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::little-man complex::

Little-man Complex

The crowd stirred, restless though not impatient, as they waited for the empty podium to be attended by the evening's first speaker. Some were there physically, but for others who couldn't afford the technology, they watched from distances measured in layers. It was the usual sort of mix in a talk that was this academic: those interested in it for the politics or education, present in the form of the various species that cared about either of those things. There was a gentle quieting as everyone became aware someone was stepping up to the platform.

"Thank you for joining the Universal Council on Current Political Affairs weekly keynote address. Tonight we start with a speaker that hales from the origin planet of the Human species, Earth, where he teaches Human History at the National North American University. He has written extensively on the history of the Human race. His latest book is titled The Second Dawn of Man: a look back at the Human entrance to the Infinite stage. He will be reading from the notes of his forthcoming work Little-man Complex: why Humans can't stop growing. Please welcome Professor Herbert Waxman."

The audience applauded politely as a modest looking Human came to the podium. Waxman was dressed professionally, if uninspired. He broadcast his personal marker in case anyone in the audience found him interesting enough to follow, arranged some data slides, and began speaking.

"Thank you for having me. I know we're only slotted for a very limited time so I hope you'll forgive me as I jump right in. As Councilman Nat mentioned, my current project is titled Little-man Complex. For those of you hearing this in translation and for who Standard Human is not a familiar language, the phrase "little-man complex" is a bit of slang. Originally, we used it to describe small men who felt the need to compensate their small statue with large actions as in, Napoléon Bonaparte's little-man complex, some speculate, contributed to his desire to conquer Europe. In my new book, I explore how Humans in general have always suffered from a little-man complex and how that affects our current actions and the way the other Quantum species perceive us.

"As a Professor of Human History, I'm always drawn to past examples of current behavior. Thankfully, in this case there are plenty of examples. Since the beginning of the Human race we've had a tendency to think we're at the center of things. All of the early religions, and some still today, claimed that the Infinite was made for us. A Creator specially designed everything that existed so that we could exist. And we loved telling each other these tales. It made us feel special and unique in a world that objectively seemed to care little about us. After repeating various versions of this to ourselves for thousands of years, we developed a sense of importance that made it very difficult to accept anything less as true. Nicolaus Copernicus provided one of the earliest challenges to this thinking when he speculated that the Earth was not in fact, the center of the Universe but that we were merely a planet, revolving around the Sun much in the same way the other planets in our solar system did. As Galileo Galilei began proving Copernicus was right, the religious orders became furious. How could mankind not be at the center of everything? It seemed preposterous, to some, that we weren't the very reason the Infinite existed. And so they lashed out, as little men often do, banning the idea until the evidence became so obvious that even they could no longer ignore the Truth.

"Still, our desire to feel special remained unassuaged, so we turned from the sky and honed in on the land. We had long since claimed dominion over the plants and animals, but now seemed to make it a point solely to prove our importance. Of all the living things, we said, we are the smartest. We have language and art and fire, traits and skills that no other creature possessed. And this satiated us for a while. That is, until archeologists discovered older species of hominids that, though extinct, could have been nearly as capable. And then zoologists learned they could speak to primates and dolphines through signs and suddenly we weren't even the only creatures alive with the ability to communicate through language. Undaunted, we continued our case for being unique. The extent of our knowledge, our technology we cried, proved that we were above these other animals. And so we pushed forward, still determined to put ourselves at the top of the pyramid of life.

"Perhaps ironically, our technology was a constant catalyst for proving how wrong we were. As Galileo's telescope first put us on the path to understanding how downright standard our circumstances are, Quantum science proved it beyond all measure. If understanding how the orbits of celestial bodies work affected the perception we had for ourselves so greatly, imagine how it must have felt to learn that the three spatial dimensions we considered all of existence were actually only a tiny fraction of the Infinite, and not a very important one at that. The savrin were the first species to map all of the currently known dimensions of space. When they found the three dimensions that make up the portion of the Universe Earth inhabits, they called it The Empty Place because so much space is just that: empty. There are literally trillions of light-years of almost nothing between some galactic clusters in this space, making it hard to argue that the designation is unfair. Here we are telling ourselves that we're the center of the Universe for so long, only to find out that we existed in the Quantum equivalent of a backwater swamp. We summon all the intellect and will of our race to break the Quantum barrier, only to find dozens of Plane traveling species had long been there and that we come from the boring part. It was the cherry on top of a centuries old cake of humility.

