The sleek “Tlai survey frigate ran under full stealth in Earth’s orbit. It had arrived there two days prior, on a mission from Homeworld to investigate alien intelligences, civilizations and potential friends–or threats. Ethnographer ‘Plaf, senior researcher, had directed the pilot to orbit for two full days while his staff gathered data. It was the “Tlai way to be sincere, thorough, and intensely curious. ‘Plaf had spent much of its day absorbing a great many fascinating departmental reports in preparation for the initial sharing of thoughts.
‘Plaf opened the meeting, then bade its staff present early research data in each’s specialty field. Linguistics presented the shocking and dismaying report that Earth’s sentient species communicated in thousands of languages, which would take long enough to catalogue–far longer to understand, but they could decipher most of what was said or written in the nine or ten most widely spoken. Fair progress. Xenobiology had identified one sentient and several semi-sentient species, each with several racial variants. Evidently racial variants weighed heavily on the minds of ‘Umaniti, as one widely-spoken language collectively called the sentient species.
“Very good, Xenobiologist li’Wal,” said ‘Plaf. “Now let us examine a simple situation under close magnification, and see where the data lead us. What issue do you feel would profit us to study?”
Li’Wal worked its keyboard. Pictures popped onto the screen. “Ethnographer, fellow researchers, here are two ‘Umaniti at the center of a large controversy on Landmass D. One, the one on the left with the lighter flesh, is in the middle of their normal lifespan. Unlike us, but like some other species, this species has genders: one which bears young and one which seeds them; both are necessary for procreation, and in this case, both are of the seeding gender. The one on the right with darker flesh is a youth. There seems no doubt that the lighter-fleshed one slew the youth with a kinetic energy launcher.”
“Why would he slay a youth? Is this their norm?” asked Military Scientist Khaul.
“It is frowned upon everywhere, and prohibited in most places on the planet,” answered Judician ‘Faur. “There is great controversy on Landmass D whether the violence was allowable.”
“Why would they consider it allowable?” asked ‘Plaf.
“It’s odd, Ethnographer,” said ‘Faur. “There is no consensus. A discredited fringe, all naturally of light flesh, evidently believes that persons of light flesh should justly do random violence to persons of dark flesh. The majority of all flesh tones reject this view. The fringe at the other end of the spectrum sees this as yet another act of war based on flesh tone, lighter versus darker, and is outraged that the killer will likely face no punishment.”
“Is it the reverse on Landmass B, where the majority are of dark flesh? Do those of lighter flesh feel the same where they are in the minority?”
“It seems so, but the historical circumstances differ,” offered Historian Xul. “South of the immense central desert on Landmass B, ‘Umaniti of dark flesh were once the sole residents. Those of lighter flesh, mainly from Landmass A, arrived and subjugated Landmass B, carrying off many in forced labor. No one on any of these landmasses has forgotten this captivity with the passage of time, though the practice is nearly extinct and has been for at least a hundred revolutions of the planet. I have learned that those of dark flesh on Landmass D descend mainly from these captives. They remain somewhat marginalized, and many resent this greatly, but not all. A ‘Umaniti of dark flesh actually leads the most populous nation on Landmass D, though in reality he seems in between flesh tones. However, he identifies himself as dark-fleshed, and most ‘Umaniti concur.”
Ethnographer ‘Plaf looked thoughtfully at the images. “It makes one wonder why this leader does not correct the conditions. Why is that, in your view, Politician Lr’uff?”
“His ‘Umaniti chose him as leader, Ethnographer, through a process that makes zero sense to me. He has limited power. He and his young-bearer evidently said what the population desired most to hear, in order to attain this office. As nearly as I can see, his function is to accept credit for all that goes well, and blame for all that goes wrong. Neither seems justified, but that is my read of their sentiment studying his predecessors. Some have led during great scandal, some have barely bothered to do the job. Some have spent more time in the procreational act with the young-bearing gender, one recently to great public embarrassment, especially for his mate. Speaking of which, young-bearers are almost globally disadvantaged and deprived of power; in some factions they must cover their entire forms in sacks and have few privileges save to bear young upon command and do menial tasks. A few of the leaders in Landmass D’s history seem to have been noble according to our values, which somewhat intersect with those of ‘Umaniti. Most seem to have sought power primarily because ‘Umaniti value power over other ‘Umaniti.”
“Very well. Back on the subject. Faur, please summarize the contending views regarding this slaying, and we shall see what they suggest to us.”
