Darkness and the Light, by Olaf Stapledon

10 — Remote Horizons

i. Peaceful Growth

I HAVE TOLD how, after the victory of the will for the light, there followed a period of explosive progress which gradually gave place to a much longer phase of Utopian stability. This phase, in which material civilization changed only in minor ways, must have lasted for many centuries. In the cultural life of the race also, though minor experiments and advances were constantly being made, no revolutionary changes occurred. The best minds of the race were busy exploring the new vistas which had been opened up for intellect and feeling by the founding of the new order. Of these cultural achievements naturally I can say no more than that achievement did occur. In the earlier part of this phase the new cultural ventures were not, I think, beyond the range of our contemporary human intelligence, but we have not the necessary background of experience to comprehend them. As well might a resuscitated ancient Egyptian understand modern science. Suffice it that throughout this period the growing point of culture kept shifting from one field to another. At one time it lay in pure science, at another in the application of science to industry or eugenics, at another in one or other of the arts, or in philosophy, or in the minutiae of concrete personal relations, or in religious feeling. Cultural leadership would pass now to one people or one social class, now to another.

As the centuries passed, the various new vistas became more and more fully explored and exploited. The golden age gave place to a silver age devoted to minute intensive cultivation of the heavily cropped ground of human experience. Only the steady though slow rise in average and superior intelligence prevented stagnation by making it possible to dig more thoroughly into the familiar soil.

Occasionally some outstanding mind in peculiarly stimulating circumstances would cause a minor revolution in some branch of culture, the consequences of which might afford to less original workers decades of minuter exploration. But in the main, since social circumstances remained stable, culture became more and more traditional.

Throughout this period the main purport of cultural development was grasped by every member of the race. And though all kinds of strains and conflicts occurred between peoples, between classes, vocations, political parties, these conflicts were subordinated to the universal acceptance of world-community. Wars and revolutions were never contemplated. Similarly in the sphere of personal contacts, though rivalries and conflicts were no less common than with us, they were seldom permitted to interfere seriously with co-operation in the public cause. Vindictive persecution was almost unknown.

It is difficult for us, who live in an exceptionally tumultuous age, to conceive of the bland happiness and leisurely progress of this future world. All men were assured of personal expression, and all were blessed with a sense of responsibility within the great common enterprise, the development of the capacity of man, the perfecting of the human race to become an ever finer vessel of the spirit.

ii. Behind the Veil

But this age of peaceful development and confidence was not to last for ever. The first symptom was a crisis among the forwards. This crisis was at first kept secret, but in time it became clear that something grave was afoot. The forwards were evidently deeply disturbed. Those that were in the hostels and houses of contemplation came pouring out into the world. They travelled and took up work, but they lived in a state of anxious abstraction. There were endless private discussions during casual encounters, and many prearranged conferences, the subject of which was never disclosed. At last a world conference was arranged at Lhasa. For many months hosts of forwards from every city crowded the sacred city, and camped in the surrounding country. Several months were spent by the assembled forwards in discussing their secret problem and performing severe spiritual exercises in order to fit themselves for right judgment. During this period the rest of the world showed little curiosity. Life was far too full of more interesting matters. When at last the conference had ended and the forwards had returned to their home countries, a manifesto was issued to the peoples of the world. Its content was greeted by ordinary world-citizens with astonishment, varying from dismay among the friends of the forwards to hilarious incredulity among the sceptics.

It was not possible to me, a creature of an earlier age and a less developed culture, to understand save in the most superficial way the immense expansion of experience which the forwards had achieved, and the terrible choice which was now to be forced upon the human race. But the effect on the life of the race was far-reaching. Although the statement of the forwards was at first treated as merely remote sensationalism, their presence in every village, bearing witness to its truth and constantly directing men’s attention to its dreadful significance for the human race, gradually turned incredulity into heavy-hearted acceptance.

The new discovery, if such it was, carried human consciousness beyond the familiar physical actuality, and opened up in one stride a sphere of existence which was of an entirely different order.

Man’s knowledge both of the physical cosmos and of mentality within the physical cosmos had for long been very far-reaching. It was known, for instance, that there were other intelligent races on planets belonging to other solar systems. Already the scientists of the earth had turned their attention to exploring our own sun’s other planets, believing that in the exploitation of these globes lay the next great field of human enterprise. Some day, they said, it would be possible even to attempt the immense journey to the sun’s nearest stellar neighbour, which was now known to have attendant planets. Indeed there was already a dispute between the romantic enthusiasts for ‘human advancement’ in the form of extraterrestrial ventures and the ‘classicists’ who insisted that any such enterprise would distract man from his proper task, since here on earth there was far more than enough to occupy the race. The endless refinement of sensibility and intelligence, they affirmed, offered a task far more worthy of the human spirit than the schoolboy’s excitement of interplanetary travel, and the unnecessary attempt to tap the resources of remote worlds. By all means let telepathic communication be improved, if possible, so that man could communicate easily and profitably with remote intelligences, but the childish dream of interstellar travel must be abandoned.

