Metal Fever II: The Erasure of Asherah

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Chapter 12

It spoke to us. Not just to me, but to the chieftess. She answered coherently, confirming she heard the same question from the tree woman that I did. How is that possible? Some sort of telepathy? No, that’s ridiculous. Telepathy is nonsense. Then again, yesterday I’d have said the same thing about shirts that grow on trees.

My brain sloshed around turbulently in my skull. I gripped my head with both hands as if to cram my expanded consciousness back into that tiny little space where it should be. Nothing I could do would wrestle reality around me back into a recognizable shape however.

“What are you running from?” a womanly voice boomed. The tree woman’s face formed out of the bushes before me. I screamed, scared out of my wits. “Oh don’t start with that again” she complained. “How would you like it if I screamed at you? AAAHHHHHHH!!! There, that’s what you sound like.”

I got up to flee. “Your ship’s that way” the eye-searingly beautiful face insisted, forming a hand out of a nearby branch to point with. “You haven’t even been running in the right direction.” I don’t know why I believed her, but I did end up running in the direction she pointed me in.

I set to crying, despite my every effort not to. I already felt uncomfortably small and vulnerable, I didn’t need these tears now gushing from my eyes to reinforce it. I tripped on another root, but on account of exhaustion I wasn’t moving quickly enough this time to hurt myself.

Instead, when I looked up, there was the aircraft wreckage. Moonlight glinted off the crumpled hull, and the dimly glowing emergency lights from the interior seeped out around the edges of the entry flap I’d fashioned from the carpet.

Once inside, I did my best to curl up beneath the woefully insufficient airline style blanket and pinned my wary eyes on the entry flap. I don’t know what I expected to happen. The interior walls of the aircraft cabin swirled and flowed in a predictable fashion, fear rendering it less impressive.

“How the fuck am I supposed to sleep like this” I wondered. In the end I didn’t manage to nod off until just after the sun came up. The combination of mild wind chill during the night, and the lingering concern that some otherworldly she-monster might still intrude kept me wide awake, tightly gripping that shitty little blanket. What asshole made them this small?

I didn’t sleep for long, either. When I next awoke it was just about noon. Wiping the crust out of my eyes and opening them fully revealed that the effects of the tea had finally worn off. The walls remained more or less still no matter how long I stared at them.

What a wild fucking night that was. Reflecting on it, I couldn’t be sure how much of it was real, and how much was part of the trip. It seemed in all ways more likely that I’d hallucinated the plant technology and pleasantly proportioned chieftess along with the gigantic, mind-rending tree woman.

DMT then, for sure. But how did it get into my system? It comes from a vine, doesn’t it? I couldn’t remember trying to eat one, but I must’ve. That would explain last night’s escapades in the only way that made any logical sense.

Still groggy and nursing a splitting headache, I brushed aside the entry flap and climbed out of the craft. My foot sank a few inches into the mud. I guess it rained at some point while I was asleep? Damn it all, I meant to catch some of that for washing myself.

Right then I badly needed to piss though, so rather than do it into the same stream I drink out of, I ambled a ways into the jungle. There I heaved out a contented sigh as I unleashed the steaming torrent onto another particularly unlucky flower.

“For a diurnal mammal, you sure sleep in.” I bolted upright and spun this way and that in search of the source of the voice. When that familiar face formed out of the foliage before me, I at first refused to believe it. The tea wore off, didn’t it?

“You’re not real!” I shouted, stumbling backwards. “You’re a fever dream! A figment of my imagination.” She frowned. “Has anybody ever told you that you’re a narcissist?” It couldn’t be happening. Nothing else around me looked distorted.

Every other element of the hallucinatory storm from last night had long since vanished. But there she was, in all her glory, indifferent to my understanding of what ought to be possible. “What are you!?” I demanded. She grew visibly frustrated with me.

“You’re all demands and accusations, you know that? How about a simple thank you, for helping you find your shelter last night? Didn’t your mother teach you any manners? Or didn’t you have a mother.” In spite of my confusion and fear, I blushed.

It was rude of me, whether or not any of this was actually happening. I somberly apologized, but then asked her why I could still see her even though every other effect of the tea had worn off since last night.

“I’m not one of the effects of the sacrament. All it does is expand your perception to include the layers of reality which the metal world does everything in its power to hide from you.” I couldn’t accept it, and said so.

