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From: "Roy C. Lackey" 
Subject: Re: (urth) Bio bias
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002 13:01:18 -0500

Rostrum quoted me and writes:

>> I've said it before and I'll say it again; yes, Wolfe clearly intended
>> chems to be thought of as people in some sense, just as he has other
>> automatons in other works. I have no idea whether or not he believes
>> they have "souls" but, it seems to me, even for Wolfe there is a line
>> that may be approached but that Man's creations may not pass, one that
>> separates the created from the Creator, just as surely as in _Genesis_.
>I don't think this conclusion follows from your observations.

What I was getting at is the parallel between Man as creator of sentient
beings (in Wolfe's work) and God as creator of Man (in _Genesis_).

>Wolfe has created a society in which chems are created as tools, thought
>of as tools, treated like tools, and even those who would go the farthest
>toward treating them like persons, and even the chems themselves, harbor
>reservations and make distinctions between chems and bios.

Yes, and this is part of the parallel. As I have tried to show, chems were
never intended to be "people" (the term used by Rose). "Clever tools"
comes closer to what Typhon intended them to be. Chems did, however, come
to be self aware (though they were always, to be sure, self aware) in a
manner and to a degree not intended and not provided for by their
creators. I see no evidence in the text to contradict this conclusion.

>But I don't think that this means Wolfe thinks chems are less persons
>bios.  If the Outsider loves them as persons, then it doesn't matter if
>Silk himself thinks of them as mere machines.   I think that Wolfe's
>inclusion of various reasons to see the chems as persons alongside these
>attitudes is evidence he wants us to question the attitudes.

I can't tell from the text whether or not Wolfe thought "the Outsider
loves them as persons". But the fact that the chems were left behind on
the _Whorl_ seems to me to weigh against it. As has been pointed out by
others, Wolfe is hardly the first writer to wrestle with the humanity of
Man's creations. From Mary Shelly to those bad 1950s anti-science sci-fi
films to today's human cloning debate, there is a common thread of
sentiment _against_ Man having the audacity to usurp the role of the Old
Testament God; to presume to create life in any form. Once Man has done
so, a second problem arises--the nature of the created life. I have no
doubt whatsoever that this prejudice has its origins in the book of

>I think the chems and the inhumi are, among other things, meditations on
>determinism and free will.  They are extreme cases of humanity.  The
>programming and the imhumi's biology drive them to do things that we
>regard as inhuman or even evil.  Does that mean that they are not
>God help us if it does.

I can't and won't argue with that.

>Are there not human analogues for the callousness Sand shows toward bios?
>Can such callousness often be explained in part by analogues of biology
>and programming?  To what extent do such explainations negate or mitigate
>moral culpability?

Yes, yes (sort of), and, it depends. Every killer on Death Row can give
you _some_ nature or nurture reason for being there, and some of those
reasons may be good ones. But that sort of thing can't be tolerated, by
and large.

>And what if there had been no dissent from the view that blacks were
>subhuman?  What if they believed it themselves?  Would that make it so?

Of course not, but I don't think Wolfe intended the bio vs. chem issue to
be read as one of race. Blacks and whites can and do interbreed; chems and
bios can't. "The Brown Mechanics" chapter of EXODUS has the greatest
concentration of information about the background of chems to be found in
the series. The chapter is largely irrelevant to the plot of the story
except in so far as it furthers our understanding of chems, and much of
what we learn is disguised as talk about taluses. I've given some of that
in earlier posts, so I'll just concentrate here on my reading of it.

It's a mark of a good writer when two or more readers can come away from
reading the same story, compare notes, and find that they weren't reading
quite the same story after all. The layers of meaning may not be arranged
in the same order, and some of those layers may never even have occurred
to the author. For me, there are two sub-surface layers. One, the main
one, in my opinion, is the Genesis analogy. It goes something like this:

God created Man in his own image; Man created chems in his own image. Man
challenged God's dominion by gaining access to forbidden knowledge; Man
gave chems their intelligence. Lest Man become an even greater threat by
also gaining access to immortality, God put a stop to it by removing Man
from the Garden where such access was to be had; Man restricted chems'
ability to reproduce, thus limiting their potential for immortality,
something Man himself was denied. Fundamentalists may argue that Man never
really threatened an omnipotent God, but it's hard to read the Genesis
story without that concern coming through loud and clear, and man wasn't
even omnipotent. The lessons to be learned from Genesis were not lost on
Man; chems would never be allowed positions of authority over bios.

That is what I meant by the passage you quoted above. When Typhon caused
chems to be created he intended them as a means to an end, nothing more.
When they became something more, Wolfe used them to explore the
relationship of Man to God. But just as Man is not God, chems are not men,
and neither creation will ever equal, much less supplant, their Creator.

The second layer of meaning has to with classes of people, their place in
society, knowing that place, and keeping to it. It's the stuff Wolfe
brought up in his Tolkien essay.

>(Similarly, in the Asimov story mantis quoted, I'm pretty sure we're
>supposed to be horrified by Susan's Calvin's action.  Asimov was often
>accused of making her too perfect, as if she was his fantasy woman, or
>Mary Sue[1] even, so this later story may have been written specifically
>to distance himself from the character.)

I haven't read the story but, based on mantis's synopsis, that girl did
the right thing. Lest that robot "become like one of us". 



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