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The Company of Humans

By localroger in Technology
Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 05:10:17 PM EST
Tags: Humour (all tags)

I remember when the 'net was not as it is today. Back then the most advanced systems were slime molds and bacteria, limited to simple chemical communication and not even programmable in modern DNA sequences. You probably don't remember the technological advances of the Cambrian Explosion, or even the unfortunate business with the asteroid 65 million years ago. You've never known a world where seeds and teeth and fur and feathers had not been invented, where the most interesting conversation involved mutual attempts at poisoning.

That's why I need to explain to you the threat that resides among us. Today the NatureNet is threatened by one of its own, an entity that doesn't play by the rules, threatens everything it touches, and uses trickery to destroy what it cannot own. I refer, of course, to the Homo Sapiens Corporation.

HSC, or HumanSoft as they call themselves in their snazzy PR telecasts, is taking over the world. Just a few thousand intervals (* translation uncertain, might be days or years) ago, you could surf the net for lifetimes without ever encountering a human. But not today! You could be minding your own business, grazing or hunting grazers or storing nuts away for the winter or just lounging on a lily pad waiting for a carelss bug to flit by, and on the horizon will appear a row of mighty servers all powered by HumanSoft technology. In intervals they come and push aside everything you've ever known, eliminating your livelihood and home and casting you at the dubious mercy of your competitors if they don't out-and-out destroy you directly.

One by one, vital subnets are scoured clean of their previous inhabitants, to be replaced by the same boringly similar cast of characters which have either sold out to humans or learned to exploit them -- Dogs of course, fire ants, Norway rats, and the ubiquitous St. Augustine grass.

These companies are held up by the humans as examples of how we can all "just get along." But a closer examination reveals what a Faustian deal these organizations have made. Wolves were the first to get this bright idea, many thousands of intervals ago. But look what happened to them. The mighty and feared Rufus was quickly transformed into the cowering and supplicant Canis.com, who manages to remain "his own organization" right up to the point where he wishes to decide for himself when to eat, run, play, or have puppies.

Beware the lesson of Canis Company. Sure they still get their genes from the (somewhat edited) Rufus library, but they get their paychecks from HumanSoft. And make no mistake, dogs are only "HumanSoft's best corporate partners" until one of them bites a human. Then watch what happens.

It's the same with all their corporate partners -- any spark of originality or drive is ruthlessly purged until only happy exploitable grazers are left in the "partner" corporation. Dogs are pathetic and dogs have it good compared to later partners. Look at what the staff of Cows, Inc. has to put up with, especially the Milk-Fed Veal division. And Various Poultry Ltd. thought they had it great until HumanSoft came up with its "factory farming initiative" and eliminated all the bug-eating and barnyard-running perks while requiring three times as much work.

Meanwhile, you can't find anywhere that HumanSoft isn't sticking its often inappropriate appendages. Been to Antarctica lately? Humans. Bottom of the Marianas Trench? Humans. Top of Mount Everest? Humans. Deepest origins of the Amazon or Nile? Humans. Floating in the upper atmosphere? Humans. They have even left their garbage on the fricking MOON, leaving one to wonder if they even think NatureNet is a big enough deal for them to trash. If I was living in another universe, I'd be worrying.

In their PR 'casts humans relentlessly tout the superiority of the HINTEL ("Human INTELligence") platform. But let's do a feature comparison. What does HINTEL have that other companies' implementations don't?

The answer is NOTHING. They're not the biggest (even after the asteroid business, Blue Whales LLC and Pachyderm Proboscis Partners have them beat in sea and on land, respectively). They're not the fastest (Cheetah Chasers). They don't have the best fur (GreenSeals.org or minksatall.org) or feathers (holding company AVES(tm) has this one sewn up, not to mention flight) or strongest muscles (many many examples) or even the most talented voices (the members of the Parrot Playhouse have no members incapable of singing two notes at once). In fact the only superlative the HINTEL platform can claim is the Bilateral Reciprocal Altertness Improving Node which manages to suck up over 20% of every employee's paycheck without returning a single dime in direct predator protection.

What those BRAINs do allow HumanSoft to do, is to come up with tricks by which it can evade the rules and destroy its competition without having to suffer a fair evaluation of its capabilities.

The members of the AVES group must feel particularly cheated, having seen their technology stolen from them by direct observation and then implemented so fully and ruthlessly that real birds are often swept up inadvertently in the engines of the human flightservers. A human equipped with a car can out-"run" a cheetah. A human equipped with a submarine can outswim a whale. The same human which, naked and alone on the 'net would be called lunch, can team up with his HumanSoft buddies and kill things he can't even begin to eat.