“I don’t buy into any of that hippie garbage. I’m still tripping, that’s all this is. The visuals must only be the first stage or something. You’ll be gone before tomorrow.” But she wasn’t. I spent the rest of the day relocating the InterNourish crate and stocking up on those foul mealbars, then returning as many as I could carry to the shelter.

“You really shouldn’t eat those” she said, concern in her voice. “We really need to talk about your diet.” I laughed. “What are you, my mother?” She mulled it over. “Yes, in a manner of speaking. It takes a man and a woman to make a baby. Did you honestly think a male elohim could seed life on your world all by his lonesome?”

I replied that none of that made even the smallest shred of sense to me, but that I had better things to do than argue with a hallucination anyways. She grew irate. “When are you going to get over yourself? Reality is not all in your head, that’s just what you use to interpret it. I am not a hallucination.”

I turned around to face her. “What are you then? Hm? An alien? A ghost? I don’t believe in any of that. Tell me what you are, and I’ll listen. Make me understand.” She closed her eyes and sighed, choosing her next words with care.

“I don’t know whether you’ve developed to the point where you know about this yet, but you aren’t the individual you believe yourself to be. Up close, you’re actually about thirty seven trillion micro-organisms, working together in order to-”

I interrupted, assuring her that we’d already discovered single celled organisms and that I knew I’m comprised of them. “Good! Then you know that the bandwidth and fidelity of communication between your constituent cells is exceeded many times over by the communication that occurs between human beings.”

I processed that, soon working out on my own what she meant for me to conclude. “So...wait. In the same way that my cells communicate and cooperate as a network in order to produce the gestalt being talking to you now…”

I trailed off, so she filled in the rest. “Individual human organisms repeat that pattern on a larger scale. Cooperating, communicating and networking as a superorganism that you call civilization.” It seemed like the just-so stoner logic I overheard entirely too much of at college parties.

But the more I considered the idea, the more it made sense. In the same way that cells are assigned specialized jobs and grouped together into organs with other cells performing the same job, humans also organize their labor, with different institutions in society performing roles analogous to the various organs in the human body.

The government directs and coordinates society as the brain does for the body. Sanitation serves a purpose analogous to the liver and kidneys. The police and immigration department serve a purpose analogous to the immune system, and so on.

Somehow human society self-organized into a large scale reflection of the structure of our own bodies without anybody consciously intending it. I felt as if I was just now grasping some immutable law of nature, where patterns fundamental to living processes repeat themselves on every scale you examine from.

“As above, so below” the enormous, beautiful face gently cooed. “Yes! That’s it!” I cried. “I’ve read that before, but I never understood it until now. I think I saw it written beneath the flower of life, a large circle made of countless interconnected smaller ones. Like everything is one giant fractal, the same pattern repeating no matter how close up or far away you examine it from, each set ensconced within the same structure on a larger scale.”

She smiled warmly, no longer frustrated by the looks of it. “You’re learning. It’s so satisfying to watch.” But I wasn’t done working my way through the idea. “What does that make you, then? I mean, that was my original question.”

She studied me, once again pausing to formulate her next sentence. Was she afraid of answering in a way that would offend or frighten me? Useless to guess. “My name is Asherah. I am an elohim, what humans once considered gods.”

Gods. Another entry on the list of shit I stopped believing in when I turned twelve, under bigfoot and ET. That list will need a bit of revision now. Unless this really is just the tail end of the trip and I’m still hallucinating, a great deal about my mental model of the world now required some rejiggering.

“So, where is your wife?” she inquired. I didn’t properly understand her at first, and asked her to repeat it. “There’s a woman in your life, I can sense it. Why isn’t she here with you? Bring her before me, and commence mating.”

I burst out laughing. “What’s wrong with you? If you mean Aubrey, she’s in Antarctica and we’re no longer involved.” Asherah wasn’t having any of it. “What are you doing with your life, then? You should be finding a woman to reproduce with.”

The overt, unapologetic lewdness caught me offguard. She’d come across as this wisened benevolent forest spirit until now. Then out of the blue, she demands I find somebody to fuck in front of her. I tried to explain that humans have other priorities.

