Image from Negativnein

"History is the mother of truth."
   — variously attributed to Old Earth's Miguel de Cervantes or Martin Luther (late Agricultural Age) or Jorge Luis Borges or William James (Industrial Age); the true authorship is still disputed.

Deletionism is a blanket term for the belief that Terragenkind would be better off if some, most, or even all records of the past were erased or overwritten. For Terragens, deletionist thought and attempts at deletionism go as far back as the records themselves. During the Agricultural Age of Old Earth, when learned persons and written records were few enough, a despot might hope to make significant changes by burning books or scrolls and executing scholars. Some of these attempts were successful, though even a single saved book or refugee scholar could undo the plan. During the Industrial Age and early Information Age several similar attempts were made by radical ideologues or repressive regimes. While they achieved some notable local successes, these Deletionists were never able to erase or alter records that were beyond their sphere of control, or even track down each and every target within their own polities, so they never did achieve the permanent solutions they sought. However by the close of the Interplanetary Age, with the rise of sentient AIs and the increasing integration of Solsys' information systems, the Deletionist dream came to the fore once more.

Some Interplanetary Era Deletionist groups were reactionaries of one sort or another who wished to turn Terragenkind back to some earlier model of civilization, or more commonly to their idealized version of it. However the most powerful and the most persuasive Deletionists of the age were members of radical transhumanist associations. There were several of these, particularly in the Outer System, but the best remembered are the Apostles of the New Light. (It may be that this group is the best remembered because it made a special target of similar but rival groups.) The Apostles were an association of superbright cyborg-tweaks who sought the erasure of all data other than those essential to science and technology to, as they phrased it "cut away the dead hand of an obsolete breed that steers us still towards Error".

The Apostles did achieve some success even among the interstellar colonists. Where their powerful memetic engineering failed their subtle AI agents of sabotage often succeeded, as later generations were to discover when after hundreds of years of isolation they were able to compare their records with more intact versions. However, the Apostles and similar organizations did not achieve any great or lasting effect until the disruptions of the Technocalypse. They took advantage of the chaos of those times to ravage computronium banks and libraries across Solsys, destroying or corrupting huge quantities of data. The Apostles and other surviving Deletionist factions continued their "holy mission" right through to the subsequent Dark Ages which, arguably, their attacks helped to create and maintain. The true extent of the damage that they inflicted may never be known but the fact that the history, legends, and fictions of Old Earth are so commonly confused with one another by so many persons even in the present day may be laid at the door of this and similar organizations.

During the rise of the First Federation there was a minority Deletionist faction known as the Revisioners that wished to make the Federation of Worlds a truly "New Age of Terragenkind". However in the end a view of the Federation as a preserver of diversity under a broader unity prevailed.

In the millennia since early Federation times, just as during the Industrial and Information Ages of humanity's infancy, there have been many local deletion events, but the rapid expansion and diversification of Terragenkind would seem to make more extensive schemes impractical. The refugee sect that founded the Refugium Empire erased most of Terragen history from their records, which made the re-contact event somewhat traumatic for both sides.

Though some Hider groups and conspiracy theorists disagree, the general consensus is that even a cabal of the existing Archailects would be unable to carry out such a project over interstellar distances and against the probable opposition of other Archailects with different ideas. That said, there are some powerful Deletionist organizations still at work in the present day, and even now there are transapients with Deletionist tendencies roaming the Godweb in search of information to revise or delete. Some have even asserted that there are signs that these minds have begun to coalesce into an AI cluster around some yet-to-be-named archetype, something that will be the inverse of the Negentropy Alliance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, agents of the Judge work tirelessly against such an eventuality, and against Deletionists of any kind: good Negentropists oppose Deletionists wherever they find them.

Xenosophont Deletionism

There are movements comparable to Deletionism in non-Terragen civilizations. Perhaps the most notable of these is the mysterious faction or civilisation known as the Restorers, who have left no traces except for the numerous worlds that they have restored to the state they were in before they were touched by civilisation. These beings have taken the practice of erasing history to a new level, but it is unknown whether they are still active.

The long history of the pre-contact To'ul'h contains many examples of Deletionism though once the To'ul'hoss language and metaculture was well established in many areas of the planet lacunae in the records were sometimes noted and filled by scholars of a later generation who had access to records from another culture. The memetic portion of the To'ul'h Spacer/Homeworlder wars may have had some casualties due to the work of ideologues on either side, but most of the deletions are thought to have been restored through access to less biased Terragen records.

Other instances of non-Terragen deletionism are less well understood, but the Limners and their Auld Limner progenitors seem to have experienced something of the sort, and records of the former civilization at Doreen have definitely been erased in a systematic way. The Soft Ones and the Muuh are a more difficult case, but the famous Muuh vagueness about past events might be due to something like Deletionism.

Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 26 March 2013.