Help me identify this (probably fictional) conversation?
November 30, 2014 3:08 AM   Subscribe

Hey all, a particular literary conversation has gotten stuck in my head for days and I can't source it. I've tried every number and combination of Bing/Google searches, but it may be that I'm not getting the exact words right in the phrase.

Outline: A conversation between two people, likely (given my limited literary scope) in a sci-fi or fantasy novel/short story. Non-fiction scientific article is a statistical outlier. The first person (presumably an average one), asks the second (that may be a cyborg, demi-god, genius, etc) why they seem to have no interest in using their superior intelligence to gain power over ordinary people.

This is the part that's gotten stuck in my brain somewhere: the second party replies that the first is doubtless more intelligent/powerful than a pig or a dog, but apparently has no wish to march down to a farmyard and crown him/herself king of the animals. Closest paraphrase I can summon, "Even though the chance of resistance from your new subjects would be close to zero?"

I'm fairly sure this is something well-known/popular and thus obvious, but I've just not been able to ask the search engines exactly the right query just yet.
posted by The Zeroth Law to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have my copy to hand right now to check, but could this be Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, at one of those times when he's being sad on Mars?
posted by Mizu at 3:53 AM on November 30, 2014

Yup, Watchmen: "But you, Adrian...are just a man. And the world's smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite."
posted by sninctown at 4:13 AM on November 30, 2014

I don't know the source of the conversation, but the Doctor Manhattan line doesn't quite click. Manhattan is saying he's not threatened by humanity at all, but the godly type in the quoted conversation is saying he has no desire to conquer humans. Manhattan's line is kind of chilling in context, but the quoted line is really cold. (Also I read Watchmen approximately 4000 times when I was a kid, and that barnyard line doesn't sound familiar.)

But I think it almost certainly must be from a sci-fi or fantasy story. I just can't think of any real world situations where a conversation like that would happen. First, who is going to get asked that question? Second, if a human feels he has the legit potential to control the masses, he'll usually make a go of it. Third, if a human had the potential to conquer humanity but chose not to for the stated reason, I doubt he'd be so open about feeling so superior to the rest of humanity. The line fits somebody truly alien, but I can't think of any real would-be conquerors who would answer like that.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:51 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a line from one of Iain M. Banks's Culture novels. It's a very likely sentiment from one of the AI Minds in those books.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:30 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reminds me of Heinlein.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:38 AM on November 30, 2014

I just read this! It's "The Republic of Thieves" by Scott Lynch. Patience is explaining to Locke why the Bondsmagi don't bother taking over all the cities. Great trilogy so far, can't wait for the next one!
posted by platinum at 9:39 AM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

If it isn't what platinum answered, you may want to look into Asimov's "Childhood's End" - the premise is that a super advanced, omnipowerful race shows up not to enslave/destroy earth, but to help "civilize" us. There are a lot of conversations between humans and the aliens; it's possible there is a line similar to the one you are talking about.
posted by _DB_ at 10:01 AM on November 30, 2014

Clarke's "Childhood's End" ?
posted by librosegretti at 1:02 PM on November 30, 2014

platinum has it. From The Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch, page 165 (of my Kindle edition anyway):
"Are you smarter than a pig, Locke?"
"On occasion," said Locke. "There are contrary opinions."
"Are you more dangerous than a cow? A chicken? A sheep?"
"Let's be generous and say yes."
"Then why don't you go to the nearest farm, put a crown on your head, and proclaim yourself emperor of the animals?"
"Uh... because--"
"The thought of doing anything so ridiculous never crossed your mind?"
"I suppose."
"Yet you wouldn't deny that you have the power to do it, anytime you like, with no chance of meaningful resistance from your new subjects?"
"Still not an attractive proposition, is it?" said Patience.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 3:05 PM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Victory to platinum, and my gratitude to Two unicycles and some duct tape for the quote. Much love to you both!
posted by The Zeroth Law at 5:44 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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