Noli 0.0 Preamble

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
― L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

My Beloved Child,

If you had the power to go back in time, would you?

How much more good can you do, with the power of hindsight? How many lives might you save, how much wealth can you effortlessly accumulate? What you consider now merely mundane would allow you to stand among the geniuses and history-makers of the past.

What you consider now merely mundane would allow you to stand among the geniuses and history-makers of the past.

All you would have to do is to give up the conveniences you modern humans take for granted.

Have you heard of the story of the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court? Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) wrote it as a parody of this tendency of the modern to think of the past as dirty and ignorant.

For it is the way of all modern civilizations to consider themselves superior to all that had gone before. From Romans to the Renaissance, from the confidence of the Victorian British Empire to the crackling tensions of the Civil Rights Movement in America, out and out to the turn of the millennium – the newest generation always considers itself the most enlightened, the most tolerant, the most powerful, never considering that their own children would deem them the barbarians.

The benefit of hindsight makes it obvious the sins of the past. It is a popular genre, a wistful dream, to take our knowledge and mold the past into something better. To play crosstime engineer, to be an island in the sea of time, enlightening the past in a ring of fire.

But it is odd. The further and further one goes into the future, the less and less relevant one person’s knowledge becomes. You may imagine that a cloud hangs upon the Earth, a world within a world, a virtual world, where percolates all the knowledge of humanity, it’s hope and its dreams, its lusts and its spite. It is a paradigm no one could have predicted, an unconscious world-mind, as great as the discovery of fire or gunpowder or the steam engine.

Steeped in luxury, bombarded with all sorts of amusements and conversation, wealth in the billions and billions trading hands in the fractions of a second, so shining is modern civilization. And much much more fragile too than everything than had gone before.

Let us be honest here. No J Random High Schooler (or a college graduate, or even most people with doctorates) is ever really going to pull off a “Connecticut Yankee” in a parallel world. There is too much to remember. Even the Hang This in Your Time Travel Machine poster is of limited usefulness.

It is a tools to make the tools problem.

For example, pasteurization. Heat milk to below the boiling point with what thermometer are you using to measure heat so that it does not begin to affect the taste? Vaccination? With what steel needles and glass plungers in an iron age society? Annoyed with the inability to work well after dark? Run electricity through a tungsten wire what does tungsten even look like? A carbon arc lamp might be easier to make but how do I make batteries to store electricity for mobile light and firestarting?

Toilet paper? Turning paper into wood pulp involves heavy machinery and/or chemicals. What chemicals? Grow potatoes to alleviate food shortages? Potatoes are over there in the New World, what do I even have a ship through the Atlantic?

The cosmopolitan man, in any era, possesses an approximate knowledge of many things.

For in-depth knowledge of anything outside of individual special skillsets, there came to be a generation that sees fit to offload thinking skills to the Web. For whatever question? Just [Googol] it. It makes sense, for in the distant future of 2015 there is far too much to know, and even more being discovered, or commented upon, or created in every second.

There are few things as foolish as trying to do things with incomplete information.

It is very well for such a modern person to think that being brought into the past would have them hailed as a genius, but living in the past also means losing all conveniences they might take for granted. An adventure is always more pleasant to read about than to feel the hardships firsthand.

Modern knowledge is nice, but it is ultimately near useless. Perhaps a gunsmith or metalworker or an engineer who builds steam engines for a hobby, a doctor has skills that would still be useful even without access to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps someone from twenty, thirty years ago, before the Internet’s electronic soul awakened. But your average well-connected office worker?

Knowing how to work Word and Excel? How to drive? How to cook? These will not shake the world. Mathematics, biology, physics – all great things to know, but in practice? It would be a bewildering time, trying to readjust to a pre-electronic paradigm.

Hence a modern person by any definition, and unlike the wish fulfillment the stories provide, might prefer to act cautiously and try to avoid attention. The past is a foreign country, they are far more savage in getting rid of their competition there. There is no weakness in this, it is only human to avoid pain.

Even with all the knowledge in your brain, all humans still have only one life to lose.

Do not you depend on the man of tomorrow, because he is as mortal and fallible and fearful as you are!

So, the message is given to humankind: if you want to save yourselves, do it yourselves! This is the only time you have left. Yours is the grace and the burden of Free Will!

But still…

The glory of free will is its uncertainty after each decision, the same is its terror. No person, no matter how powerful or influential has the ability to get more out of life than what his mortality allows. Many cling to omens and the advice of soothsayers in the hopes of avoiding the pain of wasted effort.

But it is rarely a mercy to know too much about your fate.

And so we are given: a young man named Crisostomo Ibarra y Igsalin. The year is 1887. He is on a ship approaching Manila Bay.

And he is ‘freaking the frock out’.

M.A. McEiling


aka [Googol] of the Revolution!


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