of wood ripped and then retied into what looked like a small boat—except that it was flat of bottom. To it, while she had been unconscious, he had also transferred and lashed into place the rest of their food hampers, and now he was coming for the water jars.
     Did the alien propose to drag that thing of his? Or would he harness the both of them to it and work her as well until they both yielded to heat and exhaustion?
     If that was his plan, he would discover that she was not going to beg off—she would keep with him stride by stride as long as she could—or he would drive them both to the impossible. So when she came to stand beside him she looked for the drag ropes. There was only one—a single strand which she believed could not take the weight of the thing he had built.

     He asked no help of her, but faced the drag carrier front on. His hand touched his belt for a moment. Then, to her amazement, the impossible happened before her eyes. There was a trembling of the carrier. It arose from the gravel and hung in the air—actually in the air—at least the height of her own knee. Picking up the lead rope, Thorn set off along the narrow beach and the thing floated after him as if it were some huge wingless zorsal, as obedient to his will as her own birds were to hers.

     For a long moment, she simply watched what she still could not believe. Then she took off in a hurry, lest he vanish from sight. What new wonders he might bring into their service she could not guess, but now she would willingly accept all the strange tales which were told of the starmen and what they could do. Even though they never, as far as she knew, had demonstrated any such powers on this world before.
     Her anger lost in her need to know how such a thing might be, Simsa slipped and slid, forgetting her drained strength until she came even with Thorn who walked steadily ahead, leading his floating platform.
     “What do you do?” she got out between gasps of breath as she caught up. “What makes it hang so in the air?”

     She heard him actually give a chuckle and then the look he turned on her was alive with sly humor.
     “If you told those at the port what you now see, they would send me back to my home world, sentenced to stay out of space forever,(because of the Prime Directive) he told her, though he seemed only amused at being able to explain what must be a crime among his kind. “I have merely applied to this problem something common on other planets—ones more advanced than yours. And that is a deadly crime according to the laws by which we abide. There is a small mechanism I planted at the right spot back there—” he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder but did not turn his head, “which nullifies gravity to a small extent—”

     “Nullifies gravity,” she repeated, trying to give the strange words the same sound as he had. “I do not know—some people believe in ghosts and demons, but Ferwar said they are mainly what those who believe in them make for themselves by their own fears—that you can believe in any bad dream or thing if you turn your full mind to it. But this is no ghost nor demon.”
     “No. It is this.” They were into the cut of the valley now. The sea wind behind them made the passage more bearable now than she could ever have believed it could be when she had seen it by day. Now as he halted for a moment, it was still not too dark for her to make out what he pointed to as he repeated, “It is this.”
     “This” was what appeared as a black box no bigger than could be covered by his hand were he to set that palm down over it. The thing rested directly in the middle of his drag carrier and now she could see that the cargo on board had been carefully stacked in such a way that the load must weigh evenly along the full length, leaving open only that one spot in the exact center vacant, the place in which sat the box.
     “You toss a stone into the air and it falls,” he said, “it is the attraction of the earth which pulls it down. But if that attraction could be broken sufficiently—then your stone would float. On my world, we wear belts with such attachments which give us individual flying power when they are mated with another force. We can move also much heavier things than this with little trouble. Unfortunately, I could not smuggle through the field guards as large a nullifier as I wanted. This is limited; you see how close to the ground the weight holds it.
     “There is this also—the power is limited. However, it is solar powered and here the sun can renew it, at least for the space in which I think we shall have need of it.”

     Simsa could understand his words easily enough, but the concept they presented was so far from anything she had known that his speech was akin to a wild travel tale, such as the river traders might use to scare off the gullible from their own private ports of trade, as was well known they were apt to do. She thought of such a thing being attached to a belt so that one could share the sky with such as the zorsal and the uses one could put such skill to.
     “The Thieves Guild,” she spoke aloud her own train of thought. “What they would not give for such as that! No,” a shiver which was not from the cooling of the wind shook her, “no, they would kill for that!

     He pushed himself up on the ledge to look out and down. Simsa could not see past the width of his shoulders and he said nothing, did not move. At last she could stand the suspense no longer.
     “What is it?” She reached out to catch at the arm which wore the cuff, pull at the sleeve so tightly molded against the flesh.
     “The end of a world, perhaps.” His words meant very little, but he moved aside so that she could look down in turn.
     Almost she cried out, but not quite. Then his hand slid across her lips as an additional seal upon secrecy.

