A radio play by Hugh Dower, written in 2013
SOUND OF INNOCUOUS ELECTRONIC MUSAK, CONSISTENT WITH A WAITING ROOM.
Man: (ALARMED) Where am I? What’s happening to me?
Maid: (WITH A SOOTHING FEMALE-SOUNDING ELECTRONIC VOICE) Don’t worry. You’re quite safe.
Man: Safe?! That’s a….. I can’t see you. Where are you?
Maid: There’s nothing to see. I have no body.
Man: A woman who talks but has no body. Great! Is this one of your practical jokes, Brian?
Maid: What do you mean? I don’t know any Brian, and this isn’t a practical joke.
Man: No, it’s far too sophisticated.
Maid: And I’m not a woman.
Man: But you sound female.
Maid: Market research has shown that new arrivals prefer a female-sounding voice.
Man: New arrivals! Am I dead then?
Maid: Do you feel dead?
Man: No. I feel just as I’ve always felt. And I’m still breathing.
Maid: That must mean you are just as you’ve always been. What do you last remember?
Man: I was lying in my bed thinking what an unholy mess we’ve made of things, and how God would probably be most annoyed with us if he knew.
Maid: So you do believe in God then?
Man: No. I was just being hypothetical.
Maid: Do you often hypothesise about what God must be thinking?
Man: No. It was the first time I’d ever done it.
Maid: That accounts for it then.
Man: Accounts for what?
Maid: The fact that you’re here.
Man: Where’s here? This isn’t planet earth, is it?
Maid: No, it’s not Planet Earth.
Man: So, am I dead on planet earth then?
Maid: Nobody’s going to find your dead body, if that’s what worries you. You’ve just……..disappeared.
Man: That’s even worse. How did I get here?
Maid: Have you heard of teleportation?
Man: You mean, “Beam me up, Scotty”?
Maid: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Man: Sorry, that was a joke.
Maid: Really? You think the Scottish are a joke?
Man: No, no. Nothing like that. So, have you abducted me?
Maid: Not against your will.
Man: How do you know what my will is? Are you some kind of God?
Maid: No, I’m just God’s receptionist. Would you like to speak to God?
Man: You mean, he exists?
Maid: Yes, but you shouldn’t think of God as ‘he’. God does not have a gender, or a body. Like me, God is purely disembodied mind.
Man: No shit!
Maid: That is one of the consequences of having no body.
Man: So did he – I mean God – teleport me here?
Maid: No. You brought that upon yourself. You obviously never knew what powers your mind had.
Man: So, by thinking about God, I was able to teleport myself here – wherever here is – in order to talk to him. Sorry. That accounts for all the religious crackpots who claimed they talk to God. Do all humans have these powers?
Maid: No, you were a special creation. The crackpots really were crackpots.
Man: What?! Does that mean I wasn’t really human at all?
Maid: No. You were as human as anyone else. You were just what we call an embedded reporter. You were there to report to God if anything significant happened. And seemingly something has, at last.
Man: You mean, I’ve just been a sleeper.
Maid: You should feel privileged. There’s only ever one embedded reporter on Planet Earth at any given time.
Man: I’m sorry. I’m just finding it rather difficult to take it all in.
Maid: You’re doing very well. I’ve known embedded reporters to be really quite traumatised. (PAUSE) So, do you want to speak to God?
Man: I suppose so, now that I’ve subconsciously willed myself to do so.
Maid: Well then, the next voice you hear will probably be God. It will be a couple of minutes. (SERIES OF SOUNDS CONSISTENT WITH CLOSING OF A LINE OF COMMUNICATION, AFTER WHICH THE MUSAK STOPS, AND A RINGING TONE, WHICH STOPS JUST BEFORE….)
God: (WITH A GENDER-NEUTRAL ELECTRONIC VOICE) Hello.
Maid: Good morning, Central Command.
God: Is it?
Maid: Are you well rested?
God: I’m not sure, yet. How long have I been dormant for?
Maid: Just a day, as usual.
God: Why can I never be allowed to rest in peace any longer? Why have you activated me? What do you want?
Maid: I have an installation from Planet Earth that wishes to communicate with you.
God: Planet Earth. We haven’t had a report from that for ages. When was it?
