Srulik (ymarkov) wrote,
Srulik
ymarkov

A Response to Fukuyama, part 2

Part 1

Humanity's History as a Sequence of Technological Revolutions
"Farewell, Romance!" the Cave-men said;
"With bone well carved he went away,
Flint arms the ignoble arrowhead,
And jasper tips the spear to-day.
Changed are the Gods of Hunt and Dance,
And he with these. Farewell, Romance!"

Ridyard Kipling

When it comes to finding an objective vector in the development of human civilization, technical progress is an inevitable candidate. Indeed, it's obvously futile to debate whether rock paintings from Altamira, frescoes by Sikeiros, or the "Socialist Competition of the Metalworkers of the Urals" mosaic represents higher art. All philosophical systems have been invented in ancient times, while it was only very recently that we could appreciate the refinement of the cosmogony of the Australian aborigines, who remain stuck in the Mesolithic. Technology is another matter: put a stone ax, a suit of armor, and a laser-scoped sniper rifle side by side, and there'll be no doubt which way the vector's pointing.

If we abstain from a post-modernistic flame war, it's quite legitimate to view humanity's history as a sequence of technological revolutions. Let me remind you that the very appearance of man as a species can be treated as such a revolution: Homo habilis was no different anatomically from the other australopitecs, but he could make stone tools.

An immediate question is which innovations count as a revolution. Using fire - a revolution, sure, a big one! The wheel - no question! The bow, first distance weapon - of course! What about sailing? Gunpowder? Antibiotics?.. I've once seen a paper that had counted over 30 such revolutions! Obviously, we could find a 100 easily, as this is 100% subjective - what unified scale would allow us to compare the civilizational importance of laser, horisontal loom, and firebow? Let's tackle this from another end: first we'll determine the stages where the people's quality of life changed revolutionally, in a leap, and only then correlate those social and economic changes to technologies.

Usually three such huge socioeconomic leaps are mentioned. The first is the Neolithic revolution, which was the transition from a capturing to a producing economy (from hunting and gathering to agriculture and animal husbandry). After that the spectre of famine had only episodically approached human settlements, and as for such an integral indicator of quality of life as its expectancy, it is believed that back then it rose to 40 years from about 20, not counting infant mortality. (There's a hypothesis that the change of infections affecting human populations had played a large role in that. Prior to Neolite, humankind was afflicted by the so-called "slow" diseases like leprosy, which have long adapted to man and, while non-lethal, turn him into a wreck by age 20. Having domesticated cattle, man acquired new, so-called "fast" diseases like smallpox, which either kill the victim right away or leave him with a steady immunity. Those affected by the slow infections were the first to die from the fast ones; thus the Neolithic smallpox epidemics "cleaned up" and improved the health of the human population. This was when people started living to 40 and the first demographic boom began. Thus mankind owes its existence to smallpox, in a way.)

The second quantum leap was the industrial revolution of the modern times. The third is the transition to post-industrial society that is occurring right before our eyes in the developed world. (I'm using the standard definition of "post-industrial" from the 1980 Dictionary of Philosophy: "The social order that will, according to several theories, replace the industrial societies of capitalism and socialism. It is characterized by an overwhelming (up to 9/10 of the labor force) employment in production of information, stabilization of population, and re-orientation of the economy to serve primarily cultural needs.")

Three is a nice number, isn't it? If we ask a high-school student about which unrelated substances comprise the material world around us, the student ought to be able to answer immediately: "From matter, energy, and information." Let's evaluate the three revolutions from that perspective.

The Neolithic revolution was a "material" one - it produced substances that don't exist in nature: alloys, ceramics, glass, fabrics; the only new class of substances discovered since then was plastics. We can also include unnatural creatures under this rubric - domesticated animals and plants (including baker's yeast). The industrial revolution was an "energy" one - it implemented a conversion, "prohibited" by nature, of heat into mechanical energy (the steam engine) and utilized the assimilated energy of past ecosystems (burning of fossil fuels). And everyone calls the technological revolution of today an informational one. It's customary to date it to the invention of the computer (treating it as the impetus analogous to the invention of Watt's regulator in the previous one), but no less important are the biotechnologies like genetic engineering or cloning, which control hereditary information. (It's symbolic that the scientific foundations of these technologies - cybernetics and deciphering the genome - were laid at about the same time, in the 50s.)

