A Station Eight Fan Web Site


The Phoenix Gate

Ask Greg Archives

REJOINDERS 2005-03 (Mar)

Archive Index

: Displaying #1 of 37 records. : Next » : 10 » : Last » :

Posts Per Page: 1 : 10 : 25 : All :

Bookmark Link

Punchinello writes...

<<Well, let's start with the "buffet"/game-playing writing style. I think it's awful. >>

I agree.

<<Having said that, I have this friend, a garg fan who's now a pretty darn successful writer. When I read her first book, I felt that the first half of it was written in that way. As if rolls of the dice determined who each character was, what he or she could do and what happenned to them.
When I asked her about it, she confessed (if that's the word) that I was dead on. The first half of the book was her almost literally setting to prose a game of D&D that she had played.
I don't recommend doing that, but look at the result. The second half of the novel, inspired as it was by the first half, was wonderful. And she's moved forward with these characters into other books as well. >>

When I indicated that I thought this game-players writing style could be exploited profitably, I wasn't really thinking of more mature, conventional writing emerging from it. Although, that obviouly works too. I was thinking, if you were writing something, for instance, where there was a consistent theme of game-playing, then maybe you could exploit it as a device. I'm thinking of game-playing themes more along the lines of George Perec than dungeons and dragons. So maybe there would be subtle games embedded in the text. But at the same time, maybe there could be a section of the book, or a certain character, which you treat in the game-players writing style. Sort of in the way you could mimic the writing style of the Victorians. I have given no serious thought to what properties make game-player writing read the way it does. But it _is_ recognizable. You've identified it, yourself.

<<But your second question is more serious. Does this process in fact impair the reader/audience. Forget that some of these guys will never be great writers, will this make them bad readers?
I don't know. But my guess is that it's the same (or similar) percentage of people who would have been bad readers in the first place. The good ones will transcend. The others won't. That's my hypothesis.>>

I suppose so. It's just that I keep on detecting subtle trends in the way people in our culture think about things. And I worry this game-players thing will worsen. It's like that business of an incomplete idea of "sentience" invading popular culture. It seems ridiculous to speculate that the idea migrated into the culture from star trek, but if you observe carefully, you can see it. I think people in our culture, are less and less informed by critical thinking today.

Ten years ago, for instance, I don't think I saw game-player writing anywhere. Now, even before this conversation I had, in which we began to put a name to this thing, it seems pervasive. I think the novelty has become the institution. Consider that twenty years ago, aspiring authors could not have seen this in literature. Today, I have waking nightmares that the kid who would have been the next Paul Auster is going to become intellectually deranged when he picks up a dungeons/dragons book for the first time and gets the idea that "this must be how people write."

I'm probably thinking of something along the lines of memes here. Ideas enter the culture and become dominant over time. Usually, stupid ideas. They begin to define the way that people think about things and even the way they value things. It doesn't just erode our intellects. It can erode sensible ethics. Consider this...

I saw an episode of star trek recently, and it really alarmed me. The premise was that the characters travel to a planet where the human population reproduces exclusively by cloning. For some ridiculous reason they could no longer continue cloning themselves, so they ask the characters to donate genetic material so their culture can survive. The characters hostility to the idea is so irrational that I wouldn't know how to describe it. And when the clone people sneak away some of their genetic material to make clones of them anyway, a demonstration of some of the most demented rationalization of science fiction occurs.

The characters go to the lab where their clones have already developed into full grown reproductions of themselves, and use their death rays to obliterate them. And I should be clear that these were not blastocysts in test tubes. These were obviously fully grown and autonomous people. And this is all treated by the authors as though it were the most natural thing in the world. It's simply understood that being cloned "diminishes you" as a human being, and that their absurd indignation was somehow righteous. Precisely how this diminishes a person is never elaborated upon, and I'm sure that the authors never even thought about it. They assume, with remarkable vacuousness, that the cloned people in the lab do not possess any type of intrinsic worth. I know that star trek authors have never picked up a science text, but the poverty of ethical thinking here, compelled me to think they had never read a book or had a thought about anything.

Of course, it's just a silly TV show. Right?

And yet, it's conspicuous that the range public debate about bioethics is defined by these concepts. I'm not talking about the range of debate in the literature of science or philosophy. That remains very isolated from the public forums where most people in our culture consider these issues. In popular magazines and network news journalism, the dominant logic is that a person is rendered somehow, "lesser" by having been cloned. The idea has been in ascendancy for a decade despite the depth of it's ignorance. The people who define and limit public discourse about it have certainly never thought about it critically. Their positions frequently contradict themselves and more frequenly rely on popular myths and emotional appeals to people's superstitions.

