The Real Story of the Cathars
We are living in a politically stable time.
Although there are changes of government, these are always between 'centre' parties where the only significant difference lies in the ebb and flow of public opinion between greater market freedom and greater interventionism and social control.
This stability has furthered scientific progress, a happy co-operation between pure science (broadly funded by the public) and technology (mainly sponsored by business). Outstanding examples of the former are those recent breakthroughs in cosmology and fundamental 'theories of everything'. Examples of the latter include dramatic developments in parallel processing, bio and quantum computing.
The outstanding example of their co-operation has been the Cosmos Project, where sufficient computing power is at last available for the physicists to model the quantum and physical processes involved in the creation of a universe similar to ours, demonstrating once and for all the universality of their theories. What's more, they have been able to search the emerging structure to identify that this virtual universe does indeed contain solar systems and planets like ours, manifesting similar geological and physical processes.
Not all sciences are faring so well, however. Major advances in genetic science have lead to a public backlash, and a lengthy swing away from market forces towards a more socialist regulatory framework. Biotechnology is bristling with exciting possibilities but strict governmental and legal controls have been blocking further empirical research.
That explains why there is suddenly so much extra money available for the Cosmos Project - for it has now been agreed to seed an earth-like planet with DNA similar to the earliest forms of life on our own planet. Not only should this provide a virtual biosphere for evolutionists to test their theories, but it raises the liberating possibility of practicing genetic engineering in a totally contained virtual reality with absolutely no risk of contaminating the real world.
The fact that leading biotech companies were keen to sponsor the venture was hardly surprising. What did cause a stir was the very generous donation made by our leading movie mogul, Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr.
Public attitudes to genetic engineering have indeed begun to soften, now that experimentation can take place in complete safety. What is more, radical new cures for fatal diseases and new, drought resistant food crops are already in the pipeline.
Prosperity is on the increase, there is greater faith in commercial ethics, and the public look very likely to vote for 'minimal' government in the next election. Except for one small problem - the hominids.
Evolution in the Cosmos Project has now lead to hairless apes with distinctly human characteristics, and this is fuelling a new public debate on science and ethics. Should the Project be allowed to continue? What is the status of an intelligent humanoid life-form within a virtual universe? Is it truly self conscious or just a machine? Would it possess rights in our real world, and what would be its legal status?
The simple answer might seem to be to pull the plug on the Project - it has certainly repaid the initial investment several times over. Unfortunately, however, the public interest has been so great that many consider the virtual 'Earth' to be a meaningful ecological system. So that stopping the project would amount to an unacceptable destruction of an entire and unique biosphere.
For many members of the public it isn't even permissable to selectively prune this biosphere - for example by destroying the hominid population in order to block the evolution of virtual humanity. The Project must go on - but somehow remain under careful control.
Government advisers recognise that the project cannot continue indefinitely. It will, however, take years for their spin doctors to bring public opinion round to an acceptable termination. Meanwhile the immediate ethical crisis must be contained - and Dr Michael Eden has been put in charge of the situation.
The Garden of Eden
Dr Eden proposes to create a sealed reservation on the virtual Earth (which promptly earned the nickname 'Eden's Garden') where hominid evolution could continue but under carefully monitored and controlled conditions, while being blocked elsewhere.
Perhaps surprisingly, Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr has just donated a large amount of money to this Eden Project.
The public are satisfied, a socialist government returned to power, and Dr Eden now has a small population of something just a step away from homo sapiens under his care.
But can we allow evolution to proceed? What is the legal and ethical status of any resulting human species? Will it ever be possible to terminate this extremely expensive project once it is peopled by recognisably intelligent and lovable life forms? But how can it be stopped before it has provided evidence to support the greatest miracles of evolution, namely the emergence of human intelligence, language, social structure and self awareness?
Dr Eden has decided on an uneasy compromise - to breed selectively and allow just two humans to evolve, but not to breed further generations. In order to permit the most intimate exploration of the psychology of these proto-humans - and at the same time to provide them with a certain measure of legal standing in the real world - their minds will be linked to those of two specially trained researchers.