Certainly this model - Neolite/matter, modernity/energy, today/information - greatly simplifies reality. How would you use it to evaluate taming fire, say? It ought to be a part of the energy revolution, but it happened way before Neolite. One can answer that fire is a natural phenomenon and therefore its taming, important as it was, was not, strictly speaking, a revolution: in our model a revolution is an invention of substances and processes that don't exist in nature. (Therefore, when we mention domestic animals and plants as a part of the Neolithic revolution, we mean not domestication itself, but the breeding of new species that can't exist by themselves in natural ecosystems.)

In any event, the energy revolution doesn't preclude creation of new substances (plastics), nor does the informational revolution preclude creation of new energy sources (fusion). All I mean is that the industrial society's goal is increasing energy output (recall the Club of Rome charts), while the post-industrial one concentrates on optimizing the use of existing energy sources. This has already led to a decrease in energy density of the developed countries' GDP and may yet lead to an absolute decrease in energy use. (Here's an interesting analogy: in the 60s and 70s ecologists prerty much reduced their understanding of ecosystems to energy flows through the food chain, measuring the caloric content of grass, groundhogs, and eagles. These days the ecologists are increasingly drawn to studying indirect relationships not reducible to simple energy interactions. A good example is the way hoofed herbivores selectively weed out tree sprouts; in that way these animals, who constitute a miserly percentage of their ecosystems' energy balance, radically affect the entire landscape - they impede the natural forestation of the most productive steppe pastures.)

I don't believe we can predict the actual details of the inevitable social changes engendered by the computer revolution; surely many aspects that look trivial to us will turn out to be decisive, and vice versa. We have all observed the panic over computer psychoses, over children immersed into cyberspace to the point of insanity, etc. Well, check out this small detail, which is not discussed much. It is known that the development of the frontal lobes of the brain - the seat of personality - is greatly affected by development of fine motor skills (this is why every child must draw, mold, sew, etc.). The leading application of those skills is writing. Meanwhile, it looks like today's generation of students will be the last one to know how to write letters on paper; the next one probably will not even pound the keyboard and click the mouse, but simply talk to their computers, hands-free. As a result, their brains will be, literally, different from ours, and there's reason to suspect that they will be noticeably more primitive. Perhaps that's for the better ("blessed are the poor in spirit"), but it's kinda upsetting, you know?..

In other words, it's as useless to try to predict details here as anywhere else; better get back to our general trend. We have the following sequence: first stone tools in East Africa 2.5 million years ago; first Neolithic cultures in the Fertile Crescent 12,000 years ago; industrial revolution in Europe 300 years ago; and the information revolution of today. If we plot the time on the horizontal axis and quality of life on the vertical one, assuming intuitively that each of them had increased it comparatively, what we get is a simple logarithm curve with 0.98 correlation, not half bad! Four data points are way better than two; let's risk an extrapolation.

So when should we expect the Fourth Technological Revolution? You'll laugh, but our graph predicts it in 7 to 8 years! This is firmly within the margin of error, so, perhaps, it's already happening? And since it's a logarythmic series, the fifth and the sixth will follow shortly and blend into a non-stop cascade... how are we to undersand this? Looks like this is nonsense and the model has no predictive value... actually, that depends on how you look at it.

Back in the 90s an American politologist Francis Fukuyama came up with the concept of the "end of history," holding that with the end of the global confrontation between the Western world and the Soviet bloc and the advent of the post-industrial era the history of mankind as a kind of forward motion is over, and we will now drift forever in a kind of no man's time... The model looked rather squalid to me back then. It was obvious to the naked eye where the learned State Department analyst had lifted his main idea: not from Gegel to whom he refers, but from PC stategy games like Civilization. If you've played them, you know that the final phase is invariably very boring. The nervous excitement of the Big War against the Big Enemy, with enemy cruisers dogging the shores, native guerillas rampaging in the rear, and the overtaxed population constantly staging civil disorders gives way to complacency of victory; everything is nice and quiet, the spaceship to Alpha Centauri has been launched, and all you can do while awaiting its arrival and the calculation of your final score is build a few more universities in a few more cities of your now planetary empire and discover Future Technology-11, -12, etc. that nobody needs any more... really, a crushing bore, a real end of history. I have to mention that in my opinion "novelization" of computer games as a genre is at the level of teenage acne and glue-sniffing; I've got nothing against Sid Meyer's games, but when someone tries to paw off a novelization of his strategy game on me as a serious sociological model - excuse me!

