Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fragments from the 25th Century

Far be it from me to grudge the Farseer and his entourage a warm welcome to K’toomba Dome, still less refrain from extending our legendary hospitality to the hundreds of pilgrims who have crossed many leagues of blasted post-apocalyptic wasteland to come here. Even without the infectious enthusiasm of these dusty, maimed fanatics, there are few among us who do not recognise the spiritual power of the Farseer, or respect his principled stand, for instance, against the Emperor’s war on the cannibal mutants. Yet, we should remember the darker side of what the Farseer stands for. All over the continent, at this very moment, thousands of men, women, children, and sentient quoll-people are suffering from radiation sickness. Many will die agonising deaths. Why? Because the Farseer forbids his followers from wearing lead-lined garments. Because of this irrational religious mania, a simple and effective safeguard against radiation is neglected, and countless wretched victims are condemned to a horrible existence. Vomiting, weakness, hair loss, bleeding, recurrent infections, anemia. It is an unspeakable and ghastly malady. Some will survive, only to be stricken down with cancers in later life. Many will not survive. Remember this, next week, when you see the joyous crowds of worshippers throwing garlands of flowers at the Farseer. Remember this.

* * *
[Our reporter caught up with Cassowary Jorj T’eepot, leader of the Farseer’s followers in the Blue Mountains and organiser of the Sacred Festivities. After making inquiries as to the Farseer’s health after his arduous journey from Wee Waa, and congratulating the Cassowary on his preparation for the Farseer’s visit, our reporter raised the contentious issue of the Faith’s anti-lead stance.]

Was the Farseer taken aback by the protests? I understand he looked rather bemused.

The protests? Oh, yes. Handing out lead loincloths to passers-by. Very childish, really. Actually, I don’t think he was taken aback. One might think that this sort of thing is only something that the Faithful have to put up with in a cosmopolitan, secular place like K’toomba Dome, but even in the sacred city of Wee Waa there are people who resent the Farseer’s condemnation of lead, there are protests from time to time.

I suppose it is not surprising that the Faith’s lead ban is resented, with the problem of radiation sickness.

Well, as you know, radioactivity is associated exclusively with the ruins of the ancients. The Faith teaches that the ruins of the ancients are cursed by God, and strictly forbids any of the Faithful to enter them. The signs of dangerous levels of radioactivity are very obvious- sickly plants, sand melted into glassy slag, twisted ruins, malformed animals covered with lesions...

But you can’t just expect people to stay out ancient ruins, can you? It goes against human nature. There is all sorts of neat loot in those places. You have to admit that whatever you say, people are still going to go into radioactive ruins. If they do, shouldn’t they be wearing lead clothing?

Well, there are a few problems with that. The first is that, as you know, lead is not 100% effective against radiation. People have ventured into ancient ruins wearing lead clothing and died from radiation sickness. The second is that, lead is itself toxic: there are illnesses associated with being exposed to lead. And most importantly, what lead clothing does is, it normalises entering radioactive zones. If it is seen as something that is safe, something that is fun, then there will be pressure for everyone to do it. Some of them will be exposed to unsafe levels of radiation. And radiation is not the only danger in the ruins: there are cannibal mutants, we hear of people coming across still-functioning killer robots with laser eyes, for example.

Let me pose you another question, Cassowary. What about the ‘innocents’? People who have never ventured into radioactive zones themselves but are exposed, say, when someone else in their dome goes into a ruin and comes out with an artifact that gives out radioactive rays of death? Wouldn’t lead clothing protect them in that situation?

I think, anyone untrustworthy enough to bring a radioactive artifact into a dome like that, they’re hardly going to tell the others in the dome that they should wear lead garments, will they? They’re not the sort of person who is going to be swayed by what you or the Farseer or anyone tells them about ethical conduct. In the old days- and I’m not saying that we should go back to the old ways, mind you- but in the old days, someone like that would have been staked out in the desert for the death toads.

But if everyone in the dome wore lead clothing as a matter of course, that wouldn’t be an issue, would it?

