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Hannibal Lecter: Transhumanist Icon

By localroger in Culture
Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 03:15:14 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

In certain circles you hear the word Transhumanism a lot lately. This is the idea that new technologies will make people so intelligent, powerful, healthy, and long-lived that we will not be merely human any more; we will transcend what is commonly called the "human condition" and become something more like gods.

Of course it's very difficult to imagine what it would be like to become something so much better and different than ourselves. But it's also an old dream of ours, and some of our brightest thinkers have tried to imagine it for us. Come with me on a slightly different reading of a character you've probably already met: One of the most well known and yet clearly transhuman characters in modern literature is Hannibal Lecter, the serial killer who has now appeared in three novels by Thomas Harris.

(Note: In case you are one of the six people left who have never read these books or seen the movies, this review does spoil all the endings.)


Before Hannibal

Once upon a time there was a newspaper reporter for the Associated Press named Thomas Harris. One day Harris and a couple of friends hatched a cool plan by which terrorists could kill nearly everybody in attendance at the Super Bowl. They decided to dramatize it as a novel, which they started as a group project. But the two friends dropped out and Harris completed the novel alone. Black Sunday was published in 1975. It became quite popular, in part because of Harris' clear descriptive prose and meticulous attention to detail. It was made into a popular movie in 1977.

Harris was bitten by the writing bug. For his next project he decided to write about the FBI's Behavioral Science section, which tries to catch criminals by using psychological profiling to model their behavior and predict what they will do next.

You can say a lot of things about Thomas Harris the writer, but one thing you can't say is that he writes fast. It took him six years to complete the project.

Red Dragon

The villain of Red Dragon is Francis Dolarhyde, better known to the public of his fictional world as the "Tooth Fairy" after one of his favorite weapons. Dolarhyde was born deformed (with a cleft palate) and horrifically abused, not least by being denied the surgery to fix his palate until he became old enough to join the Army.

Dolarhyde is obsessed with William Blake's watercolor The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun. He yearns to Become the Dragon, and he pursues this dream in singular fashion. Like any would-be superhero he works out. He creates a distinctive appearance, not by adopting a cape and mask but with tattoos. He makes many sacrifices. Among these are the families that will assist him. He seeks out those those who seem the happiest and best-adjusted, and he murders them horrifically. With bits of mirror placed in their dead eyes they Become the first to see what he will Become, and they draw him ever closer to that final godlike Becoming.

Dolarhyde's nemesis is Will Graham, an FBI Behavioral Sciences agent who comes out of retirement to try and catch Dolarhyde before he can sacrifice another family. Graham has a legendary talent for thinking enough like a serial killer to guess his future moves.

Graham is retired for two reasons. Most obviously, his most famous collar nearly killed him. More ominously, he is afraid of being consumed by his talent. The original tagline for the book (before everything became about Hannibal Lecter) was "Enter the mind of a serial killer... you may never come back." You can still see that tagline on the IMDB page for the 1986 movie Manhunter which was based on Red Dragon.

Graham is lured reluctantly into the hunt for Dolarhyde by his old boss Jack Crawford. Crawford is no superhuman, but is in fact a human at the peak of his form; when he is not an expert he knows where to find one, and he knows what to say to get him back in the game. Crawford does not have the luxury of respecting Graham's desire to stay retired. He has a major problem he can't solve, and so he leans on Graham to go back to doing what he least wants to do.

Lecter is very much a bit player in Red Dragon. A good question would be to ask what he is doing in the story at all. What purpose does he serve? The main conflict is between Dolarhyde and Graham. A secondary conflict is Graham's conflict with the inner demons that make it possible for him to think like a Dolarhyde. There is yet another conflict between both men and sleazy tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds. In another side plot Dolarhyde trips both himself and Graham up when the unexpected affection of the blind woman Reba McClane brings his Becoming to an interesting crisis. It would not seem necessary to complicate the story even more with Lecter.

The answer, I believe, is that Lecter is an example of the state of perfection to which Dolarhyde aspires and which Graham fears. Lecter is the embodiment of what both men are capable of Becoming. Lecter respects Graham but has contempt for him because he will not Become what he could ultimately be. Lecter likes Dolarhyde (his "Pilgrim") because he demonstrates potential, recognizes Lecter as the ideal to which he aspires, and is working hard to realize that ideal. Lecter corresponds with Dolarhyde giving him encouragement and advice.

Although Graham prevails, stopping Dolarhyde, he is again nearly destroyed by his triumph. He retires again, this time for good, as we can tell because he is only mentioned twice in passing in Silence of the Lambs and not at all in Hannibal. He has succeeded in not Becoming, and his success takes him right out of the continuing story.

Silence of the Lambs

Working at his usual feverish pace, Harris managed to complete the sequel to Red Dragon in a mere seven years. Silence of the Lambs came out in 1988. The book itself was a major hit, and is for good reason considered one of the classics of its genre.

In many ways SOTL is a twisted mirror image of Red Dragon. Instead of seasoned veteran Will Graham, we have plucky neophyte Clarice Starling. Like Graham, Starling is put on her case by Jack Crawford. Most likely he would rather have again recruited Will Graham, but Will is now really out of the picture. Instead Crawford sends Starling to see Lecter, sensing that her relative guilelessness might tempt the monster to drop them all a morsel of Clue about their new nemesis.

This villain is one Jame Gumb, another victim of horrific child abuse who like Francis Dolarhyde inherits a big house and a monstrous appetite from his abuser. Unlike Dolarhyde, who sought to Become something other than himself, Gumb seems just fine with himself; it is his victims who Become. In his lighter moments he enjoys hunting them down in his huge pitch-dark basement with the slight advantages of night vision goggles and a gun. When he is finished with them he poses their bodies in obscene tableaux, and stuffs moth chrysalis into their throats to symbolize their transformation. Unlike Dolarhyde, Gumb does not seem inclined to risk danger to himself.

We are told that Gumb "thinks" he is a transsexual, but isn't really—a plot point that helps the FBI locate him. Instead of Becoming a girl, he decides to make himself a girl suit out of the skin of real girls. This takes tremendous skill, which Gumb has painstakingly acquired by study and trial and error. And it takes raw material, which is how he comes to the attention of the FBI.

Harris seems to have given a great deal more thought to the character of Hannibal Lecter this time; he is still a relatively minor actor, but we are given more details about him and of course his escape forms a dark backdrop to the otherwise triumphant ending. Barney, the orderly who earns Lecter's respect by respecting Lecter, did not appear in Red Dragon. Nor did we hear much about Lecter's actual crimes in the original book. Harris shows us Lecter in much the same way the original Alien movie showed us the monster; only a bit at a time, and we're never sure how much of it is hidden out of our sight.

Lecter does not respect Gumb as he respected Dolarhyde; he cheerfully sells Gumb out for his own personal advantage and minor amusement. Of Gumb as his patient Dr. Lecter tells Senator Martin, "He said he wanted help to stop but actually he just wanted to schmooze about it. To rap." In other words, Gumb wasn't Becoming anything. This makes him uninteresting to Lecter.

