Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Automatic Marlboro - Section II, sub-section (c)

The Automatic Marlboro is a science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your I'm-a-big-boy-now host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the sixth installment.

1a|1b |1c|2a|2b|2c|2d|3a|3b|3c|3d|3e

Connected stories: Simon of Space, Life & Taxes, Tim, Destroyer of Worlds

And now, the story continues:



"Things can't go on like this," declares Air Marrowman. "It's wrong."

"Is this going to be another lecture on optimization?" groans Pulse as he plucks a beer from the train. He cracks the seal. "Because I've optimized my listening to the point where I don't actually have to be here to hear you talk anymore. It's a breakthrough."

"I'm not talking about efficiency," snaps Air. "I'm talking about human rights."

Pulse swigs beer as he taps at his console. "Human rights have no place in a robot shop," he says with a smirk. "This is grad school. We don't have rights. We exist to serve and dissert."

"Your rights aren't my concern," she replies icily. "It's about the Zorannics."

Pulse ignores her, leaning deeper over his glowing blue command-trees. She stares at him. I pause from oiling the wheels on a boxcar, turning to look from him to her. "Zorannics aren't human, Air. The law doesn't look at them that way."

"I'm not talking about the law. I'm talking about morality."

Pulse narrows his eyes without looking up. "If your next sentence is about either Jesus or Xenu I'm officially declaring you an open target for beer caps. That goes double if you start in about Oprah, Commercial Islamic Futurism or the flying spaghetti monster."

"Morality," persists Air, "is about doing what's right. It's also about helping those less fortunate than ourselves. It's about fighting to secure rights for those who have none."

"Zorannics have rights," I point out. "They own themselves, and you're not allowed to murder them."

Air shakes her head. "I'm talking about what happens right here, guys. I'm talking about what we do. We're complicit in a system that is fundamentally anti-feminist."

Pulse's eyes widen as he spits out a mouthful of beer through the carefully arrayed holographics over his console. The numbers sway and distort. Coughing and wincing he squeaks, "What?"

"Anti-feminist," repeats Air seriously. "I'm talking about reproductive rights. Can't you see that it isn't fair for their continuance to be predicated on our cooperation? It isn't ours to veto. What right do we have to hold any power in the process whatsoever?"

"We help," I say. "We facilitate."

"No, a uterus facilitates. It's an organ. You and Pulse and me -- we're agents. We're autonomous. We make choices. We decide. You're right that we help, but he could withhold that help."

I furrow my brow. "Why would we want do that?"

To read the rest of this story, buy it now from Amazon for just $2.99!


Anonymous said...

I was a little distracted by declares, snaps, replies icily, persists, repeats. They felt like too much in rapid succession.

SaintPeter said...

Air: "Why, yes, I am a capital 'L' Liberal, how nice of you to notice." Even though I agree with the thrust of her argument, I really just want to smack her for her incredibly condescending attitude. "We're here to SAVE the Zorannics from the evil oppressors!"

I kept waiting for her to announce that she had a clinically tight vagina.

She does have a point, though - they are dependent on the university for their continued existence. Of course, they're also pretty smart, so I wouldn't put it past them to figure out their own solution.

Teddy said...

So? I'm dependent on Target continuing to stock Macaroni and Cheese for my existance, and for the store I work at to continue to stay in business so I can buy money to trade for Macaroni. If they were to with-hold their services, as they have EVERY right to do at any time, I'd be more or less hosed. The grocery less so, as there is competition, but my point stands - no man is an island, and in fact the Zorannics are less dependent on society around them than we are, it would seem. Her argument is short-sighted.


Joshua Benjamin said...

The right to reproduce freely and independently versus the right to buy Kraft Dinner at a supermarket? Yeah, totally the same thing Teddy. :)

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Teddy,

Interesting starting point! I think there are a few flaws in your analogy, though.

Firstly, you are not dependent upon macaroni and cheese. While you are dependent on a source of general sustenance, you are not obliged to attach yourself to any particular variety of sustenance (or even a specific source, mechanics of geography permitting). You may prefer, but you are not bound. I think "dependence" implies a state of binding much stronger than a preference or appetite.

Secondly, I don't agree that your place of employment has every right to withhold "services" (in its role as employer). I believe in fact that the contrary may be true -- there are many, many limitations on how an employer can suspend or terminate an employment relationship. Heroes and idiots alike of the labour rights movement have worked hard to diminish that particular degree of freedom on the part of employers -- arbitrary termination is usually actionable.

Thirdly, and perhaps most consequentially, it seems to me as if your argument is suffering from an excess of equivocation: since all things are dependent on something (because physical existence is necessarily provisional), all dependencies are indistinguishable and therefore equal.

However, in truth, dependencies do differ in their qualitative contributions to success. They can be meaningfully contrasted, even if priorities are mutable given extremes of time, space or number.

As an individual, my desire for thirst can be effectively contrasted to my desire for sex. I cannot live more than a few days without water but I can live indefinitely without sex. These appetites do not bear equally on my ability to survive.

On short enough timescales this holds true for groups, too. But once we extend to a longer timescale we see that, for a group, thirst for water and thirst for sex are equally necessary for survival. On the other hand, no matter how long a timescale we use cravings for luxury items will never be on equal footing with these basic appetites correlated so directly with perpetuation of the metabolism and germ line.

Your species requires water and sexual reproduction to continue existing, but it will never require emerald rings or soufflé. Your species may like these things, but in the absence of soufflé a substitution will do. There are no substitutes for water or fecundity.

The Zorannic robots are metabolically quite independent, but in terms of reproduction their dependence is absolute. It's not the same as needing a hospital to give birth to your baby in, because in the absence of a hospital the baby would still come out.

In this way we can distinguish between a dependence on infrastructure and a dependence on function. The Zorannics aren't lacking a hospital -- they lack wombs. No matter how you shake it, it's a more fundamental problem.

Thanks for engaging the discussion, Teddy! Response and discussion are good.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Anonymous,

I have mixed feelings on this issue.

I know all the good advice says "says/said" is transparent to the reader while adding more description is usually not especially helpful (if you can't tell how they're saying it from what they're saying, you're saying it wrong).

On the other hand, when editing I tend to find the rhythmic and mindless repetition of "says/said" to be a distracting pattern in and of itself. I generally read aloud to find our the points at which I feel it needs to be broken up, though I do admit to sometimes switching out the words because I want to emphasize a semantic point about the delivery.

A matter of balance, perhaps?

At any rate, thanks for letting me know when you feel I've overplayed the hand. It's very valuable information.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

SaintPeter said,

Air: "Why, yes, I am a capital 'L' Liberal, how nice of you to notice."

I think that must be a culturally sensitive expression, since to me a "capital L" liberal would be a member of the Liberal Party of Canada, a left-of-centre political organization. A "small L" liberal would be someone who held or espoused a philosophically liberal ideology.

Of course, I'm not rushing to correct you -- I'm sure it means something else quite legitimate where you live. I just don't know what that is. (I'm also the first one to admit my lack of politico-philosophical acumen.)

Air's attitude is abrasive though, to be sure.

Cheeseburger Brown

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Finally, Marlboro's first-chapter claim makes some sense.

Time to catch up now...