keskiviikko, 17. tammikuu 2018

Enjoy or Die

Been pondering the extreme end of Wild-Animal Suffering interventionist theory (= it's a moral obligation to prevent wild animal suffering, eventually by changing whole ecosystems or wiping out wild nature altogether). I disagree with it, and I've been trying to put into words why exactly.

I haven't been able to find a more fundamental and universal basis for ethics than aiming at maximum self-determination for everyone (I've previously called this concept 'free will' but  I've come to understand that's unnecessarily pompous and also an exaggeration). Right to exert one's will, obligation not to interfere with others doing the same, unless they are keeping others from doing the same. In a limited resources situation it's a constant dialogue even in the best cases, but that's how it is. We must at least try.  
'Everyone' is a flexible and porous category, and obvs it's not clear where to draw the line. Humans? Humans and smarter animals, who have some concept of mind? All mammals, all vertebrae? All animals? Also plants? Bacteria? Viruses? Do non-living things, like landscapes or fine crystal structures have anything that could be construed as right of self-determination? I really don't know, and in any case at the moment we are seriously struggling with enabling the self-determination of just our fellow humans.

There's no need to make immediate decision about wildlife's right to exist vs right to not to suffer. But it's better to discuss all this well in advance. There is a very real possibility that the wild animal suffering exceeds not only wild animal pleasure but also all sapient pleasure (physical, mental, spiritual, whatever) – rigorously following WAS thinking, wouldn't it then be a moral obligation to destroy all life as soon as possible? Cause a total nuclear war, create a mini black hole and drop it at the core of the Earth, unleash an engineered virus that kills everything? It would solve the current imbalance of suffering/pleasure in the known universe and moreover, greatly reduce the chance of more suffering occurring ever again. All life has the capacity to suffer, and the longer it's allowed to go on living, the greater the risks of suffering grow. The cleanest solution seems obvious.

I find this concerning for reasons that are too large to be expressed as anything more coherent than a loud screech.

Even if the WAS folks calculate the ethics in some way that places higher value on protecting sapience, and are not going to sterilize the whole Universe if given the chance, I'm still nervous. Going into details: Exactly what is considered to be dumbly suffering wild life? How to prove necessary capacity for thought that overrides being humanely culled to reduce suffering? If it's for example the WAS people making the decisions, who tend to be at the extreme end of mathematical competence and capability for abstract thinking, do they deeply acknowledge the sapience of for example mathematically incapable and emotive, non-systemizing personalities? I have my own cow in the ditch here. I suffer from migraines and can't really follow maths – is the decision procedure perhaps calibrated in such a way that I end up being one of the many, many creatures that get the result "just put the poor thing out of its misery".

Wild animals suffer a lot of pain, fear etc and no doubt would prefer not to suffer like that. But would they prefer it at the cost of having their entire species wiped out, even totally humanely? There's no way to have a explicit dialogue with animals. So let's look at the actions and not what they are saying: they struggle to stay alive. Life could just give up and die if it wanted, and found suffering too much in contrast to what pleasure it gains. But it does not. It just keeps on living. I consider that an indication of living things' ultimate intention – which should be respected as much as possible.

All life is statistically more suffering and less pleasure, because suffering is a steerage mechanism which has developed to keep living thing from harm, and pleasure is a mechanism to guide the living thing towards what is beneficial to it. Of these two it is more imperative to keep away from harm, so that's what features more. WAS action, if it was gradual, would work as an evolutionary carrot of species benefiting more from pleasure than from suffering – forcing pain, distress etc out from the possible responses for external stimulus. This hypothetical world ruled by "enjoy or die" feels disgusting on an emotional level, but I'm willing to admit this might be just my personal irrational squeamishness.

