“Black Mirror” Ethics

black-mirror

I finally am getting around to examining “Black Mirror,” the British anthology series that explores, sometimes in a science fiction context, ethics issues involving technology. It is a critical hit, and has just had its  third season posted on Netflix.

Technology ethics is a dynamic and crucial topic. I sure hope the series is better than the  first episode, “National Anthem.”

If you are going to do a series about ethics, knowing something about ethics is mandatory. This episode is so absurd and its resolution so idiotic that it’s barely worth analyzing, No spoiler alert necessary, because I’m only going to reveal what would be in any preview synopsis. The Royal Family’s princess is kidnapped by terrorists—I think that’s a fair description—and they release a video on YouTube in which the terrified young woman announces that she will be executed unless the Prime Minister has live sex with a pig, on all TV networks.

The rest of the episode’s 60 minutes involves the PM’s “ethical dilemma” as social media weighs in and his staff and family apply various kinds of pressure. I wouldn’t waste an Ethics Quiz on this alleged “dilemma.” Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Hoping That Future Presidential Candidates Won’t Be Asked About Whether They Would Kill Baby Trump”

city-on-the-edge-of-forever

Let’s get the day off to a light-hearted beginning, since it is sure to go rapidly downhill.

I love this comment by Ethics Alarms’ favorite squid, Extradimensional Cephalopod. I wish I had written it, and in fact started out to do so during the brief outbreak of Republican Presidential candidates being asked by silly reporters looking for a “gotcha!” whether they would murder Baby Adolf Hitler if they could go back in time. It is an ethics question, after all. My idea was to speculate on the possible results of such a mission using pop culture, science fiction and serious physics theories, but I rapidly discovered that a lot of research would be necessary, and the ethics nexus was deteriorating quickly. Thus I was thrilled to see EC boldly go where my boldness had failed me.

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Hoping That Future Presidential Candidates Won’t Be Asked About Whether They Would Kill Baby Trump.”

[I do have one question: is “Back to the Future” now the favored label for the category of time travel story where someone changes the future by altering the past? Not “The Terminator” or Star Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever”? In “Back to the Future II”, we are told that altering the past creates a parallel alternate future, which I assume means that killing Baby Hitler just means that Hitler goes on his merry way, except in the new, improved, no-Hitler parallel universe. Come to think of it, “The Terminator” movies, last I checked (but I dropped out two sequels and a TV spin-off ago), suggested that the future can’t be changed, though those robots in Future Hell seem to think so.  Right?

See, this is why I gave up the first time. Heeeeeeeeere’s Extradimensional Cephalopod! Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Theodore Beale, a.k.a. Vox Day

“I find it rather astonishing that anyone would be so naive as to imagine, in this day and Information Age, to think that it is a good idea to simultaneously a) be mentally ill and b) play attack dog on the Internet…if you have a mental illness and you are foolish enough to attack me, then you can be certain that I will exploit your weakness to whatever extent I happen to find useful or amusing…If you are weak, then for the love of God and anything else in which you happen to believe, do not attack the strong!”

This Ted Beale, alias Vox Day. Let us never speak of him again.

This Ted Beale, alias Vox Day. Let us never speak of him again.

Theodore Beale, writing as “Vox Day” on his blog, commenting on Popehat blogger Ken White’s post about his clinical depression, which was highlighted on Ethics Alarms here.

The whole post must be read to get the full flavor of Beale’s ego-soaked viciousness. It is also a good example of signature significance: only a self-professed “cruelty artist” would produce such offal, even once. Yes, being a cruelty artist is unethical.

Ken’s interest in gaming and science fiction has the unfortunate side-effect of making him aware of Vox Day, a science fiction writer who has built a following based on his espousal of misogyny, homophobia, and other vile causes metastasizing on the dark side of the far right. He also, obviously, believes in encouraging the stigma of mental illness, which marks him as ignorant.

My only guess as to why Ken bothered to scratch this human boil is that he was annoyed by Beale/Day’s sexist, racist machinations regarding the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and the.Hugo Awards. It all smelled of Gamergate to me, and like that convoluted mess, my interest in it (and ability to research it sufficiently to comment intelligently on it is best described by reference to George S. Kaufmann’s description of his interest in crooner Eddie Fisher’s love life:

Mr. Fisher, on Mount Wilson there is a telescope that can magnify the most distant stars to twenty-four times the magnification of any previous telescope. This remarkable instrument was unsurpassed in the world of astronomy until the development and construction of the Mount Palomar telescope.The Mount Palomar telescope is an even more remarkable instrument of magnification. Owing to advances and improvements in optical technology, it is capable of magnifying the stars to four times the magnification and resolution of the Mount Wilson telescope.Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn’t be able to see my interest in your problem.

Continue reading

Abortion, “The Fly” and the Ethics Incompleteness Theorem

"AWWW! He looks just like his father!"

“AWWW! He looks just like his father!”

The most interesting aspect of ethics is at the margins, those situations where absolutists are challenged to hold to their principles because of unforseen variations that no general analysis could anticipate. The absolute ban on torture as unethical becomes shaky under the “hidden nuclear bomb” scenario.  Capital punishment opponents find that their compassion evaporates when asked whether Hitler or bin Laden deserved execution.