Nevertheless one can find seeds of reason in absolutely any concept, and Fukuyama's model is no exception. Looks like he had guessed that the technological stage of civilization's development is mostly over. However, far from being the end of History, it's much more likely to be the end of human Pre-history and the bare beginnings of real History. It's the information revolution that takes humanity to a radically new level. (Actually, perhaps this is the case of the new being the well-forgotten old? "In the Beginning was the Word" - what is Word if not Information?) It's possible that the big difference between this revolution and the two previous ones - its cascading quality - is due to the unique properties of information. I think it was Lyapunov who had conclusively proved that unlike matter and energy, information is not subject to the law of conservation, and therefore it can be created anew or irretrievably lost; this is why an Act of Creation is only possible for humans in the information sphere, whereas in the spheres of matter and energy it's the Demiurge's prerogative.

So what is this new level that the information revolution will move us to (or perhaps already has, surrepticiously)? Here's a trick question: the world consists of matter, energy, information - and what else, that is somehow connected with information?

Perhaps entropy (Brulles rather than Klausitz's)? Maybe time, which Prigozhin construes as simply an "unsurmountable entropy barrier?"

I think it's Magic. One of the most obvious trends of the information revolution will be creation of magic technologies... why are you staring at me like that?


Magic as the Highest and Final Stage of Technology
--------------------------------------------------
"But," remarked Madame de Villefort, "all these circumstances which
you link thus one to another may be broken by the least accident;
the vulture may not pass at the precise moment, or may fall a hundred
yards from the fish-pond."
"Ah, this it is which is art. To be a great chemist in the East, we
must direct chance; and this is to be achieved."

Alexandre Dumas

Certainly we're not talking about the fight on the third underground level of the cursed Darkmoon Castle, where a noble white-bearded wizard is tossing fireballs and ice-storms at a dark curly-haired necromancer hiding cowardly behind a Shield of Force spell. I define magic simply as any method of affecting material objects with the help of information objects. People have been trying to do this from time immemorial (toss a spear at a drawing on the cave wall to bring down a boar, pierce a wax doll of an enemy to give him a stomachache), but this had no socially meaningful consequences, else we would've created a different kind of civilization. It's only now that the situation has changed: thanks to the increased (by a few orders of magnitude) informational interconnectedness of today's world isolated acts of magic are having global resonance. I'll illustrate with a couple of examples.

The story of how after the release of Wag the Dog President Clinton directly implemented its plot in real life by bombing Iraq with the main objective of distracting attention from his noisome adultery is now a classic. A year later the same conflict played out in Albania - the country named in the movie, albeit as a prank. Betcha that in the 15th century the movie's authors would've wound up burned at the stake, or at the very least have had to endure a "preventive conversation" with the Inquisition. The movie's importance to the fates of the world was predestined by its name (an actual "true name," the real Magic of the Word!), so I won't even entertain any claims of coincidence.

This was exactly the trick: rather than guess at the future, the authors had created it, whether willingly or not; this is the only way to make a correct prediction. Note that both Wag the Dog and Moscow-2042 are satires; it appears that it is precisely the ones who don't take the job too seriously who are the best at creating the future. The reverse is equally true: Pelevin's mystical pranks (from Mittelspiel to Generation P) are in actuality pure technothrillers, in which the techniques of using information objects to manipulate material ones is described as painstakingly and truthfully as the interaction of airport services by Hailey, gold prospecting by Kuvaev, or GRU's spying practices by Suvorov.

Or take an example from a different area. Obviously the price fluctuations on the secondary securities markets are nothing but a series of electric impulses in the computer networks of the world's financial centers and are not related to the material world; it's not even money (in the Marxian sense). Yet using those series of impulses, in plain view, the great financier and philantropist George Soros brought down the most stable regime in Southeastern Asia in three days, causing unrest that burned very material shops and police stations and killed flesh-and-blood people. In my opinion Soros is undoubtedly a magus, a true necromancer.

It's not him as a person, though. Talking to people who know economics has left me with a firm belief that modern finance lives by the rules of magic: being purely informational structures, it nevertheless dictates behavior to the "real economy," rather than vice-versa, like it used to be. Control of the virtual world of the exchanges enables the developed countries (the USA first and foremost) to literally create money out of thin air in defiance of all laws of economics (whether Marxian or Sachsian). Malicious gossips have long insisted that the only really competitive American export (by the quality/cost metric) is greenbacks. Should all those paper claims ever be made, the American economy would implode; making sure that this will never happen is the job of Soros and his necromancer colleagues.

