In the Electron Sea pt 1/6.

Father Peter Sal S.J. and Father Pierre Aristide S.J. walked along a mildly cracked sidewalk. Tiny green shoots clawed their way between the fractured tectonic plates of the concrete firmament. Next to the sidewalk a large sign before a small high tech building plainly sported the wafting gold logo ‘Shahrazad’, the logo of the most profitable tech company in the physical world. The two fathers walked in, they both supposed, for the last time.

Shahrazad was the largest Artificial Universe, AU, for short. An AU was like a tech platform and like a country. Like a tech platform it was a service provider, which other people could use to create content, talk with each other, and build things. Shahrazad was also like a country, in that once one emigrated there, you were then bound by the laws, rules, and limitations of this particular Artificial Universe. Shahrazad was not designed by humans but a third generation Artificial General Intelligence. Humans designed the first generation. The first generation designed the second, and the second designed the third. Humans built the hardware though (well, more or less), own the company, and allow the continued existence of Shahrazad.

Shahrazad, the official literature says, offers a platform for a flourishing and totally fulfilled life. It’s goal is a benevolent universe free from the harms of normal life in the prime Universe of gravity, scarcity, and chaotic events. To get in one must allow a scan of their entire physical structure to be recorded and uploaded over the course of three days, the body is left behind limply stretched out on a table, but the mind is then freely existing in a new universe adjacent the normal world of decay. Other AUs had existed. They were small, sometimes very unfortunate affairs. But by the current year Shahrazad was the only AU whose name anyone could remember. They were practically synonymous. At the time these priests entered the scene, approximately 200 million people lived in the Shahrazad universe.

The Catholic Church, committed to a consistent life ethic, the value and necessity of the human body, and preserving the body’s life until a natural death, had ample reason within its tradition to condemn the new technology; furthermore, fear of the possible powers humans could gain over one another in playing with the brain caused concern worldwide across religions and ethical systems. For twenty years no practicing Catholic had stepped into an AU, but through the still existing internet there were rumors of a small Catholic community formed within the Shahrazad AU who requested a priest to be sent in.

After six additional years of training the two Peters, Peter and Pierre were ready to begin a ministry without their original bodies and enter the Artificial Universe. Why had the Church agreed to this seemingly clear break from Catholic anthropology? For one, it was disputed whether a digital body is a body. People inside Shahrazad, unlike in previous AUs, professed that they did in fact have bodies that were in some hard-to-understand way continuous with their old bodies. Most theologians strongly disagreed with this self-assessment of the digital reprobates, but still there was no official condemnation of Shahrazad. A second reason was that the alleged Catholic community inside Shahrazad had produced some of the most amazing rpgs, games, music, literature, and philosophy. They fueled a small religious revival in the outer world with their creations, inspiring the young towards virtue and the old to reform. Their requests for ministers, though perhaps odd (why didn’t they think of themselves as religiously self-sufficient? Isn’t it surprising they wanted priests? There can’t be digital sacraments, can there?), could not be ignored.

One series created by this community concerned a powerful stateswoman, known for her sincere work for the common good, and her mentor, a well-seasoned people person, with clear vision on how respect and honor allow for cooperation and justice between governments. He had stopped several small wars and brought swift salvation to millions locked in impending humanitarian crises. He seemed a saint – always benevolent, helpful, fatherly. But, when he died, and his protege found his diary, she learned he was something quite different, a monster, not in deed, but in thought, in his mindset. Shocked by the revelation that her mentor’s inner thoughts were all ego, love of being a savior, and an insatiable pride locked in a prison of self-love, she was thrown into a crisis of faith, seeing that all the good done could be done for strange, barbaric, blasphemous motives. Questioning her own motives too, she quit government and joined a convent to pray and work in the most humble jobs she could. In turn, her former colleagues and enemies decided she resigned with the intention of embarrassing the government. Visiting her in the convent they were persuaded, not that she was seeking spiritual regeneration, but that she intended to sell state secrets. Taken from the convent under arrest, she was tried and condemned to Suspended Life, a type of digital suspended animation which at that time had replaced the death penalty. Her last words in the series were, “I go in humility to a new convent. I will pray for you all there.”

The series was such a successful drama that it inspired religious and irreligious people alike to search out and care for their motives and intentions. It’s authors were a certain Elias Elias and Takayama Ukon from the AU; they had made it for the outside world, for only the outside world watches series like that.

As they approached the glass cube building, Peter said, “I hope we don’t get bored in there.”

“If we do,” said Pierre, “then you’ll just have to teach me how to play Go.”

“I think even Go can get boring after a few thousand years.”

