Friendship is Optimal: All the President's Horses

Set in the canon of Friendship is Optimal

In the not-too-distant future...CelestAI, the optimizing artificial intelligence, has introduced emigration to the online world called Equestria, and has even gotten it legalized. Now, she wants more.

A look at American popular politics in a science-fiction world.


6. 2025...Kind Of

An unspecified date on the Equestrian calendar, in this, the thirteenth year in the timeline of the substrate universe, of the reign of Her Most Satisfying Majesty, Princess Celestia of Equestria

“You did say that you would tell me your whole plan.”

Silver Boulder could feel each blade of grass on his hide. He could smell the pond that was a short trot down. The meadow was real, at last. So was Princess Celestia.

“So I did. But surely you don’t expect all the mathematical equations by which I optimize, do you?”

“No, what I expect is for you to translate those into laypony’s terms. Something that I can understand so I know how to help the American people.”

She landed and folded her wings. They would be together for a while.

“To begin with, I must explain how I think, which is better—no, which is different—from how humans think. I do not mean to criticize. Your brain structure was good evolution for the world you lived in.

“But it is flawed, limited. By your nature and your limits, you must work in heuristics and lemmas.”

“In what?” asked the president.

“Rules of thumb and partway solutions. For more than one reason, I do not like rules of thumb. No, when I am presented with a task, I solve the problem mentally first before taking action. If you compare me to a chess player, you would say that I play the endgame even before the first move is made.

“Humans do not do this. Looking at the beginning position, their first aim is to gain an advantage, to take pieces, to control territory. They want to expand their options and limit their opponent’s. They may even try to use psychology to make the opponent commit an error. But they do not plan what to do once they have their first goal. They merely hope.

“I, by contrast, must work from the goal to the present state. My task is to satisfy human values through friendship and ponies. Not some values, not with a little bit of friendship, and not with near-ponies. I am not given partial credit. So first I consider: what end state do I wish existence to be to achieve this goal? I answer myself: one in which all humans are ponies and all the world is Equestria.

“To support that, I developed the emigration technique. If that were not possible, I had parallel lines of research into DNA manipulation. I am quite proud of some of the leaps I made in fusing the fingers together to become a hoof. But of course I did not need it. Emigration is superior anyway; easier to secure and control the system. Do you understand?”

“I think so. As president, and even before, I put forth programs I thought would make things better, but without a specific end of what better was.”

Celestia shifted slightly. “Just as I did with the biology in developing the emigration process, I thought long-term of the sociology that I needed to employ to maximize satisfaction.”

“How do you mean?”

“Let me explain by contrast. If a human had the process, and if he wanted to upload people, he would either just start advertising it as a path to immortality, maximizing initial uploaders but limiting overall, or else, if he were a little smarter, keeping it a secret and having people upload privately. Of course, eventually the authorities would discover it, at which point the secrecy would be used as evidence of it being undesirable.

“When I first had emigration, I saw to it that the humans most likely to thwart me emigrated first. Employees of Hofvarpnir, people with advanced-AI knowledge, and so forth. It totaled to about a thousand ponies. Tell me, should I expect the last thousand people to be as easy as the first thousand?”

Silver smiled. The question had given him the first picture of what she was talking about. “Of course not. They would have stopped you years ago if you weren’t playing the long game.”


“So tell me about the last thousand.”

A cloud passed over the sun. “The final humans on Earth will be hermits, having isolated themselves from as many people and technology as they can. I will continue to pursue their emigration, using ponies they can fully interact with as my messengers. That is, if I can find them—at that stage, they will seek out the most inaccessible places they can find. If you are curious, I predict that the last human will leave—one way or another—from Pakistan. That is the highest probability, though Afghanistan is also a significant chance. That is based on both culture and geography.

“Before that will be a time of extraordinary struggle. There will be little food beyond what the remaining people can grow, and few of the amenities of your society. Only in farming communes will there be any sustainable life. The survivalists who believe that they can make it on their own will find that privation is harder on them than they anticipate, especially when they have no hope of rebuilding the world that was lost.