All my reasoning might be tainted by subconscious desire to keep things as they are even if they'd objectively better be changed. But then so might the WAS ideology be tainted with subconscious desire to re-make the world in their own image. Seemingly well-meaning ethical framework construed carefully to hide a solipsistic desire to be the only existence in the universe…


Also, when a moral standpoint forces one to the same conclusion as Judge Death, it is a reasonable indication it might benefit from an extra round of rigorous examination.


perjantai, 12. tammikuu 2018

One Good Reason to Fight an Intergalactic War

What motivates warfare in a intergalactic civilization setting? It's always been a bit of problem for me. Like, why bother? If there's technology which allows people to travel relatively effortlessly across the galaxy (or galaxies!), fighting for resources does not sound plausible. Full-on interstellar war appears to be something that consumes more resources than could be gained by waging it, at least if the human scale is similar to ours.

Moral issues are a more … sensible? reason for such a troublesome endeavor. But what would be a disagreement worth killing and dying in an intergalactic scale? An evil overlord that just evilly wants to lord over all universe is an obvious solution. But it gets boring fast, and also it takes some convincing to accept 100% evil evillers whose only motivation is being evil. Monomaniac cult with a strong urge to convert or destroy non-believers falls into the same category as evil overlords. Both of those, if they really are just out to destroy everyone no compromise, not that different from a grey goo plague situation. It has to be dealt with but… ehh, there's just not enough noble tragedy. The enemy should ideally not be just plain stupid and evil.

Anecdotal space war causes
> Star Wars, natural Forces make some folks go Dark Side, can they even be held morally responsible for their actions? (btw it somewhat bothers me about new Star Wars is that we have Finn to prove New Order stormtroopers are individuals and can be rehabilitated, and yet no-one – not even Finn – considers them humans under their helmets. I'd think he'd like to capture and anti-brainwash some of them or at lest try some form of propaganda).
> Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie. This is interesting bc the protagonists are the monomaniac cult. They feel obligated to subjucate everyone.
> The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu. Resources are scarce, so war makes sense and does not require philosophical arguments.
> Commonwealth Saga, Peter F Hamilton. The enemy is an expansionist cult of one (and easily my favourite character of the series).
> Surface Pattern, Iain M Banks. Severe philosophical differences, but not satisfactory. I adore Banks but the pro-Hell enemy side is definitely just plain evil and stupid.

For a really fascinating space war story there should be a disagreement, whose both sides are somewhat relatable AND such a far-reaching and serious issue it would motivate people to do terrible things and put themselves into danger. And  think I've just bumped onto one! It's a philosophical issue, both sides make sense, and it can't be left unresolved. Perfect.

The big question "Is it morally imperative to erase suffering to the point of wiping out wild animals/wild nature?". I fall quite definitely in the camp of "life wants to live and self-determination of even non-sapient creatures is more important than erasing suffering", but I can totally follow the arguments of the other side as well.

Even if the nature wipe-out scenario does not concern me personally, I'd still take up arms to oppose it. And it's not an issue one can really be lukewarm about, should it ever come to be practical to actually end all mindless suffering. Really a good reason to get involved and gather armies and shed blood and explode suns etc! I'm so not going to write an intergalactic war saga, but if I were...

torstai, 28. joulukuu 2017

This is a dream I had last night

(In my daily life I'm a middle-aged and mild-mannered writer, but in my dreams I'm a police officer in a fantasy city. Or maybe it's the other way round. Who knows, really.)


It was me, Roch and Nehtë. Roch is big and burly and near-unstoppable in battle, but also an unusually conscientious officer. I like working with Roch. No reason to expect brilliant detective-work – that falls on me – but also never any nonsense.

Nehtë was the newest member in our infiltration team. Good with anything but guns, lots of street smarts, has a gift to sense even hidden augments. An unruly lick of hair falling over one eye, a lop-sided smile and a row of piercings on his long elven ears gave him an air of a cocky youngster prone to rash decisions – a carefully cultivated front to camouflage a competent officer. Although sometimes I do wonder…

We were supposed to just check out the mysterious new crime lord's headquarters, a simple intel gathering mission. Maybe gain some insight on the hitherto unseen boss. He, or she, was not an elf, not an orc, not a human or a fairy or a werecreature of any known sort, we had no idea really who we were dealing with.