So what does Lecter see in Starling? At first he helps her simply because another inmate flings semen at her; this reflects badly on Lecter's hospitality. Simple etiquette demands that he offer up something to compensate for such rudeness. (Later, he talks the inmate into swallowing his tongue, casually killing him as if by remote control; his weapon is nothing more than his terribly complete understanding of other—one might say lesser—people.)

Lecter continues to help Starling because he finds her interesting. Despite her obviously poor upbringing he recognizes in her an uncultivated aptitude. Within the "well-scrubbed hustling little rube" with her "good bag and cheap shoes" is a person who might Become something more than she is. Lecter directs his energy not so much toward helping Starling catch Gumb as toward helping Starling improve herself.

After the Silence I

At this point I would like to speculate that Harris may have had a plan for the third book which isn't what he ended up writing. Harris had now given us a grizzled veteran who had almost turned himself into a serial killer himself and a plucky ingenue who really had no idea what she was getting into. My guess is that the next story was originally to be of a third detective who would do what Graham feared—who would Become like Lecter in the process of bringing Lecter down.

I don't think this was his plan for Starling because at the end of SOTL her story has achieved a satisfying closure; Harris could have left her alone with the lambs quieted and her fame protecting her from the likes of the loathsome Krendler and nobody would have complained.

After the Silence II

While SOTL was enormously popular by suspense novel standards, the whole project Became something on the order of Elvis, Zeppelin, and Stephen King with the production of the 1991 movie. Jodie Foster gave an amazingly convincing performance as the awkward but hard-working Starling, and Anthony Hopkins set the world on fire with his portrayal of Lecter.

I did not personally find Hopkins' portrayal of Lecter as enthralling as most people did; I actually thought Brian Cox's portrayal of Lecter in Manhunter came closer to what Harris had written. But the audience spoke, and Harris actually wrote Lecter more to the Hopkins specification in the third novel, just as he kept Starling at the center of the story.

And let us not forget that Harris kept writing on schedule. It took eleven years for him to write the third book, which is one reason I suspect there was a midcourse correction when the movie came out.

Hannibal I: Lecter

Hannibal came out in 1999. It was one of the most anticipated releases in the history of modern fiction, and a huge number of Harris' fans hated it.

Hannibal suffers in comparison to its predecessors in part because Harris is no longer able to hide the monster in the shadows, making us wonder exactly what he looks like. He has to tell us. So it's a little like the difference between the original Alien and Predator movies and the fusion sequel AVP; a Lecter with a back story and motivations and vulnerabilities just isn't as scary as Hannibal the Mysterious Cannibal.

In SOTL Lecter instructs Starling to ask of her villain: "What does he do, this man you want?" Her lesson is that he doesn't kill, he covets; killing is just a means to the end of making his girl suit. Likewise, Lecter is no simple killer. Suppose we ask the same question of him?

Lecter's senses are extraordinarily sensitive; he can learn your life story from the aftershave you haven't used in three days. He can smell the chemical that induces schizophrenia. He can be annoyed by this sensitivity; the odor of a waiter's watchband distracts him from his carefully chosen wine. In the midst of a dramatic escape he takes time to put unguent on a small fabric burn he has received. But he can also turn this sensitivity off at will; he betrays no emotion and conducts himself calmly as preparations are made to feed him, alive, to a herd of pigs.

Lecter has perfect memory and is extensively versed in many fields of knowledge. He knows many languages. He can rapidly pick up skills requiring manual dexterity that most of us would need considerable practice to duplicate. He is physically healthy and strong. He always has enough money to fund his expensive tastes. We are told explicitly that he doesn't do anything as crass as kill people for their money; he has received gifts and bequests from people who find him charming, and he followed through with sensible investments.

Lecter is not quite the Nietzschian Superman for one reason: He does not divert his feelings and emotions. In fact, he arranges to feel and experience the world much more exquisitely than most of us can. He could turn those feelings off, and he does when it suits him; but he appears to find the world more interesting when it is filled with sensations.

And, of course, he kills people and eats them. What's up with that?

Lecter was an intense boy who frightened everyone except his sister and his nurse. Overtaken by war, his family was killed and his sister was eaten by soldiers who had herded her and Hannibal and and other children together for sustenance in the bleak closing years of World War II. It is hinted that Lecter may have helped to eat his sister without realizing what the food was at the time. It is clear that the soldiers would have eventually eaten Hannibal too, except that in some unspoken way the six year old boy managed to overcome the situation. (Harris' upcoming fourth book will apparently shed some more light on this part of his life.)

The lad who may have avenged his eaten sister had the aptitude to Become something more than human, but it was the incident with the soldiers and the eaten sister that forced him to start the process. Harris implies that at this point Lecter didn't possess any of the other talents that will come to define him, but it appears that the experience would inspire him to embark on a lifelong self-improvement project.

Lecter does not dine at random; as Starling says in his defense, "he only eats the rude." Lecter's method isn't simply to remove annoying things from his environment, but to turn them into something pleasant. Thus, the flutist who can't carry a tune leaves the orchestra to become a fine meal for his friends. We might argue that Lecter's methods are a bit excessive; but Starling makes another observation about him which is critical: "He won't deny himself."

Hannibal Lecter recognizes that he is no longer merely human; he is something more like a god, and it is his right to indulge those urges he finds amusing regardless of what mere humans think.

Hannibal II: Mason Verger

With Lecter's power so fully exposed Harris needed to give him a worthy opponent. It's obvious that any straight-up conflict between Lecter and Starling would end up with Starling munchies being served. Besides, if Starling is to Become (which is the only way to thematically complete the trilogy) then she must be forced into alignment with Lecter. So she can't provide the major conflict.

Thus we meet Mason Verger, another of Hannibal's victims. Lecter let Verger live instead of killing him because—you see this coming, right?—it was more amusing. Verger is paralyzed and has no face, but he is also fantastically wealthy and cruel. Verger lays expensive, intricate plans to get Lecter before the cops do, and exact his revenge by feeding Lecter alive to specially bred pigs. Meanwhile he amuses himself with smaller cruelties. He affects to run a camp for impoverished children at his estate, but his real purpose is to torment them. When they cry, his staff bring him martinis salted with their tears.

Many readers found Verger "over the top," like a comic book villain. But Lecter is already something of a comic book superhero, so where else is he to find a worthy challenge? Verger's money buys him everything his ruined body cannot provide: Loyal helpers willing to abuse children and commit murder for him, police, government officials, even Starling's boss at the FBI, and not least of all his own sister.

Before Lecter breaks his neck Verger shows no tendency to inspire awe; he plays with cruelty and he plays sex games and he plays with people, but that's all he really does. He plays. Lecter forces him to Become something greater, a dark sinister directed force. By paralyzing him and stealing his face Lecter turns him from a petty sex fiend and Eurotrash wanna-be into a creature worthy of, well, being on the cover of a comic book.

