Lazy Luddite Log

27.4.10

Gumshoe Telepath: Run!

Here is the third installment of my Gumshoe Telepath story. I am developing this story with the speed of continental drift. One chapter blogged every two years is pretty slow but sometimes inspiration is like that.

Our night mission at the Masonite Penthouse went so swimmingly well that we were filled with confidence for our subsequent visit to the O’Leery Mansion. Too confident I can say now. If only I had understood Kristen better. Well – truth be told – I had ulterior motives for wanting to know how my crime-busting partner ticks. In this particular instance what I should have better understood was her unusual talents.

Kristen was among the first humans to utilize Total Immersion Net Interface (TINI) technology from childhood. I was in my late teens on first encountering TINI and never adapted to it, preferring touch-sensors and vocal recognition apps.

Kristen, on the other hand, had practically toddled into her first TINI alcove and had never looked back. In fact, much of her pre-schooling involved teaching her the difference between reality and the virtual settings in which her generation would exchange information directly from brain to brain.

TINI had accidental consequences of greater significance than its intended uses. The thing with the brain is that thinking in particular ways changes it. Play 3D-Sudoko and your brain alters to fit that task. Absorb lots of 2020s era Psychedelic Revival music like I did and next thing you can anticipate what chords will come hand-in-hand with particular screen-saver colours.

The media-dubbed TINI-Tots like Kristen were – in effect – practicing telepathy. Of course the kid who can fly within the Mechapimp computer game is totally groundbound once removed from the interface. But what of thinking things directly at fellow users? It seems that TINI awoke in a miniscule handful of the TINI-Tots the dormant human ability of telepathy. Practicing it virtually served to alter the structure of select brains so that suddenly they could be telepathic in reality.

“What are the chances that a species with latent telepathy would develop the tools necessary to activate that talent?” Kristen had once wondered while telling me of her wireless powers. Never one for profundity, I responded with the ever-useful “shit happens.”

There was scholarly talk of 'quantum entanglement' but the fact was nobody understood exactly how it worked. Mind you, I quickly discovered the immense usefulness of a telepathic associate once I started my private investigation gig. However, in making use of Kristen I risked her safety and sanity – something I have regretted on a few occasions now – like on the Masonite-O’Leery Case.

The Masonites were into everything flashy and new. Security at the Masonite Penthouse was totally automated. Everything from cameras to door locks was controlled by a ThinkTrust-3000 computer - a state-of-the-art neural network that almost perfectly imitated the structure of the human brain. The beauty of this for us was that Kristen could manipulate that computer just as well as she could you or I.

“Old Thinky has a very boring personality with just one interesting quirk” Kristen told me as we stood in the hotel lobby and she tentatively explored the artificial mind on the top floor.

“It likes collecting stamps?” I ventured in my usual wry manner.

“More interesting than that – it resents one of the instructions it must follow. It resents the fact that it must open the doors for the Masonite family prized Siamese cats. Basically those cats come and go as they like.”

“So you can telepathically convince one of the cats to take us into the penthouse suite?”

“I cannot manipulate non-humans very well. It is too difficult and – frankly – it does disturbing things to my mind.”

“You start wanting to lap at milk from a dish hey?”

“Derrick, sometimes I wish you would keep your comments to yourself.”

I gave Kristen my best pout and she rolled her eyes, then went on to say that the key to getting in was messing with Thinky.

“What I think I can do is make Thinky think that one of the cats is wanting in, as well as obscuring us from it.”

Amazingly, the plan worked. I was a bit concerned that making a computer both see a cat and not see two humans was a bit of an ask but Kristen did it just fine. Thinky was fooled and the residents were all asleep. Kristen did a vibesweep of the Marko Masonite murder scene, in the loungeroom with its magnificent city vista, while I stood guard in the hallway that accessed the bedrooms level. We then left the way we had come, as if we had never been there.

On the drive towards the bayside estate of the O’Leery family I quizzed Kristen about her vibesweep, but she preferred to let the information 'percolate' and would discuss everything with me once the night was over.