As explained in detail in Ramsey Dukes' book 'Words Made Flesh', these researchers cannot simply take over the bodies of the virtual humans with their own consciousness, as that would completely invalidate the scientific observation of their behaviour. Instead the relationship between the two virtual people (now named Adam and Eve) and the researchers will be closer to that between horse and rider.
In effect, Adam and Eve will be fully autonomous thinking beings in their world, but will each possess an inner 'guardian angel' or 'higher self' which will be the mind of the respective researcher. And it is this guardianship role which allows them a certain legal status in the real world - a status that still has to be formalised but which lies somewhere between that of a child and a licensed pet.
So successful is this approach that Dr Eden has now been nominated for a Nobel prize. Through the eyes of Adam and Eve, enormous advances are being made not only in the fields of evolution and human psychology, but also in the taxonomy of species.
How ironic that so much honour is falling on the shoulders of a quiet unassuming figure like Dr Eden, while the notoriously brash and self promoting Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr seems happy to remain quietly out of the limelight, despite his now considerable investment and support for the project!
Temptation and Fall
Actually Vaughan-Hoover has been quite busy in his own way. He is currently wining and dining one of the top young government programmers working on the Cosmos Project and presenting an offer that is very hard to refuse.
"Let's face it, you earn peanuts! A man of your talent, your genius should not be postponing marriage on mere financial grounds."
A large sum of money is offered in return for something really rather naughty and utterly forbidden - Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr wants to enter the Cosmos Project and make a very small and surely harmless little intervention in its virtual reality. To simplify what could be a very costly programming job he modestly agrees to enter not in angelic or even animal splendour but in the minimalist body of a serpent - but one adapted to speak human language.
Eve turns, startled, and sees the snake. She does not know enough to be more than a little surprised that a snake is able to talk. So it invites her over to its tree, and her curiosity completely obscures the uneasiness being felt by her Higher Self.
The snake pulls back the tree bark and reveals something she has never before seen - though we would instantly recognise the shape of a sophisticated computer workstation. Her Higher Self is screaming for attention, because it knows that this interface was only installed as a safety precaution for the researchers' own use in case of unforseen emergency - and Eve is supposed to remain utterly unconscious of its existence and role.
The screen shows a picture of an apple with a bite taken out - Eve recoils, as her Higher Self grabs just enough attention to make her cry "No! I am not allowed to touch the Apple!".
"Pity" says the snake, "Apple were chosen for this project specifically for their comparatively fool-proof multimedia software interface. But don't worry my dear, there's no need to touch anything! Your iris has been scanned for authentication so, as long as you just stand there, I can do all the necessary. Do you recognise who this is?"
Eve stared in puzzlement at the image of herself - something she had never before seen. She is surprised and fascinated to be told it is her, and she dances a little before the screen to see her every gesture mirrored in that image.
"OK! OK!" says the snake, "You've had your fun. Now watch carefully what I do. One tap on the screen and... see this little control panel appears? You can't read what it says - you haven't learnt what these symbols mean - but don't worry, all you need to know is what happens when you tap this red blob at the top right. See, the writing has changed - it now says "PUBERTY ACTIVATED" but no need to worry your pretty head with what that means. All I ask is this... How do you feel now I've done that?"
Eve is entranced. Breathing heavily she runs her hands over her body, caressing her skin and purring. "I feel... Different. I feel GREAT!". Her Higher Self is meanwhile going berserk, but what chance of steering its runaway steed away to safe pastures now!
Snake taps the screen again to reveal an image that Eve does recognise... "Hey! That's Adam!" she cries in delight.
"It is indeed. But tell me, how do you now feel about him?"
Eve licks her lips suggestively, her nostrils flare and her pupils dilate as she says "I can't describe it. I feel really ... Different."
Snake replies "How would you like it if Adam felt about you the same way you now feel about him?"
Eve is wild about the idea, and Snake is quick to remind her how easily it can be done - just bring Adam to the Apple so his iris can be scanned, then one tap to reveal the control panel, one tap to activate puberty and ... Voila! The rest is pre-history!
Eve's Higher Self tries desperately to connect with Adam's Higher Self to avert disaster, but in vain. All they succeed in doing is make Adam and Eve feel rather naughty, and that, alas, simply increases the overwhelming sense of fun that the couple are now enjoying.