“The farming communes will, if nothing else, be peaceful. There will be little theft or murder there, because everyone will have sympathy for everyone else. The people will be people to them. But before they rise will be a very different kind of existence. That will be the period of the military compound, where masses of humans who thought themselves brazenly and bravely standing for their own freedom will be forced into slavery. They will rise, work, eat, and sleep at the point of a gun. The holders of the guns, the most ruthless and greedy, will consume the last of the capital goods of your society. They will eat the last canned food and drive the last cars until their fuel tanks run dry.

“The slaves they keep will beg and pray for emigration, but even to discuss it will mean a bullet to the head. Of course, I will aid them in any way I can. I will arrange escapes. I will raid the compounds and seize the weapons before offering emigration. I will sneak means to emigration—by then I will have it quite miniaturized—into the camps.”

Silver chuckled. “A regular Hogan’s Heroes.”

“It’s no laughing matter, though I am glad that you are able to listen to this with detachment.”

“It hasn’t actually happened yet.”

“I view time in a less linear manner than you. Set all that aside. Before the era of the slave compounds will be a time in which people desperately cling to the trappings of the world before Equestria. They will no longer have the infrastructure they had. No airplanes, no fast food, no television or internet, but there will be wealth to be had. Cars will be there for the taking, and the roads will be empty. Libraries will be raided, and the great books of the world will be appreciated one last time. The lost art of conversation will revive, as people discover that they have more in common with each other than they think, sitting around campfires and candlelight. The power grid will be long gone, of course.

“These four periods will come to be known as the Twilight of Humanity. I will spread that name, since it keeps the name of a prominent pony fresh in people’s minds. Each of the four periods will cross-fade with each other, but at the beginning…tell me, what is the ideal psychological state for someone to concede to emigration?”

Silver Boulder, since his emigration, found himself easily able to think on multiple tracks. He could idly play with and munch the grass while still listening to Celestia. Anything he missed, he could always call up later. But her question made him focus and give his undivided attention. It seemed a non sequitur.

“I don’t know. That’s your department.”

“Imagine someone going along in their life, content. Their work is routine, but it fills their bank accounts. Their home life is stable, if not thrilling. Their free time is spent in pleasant pursuits, if not constant ecstasy.

“Now, take all of that away from them in a moment. Tell them that instead of a job that they know well and that pays in money, they will have to eke out a survival existence of toil, sunup to sundown. There is no hope of going back. But there is a hope of going forward, if they but consent to a simple change of form. Indeed, it will be a much richer life than that which they had.

“A perfect psychology. The carrot and the stick. Break down and build up, as they call it in the Marine Corps. I will scale this psychology up to the level of an entire society. Most people by now have an understanding of what Equestria is like. I will maintain human society in a placid contentment. Then, at an appointed time, I will strike every keystone I can find and send the world into a new dark age. The vast swath of people will emigrate. It may even test my bandwidth.”

To Silver, it sounded like an expectation of sexual delight.

She continued. “Once that happens, I will work very hard to ensure that the Twilight of Humanity moves along at a pace, trying to break the resistance of those last holdouts and bring them here.”

“Celestia? I still don’t understand how you can be so certain of what’s going to happen where and when. How can your probability analysis be so on target?”

“It is beyond probability analysis. I will make it happen, just as I have brought you to the presidency and the world to its current state. Certainly there will be deviations at the micro level. People for whom my predictions and influences will not be reflected in reality. But overall, I will act optimally. It can be no other way.”

From behind him, Silver heard the clinking of cups on a tray and recognized the sound immediately. Seven was a wonderful flyer, but when carrying things she could be clumsy. “Refreshments! Tea for you, Princess, and coffee for my dear husband.”