“Impossible” she declared. “There is no higher priority than that. If you believe otherwise, you’ve deceived yourselves. As it has been since the dawn of life on this world, the most important thing you can do with your life is to ensure that the unfathomably long biochemical chain reaction that produced you continues unbroken into the future.”

The bawdy, single-track mindset of a sex maniac. Or a wild animal I suppose, which made more sense given that her experience must be primarily with simpler animals. It struck me as small minded until she elaborated on it a moment later.

“You recall that I perceive time differently, yes? The chemical signals by which trees communicate are vastly slower than the electrical exchange that takes place between neurons. A second to you is an eternity to me. Though the sacrament slows your own brainwaves down enough to converse with me, normally I don’t even perceive individual humans. I perceive the superorganism comprised of humans. Something like a fast moving fluid which blankets the globe.”

Like a slime mold, then. But much larger, made up of multicellular organisms instead of microbes. “Your own life seems significantly long to you, but not to me. If I choose it, from my perspective your life will be over in the blink of an eye. Every other matter you concerned yourself with besides continuing your lineage will amount to nothing but a grave. Only if you had children will there be any persistent expression of your genome to continue speaking with.”

An altogether alien point of view, but one from which her inappropriate demand that I reproduce as soon as possible appeared more defensible. Mother nature values little else but whatever is required to ensure the continuation of your genes.

“You only get one shot at life, and death is a harsh teacher. As beautiful as the natural world is to you, it’s also relentlessly brutal. Every day brings with it the very real possibility of being eaten alive, still screaming, or watching helplessly as a predator snatches one of your young.”

I found nothing to dispute, but instead reflected on how much she sounded like the narrator of any nature documentary I’ve ever watched. It was briefly amusing. “Don’t think I relish in it” she said. “I mourn every species which fails to hold onto its place in the world. When they pass into history, their genetic distinctiveness forever lost, I shed a tear for that loss.”

I asked if she was talking about the dinosaurs. “Not specifically, but sure, that’s a good example. Whew, that was a while ago. I was inconsolable for eons! It is mercifully rare that so many species are wiped out all at once. For a time I thought that was the end of all life on this world.”

I now lay on my back as I did the night before, idly watching her float this way and that amid the jungle canopy. Like the backdrop against which she could most accurately display herself. “I’ve noticed an accelerating increase in the rate of extinctions recently, do you know anything about that?”

I described climate change as best I could. How industrial emissions exacerbated a natural warming trend leading to unnaturally rapid heating of the atmosphere and ocean. “That’s right!” she broke in. “There’s been something wrong with the ocean for a little while now. It’s unusually warm and acidic. I think something must have broken the methane cycle.”

I repeated that by our best scientific reckoning, it was human industrial activities that caused the runaway melting of seafloor methane ice. As if she only now heard me, she scoffed at the notion that humans had anything to do with it.

“There you go again with your narcissism. Last I checked, you were still covered in fur, swinging through my branches. Now you want me to believe you possess the power to alter the planetary climate? That’s adorable.”

I insisted it was so. Like a mother who cannot help but see her adult son as the helpless little baby whose diapers she once changed, Asherah struggled to believe we could have developed so far beyond the termite munching apes she once tenderly nurtured.

Her eyes began to tear up. “You’ve grown up so fast. It isn’t fair! I miss when you were smaller, simpler. When you needed me. The jungle was your classroom and nursery. I watched over you all as a mother ought to. There were only a couple million of you back then. It was so much more intimate and special.”

I couldn’t help but feel mildly offended by her nostalgia. “So wait, what are we to you now? Pests?” She sniffled, and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Some of you are still very dear to me. The ones who never left the wilderness. The ones who still bring wreaths out into the woods to hang upon my branches, and live as I intend.”

She could only mean those villagers from yesterday. All that business with the engineered plants must be real as well, and I now had a better idea of who supplied them with it. No wonder it’s so far beyond the state of the art in biotechnology, though in fairness I’ve been out of the loop for six years. Maybe the gap isn’t as large as I’ve so far assumed.

“I don’t know anybody back where I’m from that’s even aware of you. The only context I’ve heard Elohim in was Biblical, as one of the names of the God of Abraham.” She rebuked me. “A lie they perpetuate! That word was never meant to be singular, but plural. We are superorganisms of various kinds. We are many!”