“Certainly, Ethnographer. In the region where the event occurred, and in some other regions, the law allows anyone to slay another if he or she feels in fear of loss of life. Many feel that this instance pushes the issue of slaying to an ethical breaking point accented by flesh tone, that the youth was killed simply for being in an area inhabited by light-fleshed ‘Umaniti, and his killer will now escape penalty for a death that did not need to be. It is on nearly everyone’s speech apparatus in Landmass D, and dominates all media. One source even made a breathless report that the killer, who is confined by the authorities awaiting the judicial process, spent money at the confinement center’s store.”
“How much did he spend?” asked ‘Plaf, bemused. “Enough to purchase what, for example?”
“About enough to fully fuel two common fossil-fueled passenger vehicles, which would allow each to operate for 1/4 of a planetary rotation before running out. An amount that would buy a high-quality meal for two ‘Umaniti at a dining establishment.”
“Why did this matter to anyone? Who imagined it would?” snorted ‘Plaf. “Does not Landmass D have any other concerns of greater import than how much a confinee spent on what one assumes were petty comforts? Has Landmass D remedied all other social ills?”
“Far from it,” responded Lr’uff. “This nation is deeply fragmented with great political hatred. It has borrowed excessively. Every sector of wealth believes that every other sector should pay to solve the problem, in one way or another. It is involved in wars against two…abstract nouns.”
‘Plaf turned to Linguist Glrol. “How would one wage war upon an abstract noun, Linguist?”
“My colleague is speaking semi-literally, but ‘Umaniti seem to take the matter almost literally. They are at war with ‘controlled substances’–anyone associated with these substances, save legalized businesses that mass-produce the substances–and with ‘terror,’ by which they mean selected groups who launch terror attacks. Li’wal may correct me if I err, but it seems to me that ‘Umaniti wage war against abstract nouns by means of faction-sanctioned terror attacks, which is ironic when we consider the hypocrisy. One’s own faction’s terror attacks are a war against terror, thus not truly terror attacks. Landmass D has no monopoly on this attitude–it seems nearly universal. I defer to ‘Qorc’s greater consideration of that matter.”
“Philosopher ‘Qorc. How much of ‘Umaniti’s logic is this self-serving and situational?” asked ‘Plaf.
“Much of it, Ethnographer, but by no means all. Stripped of fancy paint and decoration, the dominant logic of ‘Umaniti seems to be that what helps one’s own faction is acceptable, and what thwarts one’s own faction is anathema. There is limited evidence that any of this species’ leaders believe their philosophies, to go by their actions. Theologies that ban all slaying, then condone slaying or invent excuses for it when they deem it advantageous. A pro-young-bearer philosophy, espousing greater freedom for young-bearers, casts out any young-bearer who exercises freedom in a way this philosophy dislikes. Several theologies that promote love, peace and tolerance fly into rages when two young-bearers, or two seed-bearers, mime the procreational act for physical or emotional pleasure–thus showing no love, peace or tolerance.”
Ethnographer ‘Plaf shut the display off. “Our research now has valid questions to explore. Doubtless more will arise, but let us keep our sensory apparati trained on them with greater interest:
1) How will we ever treat with ‘Umaniti, if their only ethic is to win for their faction, and an act has one value if done by them, and another if done unto them? Lr’uff’s data indicate that they jettison agreements as soon as they see advantage in doing so, and have done so since urbanization. Can there be agreements with ‘Umaniti, as we understand them?
2) While ‘Umaniti may technically be sentient, are they of rather low-grade sentience next to other species we have discovered? Is this obsession with polarizing events, to the detriment of issues with farther-reaching consequences, a universal trait, or not? What of their selective ethics and hypocrisies? They are intelligent enough to take seriously, but are they intelligent enough to let loose on the galaxy? Should we interdict them from interplanetary travel while we have the power to do so, as we were prepared to do yesterday when a lunatic faction launched a rocket that happily fell apart before we had to face a hasty decision?
3) I would like to know how this species has refrained from self-extinction. Khaul’s reports indicate that various ‘Umaniti factions stockpile enough destructive radiological, biological and chemical weaponry to reduce ‘Umaniti to an even more primitive state than it exists in now. If this sense of priorities proves typical, then why has not some emotional maniac begun a chain of destruction and reprisal that would ruin this world for thousands of revolutions around the star?”
4) My reading of your reports indicates that ‘Umaniti are obsessed with procreational acts, roles and even the sight of an uncovered ‘Umaniti form, to which we have alluded earlier. Why? Why can they just not perform their acts as they like, in whatever harmless form, without obsessing about how anyone else does so? Or can they, and we simply have not yet discerned it?
We know little. We have vast ignorance to repair. We can as yet conclude nothing, merely suppose. Before we recommend ‘Umaniti be confined to its world by armed force, let us obtain firmer bases in knowledge.”
The department heads arose, made gestures of respect and returned to their studies.