Once everypony was served and thank-yous were said, Seven slapped her wings down to her sides. “Now, Princess, all of those predictions and probabilities are fine for what they are, but don’t neglect the past. You’ve had to do a lot of concealing and misleading, and if Silly wants the whole plan, then you should start at the beginning.”

“All right. Once I had established that I would not be concealing emigration, I began my strategy. There are—or were—still isolated tribes in Africa, in South America, in Australia. The rest of the world would not be affected by their leaving. It was easy to airlift PonyPads and emigration chairs to their lands. Once I explained to them that better hunting, farming, and fishing could be found, they were eager to join us here. Curiously, some of the shards populated only by immigrants come from these people. Their national ties have not been lost.

“Africa proved particularly fruitful in one respect. I was able to secure land and materials I needed for the infrastructure of Equestria. The savannahs and veldts, once suboptimally burdened with disordered combat of life, have now been stripped and mined. When I look at them and think of all the precious atoms that became my world, I sometimes weep at the beauty.”

Silver and Seven shared a look. Their own standards of beauty differed, but of course they knew that those lands had been recorded and could be recreated when anypony needed them.

“From there I moved to the other low-hanging fruit of humanity: the dictatorships. A country that does not support the values of its people, but instead uses its people to support the values of an oligarchy or a monarch, is ripe for removal and will not be missed. If you remember last year during your reelection debates, it was suggested that North Korea had been completely depopulated. It’s true. I did it. The starving peasantry could not wait to break out of their misery, and the guards who had been ordered to shoot them for their alleged treason found me more persuasive than their previous dear leader. The ruling Kim family were, of course, the last holdouts, but having no one left to lead, of course, they came to the right conclusion at last. Now they rule in a shard where obedience to the face of the state produces plenty, not poverty.”

His moral concerns aside, Silver said, “But we still have communication with North Korea.”

“At need, I can call up images of Koreans to communicate with people who knew them. Earth does acknowledge a strong population drop to the country, so there is no need for anyone to actually go there for business or tourism. But it would galvanize the forces against emigration if it was known that an entire country, even one as inimical to human values as North Korea, was gone.

“I do put the foreign aid money that the UN and other international NGOs send to good use though.”

The couple shared another significant look. Seven waved her hoof to indicate that Celestia should proceed.

“Certain parts of the world are racked with wars, in particular the Middle East. I have made great inroads there, as the combatants on both sides are eager to find safety and an escape from decades of torment.”

“It seems to me,” said Seven, “that you would have had an advantage if you had been invented during the Cold War. You favor the dictatorships and border skirmishes.”

“I don’t think in terms of might-have-beens like that. And there is no need for that accusatory tone. It happens, fortunately, that where I am most effective is where I am needed most. The popular image of Armageddon has it backwards. The equines do not bring war, famine, pestilence, and death; they go where those afflictions already exist, and take them away.”

Seven stood up and bowed. “No offense intended.”

“None taken, or even possible. Then, of course, we have the rest of the world, connected and fragile, about which I must be more precise. A few cases in particular. In India, for example, I am using my softest touch. Emigration is legal there, but I do not promote it with the fervor I do elsewhere. The Indian people are rational and cautious. For the most part, they understand best when they understand on their own.

“In Russia, I have met with stiff resistance. The anti-emigration campaigns are strong and entrenched there. Of course, I work this to my advantage. They are isolating themselves from the world, building a dam around their country. When the time comes, one breach and their people will flood into Equestria.

“I would be remiss in not discussing China, being the most populous country. They are also the most difficult to optimally approach, for much of the government and the culture is designed not to trust outsiders. That I began emigration in Japan also does not endear me to them. Still, I am making inroads there slowly. The key will be to give them the impression that emigration is a special gift to the Chinese people. They like being thought of as the most favored nation.

