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    • (Reposted from Facebook)

      One of the major glaring differences between the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and the movie Bladerunner was the excision of Mercerism. It was a reasonable choice given that it would have been difficult to convert an entire philosophy to the big screen, but without it, some difficult choices in the movie make no sense. The Voight-Kampff test, for instance, was entirely based on the empathetic response central to Mercerism. Why did the synth freak out when asked about the turtle being flipped over? Because he knew he'd already failed to exhibit the empathic physiological response that would have been expected.

      I think about Mercerism quite a bit when I look around at the current state of our socioeconomic culture. In DADoES, emotions are completely artificially controlled. Mercerism is important because it reminds humans that the most basic aspect of humanity, the defining line used to separate humans from synths, is empathy. And when I observe the way we treat each other, I wonder how well we would all pass the Voight-Kampff test, because in common observation, we revel in schadenfreude. It is not enough that we win; our opposition must also lose.

      One of the most disturbing things I've seen coming out of the current political climate is a certain furious glee in the suffering of your opponents. That, more than anything else, makes me fear for the future of this country.

      Wilbur Mercer would walk up a hill being teased and assaulted by disbelievers. And his adherents would connect to a machine which let them feel his emotions and pain. As rocks and epithets were thrown at him, he struggled on, struck by the blows, but committed to climbing to the top of that hill, and by connecting to him, we were all reminded of the pain of others.

      He was revealed to be a fraud in the end, of course, but the lesson carried on anyways. Deckard and Roy explored it at the end, with Deckard facing his own inhumanity, and Batty demonstrating that by every metric Deckard measured it, he was worthy of empathy, and capable of it.

      We cannot claim humanity without empathy. And our tendency to revel in the defeat of our opponents is a demonstration of the failure to live up to our potential. I'm sure there will be a significant amount of logical explanations for why schadenfreude is appropriate, even arguments I've made myself previously, but I wonder if we forbear our own victory in seeking the defeat of our opponent. What would we truly have to do to achieve something that looked like world peace? How would we have to change? Is the population actually capable of making empathy a primary driver in our motivations?

      I don't know. And probably not. But if I didn't indulge in a little Utopianism now and then, I think I'd lose faith in our species.

    • The history of communities founded on utopian ideals is quite fascinating.

      New Harmony, Indiana is an interesting place to visit. There were two utopian efforts there. Dreamers still sometimes relocate there.

      The Amana colonies in Iowa still exist but they have long abandoned the original ideals although some of the people retain some of the philosophy.

    • One of the most disturbing things I've seen coming out of the current political climate is a certain furious glee in the suffering of your opponents. That, more than anything else, makes me fear for the future of this country.

      When I was growing up, some of the boys would torture animals, such as neighborhood cats. I have always tried hard to understand why people feel as they do, but some things I never could, like torturing cats.

      I think I do understand the emotions surrounding abortion, guns, or war, but I can't get myself to understand what joy comes of chanting lock her up. I can understand not liking her, disagreeing with her policies, believing she was hiding something in her emails, or thinking Bernie or Trump would make a better president. If you serve your country, regardless of party, by being first lady, a popular senator, a popular secretary of state, winning the most popular votes for president, should there be so much glee in the prospect of sending you to prison?

      The thing that disturbs me most is how effective attack ads and conspiracies are proving to be. It seems the only persons or institution we don't do it to is the military and its members, and they are the only ones who still have our respect. We don't take glee when they suffer, thank God. For the rest—congress, the media, etc.—the billions spent to discredit them seem to have worked.

    • The thing that disturbs me most about Trumplandia is how so many have turned into Nelson from the Simpsons.

      It's like they've felt so disempowered for so long that the only joy they find is in the denigration of others, reveling as a bully on "their" side throws his weight around.

      As someone who's apartisan but quite political, it's proven to be a significant challenge for me. I enjoy being able to foster dialog, and to work on common sense common ground approaches for discussing policies. That's impossible when every reply is "BUT OBUMMER DID THIS! (links to infowars)."

      I'm no Socrates or Plato, but I think the single greatest trait people have is to engage in the salon; the vigorous testing of ideas through open dialog. If we're incapable of that, how do we continue to progress in both philosophy and science?

    • As someone who's apartisan but quite political, it's proven to be a significant challenge for me.

      Same. I have an analogy with companies. I like them but I want to know they have a set of moral values that matter to me—and show them by what they do. I don't think Facebook or Theranos share my values, but I believe Apple and Slack do.

      The reason I want that is I believe companies without moral values eventually risk moral lapses even if people flock to them and they appear successful on paper. Same with political candidates. I believed George H.W. Bush and Barbara had sound moral values and same with the Obamas. I'd vote for Jon Huntsman or Amy Klobuchar, Republican and Democrat, because to me it feels like they have human decency.

      I fail to see the human decency in Trump.

    • Three quotations concerning one's opponents which are opposed to taking delight in another's downfall.

      "He that is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished."

      "If I rejoice at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him: Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul."

      "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:"

      And for a little something extra

      "If you meet your enemy's ox or his ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again."

    • A black man broke into a hotel at night and raped a white woman. She paid close attention to all his facial features so she could identify him in a lineup. It seemed to pay off, because they found him and she identified him with absolute confidence. The bastard would pay for what he did.

      After a decade in prison, another black man happened to be imprisoned in the same place. The staff mixed the two of them up because they looked alike and it turns out he was in for rape too. They got the case reopened and this time DNA evidence exonerated him.

      He could have called the woman who got him convicted horseface and mocked her. But instead the two families became best of friends, they wrote a book together about the problems of witness identification, and they go on speaking tours together.

      If they can do that, I think the president should be strong enough to forgive an insult.

    • I'm not sure what that has to do with what I posted

      You quoted a statement from Chris Jenkins's original post and then talked about people who want torture cats and seemed to be talking about people who delight in the suffering of others.

      I posted a response which was in agreement that it is wrong to delight in other people's sufferings.

      I'm ignorant of what insult you were referencing that the President should forgive, and I do not know what the injustice of a case of mistaken identity has to do with what I posted.

    • I have a belief that the best way to illustrate an idea is to tell a human story: David and Goliath, the good Samaritan, the woman by the well.

      I simply tried to illustrate your points with a human story.

    • Is the population actually capable of making empathy a primary driver in our motivations?

      This is actually the hidden spearhead of the question. It is not enough to have empathy. It is what you do with it and how, that will define the practical outcomes. As buddhists say, "knowing about the path and walking it are two different things"

      And while we are relating to seminal sci-fi works on the topics, I'd like to contribute this one (even though it doesn't deal with empathy as such)


      How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't make a virtue of it, or a profession... Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.
      ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

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