But Verger can never be the equal of Lecter. One telling passage occurs as final preparations are being made to feed the captured Lecter to the pigs; Verger wonders consciously what he will do for amusement once he has dealt with Lecter. The obvious answer is that he will be a bit empty. For all his power and focus Mason never has learned to create his own sense of purpose. Lecter, of course, has; and this is the source of much of his power.

Hannibal III: Starling

In order to bring Starling back into the story Harris has to begin by destroying her. This is a consistent theme; Becoming is painful, even agonizing, because before you can Become something new, the thing you were Before must be destroyed. Harris begins to feed Starling into the meat grinder on page one as a routine bust goes horrifically wrong. Starling is forced to gun down a woman carrying a baby, and things go rapidly downhill from there.

By the time we reach the novel's climax Starling is stripped of her job, her authority, and her gun in a situation where it is understood by all that the murderous Lecter might be snooping around her. Her one remaining advocate, good old Jack Crawford, is weakened by the loss of his wife and a heart attack. Clarice is left with nothing but her wits and the fact that Lecter likes her.

Nevertheless, many of her fans reject her final turning; "How could she do it?" they ask in unison. And it's a good question. The answer, as it turns out, was right there on the cover of the first edition of Red Dragon: Enter the mind of a serial killer, and you may never come back. Graham enters Lecter's mind through his killing urges, but Starling enters through the more hospitable doorway of his taste.

Early on in Hannibal Starling muses that the catalogs and fashion magazines she is collecting to flesh out her understanding of Lecter's taste are a kind of pornography, which she has always denied herself. In Lecter's care she is no longer merely reading the pornography; he lets her experience fine things. This is the first element of her seduction.

Lecter uses drugs and psychotherapeutic techniques to weaken the memories that are holding her in the world of mortals, her love for her father and the lambs screaming at slaughter. He actually digs up her father's bones and confronts her with them, forcing her to create a sense of closure over his death. This is the second element of her seduction.

Finally Lecter confronts Starling with the man who has worked so diligently to ruin her mortal life, and prepares to feed her the very quivering brain which has architected her destruction. By the time she realizes that Krendler is about to be killed on her behalf she is just far gone enough to want to see what Lecter will make of him. Krendler himself, drugged and about to have his brain eaten hot out of his skull, recognizes that something is wrong:

"Who are you anyway?" Krendler said. "You're not Starling. You've got the spot on your face but you're not Starling."
Minutes later, as Starling tests the bits of Krendler's prefrontal lobe that Lecter has expertly prepared for her, the conversation continues:
"How is it?" Krendler asked, once again behind the flowers and speaking immoderately loud, as persons with lobotomies are prone to do.

"Really excellent," Starling said. "I've never had caper berries before."

As if she dines on the brains of her enemies all the time. But in all of this Starling may just be displaying a drug-induced passivity; the real turning point occurs when she utters one of the single best lines I have ever read in any novel:
"See if I sound like Oliver Twist when I ask for MORE!"
So Lecter has pulled it off; Clarice Starling has Become ... what? Perhaps not a killer like Lecter, but someone who shares his tastes and certainly will not complain when he indulges his urges. As Harris finishes the story with a portrait of the life Hannibal and Clarice have together, there is a sense of familiarity. And so it is; the picture Harris paints, with words instead of watercolors, is none other than The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun. Harris has distracted us with stories about would-be Dragons, but in Clarice we see the Becoming of the Woman Clothed with the Sun. She is no killing Dragon but a godlike creature nonetheless, and a worthy companion for a godlike creature such as Lecter.

Hollywood Fails It

All of the movies took shortcuts, some more damaging than others. In the SOTL movie Clarice tries to save one lamb and fails; in the book she tries to save a blind horse which is doomed to slaughter, and she succeeds. Hannah the horse lives out her days giving kids rides at the orphanage where she goes after the farm. This is an important distinction; her early experience is one of saving the victim instead of just being crushed by circumstances.

The later Red Dragon movie with Hopkins as Lecter and Ed Norton as Graham borrowed heavily from SOTL, which didn't exist when Manhunter was filmed, in order to give Lecter a bigger role. And bearing in mind the original tagline, I'm supposed to believe that Ed Norton is in serious danger of turning into ... Naaaaah. The danger of Graham's Becoming was much more palpable in Manhunter, where Graham and Lecter were physically and expressively similar.

Jodie Foster took one look at the ending of Hannibal and picked up her toys and went home. Fair enough; Ridley Scott found another actress who looked enough like her to work as a stunt double ... then he fucked up the ending anyway. Gary Oldman's Mason Verger doesn't frighten, his fascinating sister Margot and her odd friendship with Barney are gone, but most of all Clarice does not Become. We are left only with a muddled depiction of twisted affection that accomplishes nothing for anybody.

Transhumanism Defined

To be Transhuman is to be something other than human. Just as we might expect a machine intelligence to seem alien to us and to consider us alien, we might also consider such humans who transcend their humanity to be as different.

The usual answer to this from would-be Transhumanists is that, if Transhumans are going to have all the talents and abilities, they are going to have the advantage in any war. Join up or find yourself on the losing side.

But Harris shows us a view of Transhumanism so revolting that one might expect the entire human race to rise up en masse and divert every effort to stamping it out if it should ever become more than an occasional curiosity. While most would-be Transhumanists probably do not plan on becoming cannibals, the whole point is that you really can't plan at all on what a transhuman being would think is an appropriate way to treat traditional humans. Even if that potential transhuman being is the one that was once you. Just ask Clarice Starling.

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Poll
The godlike creature I would most like to Become is:
o Hannibal Lecter 1%
o Clarice Starling 3%
o Batman 10%
o Robocop 5%
o John Varley's "Gaia" 6%
o Highlander 15%
o an Anne Rice Vampire 6%
o the Bearer of the One Ring 5%
o the Wandering Jew 10%
o "Bringer" Tom 1%
o Caroline Frances Hubert 1%
o Rusty 10%
o Myself 23%

Votes: 60
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Thomas Harris
o Black Sunday
o movie
o Red Dragon
o The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun
o Manhunter
o Silence of the Lambs
o movie [2]
o Hannibal
o Nietzschia n Superman
o The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun [2]
o Red Dragon movie
o fucked up the ending anyway.
o Also by localroger


Display: Sort:
Hannibal Lecter: Transhumanist Icon | 163 comments (105 topical, 58 editorial, 0 hidden)
It rubs the lotion on its skin OR ELSE IT GETS THE (2.00 / 6) (#16)
by BlahFace on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 06:28:39 PM EST

HOSE AGAIN!

I would fuck me, I would fuck me so hard!

I... (2.33 / 3) (#24)
by DuoMeter on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 06:55:26 PM EST

...burst out laughing at that.

My God I love Kuro5kin's more colorful characters. I didn't want to say anything before to jinx the status quo but I had to reply.

[ Parent ]

Aw... (none / 1) (#65)
by BlahFace on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 11:59:49 PM EST

hawkwrench didn't appreciate my comment.

