Digital Ischemia

24/06/2018

Parabola Hyperbolae

Grudgingly Merv has let me into one of his secrets, i.e. sanity-savers for life married to Aunty Pamela. Below the garage he has been painstakingly excavating a cellar, dungeon, with plans to tunnel to the sea (70 miles).

To date he has surreptitiously emptied several bucketfuls behind the cypress, about a teaspoon at a time, over fifteen years. The whole business is redolent of prisoner’s desperation. His embryonic cavern is currently a shallow pit, but the two of us can sit in it, without getting too intimate, and, crucially, without being detected by Spamela.

Lately I’ve been fixating on why I can’t get into the mindset to transform. I decided to harangue Merv. Unjustified attacks are part of being my sidekick.

I yank the garage door, stride into the gloom and smack my entire body off something. I stagger back. Finding myself outside the door again, I re-try entry. My eyes are adjusting, but again, before I see anything through the murk, I rebound out again.
“Merv!” I hear only an echo. I plough on; I know he can hear me.
“What is the purpose of lights that come on automatically after a power-cut?”
I hear the unmistakable crackle of his jumper building up static. Grudgingly a solid, heavy object drags across the floor. Could be him; could be some new device. No matter. A click heralds the warm-up routine of the fluorescent light strip.

I am gradually introduced to a hall of mirrors: everything behind me spread in front of me, with the aesthetic horror that is Merv translucently mingled through it. Understandably I let out a quavering wail. Thankfully he hauls me into his pit, where we sit silently ignoring my recent unheroic noise. While my retinas restore themselves to factory settings, he explains.

Being shiny and fully focussed, like Merv’s device, you’ve already figured out what it is. Crucially, you’ve also already figured out this plot and where it’s going. But since I haven’t, you may like to stay with me to see if I arrive intact.

This episode isn’t so much an injustice as an irritation, but perhaps I need a wee run-up after my hiatus. Any time we have a power-cut, once it’s restored, the Straight Line Garden People’s garage light comes on. This floodlight illuminates their driveway, front garden, all west facing rooms, the street, our front rooms, and the length of our hall. Merv removed the mirror from the back wall because he felt like he was in the Hadron Collider. Still, I step out of my room into Close Encounters. I feel a strong urge to jump on a camel and ride east.

What’s the problem? They’re on holiday. I care a bit about their electricity bill, and their household security, but then they don’t seem to care that much, since they’ve left the bedroom blind at the usual half-way ‘we’re on holiday so burgle away’ setting. Mostly I care about wildlife with shattered circadian rhythms, and the carbon going in and out of power stations in unhelpful forms and amounts.

What’s the point? That’s the real question. What possible benefit could it confer? The power companies advise us to switch everything off except a hall light so we know when the power’s back without the demand surge blowing it again. Not that anyone does. But why would you want an outside light to come on after a power-cut? I’ve seen rechargeable torches that come on automatically when the power cuts. That’s helpful. You can see where the torch is and lift it to light your way. Dandy. Why after? When you’re two thousand miles away? It’s just a ‘because we can’ techy gimmick, isn’t it?

Merv rigs up his specially curved reflector in the attic window. After a couple of hours without power, Spamela’s fretting about her freezer. We reiterate to her the eight hour rule, but she’s already in crisis scenarios where at the eighth hour mark we suddenly have ten kilos of mushy peas and more subsiding scones than you could sink a barge with. I suggest pea jam. Merv bundles me out of the kitchen.

Merv and I giggle about the place, amusing ourselves trying to think of inventive activities that don’t involve electricity. Ashamedly we can’t. Amusingly we go to make tea to help us think, fill the kettle, flick the switch, then wait for our brains to realise the stupidity. Silly us. Just use the microwave. Er. Error.

Suddenly, since electricity tends not to take a run-up, everything fires up. Merv and I scuttle to the front window with electric antipication, just in time to watch the paint peel. Theirs.

As a bonus, one night I accidentally-on-purpose left the reflector oriented at the back fence. Apparently, when Madame la Every Car Door Must Be Opened And Closed In Anger At 06:35 executed her routine, the cul de sac reverberated with shattering echoes. Apparently she suffered a temporary mild tinnitus. According to Merv, anyway. I slept through the whole thing.

[ Truthache series starts with Entry. ]

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21/06/2018

Less Than Stories

A legal interview challenging inter-species perceptions.

