Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 27

Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 27


“My own ancestors — and Honor’s, of course” he nodded at his niece “– ended up in command of the Rescue Fleet. In a way, since the League grew out of the relief effort and the kick in the pants that gave to interstellar commerce and travel in general, you could say the present day Sollies are at least partly our family’s fault, I suppose. On the other hand, there’s more than enough blame to go around where that minor problem’s concerned, so I don’t intend to dwell on it. But the lesson Beowulf and most of the rest of the human race took away from the Final War was that they never — ever — wanted to face that sort of nightmare again. And the ‘super soldiers’ and, possibly even more, the mindset of the Ukrainian supremacists, was almost worse than the gene-engineered diseases.”

 Several of the others looked a bit surprised by his last sentence and he snorted.

“I know. Compared to the Asian Confederacy’s nightmares, the Scrags were actually almost benign, weren’t they?” He gestured at Yana. “I mean, look at her. Then look at Honor. Not a lot to choose between them, is there?”

Yana and his niece looked at each other for a moment. Then Honor smiled slowly and shook her head.

“No, not a lot at all,” she murmured.

“But the idea behind the Ukrainians was even worse,” Benton-Ramirez y Chou said softly. “The Confederacy had seen its super soldiers as weapons systems, tools that wouldn’t be allowed to reproduce and certainly weren’t any sort of pattern for the future of humanity. But the Ukrainians had intended all along to force the evolution of the next step, of Homo superior, and that was what had initiated the entire conflict. All of the carnage, all of the destruction and the billions of lives which had been lost, started in the Ukrainian ideal of designed genetic uplift. The further weaponization of biotechnology, and of nanotechnology, made the devastation immeasurably worse, but the people trying to dig the human race’s homeworld out of what had become a mass grave were determined that it wasn’t going to happen again. The Beowulf Biosciences Code evolved directly out of the Final War. That’s why it unequivocally outlaws any weaponization of biotech in general . . . and why it places such stringent limits on acceptable genetic modification of humans.”

“And Mesa doesn’t agree with that, obviously,” Victor said.

“No, it doesn’t.” Benton-Ramirez y Chou agreed. “Leonard Detweiler thought it was a hysterical overreaction to a disaster, an isolated incident which, for all its horror, had after all been limited to a single star system. Mind you, the bio weapons had jumped the fire breaks between Old Earth, Luna, and Mars, but even at their worst, they’d never gotten beyond Sol’s Oort cloud, and the human race had lots of star systems by then. And even if that hadn’t been the case, then surely humanity had learned its lesson. Besides, he didn’t have any real objection to outlawing weaponized biotech — or he said he didn’t, at any rate. It was the Code’s decision to turn its back on targeted improvement of the human genotype, to renounce the right to take our genetic destiny into our own hands, that infuriated him. ‘Small minds are always terrified by great opportunities,’ he said. He simply couldn’t believe any rational species would turn its back on the opportunity to become all that it could possibly be.”

He paused for a long moment, then sighed deeply.

“And the truth is, in a lot of ways, Detweiler was right,” he admitted. “Again, look at Honor and Yana. Nothing horrible there, is there? Or in any of a dozen — two dozen — specific planetary environment genetic mods I could rattle off. Even you Graysons.” He smiled at the Mayhews and shook his head. “Without the genetic mods your founders put into place so secretly, you wouldn’t have survived. But what Detweiler never understood — or accepted, anyway — was that what the mainstream Beowulfan perspective rejected was the intentional design of a genotype which was intended from the beginning to produce a superior human, a better human . . . what lunatics from Adolph Hitler to the Ukrainian supremacists to the Malsathan unbeatables have all sought — a master race. For all intents and purposes, a separate species which, by virtue of its obvious and designed superiority to all other varieties of human being must inevitably exercise that superiority.

“Detweiler never understood that. He never understood that his fellow Beowulfers were repelled by the reemergence of what had once been called racism which was inherent in his proposals.”

 Several members of his audience looked puzzled, and he snorted and looked at Catherine Montaigne.

“I’m sure your friend DuHavel could explain the concept,” he said.