Another great dispute was also coming to the fore, namely between the classical humanists and the eugenists, who urged that the time had come for man to ‘take charge of his own evolution’ and create a new and more highly developed human type. They believed that by genetic control the range of intelligence and sensibility could be immensely increased. To this the classicists replied that any such rash adventure might undermine the constitution of the race and bring chaos into the well-tried order of the world. By all means let minor eugenical researches be carried out for increased health, longevity, and the prolongation of mental maturity, but the hope of transforming human nature into something superhuman must not be entertained.

At the time when these two great disputes were ceasing to be merely academic, and were actually appearing over the horizon of practical politics, the forwards stumbled upon the discovery, or seeming discovery, which, if true, must force the abandonment, not only of interstellar adventure and of eugenical improvement, but also of classical humanism itself. The announcement which they made, so far as I could comprehend it, was to this effect.

They had discovered, they said, that the universe of familiar space and time, though no mere illusion or dream, was but the surface of a deeper reality. The familiar natural laws, both physical and psychological, were not fundamental laws at all, but superficial descriptions of the ‘local’ incidence of deeper and hitherto unguessed laws. Plato’s parable of the shadow figures cast by unseen persons and an unseen source of light was to this extent profoundly true. The whole universe of stars, of galaxies, though fully actual and no mere figment of man’s mind, was but spindrift caught up by occult winds and driven along the surface of an occult ocean of existence. The laws of this spindrift universe, which science had so thoroughly explored, were up to a point coherent; but certain things could never be adequately described in terms of these laws alone, for instance mind, and good and evil. It was in the hope of gaining insight into these matters, but above all in order to have access to the occult reality, that the forwards had been working during the preceding centuries.

At last, they said, they had momentarily penetrated to the deeper truth. They had for the first time come face to face with the vaster real.

But the experience, far from being beatific, had been terrible. They had recoiled in horror from the unspeakable facts. Servants of the light, children of the light, they had discovered that the light itself in their own eyes was but a subjective figment, like the retinal lights that a man sees in the dark, or when his eyes are closed. For a moment they had succeeded in opening their eyes, but only to discover a deeper and more formidable darkness. Or was it something worse than darkness?

They had pressed forward thus far without any doubt that their venture would lead to a fortifying of the struggling human spirit by intercourse with a vaster but essentially kindred spiritual reality. Over a period of many generations many great saints and thousands of devoted followers, spurred by this hope, had passed through the testing fires of discipline, had ventured into strange and icy spheres of spiritual experience, had gathered signs and intimations of a glory still to be revealed, had borne witness to their fellow men. And now at last the heirs to all this great treasure and greater promise, having gathered all their strength for the final assault on the locked door of mystery, had prized it open only to glimpse an incomprehensible horror, and to fall back in dismay.

During the long conference in Lhasa the whole population of forwards, assembled under their spiritual leaders, dared once more to face the terrible truth, lest there should have been some mistake. But once more they encountered the seemingly ultimate horror. After long contemplation and discussion they came to a decision, and then dispersed to tell the little human race the truth, and to suggest a course of action.

Their discovery, they insisted, transcended the Powers of human language. It was ineffable. It could be described only in metaphor. They had been seeking, they said, evidence that man’s struggle for the light was in harmony with the essential spirit of the universe They had found instead a vast and obscure confusion of powers, careless not only of man’s fate but of all that he had so painfully learned to hold sacred. To communicate their discovery they conceived a myth which, though fantastic and petty, did, they affirmed, convey the essence of the strange and desolate truth. This universe, they said, of galaxies and atoms, of loves and hates and strifes, is no more than a melting snowflake which at any moment may be trampled into the slush by indifferent and brawling titans. Not otherwise than in this far-fetched image, they said, could they express the truth that they had seen. It was an inadequate image; for these snowflakes, descending from the formless and impenetrable blackness of the night sky, were indeed not frozen but warm with the potentiality of life and of spirit, and their thawing was in truth a dying, a dissipation of their vital energy. Myriad upon myriad of these snowflakes, each one a great physical cosmos, faltered downwards and rested on the field of snow. The footmarks of the ‘titans’, the forwards affirmed, developing the strange myth, were areas where thousands of these universes had been crushed together into a muddy chaos. Every moment, as the meaningless brawl continued, new devastations were inflicted. The snowfield of. universes was more and more closely trampled, like a city more and more bombed, month by month. At any moment the fundamental physical structure and substance of our own many-galaxied cosmos might be reduced to chaos, so that in a flash all its frail intelligent worlds would vanish. At any moment, they insisted, this might happen. Indeed, that it had not already happened, seemed to be a miracle.