No, it wouldn’t. But there would be a much graver issue. It would show that no one in that dome trusted one another, that they didn’t think they could rely on each other. And a dome like that is not going to last. The next time that bandits attack, the next plague of flesh-eating locusts- a dome like that is going to fall.

Well… I’m afraid that’s all we have time for, Cassowary. I hope the Sacred Festivities go off without a hitch for you.

Thank you.


Marco said...

I have time for just one more question: Your official line is of forbidding your followers the use of lead, but my research indicates that many "followers" in many usually better off domes use lead all the time. Is it not hypocritical to make a song and dance about lead bans in specific high profile cases, but then turning a blind eye to its use by nominal followers- the masses, in fact.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you can say that we are the ones making a song and dance about it: it is just a law of the Faith which is there, as I have explained, for reasons which make good sense within our self-consistent worldview. We do not trumpet it to the dome ceilings, but neither do we hide it as something of which we are ashamed. The song and dance is what is being made by ideological opponents of the Faith who have seized on the ban on lead as being something immoral, as something that has bad effects on public health.
As you say, there are many erring Faithful. It is sad but expected, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of those ancient sages, Marco and Dr Clam. But the primary prohibition is, Thou Shalt Not Enter Ruins of the Ancients; the ban on lead is a prohibition of a much lesser order. Those erring Faithful who ignore what the Farseer says about blaspheming ancient ruins are not then going to turn around and obediently follow the prohibition on lead, are they? The bad effects on public health arise from entering ancient ruins, which the Faith never ceases to condemn, and not from the use or non-use of lead.

Yrs Faithfully, Cassowary T'eepot

winstoninabox said...

And this is why we come to bask in the glow of clam.

Great post.

Marco said...

There seems to be a discrepancy between what you are saying is the primary prohibition and what (the otherwise excellent) education system run by the faith is impressing on our youth, including my daughter, who is not confirmed in the faith. The message about the ruins is so guarded within taboos that the dangers and traps of the ruins and those who promote their visitation are left untaught - while the message on lead, which is simpler and also mentioned comes through quite clearly, both anecdotally with personal experience of my daughter and reflected in some statistics on the SMM (Maggots) girls school.

Dr. Clam said...

Gosh winstoninabox, thanks! :)

Marco, I haven't had much experience with schools run by the Faith except at an age before the ruins are mentioned, or at a school outside of the formal system. But my general experience with the Faith as a youngster was that the primary prohibition was made clear and the secondary prohibition was very rarely stressed, certainly not by the low-level sages who interacted with the laity. So- show me your statistics!

Marco said...

The statistics I mentioned were not publicised widely due to the researchers involved were not doing it on an official basis, and were not willing to make a point of embarrassing any particular entity. Had it not been for the anecdotal evidence backing it up, I would have been a tinsy bit more skeptical about it as I also had got the stats second hand from K. The statistics were that the SMM school had the highest rate of teenage pregnancies of schools in the area.

The primary prohibition is made clear enough, but when B was talking to me about it after a nun (councellor?) came in to talk to students, the thing that struck in her mind was the discouragement of lead use in general. Perhaps, out of most of the "Life ed" things she had learned at school, it stuck out more.

The culture of taboo surrounding talk of the ruins of the ancients and the use of lead is pervasive at the school. At non-faith schools such things are talked about between friends, some teachers would bring it up, and especially councellors would be well up on discussing it so much more than schools of the faith.

Thus students in faith schools are at a social disadvantage when interacting with more heathen elements, as they less understand the irrational desires to enter ruins and the tricks that heathens use to manipulate that desire.

The level of "ruins knowledge" appears to be consistently low accross the entire school student population. This naivety is just as evident to those like friends of B who are not likely to be of the faith when they finish, as those who are confirmed in the faith.

Dr. Clam said...