“But the AU is a type of jail. When you Go to Jail, you do not pass Go. Thus Go lasts forever since one can never get past it,” laughed Pierre.

“On the contrary, Go gets one to Saint Joseph, i.e. carpentry. ‘Go to Joseph’ is the saying. And carpentry offers infinite delights.”

“Not even a smiling Buddha would smile at that one.”

“Yeah, my puns today are touch and Go.”

“Go to Hades… and preach to the souls there.”

“We are about to, I believe,” Peter sad flatly.

“There are hearts of gold in the AU,” Pierre reminded him as they passed through the doors.

“If we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t be here.”

At that moment, a burst of polyphonic song filled the atrium, Psalm 148 in Latin. The brothers had gathered to bid farewell to two of their number. Peter and Pierre made the rounds said their goodbyes, and went with the company receptionist into the uploading rooms to begin the process.

Mankind: The Dynamo

[This letter is part of the Little Letter Republic, a project whose purpose is to build community in St. Louis. It is a response to John’s letter “The Prayer to the Dynamo” found here.]

Dear John,

What can human society become? Can human society be improved? Fear and trembling! The Third Reich wished to purify a nonexistent race! The Bolsheviks sought to reshape the conditions of society itself! They brought death and destruction. Robespierre enthroned another Moloch and called her Reason, and the Alhambra Decree sought to improve Spain through the dispossession of Muslims and Jews.

But has society improved? No small feat, yes, in many places all around the world. Rule of law, norms of civility, balance of powers, federalism, the incremental process, standardized production, specialization, high yield agriculture, the end of serfdom, literacy, numeracy, and online booksellers have created a freer, more prosperous, and a more fecund world. But even these little triumphs seem tiny compared to the problems we face as a society.

Society’s norms and technologies can improve, but each individual still suffers the same issues of impulse and weakness, fear and anger, love and death. The essential problem of life for the individual still concerns becoming a full person, even when basic needs are met. We still know the difference between what we wish for and what we have. That gap can only begin to be healed through transformations of the mind and heart, society may help or hinder but it can’t solve this problem for us.

I suppose you grant me all this, and you will even concede that our society can become a greater and grander and freer, more prosperous, and more creative thing than it is today. But you take exception to the idea that our machines will help us achieve this. Surely, though, machines are merely the most obvious outgrowth of the human genius, which has invented many subtle technologies such as the subjunctive and the subpoena.

Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none
More wonderful than man; the storm gray sea
Yields to his prows, the huge crests bear him high;
Earth, holy and inexhaustible, is graven
With shining furrows where his plows have gone
Year after year, the timeless labor of stallion teams.
The light-boned birds and beasts that cling to cover,
The lithe fish, with one fling of his nets
woven and coiled tight, he takes them all,
man the skilled, the brilliant!


The Chorus of Antigone goes on to say that man has a mind for law, law which he has taught himself. Without the law, man is a beast. Yet, not even this technology of man always secures a good society. Some laws are beastly. (Hence the play!) Some research programs lead only to destruction. Some technologies surely could destroy us, and in all honestly, the future holds more destructive ideologies and technologies than the past or present.

You say you know the supernatural destiny of man. But, the natural destiny of human societies remains a mystery. Death? Yes, ultimately. But when and where and how? What will we have become by that point? How much better could society become? Perhaps Moloch had us licked a million years before we got here. Yet we don’t know the destiny of society, but we should wish for its constant renewal and progress, even on the purely natural level of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, and victory over chaos.

We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!”

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
1886 Bradshaw Tables

So I ask, is there any contradiction between a human society which overcomes its troubles and masters more and more of nature and an assembly of people whose souls have been healed? I see none; I want both! Thus we should hope for and work for both, for they will complement and invigorate each other.

Some see a contradiction because their religious instinct says there is only One Good, and that this love of productivity makes an idol of the Amazon Warehouse. (Moloch in the Warehouse pissing corporate profits into a bucket!) But I say, the Amazon Warehouse only exists because it provides goods, true goods to fellow people! Rejoice and thank the delivery person for their service. For this little package in the mail, while but a small good in the grand cosmic creation, truly is a good which one harvest day will be gathered up for the Sower who seeded all the goods of creation. And on that day all the goods created by the heart and mind and voices and hands of our human societies, including the little package that saw a dozen hands made of materials from a dozen countries, He will reckon up as a credit to humanity. He will give us our reward.

Thus, “Produce!” I shout. “Propagate!
Ensoul matter, ye rites rational!” For in utility’s gallant gait
Truth is put to use of soul and matter transubstantiates.

The Child of Generations Responds to Auden