The Good Life: A bleg

This fall I will participate in a seminar on “The Good Life.”   We are reading lots of original works, looking at the issue from various perspectives.  I mentioned the role of technology in making life better, more specifically those technologies that tamper with the mind.  We’ll read A Clockwork Orange, but I thought it would also be interesting to consider something with the opposite point of view.  Something more Hansonian.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated–fiction or nonfiction.

Update: I didn’t explain this at all well.  I am not looking for books on the good life.  We already have a complete reading list, going back to Genesis.  My assignment is to find a reading that argues in favor of tampering with human nature (via technology) in order to make life better.  I believe that one of the reasons why  Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange was to warn against that sort of thing.  So I was looking for an alternative view.

Speaking of the good life, I’ve always thought that if I could have been anyone else, it would have been Patrick Leigh Fermor, who wrote some wonderful travel books about central Europe, Greece, and the Caribbean.  Let’s face it, the average man wishes he was James Bond.  Fermor was a sort of thinking man’s James Bond.  Here’s the obit from The Economist:

Critics of his two best-loved books, “A Time of Gifts” (1977) and “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986), complained that he swanned through 1930s Europe without noticing the clouds. His visit to the Munich Hofbräuhaus mostly described the enormous girth and appetite of ordinary Bavarians, barely mentioning the black-clad SS men in another room. An encounter with orthodox Jews in Transylvania focused on a reading, which thrilled him, of the Song of Miriam in Hebrew. Though both books were written decades after the event, he added no politics to them. Culture, beauty, romance and laughter were what he saw and cared for.

That’s precisely what I liked about the books–they presented Europe as it would have been perceived by an adventurous and erudite young man, who knew nothing about what would occur after 1933.  And yet he certainly didn’t shirk his duty:

By the same token, he never wrote about his wartime experience as a liaison officer with the partisan guerrillas in Crete—except to mention the swagger-black boots and mulberry sash of his disguise, and the evenings of drinking raki and cracking walnuts outside their mountain hideouts. He earned his DSO for crazily kidnapping a German general; but the moment he remembered was when that general, one dawn of his captivity, suddenly quoted a line of Horace, Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/Soracte; and Captain Leigh Fermor, aka Michali, finished the next five stanzas for him.

There are many dangerous and unpleasant things that must be done so that a few lucky souls can live the good life.  Fermor did those dangerous things, and also lived the good life:

He refused a knighthood almost to the end, pointing out that he had written only a slow handful of books. This was true. He had become famous largely for chronicling a Europe that had been swept away, and had spent a charmed life without a regular job, fed—as he liked to put it—like Elijah, by the ravens. But he had done more. His wandering, writing life evoked the essential unity of Europe, the cultural and linguistic intertwinings and layer upon layer of shared history; and all with a lightness, and an infectious joy, that inspired many others to set out in the same way.

He died at the age of 96.

[Normal people may want to skip the silliness that concludes this post.  To make up for it, next week I promise an outpouring  of near Yglesian proportions.  Maybe 30 posts. ]

Actually, it makes no sense to say I wish I could have been Paddy Fermor.  If I had lived his life, I would have been him, not I.  But he did live his life–so in that sense my wish was granted.  The problem is that I also had to live mine.  If you have no idea of what I’m talking about, I don’t blame you.  When one denies the existence of personal identity, reality becomes a very strange place.  Here’s a wonderful quotation by Borges that explains why “I” don’t exist:

The self does not exist.  Schopenhauer, who often appears to adhere to this opinion, at other times tacitly denies it, I know not whether deliberately or because he is compelled to by the rough, homespun metaphysics–or rather ametaphysics that lurks in the very origin of language.  Nevertheless, despite this disparity, there is a passage in his work that illuminates the alternative like a sudden blast of flame.  I shall transcribe it:

“An infinite time has run its course before my birth; what was I throughout all that time?  Metaphysically the answer might perhaps be: I was always I; that is; all who during that time said I, were in fact I.”

Reality has no need for other realities to bolster it.  There are no divinities hidden in the trees, nor any elusive thing-in-itself behind appearances, nor a mythological self that orders our actions.  Life is truthful appearance.  The sense do not deceive, it is the mind that deceives, said Goethe, in a maxim that we could compare to this line by Macedonio Fernandez:

“La realidad trabaja en abierto misterio.” [Reality works in overt mystery.]

