Ares Demands a Contribution

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Let us imagine

You are standing in a red-brown desert on the slope of a crater wall. The sky is pink and in front of you there is nothing alive, just rock and dust and regolith.

You are wearing a mask to keep the dust out of your lungs and adjust the relative mix of gases in the air you are breathing and you are wearing warm clothes because it is barely warm enough for liquid water to form. But your people have thickened the atmosphere enough that skin exposed to it can survive, in some places for hours or days. This place has been made better by humans and their allies working hard for centuries.

You touch the flank of your Elephant and she uses her trunk to bring the tip of a 20 cm auger against the regolith. You flip a switch on the side of the auger it spins up cutting a vertical shaft into the regolith. To your left a row of people stretch to the horizon each working with their elephants to cut a row of similar shafts into the desert. It only takes a few tens of seconds to dig down a couple of meters and then you stop the auger and your elephant pulls it out. Then your elephant lowers the auger onto the desert surface and picks a six meter long, 20 cm wide, tube-like device out of a hopper-cart that is harnessed behind her and inserts the device into the fresh hole. You spin it around until the slanted solar panel at the top is angled toward the equator. The device begins to extract water vapour from the air and pump it into the soil.

Your elephant picks up the auger and pulls the cart forward a dozen meters and then you start the process over again. Behind you a long line of these devices extends up the slope and over the crater rim. In fact, there is a line behind every truck in the row. In fact, there is a grid. Slowly you are working with the others and their elephants to carpet the surface of this planet with water vapour extractors. Elsewhere water vapour is being injected into the atmosphere by grazing comets and mines.

Somewhere back behind you, miles back, there are people using the water your devices are putting in the regolith to treat it chemically, to change toxins into nutrients. Further back still there are people planting lichen on the slightly damp regolith. Further back still there are people planting cactuses.

As your elephant raises the auger toward the spot where the next hole should go, she suddenly stops and asks, "Is this worth the effort? Why should we not just be satisfied with Earth?" It is exhaustion speaking. You have been working like this for hours. "Maybe we could take a few days off, eat some chocolate, and escape from the dust and cold into a holodome."

You hesitate. You know you should be drilling the next hole but you are drawn toward the idea of treating yourself. As you stand frozen in doubt and temptation and exhaustion, you suddenly become aware that a woman is standing beside you. She doesn't have warm clothes on or a mask. Her bare skin is the same red-brown as the desert but it is marked with tattoos of humans and elephants and lichen and cactus in the green-blue of life thriving. She is pregnant and her belly is Mars.

Ares speaks to you, "Your effort is worth it to me. In fact, I demand your effort toward my goals. You are my voice and you speak these demands of yourself because it is your nature to serve a higher call."

You look at Ares. She is beautiful and you know that she is more beautiful every day that you work here. You were born a cell in Gaia's body but perhaps the best analog for the type of cell you were was a blood cell. Gaia gave Ares a blood transfusion and you were one of the cells transferred. You have worked to move the stuff of Mars around so that, Mars has warmed and its water and oxygen and carbon dioxide and nitrogen have become more available to Ares cells. Now you are a cell in Ares body.

"Is that truly my nature? It feels like my nature is to lie on a beach under a warm sun drinking colas and eating chocolate mousse." You laugh and your elephant trumpets its agreement.

Ares laughs too, "That is also your nature, little one. But it is not your whole nature. Give in to that nature to the exclusion of your other natures and you will find yourself descending a downward spiral of self-gratification to the detriment of your health, you relationships and your sense of meaning and worth."

But chocolate cake is calling to you. You feel your elephant thinking about leaving and heading back to camp to look for some cake. "So, am I to flog my elephant until she bows to my will and does the work? Is that the healthy choice?"

Ares laughs again, "You know that wouldn't be healthy little one. You have to tempt her with visions of being a hero, with promises of reasonable rewards for good work, with her desire to remain part of her tribe. You have to train her gently and lovingly. You have to help her to find balance amongst your natures."