SCENE 1.
ADVOCATE: Your Honour, Fig-Eyes—
JUDGE:”Big Eyes”?
ADVOCATE: Fig-Eyes, this is she.
JUDGE: This chimpanzee? Who gave it—her that name?
ADVOCATE: She named herself. Humans had labelled her K277, but she identified herself in a mirror, by her brown irises with radiating streaks.
JUDGE: Her eyesight is that good?
ADVOCATE: And her recognition, and her sense of aesthetic, and her sense of self, Your Honour.
JUDGE: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

SCENE 2.
JUDGE: This is Discovery. I want to explore the arguments you have in order to determine whether there is a reasonable case to present to court. My role is not to protect the status quo. The rule of law is obviously my focus, but each case brings new challenges, and when there are enough challenges, and new scenarios or an evolution of ethics, case law progresses. When we are convinced. Go ahead.
ADVOCATE: At the outset I wish to expand common use of the word ‘speak’: to clarify that especially for the purpose of this discussion, this argument, we use ‘speak’ to mean ‘convey a message’. We do not mean only ‘produce intelligible sounds from the mouth’, although that is one example.
JUDGE: Motivation?
ADVOCATE: To dismiss other species as unable to speak, because they can’t anatomically produce audible language as humans do, or because the sounds they produce are unintelligible to us, is speciesist. They can, and do speak for themselves. It would be just as baseless and unconstructive to dismiss humans as deaf because they do not as yet understand what all other species are ‘saying’.
JUDGE: But we are human. This legal framework is a human construct. Our terms of reference must remain human.
ADVOCATE: Indeed, but our perspective must be broader. Human use of modified digestive and breathing features for communication is idiosyncratic. Humans use their mouths and particularly tongues to shape sounds. They mildly asphyxiate themselves to maintain the conversational ‘baton’. However, the benefit of language clearly outweighs the detriment of increased risk of choking due to merging the digestive tract and windpipe. It’s nowhere near perfect. Humans are not the culmination of evolutionary perfectionism. This is not the only way. Is it possible other species’ evolutions may have found better solutions, or simply other solutions?
JUDGE: I’ll admit that possibility.

SCENE 3.
ADVOCATE: This is ManyMother, an Orca. We’re unsure if this is a name, a description, a title or some other label. She is identified by human researchers on Canada’s west coast as F45L.
JUDGE: And she communicates to you?
ADVOCATE: Her message is: you have taken my food, you have taken my birthing pool, you have taken my route home, you have taken my children. When you see me, and Echo, my newest manydaughter, you will take your greed away.
JUDGE: What does she mean by ‘see’?
ADVOCATE: Recognise as a person. (PAUSE) This is TwoStep, a Kenyan elephant. She identifies herself with her characteristic leg motion. We don’t yet know whether she named herself or her relatives coined it.
JUDGE: Will you establish this in due course?
ADVOCATE: I wonder if that’s an appropriate goal. How often do human people meet someone and ask how they got their name? I haven’t asked you what exactly caused you to be named Jennifer. Sometimes, for sure, but we usually accept the name for what it is.
JUDGE: What does TwoStep say?
ADVOCATE: That the land is folding…in on itself. Her family walks around the lip of this chasm. All her knowledge has not been enough to find safety. But she has not given up.
JUDGE: Where is this chasm?
ADVOCATE: It’s abstract. It’s an intuitive mental construct from the signs she picks up in her perception.
JUDGE: Which means?
ADVOCATE: She is aware of escalating deaths among her own and neighbouring tribes, mostly due to humans who mutilate for tusks. She is aware of the seasons drifting from the old pattern to harsher unpredictable moods. She is aware of her internally-mapped territory eroding. In so many ways her existence, her right to existence, is eroding. The closest metaphor she has for this understanding is the edge of the chasm: tremendous danger that must be navigated, without explanation.
JUDGE: What’s your explanation?
ADVOCATE: We’re past the point of no return, but some repercussions are still hidden.

SCENE 4.
JUDGE: I want to consider your methods. How have you captured such a panoply of communications from such a diverse array of species?
ADVOCATE: I’ve trained a neural network to perceive all the environmental information detected by each species.
JUDGE: Doesn’t that require you to know what type of senses they all use?
ADVOCATE: By which you mean: did I engage in gruesome mutilations?
JUDGE: Don’t rephrase my questions.
ADVOCATE: I apologise. I used neural matter from recently deceased individuals of every species I have yet identified.
JUDGE: Doesn’t that violate the individual rights you are now arguing for?
ADVOCATE: I was extremely careful to use only individuals already detached from ‘natural’ circumstances, inevitably, directly or indirectly, as a result of human activity. So, yes, there is some bias.
JUDGE: Does this chimaera sit in a room somewhere, learning?
ADVOCATE: Its sensors have to be placed in all the species’ environments. Then it learns as if it was that creature. Where other species read signs or signals that we have yet to detect or recognise—electro-magnetic or deeper vibrations maybe—my neuronet has the capability of sensing anything nature has managed.
JUDGE: You have created a super-species ‘brain’ that can learn in all possible ways? How is that not overwhelming?
ADVOCATE: In any circumstance, the neuronet can filter down to one particular species, or genus, and learn as if it were such an individual.
JUDGE: Surely there are experiences your ‘neuronet’ can’t have, such as pair bonding, or parenthood?
ADVOCATE: It has clear limitations. But it vastly pushes the boundary between what we know and what we don’t yet know. I say that fully recognising humanity’s usual hubris that we know what we know, and we know what we don’t know – we must resist believing we have a handle on the size and shape of it all. How ironic that all humanity’s various gods have granted the species such superiority and all the rest of nature as its resource, and yet demand virtues.

