The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

It was a task that taxed the skills of top CIMA experts to ensure that when the government artificially cut Delphi odds to distract attention from something undesirable no other element in the mix was dragged down with it.

And newest of all was the ultra-secret work of Tarnover and those other centers whose existence, but not whose names, one was aware of. The goal?

To pin down before anybody else did the genetic elements of wisdom.

“You make wisdom seem like a dirty word, Haflinger.”

“Maybe I’m ahead of my time again. What you people are doing is bound to debase the term, and soon at that.”

“I won’t waste time by saying I disagree. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be here. But perhaps you’d define what you understand by the term.”

“My definition is the same as yours. The only difference is that I mean what I say, and you manipulate it. What a wise man can do, that can’t done by someone who’s merely clever, is make a right judgment in an unprecedented situation. A wise man would never be overloaded by the plug-in life-style. He’d never need to go get mended in a mental hospital. He’d adjust to shifts of fashion, the coming-and-going of fad-type phrases, the ultrasonic-blender confusion of twenty-first-century society, as a dolphin rides the bow wave of a ship, out ahead but always making in the right direction. And having a hell of a good time with it.”

“You make it sound eminently desirable. So why are you opposed to our work?”

“Because what’s being done here—and elsewhere—isn’t motivated by love of wisdom, or the wish to make it available to everyone. It’s motivated by terror, suspicion, and greed. You and everybody above and below you from the janitor to—hell, probably to the president himself and beyond that to the people who pull the president’s strings! — the lot of you are afraid that by taking thought someone else may already have added a cubit to his wisdom while you’re still fiddling around on the foolishness level. You’re so scared that they may have hit on the answer in Brazil or the Philippines or Ghana, you daren’t even go and ask. It makes me sick. If there is a person on the planet who has the answer, if there’s even the shadow of a chance he does, then the only sane thing to do is go sit on his doorstep until he has time to talk to you.”

“You believe there is an answer—one, and only one?”

“Hell, no. More likely there are thousands. But I do know this: as long as you’re determined to be the first to reach the—or a—solution, just so long will you fail to find it. In the meantime, other people with other problems will be humbly pleased because things aren’t so bad this year as they were last.”

In China… One always began with China. It was the most populous country on the planet, hence the logical starting point.

Once there had been Mao. Then followed The Consortium, which was more like an interregnum, the Cultural Revolution redoubled in no trumps (except that the stock translation “Cultural Revolution” was ludicrously wrong and the people involved understood by the term something more like “agonizing reappraisal”), and then there was Feng Soo Yat… very suddenly, and with so little warning that on foreign-affairs Delphi boards high odds in favor of China crumbling into anarchy and violence swung to three hundred against in three days. He was the epitome of the Oriental wise man: young, reputedly still in his thirties, yet capable of running his government with such delicate touches and so keen an insight that he never needed to explain or justify his decisions. They simply worked.

He might have been trained to display such powers of judgment; he might have been specially bred to possess them. One thing was sure: he hadn’t lived long enough to grow into them.

Not if he started from where most people had to.

Also in Brazil there had been no religious warfare since Lourenço Pereira seized power—whoever he might be—and that was a welcome contrast to the turn-of-the-century period when Catholics and Macumbans had fought pitched battles in the streets of São Paulo. And in the Philippines the reforms introduced by their first-ever woman president, Sara Castaldo, had slashed their dreadful annual murder rate by half, and in Ghana when Premier Akim Gomba said to clean house they started cleaning house and laughed and cheered, and in Korea since the coup by Inn Lim Pak there had been a remarkable fall-off in the crap-and-screw charter flights which formerly had come in from Sydney, Melbourne and Honolulu at the rate of three or four a day, and… and generally speaking in the most unlikely places wisdom appeared to be on the increase.

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