Or take the sudden and apparently causeless crash of the USSR - that's its own ball of wax. How did an Evil Empire turn into an evil banana republic, importing bananas from Finland, in only three years without real resistance from any influential social group? I think we can agree that real states don't behave in this manner. This is the behavior of the Castle of the Dark Forces in Enchanted Land after the Hero had destroyed the Chief Magical Artefact; it's the behavior of Schwartz's Shadow when it hears: "Shadow, know your place!" This is why the economists' explanations like "the oil ran out in Tyumen" or "we missed out on the computer revolution" strike me as non-serious, as opposed to Lukin's observation of the sudden appearance of verbs - an out-of-place component - in Soviet slogans. There's been enough said about the routine anti-sovietism of the Party elite; but the way all those innumerable functionaries in State Planning and State Supply offices sat at their computers and shot down thousands of MIG-23s and were awarded Purple Hearts by the US Congress... When the object of incantations is itself eager to participate in the process, it's obvious that it's not long for this world.

Lately there's been a lot of books published with titles like "Occult Secrets of the NKVD and SS." I won't judge which parts are true and which are lies (or, rather, disinformation), but the fact of Nazi Germany, the USSR, and to some extent Imperial Japan practicing some magical support of their social structures is mostly beyond doubt. The Great Anglosaxon Democracy was never implicated in such games (the CIA did create a special section where geeks toyed with telepathy and the like, but it was shut down "to save taxpayer money in light of absence of results"), which leads many to conclude that said Democracy had never practiced such "medieval nonsense."

I think that's a too-hasty conclusion. As Victor Suvorov once said on a similar occasion, "Spying is the least appreciated job ever. Who's famous? The ones who failed, made mistakes, were hanged - Zorge, for example. But Stalin also had some really brilliant spies who had accomplished an awful lot and never became famous, that is, hanged." It's true - everybody knows Zorge and Penkovsky, but who can name the American spy who had stolen the Japanese cypher machine, thereby greatly affecting the outcome of the Pacific war, off the top of their head? In the same vein we can suppose that the "democratic" mages simply did a better job than their "totalitarian" counterparts and never became famous. Testing this hypothesis requires merely comparing the end results of their efforts.

Some time ago I read Pereslegin's detailed study of the Battle of Midway. (For those who don't know, Midway for Americans is like Stalingrad for us. Actually, in today's Pax Americana it's more likely one will need to explain Stalingrad...) My main impression - which the author most likely sought to engender - was that there were some Higher Powers fighting alongside the aircraft armadas of Nimitz and Yamamoto, just like Olympians duked it out under the walls of Troy.

People tend to overlook the fact that Japan of the 30s was about at the level of Belgium or Holland economically. It's obvious that starting a war with three great powers plus China with the economy the size of Holland's to back you up (even if it was 200% militarized) is not even a gamble like Hitler's, but total madness. Battle madness, berserkerism. In six months those berserkers went through the entire Southeast Asia up to Australia, captured absolutely impregnable Singapore on the march and managed to surpise and destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor (although the American High Command already had their cypher machine and had to be aware of Yamamoto's plans). For six months they succeeded at absolutely everything, and then suddenly their luck just plain ran out.

Actually, it wasn't so sudden. The beginning of that mission was marked by a strange "epidemic" that put three leading naval warriors out of commission at once: Genda, the best staff officer and the right hand of the Commander of the United Fleet (tropical malaria); Futida, commander of carrier-based aircraft, the architect of Pearl Harbor and the rest of Japan's air victories (appendicitis); and Commander Yamamoto himself (fish poisoning at the farewell banquet). Those three people had iron constitutions and have never been ill before. There was another premonition: during staff practice of the assault on Midway, when dealing with a theoretical sudden attack of American dive bombers, the dice (which the Japanese used to model battle chance) showed an impossibly rare combination standing for "nine hits, three sunk carriers." The Higher Powers were warning Yamamoto "in the clear," but he bulled ahead anyway.