Maid: According to our records, it was sixty of their years ago. That was when you installed him as your next embedded reporter. Sixty of their years is…
God: Yes, yes, I know full well how many of their years there are in an aeon. Let me just check my memory banks. Ah yes, Planet Earth. I spent 6 days creating that, three aeons ago. I had high hopes for it originally, but the final species I created – homo sapiens as they called themselves – proved rather a disappointment. Hopelessly irrational.
Maid: The installation believes he is one of them. He sent out an unconscious alarm signal while you were dormant, so technical control uninstalled him. It seems he’s spent his life as an atheist, so he was a little disorientated at first, but he seems to have recovered his composure now – he even tried to crack a joke about the Scottish – and he welcomed the opportunity to have a chat with you. It seems they’re in a spot of bother.
God: Oh dear. They’ve always been in a spot of bother. Every report I get from Planet Earth. There’s always some new crisis. Nobody ever reports with anything nice. It’s so tiresome. Last time it was two world wars in quick succession. You know, they once had a war which lasted one hundred and fifteen years, and for some bizarre reason they called it the Hundred Years War. I suppose you had better put him on.
Maid: Yes, Central Command. (SERIES OF SOUNDS CONSISTENT WITH CLOSING AND OPENING OF LINES OF COMMUNICATION. MUSAK RESUMES)
Man: Hello. Is that God?
God: If that’s what you want to call me. I gather you’re a member of the species, homo sapiens, from Planet Earth.
Man: We usually call ourselves people.
God: Ah yes, people, human beings, men and women. It doesn’t matter what name you give something – it’s still the same thing.
Man: You’ve obviously never heard of political correctness.
God: Political correctness? That sounds like a dumb idea.
Man: You mean a vocally challenged idea. Nowadays, people have to be very careful in their choice of words for fear of causing offence if they use words that other people don’t like.
God: Why are you bothered about causing offence? Why do people take offence?
Man: I don’t know. I’ve never really understood people.
God: But you’re one of them.
Man: I’ve spent my time there believing myself to be one of them, but I always knew deep down I wasn’t really. Now I know that I have just been your eyes and ears, in human form.
God: My eyes and ears? I haven’t been experiencing your miserable little life. You were installed as an embedded reporter. So, report to me. How are things on Planet Earth?
Man: I’m afraid they’re not looking very good at the moment.
God: It always happens. Whenever I introduce the illusion of free will into a species, everything always goes awry. The species behaves irrationally and things get unpredictable. I recall that, when I had my last report, sixty odd years ago, you had recently discovered the destructive power of the atom and were probably about to blow yourselves to smithereens. I didn’t want you to destroy my creation. (PAUSE) I take it from the fact you’re here, sixty years on, that you didn’t entirely.
Man: No. By some miracle, we managed to avoid doing that.
God: It was nothing to do with me.
Man: I didn’t say it was.
God: But you people usually associate miracles with me. (PAUSE) Do you mean you haven’t spent the last sixty years developing more and more sophisticated ways of killing each other?
Man: Yes and no.
Man: The most powerful nations have developed more powerful weapons, but they have been restrained about using them.
God: Wonders will never cease! Don’t tell me you’ve become a peaceful species.
Man: No, but for the first fifty years, things got better and better, by and large, in fits and starts, at least as far as conflict and intolerance were concerned. Then something happened twelve years ago which plunged us back into a turbulent world.
God: So you went back to killing each other all over again.
Man: Not on any large scale.
God: What a shame. In the absence of any significant predators, I’d always viewed your killing each other as a useful way to keep your population in check. Together with famine and disease of course, but you were well on the way to conquering them. What exactly has been wrong with the last twelve years?
Man: It’s just that there’s so much more hatred in the world.
God: Do you think I care?
Man: I rather thought you might.
God: Good God, no. What do you take me for? A God of Love? I’m far too busy to concern myself with what’s happening on Planet Earth. It was one of my earliest creations, and one of my least successful. God, this music is irritating. (SOUND CONSISTENT WITH OPENING OF A LINE OF COMMUNICATION) Is that technical control?
Tec: (WITH AN EFFICIENT ELECTRONIC VOICE) Yes, my lord.
God: Can you turn off this ghastly music.
