Anon.: The Financial System – Notes from the Future

The curious document reproduced below was recently leaked from the Centre for Future Studies, University of Wareva. It is believed to be a translation from the Neo-Sogdian, and has been tentatively dated to the forty-second century A.D, or seventeenth of the Post Miraculo era. Dates are given according to this (Miraculum) calendar; their equivalents in our era are supplied between square brackets.

Strange Revelations of Fifth-Century Life

Experts from the Institute of Cyberarchaeology, New Harmony, have succeeded in decoding long-unreadable digital records surviving from Planet Earth in the fifth century Ante Miraculo [twenty-first A.D.], which shed new light on the life of that remote period of the past. Dr Psippa Nerenti, a researcher from the team, explains: ‘We are beginning to uncover evidence of a quite remarkable and unsuspected dimension of late sixth and early fifth-century [twentieth and twenty-first century] Terrestrial civilization.

‘The humans of that time appear to have constructed a vast system of electronic connections and data-patterns, to which they granted quite extraordinary status and power. At its heart were the computerized algorithms we are currently deciphering, which seem to amount to a sort of abstract art: works of great formal beauty, yet almost entirely detached from the material and spiritual life of the planet’s then inhabitants. Some of the finest intellectual workers and the most sophisticated technologies of the age must have been dedicated entirely to its service. Associated with the core of abstract algorithmic patterns was a whole network of institutions extending into almost all inhabited areas of the Earth. Both the patterns and the network were known to the Terrestrians by the common name of ‘Finance’.

‘Its purpose remains a mystery; our researchers are frankly baffled on that point. Its closest affinities appear to be with earlier forms of art and highly organised religion: the combination of abstract aesthetic-intellectual production with widespread institutional and social controls. It was, however, considered quite separate from the older, residual forms of art and religion that then existed. Indeed, it seems to have incorporated them into its calculations as indifferently as any other element of the civilization. Its mode of operation, from what we have uncovered of it, seems to have had odd similarities to earlier forms of sport or gambling: the matching of one set of powerful computerized equations against another, in a perpetual and ritualized contest.’

How exactly did it attain this level of power over the human societies of the time? Dr Nerenti summarised the current thinking on this. ‘Records from the earlier periods, in the seventh and sixth [nineteenth and twentieth] centuries, are somewhat scanty,’ she pointed out. ‘From what we can find it appears to have had its origins in the commercial or ‘capitalist’ system that was so influential in that late stage of the Third Era. It retained – this is one of its oddest features – a vocabulary derived from the earlier stages of the commercial system: ‘markets’, ‘trading’, and so forth, concepts well known to our colleagues working on the eleventh to sixth centuries A.M. [fifteenth to twentieth A.D.]. In the period of which we have most evidence, the early fifth [twenty-first] century, it seems to have still operated through institutions surviving from the commercial period, but there is some data suggesting that in a later phase it discarded these. Even in the late sixth [twentieth] century, however, the ‘Financial’ system seems to have been progressively moving beyond its earlier subordinate function of servicing the actual operations of commerce (which of course continued through this phase of Third Era civilization). Increasingly these operations, which had once had a practical basis, were being almost entirely subordinated to the arbitrary demands and values generated by the ‘financial markets’. The basis of this seems to have been the growth of early computer technologies, on which the system largely depended.’

We also interviewed Professor Thereaujohn Kharalue of the Academy of Earth Studies, Barebones Five, the well-known expert on the Terrestrial civilizations of the Third Era. He commented: ‘It is perhaps too early to speculate, but it is beginning to seem possible that this ‘Financial’ system was far more widely influential than previously thought. The researchers at the Institute have traced a series of direct effects, in the most important aspects of people’s daily lives, of the essentially random values generated in this highly abstract form of art or ritual. It seems that the inhabitants of Earth in the early fifth century Ante Miraculo [twenty-first century A.D.] may have taken to a hitherto unknown level the domination of ordinary life processes by an abstract system of rules and values. Precedents are of course numerous: to go much further back, for instance, those humans of the tenth millennium Ante Miraculo [seventh to eighth millennia B.C.] who would plant crops only when the auguries were favourable, sacrificial victims chosen by lottery, and so forth. But what I believe we are seeing in these computerized records is a vast system of domination extending the direct power of this ‘Finance’ system into the smallest details of life, over the whole of this remarkable (though admittedly in some ways exceedingly primitive) civilization. A random numeric value generated within the computational algorithms in some part of the ‘Finance’ complex could thus have an observable effect on millions or hundreds of millions of people in different parts of the planet. Such a wide-reaching and powerful (though it must also be said, extraordinarily arbitrary and at times distinctly cruel) system is quite astonishing to imagine.’

What, however, were the real purposes of this mysterious ‘Financial’ system? On this point Professor Kharalue was reticent. ‘The one element of real mystery,’ he told us, ‘is what could have motivated the then inhabitants of Earth (or their dominant groups and rulers) to create and sustain such an order. Records of what we may call a general-cultural kind are rather minimal for this period; the computerized data of the ‘market’ system itself is a remarkable survival. One speculation is perhaps permissible, however. We have known for some time that Third Era Terrestrial civilization entered what can roughly be called a new phase at about this time: in particular, its destructive aspects seem to have intensified, with new and (by our standards) quite reckless levels of military technology and damage to the Terrestrial ecology. It seems plausible that these manifestly irrational tendencies were bound up with this vast system of abstract ritual in many complex ways. At the same time, the rhetorics and philosophies which surrounded it seem – from what little we know of them – to have functioned to obscure this connection. The existence of the ‘market’ system was widely known and tolerated, indeed actively supported. For instance, both electronic and paper-based newspapers, common forms of public information in that era, devoted a large proportion of their space to these ‘financial’ matters. Incredible as it sounds to us now, an effective majority of the Earth’s inhabitants appears to have genuinely believed that this system was fundamentally rational and conducive to material and spiritual progress. Perhaps in this conjunction, and this remarkable failure of understanding, we are beginning to trace the true sources of the disorder and confusion that were to break out so openly and disastrously in the Fourth Era of Terrestrial history.’

The team’s research into the preserved cybernetic data at New Harmony continues.

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