Galactipedia: ...wait, Bismoll?!?

From Galactipedia, the free galaxywide encyclopedia

The planet Bismoll is famous for its poisonous natural environment and the unusual biological adaptation of its inhabitants, who are capable of digesting almost any form of matter regardless of its hardness or toxicity. It is also famous in the field of economics for the so-called "Bismoll Paradox."

The Bismoll Paradox was coined when economists noted that Bismoll has the highest per capita consumption of goods and media in the United Planets, yet some of the lowest productivity. Output is actually lower than Braal despite the foundry world's decade-long economic slump, and Bismoll has the largest trade imbalance of any UP core world. Yet the planet maintains low inequality, a high standard of living, and some of the highest happiness indices in the UP.

Economists were initially at a loss to explain these discrepancies. Traditionally, the industries that built Bismoll (and necessitated the colonists' distinctive biological adaptation) were mining and chemical processing. These industries have since been eclipsed by newer and more remote colonies such as Phlon.

Tourism is not an option either, for obvious reasons. Bismollians maintain they have a highly refined cuisine with inventive chefs who are experts at turning offal both organic and inorganic into the finest delicacies – but since nobody else can eat them, these claims have been difficult to verify. Certainly there is little demand for fine dining on a world where the customers could just as easily fill up on the plates, tablecloth, and table. Some adventure-seekers have attempted to sample Bismollian cuisine, with generally disastrous results. Tourists are urged to heed the instructions of the Calorie Police, who prevent overconsumption and protect visitors from the toxic flora and fauna.

The Bismoll Paradox was finally unraveled by Professor Ndru Kunk, Brande Chair of Economics at Colu Integrated University, whose bold anthropological study of the Bismollian economy cost him nearly one-fifth of his body weight. Once he was discharged from Medicus One, he reported that the key to the Paradox lay in a failed venture to import other worlds' industrial waste to Bismoll for disposal through ingestion. Kunk notes that while waste disposal was not a practical import strategy in a vast and boundless universe, the scheme inspired Bismoll's only successful export industry:

     Bismoll's primary exportable resource is its citizens. That is, rather than undertake the expense
     of shipping all the UP's toxic waste to Bismoll, Bismollians are hired by polluting industries to
     dispose of the waste on-site.

       - "Notes on 'the Bismoll Paradox' Composed in a Hospital Bed," Journal of Interplanetary Economics 71.4 (3016)

This is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than other options. The citizen export also serves an important environmental function on Bismoll, temporarily displacing younger, higher-metabolism workers and reducing the consumption pressure on Bismoll's always strained biome.

Kunk's paper was highly controversial on Bismoll for its implication that Tenzil Kem, formerly "Matter-Eater Lad" of the Legion of Super-Heroes and currently a popular senator, was admitted to the Legion not as a full member in good standing but as a kind of glorified sanitation engineer whose primary responsibility was disposing of the experimental output of Querl Dox – a thesis that is certainly upheld by Dox's recall of Kem to active duty to destroy the Miracle Machine.

Kunk's thesis also accounts for other curiosities of Bismollian society, such as its infamous political draft system in which citizens can be compelled to return to Bismoll to serve in the legislature. As Kunk notes, the draft counteracts the dispersion of Bismoll's most dynamic workers across the UP, serving as a quiet corrective to the planet's brain drain (or as one of Kunk's colleagues terms it, somewhat scandalously, the "stomach drain").

Tenzil Kem is the most famous example of the political draft in action, as it cut short his tenure in the Legion. After his recovery from the Miracle Machine-induced psychopathic indigestion, Kem went on to a long and distinguished career in the Bismollian Senate in which he stopped the attempted Computo conquest of 2985. He has since used his political office to launch a career as a reality media star, which, when weighed against the historical record, makes more sense than doing it the other way around.

Talk: Bismoll

So what's the point of Bismoll?

What I mean is, what does it do for the United Planets? What it does for the Legion series is obvious: comic relief. But every other world has been given some role in the UP, from the back alleys of Rimbor to the breadbasket of Winath, so what's Bismoll’s function?

The most obvious answer, and the traditional Legion one, is to extrapolate their planetary specialty from their powers: waste disposal. But that makes no sense – if you have waste that needs elimination, why not just dump it on an asteroid or drop it into the nearest star instead of shipping it to another planet where it will be slowly eaten?

Taking it more metaphorically, we could say that Bismoll is a planet of consumers – somebody has to buy all those gizmos from Colu and microcircuits from Imsk. (They probably don’t have much use for wheat from Winath, though.) Viewed this way, Bismoll is basically the “flyover state” of the UP, consuming all the culture and tech made by more prosperous worlds. This ignores the fact that our own flyover states are more likely to make things, but more fundamentally – where are the Bismollians getting their money from to buy all this stuff? None of their natural resources are exportable, and tourism is right out. It's possible Bismoll is a welfare state, relying on the prosperous planets for support so they don’t literally eat their own society out from under themselves.

Or, going with the toxicity of the environment, maybe Bismoll is given over to highly dangerous, pollutive chemical production and heavy industry precisely because of its unimportance, lack of political clout, and overall weak economy. They can support themselves on this work, but they’re only making their environment even more toxic. Fortunately, they have a biological adaptation that not only allows them to survive this hostile environment but somewhat reduces their dependence on other planets, at least for food. Such a planet might well resent the UP coalition that provides them with every other type of support in exchange for doing the system's dirty work. (They'd really hate the libertines of Winath, who they need least.)

But their power is so potentially destructive to their habitat that they have to police their own consumption, which is the only thing they do well! This would only increase their resentment of government, even their own – which would explain why they had to institute a citizen draft. This Bismoll is a decaying state on a death spiral, motivated by resentment for anything and anyone that sustains them, even themselves.

But this isn’t so funny anymore, and this isn't why anybody reads the Legion. It's certainly not why I read it. Fortunately, my friend Andy Kunka provided a more elegant and humane solution entirely in keeping with the Legion's generally optimistic future. (Hey, they don't just give the Brande Chair to anybody!) That inspired me to write up this post on "the Bismoll Paradox," a name I took from the so-called "French paradox" of that country's rich, high-fat diet and low incidence of heart disease. It seemed appropriate that my template should be food-related.

And as for culture? Maybe the Bismollians’ adaptation is just too damn goofy for them to take themselves all that seriously, just as it makes them too self-reliant to resent anyone else. It’s their saving grace and they know it, the genetic fluke that kept them from becoming Planet Appalachia, and so they manage to take everything in stride – the most laid-back of all planets. They take a perverse pride in their toxic landscapes and are kind of glad no one else can enjoy them. They have settled for their role as the flyovers of the UP and they are glad of it because it means everybody else leaves them alone and they leave everybody else alone. Except for that one weird kid with the big mouth.

Let's close this one out Special Powers and Abilities style, with apologies to Raymond McDaniel:

Insatiable Bismoll / poison planet with endless appetite
give us your trash, your spoor, your curdled refuse / we’ll turn it to sustenance
content in your mockery / absent your ambitions / we dine on your scorn
and make it our own

Marc Singer is professor of Ancient Literatures and Graphic Cultures at Howard University in Metropolis (Columbia Sector), Earth.
Galactipedia: ...wait, Bismoll?!? Galactipedia: ...wait, Bismoll?!? Reviewed by Marc Singer on Thursday, March 15, 2018 Rating: 5
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