     Here there was no forest of green—instead a strip so wide its outer edges were almost lost to sight. In places it was blackened, scarred. While on it—
     At first she thought they looked down upon a starship landing field with a fleet in port—a fleet of more ships than had ever come to Kuxortal in a season—in two seasons. Then she saw that most of these ships did not stand erect as if they had landed, as was customary, fins down, noses sky pointed. Two had fallen on their sides, plainly great damaged. Beyond them was a third which was of an entirely different shape altogether than that of the small traders she knew, a round globe from under which protruded a congealed mass of metal: a second ship upon which it had crashed. None of them were—
     But, yes, there was one still standing, stark, sky saluting, some distance away. Its sides were smooth and clean where there were the marks of fire, wounds cutting across the others. It looked as if it would be ready to take off at any moment.

     But if this was a graveyard for starships which could no longer fly, it was not deserted. Simsa saw what could only be men, men who wore suits like the dead guardians, but who moved, if clumsily. Several sat on carts which went apparently on their own power from one of the wrecked ships to another. Others walked, so slowly in those heavy body coverings, to pile things they had brought out of the wrecks, sorting them.
     Thorn’s arm shot out. He was holding the strip (Geiger counter) which he had told her meant the level of death (ionizing radiation) which lay in such places. She could see that red line, which had been near the middle of the strip when he had first shown it to her, was now a finger-width farther up.
     “A deadly place.”
     His voice was low, as if he were awed or shocked by the scene they watched.
     “But they—”
     “Are suited (with anti-radiation suits),” he pointed out. “Still, so much danger; what could be worth such exposure?”

     “Your weapons of fire? (laser rifle)
     “Not just to trade to any little lordlings here,” he returned. “Nor could your Lord Arfellen (though I have some idea he knows something of this) dare to come near what is being gathered. This is what is left of a war command.”
     “Your (nuclear) war—did some of your people flee after all their cities were destroyed?” (i.e., are these Terran ships that fled the nuclear war?)
     He was shaking his head. “These are not ships I know, and they are so old—maybe even Forerunner!”

     His eyes were wide. “Forerunner arms! Yes! There would be fools on half a hundred worlds who would pay high for such knowledge, even if they could not touch the weapons themselves. You see these can be taken apart, studied, their ways of making taped. Then those who made this find—a find that would be blasted into nothingness if it were public knowledge—would have something to sell such as has never been sold before! This is a treasure of evil past any reckoning. We have found burned-off planets, but never before a fleet—or even one ship—which fought such wars! Arms to be studied and copied, the ships themselves. These looters can find buyers in plenty and it will mean ruin and death around the galaxy!”

(ed note: so the Terrans need to be subject to a new Prime Directive, because they Are Not Ready for Forerunner tech)

From FORERUNNER by Andre Norton (1980)
HEGEMONY AND HYPOCRISY OF THE PRIME DIRECTIVE

There are few guidelines that members of Starfleet hold as dear as the Prime Directive. (Though I’m Not Just A Doctor: On-the-Job Flexibility and You may come in second, and Contraceptive Techniques for When Warp Ten Makes You a Lizard gets an honorable mention.)

The Directive is the closest thing that Star Trek has to a central dogma. Disavowing the exploitation that has so often riddled human history, the Federation decides to keep its hands off of any societies that have not yet attained interstellar travel. In the words of the original Enterprise crew, this involves “No identification of self or mission… No interference with the social development of said planet… No References to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations.”

This was expanded greatly during the breadth of the Trek franchise, malleable in the hands of different writers. The central idea of mucking about in a less-advanced planet’s affairs being bad stayed the same, creating plots both interesting and contrived. On TOS, though, it was usually an excuse to raid the network wardrobe department.

The fear behind the Prime Directive was one oft used in science fiction in the latter half of the Twentieth Century: if a less technologically developed species got their hands on highly developed technology, then they would promptly use it to destroy themselves in some way. So Star Trek argues that it is far better for the race to develop technologically on its own, so that they can attain the technology that can be used to destroy themselves without cheating. Which is better, somehow.