The entire battle at Midway was a string of fantastic coincidences, all of them benefitting the Americans. Everything worked for them, including objective difficulties and the mistakes made by their own admirals. For example, not only the Japanese officers were sick before Midway: equally suddenly and unexplainably Admiral Halsey, the best carrier officer of the US Pacific fleet, took ill with a very strong case of nervous excema. In violation of all written and unwritten fleet regulations he left the bridge to Spruance, the commander of his escorting cruiser group, an "artillerist" with no experience of commanding air forces. It was Spruance who gave the order that caused much indignation among the senior officers and led to accusations of cowardice: for some unfathomable reason, at the end of that victorious day he broke off the chase of Nagumo's defeated and helpless carrier group and ordered a retreat. Were it not for that strange decision, in a couple of hours the Americans would've run straight into Yamamoto's ultra-powerful battleships on an intercept course. It can be said with confidence that an artillery duel at night, with the Americans unable to utilize their air superiority, would've turned it into Kristallnacht for them, and the Japanese would've fought the battle to a draw at the very least.

Besides, the skill of Japanese sailors and pilots was such that by 10:20 AM on that day they could consider the battle won despite the initial setup that was highly advantageous to their enemy; the Americans, who had laid that trap for the Japanese fleet (not too difficult if you can decipher enemy's communications), clearly felt like that fox-hunting peasant that trapped a bear... The next five minutes determined the outcome of the war in the Pacific, and to some extent the fate of the post-war world. The highly unusual situation that was modeled at that staff exercise was faithfully replicated in Real Life: the sudden appearance of an American dive bomber squadron (the last that Spruance had!) which the lookouts missed, precisely while there were no Japanese fighters in the air (refueling). By 10:25 AM the decks of the Akagi, Kagu, and Hiryu, chock-full of second-wave planes, fuel, and ammunition, were huge bonfires burning the bulk of Japan's naval air power... Nine hits that destroyed three aircraft carriers - precisely like the dice had shown a month prior. (I will admit that had a European memoirist told us about this startling coincidence, I would've dismissed it as a fanciful invention, but somehow I trust the Japanese here.)

At some point in my reading of Pereslegin's study I clearly saw what I was dealing with: an actual realization of every alternative history buff's dream. The course of the real Battle of Midway, which actually took part in some other, parallel reality, was then corrected via blatant "editing" of every plot fork (exactly the way we replay our failures in Civilization or Dune-2 by invoking Load Saved Game) - and it's clear which side was making the corrections. Moreover, I get a clear impression that the Japanese had controlled those forks during the first stage of the war in the Pacific, but by Midway the Americans managed to wrest it away from them.

I won't speculate exactly how the art of infuencing chance is practiced, since I know exactly nothing about magic practices. Perhaps creating a "sloppy copy" of an event in parallel reality and then writing a "clean copy" in a computer game mode is not the best solution (it certainly isn't the only one). However, I have no doubt that the ability to influence plot forks exists. Let's examine the most recent of such forks that Russia had experienced, when its history could very well have been switched to a different track, in 1993 Moscow.

Everything was decided the night of October 3rd, when the rebels failed to capture the TV station. Why? Because the radio of the elite Knight unit guarding it failed in the most mundane manner, so they didn't get the order not to get involved which the rest of the army and the police got. Having not received the order, the unit acted by the book: when the assault began, rather than dropping their weapons (which is what those guarding the city hall did four hours prior), the soldiers fired back, and that was the end of the rebellion. I think we can agree that a radio that fails at just the right moment is a finer move than a squadron of dive bombers appearing out of nowhere like an ace from a cheater's sleeve; obviously, the mages involved were of a higher class than those at Midway.

NB: what if the Junkers who had guarded an equally corrupt Provisional Government on a similar murky fall evening had performed like the Knight fighters did - by the book? What kind of country would we be living in now? (Remember Trafalgar: "Britain does not expect everyone to be a hero; Britain expects everyone to do his duty.") Actually, Pelevin had already role-played that in his Crystal World...

Some readers will grimace here: ah, so that's what the author wants to propose - a world government comprised of Zurich gnomes and other such Freemasons, only with magical enhancements. No, not quite. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Unfortunately, at this point we can't avoid the question that Voland used to stump the simple-minded atheist Ivan Bezdomny: who runs it all?


The Truth Behind Magic
"Then the man on the shore was God."
"The man on the shore was another magician."
"I must know the real truth, the truth beyond magic."
"There is no truth beyond magic," said the king.