I am now going to stretch this analogy further, probably, than it will go. This is necessary to draw a stark division between the sacrament and the mortal sin. When you initially said that many 'followers' in better off domes are users of lead, you were well aware that they did not do so in order to engage in the mortal sin of entering ancient ruins: no, you know that they did so while going about their lawful business in non-forbidden zones, because the other use of lead is to make yourself heavier so that you will not be carried off by giant mutant wedge-tailed eagles. While the faith teaches that it is a great blessing to be carried off by a giant mutant wedge-tailed eagle to live in their cloud cities, it realises that it may be bad for a dome if too many of its members are carried off by wedge-tailed eagles, and so it allows the Faithful to, if they wish, only forage at night when giant mutant wedge-tailed eagles are inactive. There are other sects which forbid this, and assert that it is wrong to go out of your way to avoid wedge-tailed eagles at all, and on the other hand there are sects that not only allow the use of lead, but more extreme measures, such as shooting approaching wedge-tailed eagles. Now, *all* of these sects equally condemn entering ancient ruins.
Hang on, I've forgotten where I was going with this. I will have another go at making a better analogy later.

But the point of the post was simply that stuff like this is rubbish. Are you with me, or against me?

Dr. Clam said...

Ah, this is where I was going.

Even though the inhabitants of the Maggot Dome are only carried off by wedge-tailed eagles when they enter the ancient ruins, the number of individuals carried off by wedge-tailed eagles is not necessarily a good proxy measurement for the proportion of inhabitants entering the ruins. The message 'do not enter the ruins' may still be getting through much better than at another dome where the use of lead is not discouraged.

Dave said...

I have to say, I think Cassowary's answers on the last couple of questions were a mite evasive. To my mind, the questions pertain to a public health issue, whereas to my reading Cassowary entertains them only on a moral and ethical level. Surely this is a failure to separate apples from psychoprogenic neuralisation emitters.

Anonymous said...

Well, it's supposed to be an *interview*, innit? If the answers were actually pertinent to the questions, it wouldn't be at all realistic.

The Cassowary could say: "It boils down to, if people actually did what we told them to, there would be no public health problem. How the hell is it then fair to accuse us of exacerbating a public health problem? If people chose to ignore what we say about the really important things, what makes you think they are paying attention to what we say about less important things? Why should we abandon our moral principles- which are of eternity and shall not fail, and are more important than any amount of temporal suffering- because of what a bunch of mangy heathens say? I can't wait until our fanatic armies sweep in here and put you all the the sword, you crummy infidel dogs."

But the Cassowary is more media-savvy than that.

If you are serious about dealing with grues as a public health hazard, then you have to seriously entertain "STAY OUT OF THE DARK FORTHELOVEOFOGOD" as well as "carry this flickering oil lamp with you" as responses. Only doing one of these things, while saying that someone else who is also only doing one of these things (but the other one)is engaged in behaviour tantamount to genocide for trivialising the grue menace is truly, deeply, madly, silly.

Dr Clam

Dave said...

Hmm, yes, good point about the Cassowary context (which would be a good stoy and or band name, it occurs to me). He's a good PR flack, no doubt about it.

No argument here that the Adams stance on grue safety is tangental to his main concerns. But - moral equivocator that I am - I rather think that a real solution (that is, one with a real prospect of having some effect) is one that (a) appeals to hearts *and* minds, not one or the other and (b) is not mutually contradictory.

The trouble is that the dictate to stay out of the radioactive ruins has no basis whatsover in the dangers of radiation poisoning, and therefore actively undermines any attempt to deal with the radiation problem. Fair enough since that's not the problem with which it is actually concerned, but it is disingenuous to pretend that a moral argument in any way addresses the radiation edpidemic already in existence.

Dr. Clam said...

I guess I would have to say, as Cassowary to thinly-veiled Adams editorialist, laying my disingenuousity (NB lexifabricography!) on the table:

"Our main concern is not with radiation poisoning as a public health problem, but with entering the ancient ruins as a moral and ethical problem. This may well be ridiculous and immoral within your narrative. Tough. A lot of things you do are ridiculous and immoral within our narrative. Face it, we are about getting undecided people to sign up to our narrative, and strengthening the beliefs of people who do subscribe to it. Which is what you're doing, too. We aren't having this argument because we're calmly sitting down to solve a health crisis. You thought you could score some points off us, so I'm having a swing back at you."

Marco said...