Given the historical context of the Cold War, it’s understandable why the Prime Directive came about. When TOS was in production, the major world powers on both sides extended their policy by subversively manipulating countries and regions deemed strategic. And, in many cases, this interference led to damage in terms of political extremism, economic stagnation, and countless human lives through state sponsored violence and war.

Wouldn’t it be nice, thought ol’ Gene, to have everyone just mind their own stinkin’ business for once?

On the whole, that’s an admirable notion. Let everyone tend to themselves, and together we can make a better world (or galaxy or whatever) that is defined by our own terms. It’s good that Roddenberry wanted to make room for that sort of view in his unique vision of the future, and it serves as a timely commentary on issues we still face today.

Too bad that, the way it’s portrayed, the Prime Directive is even worse than interfering in the first place, and it’s even a little space elitist.

I know, I know. That’s a pretty hefty critique to lay at the feet of a revered TV franchise, but I wouldn’t say it if I couldn’t back it up. And I don’t just mean the whole “we’ll wait for you to make the technology that can kill you” stuff. The real problem has to do with a theory in political science known as ‘developmental theory.’

This theory tries to explain the changes of states over time, and can be characterized as “path dependent.” Path dependency maintains that development in any sort of system is the result of a series of choices that accumulates returns over time. A country’s development from the past is therefore dependent on its, er, path. This theory is heavily informed by the notion of a telos, which means “destination” in Greek (not to be confused with the second home of the Cybermen, different franchise). Thus, a teleological frame of thinking is one that involves a linear progression with an ultimate goal at its end.

Combine the two ideas, and you have something like this: at the beginning of development, you have the “State of Nature” where anarchy reigns and individuals will attempt to control or share basic resources. From here societies will develop around deciding where those resources go, with growing levels of sophistication as time continues. At some point along this line, the society changes so much from its previous form that it experiences what social theorist Max Weber called a “disenchantment” with its past self.

This theory works out fine, until we come to the part that often comes under fire: some hold that the beginning of “true” modernity for all states (the telos) is linked directly to certain events in European history, such as the Enlightenment or the Romantic Movement. This view is often criticized for treating Europe as an isolated entity, without taking into account the effect that Europe and the rest of the world had on each other at the time. Recent analyses suggest that the relative early rise of Europe was due to cultural organization in the West versus that found in the rest of the world, with Europe not as deterministically ‘special’ as was once thought.

The parallel between developmental theory and the Prime Directive make themselves quite clear. In both cases, there is a select group of states which say that others that have not yet attained certain characteristics (read: the same as their own) are not as modern or sophisticated. And until those “lower” cultures take on the characteristics of the “sophisticates,” they will be forever confined to a pre-modern existence. The Prime Directive, however, maintains that it is necessary for the different societies to achieve their telos on their own, and any external influence will forever taint their progress to that noble goal.

That is the real hypocrisy (and space elitism) of the Prime Directive. While they apparently want societies to flourish without any external variables, almost like the observers of an experiment, the Federation fails to recognize (or admit to recognize) that there exists within the universe certain limitations that could potentially restrict a huge percentage of the universal population.

Here’s what I mean by that: A corollary to the Fermi Paradox suggests that it’s possible for intelligent life to exist in the universe, but certain factors would limit them from access to our sort of technological development. A hypothetical species could have their means of interstellar travel and communication on a mass scale severely depreciated, with the rest of the universe totally unaware of them.

That said, it would still be possible for them to achieve a socio-political disenchantment similar to any other Federation member, or even for their scientific knowledge to excel in relation to their restrictions. However, they would never be eligible for membership in the Federation due to systemic factors that are entirely out of their control.

The Federation seems to think this is the way things should be, and why wouldn’t they when it works so well in their favor? Doing this allows them to retain a greater share of the universe’s prosperity, only doling it out to those that mimic their own successes exactly.

Through this developmental self-selection, the Federation’s membership becomes homogenized and enforces a technological hegemony on the universe that ironically keeps many underprivileged groups from reaching their potential within the universe’s socio-political ecosystem. This hegemony becomes so important that some societies are allowed to fall by the wayside through total extinction events in order to protect it.

