The Heres Mundi - aka The Bastards - is a small group of thoughtful, committed global citizens. What they think about, and to what they are committed, are matters that it may be unwise to discuss in this forum.
Adrian Ward is the only known living example of an ex-Heres Mundi. Whether he shall be permitted to retain that status remains uncertain.
Well, so much for that. The die has been cast, the plunge has been taken, and the fat is in the fire. With the publication of "On Bastardom" it appears that the veil of secrecy - already pretty moth-eaten - has been shredded entirely. If we all end up dying for this secret knowledge, we shall at least know who to blame for it.
You can listen to it here - or find the full text below.
On Bastardom Edit
The following is a transcript of "On Bastardom" - an audio-treatise published in December, 2018.
***CONTENT WARNING: Contains descriptions of certain facts about human history and the forces that govern it, knowledge of which may result in injury or death.***
Hallo, strange world. My name is Adrian Ward, and this is …a turning point. In my life, and in yours. Until now, in the course of our mutual journey through The Aldergate Papers I have mostly confined myself to the role of narrator. Oh, there have been a few explanatory asides, but I have tried to permit the words I wrote to simply speak for themselves.
Now, that will have to change.
I realize, you see, that if you are to properly understand the things I’ve written, you must know something of what I know – including some things you ought not to know, and which I certainly ought not to say.
So, after much deliberation, I have decided to speak. I am accustomed to having a pointy bouquet of Damocletian swords hanging over my head, and frankly I’m getting sick of the things. But the reality is that I cannot continue publishing The Aldergate Papers without disclosing certain facts that may well cause one particular sword to fall.
Well, let it fall – or let it hang eternally. I do not care.
You, on the other hand, probably do care. And for that reason I suppose I ought to apologize, because whatever danger I may be in, I have now put you in it as well.
I am afraid so. Oh we could pretend otherwise, of course. If you like, you can take comfort in the old myth that the way to escape the danger of a forbidden secret is to shout it from the rooftops. No longer a secret, no longer forbidden – that’s the logic. After all, they can’t kill all of us.
Trouble is, they can. And do, occasionally – just ask the good citizens of Castro, Gaochang, Indianola. Their silence speaks volumes.
So … if we do all end up either slaughtered or repurposed as blind-mute slaves … well … I am sorry. For what it’s worth, I really don’t think that’s going to happen … and honestly, that in itself is a bit worrying. Be that as it may, too late to turn back now. Iacta alea esto. Please allow me to introduce you to my old comrades the Bastards.
Funny thing is, I suspect you already know quite a bit about them, whether you realize it or not. Because, you see, for all the myth and mystery surrounding them, they’re quite a mundane phenomenon. If you know a just a bit about human history, and anything at all about human nature, I think you’ll agree that the one true, great, secret society is … really rather obvious.
Consider two statements so trite and bland as to be scarcely worth the breath it takes to speak them:
One: The rich get richer.
Two: Money is power.
No disagreement there, I trust? But let us follow these uncontroversial truths to their logical conclusions. If the rich get richer, and if money is power, that means the powerful must get more and more and yet more powerful until…
We’ll get to that in just a moment. At present, let’s ignore the conclusion, and start at the other end of the process. Back where it all began. The dawn of Homo Bastardus.
From the moment one hairy ape-thing first compelled the obedience of another hairy ape-thing, our history has been shaped by the exercise of power. At first it could be projected no further than the length of a club, but once we figured out that we could trade shiny stones to one another instead of having to work out the exchange rate of bananas to blow… ahm … to fishhooks, say … well, the stage was set. Five thousand years ago, or thereabouts, human wealth became more or less what it is today, and those who had it started getting more of it. And more, and more.
Yes. That brings us to a third axiom of human nature. It also is quite well known, but it’s not nearly so popular a quotation – not sure why, since it’s really just a natural corollary of the other two. Perhaps it’s for the same reason that birthday parties tend to focus on the fact that somebody is one year further from the womb rather than one year closer to the tomb. We understand it, we just don’t like to say it.