There is no whole self.  Grimm, in an excellent presentation of Buddhism (Die Lehre des Buddha, Munich, 1917), describes the process of elimination whereby the Indians arrived at this certainty.  Here is their millennially effective precept:  “Those things of which I can perceive the beginnings and the end are not my self.”  This rule is correct and needs only to be exemplified in order to persuade us of its virtue.  I, for example, am not the visual reality that my eyes encompass, for if I were, darkness would kill me and nothing would remain in me to desire the spectacle of the world, or even to forget it.  Nor am I the audible world that I hear, for in that case silence would erase me and I would pass from sound to sound without memory of the previous one.  Subsequent identical lines of argument can be directed toward the sense of smell, taste, and touch, proving not only that I am not the world of appearances–a thing generally known and undisputed–but that the apperceptions that indicate that world are not my self either.  That is, I am not my own activity of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching.  Nor am I my body, which is a phenomenon among others.  Up to this point the argument is banal.  Its distinction lies in its application to spiritual matters.  Are desire, thought, happiness, and distress my true self?  The answer, in accordance with the precept, is clearly in the negative, since those conditions expire without annulling me with them.  Consciousness–the final holdout where we might track down the self–also proves unqualified.  Once the emotions, the extraneous perceptions and even ever-shifting thought are dismissed, consciousness is a barren thing, without any appearance reflected in it to make it exist.

Grimm observes that this rambling dialectical inquiry yields a result that coincides with Schopenauer’s opinion that the self is a point whose immobility is useful for discerning, by contrast, the heavy-laden flight of time.  This opinion translates the self into a mere logical imperative, without qualities of its own or distinctions from individual to individual.

Let there be happy mental states on July 4th!!

PS.   I don’t know how Robin Hanson feels about Borges’ argument, but Hanson seems headed in the same direction.


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37 Responses to “The Good Life: A bleg”

  1. Gravatar of q q
    28. June 2011 at 16:12

    you’re missing out if you haven’t read ‘unnameable’ by samuel beckett, imho

  2. Gravatar of Blackadder Blackadder
    28. June 2011 at 16:42

    “What is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.” -Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

  3. Gravatar of shocking shocking
    28. June 2011 at 16:51

    Scott,

    It’s been too long. Please don’t again exhaust yourself, because I’m not sure I could endure another long break from The Money Illusion (which ironically abbreviates as TMI).

    I’m not sure how the philosophical implications of this post permit a libertarian outlook, but that requires a post longer than I’m up for (and one that would doubtfully interest you).

    Anyway, hurray for your return to blegging!

  4. Gravatar of OneEyedMan OneEyedMan
    28. June 2011 at 17:39

    May vote for a technology that tampers with the mind is domestication. Consider this line from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language:
    “Domesticated animals can only be raised by people who are committed morally and ethically to watching their families go hungry rather than watch them eat the breeding stock” P.155

    Another ancient one is of course written language. Guns, Germs, and Steel talks about how written language radically expands how elaborate the trickery and planning a society can do because it can better learn from its history and fiction. Mass literacy had large and equivalent effects. See pages 79-80.

  5. Gravatar of RobF RobF
    28. June 2011 at 18:23

    Scott,

    I’m not sure I understand the bleg. Are you looking for books on “the good life” in general, or something more specific? I think I got lost because I don’t understand how “A Clockwork Orange” is in any way related to the good life, except maybe in an ironic sense. Nor do I know what the obvious “opposite point of view” to Clockwork would be. Is it that you see Clockwork as pessimistic about the influence of technology on human well-being and you are interested in books that are more optimistic about the impact of technology (e.g. “Kiln People”)?

  6. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    29. June 2011 at 05:41

    The obvious choice is Freedom by Daniel Suarez:

    http://www.amazon.com/Freedom-TM-Daniel-Suarez/dp/0451231899

    It is important because it makes clear the obvious path by which the Internet trumps any and all previous inventions.

    And since you don’t believe this to the case, you are kind of obligated to put it forward, not to be open minded, but to let a true believer speak for himself.

  7. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    29. June 2011 at 07:40

    q, Is that some light reading for the beach? :)

    Blackadder, Thanks for reminding me why I didn’t major in philosophy.

    Shocking, Thanks, and no relationship to libertarianism, at least as far as I can see.

    Oneeyedman, I was thinking along different lines, but those are good observations. I need to think about the issue more broadly.