Now, you can argue all you like that this isn’t the true intent of the Prime Directive, but you sure can’t say that this isn’t the effect. Differences between the member races are usually arbitrary and one-note, doing nothing to counter the Federation’s human-lead policies. Rarely are there signs of discord, with the organization acting in concert throughout its affairs. New members never really seem to stir the pot when they come along, and this self-selection is more than likely the culprit.

This raises the question, what good does the Prime Directive actually do for anyone involved? We’ve already established that it’s harmful to the development of the universe at large, and that it makes out the Federation to be a culturally stagnant hypocrite. Where’s the good, other than the pat on the back the Federation gives itself because they’re one of the “good guys?”

There is none. It is a logical back alley designed only as a political statement against imperialist or interventionist histories. As a piece of art and storytelling meant to make comment on the Cold War and conflicts like it, I suppose that’s fine, even if it doesn’t very well reflect how societies have historically interacted with each other in the past.

I think this is why I prefer the sort of science fiction like Stargate: SG-1 or the relatively new Falling Skies, which portrays interactions between alien races at varying technological levels with a great amount of nuance. The races in these stories exchange all sorts of things, even weaponry. Sometimes the interactions are good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes just indifferent.

There are no absolutes, as there are none in real life. Exploring where the consequences of those actions go, and the “disenchantment” that they bring about, is much more compelling than holding onto a blind fear of the past’s mistakes.

BOTHERSOME PRIME DIRECTIVE

Thus, hardening of the arteries is the process by which a television show gradually limits itself by setting up conditions which will affect all episodes that will come after. Producers are always a little bit wary about expanding on their formats because of the danger of this happening—the happening—they might inadvertently set something up that could backfire and severely limit them in the future.

A few examples from STAR TREK:

The Prime Directive—also known as General Order Number One. This, according to the STAR TREK Writers’ Guide, third revision, is “a wise, but often troublesome rule which prohibits starship interference with the normal development of alien life and societies.” It was first postulated in an episode entitled, “The Apple” in which Kirk and crew must violate the directive and destroy an Eden. The justification was that this Eden was an artificial condition which was already interfering with the normal development of this particular culture. It rapidly became clear that the Prime Directive was to be more honored in the breach than otherwise.

In fact, the only times we ever heard about the Prime Directive was just before Kirk broke it. There never was a story told where he obeyed the rule.

The Prime Directive was broken in “A Private Little War," “Patterns of Force," “A Piece of the Action,” “Bread and Circuses,” and quite a few other episodes. This is why it was such a troublesome rule—it was troublesome to the writers who had to work their stories around it. In all of these episodes, Kirk eventually had to interfere with the so-called normal development of the alien society. Sometimes he was putting it back on its proper course after someone else had tampered with it, "Bread and Circuses,” “Patterns of Force,” for example.

The STAR TREK Writers’ Guide summarizes the rule like this: “It can be disregarded when absolutely vital to the interests of the entire Earth Federation, but the Captain who does violate it had better be ready to present a sound defense of his actions."

Which means, translated into English: The Prime Directive is a great idea, but it's also a bloody nuisance. Let's forget about the whole thing.

The Prime Directive gets in the way of telling “Mary Worth” stories. It keeps the Enterprise from being a cosmic meddler. And that's too much of a limitation on the format. It keeps Kirk from being a moralist because he can no longer say, “This is right and this is wrong" to the people of Eminiar VII and Vendikar in “A Taste of Armageddon.” In fact, he can't even blow up the computer that controls their simulated war if he subscribes to General Order Number One.

Nor can he destroy the Landru computer on Beta III in “Return of the Archons." Nor is he allowed to upset the status quo on Triskelion in “The Gamesters of Triskelion.”

The Prime Directive is a very idealistic rule—but it keeps getting in the way of the story. Therefore, it has to be disregarded. Regularly.

In the third season, it was totally ignored. Forgotten. They had problems enough without it.

From THE WORLD OF STAR TREK by by David Gerrold (1973)

Man Was Not Meant To Know

As opposed to the above, this is technology that will be forever bad and evil, no matter how mature humanity becomes. This is not quite as common in science fiction, since science generally does not admit to the existence of any such thing. It generally is found only in stories based around one moral system or another so the evilness is relative to the morality, not an absolute. More like in fantasies like H. P. Lovecraft's tales of dread Cthulhu.