"So it's not surprising that we again lashed out, though thankfully with more grace than the old religions. It wasn't the Truth that we were upset at. We had since accepted that ignoring the facts of a situation doesn't change the situation. What bothered us was just how average we were. Certainly we weren't the dumbest (thousands of races hadn't even broken orbit yet), but we weren't the smartest. We also weren't the strongest or the most populous or the most adaptable. Was this to be the death kneel of Human hubris? No. Of course not. So even though Quantum technology taught us there are others just as capable, and in some ways more-so, it isn't too surprising to see that as Humans we continued to convince ourselves that we are the best in the Universe, the leading species. But in the vastness that is all of existence, how could this incredibly small and incredibly young species ever hope to claim to be the best? The answer comes from an interesting place in history. The Human species acquired Quantum technology during a time when economic growth was the driving force of Human culture. Humans built and procreated and built some more. Every expansion was in search of either new markets or new resources for goods for new markets. Out of this machination comes Quantum technology and the realization that the Infinite is so large that no one really cares that we exist. How could we make our greatest scientific achievement only to learn that others were manipulating Space before we had constructed language? So we keep doing what took us over this threshold: we grow.

"This is a departure from previous conclusions on why we're special. Before, all of our justifications were intrinsic: Humans were the best because our closest challenger still ate leaves while we wrote music and constructed rockets. Now, however, simply being born into the Human race wasn't enough. We had to prove we were the best through our actions. There wasn't really discussion or debate on what we should do. We have a habit, as a people, to just keep doing what's worked so far, rather than taking a big picture perspective on our actions. A culture of economic and technological growth brought us Quantum technology, so it was going to bring the next evolution as well. We had learned just how little our stature was, and we were determined to prove how grand our presence could be.

"We started by mapping our portion of the Universe, the three dimensions the Savrin had so casually dismissed. We set up observation posts, mining colonies, and trading relationships with some of the more advanced species we encountered. This was our goal: to fill and civilize not only The Empty Place, but to send missionaries to all corners of the Universe. In a speech to the people of the Earth, then Allied President Wu summed it up:

'The role of Humans must be to impart our ideas, our culture, and our values. Truths about freedom and liberty; about prosperity through technology. We have an opportunity like no other before, to spread the influence of the Human race and share with the Universe what our species has learned through the ages.'

Some listened because they had a genuine notion that Humans could hand out wisdom through the cosmos. Others listened because they knew it would enhance their own interests. Some simply nodded their heads and returned to their daily lives. And that was it. A course was set.

"Like notions of a Creator, generations of habit have engrained our role in the mind of the general populous, making it difficult for some to see our actions objectively. If they argue at all, they point to our successes, of which there certainly have been some, and declare this is reason enough to stay the course. Unfortunately present day circumstances prove how removed from reality our latest idyllic perspective is. Liberty and freedom have done wonders for Humans, but you only have to look as far as the Turfron people to see that some species, for whatever reason, can't integrate these ideas. We're now approaching almost a Human century of trying to get stable democracies to work for the Turfron and still have had only the most limited success. Apparently being partially hive-minded makes voting a difficult process and swaying public opinion easy. For an even more damning example you have to look no further than the planet of Bassil. The people there were starved for energy, their planet mostly devoid of the resources necessary to harness electricity or other forms of power. So we share our knowledge, excited for the opportunity to impress and create a new market for Human technology. It took almost no time at all before the people of Bassil turned on each other, using our technology to wage the same wars they had been fighting for generations. In less than two Earth years, the species was 1% of its former population.

"Personally I feel the tale should be one of caution and humility, though others are less cordial with their opinion. XXI, a Cullmarian politician and writer, wrote in his latest edition of The Quantum Species: 'Humans are the most headstrong of the races that have acquired Quantum technology. While not as warlike as the Brutani, they are in many ways just as aggressive and in some, just as brutal. They preach as if fathers of the cosmos, while lacking both the wisdom and grace. They want everyone to listen, but seem unable to hear anything for themselves.' Is this the legacy we're determined to inherit? XXI may be extreme in his assessment, but his reasons aren't unfounded. Since this is a challenge our species has been tackling for so long, is there any hope that we can handle ourselves with a bit more of either wisdom or grace?

"I often wonder why we can't celebrate what we do well without feeling the need to prove that we're the best. There are things Humans should be immensely proud of, not the least of which is having even broken the Quantum barrier. There is a sizable demographic that considers Human entertainment among the most immersive and complex of the Infinite. Our music and art in particular, have a way of captivating even some of our most diehard enemies. Why this isn't enough for our ego is a question I fall short on. I know for certain, however, that as long as we continue to tell ourselves that Humans are the center of the cosmos, we'll continue to be little men in a very big Infinite.

Thank you for your time."

The crowd applauded politely once more and Waxman stepped down from the stage where Councilman Nat smiled and shook his hand. He checked his counter and saw several more followers, though not as many as he had hoped. Councilman Nat stepped up to the podium and announced there would be a short break before the next speaker and the crowd began to slowly disperse. The Professor briefly toyed with the idea of waiting around to hear the next lecture, but then decided he'd rather return home early to his wife. Just as he initiated his recall, he realized the irony of his decision and couldn't help but smile and shake his head.