The forwards affirmed that they had peered and peered upwards (so to speak) between the rioting titanic limbs in search of the celestial light; but the only luminosity was on the ground. It was all though the flakes themselves, congested into a thawing snowfield, created in their constant dying a dim phosphorescence. Pursuing this strange metaphor, which (they reiterated) was almost wholly inadequate to the unspeakable facts, they declared that the faint, diffused glow emitted by each separate snowflake universe, resolved itself in closer, microscopic inspection, into a myriad instantaneous scintillations, each one a short-lived world’s bright climax of spiritual lucidity. Overhead there was nothing but the blinding darkness, whence the flakes vacillated groundwards.

Such was the bleak image by which the forwards tried to express their new and dreadful vision. They also discussed the implications of the repugnant truth, and the policy which the human race should adopt towards it. One and all, they affirmed their continued loyalty to the spirit. ‘Every man,’ they said, ‘knows in his own experience that the life of love and of intelligence is good absolutely, is the only satisfying life for awakened beings. No devastating discovery about the nature of the ultimate reality can shake that immediate perception. Therefore, whatever the prospect, the human race will continue the struggle for love and intelligence here on earth. But it would be foolish to pretend that our metaphysical discovery makes no difference. Formerly it seemed that man would soon make contact with the life-giving and enheartening source of all spirit. We have found only desolation.’

But the forwards did not leave matters thus. They suggested also a hope and a policy. The hope lay in the fact that, after all, the snowstorm of physical and potentially spiritual universes must come from somewhere. The ‘titans’ were not the whole ultimate reality. And so it might after all be that further discipline and contemplation might enable man to penetrate the utter blackness of the sky and come at last face to face with the true light.

Hope, they said, might even permit itself a higher though a precarious flight. For some of the most adept forwards had claimed that in their most lucid moments they had seen something more. They had seen that in spite of the precarious existence of the snowflake universes and of the conscious beings within them, these beings themselves, when they attained mature spiritual stature, acquired very formidable powers. The pioneering forwards claimed that, in terms of the inadequate image, they had sometimes seen a brief but dazzling effulgence blaze up within some snowflake, like the brilliance of a new star. So brilliant might this conflagration be that it illuminated the whole wide snowfield. When this happened, the ‘titans’, seemingly terrified by the sudden light, fled in all directions, away from its source. Some of them were even annihilated by the radiance, like the shades of night at sunrise. Clearly, then, the right course for every intelligent world was to strive for that brilliance of the spirit. Clearly this alone could overcome the ‘titans’. Clearly what was most lovely and precious, though commonly so frail, was also, in the fullness of its growth, the mightiest power of all. But this power, intensified to such a pitch that it could destroy the ‘titans’, was not the power of a few individuals exploring in isolation; it was the power of a whole race, of a whole conscious world, perhaps of a whole cosmos, united in most intimate spiritual communion. And such power was not to be attained without the utmost racial dedication.

Hence arose the challenge which the forwards laid before mankind. It was a call to action. It was a call to all individuals throughout the world to live wholly for the common task, to give up everything but the spirit, to discard not only mundane ends but also the vanity of science and art and intellectual exploration, to detach themselves absolutely even from the gentle bondage of personal love, to refrain from procreation, to drain the whole energy of the race to the last drop for the supreme spiritual task.

Hitherto there had been two possible ventures open to the human race. One was the romantic scientist’s ideal of developing communication between the planetary systems, so as to create a galaxy-wide community of intelligent worlds. The other, which assumed that man’s proper business must always be with man, was the classical aim of the intensive development of man’s present home and culture.

A third and more revolutionary policy was now open. For the inhabitants of a snowflake among brawling ‘titans’, it was the sole reasonable policy. This was the heroic venture of sacrificing everything in the attempt to destroy the ‘titans’ with the lucidity of the human spirit.

iii. A Phase of Confusion

When the peoples of the earth first heard all this they were indeed incredulous. But little by little the new knowledge invaded their peace. There was endless discussion between the romantic scientists, the classical humanists, and the forwards. It was not claimed by the forwards that if their advice were not taken the universe would be annihilated certainly and soon. Possibly it would last for thousands of millions of years. Possibly, if the human race were to choose to remain in its present course of social and cultural advancement, it would be able to prosper for a very long age. But at any time it might be annihilated, and the whole cosmos with it. And, anyhow, it would always be haunted by the knowledge that its supreme test had been refused. In such a condition there could be no health.