And I lost that song... there was like some techno remix with him saying the lotion line over and over.

[ Parent ]

In all honesty (none / 1) (#44)
by localroger on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 10:03:15 PM EST

I dug out my dusty copies of the trilogy in part because somebody linked me up to that song.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
Profehc (2.00 / 3) (#32)
by LilDebbie on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 07:18:43 PM EST

The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.

HP Lovecraft - The Call of Cthulhu

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

Do you really think (2.66 / 3) (#36)
by trane on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 08:36:54 PM EST

one might expect the entire human race to rise up en masse and divert every effort to stamping it out if it should ever become more than an occasional curiosity

Prohibition will help?

Not really (3.00 / 4) (#37)
by localroger on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 08:42:08 PM EST

But that doesn't mean people won't try it.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
In all honesty, (none / 0) (#39)
by spooked on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 09:14:59 PM EST

I am one those six people.

Seriously.
I am Number Six (1.50 / 1) (#49)
by zephc on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 10:40:51 PM EST

Who is Number Two?

[ Parent ]
Yo! (nt) (none / 0) (#83)
by khallow on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 12:54:18 PM EST


Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

I am one of the six who has not read those books. (3.00 / 5) (#41)
by your_desired_username on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 09:32:48 PM EST

And, thanks to your revelation of how hackneyed, tiresome, and tedious these books are, I never will be.

Well... (2.66 / 3) (#45)
by localroger on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 10:22:21 PM EST

If I could make myself as hackneyed, tiresome, and tedious as Thomas Harris, not to mention as famous and rich, I'd probably suck up my sense of superiority and go for it.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
Get rid of your negative attitude. (2.50 / 4) (#57)
by your_desired_username on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 11:16:56 PM EST

'If I could make myself ...' What kind of liberal-media-I-can't-help-myself bullshit is that? You are what you choose to be. Pull your free will out of your ass and go be the famous, rich, hackneyed, tiresome, and tedious writer you really want to be. And don't tell me THE MAN is holding you down. THE MAN doesn't love you anymore. He's holding someone else down.

[ Parent ]
If I did that, y'all would complain even more /nt (none / 1) (#61)
by localroger on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 11:34:58 PM EST



I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
my take on that (2.33 / 3) (#82)
by khallow on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 12:53:38 PM EST

But you'd be rich.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Discouraged for use of 'liberal-media'. nt. (none / 1) (#105)
by Veritech on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 09:58:43 AM EST



[ Parent ]
Look, I had to throw in some cue (none / 1) (#111)
by your_desired_username on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 12:11:56 PM EST

to let the reader know my post was a ridiculous parody. What better way to indicate a parody than to juxatopse the word 'liberal' against the word 'media'?

Here's to hoping I find a better cue next time.

[ Parent ]

Discourage me for knee jerking. Sorry. nt. (none / 1) (#114)
by Veritech on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 01:51:50 PM EST



[ Parent ]
Hrmmm (none / 1) (#81)
by khallow on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 12:52:33 PM EST

If I could make myself as hackneyed, tiresome, and tedious as Thomas Harris, not to mention as famous and rich, I'd probably suck up my sense of superiority and go for it.

Your primitive culture hasn't done this yet?

I too am one of the few and the proud who won't get around to reading these books. I thank you for saving days of my life in the process.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Huh (2.33 / 3) (#46)
by rusty on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 10:23:54 PM EST

This is a really interesting take on the whole theme of the series, and actually makes the third one sort of coherent. I really didn't like it the first time I read it, but in hindsight I think I was just too revolted to really pay attention to what was going on. It is such a carnival of cruelty and carnage.

But I read it again recently, and it made more sense. Still, when you look at it in this light, Clarice's choice at the end finally looks like a real choice. I was never quite sure if she had really chosen, or just been cleverly reprogrammed, and I think the reason I wasn't sure was that I couldn't figure out why she would have willingly chosen that life. As an explanation, this works.

____
Not the real rusty

I'm really unhappy with this article. (Abstain) (1.50 / 2) (#50)
by livus on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 10:41:16 PM EST

It seems promising but then you hit us with acres of chronological plot retelling (this really weakens any other argument you might be setting up, because story chronology takes precedence over logical points).

Your conclusion probably belongs in the introduction: one spends most of the article wondering just where you are going with this.

You sprinkle "Becoming" all through it without once referring to Deleuze and Guattari.

You treat the characters as if they are real people, and there's no point in talking about the films if you are going to talk about plot and ignore everything else (for example visual character merges in SOTL). By the way, you have some sort of Foster/Moore aphasia going on, what's with that?

So, a good idea, an engaging writing style - and no substance beneath it. I would urge a re-write.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

Mine is a simple appreciation (2.50 / 2) (#53)
by localroger on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 11:00:24 PM EST

This was never intended to hold to academic standards. The main reason I wrote it was to justify the ending of Hannibal which so many people found so unappealing. I found it one of the best conclusions of any novel I had ever read, and I wanted to share why I thought that way. Rusty's comment just below yours justifies my approach better than any argument I could otherwise make.

If I put the conclusion in the introduction I'd have the same problem Harris seems to have; people would go "No way, man" and walk off.

The only way to get them to a point where they won't go "No way, man" is to walk them to the point where they can see my perspective. Considering that the novels total almost 1,500 pages I think I did that pretty economically.

I didn't mention whossis and whatsis because I didn't get "Becoming" from them. I got "Becoming" from Thomas Harris, who capitalized it throughout Red Dragon when Dolarhyde was thinking in those terms. I also recall Stephen King using the same device in The Tommyknockers. Both men have better liberal arts educations than I do, so they may have gotten the idea from some Source I've never met. But that really doesn't affect my point.

I don't understand your complaint about treating the characters as real people; if you can't do that, the piece of fiction that produced them is broken.

As for the films, if I made the best filmic representation ever of Lord of the Flies but at the very end had Piggy make a fabulous speech and then let the children set up a constitutional Government on the British model and work out their differences, it would be about the same as what Scott did to Harris with Hannibal. It really doesn't matter how many neat filmic things you do if you can't get the fucking ending right.

I really have no idea WTF you are talking about re: "Foster/Moore aphasia."

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Er, I think you miss my point(s) (none / 0) (#58)
by livus on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 11:24:26 PM EST

and I certainly don't expect academic standards at k5 (I'd probably run away screaming if that happened).

I just couldn't see a clear argument emerge. You didn't define any concepts or terminology, so it was really difficult to see whether you were making a case for Becoming given that for you Becoming didn't mean anything in particular. Because of this, I couldn't enjoy your article. Outside of the plots, which of course I'm already familiar with, there wasn't enough "meat".

There's more to a story or a film than plot. If you really can't understand why anyone would want to see past the fictional world to look at themes/ideas/style/devices/characterisation/etc then that's where we simply differ.

What Mamet and co did to Hannibal is a good example of this - it baffles you because you refuse to factor in market forces and genre. He turns it from a romance into a morality play.  

