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A Philosopher and a Witcher… in Spaaaaaaaaace

Last week was a maggot-ridden pile of shit. I’m not going to go into particular details as to why. To try and  blow off some steam I’ve spent the past few days finally playing The Witcher. Yes, I tend to be well behind the times when it comes to these things. As a result of playing The Witcher I started thinking about Macross Frontier. I realize it’s a bit of a mental leap from Polish dark fantasy to Japanese roboplanes in space, right? Or maybe not. In this case the opening notes of the song to the opening cinematic, and notes which pop up in a few other places, strongly reminded me of the opening notes to the song “Aimo” which is a recurring theme over the course of Macross Frontier.

I developed a love for outer space at a young age. I suspect that I’m not particularly alone in either this or my love for giant robots, eh? So while I don’t keep up with all the cutting edge journals and whatnot, I do try to keep an eye on what’s going on out there in the universe. So when I find out about things like extremeophile bacteria here on Earth that are looking like they can substitute arsenic for phosphorus in their DNA, or the idea that there are potentially exploitable hydrocarbons on Titan I get pretty excited.

Of course I’ve spent too much time reading philosophers, so I can’t just leave it at “Damn, we might one day be able to send our shit out to Titan, and solve our energy crisis for at least a few years.” No, I have to go and ask pesky questions about whether or not doing so is the right thing to do.  Of course when I do that I start to realize that when you get right down to it most classical theories of ethics are full of so much shit it isn’t funny.

Unfortunately I don’t have the space to do an indepth critique to show you why these theories are problematic. For that matter last time I did a fairly surface analysis it still took a few thousand words. So I’m going to jump right in, and tell you that the problem with most classic conceptions of ethics is that they take as part of their foundation the idea of the autonomous ethical actor, and autonomy in general. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the classic Western view has, in general, figured us as complete beings in and of ourselves; as such our ethical decisions also originate from within ourselves. Presuming, of course, that one is capable of being an ethical actor. According to Aristotle, to use one example, if you have a vag then you’re not capable of rationality, and therefore are not an ethical actor. Rationality has, in general, been the driving force behind how one reaches ethical decisions, so even when you’re not dealing with a philosopher who disqualifies you because you’re an innie instead of an outie your dog, or a rock aren’t ethical actors.

We of course live in a world which is filled not only with other people, but with dogs and rocks. Our decisions affect those people, dogs and rocks. Sure, we can try and plan our ethical actions so that the results of them take those people, dogs and rocks into account, but why shouldn’t we consider them as a factor in the thinking as well as the doing. More to the point, why shouldn’t we place just as much importance on them in our decision making as we do on “rational” humans. This is what intersubjectivity, which I’ve touched on before, is. It’s simply an acknowledgment that we are not alone in this world; we are not isolated actors, ethical or otherwise (of course the existentialist might well argue that all our actions are in a very real sense an ethical/normative action, but that’s a discussion for another time).

Of course this is where shit starts getting tricky, and we can wind up without real answers. I mean does this mean that we shouldn’t eat animals, make use of natural resources, or even move for fear that we might harm bacteria and/or insects and upset the balance of the intersubjective world. Well… no. I’m perfectly fine with eating animals, though I do happen to think that our methods of food production need some pretty serious overhaul (and no, I don’t think “organic” farming is in the same neighborhood as the most practical and ethical answer). I’m wearing clothes, living in a house, and using technology; so on some level I am obviously okay with the extraction and use of resources, but again I think we need to do some serious thinking about these things and our engagement with them. As much as some people hate to hear it this is another one of those times where it’s as important to have the questions as it is to arrive at an indisputable answers, because it’s the process of questioning that helps make us better people.

Which, in a roundabout way, leads me back to The Witcher. One of the things I like about it is that it broke from the tradition of having a “morality” system that more or less has “hug puppies for Jesus” and “kill puppies for Satan” as its two poles, and with those events which influence that morality rating not only standing out as blatantly obvious, but as playing out as largely isolated factors. Sure, they might affect your reputation, or dialog options in later parts of the game, but how much impact did they really have. Sure, you killed the monster, or helped the monster kill the villagers, but how did that action then ripple out to affect others? While The Witcher doesn’t impliment this perfectly, and doesn’t do it for all actions; for example, I accidentally killed a guy who was running in panic trying to escape an area I was fighting in – I didn’t even think about it, and had already chopped the shit out of him before I realized he wasn’t one of the bad guys. While that is a fairly major oversight, what is in effect, with the scenes that demonstrate how your choices have had an effect not only on the direct story of Geralt of Rivia, but on other persons and things, is, as I said, a step up from the old way of doing things.

In the end it doesn’t matter if there’s life out in space, though it’d be cool if there was, right? It doesn’t matter if there’s life out there, because we are not alone. There’s life right here on Earth. So let’s upgrade that to intelligent life, and quit behaving as if we’re all somehow magically isolated, ethically and otherwise, from the world around us.



Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Philosophy, Pop Culture


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