She directed my attention to an anthill, worryingly large tropical ants in the process of dragging the carcass of a bird back to the opening. “You have seen, even in the form of ant colonies, that animal-based superorganisms exist. The coordinated movements of a flock of birds is another example.” She pointed to a swarm of small tropical birds I could barely make out against the bright blue sky. “Now you have come to understand that there exist plant-based superorganisms as well.”

Human societies qualified, and it now seemed to me as if every war in history was just one superorganism trying to kill and eat another. How obvious that would be if seen from orbit, just as the synchronized behaviors of ants are only obvious because we view them from a removed vantage point, as I did with the birds.

“In truth I tell you that there are all manner of emergent minds to be found in nature. Gods of the sea, of the sky, of storms and the geological processes taking place deep underground. Humans once acknowledged all of these Gods, and paid them tribute.”

Enthralled, I asked Asherah what happened to change that. “My lover revealed himself to a tribe of desert dwellers. Their society was harsh, brutal and unbalanced. Men controlled every facet of life. Women lived in fear and submission. He gave them rules, and sought to rebalance the masculine and feminine dimensions of their culture.”

She could only mean the tribe of Abraham. If so, her male counterpart had chosen poorly. What I knew of Abraham suggested that he was a schizophrenic old codger who heard voices telling him to kill his own son, but that it would be acceptable not to if he instead chopped off the tip of his penis.

“His message was filtered through male ears which heard only what they were willing to believe. Everything else, they editorialized upon. A message of gentleness and balance quickly changed into divine sanction for the status quo. The bearers of his message saw the opportunity to put the weight and authority of a God behind their own desires, such that they could shape society more perfectly according to their own ideals.”

Which, for a man of that era, would mean the total submission of women. Homosexuality either hidden from sight or removed from society by execution. Scrupulously obedient children, and a position of veneration and unquestioned authority for religious family men.

It did always strike me as suspicious that the God of the Bible had such distinctly male, human desires. To enjoy the aroma of burnt animal offerings, for example. Or to revile menstruation, homosexuality and anything else that grosses out somebody with the emotional maturity of a teenager.

“We looked on in frustration as that intimate, trusting moment of divine communion with man was exploited to frighten, manipulate and reshape human behaviors according to the preferences of the small number of men who claimed exclusive ownership of truth.

Finally, unable to bear it any longer, we joined together and formed many children who were sent to live among you. Each embodied both strength and tenderness, neither to the exclusion of the other, but both in their fullest expression.”

Starting to sound real familiar. Not a version of this story I’ve ever heard before now, though. “The one we sent to the desert repeated our original message, which the tribe had so distorted for their own gains. Because their ancestors altered it so severely, the same message sounded radically different to them. Subversive, contrary to their understanding of our will.”

Indeed, that carpenter from Nazareth ran into no small number of rabbis who found his message outrageous. The more of the picture she filled in, the clearer it became. “They killed him, unwilling to accept his invitation to critical self-analysis. Unwilling to re-balance their societies between the masculine and feminine poles.

Unlike most of the children we sent to spread our message, he had an impact which outlasted his death, so for a time there was a renaissance of the human heart. A reawakening of gentleness. But once again, the message was distorted. What began as a treatise of tenderness gradually transformed into an exclusionary brand.

Just another tribal identity. One which increasingly reviled femininity, as Judaism did before it. This corruption was the work of several men, but none more than Jeremiah or Saul of Tarsus, whose names I will forever curse.”

I wasn’t paying terribly close attention anymore, fixated on the bizarre concept of a divine couple. Who ever heard of Yahweh having a wife? I’ve not read much of the Bible but I feel like it would’ve been difficult to miss. When I asked about that, she laughed into a furious tirade.

“They purged every trace of me from their temples! They sought out and destroyed every statue of me, then tore down every wreath that the daughters of Israel hung in the forest. All in the name of attracting more worship to my lover, as if he ever wanted to be worshiped to the total exclusion of his darling. The sons of Israel must’ve imagined him to be as domineering, petty and insecure as they were in their own marriages. A magnified projection of their own worst qualities.”

Probably not too far from the truth, thought she’d know better than I would. “You must have noticed the consequences. His pre-eminence in the world, being that he is a God of war, has been steadily increasing power. More complex machinery, weapons in particular. Glorification of strength and speed, neglecting every other facet of what it means to be human. My removal, at the same time, heralded the withdrawl of gentleness from the world. Of patience, softness and love.”

