Article found in the Globe and Mail from science-fiction writer, Spider Robinson. Thought it was interesting...

What Fools These Yoomins Be, The Crazy Years
Spider Robinson
, 1998

To: Kames T. Jerk, Commander, Starship ExitPrize
From: Academician Npolfz Tuvefou, University of Aldebran
Subject: Your Report on Sol III

Dear Captain: I don't think you're being entirely fair to the yoomins of Sol III. I've read your recent assessment of their intelligence, as exemplified by the personal-comfort technology found in their fuel-intake and exhaust chambers, and I cannot fault your data. But I think you've missed a sublte point, which colours your conclusion.

There is about yoomins a quality so profoundly strange that it renders questions of intelligence or stupidity irrelevant. I have spent some time in that sector of the Lesser Megellanic Cloud -- not by choice, of course; a breakdown -- and ask you to believe that this is true, however improbable it may seem: Yoomins believe at their core that life is not tough enough.

A primary example: Like any sentient species, they recognized a need to transmit information nonverbally with high reliability over distance. Like most, they developed a symbol system: In their case, dark stains on leaves of whitened plant matter. (An unstable medium -- but then their lives are short.) They called theirs an "alphabet." So far so good. But yoomins believe life is not hard enough; they could not stop there. The most advanced tribe of them developed not two but three alphabets, almost but not quite identical -- called "upper case", "lower case", and "script" -- for absolutely no reason at all. These yoomins require their young to master all three, and an endless series of self-contradictory rules for when each may/must be used.

The largest tribe of yoomins, on the other hand, uses an alphabet that has endured, essentially unchanged, for millenia ... which contains hundreds of characters, of surpassing complexity, ad is nearly impossible for most yoomins (even of that tribe) to learn, write, type or translate.

Consider language itself. The purpose of language is to encode reality and communicate useful observations regarding it. Obviously, the more languages you construct, the more ways you have of looking at reality; integrate enough of them, and the noise should filter out, leaving a refined appoximation.

Yoomins have a reassuring plethora of languages -- and much urgent reason to want to communicate with one another. But almost no yoomin learns more than one language. Bitter emotional debates often rage on whether it should be permissible for the young to be schooled in as many as two.

This requires that every message between different tribes be laboriously translated by a single freak-expert, whose work cannot practicably be checked. Attempts at establishing a planetary pidgin -- the very first sign of a civilization -- have been made, but never seriously; yet yoomins maintain a planetary civilization. They do not believe life is hard enough.

The yoomin ecosystem teems with substances containing neurochemicals which induce pleasure in them. Nearly all yoomins show clear need for at least some such pleasure, above that provided by simple successful survival. Most of these chemicals have societally damaging side effects, some great, some small.

Dealing with those would be a large but entirely manageable problem. Buy yoomins don't think life is tough enough. Their response is to absolutely forbid use of any such substance, punishing violators with death, torture, imprisonment and disgrace. I swear.

Excepted, of course, are substances that do not make yoomin feel good enough to arouse anyone else's envy (e.g., "sugar", "chocolate", "caffeine"). But the only other exception -- one made almost universally around the planet -- is for the single substance that demonstrably and unmistakably has the most destructive effects (ehtanol). All substances in between tend to be demonized in direct proportion to their relative harmlessness, and the strength of the user's need for them.

This clearly does not work: it produces a daily spectacle of slaughter, waste, corruption and degradation that has continued for several centuries. Yoomins simply do not see it; they acquire a blank look when you point it out.

Yoomins reproduce sexually, and at high efficiency. At present, they are confined to a single planet (for no explicable reason; apparently by choice), and thus suffer an overpopulation problem so intense it must be immediately apparent to the meanest intelligence among them.

They are extremely blessed by nature in that a) contraception itself is trivially simple for them, and b) there are a number of alternative sexual recreations that offer not possibility of impregnation and are even more pleasurable than the procreative act itself. So what do yoomins do? They deify ignorance. They do their level best -- knowing in advance that they cannot possibly succeed -- to ensure that their young learn nothing about sex (not even simple hygiene) for as long as possible. Indeed, sexual ignorance in children is given the special name "innocence", and considered not only a virtue, but the ultimate virtue. Yoomins deliberately go to enormous trouble to guarantee that their own young will begin their sex lives incompetently, with maximum possible emotional trauma, just as they are most fertile.

Recently yoomins developed technology which makes unintended conception a correctable mistake, long before a developing fetus could possibly possess a single functioning nerve cell or pain receptor -- and now, inevitably, the most revered and popular religious leader in the history of their planet tells them such technology is evil. He himself is a celibate. Life is nowhere near tough enough for the inhabitants of Sol III.

Yoomins made a terrible historical mistake. They destroyed or tamed every single predator that threatened them, from sabretooth to smallpox, and gained control over many natural catastrophes -- long before they were emotionally prepared to do without them. They will manufacture an emergency if none arises naturally. In between emergencies, they fantasize about them. They are addicted to fear, and for some reason cannot admit it. They are neurologically wired to deal with a more hostile environment than presents itself... and are undone by the lack of competition. They turn their own intelligence to making life difficult enough for their comfort, for their innate sense of the rightness of things. Thus, the brighter they are, the stupider they appear to be.

It is what makes them happy. We can judge it only as art. And they are clearly great artists ... currently shaping their greatest collaborative creation yet together, a masterpiece known as The Crazy Years.