Discussion Board

Topic: To act, or not to act...

From: Per Ulrik B￸ge Nielsen
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Date: 08/29/2006

Hi, Greg

In these troubled times of terror, be it from fundamental dark agers or our own supposedly enlightened governments, there is especially one book from your hand, which I find deals in an excellent way with our dilemma. That book Im sure you have guessed  or maybe you havent?  is Anvil of stars. The alien modus operandi in Anvil of stars is actually not dissimilar to the way, in which modern styled terrorists conduct themselves in battle.  Allow if you please for the fact, that your aliens are incredibly more advanced and sophisticated, than Hezbollah or indeed any other common terrorist group.

Well, to make my case as short as I possibly can: The dilemma posed by you in the book in question is as follows: In order to effectuate The Law of the Benefactors the agents of justice, which in this case are mere human teenagers have to kill trillions of hostages. And to add to that problem: no one can be really sure that the guilty party is actually punished/annihilated following this mass murder.

In the book, three characters in particular carve out the common positions available to men with such a massive responsibility at hand. I choose to call them: the Intellectual, the Action Man and the Fatalist; represented by Martin, Hans and Rosa  am I right?

As I see it:

The Intellectual must obtain knowledge in order to prove to himself beyond a reasonable doubt, that his action is justifiable in accordance with a moral code/construct - which paradoxically can be quite irrational in origin. However, in this case as in many throughout our lives justification is unattainable  in fact no comprehension can ever quite constitute certainty - hence the metaphysical concept of: beyond a reasonable doubt. The question that mares the intellectual is: when is proof, proof of proof?

The Action Man will recognize the limited ability of the intellectual to legitimize a course of action and stops short of the proof loop. He acts on something we could call his gut feeling, and he may as a result commit injustice, when in fact he paradoxically may have set out to do the opposite. He poses no questions beyond his limited skills of comprehension - rather they seem to irritate him and he tends to ignore them  he leaves them perhaps to the intellectual&? Action Man is largely instinctual. Contrary to the Intellectual he is in command exactly because he can omit the need for certainty! Better yet: morality is not a debilitating factor when he contemplates his possible actions.

The fatalist on the other hand deducts as a result of the described paradoxes that all justice is injustice and poses as the solution, that men should not judge, and that we should leave such things to the powers that be  whatever they are& None action however, essentially amounts to death, which does not compute, when you decipher the message as one of the living. The fatalist message interpreted: there is no absolution in action, to bad that youre alive, in death or abstinence theres absolution. The Fatalist construct is utterly metaphysical/other-worldly: Simply suffer your fate and beg that others do so as well. In the end the Fatalist resolves the paradox with a paradox: Life without recognizing life; or death as a solution to the inherent problems of life.

These archetypes or mental modes I find again and again mixed in various ways in the debate on how to handle terrorists and their methods (how to put your enemy at rest?)  I wonder how much is genetic. Anyway, consider the end to your book and the justification you put in place, and please let me know, which of the above types appeal to your gut  if not your intellect? Or to put it objectively: which if any is fit to stay alive?

Keep up the good work, Greg :-)



Re: To act, or not to act...

From: Greg Bear
Date: 08/30/2006

Astute analysis, Per. There is no quick-but-long-term solution to the problems we face in the middle east, however, whatever our psychological profile--and it's proven naive to believe there are such solutions. This conflict has been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years in various forms--Kipling called it the Great Game.

ANVIL OF STARS and FORGE OF GOD were written in part to model a biological/ecological approach to old-fashioned space opera themes, and to answer the Fermi paradox--but the echoes struck quite a few of us over the past three years.

Another series with echoes of the Great Game is of course the DUNE novels by Frank Herbert--carried on by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson--in which we come to sympathize with the terrorists... Now that's artistic and cultural diversity!

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