“And he’s done it often enough,” Montagne agreed just a bit sourly, and glanced around at the other table guests. “What Jacques is talking about is the belief that certain genetic characteristics — silly things like skin color, hair color, eye color — denoted inherent superiority or inferiority. As Web is fond of pointing out, once upon a time Empress Elizabeth would have been considered naturally inferior because of her complexion and relegated by her inferiority to slave status.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Elaine Mayhew said sharply, and Benton-Ramirez y Chou chuckled with very little humor.

“Of course it is. It’s the sort of concept that belongs to primitive history. But the problem, Elaine, is that what Detweiler was proposing would have reanimated the concept of inherent inferiority because it would have been true. It would have been something which could have been demonstrated, measured, placed on a sliding scale. Of course, exactly what constituted ‘superiority’ might have been open to competing interpretations, which could only have made the situation even worse. We Beowulfers are fiercely meritocratic, but we’re also fanatically devoted to the concepts of social and legal equality, and what Detweiler and his clique wanted struck at the very heart of those concepts.

“So we told him no. Rather emphatically, in fact. So emphatically that if he had attempted to put his theories into practice on Beowulf, he would have been stripped of his license to practice medicine and imprisoned.”

Benton-Ramirez y Chou shrugged. “I suppose it’s possible our ancestors overreacted, although I’d argue they had good reason to. On the other hand, Detweiler was damned arrogant about his own position. He was deeply and profoundly pissed off by how . . . firmly his arguments were rejected, and it would appear the present-day members of this ‘Mesan Alignment’ have taken his own overreaction to truly awesome heights. When he shook the dust of Beowulf from his sandals and emigrated to Mesa, he took with him a sizable chunk of the Beowulfan medical establishment. A larger one, really, than the rest of Beowulf ever anticipated would follow him into exile, although it was still only a tiny minority of the total planetary population. And that, Catherine,” he smiled wryly at Catherine Mayhew, “is exactly why the enmity between Mesa and Beowulf has been so intense for so long. You could say that Mesa is Beowulf’s equivalent of Masada‘s Faithful, and you wouldn’t be far wrong. In fact, you’d be even closer to correct than most of us have imagined over the last five or six centuries.”

“That’s . . . a bit of an understatement, if you don’t mind my saying so,” Zilwicki observed, and Benton-Ramirez y Chou nodded.

“Absolutely. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since you dropped McBryde’s bombshell on us, and I’ve come to the conclusion that what’s really behind this entire master plan of theirs — assuming McBryde got it right, of course — is more than simply finally accomplishing Leonard Detweiler’s dream of creating a genetically superior species. That’s obviously part of it, but looking at what we did already know about Mesa and Mesans, I’d say an equally big part of it is proving they were right all along. It’s been a long, long time since the Final War. The feelings of revulsion and horror it generated have largely faded, and the prejudice against ‘genies’ is far weaker than it used to be. In fact, I would argue that if it weren’t for the existence of genetic slavery, that prejudice probably would have completely ceased to exist by now. If this Alignment had been willing to take even a fraction of the resources it must have invested in its conspiracies and its infiltration and the development of the technology that made Oyster Bay possible and spend it on propaganda — on education, for God’s sake — it almost certainly could have convinced a large minority, possibly even a majority, of the rest of the human race to go along with it. To embark, even if more gradually and more cautiously than the Alignment might prefer, on the deliberate improvement of the human genome. For that matter, in the existence of people like Honor and Yana we’ve already deliberately improved on that genome! But I don’t think it ever really occurred to them to take that approach. I think they locked themselves into the idea that their vision had to be imposed on the rest of us and that as the people whose ancestors had seen that division so clearly so much sooner than anyone else, it’s their destiny to do just that. Which is one reason I compared them to the Faithful, Catherine. Their whole purpose — or the way they’ve chosen to go about achieving it, at least — is fundamentally irrational, and only someone as fanatical as the people who built ‘doomsday bombs’ to destroy their entire planet in order to ‘save it’ from Benjamin the Great and the rest of the moderates could possibly have invested so much in that irrationality.”

“I agree,” Honor said softly, her eyes dark. “I agree entirely. And that’s what truly scares me when I think about this. Because if they really are religious fanatics in some sort of Church of Genetic Superiority, then God only knows how far they are truly prepared to go to drag us all kicking and screaming into their version of Zion.”