    RobF, Sorry, I should have been more specific. I saw “A Clockwork Orange” as a critique of using technology in an attempt to make life better by tampering with human nature–making us less “human” in some sense, even if better in a utilitarian way. I was looking for something with the opposite point of view–an argument in favor of using pharmaceuticals or genetic engineering to make people better, even if we are in some sense less “natural.” Perhaps genetic engineering that makes people non-violent, on not subject to depression. Can that be defended?

    BTW, I don’t have strong views on this subject either way.

    Morgan, But does that really change human nature? Perhaps it does, I’ll have to give that some thought. Both you and OneEyedMan approached this from an angle I hadn’t expected.

  8. Gravatar of OneEyedMan OneEyedMan
    29. June 2011 at 08:01

    The Kzin are an alien race from Larry Niven’s Known Space series. In the course of their history they are generically engineered in 3 different ways. 1) They reduce their females’ intelligence to sub-sapience. 2) They alter themselves to be more aggressive and heroic. 3) Another alien race contrives to force them into repeated wars that kill off the most aggressive members, making them them less heroic.

    The stories in part explore the consequences of these alterations.

  9. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    29. June 2011 at 10:45

    How about “Life in the 21rst Century”, written by Soviet futurologists during the high point of the Soviet regime? It’s a rare example of communists talking about communism, because I think that communists tend to be passionate about the critique of capitalism and the revolution rather than the paradise to come. It’s a bit like certain Christians (by no means all or even most) who look forward to Judgment Day moreso that heaven.

    Also, no discussion of the good life is complete without a word to Romanticism (even if, like most economists, you’re very much in the mold of Aristotle, Hume and Voltaire, rather than Shelley, Byron, Stirner, Marx, Schopenhauer and the like). Here’s the great Isaiah Berlin talking about Romanticism at a rapid pace but in a lucid clear way-

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAGHZH3ZC3g

  10. Gravatar of dirk dirk
    29. June 2011 at 11:39

    I always think of Hemingway as having lived the good life (despite killing himself in the end.) Of course, it’s too easy to name superstars as examples of the good life. Few can be superstars. I suspect Mick Jagger and Hugh Hefner have lived the good life, but it’s not like one can simply choose to lead their lives.

    I’ve always been fascinated by Henry Miller’s counter-intuitive claim of being the happiest man alive despite no money, no resources, no hopes. I suspect only a Henry Miller could be happy in such circumstances.

    In literature, technology is usually portrayed as a road to dystopia. I wonder why. (Only sci-fi seems to give technology any credit in improving human life.) Maybe novelists’ view of progress is as Milan Kundera says: “The nineteenth century invented the locomotive, and Hegel was convinced he had grasped the very spirit of universal history. But Flaubert discovered stupidity. I daresay that is the greatest discovery of a century so proud of its scientific thought… the most scandalous thing about Flaubert’s discovery of stupidity is this: Stupidity does not give way to science, technology, modernity, progress; on the contrary, it progresses right along with progress!”

    A short novel I’ll recommend which is light reading for the beach is Kundera’s novel Slowness. Only 156 pages. Yeah, it is a critique on our fast modern lives, yet its economy makes it conveniently suited for our fast modern lives!

    RE: Hanson. I wrote a short dialogue in which I imagine how the first conversation with the very first EM might go (Robin liked it):

    http://thecandidefund.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/a-dialogue-with-the-very-first-em/

  11. Gravatar of Indy Indy
    29. June 2011 at 13:05

    Glad you’re back. I eagerly await the Yglessian Blog orgy “Blorgy?”.

    As for the good life, I think there’s a certain art of self-awareness to being able to make oneself content, satisfied, and fulfilled in a wide variety of circumstances after one’s basic needs are met. Many people imagine their mental and emotional state to be passive and reactive – a consequence of their material condition and activities, but I don’t think that’s accurate at all.

    Imagine two elderly people who are similarly situated in all material respects and who are told they are about to die. One person reacts with panic, fear, anxiety, and regret (and we all know people like that), while the other person reacts with a more peaceful acceptance and a stoic readiness to meet his fate (and, hopefully, you know at least one person like this, I’ve been lucky enough to know several).

    It’s a key difference in attitude which I don’t think is ascribable merely to “personality” or “disposition” but in something like self-mastery. Now, expand the non-frantic man’s style of reaction to his whole life but don’t let it drain away his motivation or courage. It’s not the “life” itself that makes it a good life, it’s the one living it.