We ought to say it, and I shall: Power must grow or die.
Not a pleasant fact, but an unavoidable one. Empires that quit while they were ahead are notably absent from History’s pages. That’s just how it works. The machinery of human expansion hasn’t got a neutral gear – it’s either full speed ahead or self-destruct.
Grow, or die.
Now, power does not want to die. After all, who does? And so it seeks always to expand itself, hungrily, desperately, any way it can. And there are two ways in which power can be fed. By conquest, yes – and so it has always been. But that is the more primitive way, less efficient and less sustainable. Because, you see, power also grows by the process of civilization.
It is the difference between the hunter and a farmer. The conquering hunter ranges far and wide, collecting all the human animals who’ll permit themselves to be controlled. The civilizing farmer, however, expands that control, broadens its reach and deepens its complexity. And the human animals are drawn in of their own accord.
We are, you know. We can’t help ourselves. The drive to weave oneself into a grand design is hardcoded into the human brain. Oh, we may glorify rebellion, and romanticize perversity – but, at the end of the day, the patterns within us seek inexorably to merge with certain larger patterns. We don’t have a conscious desire to be controlled, necessarily. We just like … pitching in. Being part of something larger than ourselves.
Most of us would say that we mistrust concentrations of power - down with the Big Corporations, Big Government, Big Brother. And yet, like so many iron filings, put us near the right magnet and suddenly we’re all standing to attention and pointing in the same direction.
Now and forever, from here to eternity. As the dog returns to his vomit and the sow returns to her mire, we seek out our own little places in the ticking machinery of aggregated purpose. And so the machinery grows, and with it the power at the fingertips of those who operate it. Power grows and grows, until it can’t anymore, and then … ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
And … rinse and repeat. That, in a nutshell, is the first epoch of human history – an epoch that it took us a few tries to get out of, Google “Bronze Age collapse". The formula is intrinsic; the strong and wise became chieftains; the boldest chieftans became warlords, and the cleverest warlords became kings. The rich got richer, or died to make others richer still, and the kings who understood the game became exalted emperors. And again and again, whenever two expanding powers came together, they sunk their teeth into one another and ripped at each others’ guts until one was utterly devoured.
As one would expect. Indeed, knowing what we do about money and power and our human need to serve them, this would seem to be an inescapable cycle. And so it was. And … so it is – never forget this. The principles of human nature have not changed. We are still the busy cogs and wheels that make the time bomb tick.
We can’t help it.
But perhaps we can be helped.
Because there is another aspect to our nature, and it is this: that the oldest and strongest emotion of humankind is fear.
Fear, the hidden hand that has bent the arc of history away from that endless treadmill of boom and bust. The icy fear that lies within the hearts of those who chart the course of human events.
There is a story told of Great Alexander of Macedon. Perhaps you know it? In the most common telling, it is said that the invincible general wept because there were no more worlds for him to conquer. This is nonsense, of course – Alexander never conquered even one world, and in Plutarch’s original telling that was the cause of his weeping. He was listening to the philosopher Anaxarchus discourse on the infinite number of worlds. "Is it not worthy of tears," said Alexander, "that the number of worlds is infinite, and we have not yet conquered even one?"
It is a fine story. It is a humbling story. But it is not the real story. No, the real words of Alexander the Great – translated into Roman Latin – are carved above the doors of an ancient meeting-house in Caligari. “I must conquer this world,” said the weeping general. “And then, if there is no other, I must destroy it.”
I saw those words once, on one of the rare occasions when I decided to attend a Conclave of the Bastards. Of course, these days we mostly meet in fancy hotels – but sentimentality is itself a formidable force of human nature, and the Sardinian Villa is the oldest surviving home of the Heres Mundi. When there’s a particularly weighty issue on the table, my old clubmates like to surround themselves with the trappings of the past. Heh – creates a reassuring air of human permanence.
