The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays

Information does not travel instantly, a fact that people living on their own planet in an electronic age can easily forget. You can pull out your netpad and find out almost anything right as it happens. Interstellar conversation is different; these words of mine reach you at least three months after I write them—and I can’t explain to you why it’s even that fast, given how far away I am. Something to do with the new physics, I don’t understand it myself. But, I look at my calendar today and find that when you read my post it will be Christmas, or perhaps just after; merry Christmas, then.

They don’t celebrate Christmas here, of course. Why should they? Even aside from the issues of cultural integrity and freedom of conscience that occur on Earth, Jesus came to save all humanity, and Myrmeoids aren’t human. To the few evangelists that have made contact, they have listened politely and then explained that they have not fallen, and do not need to be saved.

They do have holidays here, but no organized religion. For Myrmeoids, spiritual matters are not separate from other concerns. The country people are, in our terms, more or less animist or pantheist, but they do not personify natural phenomena. When I defined the word “atheist” to Dan, he just laughed. No one he knew would doubt the existence of God, not any more than they would doubt rain or sunshine—and yet no one here has been able to explain country-people beliefs to me in a way that does not sound atheist. I guess I just don’t understand.

Imperial beliefs make a little more sense to me, in that they clearly descend from the worship of a pantheon of sky-gods. Anymore, the pantheon has been so abstracted that no one talks of gods. Instead, for centuries, they have used a phrase that translates as “Heaven” or “Spirit.” The reason we call them “Imperials,” in English is that conquest and empire is central to their culture and their spirituality. Traditionally, they believed that conquest was for the glory of Heaven, and that the Imperials generally, and the ruling family specifically, were the representatives of Heaven. Opposing them was therefore sinful, unless something—especially natural disasters—really hurt the ruling family, in which case everyone assumed they had lost the favor of Heaven and there was a revolt. These days, most Imperial people think of conquest in moral rather than military terms; they conquer ignorance or poverty, or even violence. Some people even hold a variation of the faith called “the inner empire,” in which the Self conquers the self. This is the only version Dan now has any respect for; he has lived with the country people so long that he has adopted their anger at the Imperial conquest and what he says is continuing Imperial bigotry. Yet even he takes for granted the basic metaphor of conquest; he speaks of resorting to violence as “surrender to baser instincts,” and his anger is mixed with disdain for anyone who would be so weak as to make that surrender.

I grew up celebrating Christmas, though I am not personally very religious. I’m not sure if I will celebrate it this year. I’m not sure when it is; should I celebrate when you do, in three months? But I’m not sure what the calendar on Earth really has to do with us here. Our sun and moons and seasons are all different. I could translate the timing of Christmas, and celebrate when the northern hemisphere of Antworld has just passed its winter solstice—but that was actually two months ago, and I didn’t think of it at the time. The local climate is warm enough that most plant growth appears uninterrupted, and I didn’t realize it was the solstice until a few weeks later. Anyway, the solstice is not quite Christmas. Christmas celebrates the bodily intrusion of divinity into the human world, and this is not the human world—so what mark can the Incarnation have left on its calendar? I am inclined to think that perhaps Christmas is not simply a season, but also a place, and that I am not in that place.

Yet perhaps I will simply consider today Christmas, for today I received a present; I have a pet!

The people here keep several kinds of pets, in addition to farm animals like urdles. The pets of ant-people are all large, intelligent arthropods like themselves—by “large” I mean maybe four to six inches long. The three most popular species look a bit like wasps, fleas, and tarantulas, respectively. House-wasps, as I have taken to calling them, don’t sting, though they are predatory and have a nasty bite. They are as closely related to Myrmeoids as monkeys are to us, and act something like very intelligent dogs. House-fleas—I call them that because they look like giant fleas, being two or three inches long—are strictly vegetarian and sweetly loyal beasts. And then there are jumpers, which look almost exactly like tarantulas except for only having six legs. I wanted a house-wasp, since they are gorgeous and fairly easy to train, but they tend to eat house-fleas. You can’t train them not to hunt, and sooner or later they always get out and kill something. They’re very popular, except with people who own house-fleas, which the La’helis do. They won’t let me keep a house-wasp on their property. And they won’t give me a flea because house-fleas imprint permanently imprint on those they grow up with, and I will eventually go away. I can’t have a pet I can’t give to somebody else. But today the La’heli gave me a jumper. They tell me it is a very useful pet, because jumpers go after spiders like cats go after mice. And there are a lot of spiders here—big ones. I hate spiders. I am not one to complain, but they get into my house at night and hide in my shoes. They climb up the walls of my room, I can hear them crawling in the dark. Some of the local spiders are seriously poisonous.

So now, if this jumper of mine works out, I won’t have any problems with spiders anymore. Granted, my new jumper looks like a spider, but it can’t spin a web and its bite is not poisonous. Also, it is intelligent enough that if I treat it well it will not bite me. Sometimes jumpers get very attached to their owners. Like the Myrmeoids, it can't make sense of spoken words, so it can't learn a vocal name. But I have given it a name anyway; I’m going to call it Jim.

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