  12. Gravatar of dirk dirk
    29. June 2011 at 14:28

    Your Borges quote is exactly what I have always believed. It strikes me as intuitive and logical. When I was in 1st grade I remember looking around the classroom and thinking “In the next moment I’m going to experience being the person seated next to me, and in the next I’m going to experience being someone else in the room and in the next I’ll experience being someone else on the planet and then as if no time has passed I’ll experience being me again.” Yet it’s impossible to live as if one believed that were really true. We spend too much time in Hansonian “near” mode.

  13. Gravatar of Bababooey Bababooey
    29. June 2011 at 14:29

    Start with poetry, its the blog form of discerning the good life from a variety of perspectives. Poetry’s few words produce a lot of emotion and cogitation, two paths to happiness (action is another).

    A (borrowed) line from Ezra Pound offers one perspective: A man’s paradise is his good nature. For men of a certain age (ahem), Ulysses by Tennyson offers another perspective.

    If you require long form, the Greeks were consumed by finding the good life, usually by examination of knowledge. Not just the famous names, but the thinkers that the famous ones were disputing. According to Timon, Pyrrho said that happiness is found in 3 questions: how are things by nature? what attitude should we adopt towards them? what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude? Pyrrho’s answers might work for your inner happiness, but you’ll be poor company.

  14. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. June 2011 at 14:34

    Some men are happy in hovels, others commit suicide in Park Avenue apses. Some say if they have only enough books…
    For me, conversation is key (well, and food and sex). Intelligent conversation makes a day.

    So, if flummoxed, ask yourself this: What would Hugh Hefner do, if he were Albert Einstein?

  15. Gravatar of Bababooey Bababooey
    29. June 2011 at 14:40

    Reality has no need for other realities to bolster it.

    But it does, it requires an observer. Without an observer reality is merely a probability wave function, a superposition of eigen states.

  16. Gravatar of Dan S Dan S
    29. June 2011 at 15:00

    I’d recommend starting with Plato and Aristotle, at least if you’re making a chronological representation. Specifically, cover Aristotle, who explicitly talks about how to achieve “well-being” and the good life, and mention Plato, who had similar ideas but in my opinion was way too attached to his metaphysically dubious Forms.

  17. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    29. June 2011 at 16:09

    Scott, the entire novel is about the the complete re-organization of society around a massively-multi-player computer game… wherein everyone lives with a networked Augmented Reality heads up display googles, giving them instantaneous layers of data about whoever and whatever they interact with.

    From 3D printing fabrication essentially ending the need to manufacture and ship product to a complete new approach to currency, and indeed a benevolent computer based AI that breaks the back of all governments and destroys any army that raises up against it.

    It’s exactly the radical how and why of technology making everything better… its not really fair to approach he subject without something like this… just begging the question.

    And best of all, everyone chooses to live their lives this way.

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. June 2011 at 17:26

    OneEyedMan, I’m not sure the women in class would see that as the good life.

    W.Peden, I did read Berlin’s book on romanticism, which I enjoyed.

    dirk, Thanks for the tips. That EM conversation is very clever.

    Indy, I certainly agree that (in wealthy countries) the quality of one’s life depends much more on the person’s characteristics, than on their circumstance. I’m not claiming that applies in North Korea.

    Banjamin, You said;

    “So, if flummoxed, ask yourself this: What would Hugh Hefner do, if he were Albert Einstein?”

    That’s easy, he’d invent Special and General Relativity.

    dirk, I agree with you on being someone else. And that also tells me the debate over reincarnation is silly. I don’t even know what the word reincarnation means.

    Bababooey, Aren’t there different points of view on the whole QM/Observer question? What if the observer is a computer with a mechanical eye?

    And thanks for the Tennyson poem. It’s a good one.

    Dan, Thanks, but check my update.

    Morgan, That sounds intriguing. Apart form the ideas, is it an well-written book? (Some sci-fi is kind of low quality.)

    Everyone, I added an update, as I didn’t explain my bleg very well. I will be away for a few days, so replies may be slow.

  19. Gravatar of Lucas Lucas
    29. June 2011 at 20:06

    @Scott,
    “I was looking for something with the opposite point of view–an argument in favor of using pharmaceuticals or genetic engineering to make people better, even if we are in some sense less “natural.” Perhaps genetic engineering that makes people non-violent, on not subject to depression. Can that be defended?”
    Food for thought: adding lithium to the water supply [1]

    1- http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/742589

  20. Gravatar of Charles Hime Charles Hime
    29. June 2011 at 21:35

    Scott,

    I’m embarrasingly happy that you’re back. I was thinking the same thing as Benjamin Cole – for me the good life is good conversation, good sex, and good food (in that order). Reading your blog is like having a good conversation.