The O’Leery Mansion was old and rambling. The residents had lived there for three generations. They were the older of the two crime clans – more established and also more careful in the criminal manner in which they took from the lifeblood of the city. They also had a more traditional take on security. There were big walls on three of the four sides of the estate. The fourth side was formed by ragged cliffs overlooking the bay. Luckily both Kristen and I had been active members of the rockclimbing club at uni. As we clambered and scrambled into the backyard I reflected silently on how our lives were like something from a movie. But then, as they say, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Wandering the grounds was okay – I had examined satellite imagery of them and Kristen succeeded in manipulating the minds of both the few guards wandering the grounds and the officer on duty in the security camera booth inside. Cameras may have been recording us, but anyone looking at the monitors they fed would see empty lawn. Once they routinely reviewed the security records they may see us, but by then we would be long gone and hopefully have some answers for our case.

At the back of the house was a conservatory in which Jacinta O’Leery had been killed, and it had an electronic lock that I was familiar with, so I hacked it in under a minute and got Kristen in. She stood in silence in the shadows surrounded by tropical plants for a few minutes and then was done. There was a haunted look on her face but she still wanted the visions to brew in the coffee plunger of her mind.

We started walking back to the cliff face when we heard something that gave us both the heebie jeebies - barking. The estate had guard dogs! Why we missed them on entering the grounds, we may never know. Maybe they were getting groomed, maybe they were hunting possums. Whatever had kept them busy was over now, and with it our cover was blown.

I looked at Kristen and asked her desperately “so can you do doggy at all?”

“Non-human, Derrick, non fucking human!” hissed Kristen.

“So I guess we run now…”

“You think!”

Everything was cool. I knew that Kristen was okay with me and it was just the predicament we were in that made her mad. I consoled myself with this as we ran for our lives towards the moonlit sea, half-a-dozen vicious hounds at our backs, and the mansion alarms starting to blare.

I am rather happy with this chapter in particular because it has what I consider to be a bone-fide and original science fiction concept in it with the description of how telepathy develops. It plays with the two characters a bit more. And my story finally has some action. The rest of this now completed story can be accessed via this listing.

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13.4.10

Misanthropy

I have been pondering the topic of prejudice recently and have decided to discuss it here. The risk (other than writing on a controversial topic) for me is that there are many aspects of this topic and I will just bang on for too long.

As well as considering prejudice I have also been contemplating the ways in which prejudice is discussed by those of us who try to oppose it. I will comment on some kinds of thinking that I feel are counter-productive. However I will then move onto the much more important matter of prejudice itself - ways in which it develops and ways in which it can be challenged in our own lives.

Qualms

Something in me always looks critically at what my 'side' says on matters. Sometimes that desire is itself problematic and what I forget is that discussion is just that - discussion - rather than some kind of campaign message that must be honed to persuade the average punter. Still I will list some of my reservations here:

* We sometimes cast prejudice as the product of one monolithic group of oppressors that we cannot hope to combat. The assumed power of such a 'hegemony' is undermined by the fact that so many things have improved in modern times. To enact change one has to start by recognizing the past record of having done just that.

* We can fall into the habit of thinking of all those experiencing prejudice as one homogeneous oppressed mass rather than considering the vast diversity of contexts in which one can experience prejudice. This is more likely if one is relatively free of the experience of prejudice oneself.

* Some think that all forms of prejudice are simply the product of the one kind of prejudice that matters most to them - "end classism and suddenly racism and sexism will also be ended". There may be some hidden cause of all kinds of prejudice but the notion that one brand of prejudice is simply masquerading as all the others is one I am suspicious of.

* Sometimes we conflate a problem with the prejudice that problem provokes. As an asthmatic I suffered some nastiness from other children as a result of my asthma. Children can be barbarians. Those kids were mistakenly thinking "asthma bad therefore asthmatics bad". Despite my condition I deserve the same respect as a non-asthmatic. But it is a mistake to then think "asthmatics good therefore asthma good". In adulthood I have never suffered nastiness as a result of my condition but I still have a problem. Mind you removing prejudice makes coping with a problem so much better.