This is the Ethics Incompleteness problem, which I last wrote about at length in March of 2014:

“The human language is not sufficiently precise to define a rule that will achieve its desired effects, that is work, in every instance. There are always anomalies around the periphery of every normative system, no matter how sound or well articulated. If one responds to an anomaly by trying to amend the rule or system to accommodate it, the integrity of the rule or system is disturbed, and perhaps ruined. Yet if one stubbornly applies the rule or system without amendment to the anomaly anyway, one may reach an absurd conclusion or an unjust result. The Ethics Incompleteness Principle suggests that when a system or rule doesn’t seem to work well when applied to an unexpected or unusual situation, the wise response is to temporarily abandon the system or rule and return to basic principles to find the solution. No system or rule is going to work equally well with every possible scenario, which is why committing to a single system is folly, and why it is important to keep basic ethical values in mind in case a pre-determined formula for determining what is right breaks down.”

I was watching the Jeff Goldblum remake of “The Fly” (written and directed by David Cronenberg) last night, and rather than being properly horrified by Geena Davis’s nightmare of giving birth to a yard long fly larva, I found myself wondering how anti-abortion absolutists would handle her unusual dilemma. The film follows the tragedy of scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum ) who has developed a means of teleportation. The process involves a computer breaking down a body, then transmitting the atoms electronically to a receiving “pod,” and reassembling them there. Unfortunately, when Seth tests the device on himself, an unnoticed fly gets into the sending pod, and the result is a version of Brundle that has fly DNA mixed in. (In the memorably campy Vincent Price original, what arrived in the receiving pod was a man with a giant fly head and a fly with a tiny human head.) Gradually Brundle mutates in form and mind into a monstrous hybrid, but before he knows what has happened to him, he impregnates girl friend Davis. Soon she realizes that something with insect DNA is gestating inside of her, though all tests show a healthy human embryo. Not surprisingly, she wants an abortion.

Would those who argue that abortion is murder maintain that she shouldn’t be able to have one, or that aborting the fetus is wrong? Let’s make the problem harder: let’s say she only learns that she has a fly-baby in the third trimester, when our laws wil not permit abortions unless the mother’s life is in peril. Some questions: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Make Voting Compulsory, Because We Can’t Let THAT Happen Again”

Maybe Ruth Marcus would like this system better...

Maybe Ruth Marcus would like this system better…

Theories of democracy and political science, Robert Heinlein, minimizing bias from self-interest, scientist suspicion, GIANT BUGS…okay, it doesn’t quite get to the bugs. But what’s not to like about texagg 04’s reflections and exposition sparked by the post on Ruth Marcus’s plug for compulsory voting? Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Make Voting Compulsory, Because We Can’t Let THAT Happen Again: Continue reading

“The Strain” Ethics: Feminism, Sophie’s Choices and Moral Cowardice

The-Strain-Vampires

The FX cable networks ultra-creepy, disturbing and often disgusting series “The Strain” has begun raising ethics issues, as good science fiction (this is a horror-science fiction hybrid) is wont to do. The last episode, “It’s Not For Everyone” provided its characters with one ethical dilemma after another. [SPOILER ALERT!!] Arguably, all of them were botched. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Animal Planet

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently felt that it was necessary to put out this statement, which reads in part:

“Mermaids — those half-human, half-fish sirens of the sea — are legendary sea creatures chronicled in maritime cultures since time immemorial…But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists.”

Why, you ask? Wasn’t the mummy of the Fiji Mermaid, a famous P.T. Barnum humbug, debunked almost two centuries ago? Yes, it was. Now, however, instead of a famous showman whom people expected to be fooling them, we have unscrupulous and irresponsible TV executives, who run channels with trustworthy names like The History Channel, Discovery and The Learning Channel, and then use these venues to make Americans even more stupid and ignorant than they already are. Continue reading

SyFy and the Absence of Integrity: A Case Study

At TV.com, there is a fascinating account of the evolution of the Sci Fi Channel, once cable’s reliable source for science fiction programming, into SyFy, which is nothing of the sort. As the article points out, the two individuals who have run the channel since 2002, Bonnie Hammer and Dave Howe, appear not to like, understand, or trust the genre their channel supposedly was dedicated to advancing. Now, having cancelled the two shows its science fiction fans most enjoyed, “Caprica” and “Stargate Universe,” SyFy is a bona fide whatsis, with a schedule that includes professional wrestling, cheesy horror movies, ghost hunter and psychic reality shows, and whatever else Hammer and Howe think will attract what they regard as a non-geek audience.

Here is the problem: Continue reading

“Birthers”: Unethical, or Merely Deranged?

Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, a military expert who appears as an analyst on Fox News, has submitted an affidavit in support of Army Lieutenant Colonel Terrence Lakin, who is refusing to deploy to Afghanistan because of his belief that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Lakin faces a court-martial for his refusal. Thus has General  McInerney officially admitted to being a “birther,” one of the legion of conspiracy theorists who deny Constitutional eligibility for the White House.

From McInerney’s affidavit: Continue reading