Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Monday, February 4, 2008

my new system of morality

all right boys and girls, let's talk pragmatic philosophy for a few moments.

first, if the species doesn't survive, it doesn't really matter that much how tasty we make each other feel on the inside.

thus, until we can get viable colonies exceeding the blast radius of one supernova, most everything we say, think, eat, poop, and do can be judged in its morality on a simple continuum.

if it helps the species create viable colonies on other worlds, then it is good. the more it helps, the more morally good that action is.

if it hinders the species in creating viable colonies off-world, then it is bad. the more it hinders, the more morally repugnant it is.

you see, if we can't get off world, all other moral issues are irrelevant. who cares about the abortion debate if *all* of our unborn children will be killed from the inevitable supernova? Some of them may live longer than the others, but all of them will die if we can't get off world.

freedom if ideas to be shared, science, math, networks and social networks, and innovation are all morally good. they will help us as a species create viable colonies off world.

religions that hinder science, political policies that limit the access to ideas, and social policies that limit the scientific education of young people who could be solving the problems that will get us off-world are all bad. very, very bad. the more such things hinder our ability to exceed the blast radius of one supernova, the worse they are.

for this reason, i have also decided that science fiction is the most morally correct form of literature. it is the only form of literature that has, for generations, concerned itself with the ultimate survival of the species by grappling with the paradigms that will shape our life, or our death.

i shall be renewing my subscription to both asimov's and analog next payday. you should do the same. it is the only morally correct thing to do.

and, be sure to embrace this new morality for yourself. the survival of our species depends upon you.


Max Ingram said...

Outstanding. I don't think I've ever heard the concept of morality summed up quite so interestingly. It would make a good basis for a science-fiction story and/or series.

Of course, this theory of morality presupposes that Mankind's advancement as a corporeal entity is of far greater import than his advancement as a non-corporeal entity. Perhaps even advancing the notion that Mankind has no nature beyond that of the corporeal to be concerned with in the first place.

In other words, a man's soul be damned so long as his body survives. Which can be a perfectly valid view depending upon your accepted cosmology.

The opposite stance one could take would be an acceptance of Mankind's impending physical demise, whether by means of our sun eventually going Supernova or some other unforseen cataclysm, and therefor defining the ultimate moral good as the advancement of Man's spiritual awakening (perhaps akin to the ascension of the Ancients as depicted in Stargate).

In any event, your blog post made for some very interesting reading.

J m mcdermott said...

Non-corporeality cannot be proven.

And, embracing our corporeality does not diminish our spiritual selves.

Surviving, and having children that survive, would actually make me much more willing to enter into a moral debate on making our inner selves feel all squishy and good.

Remember, however, that the key is not just colonies, but *viable* colonies. I don't foresee Communist China creting viable, independent off-world colonies anytime remotely soon...

Max Ingram said...

"...embracing our corporeality does not diminish our spiritual selves."

True, but the notion of "achieve goal 'X' at all costs" can get quite messy when actually implemented. If we place the goal of Mankind's extra-solar expansion as paramount above all other considerations, we open ourselves to a Pandora's Box of moral dilemmas.

Consider the following. There is a cultural group existing on our world that shuns all forms of advanced technology. They are an agrarian culture, therefor occupying large segments of fertile land, yet because of their abstinance from advanced farming methods, this land is not utilized to it's peak efficiency. While it supports their people sufficiently, it could support the greater technologically advanced population much more so... if we had access to it.

But I doubt they're willing to part with it. So, do we steal the land occupied by the Quakers, and justify the morality of the act by reasoning that it will allow us to more easily feed and sustain the workers and scientists who struggle to get us beyond our Sun?

And what happens to a people like the Quakers in such a world? Do we lose all respect for them as a people, simply because they choose not to aid and advance our cause? Do they become the target of persecution due to their differing view? And do we explain away their suffering as being their own fault in this new moral view?

Just some thoughts to ponder. An interesting discussion, no?

J m mcdermott said...

Ah, but you forget an important caveat to the system. The colonies must be *viable*.

Unfree systems, closed systems, undiverse systems lead to unviability in the systems.

We could start shuttling bodies off with their very own G.E.C.K.s (for all you Fallout fans...), but without the free minds and diversity of a true free culture, the colonies will implode.

Max Ingram said...

I see your point about a colony's viability being a form of inborn system of checks and balances. But at the same time, I think any form of societal group, whether as large as a nation or as small as an off-world colony, can sustain viability despite a host of moral repugnancies.