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26 Responses to Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 27

  1. John Roth says:

    And this is the last snippet from the free chapters posted at Baen’s site. From now on we’re into new material. Hopefully the scene setting will end and we’ll see some action!

  2. Randomiser says:

    We’ve had the mad bad religious fanatics on Masada, now we’ve got the mad bad science fanatics on Mesa and their motivations are fundamentally the same. Delicious!

    • Mark L says:

      Well, yeah. This is what happens when ideology trumps reason, regardless of whether that ideology uses religious dogma or science to buttress its arguments.

      I’ve been making jokes about “faith-based science” since the 1980s, when I was involved in an engineering analysis that broke down to random walk. When I pointed out this inconvenient truth I was pulled off the project because I demonstrated insufficient faith . . . er, an unconstructive attitude . . . about the project. (And no, the study never yielded anything useful. So I really did not mind.)

      • Robert H. Woodman says:

        I’ve pointed out to quite a few of my fellow scientists over the years that scientists may not believe in a deity/god/supreme being/what-have-you, but they are nonetheless very religious. Many of them agree with me. The ones that tend to disagree with me are the ones that tend to have science as their religion. The vehemence of their disagreement is proportionate to their faith in science-as-religion.

        And, yes, if you point out inconvenient truths to a group of “faith-based science” types, you will be excommunicated. :-)

        • Jaime says:

          I’m not sure I buy into that – oh, not that there are “faith-based science” types, I’m well aware that there’s a notable percentage of people who will dive into an ideology as rampantly as anyone ever did into an official religion – but that it’s nearly as widespread as you say.

          • Robert H. Woodman says:

            Long ago, I ceased being surprised at how many people in science will latch on to an idea with a fervor akin to religious zeal and will then bend every interpretation of the evidence as far as possible (and sometimes further) to support that idea rather than admit that there are reasonable, alternative explanations.

            Even when the issue is as simple as the correct mechanism for an unusual organic reaction, some people will latch onto their preferred mechanism and cling to it with passion rather than admit that they might be wrong, at, at least, less than completely correct. When it comes to something like, for example, human nutrition, the passion and evangelical fervor can become amazingly greater.

            It’s not necessarily a religion, per se (although there is some of that as well), but it can resemble a religion. And, as well, I have met people whose faith in science to solve all problems really does run to a type of unreasoning religious fanaticism. As John Roth said, “it’s definitely a thing.”

        • John Roth says:

          In the Sociology of Religion (or some such field name,) there’s a category called a civic or non-theistic religion, which has all the fingerprints of a theistic religion except the belief in a deity or deities.

          I’m not sure whether Sciencism counts as a denomination of Progress, or whether it’s a civic religion on its own, but from my own observations, it’s definitely a thing.

    • dave o says:

      I think the Masadans were mostly motivated by religious fervor, with revenge a close second. Mesans are motivated by power and arrogance, with revenge a pretty distant third.

      Does anyone else think it’s strange that the Malignment thinks they’re superior to the rest of us, but has been sneaking around for centuries?
      If they were so damned good, why not just take over the universe long ago.

    • Mike says:

      I think it says more about Weber than anything else. These are the kind of people he likes to have as the bad guys.

  3. John Roth says:

    Notice the bit about Yana being one of the Ukrainian super-soldiers from the Final War. There are bunches of Scrags around, but they’ve never managed to get much traction in terms of actually running things, and they’re pretty much regarded as a joke (see From the Highlands.) Smart and strong, but not smart enough and hobbled by a sense of entitlement so that they don’t work at it.

    In other words, really good, but not good enough.

    On the other hand, the 11 planets of the Renaissance Faction are run by clans of Mesan Alphas. While they’ve had some help, they actually maintain their position by being good at what they do. They’re just not good enough to have gotten there from a standing start without a lot of help.

  4. DG says:

    One thing being missed in this particularly infodump is that the MA doesn’t really want to improve the genome as a whole. Their founder did, and he was probably right. But the current MA wants to improve the genome unevenly – they want to use it not as an instrument of racism – I think that’s a poor analogy. What they have done instead is to institute a caste system, and they want to extend it to the entire human race.