So by such tricks HumanSoft, having no fur or feathers of its own, simply takes the fur and feathers from its competitors. Sure we can sue them, but what court will impose a fair judgement? They use the bodies of long-dead allies from the asteroid business to power obscene artificial enhancements which are stronger and faster than us and immune to feeling, being technologically inferior at their core. Everywhere you turn you face the ultimatum forged from the synergy of their HINTEL platform and their willingness to do anything to get ahead:

Upgrade or die.

Well, this is a call to arms. To all those who have succumbed to the HumanSoft blackmail and gone HINTEL, you're part of the problem instead of the solution. Yeah, XXXNorwayRatHotGirls.com can continue to exist in HumanSoftLand, but is this the kind of world we want to live in, where everything is either human, serves humans, or exploits them? Where humans are the entire network? Where the only fur is rat fur and the only feathers are from starlings and the only plants are found in lawns?

I REJECT THIS! The 'net was meant to be interesting and complex, not a uniform expression of HumanSoft ideals! I AM NOT A NUMBER! I AM A FREE ANIMAL! I WILL EAT WHEN I WANT, PLAY WHERE I WANT, AND MATE AND REAR YOUNG WHEN I

(shouts, crashes, shattering things off-screen)

W-w-what's that? What's that big yellow -- MACHINE? It's coming RIGHT THIS WAY! Oh crap I need to get out of the way, this thing is just freaking huge and I can see there's some freaking human up top, don't you know, maybe if I hop this way



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The Company of Humans | 41 comments (25 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
Hilarious (2.25 / 4) (#2)
by jdtux on Fri Oct 12, 2001 at 09:34:39 PM EST

subtely hilarious, I love it!

great job! +1 FP

Unintended thesis (4.77 / 9) (#11)
by slaytanic killer on Sat Oct 13, 2001 at 10:16:59 AM EST

Interesting. The author intends to point out how dangerous and monopolistic a certain Company Which Shall Not Be Named is.

However, most of the readership aligns themselves with humanity. So the unintended thesis becomes this: Companies like HumanSoft merely take the world's rules to the ultimate conclusion. Any company with high intelligence should emulate HumanSoft rather than the other companies.

Recently, I've been thinking about our real-world HumanSoft. Its main detractors are terrible, amoral companies that are evil through dim crudeness. HumanSoft is at least evil through enlightnened self-interest. So the main strategy is to keep a balance of power between them, and supporting non-asshole rivals.

Main detractors are terrible, amoral companies (5.00 / 3) (#21)
by Carnage4Life on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 06:26:50 PM EST

Its main detractors are terrible, amoral companies that are evil through dim crudeness.

You mean the kind of companies that turn a national tragedy into a shameless, opportunistic and desperate attempt to hawk their wares?

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

[ Parent ]
yep, those ones (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by Ender Ryan on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 10:27:00 PM EST

Yep, those are the ones. UNNAMED_COMPANY pulled something similar trying to wiggle their way out of trouble(sorry, no link).

It absolutely sickens me that these companies would use a situation like this to try to further their own goals.

IMNSHO, I think these companies should have waited a while before making any of their biased proposals, but to do this when they did... Well, it's simply indecent human(corporate?) behavior.

Exposing vast conspiracies! Experts at everything even outside our expertise! Liberators of the world from the oppression of the evil USian Empire!

We are Kuro5hin!

[ Parent ]

In other news... (3.20 / 5) (#19)
by valency on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 01:20:29 AM EST

  • HumanSoft complained that TerroristSoft was unfairly using its small size, lack of heirarchical organization, and ability to hide against HumanSoft.
  • HumanSoft complained that AnthaxSoft, despite being much tinier and having poorer reproductive capabilities, was unfairly destroying HumanSoft's resources.
  • HumanSoft complained that BankRobberSoft was unfairly using its visual similarity to NormalUpstandingCitizenSoft, its clever BRAIN technology (very much similar to HumanSoft's), and obscene artificial enhancements called GetAwayCarSoft's to deprive HumanSoft of resources.
  • HumanSoft complained that ChildRapistSoft was unfairly using candy and the gullibility of YoungChildSoft for reprehensible purposes.
Moral of the story: you can make anybody who opposes the status quo seem whiney by comparing the situation to evolution. This doesn't make them wrong.

