This week’s focus of my archaeological research has been a review of the religious beliefs of the species in the immediate pre-apocalyptic period. This includes cataloguing last month’s excavation and analysis of data recovered in recent finds, focused on latter day storage formats used on the Earth planet. A widespread belief in the deity — seemingly known in this period as ‘The Economy’ — is now firmly established in the literature on this species, but the latest discoveries have enabled new insights into the creed’s role in species extinction.
Faith in The Economy appears to have been a hybridised version of earlier religions. In common with most novel faiths in the species’ final 2000–3000 orbits, The Economy was a monotheistic belief system. Unusually, however, and in common with earlier polytheistic systems, the divinity was believed to occupy the same existential plane as material beings. This finding perhaps explains the persistence of faith in some incorporeal divinities of the pre-capitalist period, alongside The Economy’s meta-divinity.
Accordingly, most of material life was organised around rituals of worship of and sacrifice to The Economy. Individuals with dominant societal roles invariably justified their status in relation to rewards for devotion bestowed by The Economy, although the evidence suggests the determination of status occurred in adolescence before worshiping capabilities were fully-formed.
Little evidence has been found to verify the efficacy of this distributional order in terms of the judicious use and application of available resources. The normal — even mundane — progression of species development, up to and including the early capitalist age, has been widely documented. Yet we can now conclude, albeit tentatively, that a slightly more accelerated progression appears to have coincided with the emergence of this atypical belief system, paradoxically inhibiting the recognition of risks to species welfare, and indeed species survival.
Anthropologists remain divided on the issue of cognition among elite groups, that is, whether belief in The Economy served to obscure the fundamentally destructive nature of species behaviours among the elite itself. [DN: Acknowledge limitations of current research design, recommend further research.]
However, the species exhibited a remarkable propensity for efficiency in some respects. For example, technological innovation in the capitalist age was focused overwhelmingly upon enabling faster and more effective worshiping practices, to the extent that technology itself came to be seen as a manifestation of The Economy’s omniscience. The latest discoveries strongly suggest that the most operative devices in this regard were widely disseminated, even among those with least access to sustenance.
Devotion to The Economy materialised above all in the collection and/or exchange of tokens, often composed of abundant metals and plant-based produce, imbibed with value through religious inscription (alongside references to various local elites). There is evidence that use of these tokens pre-dates the capitalist age by several hundred orbits, yet The Economy came to be seen as their ultimate creator.
The species quickly dispensed with physical tokens in favour of digital production in an extensive network of factory facilities (known colloquially as ‘banks’). The evidence base remains limited, but we can speculate that while digitalisation undermined notions of token scarcity, it supported an advanced entrenchment of ritualistic exchange practices in the species’ subsistence routines. Administrators of these factories assumed an ecclesiastical status, which enabled their role in token creation to be veiled by mysticism, ultimately sustaining belief in The Economy’s generative force in this regard.
Interestingly, cultural artefacts indicate that The Economy was frequently deemed to have suffered a ‘crisis’ by some members of the species, although physical items dated to these periods suggest that welfare standards across most parts of the planet were unaffected. It is possible to deduce here, for the first time, that the notion of intermittent crises was associated in fact with the experience of relatively luxurious conditions among elite groups, and served to reinforce and promulgate the sacrificial rituals which continued to form the bedrock of societal order.
As we find in most religious dogmas at comparable stages of species development, The Economy’s divinity was contemplated in great depth by theologians. Many members of this community were afforded positions of influence usually reserved only for individuals with greatest responsibility for the administration and dissemination of tokens.
Given belief in the transcendent nature of The Economy, theological scholars — in common with exponents of earlier religions — engaged predominantly in abstract speculation on the meaning of deity behaviour, often involving the construction of simplified representations of the divine totality. Again, there is as yet no consensus among anthropologists concerning whether such epistemological constructs represented a deliberate attempt to obscure uncertainties inherent in efforts to interpret The Economy’s intent.
For a short period of time (some say as briefly as 30 orbits) societal governance in many population areas underwent a degree of secularisation. Belief in The Economy’s existence remained strong — and was indeed the foundational premise of the main secular perspectives — but was supplemented by the view that the species’ collective will was morally equivalent to The Economy.
This creed was soon dismissed as a form of sacrilege by the most devout. In general, theological debates featured two main branches of thought: a dominant perspective which emphasised the species’ imperfection in relation to the invisible deity’s immaculate being, and a subservient tradition which hypothesised that The Economy’s ultimate plan for the species had yet to be revealed.
The species’ demise was rather undramatic. Unaddressed changes in the climate made large parts of the planet inhospitable. The intra-species conflict which resulted led to a sizeable loss of life, yet was dwarfed by the impact of the extinction of cohabiting species on the sentient creatures’ access to nourishment and breathable air.
Some anthropologists suggest that any recognition of the fragile or finite status of natural resources was deemed antithetical to The Economy. The absence of supporting archaeological discoveries might suggest it is more likely that such perspectives were simply considered external to prevailing practices of worship. If this is correct, individuals were presumably permitted to acknowledge the changing climate in the routine management of communal domiciliaries — which would leave little trace in the archaeological record — as long as religious rituals were unaffected.