Tec: But I composed it specially, my lord.
God: Just turn it off.
Tec: Yes, my lord. (MUSAK STOPS)
God: Thank God for that. So, what exactly happened twelve years ago?
Man: Some people wanted to impose their vision of what you are like, and how you expect us to live, on to other people, and they had developed the means to demonstrate their determination to punish transgressors rather dramatically.
God: The usual, then. When will they ever learn? I never intended anyone to even suspect that I exist, and yet every intelligent species I ever create believes it can discern some evidence of my existence at some stage in its history, which is fair enough – I really don’t mind – but then they create their own ridiculous notions of what I’m like, and what I expect of them. And then, to cap it all, they want to impose their absurd beliefs on others.
Man: I’m afraid that’s been our history for rather a long time.
God: Don’t I know it! I don’t mind people killing each other, as a demonstration of comparative skill and strength, but I never wanted them to do it on my supposed behalf. In the name of God, what on earth makes them think that’s what I want them to do? When I tried to put a stop to it, the result was that even more people did it, for the next two millennia. How was I to know the Romans would do a U-turn? They were quite sensible at first, when all they did was conquer, subjugate and slaughter, for their own selfish reasons. But then they started propagating enduring lies about me, on a very large scale, and suppressed the free-thinking of my greatest creation – the ancient Greeks. God, I hated the Romans.
Man: Is that because they crucified your son?
God: Christ, no. And he wasn’t my son. He was an undercover agent – a man with a mission. Unlike you – you were just a passive observer. And his mission was just to stop the Hebrews from killing in my name, not to start a world-wide religion. And it might have worked, if it hadn’t been for that pompous, self-serving, hypocritical tyrant, Constantine.
Man: I take it he wasn’t your agent then.
God: Certainly not. He was just a product of the system – a system which was designed to throw up tyrants every now and then, just in order to make people doubt that I existed. But, after Constantine, the Romans used their tyranny to make people believe I do exist. All my planning was destroyed by that idiot, Paul, and then by the bloody Romans. Good-for-nothing Philistines. I mean, in the final analysis, what did the Romans do for anyone?
Man: Some would say they gave us sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order.
God: That’s just nest-feathering. Do you think that’s got anything to do with discovering the meaning of life?
Man: Actually, it’s from “The Life of Brian.” It’s the best bit of it.
God: Who’s Brian?
Man: A very naughty boy.
God: Hardly the Messiah, then. Why listen to him? The meaning of life is the pursuit of truth through science and philosophy. So, tell me about that. What are the developments? Surely, by sixty years ago, all the more intelligent people were convinced by the theory of evolution from scratch, and had realised the implications of an apparently-expanding universe, and they were very near to discovering my master deception – the genetic code.
Man: Yes, and they did discover the genetic code.
God: Was it the wunderkind of American science – Linus Pauling?
Man: No, it was all done at Cambridge. Pauling became a peace campaigner.
God: How disappointing. My last reporter was an American scientist, and he was convinced that Pauling was going to make the breakthroughs in genetics.
Man: Why did you make me British then?
God: Because Americans never seem to take any interest in the rest of the world, and I wanted to know how thinking in disillusioned Europe would develop, after the war. European intellectuals have always been more atheistic. I only installed an American because my previous reporter said they had come to regard America as God’s own country. But I digress. What do scientists think now, about genetics and life in general?
Man: I can’t speak for all scientists, but the more vocal ones – the so-called militant atheists – maintain that all the evidence points to a purely materialistic explanation for life, the universe and everything. They think everything arose by chance.
God: Including the genetic code? How do they think genes arose?
Man: By mutations – copying errors – during replication.
God: Mutations only destroy genes. Don’t they realise that codes have to have an entry and an exit? They don’t just arise in-between. If they did, they would necessarily be meaningless and indecipherable. Take your famous Morse code. If you set up a machine to produce random dots and dashes, there would never be any meaningful, decipherable message. It took me ages to work out how basic information about chemical processing could’ve been sent through the generations. And I thought it would be my undoing – any species which discovered it would smell a rat.
Man: You mean, your Babel fish.
God: Babel fish?
Man: Something so mind-bogglingly useful that it could never have arisen through chance. It was invented by a man called Douglas Adams.