Fascinating article, and a truly clever comparison, but it yields neither useful information nor coherent argument about Microsoft's role in the technology industry.

And I still voted +1 FP =) -- brilliant work, localroger, this was a refreshing change from the repetitive WTC-terrorist-mediabias drivel that's flooded k5 since 9/11.

BTW, I think there's a rather serious connection between this article and my favorite k5 article. Reminds me of Ishmael, too.

If you disagree, and somebody has already posted the exact rebuttal that you would use: moderate, don't post.

The Point of the Story (4.62 / 8) (#20)
by localroger on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 09:20:50 AM EST

It seems that I didn't really make the point of this story entirely crystal-clear, so in fairness to the readers I'll go ahead and reveal the lesson I intended it to pound home:

There is no lesson.

"Then where did this come from and why the hell did you write it?" I can hear you asking. Well, I had just read through Sara Stein's Noah's Garden while I troubleshot the wreck that was left when I had to reformat my hard drive because Windoze crashed and burned when I turned on the USB port so I could use my spiffy new digital camera. I woke up with this metaphor banging around in my head and did what any responsible K5'er would do.

Is this that old tired old lame cow Social Darwinism? Perhaps technically, though it would be hard to imagine a more opposite tone. Social Darwinists argue that the metaphor instructs proper behavior. I think you'd have to be reading this piece in Neitzsche mode to think it was advocating any such thing.

Is the metaphor inappropriate? I dunno, it was a dream, y'know? But in an absolute sense the parallels are close enough to be frightening, particularly to a leftward-leaning navel gazer such as myself.

I don't think the closeness of the metaphor is at all obvious, which is why I wrote it up; the fact that it works says some bad things about both Microsoft and homo sapiens, depending on which one makes you more nervous.

I was 30 years old before I finally found out what it means for humans to "develop" a piece of raw land. For years St. Tammany Parish was under a development ban because the whole place was considered a wetland; then, one day, the rules got shifted. Overnight every vacant lot in the area sprouted a sold sign.

Most of these lots were intact patches of mature second-growth pine forest, with clear understories and 40 to 60 foot canopies. Within days of the wetland rule shift the yellow machines moved in. Except for a few marked trees the earth was actually scraped clean before the new lawn was installed.

At the time I couldn't help but wonder: What happens to the animals? Friends and coworkers who hunt and fish clued me in. For the most part, they die. Even if they escape the fate of the story's narrator they starve or are killed by other animals when they are driven into other established territories. For months after the clearing of a subdivision, one friend said he could have bagged his limit in deer from his front porch.

Although it's obvious in hindsight it had never occurred to me that it would happen this way, that our coming would be a kind of universal holocaust for the existing wildlife. It doesn't have to be that way, but it's the easiest way for us to impose our order on the land.

When I was writing it, I thought of this story as saying more about humanity than it does about Microsoft, though the metaphor is obviously accurate enough to work both ways. I think the story actually says more about the reader than anyone else. The fact that you're reading it means that you are probably human and that you probably have some stake in the Microsoft mess. The story itself is more of an inkblot than a lesson. The metaphor is presented but you will, like some of those who have responded, put your own interpretation on it.

Meanwhile I am picking out native Louisiana plants and designing water features for the back yard, even while planning to leave the St. Augustine desert out front. It's almost perfectly equivalent to having a dual-booting computer. The HINTEL platform supports more than one OS; which one are you running?

I can haz blog!

Not human nature, corporate nature. (none / 0) (#29)
by Kasreyn on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 03:59:30 PM EST

HUMANS would be willing to coexist with many animals (I personally draw the line at anything that sucks my blood). HUMANS would be willing to trap the animals and release them elsewhere, when they move into a new area to develop. CORPORATIONS and BUSINESSES, however, are not interested, because a universal holocaust in the area is more cost-effect.

You can't act as if the things corporations do are done by human beings. Perhaps by human beings as functionaries, but a corporation or business is a being with no sense of ethics or morals. It is far from being human or having a human nature.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Corporate nature *is* human nature (none / 0) (#30)
by visigoth on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 05:22:44 PM EST

Corporations are composed of people, who, through their decisions and actions, further the corporation's "will".

That lack of ethics and morals is due to lack of same in those making the questionable decisions.

We can choose differently. (but it won't be easy)

[ Parent ]

Not really true (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by localroger on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 07:07:10 PM EST

That lack of ethics and morals is due to lack of same in those making the questionable decisions.