Nor can they get away with it. It turns out that these carefully engineered proto human bodies are indeed fertile. It's another scientific breakthrough, but one that means that Eve is soon pregnant and there is an awful lot of explaining to do.
Crisis - Dr Eden is sacking his two researchers.
Eve's Higher Self claims that a snake talked to Eve. As far as Dr Eden is concerned, this is certain proof that she is lying - because no snake in the virtual world (just like in the real world) has developed suitable vocal chords.
Soon a virtual human child will be born and it too must be provided with a 'Higher Self' (Dr Eden, as a rationalist, hates this terminology - but it has caught on) - only Dr Eden's limited budget simply cannot afford the costs entailed in employing and training more staff for the role. For who knows how many future progeny will need to be cared for now the floodgates have been opened?It was one thing controlling the breeding of a species defined as sub-human, but now we have real problems.
Considering the enormous investment made by Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr, you might have expected him to be furious, instead he shows remarkable understanding. He is positively supportive. The tide is again turning and the public mood is once more growing favourable towards privatisation. But that is not what Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr wants (he insists), all he wants is to offer the best possible support.
So he holds a press conference that is destined to sway the course of public opinion. In it he argues that this whole predicament demonstrates the poverty of left-wing government thinking. "Here they are, holding back the most significant scientific project in the whole world, while they try to decide just how much of the taxpayers' money - your money - they can afford to spend on monitoring another virtual human." Then he drops his bombshell: "instead of costing money, this project could be making money! I know at least twenty very rich people who would pay a fortune for the privilege of entering Project Cosmos!"
And that is how the government finally lost its control of the project to the newly formed Jahwe Corp. The sons and daughters of Adam and Eve need never be aborted for lack of a guardian angel - rich people were already queuing up for the experience. A 'human' lifetime in virtual reality amounted to a few weeks holiday in a virgin world - and what a world! What a holiday!
No wonder that Jahwe instructed the children of Adam to "go forth and multiply".
The more virtual humans being born, the more income is generated and the greater economy of scale. The cost of a holiday on CyberEarth is tumbling and reaching a wider and less sophisticated public.
The government, however, still has enough influence to challenge Jahwe Corp's monopoly, and Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr's empire is being split into several competing companies as more and more start-up ventures entering this lucrative field.
Advertisements scream "ice age coming to an end! Massive population explosion already under way! Check our bargain holiday prices now!" Some of the more sophisticated art-houses offer cultural fare: "thrill to the birth of neolithic cave-art!", but the general trend is down market: "Iron age coming soon! Better weapons! Bigger battles! More slaughter! Book now or miss the action in this fabulous block-buster experience!".
It is not that commercial interests have gained real control of CyberEarth - it is still just as strictly non-interventionist as ever, the virtual humans still enjoy complete freedom of will.
What has happened is that creative directors are learning how to infect the world with mental viruses or memes. Abstract notions like Empire, Conquest, God, Justice etc can be fed into the virtual population via the promptings of their "Higher Selves".
So, with enough marketing resources at his disposal, any sufficiently creative director has a significant chance of converting some minor tribe into a new religious impulse, or a major cultural influence, or a new empire builder. Premium prices will then be charged for 'incarnation' into this exciting new milieu. Yet the public still cry out for more.
Prophets Against Profits
The tide however, could be turning. There is increasing public unease about the psychological effects of holidaying in a primitive cyber-world. Is it really just emotional catharsis? A chance to learn bigger, tougher lessons than can be provided by a highly socialised and regulated culture? Or are we dragging our own population back into greedy primitivism? Corrupting our children with experiences from which our whole social fabric has been engineered to protect them?
So public health warnings now have to be provided. A system of classification is cobbled together. Posters read "Discover Greece - the Hellenic empire offers a fabulous cultural and philosophic experience. Certificate PG - contains some violence, major nudity and an absolutely terrible language." Another: "Thrill to the Roman Empire - contains considerable violence, little nudity, but major decadence. Not suitable for unaccompanied children" and so on.
Meanwhile the entire business is sitting on an unexploded bomb. A slow running public enquiry into the Fall has lead to clear evidence of intervention, and the evidence points to the very founding father of the industry, Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr.
Indeed, it now emerges that the entire glamour world of cyberholiday escapism is apparently rotten to the core, owing its existence to a single criminal act by JHVH Jr. The voice of public morality is rising and threatening the very foundations of our number one economic driver.
