After our last lecture, I was accused of being a Humanist and portraying the Humans has gods or the ultimate good. A large number of students came during my office hours and even more virtually complained.
I had no such intention and I am emphatically not a Humanist. I find Humanity to be fascinating in the same way astronomers find supernovas, geologists find basalt eruptions, xenologists find mass extinctions and epidemologists find viruses to be interesting. They are beautiful, horrific and fascinating in their power. Humanity was a force of nature above and beyond what ANY species can comprehend. And, yet, I as an individual do try to do so.
Value judgments have little place here. Humanity is dead and gone a long time ago. We have inherited a galaxy shaped by them. Could they have done better? Certainly. We'd have wanted them to. However, it's a very hypocritical thing to sit here with hindsight and make declarations. It's even more hypocritical when we don't even have perfect hindsight. My job as a researcher is to improve that very fundamental understanding about what Humanity was so we may learn from it. You as students are here to learn what Humanity was...and was not.
They were NOT the gods. yet they towered so much above the rest. They were NOT the devils. yet they committed atrocities that few would dare. They were not perfect. They often changed what they decided. They were not utterly flawed. They often forgave those who wronged them. They WERE an utter contradiction, beautiful and flawed, ugly and perfect within that concept.
Due keep that in mind while we move forward with this series.
Now then. Let us return to the topic at hand:
The previous lecture was on Humanity bursting onto the galactic scene. Since the feel from the class was they were portrayed as The Good Guys(tm) in that lecture. Let us talk of some of the highlights or low points, in Humanity's tread upon the galaxy.
There was a time when Humanity, after its eruption into interstellar space but before its total conquest of the Milky Way, that they were merely one amongst a plethora of powers.
When fought to a stand still once by the Vnon, Humanity signed a peace treaty with them. Officially for centuries, Humans were at peace with them and even made trade with the Vnon. But what had not been realized was as they were signing the treaty, the Humans had launched thousands of asteroids at the Vnon worlds. Even traveling at relativistic speeds, these would take a very long time to impact. But when they did, they shattered worlds. What was not smashed, the Humans occupied. In the name of Humanitarian concerns, of course. And the Vnon became a vassal species until their own extinction later.
However, the war that led Humanity to conquer the galaxy was the one with the brightest memory for the entire galactic whole though.
The war that saw Humanity begin its rise to conquest of the galaxy was one of their greatest wars with the Kalti. It was also one of the greatest crimes against sapients.
The Kalti smashed into the relatively new Union of Human Polities with all the force of a supernova: prior to the Humans' counterattack, the Kalti even reached the outskirts of the now lost Solar System. The Kalti were not merely attacking because they wanted conquest. They were not merely attacking because something small had happened. They were attacking because the Humans had unleashed the Great Terraformers upon the galaxy.
The Humans unleashed von Neumann machines upon the galaxy to seek out worlds within the habitable zone that were not yet human compatible and terraform them. Ever wonder why the majority of sentient species have a compatible biochemistry and breathe oxygen? This is why. Humanity unleashed these massive reproducing bots upon the galaxy to remake it into their home. They were not intending on destroying worlds with life already. At least complex life. And for the most part they did not.
The machines mostly copied themselves almost perfectly. However, in one in a million cases, the machine would have a corrupted program. In this case, in the region of galaxy occupied by the Kalti, that program ignored the 'no terraforming of worlds with complex life' rule. The Kalti were not oxygen breathers. The machines saw their worlds as not being inhabited. Worlds were damaged, millions of lives lost. The Kalti pleaded with the Humans to stop. The Humans mostly shrugged.
The Kalti had Just Cause and attacked.
The Humans rendered the Kalti extinct.
Other races that came to the aid of the Kalti, the Humans often wiped out.
Many of the worlds of these races were utterly destroyed. There are only small evaporating black holes in their place. Consider! Humanity took Total War to its logical extreme and utterly destroyed the worlds which brought to life sophont beings! Not just the entirety of a government or nation, not just the complete species, but even the worlds which the Kalti lived and including the world.
The human fleets would leap into a system, create, fling at relativistic speeds small quantum blackholes that would either decompose at their targets, bathing them in insane doses of evaporative energy or if sufficiently large enough, consume the entire planet.
Even so, the Kalti, stripped of their worlds, dogged fought on. Hiding in protoplanetary disks, asteroid fields and even amongst the free floating planets between stars. it availed them little in the end. They and their kind and their allies, are long since dead.
The Great Greening spread amongst the stars. Each time a new species faced a glitch, Humanity had a new war. A new war that extended their reach. A new war that crushed another rival. A new war that led to extending Humanity's grip on yet more space. And rendered more species extinct. The war that did not end until the last of Humanity's machines had reached ever corner of the galaxy!
Consider. Even though there were far more oxygen breathers than reducing breathers, thousands of species were rendered extinction. Hundreds of thousands of worlds with complex life were wiped out to be remade into redox atmospheres and biochemistries compatible with Humanity's. Even then, there were those that were redox breathers that fought to try to stop the Humans. The humans made their worlds into singularities as well. There is a reason the Galactic Nations have banned such weapons! There is a reason why von Neumann machines are also banned. None could allow such a travesty again.
The Great Greening is also a reason why it appears to be impossible at this point to identify Earth: hundreds of millions of planets within the galaxy are stocked with Earthlife after being terraformed. And none of them have continents that match what we think we know Earth had. There have been candidates, but all have turned out to have fossil records that reach back only to the Great Greening.
And, yes, even to this day, there are outbreaks of the terraforming machines. They seem to lurk in the galactic shadows and burst out upon worlds to terraform them. The local nations do fight back and often contain and eliminate the threat. Locally. Like a retrovirus, the terraforming machines seem to lurk in reservoirs across the galaxy. Ever there. Ever present. Ever waiting for whatever triggers them into action.
No. Humanity was NOT race of saints. They were not gods. They wielded power above and beyond, to be sure, but they also at times lacked mercy. Humanity had and has much to account for.
But seeing them one dimensionally, hating them, does not do any herm any good. It also denies some of the greatest feats the galaxy has ever known. And some of the greatest good.
But, yes, Humanity also conducted some of the greatest evil.
No species before or since has matched Humanity. In evil. Or good.