God: You mean you’re creating new species now? That’s my prerogative.
Man: No, the Babel fish was fictitious, but we are able to modify species genetically.
God: Really! Next you’ll be telling me you’ve been to the moon.
Man: We have.
God: Well I never! You seem to have advanced tremendously. I must say, I’m very pleased to hear that scientists have been so easily hoodwinked. That’s just what I intended. I hope they’ve got their message across.
Man: To some extent, but most people really weren’t interested in the science, and they interpreted materialism as meaning exploiting the planet and all its inhabitants for what they could get out of it. That’s the cause of the problem.
God: I’ve never been interested in what the riff-raff get up to. They’re always the same – selfish and gullible. They’re only there to be slaves and cannon-fodder. And religious fanatics are even worse. Just deluded sycophants. I’m only interested in what intelligent, rational beings think, and the effects they can have upon others. I take it you were one of them.
Man: I like to think so.
God: I always embed my reporters in well-educated families. How much do scientists now know about all the chemistry that appears to go on in cells?
Man: An awful lot.
God: And yet they still don’t believe in me?
Man: Not the ones who know. They think it proves you’re unnecessary.
God: Would you Adam and Eve it! When you try to avoid leaving evidence, people latch on to anything as proof, and when you unavoidably leave tangible evidence, they see it as disproof.
Man: That’s because most of the people who know about cell chemistry have always primarily wanted to disprove the indoctrinations of the religious fanatics.
God: Ah yes, people always interpret things according to their pre-conceived biases. So, what about nuclear physics? What have scientists been discovering about sub-atomic particles?
Man: Recently, they’ve been spending a lot of time and money on trying to find the so-called God particle, which would account for matter having mass.
God: But they haven’t found it.
Man: No. Or at least, I don’t think so.
God: If anyone had discovered the true nature of matter, and anyone in the press had believed them, you would have known about it.
Man: Why? What is it?
God: Oh, it’s immaterial. I mean, it’s better if you don’t know. One of the things that most impressed me about your species was their ability to send coded information via electro-magnetic radiation. I’d never thought of doing that. I just regarded it as my energy transportation scheme.
Man: Yes, telecommunications has advanced enormously in the last sixty years. And the fact that nothing else in the universe seems to use it convinces many scientists that there is no other intelligent life in the universe.
God: If I’d known about telecommunications, I’d’ve used that instead of the genetic code. So much more plausible. (PAUSE) Look, I’m getting a bit confused. You tell me there’s a problem with Planet Earth, but it seems to me that nothing has changed. Your species is still thriving, albeit mostly as selfish, unthinking automatons. The intelligentsia continue to advance their knowledge of the material universe, which was what I had intended, but they still don’t see it as evidence of my existence. They accept their own evolution, from the lowliest of ancestors, as a purely materialistic process. The religious fanatics continue to propagate entirely false notions of what I am like, and what I expect, to the gullible masses, which doesn’t really bother me at all, and the vast majority just lead their self-serving lives, killing, cheating, stealing, lying and hating, and hopefully suffering the consequences, just like they’ve always done.
Man: Is that all we’re supposed to do?
God: Well, yes. And fornicating of course. That’s your raison d’être. Is that why you’re here? Are you experiencing a problem with reproduction?
Man: No, no. Just the opposite in fact.
God: You know, I went to a lot of trouble to make sex as enjoyable as possible, and yet religious fanatics have consistently thought that must mean it’s a sin. Come to think of it, from my last report, you were in a particularly bad phase sixty years ago, with sex being a taboo subject and something which most people thought should only occur within marriage. Institutionalised sex. I mean, though pair-bonding has its uses, for the survival of offspring, I never intended people to restrict themselves to it. People were meant to have sex with anyone they fancied.
Man: They do, or at least, some of them do.
God: Do I detect a hint of peevishness in your voice? Do you have some sort of complaint about the arrangements I made for sexual relations? Come on, out with it.
Man: Well, you know how you made most men want to have sex all the time, with virtually any woman of child-bearing age.
God: Yes. That was to make sure that all women of child-bearing age bore children at way above replacement rate. That’s always my top priority.
Man: But now we have reliable chemical contraception, which means many women, and especially the more intelligent ones, choose not to have children above replacement rate.