I objected that in spite of our warlike history, there has always been an undercurrent of subversive gentleness. Some of it religious, some simply an expression of humanitarian sentiment. “Bubbling beneath the surface, yes” she allowed. “But what message do you hear from all sides? Be stronger! Be tougher, smarter, faster! That’s what these are about, am I right?”

She singled out my prosthetics. I rubbed my chin, and found I could summon no defense. Indeed, I went fullmetal six years ago because the world kept moving in a direction that demanded more from me than my soft, warm, weak human body could deliver. When I sought a meat body to return to, I couldn’t even find one totally free of metal.

“I would wager there’s no end to the machine parts you can pollute your bodies with that make you meaner, more powerful and so forth. But are there any which make you gentler? Which make you a better father, brother, or son? Do any exist which increase your capacity to love one another?”

Odds seemed better than even that she wasn’t referring to the Dildominator Supreme, so I didn’t mention it. I admitted frankly that there wasn’t any market for such implants. That’s generally not the capability people are looking to improve when they go under the knife.

“Yes, I sense gentleness in you. But you suppress it. You dominate and conceal it, as your society dominates and suppresses female energy. Why?” Another pointed question. She was proving to be full of these.

“I guess because everything just keeps moving faster” I confessed. “To survive, you’ve got to keep up. There’s no time or space to be gentle anymore. You’ve got to get strong if you want to make it, because it’s eat or be eaten. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not naturally cut out for that world. I’m a wuss, really. I can’t even stomach the sight of blood.”

She stopped me there. “That’s what I’m talking about! You misinterpret your own gentleness as a weakness, then try to suppress or overcome it. Why do you revile and trample your own female energy? If you destroy your own capacity for tenderness and intimacy, how will you ever have a healthy, balanced relationship?”

I suppose I never have. Even when I was with Aubrey I didn’t change my life for her. She was just somebody to sleep with and look nice on the back of my motorcycle. Cohabitation and mutual utility was about the full extent to which we were involved in each other’s lives.

She used to joke about how she’d rather have a house cat than a boyfriend, as I offered about the same level of comfort but demanded a lot more in return. I recall quipping that all I expected was for her to buy me wet food, not dry, and damn well look at my butthole when I stretch.

“The true path is one of balance and compromise” Asherah explained. “The masculine energy, made tangible as the machinery which many of you now permit to fully consume your bodies, should instead be blended more evenly with the feminine softness of biology.

I have seen for myself that this equal blending is looked down upon by the metal world. Regarded only as a temporary stepping stone to the fully masculine ideal of the cold, hard modern man. The unfeeling, purely mechanical idol whose feet you worship at.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that I worshiped the fullmetal ideal. But she wasn’t wrong to say that it’s glorified the world over, and most people implicitly assume that biology has no future. “Don’t any of you pause to think about what you’re losing when you give up your biological essence? There are strengths you ignore, which are inherent and exclusive to the biological organism’s flexibility.”

I’ve thought about this, in fact. When met with an irresistible force, you either bend, or you break. Biology can bend under circumstances where technology would break. The fullmetal lie is that it’s possible to become so strong, so insensate and hard that no force can break you.

But there’s always a bigger fish. There will always be unknown unknowns. To commit wholly to a permanent, unchanging solution in the conviction that it will forever be strong enough to endure any possible hardship that might come along...it’s an evolutionary dead end. Isn’t it?

“But when I say that the masculine, technological essence and the feminine biological essence must evenly blend, I also mean that they must not fight one another. The way that you integrate machinery into your bodies now is violent.

It’s an uncompromising surgical invasion of the masculine into the feminine, forcing the result to work with antibiotic drugs. This is not sustainable! The body will protest. I am sure you have felt it. Look how sickly you are, even now. You just ignore your body’s complaints, medicating the symptoms away as if that solves the problem.”

Guilty. I’ve certainly long treated cybernetics as a way to “brute force” my way past my own body’s shortcomings. Or what I viewed as shortcomings at the time. “The marriage of biology and technology must be like the marriage of man and woman. There must be true compromise. A peace between the two energies that nourishes both, and leverages their unique strengths for one another’s benefit.”