The decision was postponed. Little by little, under the weight of the new knowledge and the continual indecision and uncertainty about the future, there appeared signs of mental strain. The texture of community throughout the world began to deteriorate. Men became rather less conscientious, rather less considerate. Personal intercourse, formerly so bland and genial, showed symptoms of resentfulness and bitterness. Sadistic crime, formerly unknown in the new world, once more troubled society. A new note of perversion and diabolism appeared in the arts and in public affairs. Clearly the race had fallen into a gravely neurotic condition. Children suffered in a special manner. Their minds were poisoned by a suspicion of the insincerity of their elders. Unless something could be done to stop the rot, this glorious society, the achievements of age-long bitter experience, would be corrupted beyond hope of recovery.

As the plight of the race grew worse, feeling on both sides became more violent. The fundamental accord on which the world-community had for so long been founded began to fail. Matters reached such a pitch that civil war seemed once more possible. The scientific romantics and the classical humanists had settled their differences, but only to combine against the supporters of the forwards and their policy of ascetic dedication. Every village, every family was divided against itself, but in some countries one side was on the whole stronger, in some the other. Preparations were actually made for a war which would have had all the bitterness of the old wars of religion, but would have been waged with more formidable weapons than man had ever used before. For sub-atomic power could be easily directed to mass murder.

In this situation the forwards themselves were divided. One party single-mindedly preached the new policy. The other, dismayed at the prospect of war, realized that a race which could contemplate the use of violence to settle such a dispute could not yet be fit to undertake the destruction of the ‘titans’ by the power of the spirit. They therefore suggested a compromise. Let the life of the world be carried on much as before, but with a slowly increasing emphasis on the spirit and the great task which lay ahead. When the race had outgrown its present adolescent state, it would face that task with singleness of purpose. Perhaps it would be destroyed before maturity was reached. No matter! Some other race in some other cosmos would perhaps accomplish the task.

This policy was in the end accepted by all the peoples of the world, expressing themselves through a special plebiscite.

iv. Preparation for a Great Task

From this time forward my contact with the human race in the far future became more and more uncertain. It was of course something of a miracle that I had been able to keep in touch even thus far. Without the constant influence of the superhuman beings who were my fellow spectators even this would have been utterly impossible. But now even their presence could not sufficiently aid me. This was due, I think, to the fact that the mentality of human animals was beginning to outreach my mental range in a new manner. I had always been grievously hampered by the fact that I had not the cultural background of these future men, but the actual calibre of their minds had not hitherto been greatly superior to that of my own generation. Now, however, human affairs began to include themes which were wholly meaningless to me. And as events became less intelligible I was less able to maintain contact.

I did, nevertheless, receive certain general impressions of the course of history and of a few outstanding events. After the settlement of the great dispute mankind recovered its fundamental unity of purpose. The villages carried on their busy and varied lives and their worldwide intercourse. The scientists continued their patient explorations and inventions. The classicists pursued the development of human culture into endless exfoliation. The forwards persisted in their spiritual exploration. As the general level of thought and feeling was raised, new spheres of experience were constantly explored. Generation succeeded generation with ever increasing capacity and opportunity. But also each generation came more surely into the knowledge that all this continuous Utopianism was in fact but a preparation for a great ordeal, and that before the race was ready to face that ordeal the very foundations of existence might crumble. The stars might suddenly be swept away like dust. Man’s dear and beautiful home might be shattered, and man himself annihilated.

This knowledge did not seem to weigh heavily on men. Each generation faced it and accommodated themselves to it. But its presence in the background of every mind changed the temper of the race into something very different from that of the age before the forwards had made their strange discovery. Then, the prospect of limitless human advancement had bred a certain complacency; now, the expectation of endless progress was succeeded by the possibility of sudden destruction, and by the frail hope of utterly new horizons. The mental climate of the race therefore changed to an intenser appreciation of its ordinary mundane life, compact of personal joys and sorrows, and at the same time a more constant loyalty to the spirit. No doubt the ordinary man, intent on his private affairs, gave little conscious thought to the prospect of the race, which, he felt, would probably last out his time anyhow. But in his phases of contemplation the sense of fleetingness would enter deeply into his mind, so that at all times the physical features of the planet, the woods, the hills, the sea, affected him with an added poignancy. The customs of daily life, such as dressing and eating, the technique of his work, the little common acts of friendliness, the intonations of familiar voices, all these became more dear because more precarious, because balanced from day to day on the brink of the unknown. At the same time the standard of personal conduct was seemingly raised by the sense that the species as a whole had accepted the challenge to live beyond its normal nature.

I was able to realize that there was a gradual shift, so to speak, of the centre of gravity of culture. Metaphysics was absorbing more and more of human attention. The natural sciences tended to fall into a second place. Spiritual discipline was undertaken by every member of the race. The numbers of the forwards greatly increased, and their influence became more far-reaching.