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]

Well, I will agree to disagree (3.00 / 2) (#60)
by localroger on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 11:33:11 PM EST

Obviously we see it differently. One thing I will answer:

it baffles you because you refuse to factor in market forces and genre. He turns it from a romance into a morality play.

Well first it wasn't a romance; it was what my wife would call a shamanistic induction. And whatever you call Hannibal the novel he turns it into something with a fundamentally different essential nature. It is effectively not the same story at all. Why would this upset me? I liked the original story. The movie was not that story. It was not even approximately that story despite deriving maybe 80% of its scenes from the novel.

It is true that you can get hung up on details and "plot" might be one of those details in some situations. But when you spectacularly fuck up the ending you have not gotten "hung up on a detail." You have decided to just plain tell a different story. And if I pay you six bucks to show me the story I read, I feel cheated, because you showed me something entirely different and really not nearly as compelling.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

dude, I agree the ending change sucked, okay (none / 1) (#63)
by livus on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 11:41:27 PM EST

I just think there's more to it than "it was bad! it was different!" For example the fact that Hannibal actually ends up devolving. Anyway, it's all good.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
Morality play / Romance (none / 0) (#78)
by nightGeometry on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 12:30:15 PM EST

Just a quick note to say that I thought Hannibal (book), was one of the great romance novels of all time. Courting across adversity 'n' all that.

Hannibal (film) was just a different story, as so often happens, not a bad telling of the book, not a ruined ending, just a completely and utterly different story. Sometimes this can be good (the Bourne films follow a different story to the books, but, to me are better), sometimes it is worse (the beach - the book was such a different and better, to me, story).

Hannibal the book is one of those that it seems is probably unfilmable, like Dune, as it is such an internal work...

By the way, I liked the article :)

The best is the enemy of the good
[ Parent ]
Oh no. (none / 1) (#52)
by mtrisk on Sat Jul 30, 2005 at 10:47:49 PM EST

It appears that you have done a 1-up on me.

______
"If you don't like our country, why don't you get out?"
"What, and become a victim of your foreign policy?"
Tried it (2.66 / 3) (#71)
by dhall on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 05:14:37 AM EST

I did some Becoming today, but it's pretty boring so I'm back to normal.

looks like this story got hit with a bomb (1.25 / 4) (#73)
by aesticles on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 09:01:31 AM EST

a moderation bomb, if you know what i mean. lol

Super human emotions (none / 1) (#79)
by starX on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 12:39:05 PM EST

Lecter is not quite the Nietzschian Superman for one reason: He does not divert his feelings and emotions

Not sure if I agree with that.  Nietzschean super humanity implies nothing more than the traditional latin sense of being in a superior position.  This means defining ones own morality toward the herd.  Do you care what a cow thinks before you eat it?  By the same token, you can have feelings for the cows, you can even refuse to eat them on your own moral principle, but it is still your decision.  Cows are typically treated very well before the slaughter, and impressive specimens will be used for breeding and showing.  Ultimately the farmer/rancher still gets to decide.  Nietzsche's super human is to other humans as humans are to cows, so of course we should be repulsed by them.  In that respect, Lecter is a perfect example.  He has defined his own sense of morality and acts upon it, meticulously following his own rules to their logical conclusions.

Humanity has been at the top of the food chain for a very long time now.  The Nietzschean overman replaces us, but I don't think there is anything to imply that the overman can't have feelings, it's just that his feelings are above us.  Admittedly, I feel bad for the cows when they're slaughtered.  I marvel that they all form a line neatly before stepping onto the conveyor belt. I shudder at their screams, and I like to imagine that they tend to be treated well through the course of their lives, and that without humans most of them wouldn't exist anyway.  Still, when a nice juicy steak is in front of me, I somehow manage to forget all of those things and focus solely on the taste of the meat.  I'm diverting just as much as Lecter is when he's eating a lesser person.

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust

Risk vs. Reward (none / 1) (#84)
by localroger on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 12:54:32 PM EST

The key difference is that you don't risk the enmity of the entire civilization that surrounds you for daring to eat a steak. The bottom line is that when we meet Lecter he is imprisoned because, in the course of satisfying his desires, he royally pissed off all the little people and they mounted enough of an effort to catch him. A true superman would have been more circumspect not because of moral considerations, but because of practical ones.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
I disagree (none / 1) (#96)
by starX on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 09:29:44 PM EST

A real overman doesn't need to concern himself with such things; the herd would bow to his whims.  Whether by his inherent charisma or by his sheer power, Lecter as overman doesn't need to concern himself with the morality of the herd, in fact doing so might negate his transhuman position.  I seem to recall something in Zarathustra where Nietzsche argues that part of being the overman is not needing to concern oneself with the morality of the herd.  I'm going to see if I can dig that out...

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust
[ Parent ]
Lecter does pull that off to a certain extent (none / 1) (#97)
by localroger on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 09:49:18 PM EST

Lecter's charisma is an important component of his character; it's even emphasized in tales from before his capture. A charismatic person can get away with a lot, but I think it's very naive to assume that a sufficiently charismatic person could get away with anything up to and including cannibalism.

I'm not personally familiar with Nietzsche's writings, so I don't know whether he hedged the powers he ascribed to his overman. If he didn't, I'd say this is a remarkable flaw for such a widely studied idea. The herd will forgive a lot in a natural leader (Colin Wilson's "dominant five percent?") but there is always a limit beyond which the leadership quality is compromised. If Nietzsche claimed that an overman could do whatever he wants without limit, then I'm in the remarkable position of having to say that Lecter, comic-book qualities and all, is a more realistic character.

In any case it seems obvious that Lecter thinks of himself as an Overman, and one of the few mistakes he made was forgetting that another person with Overman potential might cross his path. Lecter certainly decides not to concern himself with the morality of the herd, and for a rather thin reason in the great scheme of things -- as Starling calls it, whimsy. While Lecter explicitly possesses most of the qualities of the Overman, I really can't imagine that Nietzsche would imagine his Overman becoming so engaged in a whimsical "hobby" so revolting to his fellow man that he would risk the fall that Lecter endures. There are other ways to read it, but one way or the other Lecter is more or less an Overman, but not a perfect Overman; he has a flaw, and though it might be small and single it has cost him dearly.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Which is common (none / 0) (#100)
by starX on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 12:19:30 AM EST

History and literature are litered with examples of would be overmen.  The critical leap is that the overman is necessarily accepted as such by the herd.  We should look at Lecter and consider his canabilism as much a fact of life as the rising and setting of the sun.

If anyone is ever to transcend the human condition, they must also transcend the society of men, and this is just not possible.  Even Anne Rice's vampires mentioned in your poll (bravo, btw) have their limitations, the need for secrecy.  Ironically Queen of the Damned was on the other day, and I think Marius in that movie most accurately describes the transhuman condition as one that is necessarily removed from humanity.  

