Entering the house, Enoch decided not to wait for the weekend to try to call Grandpa. He called the rest home first, figuring they probably wouldn't let him out yet. He guessed right, but they were running tests on him, so he couldn't come to the phone. He decided to risk talking to the nurse.
"What did you do to him?" she demanded. "Before you came in, he was completely gone. After you left, he was on top of the world, sharper than I've ever seen him. How did you do that?"
"Did I do something?" Enoch decided to feign ignorance. "He seemed pretty OK to me. I gave him his chocolate malt, and then he talked to his wife on the phone and I left." Which was true, just not the whole truth. "So he's OK now? Will you be sending him home?"
"You know Alzheimers is incurable. He must be in temporary remission. We brought in a specialist from the hospital to give him a complete evaluation. Hang on a minute." There was some muffled talking, like she had covered the phone to speak to somebody there at the nurse's station. Then, "I gotta go, they want to take him into the hospital for an MRI, and I need his daughter's permission. Call me back later today." She hung up.
Enoch was pleased with the result so far: Grandpa was still doing great, and yes, the doc was thoroughly mystified. An MRI? They must think the Alzheimers brain has physical changes they can look for. Or maybe they anticipate something new in Grandpa. It will be interesting what they find out.
Enoch went over to the desk and added his other questions to the list. It took him a couple minutes to remember them all, but trying to recall them reminded him of the one about forgetfulness. Three were about money. It's hard to forget about money. There were eight total, but the last one stumped him for a while. Oh right, what if he wanted to come back. That was actually the first one he thought of on his walk, but now it's #8. Good, it's kind of a door closer.
He was still thinking about it when Lazir came in.
Enoch motioned Lazir to sit down (or is that "up"), then took his list and went and sat down himself on the recliner. "I made a list of questions," he said.
Lazir didn't say anything.
Enoch reviewed the list, and decided to open with number 3. "I think you said that if I accept your offer, I must do only good always forever. That's a pretty tough nut. What if I slip up? Do you have enforcers?"
"Why would you slip up? If you want to be good, you can be good. Why would you want to be evil? I don't understand."
When he put it that way, Enoch wasn't sure he understood either. "Just habit, I guess. Take driving, for instance. Suppose I'm in a hurry and go too fast? Do they have speed limits? What if I exceed it?"
"Why would you do that? You have all the time in the universe, so there's no need to hurry."
Lazir had all the answers. Or maybe he was giving only non-answers. He had skillfully dodged around the enforcement question.
"What about sex?" The people in Enoch's dad's church thought it was a sin (their word for evil). "Is having sex with somebody 'evil'?"
"The Ancient One created sex for procreation. Nothing is evil when used as intended."
"Would I be able to have sex with Damic people, or do I need to bring my own partner?" A separately evolved species was probably totally incompatible.
"The Ancient One created the Damic people from the same pattern He used for you humans. There should be no problem with compatibility. Recall that their medicine worked with both you and your grandfather."
Enoch wasn't sure about the jokes question, it was pretty subtle.
"Do you know what a joke is?" he began hesitantly. He tried to think of a clean joke to tell as an example. All the damn jokes that came to mind are raunchy, and somehow that wouldn't work. Or maybe it would.
While he was racking his brain for an example, Lazir responded. "Yes, I think we found some jokes on the internet. I guess they are supposed to be funny, but we didn't get most of them. Many of them seem to depend on subtle reference to forbidden topics to qualify as funny. They wouldn't be funny on Ghadon because there are no forbidden topics."
Lazir paused, Enoch guessed he was probably waiting for his team to search the net. He resumed, "Then there are blonde and Polish jokes that seem to be funny because they ridicule a certain class of people deemed in some way inferior. They wouldn't be funny on Ghadon because nobody is inferior, and everybody knows it."
Lazir paused again, a little bit longer. "We found a few jokes that seem to depend on a surprise outcome, different from what would be expected. Is that funny? A lot of them are puns -- is that the right word? -- where the punchline sounds more or less like some other phrase in common usage. At least that's what my linguist tells me. We Ghibbers don't have jokes, so I'm flying blind here." Another slight pause. "The Damic people don't tell jokes either. Laughter is for expressing joy -- or is that 'fun'? -- and maybe for ridiculing fools. We don't have fools, and joy is not a joke. I don't know if I answered your question or not."
Enoch wasn't sure either, but at least Lazir had given it a good thrashing. "No jokes? What a dreary existence!"
"I don't think so," Lazir retorted. The antithesis of 'dreary' is not to demean other people, but to enhance them. That's what being good is all about."
Enoch still thought that could get boring real quick, but there was not much he could say to make the point. "Let's go on to my next question. When people get old here on earth, they get forgetful. That's after 70 years or so. Does it get worse after you live 700 years?"
"Do I seem forgetful?" Lazir shot back.
"Point taken. Um, let's talk about economics. Obviously you have a division of labor, because Rafile is a doc, and you have a pilot and you just now mentioned your linguist. Do I assume correctly that the Damic community is similarly partitioned?"
"Are people paid for their work? Is there such a thing as money, what with no government to print it?"
"No, there is no money. Everybody does something useful that serves other people, with the result that there is no lack of what people need to do their work. I think it's something like the economy on an Israeli kibbutz. Are you familiar with those?"
Enoch was not. "Isn't that something like pure communism? 'From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.' That's what they said, anyway. Except it never worked, because people wanted more. They got greedy."
"Could you live in that kind of economy?"
Enoch didn't know. After he got out of college he didn't really work for money, because he was always paid more than he needed to live on. He worked for fun. Wasn't that it? "I don't know. I program computers, which is fun. Other people have boring jobs."
"Well then, that would be their problem, not yours, right?"
Problem? Are there problems in Nirvana? Enoch didn't get a chance to say it.
"From their perspective, they happen to think preparing food, or driving a truck is fun. If everybody does something that is fun and useful, then the economy works well with no need for money."
"That's incredible!" Enoch was honestly impressed. "So would I be able to program computers?"
"Of course. Until you learned more and decided you wanted to do something else -- like design computers, or program computers to design computers."
Obviously Enoch's next two questions were irrelevant. Everybody is equal, and everybody does what they want (so long as it serves other people), so there wasn't any status to worry about, and no job dissatisfaction. It sounded great if it worked. Lazir clearly thought it did.
But something didn't sound quite right. "You keep repeating this 'useful' mantra. Are people only allowed to do 'useful' things? What if I decide that what's fun is playing video games?"
"Everybody contributes value to the economy by serving other people's needs. That's why it works."
"And if not? Playing video games contributes value to the American economy by creating a market for people like me to write games. But the users pay for their games. If you have no money, how does that work?"
"Even the people who play games do something to contribute value. Playing games contributes to that value."
"And who decides whether -- for instance, playing games -- who decides whether it is benefits other people or not, whether it contributes value?"
Lazir didn't respond immediately. Then slowly, like he was choosing his words carefully, "I don't understand this idea of 'deciding' that something is beneficial. Facts are not determined by somebody deciding -- except the Ancient One -- facts are facts because they are. Facts are about reality. How can anybody decide, unless of course they are creating new reality like the Ancient One?"
"So are you saying that this Ancient One decides whether some activity is beneficial or not?"
"No," Lazir said. "The Ancient One created reality. Facts are about
reality, so they basically came into existence at creation. Something like
that. I guess when we do creative work, new facts also happen. But benefit
is based on the nature of things. Since only the Ancient One can create
people, nobody else really has any say in what is of benefit to them. That's
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