A mild version of this sometimes appears in science fictions as a dystopian background, or as something the author uses to deliberately put the brakes on technological development so the novel's background does not confuse the readers.

NO MAN SHOULD HAVE THIS POWER
Spock: I do not dispute that in the wrong hands...
McCoy: "In the wrong hands"? Would you mind telling whose are the right hands, my logical friend?
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, but Power Corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Some powers — and responsibilities — are too great for anyone to be trusted with.

A character may realize this on his own — perhaps the Big Bad has just been defeated, and his Ancient Artifact is now in The Hero's control. After contemplating all the good he could do, The Hero may realize that he can't take away people's free will. He may experience a "We're Not So Different" moment, and gain some sympathy for his enemy.

Alternatively, the party may begin fighting over who should control this power, demonstrating their inability to be trusted with it. Eventually, a wiser member will point out that the only possible solution is for no one to have it.

In any case, the choice will usually be clear. The source of power must be discarded, destroyed, or sealed back in its tin. This may be a final resolution, a return to the status quo, or even the beginning of a quest to get rid of the power. If the proper choice isn't made, this may mark the Start of Darkness.

See No MacGuffin, No Winner when the power is lost as a karmic punishment, rather than a willing decision in fear of the consequences. Also compare It Belongs in a Museum. Does not refer to powers that only women have, or only The Chosen One or many should have.

See also: The World Is Not Ready, Status Quo Is God, Reluctant Mad Scientist, and Technological Pacifist. If the power simply isn't used, for no specific reason, that's Holding Back the Phlebotinum. If the protagonists aim for this trope but don't succeed, see Dangerous Device Disposal Debacle.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)

DANGEROUS ALIEN TECHNOLOGY

(ed note: the protagonists are trying to recover a billon-year old alien space suit encased in a time-stopping "statis field." Among the things inside the suit is a device that will amplify a telepath's power to a point where they could hypnotically enslave everybody on Terra.)

(ed note: Luke the ARM from Terra and Smoky from the Belt are arguing)

      “I never thought the ARMS was a grand idea,” said Luke. “I think they’re necessary. Absolutely necessary. I joined because I thought I could be useful.”
     “Luke, if flatlanders (Earthmen) need thought police to keep them alive, they shouldn’t stay alive. You’re trying to hold back evolution.”
     “We are not thought police! What we police is technology. If someone builds something that has a good chance of wiping out civilization, then and only then do we suppress it. You’d be surprised how often it happens.”
     Smoky’s voice was ripe with scorn. “Would I? Why not suppress the fusion tube while you’re at it? No, don’t interrupt me, Luke, this is important. They don’t use fusion only in ships. Half Earth’s drinking water comes from seawater distilleries, and they all use fusion heat. Most of Earth’s electricity is fusion, and all of the Belt’s. There’s fusion flame in crematoriums and garbage disposal plants. Look at all the uranium you have to import, just to squirt into fusion tubes as primer! And there are hundreds of thousands of fusion ships, every last one of which — “
     ” — turns into a hydrogen bomb at the flip of a switch.”
     “Too right. So why doesn’t the ARMS suppress fusion?”
     “First, because the ARMS was formed too late. Fusion was already here. Second, because we need fusion. The fusion tube is human civilization, the way the electrical generator used to be. Thirdly, because we won’t interfere with anything that helps space travel. But I’m glad — “
     “You’re begging the…”
     “MY TURN, Smoky. I’m glad you brought up fusion, because that’s the whole point. The purpose of the ARMS is to keep the balance wheel on civilization. Knock that balance wheel off kilter, and the first thing that would happen would be war. It always is. This time it’d be the last. Can you imagine a full-scale war, with that many hydrogen bombs just waiting to be used? Flip of a switch, I think you said.”
     “You said. Do you have to stamp on human ingenuity to keep the balance wheel straight? That’s a blistering condemnation of Earth, if true.”
     “Smoky, if it weren’t top secret I could show you a suppressed projector that can damp a fusion shield from ten miles away. Chick Watson got to be my boss by spotting an invention that would have forced us to make murder legal. There was — “
     “Don’t tell me about evidence you can’t produce.”
     “All right, dammit, what about this (alien telepathic) amplifier we’re all chasing? Suppose some bright boy came up with an amplifier for telepathic hypnosis? Would you suppress it?”
     “You produce it and I’ll answer.”

