– This is a thing I wrote up a while ago now, when I was last working on religions; as you can see, it springs from reading about analyses of different types of New Religious Movement, which I wanted to incorporate into my primary conworld; but many of the most interesting features seemed to be most applicable to a modern or futuristic setting.
– As it happened, at the time I was playing with a SF world, and this religion seemed ideal for it. It’s a strange setting for me, as it’s neither the minimalist SF setting I normally play with nor the sort of rich, multi-species universe that would normally act as the opposing temptation. Instead, this setting is a human-only world that has faster-than-light travel and communication, which has become divided into many competing factions. The “Free Colonies” spoken of below are one of the larger factions in the setting.
– Although it’s atypical for me, I’ve recently been thinking about this setting again, and I might be putting up some more details in the future, so I thought it a good time to throw up this taster.
Pure Body System (PBS) has two chief sources: the Physical Semantics movement, and the Primitivism movement. PBS combines these strands into a powerful psychological, physical and social doctrine, which has become the dominant ideology of Free Colonial culture, accounting for a significant fraction of the human race.
The Physical Semantics (PS) movement probably had its roots in the 20th century, but it was not until the late 21st century that it reached its zenith. During the 22nd century, around the time of the early colonies, PS was a component of a large percentage of the dominant ethoi; since that time, it has dwindled in significance, with its followers crystalising into a handful of ethoi, of which PBS is the most significant. The origins of PS lie in studies of so-called ‘body language’ – the observation that much information is transmitted by non-verbal, and often non-conscious, physical means, such as posture, gesticulation, and facial expression. The fact that this communication was not always conscious was key: was it not true, asked the PS pioneers, that a thinking human being was always communicating in this way? Studies showed that even a subject told to be expressionless nonetheless made many motions, which could sometimes be correlated to reported thoughts. When these result were combined with a ruthless materialism, the conclusion was obvious: rather than these motions accompanying mystical ‘mental’ entities, was it not more reasonable to think that what we took as mental, our thoughts, were in fact physical – that our thoughts WERE our ‘communication’ of them? These insights could provide important help to humans – after all, the problem of communication was responsible for so many of the world’s ills. Now, the ‘meaning’ to be communicated was not something hidden away in somebody’s head, but graven on their every move and expression – it was only a matter of picking it up, in which modern science could undoubtedly assist.
Pure Body System, with its primitivist tendency, sees the human body as innately interpreting body language, but only imperfectly. The margin of perfection, however, has been distorted by deviance from our evolutionary form – if people have ‘distorted’ (genetically or cybernetically modified) or ‘degenerate’ (unhealthy) bodies, their natural body language becomes, as it were, garbled or mumbled, making communication more difficult. Accordingly, physical fitness and purity are among the greatest virtues, and rarely knowingly compromised – even superficial ‘body modifications’, like painted nails or unusual haircuts, are deprecated, as their deviance from pure body appearance causes distraction from the conveyance of meaning.
‘Communication’ is, of course, of immense practical benefit to the individual, but there is also a wider importance, seen in the PBS interpretation of compassion, empathy and love. Compassion is the condition of feeling another’s emotions as one’s own – this is held to be the result of perfect communication of that emotion. Compassion is therefore hindered by poor communication. Empathy is a characteristic of some individuals that allows them to ‘receive’ communication more accurately than most individuals – this is why empathic people are more compassionate. Just as we may, over time, tune into a radio signal, so to communicate we tune into the signal we receive from others – empaths are quicker and more talented at finding the signal, but more important is to transmit more clearly and strongly. Love, in turn, is a state of perfect compassion, which only occurs when there is good communication – which usually requires the receiver to finely-tune to the transmission. This is why love is said to grow between people who live together for a long time – they slowly learn the body language of the other. Likewise, parents and children, and also siblings. Romantic love is said to occur when an attraction (physical or semantic) causes the attention to be turned on a person intently and with great concentration. The knowledge and practice of PBS allows the same effects to occur more quickly and with less effort – hence, PBS promotes a universal love and harmony.