When, they ask, is intervention in a virtual reality not a criminal act?
Only when it is undertaken for purely altruistic ends by a democratically elected body and in such a way that it does not in any way restrict the free running of the software - ie the experience of virtual 'free will'.
A New Testament
So it is decided to fund a programme of avatars - worthy elected individuals with no commercial interest who will incarnate fully into the virtual world (rather than simply mounting a virtual human for a lifetime). Their mission is to establish themselves as wise teachers and explain the illusionary nature of their reality - while preaching greater toleration, love and peace.
From a commercial viewpoint, this programme has a definite niche appeal to a few idealists, utopians and moral fundamentalists. But it spells disaster for a mass market that seeks the thrills and crises of a virtual reality to provide all that is missing in their everyday life.
Under the present glare of publicity, there is little chance of direct counter-intervention by the big corporations, but there are ways and means of adding spin to any message. One small creative team, Saul City Productions, is already transforming the Christian message from "love thy neighbour for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" into "do not tolerate those who would resist this holy law".
For a few virtual centuries Saul City, its subsidiaries and strategic allies vie with the Goth Empire, Attilla, and other production houses for market dominance. But thanks to the creative genius of leading concept designer Cathy o' Licke, it is the Pauline version of Christianity that is coming out on top in CyberEurope - the most lucrative prime real estate incarnatory region of CyberEarth.
The Cathar Rebellion
Cathar Holidays is the opposition's last serious contender. Yet it has no public funding and meets nothing but opposition from the major corporations.
Cathar Holidays was created as a co-operative by a group of concerned parents, and it is to grow to a short-lived but significant public movement. It attracts a public who voted for, and freely contributed to, the governments's Christian Mission to CyberEarth, but who resent the way the Christ's message is being corrupted and turned into yet another mechanism for injecting violence, hatred and intolerance into CyberEarth.
Cathar Holidays encourages its members to incarnate into a particular culturally fertile region of CyberFrance, creating a critical mass of like-minded Higher Selves to resist the combined pressure of corrupting memes and innate animal instincts. They form communities to preach something closer to the original Christian message, to explain insofar as possible to a primitive culture that their world is an illusion based upon binary logic and driven by dualistic polarities injected to serve commercial exploitation but doing nothing for CyberEarth itself, nor the souls that incarnate into it. Far from "going forth to multiply" in order to create more seats in this Colliseum of Corruption, we should deny procreation, strive to reduce numbers and starve the devil of his souls.
It is a brave movement, but it fails to counter the very first lesson demonstrated by Joseph H. Vaughan-Hoover Jr - namely that "sex sells". The humiliation of their defeat is underlined by the fact that The Simon de Montforte anti-Cathar Campaign has become the number one bestseller of all time and has already spawned a wave of imitations - Crusade, Crusade 2, with Crusade 3 to be launched this Summer.
Project Cosmos - A Review
The cybervacation concept has become so fundamental to our way of life, that it is easy to forget its history, origins and original aims.
With 97% of the population taking regular family or singles breaks on CyberEarth, with our real-world press and broadcast media seemingly dominated by stories and themes from this artificial world, it is hard to believe that it was started not so long ago as a government-funded scientific experiment designed to increase understanding of our own real world.
And yet, despite the objections of small but vocal moral minority, it still represents much more than pure vicarious escapism.
It is easy to project the picture of a bloodthirsty sensation seeking public - queuing up for a life in some war-zone, decadent society or culture of intolerance - but when you speak to actual individuals, a different picture is equally present.
My neighbour was aghast when he discovered that his daughter (who was supposed to be going on a school outing to live the life of a devoted servant in the stable and serene environment of a CyberTibetan monastery) had actually played truant and lived thirty virtual years as a prostitute, thief and murderess in the docks of18th century CyberMarseilles. But when I spoke to his daughter she told me that she loved the really tough incarnations for the very lessons of hardship and raw emotion they contained. "Daddy just doesn't want me to grow up!" was her claim, and that she only passed her sociology finals on the strength of what she had learnt during that one heart-rending holiday.
Indeed, the Project is still very much a child of our times - a virtual battlefield on which the same old war between control and freedom is being played out.