Usually, of course, we avoid meeting whenever possible. We frankly don’t much like one another. How could we? We are the ever-fearful guardians against that awful inevitability that made poor Alexander cry.
You see, Alexander the Great understood that he could never truly triumph. He had created an engine of power like none the world had ever seen – and he knew that it must run ever hotter and hotter and either smash itself to pieces or explode. And so must every civilization. Our fate is to forever tear at one another for the honor of at last tearing ourselves apart.
Yes, unless. There is another way. Suppose an equilibrium could be created – a Grand Balance, in which power is pitted eternally against power, rising here and falling there but nowhere growing great enough that its inevitable death throes smash us all back to the Bronze Age.
Imagine the stones of an archway, which – pushing unceasingly against their neighbors – hold the arch itself forever stable. One Alexander alone could not help but conquer all and perish. Two would destroy one another in the attempt. But say you had a thousand – not Alexanders, but his weakling heirs, with all his power but none of his lust to expand it. A thousand semi-secret scions, each with a fortune far in excess of anything you’ll find on the Forbes list. All pressed together by their fear of themselves and their inheritance.
They are the Heres Mundi. The heirs. And, contemptible as they are on a personal level, these illegitimate inheritors – these Bastards – are humanity’s alternative to a state of perpetual self-destruction. That’s just how it is, and has been for ages. For millennia now, their power – power which lies not in crowns and armies, but in ownership and influence – has maintained the balance that keeps the world on its axis.
It isn’t a job to be envied. Cursed are they, for they have inherited the Earth.
We have, I suppose I ought to say. I did submit my resignation, loud and clear, but I’m not certain that it "took." There is no formal process for getting oneself disinherited. The issue doesn’t generally arise. You see, most Bastards are born to that life, raised in the twilit depths of wealth that surpasseth understanding. New recruits are quite rare – in part because the problem of some insignificant human animal accumulating enough individual power to distort world events is exactly the sort of thing the Heres Mundi exist to prevent.
Still, these freaks do pop up now and again. I’m one. Sir John Holborn is another.
Yes, and I suppose at this point I’ve got to tell you a bit about Bastardom itself. How it operates. I’m … going to be a bit vague on particulars; there’s danger enough in having gone this far, but I’m not actually trying to get us all killed. I shall omit, therefore, naming any names not already mentioned, and I may skirt a few details of process, ritual, etcetera. However, having laid the foundation of what the Bastards are, the next question is: what precisely do the Bastards do?
The answer to that is: Mostly nothing.
And it’s not easy. Humans are terribly dynamic creatures, and the Bastards have got to spend a great deal of time and energy jamming sticks into the spokes before anybody gets pedaling too fast.
Not that it’s all negative. Oh, sometimes it’s necessary to foster a schism or two, but that’s more the exception than the rule. After all, sabotage is an inferior sort of tool – and the targets against which it’s effective were generally too fragile to begin with to really represent much danger to the Grand Balance.
No, in fact most of the Bastards’ real work is positive, philanthropic even. Working always at arm’s length, we move the dollars and dirham and dinar and a struggling musician becomes a breakout star. A new author debuts on the bestseller list. A trend is born, a fashion rages. A new idea sparks arguments at dinner tables around the world, and people … do … things. Doesn’t really matter what – sexual revolutions and religious revivals and fad diets and ethnic genocides are all excellent ways of accomplishing the prime objective: orchestrate disharmony. Keep ‘em jumbled. Keep them moving sideways, and at cross-purposes. Don’t give the time bomb a chance to stick itself together.
So, that’s most of the nothing that we do. But, of course, “nothing” isn’t always enough. When we detect what looks like a worrying trajectory – an emerging epicenter in human growth, people lining up to push us forward into that bright and terrible future … well.
At another time I may discuss a few of Bastardom’s more …direct interventions. Of course we never do it ourselves, but with the right levers it’s not difficult to arrange for human animals to kill off a few dozen of each other, or a few million. Not an elegant solution to human progress, but … an effective one.