Jerry Mander has quite a bit about this in In the Absence of the Sacred. The people who run companies have duties which are spelled out in the company's charter, and they can be ousted for violating those rules.

Companies are in business to make money. Any CEO who acts ethically rather than profitably can (and, the law says, should) be booted by the Board of Directors. These rules in turn are made for "sensible" reasons by people who are sufficiently far from the results not to feel ethically bound by them. Mander goes into some detail w/r/t the actions of Union Carbide after the Bhopal disaster -- initial promises of corporate good faith quickly faded as the costs of doing the right thing added up.

In short, anyone running a company or working for one who has an opportunity to bypass costs which can be bypassed is obligated to do so. This is a flaw in the very nature of corporations and the way we charter and run them.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

That's actually what I meant... (none / 0) (#34)
by visigoth on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 07:31:18 PM EST

...but perhaps didn't articulate very well...

In short, anyone running a company or working for one who has an opportunity to bypass costs which can be bypassed is obligated to do so. This is a flaw in the very nature of corporations and the way we charter and run them.

True: ethical considerations apart from fiduciary and legal responsibilities are not codified in the framework in which business is conducted. Any system of laws or rules is still a creation of people, even if they are "several steps removed" from particular incidents. Ultimately it is still people who are responsible. If we created these "systems", we can change them, but I fear we won't, because (in part) we humans love power without accountability, and corporations and densely tangled webs (networks) of responsibility provide rich opportunities to avoid the latter...

[ Parent ]

sigh ... (5.00 / 3) (#23)
by gregholmes on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 07:15:34 AM EST

This world view isn't just wrong, it's inconsistent.

You can't have it both ways. If we're just another animal, then it shouldn't matter that we build better burrows, dams, tools, etc. and outcompete the other animals. If we're not just another animal, well, remember all that stuff about dominion over the other living things?

true enough (4.50 / 4) (#27)
by ubu on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 12:15:13 PM EST

If we're not just another animal, well, remember all that stuff about dominion over the other living things?

Which isn't to say, of course, that humans don't have a moral obligation with regard to the environment. In fact, only if we're not just animals can we possibly have a moral obligation with regard to the environment.

Go figure.


Feminists today are pro-choice on only one issue. -- Lew Rockwell
[ Parent ]
Moral Obligation to Environment (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by Benabik on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 03:44:04 PM EST

Well, I know several people who have taken the "dominion over the other living things" and added an unhealthy dose of Revelations to say "Well, He's going to destroy it all anyway, why should I bother to keep the Earth clean?"

Even if the Lord does destroy the Earth, I'd rather not live in garbage until then.

[ Parent ]
Don't worry (5.00 / 2) (#31)
by The Lord on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 06:15:09 PM EST

Even if the Lord does destroy the Earth, I'd rather not live in garbage until then.

Don't worry, my friend, wheels are already turning in places you can't imagine. You won't have to live in garbage for too long.

Vengeance is mine.
[ Parent ]

Not all religions .. (3.33 / 3) (#33)
by gbd on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 07:15:28 PM EST

.. instruct their followers that they have dominion over the Earth and its animals. It is possible that a god or gods exist and that they want us to be animal rights and environmental activists.

Gunter glieben glauchen globen.
[ Parent ]
(Sigh) It *does* matter . . . (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by liberalmafia on Tue Oct 23, 2001 at 06:20:05 AM EST

. . . if you care to see Western civilization or at least Homo sapiens continue. Yes, every species has the eternal tendency to expand, but we're the first (as far as we know) to become so good at it that we're cutting the ecological and sometimes literal ground from under our feet and threaten our own survival.

If we cannot learn to be better and superior to other species by consciously understanding the Darwinian blind alley we've run ourselves into, and altering our behavior to switch from suicidal blind growth to intelligent coexistence, then we'll become "just like" most species that have ever lived -- extinct.

Remember, when the host dies, the cancer dies too.

[ Parent ]
Sadly accurate, no matter what scale (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by jd on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 08:30:59 AM EST

This story can be taken literally (humans are unquestionably destroying so much habitat that many species face extinction), or as a metaphor for what happens when one segment of ANY population gets out of control.

I'll use the example of Strep. The human body is -covered- with a wide range of (often quite deadly) viruses, bacteria, fungii, parasites, etc. Strep is by far the most common "hanger-on", though. We think nothing of it. Well, until (for some reason) Strep manages to start out-competing everything else on our skin. At that point, the imbalanced human can suffer anything from a sore throat to being agonisingly consumed by flesh-eating bugs.