As a social phenomenon, we see this in divine monarchies.  The king, god-king, emperor, or whatever he's called, is seen as an embodiement of the divine, whether as an appointee or in his own person.  This ultimately explains Hitler; the German people of the time had a rich tradition of Paternal monarchy and twelve years of failed democracy; there was something in their own social consciousness begging to be ruled. Socially speaking, Hitler not only got away with, but found many supporters for mass murders far worse than Lecters cannabilism.

Maybe the Nietzschean overman doesn't apply so well to Lecter.  I submit that the fascination with him is more akin to the ancient fascination of man-beast chimeras.  They were the very embodiements of untamed and bestial ferocity coupled with human reason and emotion, at once lesser and greater than the human race.  Lecter may not be a master, but he is certainly a predator, and a breaker of one of the most ancient and universal taboos that human society has, and this makes him terrible.  At the same time he is a gourmet with refined tastes for all things (art, music, wine, people), but by itself this makes him nothing but an effete culture snob.  It is that bestial otherness that makes him so fascinating.  

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust
[ Parent ]

the Overman wasn't intended as a leader (none / 1) (#103)
by Delirium on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 08:31:23 AM EST

Nietzsche despised leaders and populism and the assorted noises and smells of little people that come along with leading the rabble. The Overman may be many different things nobody agrees on, but it certainly wasn't intended as any sort of leader. Most of the parables and so on emphasize withdrawing from society onto craggy mountaintops, not standing in the town square and drumming up support.

[ Parent ]
bad definition (3.00 / 3) (#80)
by khallow on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 12:48:30 PM EST

Transhumanism Defined

To be Transhuman is to be something other than human.

There are perils in quoting Wikipedia, but here's their definition (which I'll assume for convenience is accurate):

Transhumanism, however, was given its modern definition and characterization by philosopher Dr. Max More: "Transhumanism is a class of philosophies that seek to guide us towards a posthuman condition. Transhumanism shares many elements of humanism, including a respect for reason and science, a commitment to progress, and a valuing of human (or transhuman) existence in this life. [?] Transhumanism differs from humanism in recognizing and anticipating the radical alterations in the nature and possibilities of our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies [?]." [1]
I think Lector or the author fails several of these criteria. First, he fails the "valuing" of human existence with his dining habits. Second, Lector may profess respect for science and reason, but it's pretty clear that the author, Thomas Harris does not. Talking a person into swallowing their tongue and choking to death on it? A dedicated FBI agent "Becomes" a cannibal and other silly Hollywood-style evil? Right. I can suspend disbelief sufficiently well, but it doesn't strike me as a plot device someone who actually respects "reason" would use.

Along these lines, I really don't see Lector as being clearly superior to humans. He's just far from the norm which in itself isn't sufficient.

But Harris shows us a view of Transhumanism so revolting that one might expect the entire human race to rise up en masse and divert every effort to stamping it out if it should ever become more than an occasional curiosity. While most would-be Transhumanists probably do not plan on becoming cannibals, the whole point is that you really can't plan at all on what a transhuman being would think is an appropriate way to treat traditional humans. Even if that potential transhuman being is the one that was once you. Just ask Clarice Starling.

So... this whole story is about how Lector and Starling prove that transhumanism is dangerous? You mistaken cheap emotional tricks (eg, the "Becoming" of Starling) and what may well be deliberate anti-transhumanist propaganda for something respectable. Remember, even you compare Lector to a comic book character. He's acting out (poorly) Thomas Harris little tales. Just to rub the point in, why don't you ask Clarice Starling yourself? I'm sure fictional characters are quite talkative.

Finally, I just don't see the point of the article. We're talking about a series of decent to mediocre fantasies which are well-known due to the success of the movie, "Silence of the Lambs" (and the "Becoming" of Starling? strike that retarded junk out). They indeed like many other stories have a person with extraordinary abilities. This person gets tied in with transhumanism by you, localroger. So what?

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Perils of quoting Wikipedia, indeed (2.00 / 2) (#86)
by localroger on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 01:05:34 PM EST

The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit. Those qualifications which you proceed to apply do not belong there. That is a wishful thinking definition which would be nice and all that if the things we evolve or turn into happen to be that way, but only a fool would bet the farm on it.

You don't see the point of the article because, obviously, you don't understand or accept its central point. Lecter made a good example because many people have met him, but many of them did not understand (as one can tell by the widespread hatred for the book's ending).

A transhuman being will not necessarily be morally superior to us on an axis we would agree with. He might just be superior and relate to us as we tend to relate to lab rats. This is a feature of such transcendence which you often see in ancient myths, but which seems to get lost (as it got lost in Max More's quote) when modern people go "Yay, transhumanism, where do I sign up?"

Oh, and if you can't figuratively ask a fictional character a question, either she was very badly written or you really didn't understand her story.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

but does that matter? (none / 1) (#92)
by Delirium on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 05:57:01 PM EST

Presumably humans are not morally superior to lab rates on an axis that the lab rat would agree on, either.

[ Parent ]
It matters if you're the lab rat /nt (none / 1) (#94)
by localroger on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 06:57:34 PM EST



I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
OTOH (none / 1) (#117)
by khallow on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 03:21:00 PM EST

The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit. Those qualifications which you proceed to apply do not belong there. That is a wishful thinking definition which would be nice and all that if the things we evolve or turn into happen to be that way, but only a fool would bet the farm on it.

Hrmmm, so what's worse, using Wikipedia at arms length or inventing your own definitions? At least you inserted it in. But I think you have a very poor tie-in here.

No. Transhumanism is a philosophy or dogma. Among other things, that when we "improve" ourselves or get uploaded to the Great Network, we won't descend to become a Hannibal Lector or the like. A person can be a transhumanist without having any special ability. It's their outlook not their capabilities.

A transhuman being will not necessarily be morally superior to us on an axis we would agree with. He might just be superior and relate to us as we tend to relate to lab rats. This is a feature of such transcendence which you often see in ancient myths, but which seems to get lost (as it got lost in Max More's quote) when modern people go "Yay, transhumanism, where do I sign up?"

I see that as a flaw in transhumanism. But one which is widely acknowledged.

Oh, and if you can't figuratively ask a fictional character a question, either she was very badly written or you really didn't understand her story.

Given the absurd outcome, I expect both conditions are true.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Dogma? (none / 1) (#126)
by localroger on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 11:33:30 PM EST

Transhumanism is a philosophy or dogma.

Transhumanism is only very marginally a philosophy and not a dogma at all. It is different things for different people, and the ones I am kinda tweaking with this story are exactly the ones who think it's all Age of Aquarius La-La land once the Singularity saves us from our current state of mediocrity.

What is very clear is that mechanisms will likely emerge in the near future that allow us to transcend our current state, perhaps to the point that those who take those steps won't be recognized as human any more by the stay-behinds. There is a small but vocal movement saying that that would be the best thing since sliced bread and that anybody who isn't with the program is likely to be steamrollered in one way or another.