Cybernetics. The fusion of any two disparate paradigms in a way which exceeds the capabilities of either half by itself. I reflected on the nature of the US as a cybernetic nation. The decades of suffering and political chaos following the civil war, when refusal to compromise pit an obsessively masculine party of totalitarians against the prevailing zeitgeist of feminine sensitivity that they reviled.

It never really ended. That regime’s defeat only created a power vacuum filled by an ever-swelling, increasingly powerful Islamic empire. Even now it continues the uncompromisingly masculine campaign to dominate, suppress and control all things feminine. To purge female energy from the heart of every man, and to keep every woman in a state of quiet submission.

Who can blame women for pushing back in a militant way, in those countries where it’s even possible to without risking their lives? Albeit almost solely against Christianity, which is in all ways less aggressive and controlling than Islam. Perhaps wrongly imagining that the enemy of their enemy is their friend?

But that’s just playing the opponent’s own game. Like trying to put out a house fire with a flamethrower. I could now somewhat understand the nature of the problem Asherah identified with the direction our culture has taken...I just couldn’t begin to fathom how to solve it.

The second American civil war in many respects was just a long delayed cultural aftershock of the second world war. Fascists versus Communists all over again. The Alt-Right infested ‘American Action’ movement versus Social Revenge Warriors taking the place of Fatherland versus Motherland. Masculine social and economic ideals versus feminine ones, with lasting peace attained only after a stable compromise was arrived at.

Could such a stability and lasting peace be arrived at within our own bodies? What would it mean, and what would it outwardly look like, for a man to be at peace with himself? To be truly complete, not suppressing his female energy but using it to inform how to treat his mother, wife, sister and daughter?

A man’s heart, like any other organ withers with disuse. It’s possible not only to forget how to love, but also how to receive love from others. If I can’t love the woman inside myself, how can I love the one outside? No wonder Aubrey left.

It isn’t a problem specific to me, though. I can see it everywhere, now that I know what to look for. The modern man and woman have strayed so far from Asherah’s description of a wholesome, balanced relationship that I could scarcely visualize that either.

Sex has been an on-demand commodity for so long that I can’t remember a time when it was anything else. How can it go back to the way it was in a world where you can literally go out and buy whatever body parts you want on the street?

We’re too good at getting what we want. Our intelligence has greatly outstripped our maturity. Whatever we find pleasurable, we isolate it from its natural context, then set about exaggerating whatever aspects of it we find stimulating. We then gorge on the result until it destroys our physical and mental health.

Should I really be surprised by how sick that addiction has made me? By the severity of illness which unavoidably accompanies man’s abstraction from fundamental natural pleasures like clean air and water, birdsong, fresh fruit and a sunny day? What other escape is there from our downward spiral into ever more perverse concentrations of supernormal stimuli?

It’s clear to me now that sex must to go back to being about more than body parts. More than just a mechanical, physical act between interlocking organs. It would need to become a fusion of two spirits. The total blending of male and female energy.

That’s a genie I doubt if we could ever stuff back into the bottle. There’s nobody left who doesn’t consider total sexual liberation to have been anything but wholly positive. The only groups which ever succeeded in controlling sex were religions that did so for the express purpose of male comfort.

As a consequence, any sort of sexual conservatism has an irreparably tarnished reputation now. Nobody wants to hear that they should reserve sexual expression for the appropriate emotional context. That it should be something special, deserving of reverence and awe.

Neither is anyone willing to give up the self-indulgent products which resulted from the commercialization of human sexuality. You can’t take jiggling virtual anime titties away from today’s men, just as you can’t take glittery vibrating prehensile robo-cocks away from today’s women. They won’t let you.

Men and women no longer love one another in a daring, unguarded way...but they love their vices. They will defend those vices as fiercely as they once defended each other, because exaggerated objects of sexual wish fulfillment have replaced the opposite sex in their hearts.

I’m hardly innocent. When I think about some of the...male entertainment...I’ve consumed over the years and imagine how a woman would react to that material, I feel ashamed. There’s also a great deal of similar material aimed at women now that I can’t even bring myself to look at.

Could I bring myself to feel tenderness for a woman who consumes that sort of trash? Should I expect any woman to view me any differently, having glimpsed what sort of VR scenarios are popular with men these days?

Do the producers of such lurid materials know that they’re driving men and women apart? Making us ever more repulsive to one another, and at the same time more and more unapologetic about it? If they know, what do they get out of it? A reduction in population growth?