As for myself, I...
I will not absolve myself of the decisions in which I played a part, nor of their consequences. I will say only this: that the question “Would you kill one innocent person to save ten?” is a difficult one. The greatest philosophers have torn it into pieces in search of an answer, and still cannot agree. However, that is not the question I would ask you. My question is: “would you rather one innocent person die, or ten? One hundred, or one million? Some, or all?”
You don’t have to pull the trigger. But you must state your honest preference. It’s not a trick. And it is a very easy decision to make. The lesser of two evils is evil, but it is also lesser. And you know it.
So. Like you I do not approve of everything the Bastards do. And, like you, I prefer them to the alternative.
So why did I try to leave?
That’s a story I really can’t afford to tell, not now at least. Suffice it to say that, in spite of everything I’ve talked about, I do aspire to greater things. I had an idea, a plan, which – if it had succeeded – could perhaps have opened doors of which we human animals have scarcely even dreamed.
How the Bastards found out about Project Sibyl I do not know, but their response was … thorough. I had spread the work so cleverly across eleven laboratories and research facilities on six continents. Some of the finest scientists, engineers, technologists in the world – and each of them saw only a piece of the greater whole. None of them knew what they were really working on. I don’t suppose the Bastards knew either. But they knew it was that I was hiding it. That was enough. And so, one day …
There is no justice to be had for a crime like that. But I did … make my feelings felt, on my way out the door.
Can’t really talk about that, either.
Anyhow – that brings us to the reason for my telling you all of this in the first place. You had to understand why the Bastards exist to understand what they do, and you had to understand what they do to understand why I left them, and what that may mean for Poor Little Adrian. In the last episode of The Aldergate Papers I was left him hiding in a museum, in mortal fear of Black Jack Holborn. So. Who – and what – is he?
He’s a vile, festering old villain. And he’s one of my fellow heirs. But, no mere rank-and-file Bastard he – oh no. Sir John Holborn is the current ManOc. The Manus Occaedo. The duly elected executioner of the Heres Mundi.
Heh. Now, there aren’t many elected positions in Bastardom. Matter of fact, there’s just that one. You’ll recall that the whole raison d’etre for the Heres Mundi is to prevent the aggregation of power – we don’t "do" leaders, and we are democratic to a fault. Oh, there are naturally some more senior or more opinionated Bastards who sometimes try to throw a bit of weight about in Conclave – but they do so at their own peril. Remember, nobody actually wants to seize control or unite the heirs behind them – what would be the point? No … in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Heirs will go to great lengths to demonstrate their lack of ambition. And rightly so. If any single Bastard were credibly suspected of seeking to upend the Great Balance – to become Alexander, and lead civilization into the supernova – well, they would have be destroyed at once.
But who would do the destroying? That was a thorny little problem for the ancestral Bastards to work out. Oh, they’d all happily sign the death warrant, but who would carry out the deed? An heir who can’t be trusted is an heir who must be killed – but how could you then trust the heir who did the killing?
You must understand, throughout history there have been a number of well-documented cases of heirs so obsessed with demonstrating their humility and harmlessness that they’d turn up naked to a Conclave and demand a cavity search.
Different strokes, I suppose. No judgment here.
But no, you could never expect any Bastard to volunteer to kill another. An act of leadership and an act of violence? They’d be next on the scratch list, and then who’d volunteer for that job? No – to ensure the enforcement of internal discipline, the Heres Mundi required a Lord High Executioner. The ManOc, duly appointed by a two-thirds majority of the full membership. Only they are permitted to initiate violence against the person or property of a fellow heir, and then only with Conclave approval.
Oh – the exception to that rule is the ManOc themselves. Anybody can kill them or have them killed at any time and for any reason. Balance, you see?
Which means that, in my current predicament, I could … technically … slay Black Jack Holborn in cold blood, and the heirs wouldn’t bat an eye. Somehow I don’t entirely fancy my chances … but … we shall just have to see, shan’t we?