Take for example the very successful and long-lived Aztec Empire. Which I'm certain falls under the category of a "viable" cultural settlement, despite the historical evidence that they quite freely and enthusiastically practiced human sacrifice.

Granted, the morality of an act such as human sacrifice can be argued one way or the other, depending upon one's cultural frame of mind. But I use this as an example of an immoral act from our shared "modern-american" point of view.

In short, although using a culture's viablity as a stop-gap for behaviour and practices which are undesirable is a good start, I don't see it as being an air-tight seal on the problem.

I think one must still have further moral guideposts to steer the behavior of the populace down the desired path of positivity.

J m mcdermott said...

The Aztec Empire wasn't viable. They came down from Texas and conquered a weaker, weakened culture.

The pattern of empire in that part of the world was one of violent collapse followed by waves of conquerers. The place was not an island of survival separated from the world. Left to their own devices and divided, they'd have become another Easter Island.

They were no more viable than North Korea or the Democratic Repulic of the Congo.

Max Ingram said...

I think we tend to differ in our estimations of what makes a culture viable. You seem to view viability as a state of conditions which would allow a culture to thrive indefinately. And yet history has shown that no culture Man has ever established can meet such exacting criteria.

It's my opinion that the only culture which could meet the standards required for indefinate sustainability is one which exists solely in our imaginations. A theoretical utopia, if you will.

The accepted defination of a viable culture is one which has the ability to grow, expand, and develop. It survives, at least for a reasonable span of time. In other words, it is not so flawed as to collapse under the weight of it's own inequities shortly after being founded.

Going back to the Aztec Empire, although it's certainly not a perfect parallel to an isolated off-world colony, I believe it can be viewed as a viable culture, as it survived, expanded and thrived for over 200 years.

Did it eventually fall into ruin? Of course, although it was due to outside invasion (courtesy of Cortes), rather than internal failure of it's societal structure. If Cortes hadn't invaded, who knows how long it would have lasted?

I assume you would count The United States as a viable culture. And it's only managed to survive for a little over 200 years itself. Who knows how much longer it will last.

My point is that viability isn't necessarily dictated by indefinate sustainability. That in fact, indefinate sustainability belongs more in the realm of utopian fiction, rather than true societal dynamics.

J m mcdermott said...

I'm sure we do differ, Ulfgeir.

My definition of a viable culture is probably pretty easy to figure out if you think about what the original post was about...

Anonymous said...

What hinders us isn't religion or politics but economics. Put simply, the U.S. and other economies are experiencing major credit crises which may lead to major recessions while countries like China and India become stronger but cannot meet increasing consumption. Just recently it was reported that within a decade China will require at least half of the world's resources to maintain current living standards. Previous to that, countries like the U.S. had only around five percent of the world's population but consumed up to 25 percent of global oil resources.

Last year oil and food prices went up dramatically due to increasing demand from China and other countries. For example, the price of wheat went up by at around 6 percent monthly or by 75 percent within a year. The price of coal has doubled and there have been increases for petrol, uranium, solar power cells, biofuels, and other products as well.

Several countries are now experiencing water shortages and it's likely that global warming may lead to more droughts. The warmth and increasing human movement may also lead to more vectors for diseases. The WHO reports that a pandemic and various epidemics may take place soon.

In any event, here are the major concerns for the near future (i.e., within the decade):

1. peak oil and energy shortages, and in general, various shortages for various commodities;

2. food shortages due to increasing demand, reliance on biofuels, droughts, etc.

3. global warming, which may lead to various other problems, including those mentioned in this list;

4. epidemics and probably a pandemic, caused by combinations of increasing crowding in urban areas, energy, water, and food shortages, increasing costs for medicine, warmth, resistance to antibiotics and other chemicals, etc.

5. water shortages in various parts of the world;

6. a credit crunch and other economic problems fueled by increasing spending, consumption, and debts;

7. more conflicts, as seen in wars over resources, increasing production for small arms and other weapons, and so forth.

Most of these problems will be caused or fueled by a combination of increasing global population and increasing demand per capita worldwide which will eat up more resources, cause more pollution, etc.

J m mcdermott said...

hello, anonymous one, and may i suggest turning off your television for half an hour a day - especially during the news programs.

i smell media fear all over you.

i shall refer you back to this post, anonymous one:

i would suggest to you that historical evidence indicates strongly that news media types will never know when the world is over. even after it is long over, and we are still getting up and driving to work and making love beyond the tipping point, news media will still be telling us about the dire dangers just over the horizon... if only you keep your eyeballs on the screen for one more commercial break.

that said, relax and enjoy the apocalypse. it only comes around once, you know.

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