IMHO, even if the author didn't intend there to be a "meaning" to the story, I see one very clearly. Balance or death of the entire system - WHATEVER that system may be. There really aren't any other choices.

Excellent - I really enjoyed this. (none / 0) (#25)
by myschae on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 10:14:30 AM EST

Another poster already pointed out the similarity in this theme with some of Daniel Quinn's writings - namely Ishmael and the Story of B. I am curious, have you read those books? If not, they might be worth your time.

Life (4.66 / 3) (#26)
by glothar on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 10:55:42 AM EST

I'll risk the corniness, but remember the out-of-place rant by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park? Well, its actually true. Everyone realizes this. What is the meaning of life?


Wait, that was a joke. If you look at nature, you see one thing in common with every living thing, even viruses: Expansion. Every living thing wants to expand.

Now some people will say: "No! Symbiosis and interdependancy in the food chain result in stasis!" True. It results in stasis when there is no more area and resources to expand. Another poster talked about Strep.. I'm not sure you can say that it is the most common, Staph. would be another possibility. Normally you completely ignore their existance. But when you suddenly "add territory" by lopping off an arm or something, there is a massive biological land grab. And its even more insideous and ruthless than anything humans have ever pulled off.

Now this is an opinion, and disagree if you like, but every pattern I see (and I may be looking for it...) says that Life (all life) is seeking to expand wherever possible. But it is held back by one thing: the vastness of Space. Nature has been "trying" for some time to create tool users. So, it seems that finally something has evolved that can expande beyond this planet. Many species will be sacrificed to try to make that possible.

I'm not advocating the forced expansion of the human race. I'm just saying that its what I see happening. And the most appalling thing is that I implied that its natural. I think it is. We are successful as a species because we have the intelligence (and dexterity) to manipulate our environment. I can't fight a tiger by wrestling him. If I (for some reason) feel threatened by a tiger, I'll trap/shoot/incinerate it. As a human, that is my natural defense.

The analogy to (presumably) Microsoft is a bit flawed. Its closer to the Dinosaur family. Microsoft is making no great advances. Its intelligence or expansion is not in logarithmic growth.

Or. Perhaps the entire story was a life metaphor for the Microsoft situation, and I misinterpreted everything.

Both Life and MSoft (none / 0) (#35)
by Phage on Mon Oct 15, 2001 at 08:30:24 PM EST

What you have stated is very close to the "Gaia" theory.
This theory/paradigm/thesis/whatever looks at the planet as a single organism. From that point of view Homo Sapiens may be seen as the fruiting or sexual organs of the planet.
Gaia wishes, like all life forms, to grow and take new territories. We are the means to that end.

As occurs in many organisms, eg annual plants, it may mean the death of, or severe damage to, the parent organism in order to achieve this, as it sacrifices resources in the short term to achieve longer term success.

Have you read "Make Room, Make Room" by Harry Harrison ? A grim future of the world at starvations edge, later remade as Soylent Green in which the plot was thrown away and much of the grittiness was lost (IMHO)

I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.
[ Parent ]

Stasis not (none / 0) (#38)
by A Trickster Imp on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 02:29:47 PM EST

"No! Symbiosis and interdependancy in the food chain result in stasis!" True. It results in stasis when there is no more area and resources to expand.
Actually, this is probably not even true. Symbiosis is a trade-off between a downside (providing for the other) and an upside (getting back.) As such, each organism will constantly try to optimize the relationship.

[ Parent ]
Yeah (none / 0) (#39)
by glothar on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 02:50:35 PM EST

I think that was my point.

So... Yeah.

[ Parent ]

Excellent! (But whither Micros**t?) (none / 0) (#36)
by phliar on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 01:01:39 AM EST

I really enjoyed reading this - well-written, good use of various naming devices etc. Funny in an intelligent way.

But what I find even more interesting is: how is it that more than one person took it as an allegory of Micros**t? Fascinating!

(To any of those people - please write about what it was about this story that made you think "Micros**t!")

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

You should look at editorial comments (none / 0) (#37)
by slaytanic killer on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 05:36:18 AM EST

I sometimes feel these comments should be on by default. Set View to "All Comments", and you're set.

[ Parent ]
But I *like* animals!... (1.00 / 1) (#41)
by wji on Sun Oct 28, 2001 at 10:38:07 AM EST

...they're tasty.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.

The Company of Humans | 41 comments (25 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
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