Do Androids Sleep With Electric Sheep?
One of the best developments of the first six months of America Under Trump is the growing discontent with the media. Why anyone has ever paid any attention to the New York Times or Washington Post or Fox or CNN is something I have never been able to figure out. The editors are poorly educated liars, and the reporters, columnists and commentators cannot even manage to tell their lies in standard English
There is only one reason to pay any attention to the news, and that is to find out what bizarre forms of snake oil the ruling class is forcing us to swallow. On the lowest level, we are instructed to believe that Barack Obama is a genius, Donald Trump a psychotic moron; that the Kardashians are fascinating beauties and Michelle O the loveliest and most gracious lady on earth.
On a higher level, the media want to believe that “Science”—whatever that means—is on the verge of discovering life on other planets, curing death, and insuring human happiness. They also want us to ride in driverless cars, robotize our industries, and marry the machines they are now calling “sexbots.”
Anyone who has read Isaac Asimov or Philip K. Dick (or local Wisconsin boy Clifford Simak) knows what is next: a deep consideration of the human status of robots and—should they ever be invented—androids. On NPR a few months ago, I heard a learned debate between a libertarian type, arguing for use of robots in dangerous jobs, and a robot rights experts who was trying to warn the universe against repeating the mistakes of Southern slaveowners. Apparently this expert ethicist did not even know that slaves were too valuable to risk doing jobs that an underpaid Irishman might do just as well.
Of course the whole robot frenzy is more or less a silly PR campaign being waged by people who expect to get rich on robotics. In Hong Kong recently the robotechies staged a robot debate in which the point at issue was how soon would robtots make human beings unnecessary.
Mencken once said that no one ever went broke underestimating the American people, and Mencken did not live long enough even to suspect the quality of mind that would dominate American universities. According to a story in The Daily Mirror, one Professor Robin MacKenzie, described as “ethics expert” at Kent Law School is claiming that eletronic sex toys constitute a challenge to ethics and law: "Sex, law and ethics will never be the same." Previously, we have had rules restricting potential sexual activities involving beings not capable of giving rational assent--children and animals--but with the increasingly sensitivity and intelligence of sexbots, we shall have to rewrite the rules.
Prof. Robin’s travesty of academic ethics are funny enough to deserve quoting at length:
“Humans having sex with other humans who are unable to consent to sex, like children and adults lacking decision-making capacity, is seen as unlawful and unethical.
"So is human/animal sex. Such groups are recognised as sentient beings who cannot consent to sex with interests in need of protection.
"Sentient, self-aware sexbots created to engage in emotional/sexual intimacy with humans disrupt this tidy model.
"They are not humans, though they will look like us, feel like us to touch and act as our intimate and sexual partners.”
Some readers of The Mirror were clever enough—and cruel enough—to observe that the lady is really looking out for her own interest:
“The only moral dilemma that this academic is really facing is that unpalatable, unfeminine woman like these 'academics' and their problematic attitudes of contrarian drama driven trouble making will no longer be chosen AT ALL for relationships.”
This topic deserves much more attention than I have time for this week, but one point stands out: The powers-that-be really do want us to believe that we are better off in a “relationship” that precludes the possibility of reproduction. Homosexuality, contraception, abortion are all well and good, but imagine if the government could the sexual equivalent of television, a regulated industry that provides all the illusions of real life and none of the love and hate and privacy of marriage. If we really could get to the point that androids would have a claim on our moral sense, then human beings would no longer be sons and daughters, wives and mothers, citizens and neighbors but just disposable sex toys.
Phil Dick was a prophet.