All this I could realize, though vaguely and externally. What passed my comprehension was the changing detail of social and cultural life. It was natural in the circumstances that living should be greatly simplified. Luxuries were less and less in demand. The arts were shorn of their luxurious detail. On the other hand art of a stripped and purposeful kind played an increasing though an altered part in life. In words, in music, in colour and plastic form, men created a ceaseless flood of symbolic aids to the spirit, mostly in styles which I could not at all appreciate. Surprisingly, also, though living under the threat of annihilation, men were addicted to erecting great and durable temples, upon which they lavished all the skill and care which was ceasing to find an outlet in ordinary life. Sub-atomic technique, by its wealth of new materials, had made possible a far more daring, soaring, and colourful architecture than is known to us. Along with the new materials came new architectural canons, strange to me. The architecture of mundane life was simple and impermanent. The temples alone were built to last; yet they were often demolished to make room for finer structures.

One striking aspect of culture was a vast development of the technique of personal intercourse. Language blossomed into a great forest of terms for all the new subtleties of emotion and intuition, and all the types and shades of personality. The citizen of the new world could by the use of this rich linguistic symbolism become intimately aware of a stranger’s personality in an hour. There was also a subtle ideography of psychological and spiritual phenomena. By the careful drawing of a number of Chinese-looking symbols an artist who was something between a novelist and an abstract painter could present the essential form of the intercourse of several human beings from birth to death. In comparison with these ideograms, verbal language, though so greatly improved, was a cumbersome medium. A single meticulously inscribed page could convey a whole biography. Thus arose a new visual art, which, by means of highly abstract signs charged with the emotional and intellectual experience of the race, obtained the far-reaching effect of great poetry.

This ideographic art I could at least comprehend sufficiently to grasp its general nature, but it must also have symbolized ranges of experience beyond my reach. It played a great part in the decoration of the temples; and certain ideograms, which remained meaningless to me, seemed to have a mystical power over anyone that earnestly contemplated them.

My contact with future mankind became more and more vague and intermittent, until I received but random intimations of a few outstanding and often very strange events. Sometimes, for instance, I seemed to see that great companies of men and women had chosen to destroy themselves because they felt that they could no longer play a useful part. Sometimes the concord of the race was broken by a keen but never a vindictive dispute about some matter which lay beyond my understanding. It would then be found necessary to restore harmony by a world-wide penance.

At last, after how many centuries or millennia I know not, there arose a generation which felt itself fully equipped for the great task. A Sacred Year was appointed for the supreme effort, a quarter of a century ahead. Meanwhile procreation was to cease, and all forward-looking social and economic activity. Enough food must still be produced to keep the ascetic population alive, and the temples must be kept in good order. Apart from this necessary work, the energy of the race must be concentrated wholly on the great task.

It was a strange and austere world in this period. No babies were anywhere, then no children, then no adolescents; only young men and women and their elders. Population, of course, rapidly declined. Life was wholly dominated by the spiritual enterprise, which inevitably lay beyond my comprehension. It was not uncommon for people to be so abstracted from the physical world that they forgot to feed, and so would have starved to death, had not some neighbour recalled them. Most individuals, however, still carried on a normal life, though in a state of remote detachment.

A date was appointed, towards the end of the twenty-fifth year, after which no more food was to be eaten. Meanwhile feeding was to be progressively reduced throughout the world so as to leave the spirit unhampered by bodily vigour. When the time came for the complete cessation of feeding, all private houses were to be deserted. The population was to gather into the poobs and temples, to fast and contemplate, and create in themselves that extreme spiritual lucidity which, it was now confidently believed, would destroy the ‘titans’ and attain a clearer, brighter, truer view of all existence. Under the stress of this adventure the exhausted race would die. The earth would be given over once more to sub-human nature. Visitors from some other world might some day discover the ruins of the great temples, not suspecting, perhaps, that those who had built them and died in them had conquered the ‘titans’, and had thereby secured the salvation of all beings in all the snowflake universes; the salvation, it was surmised, not of external life for individuals, but of escape from premature racial extinction before the potentiality of the race was fulfilled by the attainment of spiritual maturity and the supreme beatific vision.

v. Despair and New Hope

Such was the great plan, but an unforeseen event frustrated it. About a year before the appointed climax and the complete cessation of eating there appeared among the frail and ageing population a new and strange disease. I was never able to determine whether its source was wholly natural, wholly intrinsic to our physical cosmos, to our snowflake, or whether in some manner beyond my comprehension some obscure powers of darkness had somehow made incursion into our cosmos to stimulate or create this hideous epidemic. Its form and the time of its onset seemed nicely calculated to undermine the impending victory of the light.

