In an ordinary Midwestern suburb is an ordinary two-bedroom house containing an ordinary couple. One of them has a plate of chicken and green beans and the other is kneeling beside him with his hands tied behind his back, opening his mouth to receive a green bean.
Isabella presumably relays this request to Jackson, who about-faces on his way out of the room and comes back to hold the earbuds up to her ears and turn it on for her.
[We don't have limitations on what songs musicians are allowed to record...] says Isabella.
Well, gosh... that is some... music she hasn't heard before.
[Yes, I've been picking up that your world has much less in the way of globally supported institutions and useful coordinated practices than mine, despite the higher tech level. Don't worry, I won't try to fix it until I understand why things got to be that way in the first place, and what it has to do with the Eclipse affair - that being the most obvious background element that differs between your world and mine.]
[...I can see why you might want there to be a Department Of People Being From Other Planets but I have no inkling of what's desirable about limiting what music you can record.]
[Music can be nice to listen to. When you listen to it on a radio or recording just for the sound and music itself, you'd naturally want to buy it from the greatest professionals in the entire world, people who spend years practicing and then compete to produce the best songs and the best versions of songs. Music can also be nice to play among your friends. How nice it is to play among your friends depends on how much they appreciate it - really appreciate it, not just pretend to appreciate it to be polite. There's a potential collision where you can imagine somebody having already heard all the topnotch professionals having played incredibly good versions of the songs your friends are trying to play much more poorly. So there's a dividing line between complicated music that requires professionals and recording studios, and the music that one or four people can realistically successfully play together, which is then avoided by professionals and recording studios. If they did record it, a radio station wouldn't play it; and if a radio station did play it, people would obviously never listen to them again and their commercial sponsors would abandon them even before that. I could say that the sponsors would abandon them for fear of backlash, and that would be partially true, but also the sponsors are part of Civilization and wouldn't wantonly destroy a coordinated public good because they're good people.]
[I... have never heard anyone complain that their enjoyment of their church choir or singing in the shower or their piano lessons is diminished by the lack of, uh, grassroots censorship.]
[You wouldn't necessarily notice if you didn't have a base state to compare it to! I don't blame you for being suspicious of a proposal to reduce professional competition over anything, especially if you've never worked through the economiclogic of any similar proposals before. Every kid where I'm from grows up hearing a story about light-bulb manufacturers who want to avoid competition from the Sun, and come up with all kinds of clever arguments for why the Sun should be shut off so they won't have to face the competition. The key difference is that when you want light, it doesn't matter as much who you get it from - maybe there's a corner light-bulb seller with whom you have a warm relationship, but that relationship isn't intrinsic to the lightbulb or the light it sheds. So sometimes you need to accept that the current relationships of that kind will be broken, and different ones will form somewhere else, because that's how Civilization moves forward. But some friends getting together to play giant-kazoos are not about obtaining the good efficiently, they're about obtaining it together; and the way that people usually aren't paid for that, is one cue among several that maybe the pressures of competition should give it a rest. We've made a conscious decision not to be pushed out to the extremes of commercial efficiency everywhere. It's the same reason why we've decided not to manufacture superstimulus-foods at scale and offer elaborate fried-cookie-cake-ice-cream in every corner shop. You don't want to feed people as much of it as possible as cheaply as possible; you want it to be something that the grandmother-faction on your block makes a batch of every few days and gives away for free. I'm sure Civilization could get along without any one of those customs, but it would be a colder darker place without any of them. I don't know now, of course, because it's part of the causally-screened-off past; but I expect that the very first person who ever invented Economics probably also started thinking about how to not turn their society into a hyper-efficient economical dystopia - how to preserve some warmth in the face of the global-scale competitive pressures their theory implied.]
[You have grandmother factions?? What do you mean screened-off past?]
[Oh, uh, I probably shouldn't have said that. Infohazard stuff. Maybe your version of Civilization never ran into an analogous infohazard but I should talk about that with a Keeper of Harmful Truths.] [But on a more cheerful note, I just mean the faction of Civilization composed of grandmothers who, are... like... ordinary grandmothers forming an ordinary faction so they can invest some of their philanthropy and voting power in grandmotherly interests? How does your society make sure that nobody is just ignoring the interests of grandmothers?]
[They can vote. Uh, we don't have a job capacity that obviously maps onto 'keeper of harmful truths'.]
[Figures. I'll ask later about how one could reasonably have all grandmothers voting directly, I mean, they can't reasonably be expected to all keep track of all the grandmother-related issues facing Civilization. How bad does it actually get with nobody keeping any infohazards under control? I'm not asking you to tell me about the infohazards, obviously, I want to know what's liable to happen to me if I go onto your Planetary Network with nobody... filtering for me? Do you have professionals that do that? It sounds way more expensive but your society obviously lacks the coordination to just keep them off the Network.]