My wife chipped in after I wrote this that, in her NSHO Lecter is a shaman and I got a nice lecture about how what shamanism is about is attaining a transcendant state, which can change your personality, and which is very dangerous etc. It's an interesting parallel to the interpretation I present here. But her interpretation answers one of your objections head-on: Starling's conversion wasn't absurd. It was in fact quite conventional for what these techniques are proven to do. But it is the shamans and brainwashers who have laid the groundwork for that, and it is really irksome to understand that such things are really possible.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

hrmm, dogmatic belief system, I guess (none / 0) (#128)
by khallow on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 06:04:58 AM EST

Transhumanism is only very marginally a philosophy and not a dogma at all. It is different things for different people, and the ones I am kinda tweaking with this story are exactly the ones who think it's all Age of Aquarius La-La land once the Singularity saves us from our current state of mediocrity.

Hrmmm, "dogma" turned out to not quite mean what I thought it did. I think, however, describing it as an overlap of a philosophy and dogmatic belief system, pretty much covers transhumanism.

My wife chipped in after I wrote this that, in her NSHO Lecter is a shaman and I got a nice lecture about how what shamanism is about is attaining a transcendant state, which can change your personality, and which is very dangerous etc. It's an interesting parallel to the interpretation I present here. But her interpretation answers one of your objections head-on: Starling's conversion wasn't absurd. It was in fact quite conventional for what these techniques are proven to do. But it is the shamans and brainwashers who have laid the groundwork for that, and it is really irksome to understand that such things are really possible.

I don't buy it. You are talking about the mind entering fundamentally irrational states, eg, through mysticism, brainwashing, or drug use. I wouldn't call it transcendence since the process doesn't extend the subject's abilities in a notable way beyond the norm.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Irrational states (none / 1) (#131)
by localroger on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 08:52:09 AM EST

You are talking about the mind entering fundamentally irrational states, eg, through mysticism, brainwashing, or drug use. I wouldn't call it transcendence since the process doesn't extend the subject's abilities in a notable way beyond the norm.

Such techniques are proven to be capable of changing your belief system (which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it), and to cure conditions like phobias and addictions. It has nothing to do with how rational you are going in, and you may or may not be rational afterward depending on what lessons you have absorbed.

There was a very good discussion of this vis-a-vis brainwashing techniques under my "elevator to hell" story. At our core, whether we like it or not, we are all irrational beings, and to deny that is the ultimate irrationality.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

nice but irrelevant points (none / 1) (#142)
by khallow on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 01:51:17 AM EST

There was a very good discussion of this vis-a-vis brainwashing techniques under my "elevator to hell" story. At our core, whether we like it or not, we are all irrational beings, and to deny that is the ultimate irrationality.

I still don't see how we get from knowing how to break people in interesting ways to transhumans. I grant having peaked at various spoilers on the web, that a psychological expert such as Lecter given the months he had to work on Starling could warp her belief systems (whether he could turn her into a cannibal? suspend belief time).

What makes Lecter or Starling transhuman rather than human? Would, for a similar real life example, you consider the Thuggee cult of religious killers transhuman? They after all operated outside of human (Indian) society with their own vastly different rules and moral codes and even their own spoken (and IIRC signed) language. The cult murdered with impunity over several centuries. Many people (I seem to recall the figure thousands disappeared each year near the end of the cult's existence when Great Britian's empire woke up to the cult's existence) with extraordinary cunning and efficiency.

Finally, on the "ultimate irrationality". First, it doesn't appear all that irrational especially when you factor in the limited ability of the human mind. We've developed extraordinarily sophisticated mechanisms for cooperation and communication (which I humbly submit as a strong indication of rational behavior) and sophisticated rules for conflict resolution. That's present in all human cultures not just the advanced ones.

So is the core of humanity irrational or rational? Especially given its known limitations?

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Flaws in the eye of beholder (none / 1) (#127)
by slaida1 on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 06:01:49 AM EST

A transhuman being will not necessarily be morally superior to us on an axis we would agree with. He might just be superior and relate to us as we tend to relate to lab rats. This is a feature of such transcendence which you often see in ancient myths, but which seems to get lost (as it got lost in Max More's quote) when modern people go "Yay, transhumanism, where do I sign up?"

I see that as a flaw in transhumanism. But one which is widely acknowledged.

Try, as an excercise, to think it as a flaw in us. In our inability to think without or with axises alien to us. Should transhumanism be something we can rise to, something we could understand and control? Would that then be very transhuman?

Should transhuman being even be something that we could recognize as transhuman? Should we just be humble like parents aknowledging their kids' talents and understanding of the world surpass theirs and cannot be fully understood anymore?

We all need to step down sometime and admit there are minds brighter than ours. Brighter in ways we cannot understand, we could only observe their actions, like cannibalism in Lecter's case, without familiar, known motives. Best we could do or say would be something like "cannibalism is wrong, whatever the reasons".

Maybe their reasons are beyond our comprehension and "transhumanism" is but a pointer to some general direction away from being human.

[ Parent ]

ok (none / 1) (#129)
by khallow on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 07:00:34 AM EST

Try, as an excercise, to think it as a flaw in us. In our inability to think without or with axises alien to us. Should transhumanism be something we can rise to, something we could understand and control? Would that then be very transhuman?

Ok, I have. The answer to the first question is "yes". The second question is irrelevant. Remember one can always improve incrementally and perhaps even reversibly (information need only be destroyed on the way "down"). So you may be unable to understand the end state, but you can understand pretty well the next incremental state.

Further, it seems a good idea to me for the process of becoming transhuman to be voluntary. Ie, I shouldn't force people or entities into a higher state.

As for the second question, I can see a way to gradually transform a human into a one Earth mass computer system (for example). First, you gradually transform the human into a computer system. Then add (a bunch of orders of magnitude) to the system. Maybe relocate it to another solar system (eg, a nearby red dwarf). So it could be "very transhuman" or not.

We all need to step down sometime and admit there are minds brighter than ours. Brighter in ways we cannot understand, we could only observe their actions, like cannibalism in Lecter's case, without familiar, known motives. Best we could do or say would be something like "cannibalism is wrong, whatever the reasons".

Except Lecter just isn't that bright. His motives as such are somewhat understandable. He has urges, he follows through on them.

As far as "cannibalism" goes, if you don't consider yourself to be the same species (I presume that Lecter would be in that category), then it's not cannibalism from your point of view.

Maybe their reasons are beyond our comprehension and "transhumanism" is but a pointer to some general direction away from being human.

We'll see when that happens. My suspicion though is that you can sufficiently abstract the motives of any intelligent being in a way that a Human can understand it.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

One would think... (none / 1) (#133)
by NoMoreNicksLeft on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 11:21:16 AM EST

That the people who get uploaded to the great network will be the powerful who would wish it to be an exclusive club. When they do, what use will they have for those who are still merely human? They might not genocide us necessarily, but leave us on a dying planet raped of its natural resources.