There are eight stated goals of Pure Body System:
1. To achieve a healthy and natural body
2. To become charismatic and empathic, resulting in social success
3. To eliminate the anxiety that follows from uncertainty of understanding
4. To enable personal psychological difficulties to be directly perceived and treated by experts
5. To enable the easier detection of hatred and deceit
6. To more closely bond families and communities, creating environments of warmth, nurturing and security
7. To eliminate social inefficiencies and counterproductivities arising from mistaken communication
8. To institute universal love and abolish all war and conflict
PBS is a religion of initiation, with multiple levels, known as ‘waypoints’. These are divided into three ‘courses’. The first course has three waypoints:
Alpha Point: those interested in the science pay for elementary instruction about the nature of PBS. This includes some advice on body language, persuasion and fitness, and some therapy.
Beta Point: those who wish to know more must first begin to reform their bodies to a point where they can communicate naturally – this means attaining health and fitness, and reversing or compensating for body modifications. PBS experts will provide assistance and encouragement in exchange for a low fee. At this point, followers are usually placed in like-minded groups of students.
Gamma Point: the interested may now, in exchange for money, receive further training and advice. This tends to move away from advice in the social/employment sphere, and toward first family matters and then more deeply into psychological issues. More socialising is done with both experts and fellow-travellers.
This first course is explicitly designed to show outsiders the benefits that PBS can bring even to people who do not enter into it fully. By the time Gamma Point is completed, many will have seen how empty their lives are, and wish to enter into community with other improved-communicators. For them, there is now the second course:
Womb Point/Delta Point: on reaching Delta Point, now called Womb Point, followers undergo a number of periods of disconnection from human contact, lasting usually around a week, designed to challenge the assumption of normalcy that followers have until now placed on wider society – by giving them time alone, they are shown how alien and unnatural much of society really is. On each occasion (known as a ‘gestation’, or more colloquially as a ‘holiday’), followers are guided out of solitude by experts.
Birth Point: after many holidays, the follower undergoes one final period of seclusion, known as ‘birthing’, which may last one or more months.
Baby Point: after the birthing, the follower enters into a society of experts. While there, he undergoes intensive ‘deprogramming’, to break the bad old habits of the outside world. This involves a combination of role-playing exercises and sensory displays designed to show and instinctualise the true semantic relations between different behaviours.
Pupil Point: the new initiate now enters into a wider society of initiates, as a junior member. With expert guidance, he learns the nuances of natural communication by engaging in it.
Student Point: the initiate has learned enough to live a contented and peaceful life. They engage in periodic ‘reconfigurations’ – mass calisthenic practices that reinforce particular physical/semantic relations while maintaining physical fitness and health and fostering communal spirit.
The second course aims to introduce people into a better and more select society. Most Free Colonies are now predominately inhabited by Students. Where initiate society is large, it often contains more-initiated sub-societies, where particular companies have given an iteration of the Second Course. Sometimes, these sub-societies may themselves contain elite sub-sub-societies. All of these, however, are fundamentally considered to be at the level of the Second Course.
The Third Course has a new objective: to institute the First and Second Courses. It too has multiple waypoints:
Guider Point: one who is sound and secure in his semantics learns how to teach and guide other Students.
Teacher Point: Guiders who excel go on to teach the First Course, and assist at Womb Point and Birth Point.
Expert Point: Experts oversee the First Course, oversee Womb Point and Birth Point, and guide through the Second Course. Experts oversee most Reconfiguration.
Deprogrammer Point: Deprogrammers are responsible for deprogramming; they are also overseers to ensure the orthodoxy of Experts, Teachers, and Guides.
Beyond this point is the Fourth, and highest, Course – its students are the highest authorities.
Wisdom Point: the Wise are the ultimate controllers of the first three Courses, and guide advancement to this point. They are students of Configuration Science.
Serenity Point: the Serene are responsible for ‘aligning’ PBS societies, so that their semantic systems do not diverge. Their knowledge of Configuration Science is considerable.
Scientist Point: Scientists are those who have mastered Configuration Science, which attempts not only to instil semantic systems but also to find the most optimal. Scientists may make sweeping social changes; they may even maintain certain societies as experiments for their research.