Fiction of interest

The fiction piece in this week's New Yorker deals with some of the same themes as Eliezer's "Three Worlds Collide"; viz., the clash of value systems (and the difficulty of seeing those with a different value system as rational), and the idea of humanity developing in ways that seem bizarre/grotesque/evil to us. 

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This is a very good story. And I think - in spite of the clear-cut attempts to elicit intuitions about the value of childhood and the rights of parents - that there may be some validity to the perspective character's society's view. Consider, for instance, the opposite case: dementia in old age. The years of dementia replace years of potentially productive and enjoyable thought with confused, near-valueless, dependent, and often suffering-laden resource-sucking; the demented aged receive no respect or autonomy. Eliminating senility as part of the human condition would be met with unequivocal celebration: no one would be holding protests begging for their deluded grandma back. For some reason, putting the stage of incompetence at the other end of the lifespan and making the sufferers adorable completely reverses this impression.

Growth and improvement is exciting and fulfilling, degradation and decay is terrifying and painful. The direction of change is what creates the distinction between youth and old age.

But isn't rapid growth and improvement better?

Not if it's so rapid you don't have time to properly enjoy it, or put another way if it's so rapid it clips the top of your progress-detector and all progress above that is simply wasted in terms of your hedonic enjoyment.

I am skeptical of the idea that the smallest of children have the conceptual sophistication to notice and enjoy their growth and improvement. Older children may, but then - adults can improve and grow too, while being competent and productive (and, at least potentially, self-conscious of the growth) all the while. However, my individual perspective is probably uncommon here: I didn't like anything about being a child that has turned out to be unique to childhood.

Your perspective might be uncommon, but I share it completely.

  • School: sit still and don't speak unless prompted. Wanna go to the toilet, ask for permission. Ten years of this crap. Also, interactions with fellow inmates are fun: "If you leave a bunch of eleven-year-olds to their own devices, what you get is Lord of the Flies" (Paul Graham)

  • Home: you're dependent and can't help it. Fights with parents over pocket money and computer time. Go to bed and get up on schedule. No personal space. You can have some jam after you finish your porridge.

  • External world: think it's hard to face stereotypes being a woman? Try being a kid.

  • You are so far below having civil rights, that people use you as an excuse to put restrictions on adults.

Agreed that children don't have a lot of good reasons to be happy, but not sure that's very relevant here. My observations of children suggest that when they're raised well they have a really high happiness set point, or are just plain better at being happy than adults for developmental reasons unrelated to their circumstances. I don't really trust my own memories of childhood, but the children I hang around always look like they're having more fun than adults nearby, unless they're specifically being prevented from doing so.

Clever story, dirty tricks. Make them unemotional, neotenous, r-strategy reproducers, bigoted and politically untrustworthy. Imply a short lifespan with no attempt at anti-aging. That variant of humanity is no fun, but what does that tell you about the propaganda topic, the value of long dependent childhood? Almost nothing. Too many confounding factors.

Whenever the New Yorker prints a science fiction story, the relatively low quality (compared to both SF as a whole and the fiction that appears in the New Yorker as a whole) makes it feel very much like a bone is being thrown. (It also makes me think gee, this is why readers of realist/"literary" fiction think SF is trash.)

The scenario in which now-like humans, and future humans, find each other's morals mutually repulsive, is interesting. But we have millennia of experience resolving conflicts.

But I think that some attention should also be given to scenarios in which both the now-like humans and the future humans agree that the future humans are morally superior to the old-style humans. That seems more likely, and may be more difficult to resolve, as we have no experience with such problems.

we have millennia of experience resolving conflicts

Eh? Have you read different history books than the ones I read? We have about 50-ish years experience of resolving conflicts with seriously differing worldviews by being nice. And largely because we won so outright we could afford to be magnanimous.

In my opinion, resolving conflict generally includes avoiding conflict. Political marriages have been around for well over 50-ish years and can be seen as peaceful resolution. Any sort of truce between two nations is conflict resolution. I would be willing to bet that as long as humanity has been warring amongst itself there have been people advocating peace and signing agreements.

None of these opinions are backed up by clever research projects, however. This is all from the top of my head.