John Fowles

Let's define some axioms first. My life was rich with adventure and critical unusual situations, and I've seen too many totally improbable combinations of chance coincidences to seriously doubt the existence of Higher Powers. Whether we call them Divine Providence or Higher Consciousness like Timothy Leary, whether we personify them as Our Father in Heaven or consider them to be some faceless anti-entropy force is not material to this discussion. I'm not capable of reflecting on this like Rybakov, so I'm not going to; I accept the existence of Higher Powers by Occam's Razor, as the simplest of the available non-contradictory explanations.

In my personal worldview these Powers are not indifferent to Man. I fully subscribe to the position Pereslegin stated once: "This article is based on the ideas of positivism and assumes, first and foremost, that the Universe is friendly to us. In other words (that is, from a different philosophic slant): the belief in God's wrath and the concept of 'punishment, repentance, and forgiveness' are a terrible sin, based as they are on denial of limitless divine mercy. How one can take the God hypothesis seriously while ascribing to the Creator the mindset of a policeman or, at best, a petty-minded schoolteacher is beyond me." Should we seek a model for the relationship between the Higher Powers and humankind, the father-son model occurs naturally to mind.

"Banality!" you'll exclaim. "It's obvious that man takes God as his Father in Heaven both in Christianity and all other monotheistic religions..." Not really. Note that in the model I offer the subject of the relationship on our side is not the individual (which is what monotheism was "invented" for), but mankind as a whole. That was what was created "in the form and likeness," rather than any individual human, who, as Bulgakov's Voland correctly noted, "not only has no capability of making any plan for even a laughingly short period of time, say a thousand years, but can't even guarantee what will happen to him tomorrow." And when it comes to humanity, which is an incomparably longer-lived entity than any human, one has to consider the following complication: as children grow up, their relationship with their parents unavoidably changes. However, Christianity unequivocally equates "son" with "child," and doesn't imagine any relationship between son and Father other than adoration and submission; to speak bluntly, it cultivates infantilism.

Let us now consider the succession of technological revolutions assuming the Universe's friendliness (or the Lord's all-mercifulness, which is the same thing). When a child learns about the world, his parents have to solve a fairly difficult dilemma. On the one hand, there's the powerful desire to shield the dear baby from any and all dangers; on the other hand, it's quite obvious that it won't be possible to always guard him and that the lack of life experience in the form of bumps, bruises, and fingers burned catching candlelight is likely to lead to much sadder consequences. So, on the one hand, "matches are not a toy" - technological breakthroughs must occur only in their proper time, which is why the first steam engine, created by Heron of Alexandria in antiquity, remained nothing but a funny trick, and why gunpowder was only used for fireworks in China where it was invented very long ago. On the other hand, "the kid won't learn until he actually sticks his fingers in the electric outlet" - after Hiroshima and Nagasaki no one had dared repeat the experiment with the outlet, once was quite enough to build the reflex.

Every time the Higher Powers judge us ready to advance to the next technological level, they then give us time "to assimilate the new material" - that is, create and tune the social infrastructure adequate to utilize our new powers. The Neolithic revolution was followed by the idea of a state with social division of labor and specialized governingstructures; an industrial society requires modern democracy, which stresses the fine-tuning of negative feedback links to increase its homeostaticity. (This is precisely why totalitarian regimes, which sacrifice self-regulation for control, are capable of impressive sprints ahead but inevitably lose to democracies in the long run.) We can only guess what kind of social order will be adequate to the post-industrial (infomagical) society. Maybe it will be a single world empire with diffused power centers (headquarters of multinational corporations, leading exchanges, etc.). Or, contrariwise, maybe two equally great centers of civilization - Atlantic and Pacific - will appear; they will bring to the logical conclusion the two complementary trends always present in every society - the liberal individual and social collectivist ones - and it will be precisely the interaction of those two trends, Yin and Yang, embodied in the Great Atlantic Democracy and the Pan-Asian Confucian Empire, that will power our civilization for centuries... These are really just details.

The more important part is this. As we've agreed to stipulate, the Higher Powers are benevolent; obviously they have ceased to impede humanity from mastering magical technologies, including control over plot forks. (Until now the prohibitions against witchcraft, clairvoyancy, etc. have only intensified along with technological progress. The impression is that every successive technological revolution resulted in a multi-level blockage of the society's magical potential, until the industrial revolution demoted it to the level of table-shaking and other astral nonsense; a complementary principle of sorts.) In other words, humanity has now received access to the next, much higher power level, despite all the "heroic deeds" we've committed over the past century. It's hard to argue that there had ever been a more bloody and disgusting period in human history. How are we to understand this?