And it gets worse. Something far more sinister has emerged from popular, misinformed dialogue about cloning. In popular disputes about it (I heard the notion resurface on CNN about a month ago) the question of "what kind of rights would a clone have" is routinely brandished about as though it were an intelligent thought. To practicing ethicists and scientists, this notion probably would not have even entered the dialogue if it had not been thrust upon them by popular culture. That the question is being asked at all assumes, uncritically, that there is something meaningfully distinguishable about a cloned person which would compel us to assign a different worth to them. A worth, lesser than a person who came into the world by conventional means.

I have a suspicion, that the people most vocally shrieking about the moral dilemmas of cloning, are actually theologically threatened by it. I have no evidence of this. But a few inferences they have made, have got me thinking that their theological picture of "personhood" follows a very rigid prescription, and their indignation may originate with some inept idea that a clone would not have a soul.

"Soul" becomes a good parallel to "sentient life." One is from religion and one is from science fiction, but both of them are shortcuts people use instead of actually thinking about the internal properties that imbue something with intrinsic moral worth.

I hope it's apparent why I think this is important. Magical thinking can be dangerous. The worth of a being can't reasonably be described in these terms. If the distinction between ruling class and underclass or the difference between pets and meat is being determined by distinguishing one as sentient or soul-containing, then we have not really distinguished anything. We're just making things up. We might as well assign moral worth based upon who has stars on their bellies.

I don't remember what Goliath's reaction to Thailog was precisely. I remember that he was alarmed by the prospect of there being another version of himself. How would you describe his feelings about the issue. I suspect since he would have no concept of cloning technology, his perception of it would be unique.

Greg responds...

Goliath's initial reaction was horror and anger. Not at the clone per se, but at Xanatos for having stolen something -- Goliath's uniqueness as an individual, at least. I think that's a legitimate fear (not a rational, ethical response). And certainly, there's no ethical justification for Xanatos' actions.

But as Elisa shortly points out, it's too late to simply be pissed at Xanatos. The clone, Thailog, exists. He's alive. As much a Gargoyle as Goliath is. In a very real way, he is Goliath's son. Goliath quickly agrees. (Of course, by this time, he's already pissed off Thailog -- a victim of nurture as opposed to nature -- and there will be no reconciliation.)

Look, let's take the Star Trek episode you described. I've seen it, though it's been years, so I'm going to have to rely on your version of it.

I think it's completely legitimate to have reservations about loaning your genetic material so that they can make clones of you. It's legitimate to be generous too, but you must acknowledge that it must be a personal decision.

A friend once hinted that she'd like me to donate sperm so that she could have a baby. I truly believe that this person would make a great parent, but it's just not in me to help in this way. Mostly because I know how I feel about my own kids. And the knowledge that there was another child of mine out there and not part of my life would drive me nuts.

So I buy into Riker, et al, rejecting the request from the Clone-Society. It MUST be a personal choice. Also, medically -- by the rules they set up/made up -- the point was made that cloning would always be a stopgap solution. So there's a certain pointlessness to participating. But whatever. You MUST have the right to say no. Goliath should be able to say no to Xanatos.... "Thanks, David, but I don't really want a clone of me out there, particularly since I don't trust your parenting skills."

Now of course, what I believe your really objecting to is Riker and company killing living viable beings... and of course Elisa, Goliath and I would totally agree with you. If the clones are completed, the clones are completed. That's that. They're alive. TOO LATE!!!!

Now, there's another Riker episode where he discovers that he has a clone -- in fact it becomes unclear which is the clone and which is the real Riker (i.e. the guy we've known all these years, or the guy that's been trapped on a distant planet for years). Both wind up surviving, which I thought was novel. The "clone" later became somewhat Xanatosian, which I also appreciated.

But to take your argument to something more general than cloning... I mean you need to keep in mind that when cloning is used in SF (or at least good SF) it's just a metaphor. Clones are regarded as second class citizens because the history of humanity is rife with second class citizens based on criteria equally as dopey.

Now, agreed some SF doesn't get it.

And, agreed, now that actual cloning is becoming closer to actual reality, people may be adopting the jargon of SF because -- what else do they have?

But lazy thinkers have ALWAYS existed. On bad days I certainly think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but if I'm being more honest, I can't exactly look back on the world and go : "HEY, NO PROGRESS!" There's been a lot of progress. We'll never wipe out ethics-free humans. Ethically, well, we're just not allowed to.

The memes you discuss may be a problem. But they're just replacing old memes that are even more devastating because they're WAY TOO REAL.

It's another old Sci-Fi notion... In a very real way, wouldn't it be great if the ALIENS did attack. Because then FINALLY, humanity would realize how little differentiates black from white, male from female, gay from straight, etc., ad nauseum. Of course, that would immediately present us with the new racial challenge of learning to "just get along" with the aliens. But wouldn't it be nice for just a moment to get past the pettiness that we own ourselves?

Or something like that.

Response recorded on March 31, 2005

: Displaying #1 of 37 records. : Next » : 10 » : Last » :