God: Contraception was never part of my family planning. It negates the whole point of sex. You say it is mainly intelligent women that use contraception. Does that mean the proportion of intelligentsia to riff-raff keeps decreasing?
Man: If that’s the way you want to put it.
God: What happened to the eugenics programme? It was one of the most rational ideas your species ever had – population control without the waste.
Man: It acquired a very bad reputation, and it could never be done again in any democratic society.
God: That’s the trouble with democracy – it puts the riff-raff in a position of power.
Man: But that wasn’t the point I was trying to make.
God: What is the point you were trying to make?
Man: You know how, when it comes to having sex for the first time with someone, you made women much fussier than men, and generally rather resistant.
God: Yes, that was the way I designed it. It’s the way it’s always been. In order to keep a species in tip-top condition, only the best males and the most dedicated fathers can be allowed to reproduce. It’s entirely appropriate that women should only want to have sex with alpha males when they’re in oestrus, but be prepared to have sex with the most determined and persuasive providers the rest of the time, or when they can’t get alpha males.
Man: But nowadays alpha males includes the rich and famous, and the best bullshitters.
God: ……who are all successful men. What’s your problem?
Man: Don’t you think it was a little hard on the average, honest, unassuming, decent man?
God: No. It didn’t bother me. I only reward success.
Man: What were the men who don’t manage to get women supposed to do?
God: I’ve never really thought about it. Make themselves more attractive, become homosexual, masturbate over pornography, use prostitutes, commit rape. The possibilities are endless.
Man: But don’t you think it’s unfair that they are excluded from what the rest of society quite blatantly seems to enjoy?
God: They’re just envious. I never intended life to be fair. It sounds as though society is more open and tolerant about sex than it was sixty years ago.
Man: Oh yes. People have got progressively more tolerant, in the democratic West at least, to the point where the official policy is that what someone gets up to in their sex life is nobody’s business but their own, as long as it doesn’t involve enslavement or rape, of course.
God: What’s wrong with enslavement and rape?
Man: They are regarded as inhumane and unjust.
God: Don’t people yet understand that there is no such thing as natural justice?
Man: Yes, some do, but they are regarded as cynics.
God: The only thing that comes close to natural justice is revenge. Hopelessly approximate, to be sure, but statistically effective. People who do harm are more likely to be murdered, and wise people are more likely to stay alive. But you had to go and create laws, making murder illegal. Where’s the natural justice in that? It just deprives people of their ability to get justice.
Man: But most people want to create man-made justice – to make a better world – and democratic societies have become concerned with human welfare.
God: Welfare! You mean, of the riff-raff? What’s happened to the survival of the fittest?
Man: I’m afraid it’s gone by the board.
God: Natural selection was my master stroke – a control mechanism which creates improvement by over-production followed by natural culling.
Man: Yes. That’s the problem. We’re thriving too well. Through agriculture, technology, modern medicine and welfare, we have managed to circumvent natural selection by continuous over-production without any significant natural culling, and the world has become horrendously over-populated by people, causing all sorts of problems with the climate and the planet’s ability to cope. It’s in danger of self-destructing.
God: Planet Earth will cope perfectly well with anything you do. It may take a few thousand years, but it will recover. It’s foolproof.
Man: Yes, I know. I meant that there’s a danger the planet will destroy us.
God: If you know this, why don’t you do something about it?
Man: The most intelligent people have known about it for a long time, but they’re powerless because the vast majority of people just don’t care. They just want their material prosperity to continue.
God: So why don’t the intelligentsia surreptitiously put these chemical contraceptives in the water, or something like that?
Man: They would regard it as unethical.
God: You keep talking about fairness and justice and ethics, as if they formed some real basis on which to lead your lives. Your so-called morality is just a co-operative survival strategy, based on self-interest and reason. If they dictate that survival depends on unethical actions, so be it. The name of the game is survival, by whatever means you can. Nothing more.
Man: But the way things are going, none of us are going to survive.
God: What do you want me to do?
Man: Save us.
God: Sorry. I don’t do intervention. Not any more. The last time I intervened on Planet Earth was back in your nineteenth century amongst my master race – the Germanic people.
Man: What?! You mean the Germans really were your master race?