The first symptom of the disease was violent vomiting and diarrhoea. So formidable were the spasms that the gullet and rectum might be torn and even forced outwards. Many patients succumbed in this initial phase. Those that recovered were left with terrible glandular disturbances which might result in any or several of a number of frightful symptoms. A very common trouble was galloping senescence, which turned the young man into a maundering and toothless gaffer in a few weeks. But infantilism of body and mind was almost as common. Another effect was an extravagant growth of the skeleton, such that the overstrained flesh and skin would split on every limb, revealing the bare bone. But a softening of the bony structure was also a frequent symptom, causing the limbs to bend in unnatural places and the head to turn as soft as an over-ripe orange. Or the skin might grow till it became a loose voluminous garment. Sufferers were often in danger of tripping on the folds of skin trailing from their own legs. Another frequent result was rapid confusion of sex. Men would visibly acquire female characters, women would turn mannish. Most distressing of all, perhaps, was the frequent and fantastic exaggeration of sexuality. The organs became grossly distended. The secondary sexual characters, such as the female breasts, were repulsively enlarged. The mind became so enslaved to the pressure of the body’s superabundant sexuality that every physical object and every concept became charged with sexual meaning, and even the most self-disciplined found themselves swept away in a continuous orgy of fornication and all kinds of perversion. Other consequences of glandular disorder were purely emotional. Some sufferers were obsessed by recurrent fits of objectless and frantic rage, others by irrational terror or equally irrational bravado. Sometimes a sudden access of hate would force the patient to kill or torture whoever was at hand. Sometimes a permanent and icy hatred would be concentrated on a wholly innocent victim. The disease might take the form of maudlin sentimentality, directed either on human persons or animals, or the human race as a whole, or some fictitious deity invented to suit the patient’s peculiar needs. One common effect was a crazy dread of isolation. Another was such panic fear of the presence of other human beings that, when the patient was surprised by a visitor, he might leap out of an upper window or dash himself against the wall like a terrified bird. Yet another effect was a reduction of sensibility. Blind and deaf, without taste and smell, almost without touch, the wretched creature would snatch a morbid pleasure from the only sense that remained to rouse him to some faint interest, namely pain. With fumbling eagerness he would tear back his finger-nails, crush his eyes, bite his tongue to bloody pulp.

Some of these symptoms were permanent, some passed off in a few weeks. But in every case the final emotional state was identical and permanent. The patient emerged into profound apathy. In extreme cases he cared for nothing but the satisfaction of bodily needs of nutrition and excretion. Even these might cease to interest him, so that, if left to himself, he might lie inert from morning till night. Such extreme cases were uncommon, but on the average the damage caused by the disease, though less obvious, was scarcely less disastrous. Most people recovered so far as to behave in a normal manner in respect of all simple animal impulses, but they no longer found any satisfaction whatever in the activities which are distinctively human. Thus an impulsive animal affection might be within their reach, but persistent and genuinely other-conscious human love was beyond them. Impossible also were all the other, less intimate forms of true community. Old habits of community-behaviour would persist and might at first carry the sufferers through the familiar social situations without any manifest change; but the fire was quenched. Little by little even the forms of decent social behaviour were abandoned. Abstract thought, even when their intelligence was still capable of it, they found unutterably boring. Art had no longer any meaning for them. Or rather, though intellectually they might still understand its technique, it could no longer stir them. The life of the spirit was wholly fatuous to them. The great common discipline and adventure, which they formerly accepted with enthusiasm, now stimulated them only to yawn and shrug their shoulders. Intellectually they understood it, but they had no feeling for it.

Different types of mind reacted differently to this deep change in themselves. All suffered from a severe conflict between their established mental habit and their new disposition. Many put up a half-hearted struggle to feel in the old way, and were bewildered and oppressed by their failure. Some, though the inner light was extinguished, listlessly carried on all the old forms of behaviour, but with increasing slovenliness. Others became well-bred cynics. Others gradually conceived a cold and spiteful hatred of all that was once so precious to them and now escaped them, and a relentless vindictiveness against those who had not been affected by the disease. Hate sometimes seemed even to provide them with a new intensity of feeling, and become the dominant motive of their lives, leading them to do all in their power to distress and defeat those who were still faithful to the light.

One serious aspect of the disease was not at first realized. It emerged into view as data accumulated. On the whole the emotionally most developed individuals, though rather less susceptible, were also, when the microbe secured a hold on them, far more gravely damaged. Their initial resistance was greater, but once it had been broken down, they were specially liable to die in the early phase. At the other end of the scale the lowest emotional types, though very liable to contract the disease, recovered easily and suffered only mild after-effects. The young were specially susceptible, though if they succeeded in surmounting the first phase of the disease, they tended to make a good recovery, escaping serious after-effects, and sometimes even the final apathy.