The real issue for me is when the heathen world interacts with the faithful. This is unavoidable when we live in the same world. Thus the secondary issues of how these interactions can be manipulated is more interesting to me than what the moral principles are of one side or the other. Thus, the (ruins knowledge) naivety endemic to single sex domes like maggot, to me matters. And the discrimination that the faith makes against NGO's that encourage the use of lead in (domes) that are basically secular also matters. I am not interested too much in the moral righteousness one way or another, but the end results. My first point leads me to believe is still a plus for the faith as more faithful are carried away by wedge tailed eagles. On the second point radiation death rates will be higher in the secular country concerned, which is no real loss for the faith either. Thus the messages the faithless are trying to get across to the faithless are being confused by contradicting messages of the faithful.

Marco said...

oh. and vica versa.

Dr. Clam said...

"My first point leads me to believe is still a plus for the faith as more faithful are carried away by wedge tailed eagles. On the second point radiation death rates will be higher in the secular country concerned, which is no real loss for the faith either."

Agreed! Although the Faith is sincere in expressing concern for individuals adversely affected by these rules, the long-term benefit to the Faith as an entity extensive in space and time is clearly well-served by the status quo, precisely as you have outlined.

Dave said...

What Marco said. Righteousness on either side is of no interest to me (well, no, actually, moral righteousness that comes at the expense of others is wholly offensive to me, but that's a personal gripe irrelevant to the matter at hand), only results. I just wish both sides - and yeah, I do think they are at least somewhat in opposition - would set aside their righteousness long enough to recognise the sincerety of the other and get the hell out of the way of their useful efforts.

Won't happen, of course. An excess of sincerity and morality will usually trump an effective compromise or effort at cooperation.

Dr. Clam said...

I don't understand what you're saying, dave. What useful efforts are ratbags like Adams making that we should get out of the way of? And if NGOs only provided contraception in the Third World, and didn't push abortion as well, I'm sure they would not cop significant opposition, in the same way that there is no credible effort by the Church to restrict contraceptive access in developed countries.

Marco said...

Ahem! I think you mean shooting down Wedge tail eagles! I had managed to hijack the intent of the post and switching to the 25th century references as code - which we stuck to mostly for a full sixteen comments. I am sure to switch to this new code in future posts.

Marco said...

What I also wanted to add, is that by discussing the more interesting interaction between the heathen and the faithful on this matter, it is less meaningful to blame any result on one or the other, but more meaningful to find common purpose, or unilateral changes of policy instead of expecting the other side to make changes. EG. Secular NGO's that accept the shooting of approaching Eagles can find funding from secular sources rather than expecting the faith to bend their rules.

Although the Faith is sincere in expressing concern for individuals adversely affected by these rules, the long-term benefit to the Faith as an entity extensive in space and time is clearly well-served by the status quo

This is a personal belief, but at least in the higher echelons of the faith, I believe the concern to be rather fake sincere - and I believe certain decisions on those matters at that level are not based on spiritual beliefs but by how well it serves the faith as an entity.

Dave said...

Again, what Marco said. I particularly share his belief regarding the ultimate motives of the Faith, which I regard with deep suspicion (as I would any long standing institution which formulated itself based on an extremely limited and self-serving comprehension of the basic workings of the world).

But no, I didn't mean to give the impression that I give any credence to Adams' screeds and antics. I did once respect his general worldview, which I share to a large extent, but I think he's long since descended into hysterical babbling and insane gibbering, echoing sound sentiments, perhaps, but no longer part of the solution. As you say, he's reduced to taking (the same old) cheap shots and indiscriminate blasts.

But he's just at one extreme of the spectrum of opinion on this, and the doctrinal centre of the Faith is at the other. I don't think either extreme is particularly well suited to resolving radiation poisoning or wedge tailed eagle attacks. Nor are they especially predisposed to finding common ground and working together.

*Those* are the people who need to get the hell out of the way. For me, this means that, while the Faith may well have both the resources and the willingness to intervene in the Matter of Radiation, if they cannot approach the issue by means of effective and pragmatic solutions by constraint of doctrine, then by all means continue to preach ruins avoidance (which is, we agree, largely effective and more or less pragmatic, leaving aside some number of exceptional cases). But do not pretend that Faith alone is the solution, because (a) that's somewhat hubristic and (b) clearly not true.