Of course, the changing climate would ultimately come to affect token-based rituals. Interestingly, most geologists believe that the shift in planetary conditions was probably quite gradual, in comparison to earlier extinction events involving predecessor species. Evidence of a large-scale and prolonged manipulation of the planet’s crust, intensifying around 500 orbits before extinction, is consistent with the view that the species was reluctant to risk the wrath of The Economy by modifying modes of worship.
Some evidently refused to accept the possibility of changes to the climate, since such a scenario would challenge notions of The Economy’s benevolence. Others believed that intensifying worshiping practices would in time encourage The Economy to reverse the climate trends on the species’ behalf.
With some notable exceptions, the literature generally conforms to the view that demise proceeded in an unproblematically linear fashion, as religious behaviours became irreconcilable with the material environment. However, close examination of the archaeological record allows various conjunctural moments to be identified, suggesting that extinction may have been averted or at least delayed. The contingent nature of religious ideas is intimately bound up in the experience of these historical pivots. [DN: Make central to original contribution of research.]
One such moment was the pandemic associated with a novel pathogen, approximately 100 orbits before extinction. Above all, the episode demonstrates the species’ otherwise latent capacity for recognising major threats to life, thereby correcting an assumption — generally supported hitherto by empirical research — prevalent in much demise-related theory.
Elites eventually responded to the pandemic by curtailing most worshiping practices requiring physical proximity of species members. At some point — as yet unrecorded, but probably rather swiftly — it seems to have been acknowledged that the presence of The Economy itself was no longer axiomatic. Some popular accounts explained the deity’s absence in paradigmatic terms by, for example, describing the pathogen as a spiritual force equal to The Economy. Local leaders deemed to have fought off the demonic virus were revered for their effort to beckon The Economy’s return.
We must keep in mind, however, that this species, however alien its dominant belief systems may seem in retrospect, did not lack sophistication in its capacity for critical thought. The heretical notion that the species could itself simply banish the supreme being in order to ensure its own persistence — thereby defying The Economy’s omnipotence — briefly became an orthodox perspective.
Of course, religious rituals were so intimately entwined with basic, biological functions, that it was deemed necessary to maintain some worshiping practices, primarily among traditionally token deficient groups. It was hoped that the redemptive quality of such acts, undertaken by the least devout, would persuade The Economy to sustain critical life support facilities.
Furthermore, and more importantly, elites themselves began to assume functions previously reserved for The Economy. The idea that such interventions served to protect rather than replace The Economy was widely disseminated, but did not become an article of faith. Nor, however, did the idea that acts of replacement were essentially designed to protect the species from its god. The belief that The Economy was temporarily absent may have contradicted the assumption of omnipresence underpinning the creed’s morality, yet it nevertheless provided a degree of comfort for a species belatedly envisioning its own annihilation.
Somewhat tragically, the species’ fate was sealed by its own ingenuity and goodness. Caring practices deemed to be of limited relevance to spirituality were spontaneously intensified during the pandemic. Treatments were devised independently of their tokenary value. Owing to the restoration of digital recordings, ironically produced on the ceremonial devices ubiquitous among the species, a second plague — of cognitive dissonance — can now be hypothesised.
As we know from studies of similar species arriving at comparable developmental interregna, the desire for psychological consistency is likely to have been overwhelming, once the species’ immediate survival had been secured. A resolution appears to have been found by retrospectively classifying episodes of mass percussive expression (using individuals’ upper extremities) as a form of ritualistic exchange. The carers, healers and feeders were eventually beatified as tributaries of The Economy.
Revised editions of theological texts heralded accordingly a new divine equilibrium. This edict would eventually enable a renewal of religious fervour, inhibiting the enlightenment of the additional threats, noted above, to the species’ existence.
Even if this finding is correct, we can expect further debate around the inevitability of the apocalyptic sequence which ensued. Such debate will surely hinge around the extent to which this species was uniquely fallible regarding the solace offered by an omnificent idol. While views of The Economy’s virtue became increasingly fluid as extinction neared, the notion that the deity existed independently of the species itself (albeit intangibly) was never substantively challenged.
However, the suggestion of an unimpeachable predilection for rigid religiosity would seem to be contradicted by early findings regarding the significance of the pandemic discussed above. Although its consequences were evolutionary rather than revolutionary, there are clear signs that it produced pathways to alternative imaginaries which could have been pursued, had the species been afforded additional orbits to contemplate the pandemic’s implications in a comprehensive manner.
ADDENDUM: It may be necessary to revise the terminology used to describe this species and its singular planetary residence. The routine application of terms such terms such as ‘Earth’, ‘humanity’ and even ‘capitalism’ appear to result from an over-interpretation of artefacts related primarily to the species’ somewhat marginal scientific communities, or isolated pockets of political dissidence, rather than those more relevant to dominant modes of theocratic rule. While their use in the absence of consensus on an alternate lexicon is understandable, it does perhaps obscure the possibility that this species, for all its erudition, had an unusually limited capacity for self-awareness.
Craig Berry is Reader in Political Economy at Manchester Metropolitan University