It was a nasty part of town, smelling of rotting fish, buildings so close to each other there were no real streets, just back alleys and slimy ditches, and brick walls tagged from ground to as high as I cared to look. I ran my hand over one of the graffittis and licked my fingertips. Spray paint, made of ingradients with such beautiful and poetic names as Ethylbenzene and Acetone and Propylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether and whatnot. Should not be used here, some of that stuff is poisonous to fairies, but of course spray cans are way more convenient than scratching one's initials and protection runes with a dull knife. I signaled to Roch and she nodded, took a notebook from her pocket and jotted down a few notes. Environmental team needs to be alerted, and they will rush in to clean the harmful chemicals off the walls right after they have completed their more urgent tasks, so sometime in the next few thousand years. That's how this city is.

We were near to the entrance, just about to sneak in undetected, when Nehtë said, in tones of innocent curiosity, what was it with me tasting the wall. Then he looked appropriately shamefaced, as our invisibility glamour popped like a soap bubble. It withstands nearly anything but not words. But he got over his embarassment real quick, flashing a smile that said what was done was done and we had to make best of the situation as it was.

So, now it was a suddenly diplomatic mission, and I was wearing my ugly combat pants. Oh well. Roch made a frrhrrump-y sound and wiped her hand across her mouth, presumably to clean her tusks. Nehtë was already joining his palms in a greeting. Entry guards recognized us, but good manners compelled them to show us in.

The room we were led to was more a mixture of a barn, armoury and kitchen than a pristine show-off entrance hall, but in regards to personnell I've seen less organized princely palaces. Entry guards promptly handed us over to indoor guards, while someone went to inform someone else, all the way up to the secretary of the establishment, who arrived to greet us at precisely the same moment a receptionist walked in with a tray of refreshments. There were pieces of seaweed and some opened-up mollusks and glasses filled to the brim with a coral-hued spirit.

In tense mood of fake cordiality, each one of us took a glass. The secretary said some welcoming phrase. I lifted the glass to my lips, and enjoyed the delicious smell of the drink, even if I had to skip tasting it. Nehtë knocked his down straight, and I could not help hissing a little. That was the correct thing to do, according to Miss Manners, but even the strictest followers of rules of politeness would not expect anyone to eat or drink at his mortal enemy's lair. But Nehtë was doing his best dashing hero impression and he just had to do the chivalrous thing. The secretary was an elven lady, and Nehtë opened his arms for the ceremonial hug. Secretary did look quite charmed by his bravery. She gave him a proper elf hug, much like an aunt to her favourite nephew, and I noticed guards relaxing their stances. I made a mental note to seriously think about the practical benefits of Nehtë's approach, when he spoiled it all. He stepped back to my side, and whispered to me ”She has just one  standard weapon augment, nothing special, we could totally take this place down just the three of us”. Secretary's face froze back to the usual elven haughtiness. Of course there was a spell to catch whispers, and to whose ear would those be delivered if not the secretary's?

My attempt at laughter was caught in my throat, when Nehtë's eyes glossed over and he fell down. There had been something in the drink. Of course. Certainly I would have spiked the welcome drink if I were employed in a criminal organization and received uninvited guests from the police force. I caught the secretary's glance. She gave me a smug little nod.

I saw entry guards starting to push the front door closed, and other guards taking attack positions, and moving their hands towards their weapons – I can see real fast, in combat situations. And move too. The door, I yelled at Roch. She was already on her way to prevent it from closing. We'd never get out if it did, it was that sort of door. I threw a stunner spell at one group of guards, kicked a side table down to protect Nehtë, and then had to roll behind it myself too to not get burned by fireballs. I fired a round of shots, which should have hit someone, but did not – besides the whisper-catcher there was apparently a protective spell to make enemy bullets exceptionally unlucky. Roch was taking care of herself but could not move from the door. Nehtë was no longer breathing and his skin was going grey. The situation had turned ugly in less than thirty heartbeats. There was no time for regrets, or any thoughts not directly pertaining to what was happening, but there was an itch at the base of my skull to strangle Nehtë if I just first managed to get his body to safety and arrange him to be revived.

