Hey guys. I had a piece pubbed by Friday Flash Fiction about an alien version of punishment, it can be found here. But this piece started, as many of my works do, with a philosophical musing. I did it all in the world processor, and I’m sharing it today. Uncut and unadulterated: raw, straight from the fingertips. The story was 100 words, but the intellectual evaluation is much longer. This is what the brainstorming process looks like for me.
Story story story
It’s time to write. You need a refreshment, a little bit of flash to get you back on track.
You need to be a bird, unafraid to fly.
This coffee cup
Aliens with human frailty, like picking on others. How many aliens do you see picking on other aliens? Making fun of them. Surely, even with spaceflight, they have their own annoying habits left over from being a naturally predatory species. Picking an gnawing, what kind of world would long-term spaceflight create? How would we, as humans, change through that process? What trials would we face?
What drives human frailty to begin with. What is it about our click groups that ostracize others from our own space? Why would a person in a small group glance at someone outside the group, and immediately begin attacking them in near silence. In the mind first, and then testing the quiet conversation with friends, to verify that they have similar thoughts about the stranger.
People seem to almost naturally pick apart anyone new and outside of the normal crowd. They dissect everything about them, and the mind converts those outward appearances into various categories, making assumptions about the target. This is a natural human defense mechanism. We each live our own lives, we learn what plants to eat and which will make us sick. The symbolism varies slightly from person to person, but in a click group, people focus on what they have in common. Outside thoughts are democratically removed from acceptable conversation topics, through swift reprimand and hostility toward a thought that most of the group considers offensive, or outlying thoughts that only one or two group members share.
This is the birth of law.
In ancient times, humans probably derived social acceptability based on things that are slightly more real. Most animals put food and water above all else, and without a material universe to surround us, we would focus on the same. Eat, survive, those are the goals. If you catch a stranger that challenges the group by eating something believed to be poisonous or harmful, it would be a suitable thing to antagonize them for, either outrightly or quietly among friends. If they show up with no food wishing to join the group, they would be seen as lazy or a potential thief.
On a note, this is the language of the human mind, not nomenclature or grammar. These thoughts evolve directly from feeling, and require very few words to convey the message. The way a member of the group twists their eyebrows would likely be enough.
Add creature comforts. Cloth fabrics, warm contained fire, a society where food is abundant. Trade and compromise lead to other things of value: the builders, the makers, the entertainers, the healers. Not everyone needs to hunt for food, and specialized skills develop in the society. Now the burden is taken off of food, and lends itself to status in a certain way. I think human beings have been stuck in this kind of mindset for a long time, and perhaps it is the prevalence of every species that advances as we have, into colonies linked not by raw foraging, as with ants and bees, but through transaction and trade; the idea that one can “earn their food” by performing another essential skill to keep society comfortable.
Back to our aliens. What if we remove money. The immediate thought is that we would devolve, in a way. That we would go right back to the state of bees, having caretakers, foragers, producers, reproducers, etc. Essential skills shared under a community mindset that everyone works hard without question, and they are entitled to the same food and comfort and protection as any other member.
Immediately, the modern mind shifts toward thoughts of communism. Mine personally drifts toward Animal Farm, as an investigation of how to construct a society from scratch, not from a need as is historically accurate, but a mental construction of how things should be. What do you do when the horse gets old and lame? Keep feeding him, or call the glue truck? Getting old or sick directly violates the first premise above, so in theory, sickness at least would need to be eliminated for our “futuristic” space society to work.
Let’s jump off from there. We have some aliens who have freed themselves from illness. Partially from scientific discovery, and mostly because they are isolated on a ship that contains no harmful pathogens, and any new ones that develop from their natural biology can be destroyed easily by their technology before taking hold. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that to get around the problem of the old, lame horse, they have decided in their communal mindset that every member of the species is only allowed to live for a given amount of time. Each of them is born on an egg timer, and when they reach a certain point in their development, they are sacrificed and recycled so that new young can be bred to keep the work force on constant replenishment.
A true generation ship, traveling through the stars. We don’t even have to put the solar system on their radar. What things would they find important. What emotional survival categories would emerge that could become something to pick on others for.
In the children (children are so good at this), hiccups in development would be noted immediately. If someone is weaker, dumber, slower, etc, then they would not contribute to the overall model. If they are born with a timer attached and they start their “work” later than the others, they would be seen as not contributing the “same time” as others. Perhaps that is the currency for these aliens. Perhaps the next stage in human evolution, also, is the idea that material currency is a farce, and time is the only real currency we have.
As I write this, a certain movie comes to mind, and I suspect that author was on to something. So let’s not go that route. No gambling, no trading. Everyone gets a certain time to live, certain duties to fill, and a work requirement.
Then of course, what are the duties required on this generation ship. A ship that travels between the stars, even near the speed of light, cannot concern itself wholly with exploration and discovery. It’s a one-way trip, at least at the phase being discussed here. Surely, a society this advanced would encourage mostly monitoring duties, but if there is one thing I’ve found true throughout history, it’s that shit sometimes breaks, so repair and upkeep would certainly be a duty worth pursuing. Fixing problems. Maybe the regenerative food system needs to be worked with closely to ensure that the right amounts are being created at a rate where consumption will minimize waste and loss. Pipes and structural things are going to wear. Metal is going to degrade.
Incompetence, clumsiness, physical frailty, and anything seen as a genetic defect would certainly be something to pick on. Members of the society would be ostracized in certain ways, perhaps more civilly than our current culture on earth. Just as we ostracize with chatter and taunts vs the more ancient methods of banishment and bruising practiced by cultures in the past. Perhaps crimes would be punished by reductions in an individual’s lifetime, and of course the members of the group thought of less favorable would bear the easiest convictions.
It’s always the outcast, or the person who thinks differently, that is seen as criminal or easily punishable. It is those same people who develop the ability to bear the brunt of taunts and social rejection. Those with the thickest skin bear the deepest scars.
But enough of this. I think it’s time to write my story.
The actual story: Accused – posted to FridayFlashFiction.com