Monday, December 07, 2009

Noble Aspirations

Alternate title: Noble Aspirations and Pet Dinosaurs. Realization: Redundant.

The Best of 2009 prompt for today yesterday  was "Conference or Workshop", so I will have to take a pass. Just as well, I suppose, that I should learn how to post on my own initiative again.

Snowfall this morning: it chills the blood in my veins, so I fight back with a shower and hot chocolate. The winds of change are blowing, and in on them sails a ship bearing the recollection of winters past: christmas trees, terry's chocolate oranges, frozen toes, Frou Frou, an extremely poorly handled relationship... Ah, wintertime. This year, perhaps not so much. This year it's a vacation, and I'm trading my two weeks of slush and wood fire for seawater and lava flows. There's a certain melancholy in this, because growing up in one of the world's coldest capital cities you tend to associate bone-chilling weather with the good cheer of the season. We've done almost exactly this once before, a family reunion somewhere warm for the holidays. Last time it was Mexico. It was great fun, but it didn't really feel like christmas. Am I gonna whine about it? Heck no. Least as long as there are bars with swings for seats where we're going. Those things are worth at LEAST three feet of snow on the ground.

So last night I took a break from updating my blog (hence the super-late post) to wander downstairs and talk to a housemate of mine. Let's make him pseudonymous, because elsewise this is going to get tiresome. He's an Extraordinarily Long-haired Individual, so we can call him ELI. Fortunately enough, the other Extraordinarily Long-Haired Individual I know already has a different pseudonym. It's late at night/early in the morning, but we're still up 'cause it's the weekend - what else are you going to do? I have always contended that the best philosophical discussions take place during the wee hours, a theory which bears itself out time and again. Doesn't bode too well for my brain meats should I get a job with normal-people hours, though. Well, this time we start with...what do we start with? I've already forgotten. Not long into the conversation, though, ELI says something that sounds obvious, should have been obvious, but on further examination isn't really. He says "I think you expect that everyone else has had the same childhood as you". In the sense that I have certain ethical and philosophical preconceptions that were influenced by my upbringing, I am already aware of this. The part that makes me pause to think is that I'm not just assuming that these things I think are true because how else COULD they be? But I also assume that people grew up like I did ie. with two well-adjusted parents and effective freedom from want. The latter is especially important, we decided. Someone who has never really had to 'make do' is missing a certain amount of perspective on the world.

This was either a tangental observation from, or a segue to a discussion about the value of "family" as a life goal as opposed to things more abstract. I made an offhand remark about dedicating my life to some rather ridiculous cause (something techno-utopian, quite likely). He responded by asking why I didn't consider "family" a life goal worthy of being framed in the same way. I said that I wasn't altogether certain, although it is certainly true that our culture has taken to having fewer children and later. Careers are given precedence, and so we talk about dedicating our lives to justice, or science, or art...and not family. I argued, however, that "family" for its own sake is sort of its own goal, but that having a family and having goals can be rather coincident. When you're talking about the way you'd like to raise your kids, I think it can be more or less taken as read that you're talking about the way you would like people to act. Furthermore, I said (although not perhaps very articulately, it being the hour it was) that I thought abstract desires could certainly be more noble than the desire for family in and of itself. I think that a person who devotes his or her life to an ideal is committed to reproduce - genetically or memetically* - the kind of person that he or she would have comprise the mass of humanity. I think that in having children, one should imagine the kind of (better) world that they ought to grow up to live in. In light of the severity and immediacy of the challenges to our survival as a species that we and our children will be facing, it is no longer enough to simply wish that the next generation will have better than we have had. We have to know in relatively concrete terms what "better" means.

*Probably this use of terminology will offend everyone who actually studies this sort of thing, but I like the idea that if you're not going to have kids and teach them virtue, you should at least get some kind of virtue-inducing mindvirus started in other people.

Now, this didn't come up, but it's occurred to me that there will be an inevitable rebellion against any kind of better world we envision for our offspring. I'm not sure that frees us from the burden of laying the groundwork, but it'll sure as hell test our patience.

We also considered for some reason the ramifications of lightspeed travel, namely that you could pretty much pull an Ender Wiggin and keep yourself alive at relativistic speeds as the universe sped through the ages outside your window. I said that even if I could take a just-shy-of-lightspeed voyage to another galaxy (if I understand how it works, I would experience next to no subjective time when my speed approached that of light, and that photons themselves are timeless) I wouldn't want to turn around and go back. Millions of years would have rendered just about anything alive that I had known in the galaxy alien and unrecognizable. Also perhaps too advanced to interact with, or worst case scenario extinct. Much better to just keep going at speed, sending off probes and microbes to smash space dust and rocks together into whole new planets and stars, to seed life on lifeless worlds (ethically questionable, sure, but cool), come back in millions of years more to see what had happened in your absence. Maybe see how many times you have to do it before you get something that looked enough like a dinosaur that you'd want to keep one as the badass pet you always wanted but didn't know how to get. I wondered, as ELI and I speculated on this, if at such a tech level we would not have discovered a better way to procure dinosaurs. We discussed whether or not one could even domesticate a dinosaur. One imagines that wolves were not likely to have been very kind to cavemen...yet we have dogs. Tens of thousands of years later, we have the weiner dog. I say I want a weiner dinosaur, and wonder what on Earth (or rather "Earth #20 000: Earth hardest!" in our lightspeed adventures playing Monolith/God) such a thing might look like. I imagine that it would be cute. I would also like to ride a stegosaurus, but I don't think I brought it up this time. Oh well. I wonder if the mammalian nature of dogs made them more amenable to like us, and if reptillian dinosaurs would even develop a rapport with people? And how many times WOULD you have to seed life onto Earthy worlds until you got dinosaur-like denizens? How many times on average, anyhow?

Do you suppose it would be worth it to leave everything you know behind if it meant that it almost no (subjective) time, you could have a pet dinosaur? How much do you suppose we would be willing to sacrifice if it meant the fulfillment of childhood dreams? I think that while the thought of watching aeons fly past as I take a one-way rocket ride to entropic oblivion (stopping, of course, to pick up my pet dinosaur along the way) is intellectually attractive, but I wouldn't have the heart to leave PEOPLE behind. I can take or leave this planet, but I'd like to think that I have at least some friends that I wouldn't even trade for a dinosaur, or even several. What about you?


1 comment:

Daydream Believer said...

If I only had a nickel for everyone I wouldn't trade for a pet dinosaur, or several.

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