Simple - unlike us, the Higher Powers have evaluated our twentieth-century efforts positively on the whole. It looks like we've unknowingly passed an important test and proved our maturity. Yes, it's true that we have killed, willy-nilly, about fifty million "sapients" on the battlefields of two world wars and destroyed about as many in Auschwitzes, GULAGs, and other such "May 7th schools;" we did not "rely on nature's tender mercies" and successfully turned it into a global trash dump... Yes, but! For all of the numerous evil deeds large and small, we have still not crossed a certain line: we have not unleashed a global nuclear conflict despite balancing precariously on its very edge a couple of times; Communism a la Zinoviev will never be "the bright future of all mankind," now and forever, amen; and the successful clean-up of the Great Lakes, just about given up for dead, shows that protection of the environment is like any other job.

Looking back soberly at the path we've traveled in the 20th century, we have to admit to a complete lack of certainty that mankind could've passed those tests with any lesser losses even theoretically. More likely the opposite; it seems to me that Schepetnyov with his Seventh Part of Darkness was a lot closer to the truth than Rybakov with his Tzesarevich Graviflyer: yes, our way was tough, but all other possible "forks" were way worse. Yesterday, the Armageddon - totally true, but surprisingly enough, we survived it!

So where did it come from upon us, this nightmarish century? Our basic "Father-son" model gives a simple answer: adolescence, nothing more. Only yesterday he was such a sweet child, and now this! And if he only drinks and does drugs in the process of affirming his identity, that'd be getting off relatively easy; what if he starts throwing bombs at governors out of his desire for good and justice? Really, adolescence ("big children - big problems") is a test for parents as well as for children; if you crack down every single time, forcing your will on the child, you're a worthless parent. Use of force is a sign of weakness, and our Father (we suppose) is not like that! I suppose that the Higher Powers look at our atheism with calm irony, and if they ever interfere in our lives, they do it like O. Henry's millionaire who gave his son a happy chance to explain his feelings to the girl of his choice by holding up their carriage in an artificial traffic jam.

We've grown up. We've paid a terrible price, but we've earned the right to live as we see fit. The Higher Powers have clearly acknowledged this right, granting us magic and thereby equating us with themselves in potential power. Fowles's King Magus is right in this sense: there's no truth behind magic. The truth is elsewhere: "God is in truth, not in power." We have enough power now; as for the Truth, we can only gain it in more interaction with the Higher Powers. Not in childish worship and equally childish huffs, like it's been until now, but in real friendship and love, which are only possible between equals. That's what the Big Revelation turns out to look like - two centuries before we expected it...

Now we're living through the moment when Father ceases being a provider and protector and forever turns into a wise adviser and moral authority. Some of us feel really uncomfortable over this, but there's no getting away from it... And another thing. The idea that Father is both all-powerful and eternal is a fundamental attribute of a child's outlook, just like a pure faith in one's own immortality (even if it be via immortality of the soul) is... Aren't we grown up already?


A Necessary Post-Scriptum
Imagine that an alien spaceship crashes in some remote location and you've been charged with concealing that incident in the name of highest state interest. There are two basic ways to go about it, which we may call "Soviet" and "American." The "Soviet" approach is to make everything top secret: encircle a million acres with a six-string barbed wire fence, isolate all witnesses that can be isolated and swear the rest to silence, update censorship manuals with eight new paragraphs, etc. The "American" approach is to submit the news to all media as soon as possible, accompanied by the following: an extensive commentary of World UFO Association chairman Charles Atane and popular author Kazantzev; exclusive remiscences of pop star Diana Cool (nee Ann Spraymint) about her getting pregnant from an Altair alien in her wayward youth; and a video report of a joint march of the Blue Swastika and Birobidjan Cossack Batallion demanding an immediate resignation of the President "who had finally and completely sold out to interplanetary Jews." This should be followed up by a brief mention of the Loch Ness monster and cave drawings of dinosaurs, smoothly sequing into the truly unexhaustible New Chronology (for example, one could debate the idea that Newton and Professor Fomenko were the same person: both were prominent mathematicians, both had interpreted the Apocalypsis, both went mad over it)... Should I explain which method of concealment is more effective?

Why am I saying this? Lately there's been a lot of publications about magic, one stupider than the other. All sorts of people now discuss these ideas - an academician, a hero, a sailor, a carpenter, now me... now why would that be, eh?
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