The secretary had run halfway up stairs at the back of the hall and I had ignored her. Only when she stopped and turned around I realized she was not escaping. She was searching for a better angle to use whatever weapons augments she had. I felt a crackle of gathering power in the air. Maybe it was a standard augment, but the secretary was using it to maximum effect. One straight hit would crisp me pretty badly. Even if I managed to get my shield up in time, I could withstand only three to four energy bursts. The outlook was not good. But to get to worry about third and fourth hit I needed to survive the first, so I concentrated my magical shield. I imagined it as a pretty purple mushroom, growing out of my heart, the cap turned towards danger. I screamed 'Ethylbenzene', to give the impression it was some exotic human magic, and let the shield blossom to full strength.

Flash, bang, ka-boom. Such a loud ka-boom I felt it in my bones rather than heard with my ears. The energy bolt had deflected from my shield, faster than even I could see, and exploded, tearing back wall down and setting the remains in fire. The staircase was a pile of rubble. There had been a door at the back wall, wide but low, and it was completely gone. I looked around cautiously. No-one was standing, except for Roch. Her hide is impenetrable. She made a go-ahead sign, and then a cutesy victory V. I got up. My skin was stinging and my ears were ringing. I hobbled towards the bac wall, just to make a quick check before getting the hell out of there. Something unusual had caught my eye. There was something reddish, orangeish, kind of long sticks sticking out at odd angles, and a weird, not completely unpleasant smell.

There had been a low-ceilinged but large room behind the back wall, half of it a swimming pool. Most of the water had evaporated when the energy bolt hit it, steaming the sole occupant alive. And if that had not been enough, a huge rock had crushed its main section, splashing entrails and shell shards around. Without doubt this had been the boss we had wanted to catch; a giant spider crab. One of the mysteries of the deep ocean, rarely seen, and never before known to show interest in criminal affairs.

Roch hauled Nehtë's body on her shoulder, and let me lean on her on our way back. I was thinking about the crab. It had gathered a competent and powerful security team to protect itself. But it had not worked. Not the way the crab had intended. If the secretary's powers had been a little weaker, the crab would have survived. But was there any way it could have arrived such an unintuituve conclusion?

No doubt there's a lesson to be learnt from all this, but I'm not yet sure what it is.

tiistai, 12. joulukuu 2017

The Sci-Fi Movie I Most Would Like to See

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy II a little while ago, and Thor Ragnarök a bit before that, and it won't be long until the new Star Wars. There are so many sci-fi movies these days, and TV series – with actual spaceships and stuff – that it's no longer necessary to go see them all just because it's a special occasion. I felt so spoiled for choice after deciding NOT to follow a Netflix series about space bounty hunters. There are so many sci-fi series I don't even have time to watch all of them! Awesome! And hardly a week goes by without the announcement of another sci-fi book inspired series (I'm somewhat excited about Altered Carbon, even if it does not have spaceships).

GotG, btw, is delightfully designed. The Deep Dream inspired buildings on Ego' planet are wonderful, and generally the whole movie has got plenty of original design ideas. It was not long ago that all sci-fi leaning movies followed the same highly perfected but predictable concept art style. Also, there was an uniform blueish-greyish-greenish colour palette, as if it was embarrassing to even acknowledge the existence of, say, colour yellow. Now thanks to GotG and some Marvel movies, we are seeing a saturated rainbow colour range for a change.

But anyway. So many movies and TV series and still no one has made one of late Iain M Banks's Culture. Youndu's arrow in Guardians of the Galaxy was an obvious knife missile, but how come we haven't seen inspired-by or honest homages to everyone's favourite morally ambguous space utopia?

