Good and super-good

Today, a dialogue from Strugackis’ novel “Waves Damp Down the Wind” (the published English translation is called “The Time Wanderers”; I dislike both that name and the translation).

Dramatis Personae
Toyvo, staffer at ConCom-2 (the Control Committee, Earth’s small and much reviled security service), ex-Progressor
Asya, his wife, a top-notch food creator and dietician

Progressor: field agent of Earth’s interplanetary aid agency
Wanderers: a largely hypothetical super-civilization, known only from relics and artifacts

A: …Well, let’s say the Wanderers do interfere in our life. I’m not arguing about that. I’m asking you, why is it a bad thing? I’m asking you, why do you demonize them? That’s what I can’t understand. And nobody understands it either… Why was it good for you to straighten other worlds’ history, but when somebody takes up straightening your history… Every child today knows that super-intelligence is necessarily good!
T: Super-intelligence is super-good.
A: So much the better!
T: No. Not much the better. We know what good is, although even there we are on shaky ground. As for super-good…
A: I don’t understand! It’s beyond reason! Why do you have to presume a threat? Explain it to me, set me right!
T: You completely misunderstand our position, all of you. It is, indeed, exceedingly improbable that the Wanderers will want to harm us. No one believes that! It is quite another thing that we fear. We fear that they will start doing us good as they understand it!
A: Good is always good!
T: You know perfectly well that it’s not. Or perhaps you really don’t know? But I’ve explained it to you. I’ve been a Progressor just three years, I did these people good, only good and nothing but good, and lord! did they ever hate me, these people! And they were within their rights to hate me. For the gods came without asking for permission. They came uninvited, they barged in and started doing good — the same good that is always good. And the gods did it in secret, because they knew for a certainty that mortals would not understand their goals, and would reject them even if they understood them… That’s what the ethical structure of this goddamn situation looks like! Basic stuff, but we don’t know how to apply it to ourselves. Why? Because we can’t imagine what could the Wanderers offer to us. Our Progressor analogy breaks down! But I know two things. First, they came without asking leave. Second, they came in secret. And those two things imply that, first, they know better what’s good for us, and second, they know for a certainty that we will not understand or accept their goals. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that. I don’t want that, period!

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