Gaya had heard about the planet of Thear. Thear pronounced like tear. Thear was light years away, somewhere in the place they called as the solar system.
As a Professor of intergalactic customs and culture she had studied dozens of cultures across as many planets. However, the idea of making first connection with Thear was both exciting and chilling because she had heard a lot of stories about the strange customs of Thearens.
Her anxiety was not unfounded. Most of the reports of other explorers to Thear indicated that they had did not satisfy the criteria required for the first connection. The First connection required a mapping of the moral code across the planetary cultures. It established that the dignity of the beings would not be violated in their interactions. It ensured that the interactions would not constrain the liberty of the interacting beings. It laid norms to protect the dignity of the interacting beings. It would create a foundation that would not treat each other unequally. It required that the interactions would not do injustice to the interacting parties.
All the cultures she had studied, the interactions were always driven by their moral codes and nothing else. But on Thear, no such mapping was rumored to be possible.
Thear, the rumors said, was a culture that separated their interactions with each other from their moral code. In fact, on Thear the moral codes had nothing to do with their interactions.
Very unlike the custom and culture of her people, the Thearans were a planet with customs and culture of exchanging Collars when someone did something for anyone other than themselves. Their customs also required that people exchange what they had in excess, for instance food and goods, with Collars. The practice was reportedly known as Conomy, pronounced with an e, on Thear.
The story of the introduction of Collars was the oldest unwritten folklore on the planet. The story was neither written, nor was it taught. It was spoken only in hushed voices by the reckless. The whispers were not even documented in surveillance Libraries on Thear.
Gaya’s notes pieced together from the conversations of other explorers to Thear was perhaps the only document across the universe narrating the origin of the strange customs of Thear.
The Origins of the Collar in Thear, the title read.
“Here is a Collar” he said handing over a sort of a belt. It could not have been a belt as it was much too small to go around the waist of even the thinnest person. It was much to large to be a replacement for watch strap. It would perhaps fit around a neck. Like the Emperors new robes, no one spoke about its grip around the neck, except for the occasional Collarless child whose voice was drowned by the sound of people scrambling for Collars.
“You can have it as long as you want!” he exclaimed. “But as long as you have it, you must do as I say.”
They looked at him, perplexed. He seemed to have so many Collars, more than they had ever seen.
“What shall we do with it?” asked the boldest in the audience, the one they called as C.
“You can wear it for it will show your standing among those who have less of it. Or you can exchange it for whatever you desire from the one you give it to” He said as he smiled. It was a strange smile, one that was not of a kind person smiling at you but could be the smile of a clever person smiling at his cleverness.
Soon Collars of all colors and designs came to be adorned by the people on the planet. The more collars you had, you were free, they said. For with the Collars you were regarded wealthy and powerful. You could exchange Collars for hours of labor from others. That he told them would spare them of having to do everything themselves. Collars could also be exchanged for anything you wanted.
“No, it’s not a barter” he pressed on. “This is convenient, you can keep it even to exchange later”.
Soon nothing ever happened on Thear without Collars. When that happened the one wealthiest and the most powerful was the one who gave them the Collars.
The interactions of Theareans now were a barter of Collars – No, they call it buying or selling with Collars. They bought everything – from food, goods, to people. Everything had a price of Collars. If the interaction allowed the seller to obtain more Collars than it required to source whatever was being sold, they called it profitable. In interactions, all that mattered now was profit.
Theareans forgot the purposes of their interactions, the reasons they exchanged time or things. They even forgot that interactions needed to keep each other’s dignity. On Thear justice was considered something that could be bought for Collars. The persons with the most collars were the only ones considered as free. Those with more collars were more equal than those without.
She knew first contact with Thear could never happen as long as their customs practiced Conomy. The irony of people with Collars considering themselves free had not escaped her. Visitors to Thear would be worse than the square in Abbot’s Flatland.
Gaya sighed. In her world interactions were all about the right thing to do. If you were just, you were doing right. If your interactions protected the dignity of all you interacted with, you did right.
If the interactions did not take away anyone’s liberty, you did right. Theareans knew nothing of doing the right things. They only knew about doing the Conomy right.
She looked at her notes and looked at the principles of the first connection that were framed on the wall next in her study. She turned to the section of her notebook where she had listed planetary cultures that recognized the Short Now. The Short Now was a hundred years or the lifetime of a child born now. She turned the pages to the next section: The Long Now. Here she had listed the cultures that recognized and were built around 10,000 year periods. She opened a new page in her notebook right after the section on Long Now. She wrote the title: Short term. Without a pause she added the only planetary culture to the list: Thear.
A tear fell from her eyes right where she had written Thear.
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He can be reached @AnupamSaraph