Banks's Culture novels are quite cinematic, and yet as far as I know no-one has ever seriously pushed to get even one of them filmed. But I guess even if the writing inspires awesome visuals on the inner silver screen, the stories themselves are hard to adapt to the sort of easy-to-digest streamlined movie experience which goes hand-in-hand with special effects budget big enough to cover the huge scale of orbitals, GSVs and interstellar war.

The Wachowskis would be prime candidates for producing and directing a Banks movie. They could handle the scale, the style and the politics – they lean passably left. What they miss is a good script. I mean I only survived Jupiter Ascending by blocking the dialogue and forcing my brain to parse the happenings on the screen as a lost Culture story. It was not all bad, actually, though it required quite heavy intentional self-deception. But Wachowskis are at some root level technophobes and Banks was a technophile (or consciousness-egalitarian, in which biological consciousness awarded no special merit). Wachowskis would no doubt interpret Minds and drones as something else than friendly, and what fun would that be? Perhaps there just isn't anyone in movie business right now to whom this dream project would be perfectly suited.

torstai, 16. marraskuu 2017

Abusive Millionaire Lover Trope

I've been wondering, since reading The Girl from Nowhere, what's with the abusive asshole millionaire trope in romance? You simply can't have a hero on the abusive asshole end of dominant personality continuum without loads of money. It's just not possible. You can have a emotionally deeply wounded car mechanic hero, and a reforming womanizer firefighter hero, and tormented by his past bohemian artist hero, but a consistently manipulative, abusive and scary hero only in case of a millionaire. In contemporary romances, that is. In historical bodice ripper romances I think an abusive alpha hero is possible in case of a pirate or a rebel something something, although I haven't read those that much, so this assumption is based mostly glancing through covers. And there's a whole sub-genre of SF romance about dominant space alien warriors – who tend to kidnap earth women to make babies. (Speculative romance creates space to explore both the most progressive as well as the most regressive relationship models. As I'm drawn to the former, the abundance of the latter fills me with exasperation. I'm all for 'whatever floats your boat' but this situation makes it terribly hard for me to find speculative romance that does not make me go ick and aargh.)

The historical and SF abusive alpha have one element in common: physical danger. The contemporary millionaire, however, is not a fighter either by profession or nature. While he is wide-shouldered and well-muscled, it's only to fulfill basic requirements of current aesthetics. His money seems to carry out the same function as alien warrior's and rebel pirate's aura of physical danger.

And this reminds me of a strangely compelling pop psychology/new age book Money Heart & Mind (William Bloom 1995), which proposes that nowadays economy inspires the same fear and worship as nature used to do, back when human lives depended more directly on weather and other natural conditions. Economical stress taps directly into the vast store of survival anxiety inherited from our ancestors. Early humans attempted to make their fear tolerable by worshiping personifications of thunder and sky and earth and so on as gods, who could hopefully be made favorable through proper sacrifices. A millionaire could be a comparable nearly supernatural personification of money and the scary forces of economy, so hard to understand and near-impossible to placate. A cold, uncaring recession could hit any time, taking your job, annihilating your meagre savings, getting you kicked out of your home, making you completely vulnerable and worst of all, rob you of your social standing and identity: those struck by an economical calamity are faceless non-persons, queuing in a breadline heads hung low.

So, I think the millionaire character represents and focuses this anxiety. His millions are not there to create a glamorous background, nor as a proof of his eligibility. It's something more fundamental. He is the God of Money, dangerous and demanding. An elemental force in the form of a man. And he must be nasty, otherwise it would not be him. You feel it in the pit of your stomach. It is the truth. But no matter how harsh and controlling and jealous he may be, his personal attention is a blessing. It means you are already winning – if he appears before a mortal (woman), and is thus aware of her existence, she's not going to disappear into the anonymous masses.

Hmm, I'm really starting to like this idea. Someone please write about the Money God and his many brides. I promise to buy the book that first uses this set-up!

(All fiction is speculative fiction, if the reader is of speculative sort)