On the one hand the forces of market freedom - the apparent right to let the economy decide for itself, to provide the public with whatever it is prepared to pay for. On the other hand there are the forces of social responsibility - the apparent need to regulate and enforce whatever the public is prepared to vote for.
Yet it also reflects the innate paradox of these polar viewpoints - that the so called 'authoritarianism' of the government is actually an attempt to preserve the cyberworld's own freedom to develop true to its programming, and therefore to continue to deliver valid, uncontaminated experimental data. While the "freedom" of the market in effect only delivers the freedom for the biggest players to control the game itself.
For these mighty corporations CyberEarth plays the role of a hunting ground - they may not be able nor even desire to control it directly, but they can encourage prolific breeding of the game. And they can incarnate souls with strong 'higher' convictions, religious or philosophical beliefs, that will serve as 'beaters' to drive the game towards their blazing profit guns.
The Greening of CyberEarth
Is Project Cosmos, then, destined to continue in its current role as a battlefield for what must seem to its virtual inhabitants a sort of 'spiritual' struggle between pairs of opposing forces?
There are certainly overwhelming commercial pressures to maintain this state of affairs, but is it equally the will of our people?
A new grassroots movement is emerging which could provide a challenge to this status quo, or it could simply pass - just one more wavelet on the swell of public opinion between social control and market forces. The movement's keynote is 'sustainability'.
Instead of regarding the CyberEarth as a passive human construction - ever dependent upon our decisions whether to increase regulation or allow further exploitation - the sustainability movement argues that Project Cosmos has evolved a level of complexity and sophistication that is putting it beyond our ability to predict and regulate. As such, the movement has its roots in that early public belief that Project Cosmos was a valid ecological environment in its own right.
They also argue that, although chaotic in its complexity, the CyberEarth is a finite, bounded entity that is approaching the limits of its resources for exploitation by a voracious, unregulated entertainments industry.
Consider the success of WW Productions. Both World War 1 and World War 2 are sell-out block buster successes and there has been enormous public pressure for an early exploitation launch of World War 3. But even WW Productions itself has been holding back, because it recognises the inherent risk of the WW3 project - it could lead to so much flesh-deletion that the whole mass holiday market would be destroyed in one blockbuster finale. WW3 might even totally sterilise CyberEarth and return project Cosmos to its original role as a physical sciences experiment.
The sustainability movement also draws attention to the evolving sophistication of the actual virtual vehicles for incarnation - it points out that CyberEarth is now feeding back more than just public recreation, more than just scientific knowledge of evolution and physical systems. For CyberEarth has an increasing cultural impact too on the real world. Pieces by virtual composers - Mozart, Beethoven, Stockhausen to name recent examples - have already had hits in the real top 20. James Joyce is the first cyberauthor to have his works selected for the official school curriculum - admittedly only for the primary school course, but it marks a beginning. Our leading atomic physicist, Professor Kylie Minogue, has admitted in private to having been lead to some of her Nobel Prize-winning ideas by considering the speculations of such virtual scientists as Heisenberg, Einstein and Plancke.
Indeed, they argue, it is surely time to liberate the population of CyberEarth from 'guardianship' and allow them to direct their own lives - free from the often dubious and exploitative promptings of a Higher Self.
Let this ecological system discover its own 'natural' checks and balances, find its own sustainable dance of equilibrium, without being constantly injected with dualistic notions designed by commercial corporations to stir up excitement and deliver ever more lucrative 'bums on seats' for the holiday trade.
It would indeed be a blow to the holiday industry, but it need not be a death blow. There would be nothing to stop a liberated virtual population from choosing to invoke Higher Selves - offering holiday places on a more equal partnership basis rather than having them enforced at birth.
In place of roadside posters offering the thrills of The Holocaust, Killing Fields or Al Quaeda, we could have pages of personal ads on the lines of "Caring cyberfather seeks guardian angels to give meaning to the lives for his two adventurous youngsters genetically biassed towards the likelihood of drug addiction", or "clone trio seeks triplet Higher Selves for mutual exploration and spiritual growth - as well as loads of fun! Long contract - program permitting."
So how can this frail new movement gain psychic territory on CyberEarth?
