Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Ishmael Imperative

When considering how an advanced non-human intelligence (ANHI) might view life on this planet, we humans almost always assume that it would be interested in interacting with us, because we are the dominant life form. This assumption, however, is more the product of our egotistical view of our own importance, and less about actual reality.

A few quick points to consider:

1. Relative to an ANHI, there might not be any real difference between we humans and other inhabitants of this planet - dolphins, for example, or elephants, or chimpanzees. In much the same way as we tend to lump most animals in together under the category of "animals", perhaps the ANHI would see Earth species in much the same way.

2. We have absolutely no idea how an ANHI would communicate, or what it might be interested in. It stands to reason, looking at things objectively, that it would be just as likely to be interested in a dolphin as it would be a human being. Indeed, perhaps certain animals are more receptive to ANHI communication than we humans are, being less cluttered in their thoughts. Or perhaps they are "smarter" than us, but in different ways?

3. Finally, perhaps a truly advanced NHI would be much more interested in communicating with / interacting with the oppressed and downtrodden, given that they may have evolved into a truly empathic consciousness. Within human society, that would include the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill / challenged, and those who for one reason or another have become social outcasts. It would also include all third world cultures in relation to the developed, Western world. But even those divisions might ring untrue to a truly empathic ANHI when compared with what is arguably the greater divide - how we humans, regardless of class, religion, or any of the other things that divide us from each other, as a species treat all the other inhabitants of this planet.

Is the life of a human being worth more than the life of any other inhabitant of this planet - like this chimpanzee that I saw at the Los Angeles Zoo the other day? We would say yes; an ANHI might not make that distinction. As I wrote on my Facebook status after coming back from the Zoo by way of a stop in Beverley Hills, I saw more "humanity" staring into the eyes of this sad little chimp than I did on all of Rodeo Drive.

I recommend that everyone read the wonderful and thought-provoking book Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn.  The novel is a philosophical examination of the captivity of mankind under a distorted, imprisoning and damaging "civilization". In the end, Ishmael, a gorilla which can communicate telepathically, tells the narrator:
The story of Genesis must be undone. First, Cain must stop murdering Abel. This is essential if you're to survive. The Leavers* are the endangered species most critical to the world - not because they're humans but because they alone can show the destroyers of the world that there is more than one right way to live. And then, of course, you must spit out the fruit of the forbidden tree. You must absolutely and forever relinquish the idea that you know who should live and who should die on this planet.
 * All "primitive" cultures
I think any truly advanced non-human intelligence would agree.

I believe that we will be judged by how we treat the other inhabitants with whom we share this planet. As things stand now, we would be found sorely wanting. Change is imperative -  and not just "at the margins" change which would still have us at the top of the "planetary pyramid", but rather radical and revolutionary change that replaces that pyramid model of order with a different view - a circle, where everyone and everything is interconnected. 

We must become neither "takers" nor "leavers" as envisioned in Ishmael - we must become sharers. Our future depends on it.

This might all sound very "new age" to many readers. To those who would see it that way, I ask one simple question - isn't it about time for a "new age" given how the "old age" has worked out for us, and our fellow inhabitants of this fragile world?

As I wrote in 1992:

In other words, who are we, and more important - who do we want to become?

Paul Kimball


Ryan P. said...

Paul, if I didn't know better I would say that you're trying to impress a girl with all of this "new age" stuff. Which reminds me: where's Holly these days?

Seriously, great stuff as always. You always make me think, even when I disagree with you.

Scott said...

Have you read "The Unholy" by the same authour? It's about a race of shape shifters who co-exist alongside the human race, so I'd high hopes for a marriage of Fortean and anti-civilisation themes- didn't quite get there, but is a decent read anyway.

Paul Kimball said...

Hi Scott,
Not yet, but it's on my list. :-)

Mike said...

If only you were a regular on Coast to Coast!

Anya said...

Thank you for this!

Jum said...

Well, while we're feeling all noble and worthy for recognizing the inherent moral superiority of anything which is "oppressed" and then chiding the unenlightened for their selfishness, let's start "leaving" those things we've just so elegantly proven are immoral and which we must renounce:

1) Let's start with simple modern human life span - forget about the incredible gains in quality of life because of miraculous medical discoveries. Just think of all the animals we've oppressed to test just life-saving drugs like antibiotics. Ditch 'em, as well as all those drugs which make life merely bearable for a lot of folks, like for arthritis, asthma, migraines, pain, MS, etc.
2) There's a real question whether we might have to ditch surgery altogether, inasmuch as all surgical procedures were initially worked out and practiced on "oppressed species".
3) Interior climate control. You say Grandma can't breathe in her 95° room? Your newborn can't make it in 3° temps? Tough: it oppresses too many species for them to live.
4) Do you like the nearly unimaginable advances we've made because of the ubiquity & relative ease of travel by air, where we can be virtually anywhere on earth withing 24 hours?? Sorry. How about by car, say 500 miles in a day? Nah. You can even forget hopping on a burro, bud - that oppression thing. Use your own feet, Jack: 30 miles a day, max, and you're exhausted at the end.
5) Do I even need mention food and the astronomical yields in crops?
6) You had to know communications was coming. Internet?! Way beyond you, bud - throw all electronic devices off a cliff.
7) Speaking of electrcity....

I can't face any more. Suffice it to say, if you're going to implement this "oppression" bushwah, the human experience will be (if it exists at all, which depends on if we're going to be intellectually honest enough to implement the theory completely), "nasty, brutish and short". How n, b and s? Picture "2001: A Space Odyssey" as the proto-homonids discover the monolith and guard the waterhole. Because that's how "humans" will live if at all, if they must not "oppress" some species. But wait, if they can't "oppress", they can't hurt a poor creature just to survive, so I guess that's it for Man.

Ideas have consequences; words have meaning. If people are going to sermonize about how it is we should be living and feeling, they should be prepared to own what they preach.

Paul Kimball said...

"Jum" - you've completely missed the point, and misrepresented what I wrote, but that's okay. To each their own, and happy trails.

Dia Sobin (Araqinta) said...

Note to "Jum":

I don't think nobility, worthiness, or moral superiority were the issues addressed in Paul's post. I think empathy, and what really defines a superior species in the eyes of an advanced intelligence were the underlying themes.

Perhaps, the broader question would relate to the actual definition of intelligence, and the actual varieties of intelligence exhibited on the planet. Then again, little is understood about evolutionary processes and what we refer to as "intelligence". Perhaps a truly advanced species would find our technology, our lack of empathy, our reliance on brute force and the subjugation of other species, rather primitive and crude... in the same way we find earlier medical practices rather barbaric... in the same way we now find human slavery, and the dehumanizing aspects of the Holocaust, horrifying and abominable.