    This is the opposite of their founder’s desires – he wanted to improve humanity. I suspect the MA would restrict the “best” improvements to a tiny class of designated rulers rather than give everyone the star line/alpha modifications. I’m sure the reason given would be social stability, which is the usual excuse for this sort of thing.

    • Mike says:

      Right. Like bees or ants. Each person has his genetic role, and they are all equally important. But some are more equal than others, because it is necessary that someone be in charge. And just like the way that a philosopher decided that the leader of the ideal Republic should be a Philosopher-King, a geneticist decided that targeted genetic improvements should determine who should rule this society.

      They aren’t really trying to improve the human race. They are really trying to genetically design the ideal CEO. And like many CEOs before them, for them that means a copy of themselves (maybe improved in exactly the ways they would like to improve themselves if were possible).

    • stewart says:

      After all — a caste system worked for India (and other areas) for a thousand years (and it’s still *unofficially* in effect). The problems start when those uppity lower class (serfs / peasants / unclean) don’t stay in their pre-ordained roles.

      • Jaime says:

        Caste systems don’t really work all that well, after all. They depend far too much on the willingness of people to accept the system despite the fact that they’re at the bottom of the pyramid, and that usually takes some promise that someone can pull themselves up onto the top.

        The Hindus use reincarnation for that. Christopher Anvil wrote a story which touched on an academic caste system, I think it was Duel to the Death in The Trouble With Humans anthology. Sterling had the Chosen in his book of the same name, which used genetics (but not genetic modification, it was closer to a survival of the fittest mentality – if you happened to be fit enough you’d get lifted up and your children at least would belong to the ruling class). I’m sure there are many more than that too. And Flint himself used the threat of a genetic caste system (under Link and the “new gods”) in the Belisarius/Aide series.

        The point is that caste systems are never about uplifting people as a whole (ala a Bell curve uplift). They’re about uplifting the ‘elite’, by whatever definition you use (ala a ‘star’ system, or if you prefer, an asymptotic curve uplift) and then keeping them there and everyone else in line. And that’s why they don’t work too well. They require a minority to dominate a majority, and that never lasts indefinitely. My martial arts teachers used an example of Bruce Lee versus a hundred children – sure, he could undoubtedly take out a number of them, but they’d eventually swarm him under.

    • John Roth says:

      I wouldn’t be so sure that Leonard Detweiller had an egalitarian goal in mind. Read the prolog to chapter 61 of Torch of Freedom, especially the last sentence with that last word italicized.

      We had a rather vigorous discussion on the Honorverse forum at David Weber’s site. I came to the conclusion that optimizing different strains for different general classes of work was always in Leonard Detweiller’s mind, and where he went off track is where he (apparently) thought it wouldn’t lead to a racial caste system. That’s the typical problem with radical utopian schemes.

    • Randomiser says:

      DG We have no textev that the characters discussing this know about the Alpha/beta/gamma lines scheme the MA are using. Simoes does of course, but it depends whether he has thought to mention it or they have been too busy asking him physics questions to get into that kind background.

      • John Roth says:

        Interesting point. You could well be right, although I don’t know how they could have missed it, considering the number of genetic slaves on Torch, and also considering that most of the Mesan characters seem to know about it. The guy who’s passing information to the reporter certainly knows he’s a gamma line, and she’s an alpha.

        • Mike says:

          The *Alignment* characters know about it. There is no evidence I can remember that characters who have not been brought into the Alignment know about the alpha/beta/gamma thing.

  5. Cobbler says:

    Culture stratified along scientific lines. Humans engineered to fulfill their predestined rolls. Rationally determined casts.

    Seems to me I’ve read this before.

    I think it was called, Brave New World.

  6. Margo says:

    The reason Jack McBryde tried to defect (in TOF) was his feeling that Malignment had deviated from Leonard Detweiler’s dream to improve humanity where the demands of environment required etc and to give everyone the chance to be better and had become fixated on elitist lines, ignoring the fact there was little real difference genetically between many of the slave lines and the Onion personnel – and that they were prepared to carry out their plans to the destruction of the human race as the rest of the galaxy knew it

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