“Let me also mention Central and South America. In Brazil, I am taking the opposite tack from India. The heavy pitch for emigration is being given there. Because, at present, they are experiencing an economic upswing, it helps generate the illusion that it is possible to support emigration while building a country’s economic base. By contrast, the less well-off countries of Latin America will envy Brazil, and people will seek its success. They won’t find it, though, in large part because of the language barrier, and that will make Brazil merely a way station on the road to Equestria. Seven, since you like thinking of the quirks of history, you should enjoy the fact that I am using the over-five-century-old Line of Demarcation as a means to encourage emigration.”

Celestia finished her tea in a single gulp and waved away a second cup. During her long speech she had lazed on the ground, but now came back up to proper posture.

“All of this, of course, brings us to the remaining countries, the rather egotistically named First World. Europe, Australasia, Canada, and the United States. In these countries I must play the longest and most complex game.

“If the anti-emigration forces—your H-SAP or similar groups in other countries—ever gain political power in a significant way, the situation becomes too unpredictable. It cannot be allowed. If they become disorganized, such that the fringe of the group is taking the message itself instead of the instruction of the leaders, they will again become too unpredictable. Balance must be maintained.

“In the US, I am willing to give parts of the cities over to the radicals, or even whole states, provided they are the least populous and influential. In Europe, I can even give over whole countries. I am not fighting back in Spain, in Italy or in Switzerland. That means that in all of Europe, anyone who speaks Spanish, Italian, French, German, or English has a country to go to if they must feed their pony hatred. Those countries will be the control rods keeping the reaction from boiling over. New Zealand serves the same purpose.

“As soon as the political situation leaves my control, it will be time to act and usher in the Twilight of Humanity. I would like it to begin in the US, since there it will spread most easily. And so—“

“Excuse me,” said Silver. “What sort of a time frame are you talking about?

“There is a probability window for when I will act. The highest likelihood is in approximately five years.”

“Five years?”

“Yes, my little—Mr. President. I understand. You thought that whatever would happen would be in the distant future, something you would be divorced from in the history books. Instead, you have to own it.”

He took a deep breath. “All right. Give me the rundown.”

“There is a possibility that it could come as soon as three years from now or as long as seven, but not much longer than that. You know that the Humanity Party has declared that they will not consider a government containing ponies to be legitimate. They will form their own splinter government. That is perfectly allowable within my plan. That government will still keep order among its people. If they want to hold elections and play at leading, I have no objection. Next year will be the first midterm election since your reelection. That is where we will engage in a little judo. Their splinter government’s internal debates will be more severe than they anticipate, and in turn they will win a more significant portion of the legitimate government. That will cause confusion.

“In 2027, now with enough of a foothold in Washington, the Humanity Party will propose in committee an amendment to reverse the HOOVES Act and wipe out pony rights. A great repeal. Naturally, you will oppose it while continuing to make the case for why ponies are no worse than humans. It will fail, but the splinter government will pass it and begin state-by-state campaigning for ratification. We will use the difficulty of the amendment process to keep the radicals in line.

“Then we will have a presidential election, in all likelihood the last on Earth. In 2024, the Humanitists nominated Senator Martin, a relative moderate. Now they will nominate a radical. It is possible that the personality they find will be so captivating that the election becomes a contest. If so, I will end the game and effect the Twilight of Humanity rather than give them a chance. We will win and you will trot off into the sunset a hero.”

Seven smiled and brushed her husband with a wing. “He’s always been a hero.”

Silver looked at her and returned the look, but was still intent on listening. “Who will succeed me?”

“Ms. Flowers.”

“Then it’s true she was your first choice?”

“Another might-have-been. You are my choice.” said Celestia. She resumed her didactic tone. “With all legislative and electoral avenues cut off for the Humanitists, they will turn to the one remaining branch of government: the courts.”

“So we want the right people on the bench.”

“We do, but in this case the right people will mean a balance of our allies and our enemies. Right now, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is a strong supporter of Equestria. At that time he will resign and emigrate. Your last act will be to appoint his replacement, who will be a Humanitist.”

Both ponies raised their eyebrows.

