Chapter Fourteen: The 21st Century - Narrative

IV. Humans

The tussle between 'improvers' and 'stayers', that's to say, between those who would allow an unlimited range of genetic and bionic changes to humans and those who would allow only remedial work for a very limited range of defined, genetically-transmitted conditions occupied almost 40 years before an accommodation was reached in 2050.

As might be expected, governments were 'stayers', although strictly on pragmatic, mostly cost grounds. Religions, equally predictably, also lined up with the stayers, ostensibly on moral grounds, but in reality out of fear for their position. Other essentially conservative forces included teachers, doctors and the 'multilaterals', each in its own way defending territory rather than taking ethical positions.

It's difficult indeed to say whether ethics played any part in the struggle on either side. 'Improvers' were just as forceful and just as opinionated as 'stayers', but equally self-seeking. Technologists on the whole were naturally on the improving side, as was business, for the most part.

To a great extent the battle was fought in the arena of public opinion, particularly after 2030 when global electronic opinion polls became universal, and after language translation was perfected in the late 2010s. 'The Decade of the People', as it became known (2027 - 2037), saw a rapid shift in general sentiment against sectoral and doctrinal interests, and an intensified move of policy-making from national to international arenas, in a mass reaction against the horror of the Iran/Israeli nuclear exchange in 2025, which killed more than eight million people. That was the last shout of nationalism, and was the period during which people finally emancipated themselves from 'isms' such as nationalism, religion and political belief systems such as socialism.

The Decade of the People saw the final triumph of 'people power'; something which had been given a name in Poland as long ago as 1985, but which had taken more than 50 years to become a reality. By 2040 it was a rare event for a national or even an international organisation to be able to take a view which was significantly different from prevailing mass opinion. The introduction of real-time, continuous global issue voting using direct brain-to-RCC communication in 2080 merely recognized what was already a practical reality – the first time since classical Athens, or perhaps ever, that a society was truly democratic.

The 2051 Human Settlement was reached after RCRs were already in widespread use, and primitive RCCs were becoming the subject of much argument. By 2040 there was already general understanding that almost all of human society had been built on the basis of 'groupish' psychological mechanisms, and that we should not try to tamper with the collective underpinnings of our psyches. The argument about RCCs raged over the issue of whether the individual consciousness should preserve its isolation from the deep-rooted collective unconscious when individuals began to take part in collective cognitive activity, or whether it was better to create pathways to the unconscious so that a fuller and more explicit version of each individual psyche could play its part in the collective experience. The issue of deception (explained in Chapter Seven) played a major role: there seemed little point in recreating the highly deceptive social behaviours that characterize most human social groups in new fora designed to allow closer cooperation between people. Eventually the 'improvers' won this battle, as they had won others, and a limited set of additional neural pathways, allowing conscious access to major parts of the unconscious, was incorporated into the standard model of the human brain.

Once it had become clear that there weren't any technological limits to what a human could become, immortality was available (at a price), and that people could make choices as to their life-style, appearance, location and psyche virtually at will throughout their lives, there seemed little point in tampering too much with the 'people' we were already familiar with, so that it was widely agreed that it was just much safer to stick with what we knew, apart from the modifications to consciousness and some genetic 'tweaking' to reduce the incidence of anti-social and psychotic behaviour.

The Settlement therefore prohibited genetic variation outside the existing genomic range, although some exceptions were made for robotic, medical and psychosomatic research. And of course there was a long list of permitted corrective genetic manipulations for the suppression of disease, known as the Codex Humanicus. The Codes of Conduct for bionic enhancement and for RCRs include a very large number of specific exemptions from the basic Settlement rules, and these grow in number and complexity year by year; but the Settlement as such has stood the test of time, even when RCCs became the normal mode of human cooperation. Management of the Settlement, including enforcement, is in the hands of the Global Genetic Gathering, an RCC unsurprisingly known generally as G3. It is an affiliated agency of the United Nations, and all 387 nations are members. Due to the extreme complexity of genetic evolution, the G3 is not a universal body, but is effectively a delegate assembly, with 387 highly expert constituent members. Any change to the Codes of Conduct require unanimity; but this is much more easily achieved in RCCs than in previous types of constituent assembly due to the depth and immediacy of communication that is possible.