    I’ve nothing to add as far as anything well-written that promotes the union of man and technology. All I come up with is Lando Calrissian’s assistant on Cloud City with the cybernetic implant, Geordi LaForge, and Iron Man. Pretty highbrow stuff.

    Cheers

  21. Gravatar of Miguel Miguel
    30. June 2011 at 01:38

    Scott,

    Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies deals in part with this topic. An excellent book on what some technological breakthroughs could mean some for freedom is Future Imperfect, by David Friedman, although it’s not an optimistic (nor pesimistic) book.

    Ridley’s The Rational Optimist, which I haven’t read, is also related to the topic.

  22. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    30. June 2011 at 07:55

    Suarez is very well regarded in Sci-Fi circles.

    It is a page turner. It is actually the second follow on novel to his first, “Daemon.”

    But you don’t need to have read Daemon to read Freedom, it stands on its own.

  23. Gravatar of Chris Chris
    30. June 2011 at 12:29

    “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi.
    People that reach a certain age are restored to their youth (maybe a little better) in exchange for fighting a foreign war.

  24. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    30. June 2011 at 13:14

    a reading that argues in favor of tampering with human nature (via technology) in order to make life better

    Do breast implants count?

  25. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    30. June 2011 at 19:03

    Jeff, yes.

  26. Gravatar of Larry Larry
    1. July 2011 at 00:31

    Don’t have a book for you, but I think we’re heading for cyborg-dom. I often say that I’m signing up for wings and gills as soon as I can, but the potential mental modifications are far more interesting, really. Hard to crystallize what they might be. Easy to talk about curing defects such as calculation speed and memory defects, but those are not really game changers.

    The highest cognitive skills are probably those of pattern recognition and inference and deduction that refute our priors. Maybe it just means that more of us will be able to make the kinds of leaps that Einstein made during his annus mirabilus. Or maybe that we’ll make such leaps seem mundane.

  27. Gravatar of Dave Dave
    1. July 2011 at 18:30

    If you’re looking for something that supports the idea that technology has made our lives better, then I’d recommend “Human-Built World: How to Think about Technology and Culture” by Thomas P. Hughes. This is both a succinct history and a polemic. Should suit your needs.

  28. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    1. July 2011 at 23:22

    Gravity Dreams by L E Modestit Jnr. It postulates a society where nano-technology has greatly enhanced human possibilities and lifespan. Very Hansonite in that sense.

  29. Gravatar of Mark B Mark B
    2. July 2011 at 18:22

    three suggestions for human tampering:

    Frederick Pohl, “Outnumbering the Dead”. Humans have been genetically modified so that they are capable of living forever, and are free of disease. Accident is the primary cause of death. What is the effect on human motivation?

    John C. Wright, “The Golden Age”. Human computer interface – human intelligence is transferrable between bodies, storable, splittable, etc. An interesting economy based on processor time and energy.

    Dan Simmons, “Hyperion” – the series. Humanity splits into two groups – those who maintain the original human form and those who accept modification so that they can expand into off-world existence.

  30. Gravatar of Lance Lance
    3. July 2011 at 09:45

    Michael J. Sandel’s “The Case Against Perfection” might be good (http://www.amazon.com/Case-against-Perfection-Genetic-Engineering/dp/0674036387/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1309714794&sr=8-5)

    A foil to Sandel is Ronald M. Green’s “Babies by Design” (http://www.amazon.com/Babies-Design-Ethics-Genetic-Choice/dp/0300143087/ref=pd_sim_b_3).

    Or there is John Harris’s “Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People” (http://www.amazon.com/Enhancing-Evolution-Ethical-Making-Better/dp/0691128448/ref=pd_sim_b_1)

  31. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    5. July 2011 at 05:29

    Consider the movie Limitless. Not a great movie, but I liked the surprise ending – in so far as almost every movie that has the main character tampering with ‘forces beyond mortal ken’ (like science), ends up getting destroyed in a Faustian manner. This gets foreshadowed by the deaths of many other characters in the movie. But the ending surprises slightly, which is probably why many critics disagreed with it (though it still pulled in 70% in rotten tomatoes).

    Beyond that, recognize that most literary works of renown question progress rather than endorse it. To find works that endorse it, one often has to go into science fiction, which is widely regarded by your average NYT critic as a lesser art form. Few works in sciFi have much real status. One, which endorses progress, is Aasimov’s Foundation Series – though this is told more from a societal perspective. [note publish dates - Clockwork in 1962, Foundation in 1951]

    From a human augmentation perspective, consider William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1980), which launched the entire “cyberpunk” genre. Mostly about wiring people up to computers. People are augmented, but society is dysfunctional.