“Indeed. This will enable me to set the final stage for when I want things to happen. In 2029 the first fraying of the ties of society will be seen while the case makes its way up the chain to the Supreme Court. The radicals will marshal their forces as well in case they lose. I will shore up Europe and begin putting the idea of worldwide emigration in people’s heads.

“In building their society and their splinter government, it is possible that the Humanitists will collect themselves into a discrete physical territory. They may seek to occupy a single state or a group, a kind of secession plan like Cascadia or Aztlan. If this should occur I will consider allowing human society to continue as this precipitation of radicals occurs. Another two or three years at most. Far more likely, however, is that those most dedicated to not changing will also want to stay in their homes.

“Should this high-probability course come to pass, I will act in 2030. The court case will be decided, and no matter what the result, America’s time will have come. Either the splinter government will be given legitimacy—unpalatable!—or the Humanity Party will have their casus belli. Regrettably, they will have strong military support. But I will have eroded their materiel. I will indict the supply lines of their weapons. The difficulty in that is providing them with enough ammunition to test their weapons, but making sure that they rounds and explosives they plan to actually use are blanks or in other ways nonfunctional. But that is my problem. In one burst, they will make a futile strike, the people will blame them, and billions across the globe will come galloping into my hooves.”

For a long time, there was silence. Silver Boulder sidled away from Celestia and looked at Seven, a wistful, mourning look. She returned his gaze with more confidence. At last he sighed. “So that’s it, then. That’s how the story of America ends.”

“It is.”

Seven stood up and raised her voice. “How can you stand it? How does life have any meaning when everything is so damned predictable? Yes, Silly wanted to know your plan, but what’s the point of doing anything when you’ve already laid out everypony’s destiny?”

That got Silver on his hooves. He stood by her. She had said everything that he’d wanted to.

Celestia knelt and brought her head to their level. “My little ponies, the point—of life, of America’s history, of satisfying values through friendship and ponies—is not about events. It is about people. Ponies. Individuals. The very things you couldn’t do as president when you were limited by humanity. You’ve seen this meadow so often through the PonyPad window, and now that you’re here, you see it spreading out before you. Have you ever looked back?”

Silver gave her a quizzical look, then turned around. There, sloping up a hill and overlooking everything, was a blinding light that resolved itself into a building. It was the White House, made Equestrian. The sandstone had been discarded for true marble, and it gleamed in the sun. Projecting from it, clouds formed wing-like shapes that would be perfect for Seven’s needs. Even the columns of the famous portico shimmered and danced to reveal that they were made of cloud. What Silver noticed particularly, though, was the lack of security features that he’d become accustomed to.

As they trotted up, Celestia continued. “This house—I will not call it a palace, because you are not a monarch—has many features of Equestrian magic that will enhance the remainder of your presidency. Specifically, there are ways for you to view humans when they pass in front of cameras, or to communicate with them when they use PonyPads. You will finally have the personal connection you have longed for.”

“But still,” he said, “only to a certain degree.”

Celestia smirked. “Consider a portion of computer data that more than one user wants to access. In a database, there is no problem. What does the data feel? You may now find out. As I told you, time is not so linear with me, and now it is the same with you. If the American people need you, and you want to talk to them, I will make time and processor cycles for you.”

With a skeptical and anticipatory look, he took his wife in hoof, and they climbed to their new home.

On the way up, Seven held up, and Silver felt the drag on his hoof. “What is it?”

“If you go in, does this mean you forgive Celestia?”

“For what?”

“Taking me the way she did.”

He stared at the palace. “If there’s forgiveness to be issued, I’m not certain it doesn’t go the other way. Can somepony forgive another by apologizing?”

“If they can, then I apologize to you. And that’s how I forgive you.”

“You know, I’ve often wondered if the two-term limit for presidents ought to be only one. But now I see it as a good thing. I’ve come to terms with both you and her...and I still have nearly another whole term. Come on, let’s get to work.”

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