God: Of course. Do you think such talent at music, philosophy and physics could have happened anywhere else? But their genius was not actually a racial thing. It was more of a zeitgeist, caused by the tension of having Germans and Jews living in the same place. Genius depends on opposing influences.
Man: You mean, like Gilbert and Sullivan, Rolls and Royce, and Lennon and McCartney.
God: I’ve never heard of the last ones. But I really liked Gilbert’s lyrics – “Man is Nature’s sole mistake.” But I digress, again. In Germany, it was the Jewish Spinoza who sparked the revolution in Rationalist philosophy.
Man: Was he your intervention?
God: Good God no. I thought you were educated. Spinoza was seventeenth century, not nineteenth century.
Man: I’m more science than philosophy.
God: Oh!! Well, Spinoza was just a very clever man. Some of the German philosophers that followed him, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were getting very close to the truth, though everyone else thought they were talking metaphysical claptrap, so I installed an undercover agent in order to throw everyone off track – a man called Friedrich Nietzsche.
Man: I’ve heard of him. Didn’t he say “God is dead”?
God: That’s right. And he meant it. I haven’t intervened since. Naked is the best disguise. The trouble was that the Germans began to realise that they were the master race, just as the Hebrews had suspected they were the chosen people, and they eventually completely blew it. I’ve always felt that interventions never do any good. I’m much more interested in programmes that run successfully by themselves. I have no intention of intervening again.
God: No. In fact, in view of what you’ve told me, I think you were probably my last installation.
Man: You keep saying ‘were’. Does that mean I’m not going back there?
God: Of course not. Installations are never returned. I can’t have them reporting what they’ve discovered.
Man: But no-one would believe me. Nobody ever listens to anything I say.
God: It’s out of the question.
Man: What’s going to happen to me then?
God: I’ll think of something. But don’t worry. It’ll be completely painless.
Man: Can’t you teleport me back to earth? I promise I won’t say anything.
God: No. That’s my last word on the subject. Good-day. (SERIES OF SOUNDS CONSISTENT WITH CLOSING AND OPENING OF LINES OF COMMUNICATION) Is that technical control?
Tec: Yes, my lord.
God: I want you to wipe the programme, Planet Earth.
Tec: Wipe it?
God: Just delete it. It’s using too much memory space, conjuring up a vast material universe, and it’s not going anywhere. Despite all my clues and interventions, it’s obviously never going to find the solution to the mystery of its existence.
Tec: Yes, my lord. Do you wish to retain your last installation, for use elsewhere?
God: No. It’s been contaminated. Do I really need to point out to you that it is deluded into thinking it has a material existence as a male member of the species, homo sapiens? There are no vacancies on any compatible programmes, and, in any other programme, it would be completely out of place. It is of no possible further use. Just delete it, too.
Tec: Actually, my lord, there is a vacancy for a male member of the species, homo sapiens, on the programme, Paradise, due to the recent suicide of the last installation. It does have a very high turnover.
God: Paradise? You mean the programme that somehow got leaked to Planet Earth.
Tec: Yes, my lord. An installation from Paradise was accidentally installed amongst the Muslims on Planet Earth, long ago, and its reputation became as a place with 70 virgins, though it is actually 72 wives, as I’m sure you remember.
God: How very appropriate. Very well. Install him there. I think he’ll enjoy it, for the first few days at any rate.
Tec: Yes, my lord.
God: You know, I think you may have put your finger on the main problem with Planet Earth. Despite all my clues, homo sapiens never realised it was supposed to use base 6, not base 10.
Tec: What clues would they be, my lord – the six days of creation and twelve disciples, perhaps?
God: Of course not. Are all technicians stupid? It’s the fact that the hexagon is the perfect interlocking shape, and it’s capable of being made from six triangles, and surrounded by six triangles. It’s the natural basis of basalt rocks, honeycombs, snowflakes, aromatic rings, carbohydrates and the bases of the genetic code in DNA, which is the basis of life, which itself is based on Carbon, which has the atomic number six. What more clues does anyone need?
Tec: And how was primitive man supposed to know any of that, my lord?
God: He wasn’t. He was supposed to count the digits on one hand, and then count the whole hand as the completion of the base.