Sunday, March 9, 2014

Gaps: A Sunday Rumination

Before I settled on today's topic, I reviewed my previous few Ruminations, out of a fear that I might have begun to repeat myself. Granted that some sentiments can be expressed an infinite number of times without losing their force, that's not my proper undertaking here at Liberty's Torch. Another Preacher took up that burden for all of us, long ago, and His attainments are beyond my ability to approach.

The piece that caught my eye and held it was this one: individuals, we are limited, fallible, and vulnerable. No one gets very far with nothing but his own body and mind; everything else we might ever bring to bear upon the execution of a plan requires the cooperation or collaboration of others, whether direct or indirect. Vanishingly few among us can say that they've never needed anyone's help for anything -- and most of us, at some point in our lives, will have a need for help we don't deserve and cannot repay.

We plan...but we don't plan in isolation from one another. The true "lone wolf" is the rarest of all human beings; such isolates tend to wither and die. Robinson Crusoe, had he not had the well-stocked wreck of his ship to plunder for resources, would not have flourished in his solitude...and the goods of which he availed himself were not his by original acquisition.

To the extent that the Divine Plan addresses Man and his societies, perhaps that mandatory involvement with one another is at the heart of it.

When I combined each man's need to involve himself with his fellows, with our inherent human fallibility and susceptibility to temptation, my thoughts were steered inexorably toward the gaps between and among us.

Each of us must cope with several kinds of important gap:

  • Gaps between thought and action;
  • Gaps between action and intention;
  • Gaps between conscience and desire;
  • Gaps between perceived desires and actual desires;
  • Gaps between persons that develop as a result of the above.

Every man that will ever live must cope with such gaps. They arise from our individuality, our fallibility, and our suggestibility. "We believe easily what we fear or what we desire," quoth La Fontaine, and indeed it is so. Many of our desires are never actuated, because of the fears or character deficiencies that surround them. Many of our actions get us nowhere near to the objective we sought thereby, or invoke unintended and unforeseen consequences that overwhelmed the desirability of the goal. The better ones among us firmly suppress certain desires as incompatible with the dictates of our consciences, while the wiser and more experienced ones stay their hands in recognition of how often, in the past, what they thought they wanted most passionately, perhaps as a result of having listened to someone else's opinions on the subject, proved to be of little value or none at all.

But by far the most maddening of gaps is the one that forbids us access to the true desires, fears, and beliefs of others.

It's no accident that so much science fiction has been written about persons capable of reading others' minds. It's one of the most fiercely desired of paraphysical powers. It would solve a vast range of interpersonal problems...admittedly, while it evoked a new group whose scope we can grasp only incompletely. Extended to its maximum, it would allow us to detect evil motives, and to distinguish sincere statements from deceit.

But we can't do it. We'll never be able to do it. Technology might someday equip us with implanted communications capabilities -- considering how small the BLEEP!ing phones are getting, that might be sooner than later -- but the mind itself is inviolate, by design. It cannot and will not be laid open to others.

We should be grateful for that limitation, for our mental inviolability isn't just an obstruction; it's also a blessing. For we are not capable of dealing with full cognizance of what passes through others' minds. Our individuality denies us that capacity; the two are inherently mutually exclusive.

In my Spooner Federation science-fiction trilogy, I postulated the possibility of several varieties of paraphysical power, including telepathy. However, I deliberately limited the telepathic powers of my Marquee characters in several ways. My telepaths weren't able to "read minds," as such, though they could telecast deliberately formed statements into the minds of others adequately receptive to them. Whenever Armand or Althea concluded that some other person had a particular intention, it was always an inference from behavior. That allowed them to "go wrong" under circumstances where a true mind reader would have "gone right."

At a critical point in Freedom's Fury, I chose to have Althea suffer terribly on account of her powers, specifically on account of the purpose to which she put them: a necessary and ethically preferable employment, yet one that bore a heavy cost:

    “I’ve got him.”
    Althea fell backwards, stumbled against her chair, and collapsed to the deck, shaking violently as her tears broke free. Martin and Claire dove from their seats and wrapped their arms around her as the pain and sorrow inside her met, blended, and burst forth. It manifested as a howl that tapped the full force of her body. It rang from the hull of Liberty’s Torch until it seemed about to split the starship at its seams.
    Her spouses waited for the worst of her storm to pass. It took some time.
    “I hurt him,” she gasped at last.
    “A man? A nonsentient?” Claire said.
    Althea nodded. “Just one more victim of their villainy. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I had to.”
    She’d felt Vellis’s sufferings as he experienced them. The memory of them, their searing agony amplified many orders of magnitude by her sentience and her knowledge that she was their cause, cascaded through her afresh. The mangling of her body by the stillbirth could not compare to it. She wept once more, as piteously as if she’d been compelled to slay a billion innocents.
    The sorrow had carved itself into her soul. She knew she would carry it to her grave.
    An eternity later Martin said “How?”
    “Not physically.” Althea coughed and sniffled. “But I emptied him. I found the neural tracks that held his conditioning and flattened them out. I had to. They must have conditioned him to operate that station, just as they conditioned him to be a slave to his mistress. It was the only thing he had, that conditioning. Pleasing his mistress was the whole of his world. And I took it away.”

That was absolutely integral, both to my conception of Althea's powers and to her portrayal as a fully moral and ethical being. Althea would not willingly harm an innocent unless the sole alternative was something truly terrible: in this case, her death, the deaths of her spouses, and the indefinitely prolonged enslavement of all the males of the Loioc as nonsentient sexual pets. Even so, her telekinetic surgery on the helpless Vellis cost her a degree of torment she would never forget.

The gaps between Althea and Vellis -- spatial, intellectual, and volitional -- were unbridgeable. Once she had resolved not to kill him, she had no other choice. We ordinary mortals can never say the same.

Though we are barred from reading one another's minds, we have been provided with a sound guide toward mutual tolerance at worst and genuine affection at best:

“So I say to you: Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks shall find, and to him who knocks, the door shall be opened. What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will you give him a snake? Or if he asks for an egg, will you give him a scorpion? If ye then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! In everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 7:7-12]

The more widely the Golden Rule ethic is spread, the more reliable it becomes as a practical method by which to determine the desires and intentions of others. Even in this, it is possible to be deceived: Smith can always treat Jones in some fashion other than how he wants to be treated. Yet such a deception comes with a terrible cost to the deceiver, for if Jones operates under the Golden Rule, he's highly likely to respond in kind, which is, by stipulation, not the way Smith wants to be treated!

(It would appear that God has His little jokes, just as we mortals do. Best not to be the butt of one of His, though.)

Granted that even the Golden Rule does not suffice to close the gaps among us. Utopia is not one of the options available to us. Viewed from an entirely social perspective, it's more a form of lubrication than anything else. But if we are fated to have such separations between and among us, there is no more ethical, charitable, or reliable approach to bridging them.

May God bless and keep you all.

1 comment:

T.L. Davis said...

I appreciate your site for a lot of good reasons, chiefly among them is the Sunday Ruminations.

I have a project I am working on with which I would like your advice. E-mail me.