“If our society seems more nihilistic than that of previous eras, perhaps this is simply a sign of our maturity as a sentient species. As our collective consciousness expands beyond a crucial point, we are at last ready to accept life’s fundamental truth: that life’s only purpose is life itself.”
— Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Looking God in the Eye”
This is another one of those quotes that fit, in context, in a way that blows my mind. I don’t see how it could be possible for Reynolds to have written this quote while thinking of Planetary Networks, based on what it represents or what it does in the game. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that he actually wrote all these fictional books. Then, when it came time to assign quotes, all he had to do was read through them and pick an appropriate passage. After all these years, I almost really believe that “Looking God in the Eye” exists somewhere. That’s some powerful suspension of disbelief.
Planetary Networks are the natural extension of Information Networks. World-wide inter-networking: the Internet for a new Planet. The faction that acquires this technology gets several advantages. First off, that faction can build spies (what the game calls “Probe Teams”). This is a big deal. You can wreak lots of havoc, especially on a faction that don’t have spies of their own for counterespionage.
It also lets you build Hologram Theaters (entertainment helps with social stability) and the Virtual World (a secret project that makes all your Network Nodes also act as Hologram Theaters). Since the University starts with Information Networks, has a drone problem, and gets free Network Nodes everywhere, this is an obvious match.
It also lets you assign specialists called Librarians. Up until now, when not using population to work the land, it was only possible to assign doctors to add extra psych energy and technicians that generate energy. Librarians are the first specialists that produce research.
Finally, it lets the faction who discovers it adopt the Planned economy social engineering choice. This is supposed to represent something similar to what people hoped communism would be in the ’30s: an entire economy that’s managed like a firm or family instead of using market signals to coordinate everything. But, in a nod toward Hayek, it requires super-powered futuristic computer networks in order to get everything going.
On Planet, the economy is planned with the goals of achieving growth in both industry and population, at the cost of a substantial efficiency penalty. This makes a Planned economy really good in the early days of colonization. But that efficiency penalty starts to bite with more angry citizens and more energy loss as it scales.
So let’s wrap it all back around to Yang and his quote. It’s been quite obvious from his previous quotes that Yang’s a nihilist. But it is interesting to learn that he sees his philosophy as a progression of sorts. He sees the effect of technologies like the Internet as expanding the collective consciousness of humanity. And he thinks that, as consciousness expands, it necessarily becomes more difficult to believe in the pleasing lies of the past. Enlightenment necessarily leads to the conclusion that the only purpose of life is self-propagation.