Your elephant toys with the auger but doesn't pick it up. She is thinking about swimming in warm water with friends. "Why should I work so hard to serve your goals though? Perhaps I should serve my own."

Ares looks at you sternly, "You mean ... like ... a cancer cell? And how long does such a strategy serve a cancer cell? How long before the suffering that such a strategy causes the body of which the cancer cell is a part, is passed back to the cancer cell? How well do you think that will go for you? You are a cell in my body and it is in your interest to see that my body thrives, that my goals are achieved."

Your elephant picks up the auger like she has been stung but then, instead of positioning it for the next hole, she begins to clean some dust off of it. She is thinking about how to sneak away without being noticed. "What does it even mean for you to have a purpose, Ares? You aren't a person; you are a personification of a disconnected collection of beings. You can no more have one purpose of your own making than an aquarium filled with leeches has a purpose of its own making."

Ares laughs, "Am I like an aquarium squirming with leeches? Is that what you think of me?" she laughs again, "More importantly, is Life an on or off property? Is everything that is alive equally alive and everything that is inanimate completely inanimate?"

Your elephant is focused on Ares words. Without thinking it positions the auger for the next hole. By rote you answer, "There is no edge between Life and non-life; there is slope of less alive to more alive."

Ares nods. "And along that slope there is also a slope between nature and self-chosen purpose. They are not different in kind but different in degree. There is a slope between more nature-like and more self-chosen-purpose-like. A rock has only nature. It falls because it is its nature to fall. It crushes things it falls on because it is its nature to crush things that it falls on. It doesn't choose this nature nor does it choose between one action and another.

Ares continues, "A leech has instinct. It chooses courses of action that agree with its nature. It cannot choose any other course. The degree to which it is free to choose among courses is limited. But somewhere between a rock and leech there is a transition between nature and instinct. Where does that transition occur? Between prion and virus? Between virus and bacteria? Between bacteria and jelly fish? The answer is that the transition occurs at all of those places and more; the transition is gradual.

Still Ares continues, "And where between leech and human does the transition between instinct and intelligence occur? Between leech and fish? Between fish and lizard? Between lizard and monkey? Again the answer is at all of those places and more; again the transition is gradual. So my nature is to flower and spread and your self-chosen purpose is self-chosen, but unless you choose a purpose in line with my nature, then you will be like a cancer cell and in the end, the suffering you cause will be visited back on yourself, like a cancer cell dying inside the body of its deceased victim. That is what it means for me to have purpose and for you to serve it."

Your elephant positions the auger and you switch it on and it begins to dig the shaft. But you can feel your elephant is angry and hurting. It is thinking about striking Ares with the auger. But you know she is right. And so you stroke the flank of your elephant and say, "She is right. We could sneak off to the camp and eat the cake that is waiting for the Equinox celebrations. We could do that and what would the others think of us?"

You switch off the auger and your elephant puts it aside and takes out the next Water Harvester and for a second you fear that she will strike Ares with it, but she glances down the line at the other elephants working their augers and a worried look passes through her eyes and then she places the Water Harvester into its hole. You turn it to face the sun and stroke your elephant's flank again. "Well done. Imagine what the others will think of us when we finish this row. We will be heroes won't we?"

Your elephant picks up the auger and pulls the cart forward to the where the next hole should go. She is calmer now but she is still thinking about the cake. "Yes, that cake is going to be good isn't it. Especially eating it with all of our friends and celebrating our contribution to the greening of this world." Your elephant positions the auger and you turn it on. She is pictures a lush forest and you feel her desire for that. "Someday the trees here on Mars will grow taller than the tallest Sequoia on Earth. The gravity is less here. And that will be because of us and this work. And baby elephants will wander among those trees and enjoy bark and leaf and drink fresh trickling water in the shade."

The hole is finished and quickly your elephant positions the next water harvester. She pauses to look around the desert and picture the lush forest to come and she notices that the rest of the line has gotten ahead and she hurries forward, the auger already ready for the next hole. You look back at Ares who is watching your elephant's enthusiasm and she smiles and waves to you.

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