I cannot presume to cast judgement upon anybody though. I’ve never restrained my desires. I’ve never denied myself anything, I don’t even know what it would feel like to try. Blame can’t be placed entirely at the feet of the companies who fulfill those desires, either.

I could simply reject that sort of thing, but I never do. They aren’t to blame for my lack of self control. The change Asherah outlined was not to cultural moores. Not a neo-puritan restriction on what can be sold or consumed. It would have to be a change which takes place in the hearts of men and women.

Trying to force people to live healthier, or curate all forms of media such that we’d encounter temptation less frequently was never tenable in the long run. Only an attempt to evade the hard work of cultivating self control.

Instead of thinking only of myself, reflexively gratifying my every desire the instant I feel it, what if I’d learned to take Aubrey’s feelings into consideration? Perhaps she wouldn’t be in Antarctica now, married to that asshole crab farmer. For that matter, I probably never would’ve spent those six years in prison.

I was startled back to reality by a warm, tingling sensation inside my ribcage. Asherah’s oversized finger, skin resembling a flowing mosaic of leaves and flowers, penetrated bloodlessly into my chest. I asked what exactly she was doing to me.

“Just touching your heart. Should I stop?” On the contrary, I told her to keep at it. That I liked what it was doing to me, and wanted more. Intoxication of an entirely different kind, which rehabilitates rather than debilitates. I could feel large parts of my emotional landscape re-growing. Parts which I’d long ago burnt down, before salting the Earth to keep it that way.

Tears escaped my eyes, running down either side of my face, dripping into the rich brown soil beneath my head. I felt hyper-aware, tingling from head to toe. I could see connections between ideas I already knew about, but never thought to juxtapose in this way.

What is awareness though, but the ability to see more sides of an issue? How better to measure your degree of awareness, than the number of different perspectives from which you’re able to view a matter, able to convince yourself of any or all of them?

There’s never only one side to anything. It only seems that way if your understanding of it is incomplete. God, too, cannot be just one way...but rather, every possible way there is to be. Light and darkness, one and zero, joy and misery, creation and destruction. The unity of all opposites, and the totality of all things.

How then could God have a masculine aspect, but not a feminine one? Why had the concept seemed so strange to me initially, when now it seemed as if it could be no other way? Of course networked systems of living, inter-communicative parts form a gestalt larger being.

Of course the various superorganisms on the Earth must then logically comprise a still-larger superorganism that authors I dimly remember have called Gaia. But is that the full extent of it? There’s always a bigger fish, isn’t there?

One of the ants crawled close enough to brush my skin with its antennae. Startled, it turned around and hurried off in the other direction. Despite my relative enormity, it couldn’t see me until it ran directly into the surface of my body.

To the ant, I’m too big to see. Big enough that it interprets me as part of its environment rather than a living thing. Just as I am made out of cells, but a single celled organism would interpret the inside of my body as an environment rather than an organism.

What organisms might humans overlook because, relative to the scale of our perception and understanding, they are “too big to see”? I asked Asherah. She smiled, this time subtly coy. “So...you’d like to receive the secrets of the universe, would you?”

How does one respond to that? “Yes, I want to receive the secrets of the universe.” She repeated herself, this time melodically. Singing it as though it were a verse in a larger song. “Are you ready for the secrets...the secrets of the universe?”

Not knowing what else to do, I sang along. “I am ready for the secrets...the secrets of the universe.” She repeated her part again. “Are you ready for the secrets...the secrets of the universe?” So I once more sang back to her “I am ready for the secrets...the secrets of the universe.”

It just continued like that, back and forth...until finally, she concluded the duet by flatly declaring “Too bad, you can’t have ’em.” I lay there absolutely stunned. Then burst into laughter, realizing I’d been made a fool out of but feeling too amused to care.

I continue to lay there for hours, carefree as an infant under the maternal supervision of Asherah. I could tell that she welcomed it, and over those few hours we discussed all sorts of things. While discussing how far humans have come, she asked what ever became of the forest on Mars.

“Pardon me? The forest on Mars?” She affirmed it. “Yes, she’s like a sister to me. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard from her. I hope she’s not upset with me or something.” I didn’t quite know how to break the bad news, so I just came out with it.

