Instrumentality of Mankind

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

In the science fiction of Cordwainer Smith, the Instrumentality of Mankind refers both to Smith's personal future history and universe and to the central government of humanity. The Instrumentality of Mankind is also the title of a paperback collection of short stories by Cordwainer Smith published in 1979 (now superseded by the later The Rediscovery of Man, which collects all of Smith's short stories).

Origin and history[edit]

In the history of Cordwainer Smith's "Instrumentality" universe, the Instrumentality originated as the police force of the Jwindz or "perfect ones" on a post-nuclear-holocaust Earth. After attaining power and the expansion of humans in space, they eventually entered a somewhat stagnant phase in which a fixed lifespan of four hundred years was imposed on the human inhabitants of the planets where the Instrumentality directly ruled, all the hard physical labor was done by rightless animal-derived "underpeople", and children were never raised by their biological parents. This somewhat empty and sterile system was reformed and enlivened by the "Rediscovery of Man", the backdrop against which Smith's novel Norstrilia and the majority of his short stories, covering thousands of years of fictional time, are set. The cycle does not come to a final resolution (there were hints dropped about a mysterious trio of "robot, rat, and Copt" which were not followed up, possibly because of Smith's own death).


Though the Instrumentality does not directly administer every planet, it claims ultimate guardianship over the destiny of the human race. For example, it strictly bans the export of religion from planet to planet. Its members, the Lords and Ladies of the Instrumentality, are collectively all-powerful and often somewhat callously arbitrary. Although their motives are genuinely benign, they act with utmost brutality when survival is at stake.

Here is an explanation from the story "Drunkboat":

"The Instrumentality was a self-perpetuating body of men with enormous powers and a strict code. Each was a plenum of the low, the middle, and the high justice. Each could do anything he found necessary or proper to maintain the Instrumentality and keep the peace between the worlds. But if he made a mistake or committed a wrong—ah, then, it was suddenly different. Any Lord could put another Lord to death in an emergency, but he was assured of death and disgrace himself if he assumed this responsibility. The only difference between ratification and repudiation came in the fact that Lords who killed in an emergency and were proved wrong were marked down on a very shameful list, while those who killed other Lords rightly (as later examination might prove) were listed on a very honorable list, but still killed. With three Lords, the situation was different. Three Lords made an emergency court; if they acted together, acted in good faith, and reported to the computers of the Instrumentality, they were exempt from punishment, though not from blame or even reduction to civilian status. Seven Lords, or all the Lords on a given planet at a given moment, were beyond any criticism except that of a dignified reversal of their actions should a later ruling prove them wrong.
"This was all the business of the Instrumentality. The Instrumentality had the perpetual slogan 'Watch, but do not govern; stop war, but do not wage it; protect, but do not control; and first, survive!'"

Individual members[edit]

Some prominent Lords and Ladies of the Instrumentality:

  • Lord Jestocost (the latest of a dynasty of that name), descendant of Lady Goroke
  • Lady Panc Ashash (as a posthumous personality recording; the eponymous "Dead Lady of Clown Town".)
  • Lord Femtiosex
  • Lord Sto Odin
  • Lord Crudelta
  • Lady Alice More, partner of the seventh Lord Jestocost.
  • Lady Arabella Underwood
  • Lady Johanna Gnade

The names Goroke, Femtiosex, Sto Odin and Panc Ashash are number-word names of the type common during the Instrumentality's decadent period: "five-six" in Japanese is Go-Roku, in Hindi it is Panc-Ashash, and in Swedish Femtiosex (literally "fifty-six"). 'Tiga-belas' and 'Veesey-koosey', the names of supporting and main characters of the Instrumentality story Think Blue, Count Two, also mean 'thirteen' (Indonesian or Malay tiga meaning three, and belas being equivalent of English "teen") and 'five-six' (Finnish viisi and kuusi), respectively. Sto Odin is "a hundred and one" in Russian. The name Jestocost is based on the word for "cruelty" in Russian (жестокость), and Crudelta is the equivalent in Italian (crudeltà, feminine). Gnade is a German word meaning "grace" or "mercy".

Possible sources of inspiration[edit]

The term "Lords of the Instrumentality" may have been partly inspired by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, an institution of prime importance in the history of the British Empire. The Instrumentality also has similarities to the future world government of Rudyard Kipling's short stories "With the Night Mail" and "As Easy as ABC". Anglican Christianity, to which Smith belonged, refers frequently to "instrumentality", meaning agent or intermediary.

The most likely source of "Smith" 's use of the term "human instrumentality" is a quote by Smith Wigglesworth, a Christian Pentecostal evangelist of the early 1900s, who stated in his work "The Place of Victory" (published Feb. 1916), the following:

"I would like you to understand that God speaks first, and He speaks so loud and clear and so distinct that this man who was filled with the Spirit hears every word. I want you to understand that there is not a move in the valley; until the word of the Lord is uttered, the bones are as dry as at the beginning. But what is the matter? God has spoken and the message has gone forth. What is it? Ah! it is only that the Word of God has gone forth through His servant the prophet. The world has to be brought to a knowledge of the truth, but that will only be brought about through human instrumentality, and that will be when the human instrument is at a place where he will say all that the Holy Spirit directs him to say."

In short, it is described as the process of becoming an instrument of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God, in order to accurately and purposefully announce the truth.

The connection the story shares with Christianity and the similarity in pseudonym makes this the most likely source of the term.

Cultural references[edit]

The Human Instrumentality Project in the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series is a reference to Cordwainer's works.

A password used in the anime Serial Experiments Lain, "Think Bule Count One Tow" (used by Lain's father) is a misspelled reference to Think Blue, Count Two.

The Dreadstar comic book features the Church of the Instrumentality which is a space empire. The church has created a race of cat-people, similar to the underpeople of the Instrumentality of Mankind.

Selected bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]