     “So we all made it,” said Luke, beaming around at the company. “I was afraid the Last War would start on Pluto.”
     “Me too,” said Lew. His voice was barely slurred. “We were afraid you wouldn’t take the hint when we couldn’t answer your calls. You might have decided that was some stupid piece of indirection.” He blinked and tightened his lips, dismissing the memory. “So what’ll we do with the spare suit?” (which contains the alien telepathic hypnosis amplifier)
     Now he had everybody’s attention. This was a meeting hall, and the suit was the main order of business.
     “We can’t let Earth have it,” said Smoky. “They could open it. We don’t have their time stopper.” (the spare suit is encased in a time-stopping "statis field", and cannot be opened without a second field. Earth has stasis technology, the Belt does not.) Without looking at Luke, he added, “Some inventions do have to be suppressed.”
     “You could get it with a little research,” said Garner.
     “Dump it on Jupiter,” Masney advised. “Strap it to the Heinlein’s hull and let Woody and me fly it. (Masney is from Earth, Woody is from the Belt) If we both come back alive you know it got dumped on schedule. Right?”
     “Right,” said Lew. Garner nodded. Others in the lounge tasted the idea and found it good, despite the loss of knowledge which must be buried with the suit. Larry Greenberg, who had other objections, kept them to himself.

From WORLD OF PTAVVS by Larry Niven (1965)
CODOMINIUM SUPPRESSES RESEARCH

2010–2100 CoDominium Intelligence Services engage in serious effort to suppress all research into technologies with military applications. They are aided by zero-growth organizations. Most scientific research ceases.

…There was another reason, too. CoDominium Intelligence licensed all scientific research and tried to suppress anything that could have military value. The U.S.-Soviet alliance was on top and wasn't about to let any new discoveries upset the balance. They couldn't stop everything, but they didn't have to, so long as the Grand Senate controlled everyone's R&D budget and could tinker with the patent laws.

…If we had not suppressed scientific research. But that was done in the name of the peace. Prevent development of new weapons. Keep control of technology in the hands of the government, prevent technology from dictating policy to all of us; it had seemed so reasonable, and besides, the policy was very old now. There were few trained scientists, because no one wanted to live under the restrictions of the Bureau of Technology.


     …Mark nodded, but Halpern only sneered. "You don't know anything at all," Halpern said. "Oppression? Shooting rioters? Sure that's part of what the CD does, but it's not the worst part. Symptom, not cause. The case is their g*dd*mn so-called intelligence service. Suppression of scientific research. Censorship of technical journals. They've even stopped the pretense of basic research. When was the last time a licensed physicist had a decent idea?"
     Mark shrugged. He knew nothing about physics.
     Halpern grinned. There was no warmth in the expression. His voice had a bitter edge. "Keeping the peace, they say. Only discourage new weapons, new military technology. B*llsh*t, they've stopped everything for fear somebody somewhere will come up with—"

…BuReloc had been shipping the worst troublemakers off Earth for two generations now … except for the Grand Senators, Owensford thought mordantly. Earth could not afford more trouble. The CoDominium had kept the peace since before his grandfather's birth, the United States and Soviet Union acting in concert to police a restive planet. The cost had been heavy; an end to technological progress, as the CoDo Intelligence services suppressed research with military implications … which turned out to be all research.

…CoDominium Intelligence was tasked with suppressing scientific research; their most effective method had been a generations-long effort to corrupt every data base and research program on Earth. Few of the colony worlds had the time or resources needed to undo the damage. Besides, there were few trained scientists left anywhere after four generations. Nobody wanted to live under the lidless eye of BuInt all their lives, with involuntary transportation to someplace like Fulson's World as the punishment for stepping over the line. Mostly what were left were technicians, cookbook engineers who might make a minor change in a recipe if they were very daring.

From THE PRINCE by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling (2002)

Eugenics

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End of Natural Selection

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Mutants

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Stratified Cities

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The Death of Cities

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Museums

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Immortality

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Decadent Population

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Casual FTL Travel

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You-Simulator

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Intelligence Amplification

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Mind Control

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Technomages

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The Singularity

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Revolt of the AIs

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