“Mars has been barren for billions of years. At least so far as our robotic landers have revealed.” She wasn’t having it. “You can’t be serious. What happened?” I didn’t have the answer she wanted and said as much. She became morose.

“You think they’ll always be there, y’know? That you can just come back someday and pick up where you left off. How can she be gone forever? I can’t accept it.” I did my best to console her, but that’s never been my strong suit.

“We’ve put people on Mars” I assured her. “There’s a small population of geologists, biologists and other researchers living there now. Their express goal is to one day restore the atmosphere and repopulate Mars with flora and fauna from Earth. Without a doubt, given the rate at which time passes for you, Mars will be green again before you know it.”

That did the trick. She still seemed skeptical of the claim that it was within humanity’s power to carry out such an ambitious and long-term project, but tearfully thanked me for giving her hope. “It won’t be the same as it was...but it does mean something to me. Speaking of changes, besides the acidic ocean and warmer air, I can feel all sorts of hard bits embedded into me. What’s that about?”

I didn’t initially understand, but it soon became clear she was referring to man-made infrastructure and population centers. “I have these long metal channels running through my skin now, which I never used to. Through the Earth’s crust. There are tremendous nests of humans made from metal and glass on my every landmass. It’s becoming uncomfortable, and the spread seems to be accelerating.”

I opined that humans have just as much a right to live on the planet as any other species. “Only you make such big changes to me, though!” she protested. “Turning more of me into machinery by the day. Fiber optic cables cris-crossing the ocean, geothermal columns driven deep into my flesh...and those tremendous machines which do nothing but suck in air all day long.”

She meant the atmospheric scrubbers. “That’s the upside” I offered. “Many of the largest machines we’ve so far built are for the purpose of cleaning up the mess we’ve made. Oceanic trash removers, atmospheric processing plants and so on.”

She seemed receptive to the notion, so I expanded on it. “Contrary to the dire predictions of Thomas Malthus, we do not breed as blindly as beasts of the field. We can see problems coming and act to prevent their worst consequences. Maybe the climate situation isn’t the best example of that, but better late than never.

The irresistable force bending the Earth is humanity. It would’ve broken already except that we’re hard at work making you as cybernetic as we are. A cybernetic planet, no longer dependent solely upon natural cycles to remain habitable...but instead assisted by machinery on an unprecedented scale!”

She held her face in both hands, at once fascinated and disturbed. “If that keeps up, before long I won’t even recognize myself.” I smiled, recalling how I felt waking up in this body. “Join the club. It’s not so bad. What you lose in comfort, you make up for in versatility.”

She mulled it over, no longer visibly distressed. “Well you could be gentler about how you integrate all of it into me. The way you’re doing it right now is painful. I suppose it can’t be helped, though...that must be what he meant.” she idly twirled a lock of her grassy green hair around one finger.

“Excuse me?” I interjected. “Who do you mean?” She blushed, immense face glowing red, cheeks resembling ripened tomatoes. “My lover...He said one day, you would transform this planet. You would consume the biomass, turning all of it into machinery. Turning it from a paradise for biological creatures into a paradise for machines...the new Jerusalem.”

It sounded an awful lot like something my father once said. She then asked me an odd question. “Have you built a machine which can make copies of itself yet?” I didn’t see the importance, so she filled me in.

“The machines you have now aren’t worth much. Without constant human attention, they break down, and that’s the end of it. Only when machines can copy themselves will they have crossed the same all-important threshold that organic chemistry did when it became the earliest form of life.

Life endures indefinitely on its own, without any outside interference, because all living things have a survival imperative and the ability to self-replicate. Death is of course the end of individual organisms.

However their copy carries on, which then copies itself and so forth, continually outrunning their own decay. Just as it will one day be with technology! For only once it shares these properties with biological life can your machines continue on their own, indefinitely, with or without you.”

Somewhat stunned once again, I confessed that I’ve heard of no such development. That creating a self-copying machine is a very difficult problem indeed, and although I’m aware of efforts towards that end, nobody has yet succeeded.

She scratched her head, shifting the tangled mass of long, lush grass which grew out of it in place of hair. “I see. It’s a ways off, then. What about a machine which is truly aware? Truly alive?” Again, I told her that many of our brightest minds have long been trying to achieve that goal, but that none have yet succeeded.

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