In preparation for the sacred year the medical services had been greatly reduced. Both cure and research into the causes of the plague were seriously hampered. It seems to have begun in Malaya during the wet season. Thence it soon spread into Asia, and into every continent. Within a few months millions had died and more millions had recovered only to live on as helpless invalids or cripples. Whole populations, though their bodily health was restored, were emotionally reduced to apathy or cynicism. Research proved that the disease was caused by a micro-organism which infested rain-drops, rivers, lakes. A cloudy atmosphere and a heavy rainfall were peculiarly favourable to the spread of the plague. The microbe entered the human body by the mouth, multiplied in the digestive organs, and spread thence by way of the blood into the glands. If it was detected early enough it could be destroyed, and the patient cured by a very simple method, namely the drinking of large quantities of alcohol. Thus it came about that a generation which had consecrated itself to the most exalted life was forced to drown its troubles in drink.

The sacred year had to be postponed. This was a very grave step, for the population was ageing, and there were no children. But no other course was possible. The ban on procreation was removed, and the peoples were urged to have as many children as possible. The apathetic populations made little response to this appeal.

Meanwhile the disease continued to spread, though less rapidly, and with decreasing virulence. One strange aspect of the scourge suggested that the real enemy was not the micro-organism itself but some devilish intelligence which was directing its attack. It was noticed, for instance, that when a district had been cleared of the disease, a spell of bad weather was apt to occur. Contaminated rain drenched the ground and filled the reservoirs. Moreover, maps plotting the incidence of the disease from month to month had revealed a startlingly purposive movement in the advance of the microbe. Not only was the plague mysteriously attracted to populous districts, but in order to reach a great centre of population it might extend a vast pseudopodium of wet weather and infection, even across an arid desert. This was particularly striking in its advance from Asia to South Africa. While Iran was in the throes, a great tongue of drenching weather was protruded across the Arabian Desert and Abyssinia into moist Central Africa. Thence the bad weather extended southwards till it reached the crowded areas in South Africa. In order to reach America it appeared to make several attempts to bridge the Atlantic from Britain, but its ‘artificial’ east winds were overcome by the prevailing westerlies. Finally, however, it stretched out an arm of cloud from West Mica to the Amazon, whence it spread throughout the Americas. Australia it invaded from its original foothold in the East Indies. New Zealand it failed to discover.

This seeming purposiveness may have been illusory. Some natural cause may very well have produced it. But when it is taken in conjunction with the fact that the disease attacked the human race just when its physical resistance was weakest owing to universal under-nourishment, and when its spiritual power was not yet fully developed, some occult evil purpose seems plausible.

The plague was not finally stamped out until a majority of the world population had been reduced to apathy. In most countries not more than about three in a hundred persons retained their full human calibre, and these became generally so disheartened by their neighbours apathy that they too sank into lethargy. Two regions alone were unaffected, namely Tibet, through the fortunate combination of its exceptionally dry climate, its altitude, and the high development of its population and New Zealand, which the plague had not ‘discovered’.

Lhasa wisely abandoned all hope of restoring the sacred year, and called upon mankind to devote itself for the present mainly to reproduction and the re-establishment of material civilization. New Zealand responded eagerly. Elsewhere small groups and isolated individuals answered the call in full sincerity. The rest either professed agreement and did nothing, or ignored the appeal.

Owing to the prevailing lethargy, village life in most countries gravely deteriorated. Sub-atomic agriculture and handicrafts were still carried on, but in a slipshod manner. The life of the poobs degenerated into something like the life of the pubs in our own day, often into something far less wholesome. Many persons who had been cured by alcohol had contracted an addiction to this habit-forming drug, and made no effort to restrain themselves. Fornication of a lazy, unenterprising sort, was general, but procreation was prevented by birth-control. The surviving forwards indolently carried on the outward forms of their old life, but its spirit was lost. Sluggishness inevitably produced a rapid deterioration in all social behaviour and institutions. The old vices of self-seeking and mob mentality reappeared, but without the old vigour and passion. Population steadily declined, for very few children were born; save in Tibet and New Zealand, where every woman of child-bearing age was devotedly producing a child every year. Presently research discovered a method of securing triplets, and the birth-rate was promptly trebled. Under the strain, and in spite of all the care and skill and honour that was lavished on them, the mothers were heavily overstrained. They clung to their task, however, and though maternal mortality was high, population increased rapidly. The children were of course given every possible advantage, under state supervision. The whole social organization of the two peoples was arranged for their benefit.