    I did not like Hyperion, but that was largely due to pace and style.

    Consider, also, Dune (Frank Herbert) – 1965 – a very different take on human augmentation.

    To get a utopian vision of the future, you have to go back a ways. For the last 40 years, dystopia has been more popular. (Maybe Larry Niven’s Ringworld is the exception.) Increasingly, we’ve seen topics like AI independence, etc. Antiheros are more common than Heros (Maybe Gordon R Dickson’s stuff the exception). Let’s face it, who wants to read a book with everything being happy and the hero being all healthy and satisfied with life? Literature has a huge built-in selection bias (the seminar itself should make that obvious).

  32. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    5. July 2011 at 05:43

    Actually, if you want a book/series that focuses HEAVILY on human augmentation, consider this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Requiem_for_Homo_Sapiens

    Human augmentation is the central focus of the story, and the boundaries of what is human are questioned throughout.

  33. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    5. July 2011 at 12:07

    Charles, You said;

    “I’m embarrasingly happy that you’re back. I was thinking the same thing as Benjamin Cole – for me the good life is good conversation, good sex, and good food (in that order). Reading your blog is like having a good conversation.”

    Thanks. (I am tempted to respond with a lame joke, but won’t.)

    Lance, Would you consider the Green or the Harris book to be more intellectually “deep” or “philosophical?”

    Everyone, Thanks for all those helpful suggestions. I’m starting to lean in the non-fiction direction. I think statsguy’s right that highly talented writers don’t typically do novels that portray technology leading to a happier future.

    I am pretty sure that the ancient Greeks would be horrified by our culture–and would consider us to be a sort of dsytopia. Imagine explaining to the ancient Greeks that “hyperactive” boys are suffering from a disease, and must be medicated so that they are as tame as farm animals. Or that Odysseus wasn’t a hero, but was in fact a villain.

  34. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    5. July 2011 at 13:34

    “I think statsguy’s right that highly talented writers don’t typically do novels that portray technology leading to a happier future.”

    You mean statsguy and you are pessimistic assholes.

    By my definition, the really good writers are the ones who paint the future bright – because it is. Those who don’t have a deep scarring chip on their shoulder, and I shouldn’t have to be their shrink.

    To do the job correctly Scott, you have to get out of your comfort zone – raise up and celebrate an approach you have to struggle to grasp.

    Otherwise why waste everybody’s time?

  35. Gravatar of StatsGuy StatsGuy
    5. July 2011 at 15:07

    Morgan, my first thought was, “Hey, have you been talking to my wife?”

    My second was, “I never said talented writers don’t do happy futures, I said the world of literature punishes them and rewards people who write dystopian futures.”

    Scott – consider the possibility that the most interesting thing you can pull into the event is why people seem so fearful of technology changing the future… If you write down all the possible hypotheses, there are several, but it’s a good debate.

  36. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    5. July 2011 at 20:28

    Fiction is about taking ourselves out of ourselves, so troubled times tend to produce utopian fiction, good times tend to produce dystopian fiction.

    The SF has been dominated by dystopian visions since about 1960 tells me we Westerners live in mostly pretty good times.

  37. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. July 2011 at 11:36

    Morgan, You said;

    “Otherwise why waste everybody’s time?”

    There’s no gun pointing at your head forcing you to read my pessimistic posts. Maybe they should come with a warning label. More seriously, thinking about dystopias might help us to avoid them. Suppose the biotech industry builds a dengerous pathogen. Are we prepared?

    Statsguy, Yes, I’ve been thinking about those issues. Are you familiar with the happiness machine argument (by Nozick?) The counterargument is that if people are presented with the following thought experiment:

    You wake up on a couch surrounded by scientists in white robes. They tell your your entire “life” (that you remember), all your friends and loved ones and memories, was actually just images programed into your brain. Your real life is that you are some shmuck in an auto factory. They give you a choice of going back into the dream (the only reality you recall) or going back to real life as the factory worker. Most people take the machine.

    So Nozick’s happiness machine argument is wrong. It’s not the artificial that people fear, is the unfamiliar. The future seems unfamiliar, and hence dystopian. But when it arrives it will seem normal, and people won’t be able to imagine how us poor blokes were able to live back in 2011.

    Lorenzo, That’s a very shrewd observation.

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