[It's called the Internet and people just, uh, go on it and look for what they want, unless they want to be one of those weird computer illiterate old people who phone a librarian every time they want to know the definition of a word or something. You might run into porn by accident but not, like, a Langford basilisk, we don't have those.]
[I... had the impression from the way our society is structured and how much effort we put into that type of thing that worse things ought to happen if there's no infohazard control. Maybe your society generates less of them or maybe it's more of a fat-tailed-risk] or maybe this whole world is a dream or fiction or something else that doesn't have to hang together perfectly the same way as physics. ['Porn' is... what, top-class professionals drawn from the most attractive people on your planet working with the greatest writers and the leading research psychologists in order to put together the most attractive possible sexual stimuli for maximum commercial sales, and never mind what that does to people when they go back and try to have sex with a real person? Uh - I'm sorry, I realize it isn't your responsibility to answer that and I'm not trying to make you answer for your society and I know you wouldn't see me as having any right to vote on it yet. It's just - this wasn't a very good day for me even before I arrived in an alternate dimension. I'm sure your world has all kinds of redeeming features and is much better than mine at all sorts of things.]
[Most of the most attractive people on the planet do not want to work in porn, the writing is actually notoriously terrible, they don't hire psychologists, and substantial amounts of porn can be had for free though I assume at some point most of the involved producers expect a paycheck. I don't think it's a leading cause of relationship problems except if somebody in the relationship subscribes to a religion that thinks porn is morally wrong. Uh, is there anything else you want me to tell Jackson to get you to help you acclimate over there?]
Maybe if your civilization is too uncoordinated to avoid putting porn on the planetary network, you're also bad enough at making porn that the obvious sequelae don't happen - it sounds like the makers can't get paid? Right, because uncoordinating people just take non-excludable goods instead of paying patentgratuities on them. That goes some way towards explaining the bizarre absence of public goods around here.
[Sorry, let me think if there's anything else I need... well, either something I can wrap around myself for clothing, or some way of doing laundry before I go to the airport. Expectations about how I'll be woken up tomorrow, in case the standard way of doing that is dumping a bucket of water on me in bed. Bedtime-mouthwash if that's a thing here. And I'm not sure how I square up in attractiveness to your society's average, especially if you're higher-tech, and I'm old enough that I don't really have to anymore, but if somebody does have a spare faceblanding kit... wait, what am I thinking, if your society has porn on the Network you wouldn't have created any customs against walking around naked in the streets either. Nevermind. Mouthwash, wakeup expectations, laundry mechanism or clothing. I'd rather not show myself uncovered, even if there's no custom against it, and at least the men were wearing clothes.]
[I didn't get a good sense from the picture of whether you'll fit into Jackson's or his dom's stuff but they presumably have some kind of laundry solution. It is not standard to dump buckets of water on people; I'm in an earlier time zone than they are, so I can yell in your head till you wake up if you like, or they may have an alarm clock handy, but also your flight isn't until noon so you don't need to be up that early. They might have mouthwash though I don't know that there exists mouthwash specifically formulated for bedtime in particular if you're expecting something really narrowly defined there. Do not walk naked in the streets, wear clothes in front of people unless you are going to have sex with them, but I don't know what a faceblanding kit is.]
[Doesn't matter, it sounds like. I apply black pigment around my eyes to make my face look slightly less human and more tired and less pretty, in order to preserve a coordinated public good that it doesn't sound like your civilization cares about. There's no point in my trying to preserve that good on my own, since it's fragile against even a few defectors - so never mind, I guess? And I definitely won't walk naked in the streets if your society does coordinate against that.] She's sure not going to trash whatever tiny little scraps of coordinated good this society has managed to create for itself. [Out of curiosity, though, does your society have any great number of people who feel awfully out of place, like other people are doing much better than them and there's no hope for themselves, like lots of exciting things are happening elsewhere but never to them, who can't find any mate who turns them on despite there being many other members of the opposite sex who also can't find a mate who turns them on? Because if none of that is happening, either the lunar eclipse thing has further consequences I haven't foreseen, or this world is out of equilibrium for other reasons,] like this whole experience just being an internally incoherent post-death generalized dream, [or possibly my society was just wrong about what would happen if people blindly followed their local impulses of profit-seeking and pleasure-seeking in an uncoordinated unforesightful fashion. Not asking for an extended explanation if you're busy, maybe just... on a scale of 1 to 12, how true did that grim prediction ring?]
[I'm actually not busy at all today because I'm in the hospital waiting for the decent healing mage to be freed up from more life-threatening cases. Uh, I don't think most people are picky about their mates being the opposite sex, but apart from that, sure, some people are unsuccessful in various ways and depressed about it, it just doesn't actually seem to me like anything you've described would prevent people from being unsuccessful and depressed about it. Let alone prevent them from being depressed for other reasons.]