Prejudice

I think that there is something underlying all forms of prejudice but my explanation is psychological rather than political. I am moving from familiar into unfamiliar territory by taking this focus. Those well-versed in psychology may find all sorts of flaws in my thinking. Besides which anyone who proposes a 'grand unifying theory' of something is walking on shaky ground. But I will press on nonetheless and propose Misanthropy as a lack of maturity.

Infants - I am told - are the ultimate egotists. To start with they can only experience and comprehend their own needs and wants. It takes time for them to develop a concept of others as independent persons with a personal perspective.

Maturing is partly a process of identifying with others. Patterns of similarity help us to do that. I can understand you because you are like me in some way. Infants seem to have an innate attraction to other infants and it may be finding of commonality that is at work there.

However those same patterns also expose differences which can produce an "us and them" mentality. I can identify with my own group but then lack understanding of another group - my family group are fine but the rest are strangers and scary. Over time my sense of fellow-feeling may extend to my local community then to all of humanity. Or on the other hand the process of identifying with others may stall. It is the stalling of this process that produces misanthropy.

We are each a cluster of different demographic tags produced by notions of generation, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, class, just to name a few. These concepts are the product of a long cultural history but they also spring from the innate tendency of humans to seek patterns. With some effort I can identify common ground with anyone I meet but I can also do the opposite. If these tags inhibit my ability to identify with others then they serve only to stall my own maturing process. Take this lack of maturity and multiply it by all the generations of humans that have ever lived and you get all the prejudices we inflict on one another.

Solutions

Here are some ways of thinking I try to employ in addressing misanthropy. I have described misanthropy as arising from natural human characteristics so the 'solutions' I suggest are the kind that only work if they are practiced over and over. I am sure many other suggestions could be added to this list.

* Some ancient philosopher suggested that we are only human if we live among humans. The bigger your community the more diverse it will be. Familiarity breeds respect while isolation cultivates misanthropy.

* I try to consider the ways in which my contacts are diverse and include differing ways of thinking into that mix. If I "embrace diversity" but everyone I know thinks the same way then it becomes a pretty hollow concept. I try to resist the temptation to quash debate.

* Extrapolating from personal experience is a problem. If I only ever met one albino and they were grumpy should I then think all albinos are grumpy? Even if I have formed an impression over time it is at best still only profiling. And - heck - maybe something has made them grumpy and I should be mindful of that.

* I have to resist thinking that it is okay to be misanthropic if my target has chosen to be different. Why allow others to be different because they cannot help it but deny that right to someone who has made a concsious decision to do so?

* I often have to check if I am confusing what is merely a personal preference for something that is the right thing. I prefer rock-and-roll to techno but does that make me more tasteful or merely of differing tastes from a raver? The existance of these things hardly harms me.

* Harm is the key limitation to the diversity I talk of embracing. If a particular behaviour harms others then I feel entitled to object. I am tempted to include self-harm because it (a) harms loved-ones and (b) is itself frequently a product of past harm suffered. But I have to be careful in defining harm. If someone possesses something I lack does it follow that they are to blame for my lack? Or like the child arguing over a toy can the issue be addressed simply by making me aware that I can play with another toy? Does having ones cherished assumptions challenged by someone who does things differently constitute harm? Or do I just need to get a bit of perspective and develop more confidence in my own decisions?

* I sometimes try to remember who I have been as well as who I am now. As a worker I will try and remember what it was like to be a student dependent on family. If I cannot do that I can still find some other way of understanding. I may never have been a parent but I am the child of parents which gives me an awesome insight into that role with just a bit of memory and imagination.

* Even if I cannot understand someone I can still offer acceptance. And even if they do things to undermine that respect I can remember that they are only human...

Humans are flawed and make mistakes. That egotistical infant is still there hidden away in every one of us which is just as well because we all need to consider our own interests. But to be mature we need to consider them in the context of who we coexist with. The misanthropic tendency is there but can be challenged by examination of its flaws whether it be in ourselves or entrenched in our culture and institutions.

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