Moreover, for more or less the first time ever, there are now institutions equally if not better placed than the Faith to marshall the will and the resources to address the problem. The Faith's approach is not the only option and (I would suggest) no longer as relevant as it used to be.

You know, back during the Time of Neutronic Exchanges.

(PS: I'm not having a go here or anything. I don't think the Faith is entirely horrible or anything, but it ain't infallible either, and this is its #1 blind spot for me).

Dr. Clam said...

I will dust off- because I am fond of long, important sounding words- the idea of non-overlapping magisteria.

Ultimately, how will the problem of radiation sickness be solved?

(1) Science. Someone will come up with a blue pill.

(2) Economic Development. In the 25th century, it will no longer be necessary to enter ruins in search of phat lewtz; but of course the analogy breaks down there, and in the 'real' world 'radiation sickness' will be a manageable problem when all sufferers can afford the green pills already available in the more wealthy domes.

(3) Patience. Radiation decays, and back in the real world all virulent diseases adapt themselves to their hosts and become less deadly over time.

*All* programs of behavioural modification are flawed. "Out of such crooked timber as man no straight thing was ever made", yadda yadda...
Hence the protection afforded by the Faith is entirely theoretical, because never has it been able to elicit a high enough degree of obedience to its laws among its nominal followers, except in small pockets of space and time. It needs to get its act together and stone adulterers to be a real solution.

Instead, the main function of the Faith and memes like it in this vale of tears is not to solve problems, but to enable people to endure insoluble problems, which is what practically everything was before we had (1) and (2).

Dr. Clam said...

I have observed the following paragraph from Humanae vitae which could conceivably be construed in such a way as to make everybody happy:

15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

Dave said...

Instead, the main function of the Faith and memes like it in this vale of tears is not to solve problems, but to enable people to endure insoluble problems, which is what practically everything was before we had (1) and (2).

This is a good point, and one that my time-and-space "What can be done here and now" perspective fails to accommodate. The Faith can't change (much) because its primary reason to exist is to endure. That's rational and valid, and on those terms it is somewhat beyond criticism. This is, you will appreciate,somewhat frustrating when viewed from outside.

That quote from the Humanae vitae is interesting and welcome, though it has a faint scent of bet-hedging about it. Actually, that's probably an unfair reading, but I will leave it on the table as a possible discussion point.

Anonymous said...

More stories from the 25th Century

I shall borrow from 25th century code to tell my own journey. My parents, due to a combination of individual experience and liberal upbringing, had come to the belief that the shooting down of approaching wedge tail eagles was not only a necessary evil, but a routine matter in the deterministic control of personal eagle experience. My own journey had little direct information to go on, until, in my teen years, I was told a real-life experience from a secular friend that explained that the experience of eagle shootings was not one that could just be forgotten. Regardless of the fear of heights and the soul-challenging experience of unexpected eagle flights, if there is an error of judgement, shooting as a fix is illusory in a personal sense. At that point, foraging in the ruins of the ancients lost all of its appeal. Switching to the present, where I have had the pleasure of four glorious and well planned flights to cloud cities, I had wandered if I wanted to try again. Although I am not of the faith I was never again honestly tempted by ancient ruins even though close family and various friends were constant ruins adventurers. Even though I am not of the faith, my children are at faith schools now. In between flights the use of lead and drugs and other bird repellent had been almost habitual, but now one by one I have been rejecting their use. Drugs had side effects, lead had become a forgotten, irritating element. For many cycles we have been foraging at dawn and at dusk, even when cloudy, the thought of more wedge-tailed eagles tinged with equal helpings of fear and excitement. We now know we are expecting eagle but we are maintaining a complete fog until my upcoming birthday party first sunday in August.

Anonymous said...

Your dome is truly one which the wedge-tailed eagles have blessed! For the past eleven years our dome has been primarily night foragers occasionally venturing out in the day under lead, losing only one dome member to wedge-tailed eagles during a reckless mid-morning expedition.