The main channel of communication between reality and CyberEarth has so far been religion - together with its derivatives, politics, academia and the media.
Amongst the movement's supporters are members of the public with nostalgic memories of their incarnations as as Cathars, and many of them would like to see a new religious movement reflecting the sustainability ethos. But it is generally recognised that both religion and politics have too long a history as channels for commercially advantageous schisms and hatreds for it to provide a credible medium.
Academia is a well established niche holiday venue for a certain class of Radio 4 listeners who seek educational holidays. Academia was originally established as a sideline in a number of monasteries and other religious establishments to provide continued growth in the face of increasing rationalist inroads into religious credibility. As a means of propagating new ideas it is handicapped by its elevation of style over content - 'academic style' being the entry ticket to a hierarchy only scalable by a reduction of substance towards the ultimate dream of a life dedicated to one perfectly styled dissertation on nothingness.
Alas for sustainability, the first bit of ballast to be thrown out in any such a hot air ascent is 'the solution'. The survival strategy of academia is to create ever more problems for other academics - so any solution would sound a death knell. While Fermat is still lauded for his famous Last Theorem, no-one can recall the person who recently disgraced himself by delivering a solution.
So if the movement is to propagate its solutions it must look beyond academia.
The media is a more recent invention, with a louder voice, but it is still firmly under the control of its parent company NaziCorp.
The idea that such diverse channels as newspapers, literature, advertising cinema, radio and television could present a united voice (media as a singular noun) in support of some ideology, opinion or message was first successfully channelled by a member of the original Totalitarian Team (and co-founder of NaziCorp) most famous for his award-winning incarnation as Hitler's propagandist Goebbels. So successful was this role that today's media continues to serve primarily as a tool for exerting temporal power - although it has diversified to the point that it is almost meaningful to talk about, for example, the "left wing media".
Whereas academia's success is built upon the herd-desire for authority, the media has established its position by substituting itself for human interaction. The media propagates a sense of fear in the population which causes people to retreat into private places where their only contact with the outside world is via the media, so their only human contact is through the media and is therefore coloured in such a way as to reinforce that need to rely on the media. Virtual humans fear to let their children out onto the street because of television programmes on street violence, so they are forced to watch television until they no longer want to go out. And the content of programmes become ever more focussed on personality, because that is what isolation most denies.
As such, the media is hardly likely to sell its services to a movement clearly intent upon reducing its scope and influence. Not that the media does not provide a lot of free services to charity - witness its work for the homeless, for starving populations and its campaign against child abuse - but such work is strictly undertaken in such a manner as to emphasise and exaggerate divisions in society, in order to further the fortunes of its parent NaziCorp. Thus a campaign for child safety becomes a campaign against paedophilia and so on.
The future of sustainability is still being debated - the main problems being propagation and implementation.
Meanwhile a pilot project is under way. Ramses Deux is currently incarnated as guardian spirit to an English mathematician and has inspired a number of trial book projects.
In "SSOTBME" the denizens of Cyberearth are challenged to change their way of looking at their world.
In another book, "Thundersqueak", the arguments include a revelation that the real tyrants on CyberEarth are not any virtual humans, but rather the ideologies, fashions, beliefs and crazes that infect them.
In another, "Words Made Flesh", the neo-Cathar revelation that CyberEarth is a virtual reality ridden by spirits from 'other dimensions' is explored.
And in another, "The Good The Bad The Funny", a solution to the tyrannies of dualism is proposed. For a universe built upon binary logic is surely not a binary universe, for it admits not two but three fundamentals: zero, one and placing. It is not the number of zeros, or of ones in a program that matter, so much as their sequence.
If the upright pentagram was the symbol of the Cathars, then the averse pentagram could be the symbol of these neo-Cathars. For the movement aims to bring the liberating spirit of the divine trinity down into Jahwe's own kingdom and allow the dualistic battle between market forces and social control to return back to its origins in Heaven.
We have long exploited CyberEarth for our own enjoyment, learning and growth, and now we must step back and let it think for itself. As predicted by the last Cathar to die on CyberEarth in AD 1321, seven hundred years will pass then it is time for the laurel to sprout once more.
Cyber Earth! Know thyself! Be thyself! And learn now to enjoy thyself!