There came a time when emigrants from Tibet and New Zealand were flooding into other countries to intermarry with the remnants of the native populations, and to reorganize their moribund society. Gradually village life was revitalized. All the familiar activities of the civilized world were once more afoot. The forwards once more explored; though for the present there was no question of reviving the abandoned spiritual venture. The main task of the race was to recover its strength and to find out how to prevent any recurrence of the plague. For there were occasional incipient epidemics. They occurred whenever and wherever the work of the forwards was most active. It was as though the pioneers of spiritual activity contracted the disease through the very success of their adventure. Even if they happened to be individuals of so developed a type that they were immune, they apparently became carriers (or actual generators?) of the microbe, infecting the atmosphere through their breath.

vi. Man Passes on

From this time forward my intimations of humanity’s future became too vague to be worth reporting at length. I have a fairly clear impression of the recovery of material and cultural civilization, and the re-peopling of the planet. Dimly I saw, or I vaguely sensed, the world-wide preparation for a fresh attack on the occult ‘titanic’ forces. But dimly also I felt that with the advance of knowledge and spiritual insight the problem must have taken on an entirely new form; for there seems to have come a time, remotely future to us, when, after earnest debate, the main energy of the race was diverted from the occult back to the scientific, and particularly to the eugenical problem of producing a superior human type. But whether this new type was to be specially equipped for spiritual activities or for natural life on the earth or perhaps for migration to another planet I cannot determine.

All I know is that the enterprise was cut short, almost before it had begun, by the need to concentrate all human energy upon a purely terrestrial problem. For at this time the surface of the planet began to suffer from immense upheavals and subsidences, buckling and cracking like the skin of a roasting apple. Prodigious volcanic eruptions calcined whole countries. The seas poured torrentially into new depressions, drowning the populations; or retreated from newly upheaved continents; or was sucked down, in gigantic maelstroms through fissures in the ocean bed, to issue again with explosive and devastating effect as spouts of superheated water and steam, tearing apart the solid crust of the earth, boiling the cities, and soaring to the stratosphere. Whether this disastrous activity was due to the accumulation of radioactivity in the planet’s core or merely to the cooling and shrinking of the core, and the consequent collapse of the crust, or to some occult cause, I do not know.

The disturbance was brief. Within a few centuries it was over. There emerged a world the geography of which was largely unfamiliar and its climate temporarily moister; for much of the ocean had been boiled into the sky, and immense tracts of hot lava had appreciably raised the average temperature, so that the moisture in the air did not at all quickly condense. Mankind was reduced to a remnant living in the less devastated corners of the lands. Material civilization was destroyed, and men were forced to resort once more to primitive agriculture. The factories for the making of sub-atomic machinery were all destroyed, and most of the generators themselves. Experts of all kinds were decimated. Precious skills were lost. Laboratories, libraries, the records of human culture, were nearly all burnt or submerged under the new seas or the floods, of lava.

But throughout the disaster the will for the light remained alive in men. Each generation handed onto its successor the essential wisdom of the developed mind, the essential loyalty to the spirit. When the earth’s crust had settled down to its new form, recovery was carefully planned, and rapid. The main centre of henceforth was not China, which had been largely submerged, but the great new island of Atlantis, thrust up between America and Europe. At first a continent of mud, it soon became fertile beyond other lands, and in time was invaded by colonists from Europe and America, who crossed the narrow oceans in their sailing ships, and settled down to farm and rediscover the lost arts of civilization. Within a few centuries the planet was once more a well-ordered, flourishing, diversified, populous, human world.

Obscurely it seems to me that the dominant concern of that world was to produce a new human type, capable of greater powers of intelligence and sensibility, and also of spiritual insight. Obscurely I see that the new type was indeed produced; for I have a darkling vision of a prolonged and tense yet temperate divergence of will between the primary human race and the secondary, more developed race which the primaries had so lovingly conceived and patiently actualized. The disagreement was about the goal of human co-operative endeavour. The secondaries advocated some re-orientation of world policy which to the primaries was repugnant. The nature of this re-orientation I could not determine. I suspect that the whole primary population were incapable of comprehending it, and that they resisted it simply because it conflicted with their own world-policy. But it seemed to me that in the end they were persuaded to accept this re-orientation, humbly acknowledging that if the secondaries willed it, it must be the way of the light. Thenceforth the primary human race gradually withdrew from active control of human destiny. For a while it continued to reproduce itself, though at a steadily decreasing rate, and continued to perform minor functions within the new world economy; but its status was something between that of the aged parent, the pensioned family-nurse, and the conquered ‘aboriginals’. Its young people found themselves unable to keep pace with the young of the new type. They came into a world which could never be their own world, though they obscurely recognized it as a world ruled by the very same light that ruled in their own hearts. In these conditions the primary population inevitably dwindled into extinction. The secondaries possessed the earth and proceeded in the way that seemed good to them.

Beyond this point I see nothing. The life of those future men is wholly beyond my range. I emerged from my vision in weariness but also in peace and joy, for it seemed that those new men, though I could not keep pace with the movement of their minds, were loyal to the light and well equipped to serve it, loyal to that same light which my own generation so vaguely sees and falteringly serves.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30