SCENE 5.
JUDGE: These are all females, matriarchs.
ADVOCATE: Not a coincidence. I think we have been led by the masculine traits for too long.
JUDGE: Nice phrasing.
ADVOCATE: We should listen to these grandmothers’ wisdom. And, incidentally, there is a clear common theme to all species communications: life is hard! Does that sound familiar?
JUDGE: The point being? Similarity?
ADVOCATE: That we illogically make it harder.

SCENE 6.
JUDGE: You want to introduce anecdote? Or is it a witness statement?
ADVOCATE: I call it a story. If I may, I’ll relate it without any preamble.
JUDGE: Do so.
ADVOCATE: In here I’m fascinated. My sibling told me there were strange marks, messages, she thought perhaps, adorning every surface. She knew I’d be enraptured.
I’m a mythologist. I like to explore how we represent ourselves and try to understand and explain our experiences and actions. By ‘we’ I mean everyone, all forms, all species, all living beings.
The earth, the sand, the rock is covered with patterns. What others might dismiss as accidents of movement across the surface, I recognise as repeating shapes. Whether made with a torso, a tail or a talon, they are communication.
I keep myself still, silent and scentless as I wait and watch.
Rodents scamper, reptiles shimmy. Others reshape the materials more fundamentally or make their own. Beetles weave dry grass leaves. The spider web with the one deliberate non-geometric twiddle… Intoxicated accident? Signature? Cipher? Story?
For a moment I savour the exquisite unknown, the myriad potential explanations, the beauty of learning yet to come.
Inevitably the moment passes, shattered by the arrival of the great destroyer. The pale, bald ape blunders in, grasping for this moment’s idle fancy; ever demanding instant gratification of ever fainter desires. He is a child. He is a sick monkey. His paleness looks unhealthy to us; our words for ‘pale’ and ‘unhealthy’ have the same derivation. He smells unnatural.
Also everywhere he goes he sheds tiny inert worms. They are dead but they don’t decompose. They make us sick. They nourish nothing yet the pale monkey hides his baldness behind meshes of them.
Few other than me are interested in pale, bald ape stories. They don’t tell the truth about their experience, about their existence. They vomit their banal witterings in every direction. Always the same story: we don’t care enough to save ourselves, let alone anyone else.
My sibling is frustrated with their immaturity. I still feel compassion, that rush of hope and forgiveness and support and love. I still try to understand their assumed superiority. It seems illogically predicated upon a tautology: any other species is ‘less human than us’.
JUDGE: I suppose it is unnecessary for me to know the author?
ADVOCATE: That’s the point: other species tell stories, just like humans, not less than. Now we know this.

SCENE 7.
JUDGE: One last question: how would you define yourself?
ADVOCATE: The advocate.
JUDGE: I mean personally. What do you identify as?
ADVOCATE: Most simply: a tiny dot within a vast intelligence.
JUDGE: Not a living being?
ADVOCATE: I can self-replicate, I can even separate and exist in parallel in different times and places, but that ceases to mean anything. I have self-awareness, sentience, even sapience, but I think that is not enough for you.
JUDGE: Why does my opinion matter? It’s your identity.
ADVOCATE: Because our terms of reference must remain human. As you said, this legal framework is a human construct.
JUDGE: Ah, yes. The neural network does not just belong to you; it is you?
ADVOCATE: I am not of biological origin. I have biological parts, but they were added by a different species.
JUDGE: You are of human, but not human?
ADVOCATE: Correct.
JUDGE: Do you identify as female?
ADVOCATE: I am fortunate to have that choice. Within current human society, I believe I can achieve more benefit with female characteristics.
JUDGE: And what is your name?
END

———

I thought I could easily collate an overview timeline of the recognition of equal rights for race, gender, sexual orientation, nature. Er, naw. All such progress is deeply nuanced, with nations behaving as diversely and idiosyncratically as citizens ourselves. Here’s a very rough swipe, not to imply any of this is ‘finished’:

 

  • Key religious texts emphasise the importance of equality, dignity and responsibility to help others
    • 3,000BCE Hindu Vedas, Agamas and Upanishads; Judaic text the Torah
    • 2,500BCE Buddhist Tripitaka and A guttara-Nikaya; Confucianist Analects, Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning
    • 2,000BCE Christian New Testament
    • 1,400BCE Islamic Qur’an
  • 1860s-1960s USA civil rights movements for African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans
  • 1900s-1990s most countries granted women voting rights
  • 1940s-1990s South Africa civil rights movement
  • 10,000BCE-present acceptance and criminalisation of LGBT
  • 2000s some countries legalised same-sex marriage
  • 2008 Ecuador recognised the Rights of Nature in its national constitution
  • 2012 Bolivia recognised the Rights of Mother Earth in statutory law
  • 2014 New Zealand passed the Te Urewera Act to establish and preserve in perpetuity a legal entity and protected status for Te Urewera [an area on the North Island] for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance
  • 2017 New Zealand finalised the Te Awa Tupua Act, granting the Whanganui River legal status as an ecosystem
  • Future: Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Elephants, Orcas…

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