"You're in the hospital? Are you okay?" Thellim does not ask.
"Around 5% of our population goes to a Quiet City and only a quarter of those still end up unhappy enough to retire to cryonic suspension," Thellim does not argue back, "and if the connection between our carefully designed systemic properties and that number were obvious to your version of Civilization, it would have already fixed its problems."
She's just heard something much more attention-grabbing than that.
[I... I'm sorry. I'm starting to think that I might have traveled MUCH further between worlds, to a much stranger place, than I realized,] and I'm having to spend more of my effort on not just deciding this is a dream and trying to wake up. [Where I come from, entire species, in general, including the human species, have their shapes and forms encoded by genetic information in tiny DNA strands. The content of these DNA strands was shaped entirely by a multi-hundred-million-year process in which copying errors over the genetic information would occasionally give rise to variant sections of information, genes, that produced organisms that replicated and reproduced faster than others. In the human species, reproduction occurs when a male penis emits lots of tiny DNA-carrying cells into a female vagina, one of which combines with a larger cell from the woman, each of which carries half the genetic information to form the child. I can talk later about why the female doesn't just use all of her own genetic information to construct the child, if that part seems counterintuitive; or our tentative theory about why there would be differentiated men and women, instead of just women sharing genetic information with each other, though I agree that it otherwise sounds like a hole in the theory and we probably wouldn't have predicted it a priori either. On our world's view of things, it doesn't make sense to talk about any particular part of an organism being specially for reproduction, like the genitals; hands are equally organs made for reproduction, they're for using tools to get the resources needed to feed babies. People on my world care about finding opposite-sex mates and having children with them because it's literally the only thing that every cell in their bodies is designed to do, and if that's not true here then even though the people are shaped like me and even though the houses look like houses in my world, I don't understand any of the forces that this world is an equilibrium of, and people turn into psions or mages at a lunar eclipse and need to not eat any food with calories but it apparently doesn't matter if there's reserves in their liver keeping their blood sugar up and I, I, I'm sorry, I won't have a breakdown now because it won't be useful but I need a lot of native textbooks and I need to be able to read them. I'll take out a loan if that's what's required to get the language faster. I don't know where I am inside reality anymore. The part where there was gravity and breathable atmosphere fooled me.]
[I appreciate that you are trying to make fewer assumptions but I did not actually need Evolution 101, we have that here, it just doesn't... make everyone monosexual, any more than it prevents, uh, dogs trying to mate with furniture, say, or... the entire concept of masturbation. Historically people tended to assume women were all subs and men were all doms strongly enough that most people paired up in opposite-sex pairs with the occasional oddball who couldn't make it work but now we don't, so people like Jackson and his dom can pair off and it's fine. I'm not actually sure you can get a loan because you don't have, like, a legal existence, but I did actually find a language installation psion who lives in Sweden but can work remotely and will work for payment in kind from me.]
[You're using a number of words that my planet doesn't have and which don't explain why - the evolutionary equilibrium - I know one female-female couple, I set them up with a book series they really liked, they were rich enough to get in the highest bid on adopting an orphan, but from an evolutionary standpoint that's not the same as - I'm sorry, I just ended up in a different world and I feel like I'm trying to understand too much, too fast, I'd probably feel much more enthusiastic if I'd got here by spaceship as part of a formal science-inquisition but the way I got here was by being in a plane crash and thinking I was going to die forever no cryonic suspension and then just being here instead. I think I need to not think about this a little, maybe sleep if I can. Is this conversation something that can continue while I do things like shower and go the bathroom, or do you get unpleasant side-channel telepathic info when I do that? And - do you have any questions about my world? I can answer those without having to think as hard. You've been so nice to me and I haven't been nearly grateful enough about that, unless this whole conversation is putting me deeper and deeper into formal or informal debt in which case I really need to know.]
[I do not get unpleasant side-channel telepathic info and am not particularly considering you as accumulating debt. Does which words you don't know count as something about your world?]
[The first word you said that didn't translate at all, a while ago, was 'Twitter', but I... might not want to hear it described right now in case it's some kind of enormous incomprehensible bizarre thing that drives people from my dimension mad unless we think about it very cautiously. You mentioned 'Langford basilisk' in the context of infohazards which implies I might never want to hear about it at all. Most recently 'sub' and 'dom' and 'Sweden' but it sounded like Sweden was just a region-a-faction-gathers-to.]
[Uh, subs and doms are roles - subs like being bossed around, doms like bossing them?]
[We've also got employers and employees on our world, yeah. I'm not sure why anyone would think that was male-female correlated, but whatever belief your world had about that, it sounds like your world got past it already.]
[...not in a professional context, just in general.]