Story summary.An alien from some sort of galactic federation of civilized species has arrived on earth - to civilize us, so we can join the federation. And his prescription is: stop all killing. And his device to enforce it is: a powdery chemical that spreads through air & water, infects through skin, & turns on a new sense in those infected - the sense of empathy. You step on somebody's toes; you feel the pain too. You butcher an animal; you feel the
terror of being butchered too.
By the end of the story, governments & nations would have collapsed, & aliens will be dropping food packets all over the world. We are supposed to consider this temporary pain, part of progress.
Notes.Part way through the story, I started picking up warts - too many of them:
- The empathy infects all life on earth "above" insects. So lions & wolves can no longer kill & must die of starvation. How will that affect ecology? Brushed aside. Humans can no longer kill rats & other pests that can now multiply boundlessly. Oh - they can kill them, there is an empathy loophole! In fact, humans can continue butchering animals for food - so we are told when author was faced with too many contradictions.
- Story is ethnically insensitive at several places.
- There are places where it's factually incorrect. E.g., you are supposed to need a Pakistani visa to travel to Amritsar! Or jumping to conclusions when there is not enough data: e.g., anyone not wearing a turban in India must be a Hindu, even in a Muslim majority state!
- On on options a race has on first contact:
"You were a cannibal islander, & a missionary came along. He meant well, but you thought he wanted to steal your yam-fields & your wives, so you chopped him up & ate him for dinner.
You were a West Indian, & Columbus came along. You treated him as a guest, but he made a slave of you, worked you till you dropped, & finally wiped out your whole nation, to the last woman & child."
- "Treason is a word every man has to define for himself."
- On how this new empathy sense works if you act violent: "It makes you love what you destroy--as you love yourself--& it makes you hate yourself as your victim hates you."
- "Who's going to build the ships?"
"Those who build them now."
"Governments build them now."
"No. Men build ships. Men invent ships & design ships. Government builds nothing but more government."
- Groff Conklin (ed)'s "Six Great Short Science Fiction Novels".
Fact sheet.First published: Science Fiction Adventures, May 1954.
Related: Stories of Damon Knight.