Friday, October 9, 2009

The Tollan

I've always been curious about the different levels of technology possessed by the many human societies that are to be found in the Stargate Universe. In case you're not familiar with the Stagate Universe, let me start by giving you some background on the television program Stargate SG-1, of which I am a fan of the first six seasons. I found seasons seven and eight kind of bland, and I absolutely hate the last two seasons. I derive absolutely no enjoyment from watching a paper thin parody of Christianity offer one of the most shallow social commentaries I’ve ever seen. I perceive such a blatant allegory as being both cowardly, lazy and uncreative. I would have appreciated a more original antagonist, one that offered a deeper, more insightful message than ‘religious fundamentalism is bad’. I don’t believe that demonizing Christians is any more acceptable than demonizing any other identifiable group. I also hate how they dust off the old trope “they’re not gods, they’re just ultra-advanced aliens”, as though that were a meaningful distinction. Granted, the Goa’uld were biological aliens with a few cool toys, arguable not very godlike, but the Ori are incorporeal beings who live on a higher plain of existence with truly phenomenal powers. If they want to call themselves gods, I don’t think we’re in any position to disagree. I also hate Vala, who is not funny and extremely annoying, the guy who replaced O’Neill, whose name escapes me at the moment because that’s how boring I find him, and Ben Bower, who is an extremely poorly cast actor. Does anyone really buy that this guy’s a US General? I do find Atlantis mildly entertaining, mainly because of McKay, and it mostly avoids the bigoted portrayal of religion that plagues the last two seasons of SG-1. I did enjoy the real Stargate movie, but I haven’t seen the movies spun off from the spin off series. I believe they’re called Ark of Truth and Continuum. I haven’t seen SGU yet either, but I’m sure I’ll catch an episode sooner or later.

Anyway, in the Stargate mythology, the Goa’uld arrived on Earth in 8000 BCE. The Goa’uld are a race of Sapient parasites with snake like bodies. They attach themselves to the brain stem and gain complete control of the body, as well as all of the hosts memories. Though any sufficiently large animal will do, since the Goa’uld are Sapient they prefer humanoid hosts with dexterous hands and the capacity for articulate language. Sapient beings are also much better fonts of knowledge than other animals. The vast majority of hosts are Humans, though the Goa’uld’s original host of choice were a reptoid race known as the Unas that were native to their homeworld. They will only take a non-sapient animal as a host in their uttermost need, and will discard it for a humanoid host at the first opportunity. The Goa’uld apparently have naturally indefinite life-spans, and through the use of their technology can extend the lives of their hosts by thousands of years. The host remains conscious during the entire experience, a prisoner in their own bodies for millennia. Upon their arrival on Earth, they used their technology to convince people they were pagan gods (and most of them sincerely believe they are gods). The Goa’uld are one of the many races in science fiction that can travel faster than the speed of light, yet still require slaves. They took humans to dozens, maybe even hundreds of other worlds throughout the galaxy and beyond to mine for the rare Naquadah, which powers all their technology. They often terra-formed these worlds for the benefit of their Human slaves, with pine forest and arid desert being the two most popular motifs. This also explains why they all speak English :). Anyway, once the Naquadah mines run dry the Goa’uld usually simply abandoned the Humans, and they left Earth in 3000 BCE.

Some of the Human colonies have scarcely changed either culturally or technologically in all the millennia. Others have advanced to be roughly on par with modern Earth civilizations. Others still have surpassed us by a century or two, and at last we have the Tollan, who are many centuries ahead of us. Now, which one of these four is the most likely? In the episode Enigma, wherein we are first introduced to the Tollan, Daniel Jackson suggests this explanation as to why they are so far ahead of us; during the European Dark Ages the Big Bad Catholic Church burned all the scientists for heresy, and thus there was no scientific progress for eight centuries. He claims that if it weren’t for the Dark Ages we’d be colonizing space right now. But Daniel Jackson has died on several occasions, which to me suggests that his judgement may be suspect. Here is a quote from my novel Deity; Cosmic Exile on the matter of dark ages:

“People don’t like to suffer, so advanced races do everything they can to prevent suffering. They control the weather, wipe out diseases, create inter-government organizations to prevent wars. But God does not allow anyone to suffer in vain. Large scale social upheavals are necessary for progress. Like a forest fire clears away the undergrowth to allow new plants to grow, or how a mass extinction allows new species to fill the vacant niches; Wars, revolutions and dark ages clear away failed institutions so that new ones may take their place. If such institutions are not cleared away they hinder progress, sometimes even stop it all together. If the Shadow Years hadn’t destroyed the old world of the First Common Era, your own civilization would never have existed. Without death there is no evolution, only stagnation.”

Contrary to what Daniel Jackson thinks (who’s supposed to be an anthropologist), dark ages don’t hinder progress, they enable it. If the European Dark Ages hadn’t occurred, I doubt we’d be colonizing space right now. Our civilization would more likely resemble the Roman planet from the original Star Trek episode, Bread and Circuses.

There is however another factor Daniel fails to consider when it comes to how advanced a society can be: population. A large population is necessary (though is not sufficient in and of itself) for technological sophistication, because it allows for division of labour. Scientists and engineers wouldn’t have time to make breakthroughs if they had to grow their own food. The larger a population, the more specialized and skilled individuals can become in a given field of work. Modern Humans aren’t any smarter than the first Homo sapiens were. The only reason we’re so much more advanced than them is because there are billions of us now, and there were probably only tens of thousands of us then. Atlantis at least acknowledges this. There are few advanced races in the Pegasus galaxies due to the frequent cullings of the Wraith.

Lets say you need at least hundreds of millions of people before you can have an industrial revolution. The Goa’uld obviously couldn’t have taken that many people from Earth since there were less than five million people when they first arrived, and thirty million people when they left. So far as I know, the lowest the Human population ever got on Earth was two thousand, so lets say that every colony that Goa’uld founded had a minimum of a thousand men and a thousand women to start with. Could two thousand people increase to two hundred million within a five to ten thousand year span? It took seventy thousand years for us to do that. A population could increase a hundred thousand times in only several thousand years if they dwelt on an idyllic planet, abundant in natural resources (especially food) and lacking in diseases and natural disasters, as well as man-made atrocities such as wars, massacres, violent revolutions and persecutions, and dark ages. Taking Human nature into account that’s highly unlikely, and you may spot another problem with this. In order for the Tollan’s population to increase enough to allow for an Industrial revolution in only several thousand years, the very upheavals that would enable social and technological progress must be absent!

So, in my opinion the Tollan, or any of the other advanced Human societies from Stargate, could not have come into being. It is far more likely that they would experience little population growth, remain culturally and technologically similar to their forefathers, and always stay within walking distance of the Stargate.

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