The Prisoners Of Example

Planet Earth
Image used for representation only


Despite their conscience, she noted, Thearans were the worst among all planetary beings at making decisions. Even when their decisions destroyed their environment, Thearans inevitably seemed to choose wrongly. 

The atmosphere on Thear was accumulating gases that trapped the radiation from their sun on Thear causing the planet to experience rising global temperatures. Their leaders had met every Thearan year for more than 25 times to address their climate crisis, as some Thearans called it.

Almost predictably, Thearans decisions caused the global warming to accelerate, not decelerate or reverse.

Like the air they needed to breath, life on Thear required water to survive. Air, and water were not just the essential for individual metabolism, they were essential for planetary metabolism. They connected every life form on Thear, sharing information through the molecules that passed from one being to another, in what appears as the planets attempt to create a universal conscience through connection. Yet Thearans inevitably caused the rivulets and rivers that carried the water, the seas that churned it before sending it back as rain clouds, to be exploited, encroached, polluted, and destroyed. 

The mountains and forests were the places where rivulets were born. They were places where the air was restored so life may breathe. They connected the planet to all life on Thear. Yet, almost predictably, Thearans spread to every piece of land they could occupy. Even the mountains and forests on Thear. Their decisions to exploit, encroach, and pollute the mountains and forests caused Thear to become less livable, not more.

Gaya’s notes were scattered on her table.

As a Professor of intergalactic customs and culture she had already documented that Thear 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.

Her notes documented the experiments to get Thearans to transform conscience to action. After all that is where they seemed to fall short.

The Religion of Greed was the bold title on the page that showed signs of having been handled many times and had notes in red ink.

The Professor of Psychology handed a paper with 20 questions to the class. Students had to answer as many questions as they could and claim as many credits as the number of questions they had answered. On an average everyone claimed 4 credits. That was the number of questions they had managed to answer.

In the next round the Professor told the students they could discard their paper after answering the questions. The students could then claim as many credits as the questions they claimed they had completed, he announced. Now, students claimed 6-8 credits instead of 4.

Thearans are driven by greed, not conscience, he concluded.


The next sheet had underlined the title. It said: Follow thine Leader.

“Can conscience drive action in a world driven by greed?” she asked the Professor of Psychology.

“Let’s find out” responded the Professor. He liked good questions. This was a good question. If he found the answer, it could perhaps be the basis to change the acts of people on his planet.

He decided he would provide his class with 20 questions as he had done in his previous experiments. The students would discard their papers at the end of the allotted time. Each student would be eligible to as many credits as the questions they claimed they had completed. This time, however, he would ask one of his students to stand up at the end of the test and announce the number of questions she had completed. 

To his utter surprise the Professor observed that the students claimed to have completed almost as many questions as he had asked his student to stand up and announce! 

Intrigued, he repeated the experiment. This time he got a student from another class to participate along with the class. This outsider had to stand up at the end of the test and announce the number of questions she had completed.

This time, to his amazement his students did exactly the opposite of what this outsider announced. If she had announced 4, the class claimed to have done better. If she announced 6 or 8, they claimed to have done 4!

Thearans follow the example of their leader, he concluded. They also do the opposite of what leaders from outside their tribe do.


The Honor Code said the title on the next page.

Thearans have been trapped in the game of driving their decisions with exchange of Collars. Do Thearans have a conscience, the Professor of Psychology wondered.

If he could demonstrate that Thearans can be influenced by an honor code to drive actions, he would be demonstrating that Thearans had a conscience. 

He decided to repeat his first experiment with his students. He handed a paper with 20 questions to the class. Before attempting the questions, the students had to sign a declaration to abide by the school’s Honor Code. Students had to answer as many questions as they could and claim as many credits as the number of questions they had answered. The students could discard their paper after answering the questions. 

To his utter amazement, most students now claimed only 4 credits! This is even though no student knew what the Honor Code was because the school had none!

Thearans do indeed have a conscience, he concluded.


What the fate of Thear would be if they could have leaders who stood up and were an example of turning conscience to action? What would the fate of Thear be if it could invoke conscience before turning to action?

Gaya wondered if the rules of Intervention allowed her planetary leaders to visit Thear and invoke their conscience. Or perhaps stand up and act so that Thearans may do the opposite of what the outsider did and thereby save their planet?

There could still be hope for Thear. They may yet be able to give up their addiction to the short term. They may yet be able to act by following their conscience to protect the Short Now – A hundred years or the lifetime of a child born now.  

If they did turn conscience to action, she thought, they may yet save their planet from climate crisis. They may yet save the mountains, forests, rivulets and rivers from exploitation, encroachment, and pollution, she thought.

She closed her eyes, as if in prayer for the Thearans.


#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals or organisations that may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same. 

Anupam Saraph

Anupam Saraph

Dr. Anupam Saraph grew up in a Pune that was possibly a tenth of its current expanse and every road was lined by 200 year old trees. He’s committed to the cause of de-addicting the short-termers.

He can be reached @AnupamSaraph
Anupam Saraph

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