--
Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
[ Parent ]
Sigged. (n/t) (none / 1) (#139)
by vectro on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 08:18:33 PM EST



“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
+1 fp localrogers a troll like me but writz better (1.50 / 4) (#87)
by fark is a piece of shit on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 02:38:26 PM EST

 

And his ass looks to be sculpted from marble. nt. (none / 1) (#104)
by Veritech on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 09:52:07 AM EST



[ Parent ]
+1 fp author has wooden transhuman teeth (2.40 / 5) (#88)
by fark is a piece of shit on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 02:38:55 PM EST

 

+1FP (none / 1) (#89)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 03:05:34 PM EST

Makes people realize that transhumanism is evil and wrong.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
in corporate circles (2.42 / 7) (#90)
by circletimessquare on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 03:17:41 PM EST

there are management buzzwords that go around

"synergy"

"thinking outside the box"

outside of corporate circles, these ways of talking are subjects of derision because they are obviously bullshit

in philosophy/ politics/ ideology, it is no different:

"transhumanism"

"libertarianism"

and other amalgams of wacky bullshit that adhere to any doofus with stars in their eyes and little mental force behind their thinking

as it is in corporate circles, so it is in philosophy/ politics/ ideology

empty pointless fads and their empty pointless words


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

and she's buying a stairway to heaven. /nt (3.00 / 6) (#98)
by IceTitan on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 10:37:43 PM EST


Nuke 'em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
[ Parent ]
Understanding (none / 1) (#108)
by JVincent on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 10:16:06 AM EST

And in math there is addition subtraction n-manifold, cubic time and such. It's all just bullshit until you put meaning behind it, and you do that by establishing relations. If you aren't into math, politics or filosofy, chances are you lack those relations and fail to understand what is being set because the expresion does not explain itself.

[ Parent ]
follow the bouncing ball moron (3.00 / 2) (#109)
by circletimessquare on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 10:30:47 AM EST

words have meanings

buzzwords, fad words are words that have vague meanings, multiple meanings, nebulous overlapping meanings

we use words to discuss ideas

so the more specific the word, the better the discussion

therefore, if a word's meaning becomes too spread out, the value of a conversation that makes use of that word spreads out too, and the usefulness of that conversation approaches zero

that's why fads and the words associated with them fade from use

so i understand the value of complexity and specific use of words, just as you suggest

and in the end, the point you just brought up doesn't refute my assertion, it supports it


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

what about transhumanism in particular though (none / 1) (#118)
by boboli fresh on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 03:28:20 PM EST

can you really think of another word that describes the deification of technology?

synergy, even libertarianism, i agree with you--basically hollow buzzwords.  but "luddite" has no other antonym that i can think of offhand.  except maybe "technophile", which is far worse.

------
"Kaycee, you don't need this negativity in your life."
[ Parent ]

read what localroger said (none / 1) (#119)
by circletimessquare on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 04:25:25 PM EST

about hannibal lecter, then get back to me

you'll figure it out


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

Your life so shitty you need to talk to us on K5. (none / 1) (#121)
by tweetsybefore on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 06:47:54 PM EST

awww poor baby. need to poo poo on other people to make yourself feel good. You are a loser.

I'm racist and I hate niggers.
[ Parent ]
i'm bored at work (1.50 / 2) (#122)
by circletimessquare on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 06:52:15 PM EST

what's your excuse for doing the same?


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
Myth (3.00 / 2) (#91)
by joecool12321 on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 05:36:10 PM EST

Does transhumanism represent a beneficial furthuring of human potential, or a Pandora's Box of death and destruction? This question, like many others, ultimately find their answer not in discourse reduced to mere logical argumentation. As one author writes, "Once we are sensitive to the performative nature of speech, language and discourse, then we can see that deliberative politics cannot be confined to the rational statement of validty claims. Deliberation must be theatrical: it is in the performance of deliberatoin that that which cannot be argued finds expression." Here, Jessica Kulynych explores a concept expounded by Plato roughly 2800 years ago. To paraphrase the Timaeus, "When we speak on these things, on the gods and the coming to be of the universe, we should not be surprised if we are unable to furnish accounts fully accurate and consistent. Instead, we must remember that both I who speak and you who judge are only human. Therefore we must seek out the likely story. We can do no better than this." I thuroughly enjoyed the exploration of the myth in the above article.

My question, though, is to probe the mythological construction. Why is Harris presenting a transhumanist depiction? Why is Hannibal not more accurately described as Nietzsche's ideal man? You say:

He does not divert his feelings and emotions. In fact, he arranges to feel and experience the world much more exquisitely than most of us can.
I fail to see why you think this element disqualifies Hannibal as the ideal man. In Geneology of Morals, Nietzsche discusses one of the apparent paradoxes of his view. One element of the ideal man is the ability to excercise the will to power. The will to power is the ability of something greater to become master over something with less power and stamp on it one's own meaning of some function. His position is that the ideal man will not think of objects as essentially this way or essentially that way. Rather, the ideal man creates his own purpose by exercising his will to power over an object.

The difficulty, of course, is that this will to power is not only directed outwardly, but inwardly as well. That is, the ideal man is both master of himself as well as free from himself. Addressing this paradox, Nietzsche writes:

This furtive violation of the self, this artistic cruelty, this pleasure in giving a shape to oneself as if to a tough, resisting, suffering material, to burn into it a will, a critique, a contradiction, a contempt, a denial--this weird and horribly pleasurable work of a soul voluntarily divided against itself, which makes itself suffer for the pleasure of creating suffering, all this active "bad conscience," as the womb of ideal and imaginative events, finally brought to light--we have already guessed--also an abundance of strange new beauty and affirmation, perhaps for the first time the idea of the beautiful.... For what would be "beautiful," if its opposite had not yet come to an awareness of itself, if ugliness had not already said to itself, "I am ugly"...
So it seems to me that Hannibal's ability to "feel and experience the world much more exquisitely than most of us can" is indicative of exactly what we would expect from Nietzsche's ideal man: the 'deep' appreciation of what is beautiful, because only the ideal man can truly come to an awareness of beauty.

Thus in Hannibal Harris presents a myth warning of the dangers of Nietzsche's ideal man. Perhaps (and indeed quite likely) there are good myths to reject transhumanism. But we do not find that in Harris' sub-creation.

Red Dragon is enuff (2.50 / 2) (#93)
by busty on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 06:13:33 PM EST

I appreciate the look at Thomas Harris' characters in this light. I think there is a lot more to be gleaned from Red Dragon alone though. I think Francis in his subhumanness best illuminates what a transhuman might be. Usually far more is learned from those suffering a lack than those with excess.

Though not in the book, I think a line from Michael Mann's movie version sums things up pretty aptly. The movie version of Will Graham says of Francis,

"As a child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster. But as an adult... as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to fulfill some sick fantasy. As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks."

Also later he says:

"It's just you and me now, sport. And I'm going to find you, God damn it. "

In Francis is badness. In Will is badness, but the authority and need of society to silence the badness.

But in Francis there are also the hidden or unspeakable. Not just that he's a brutal murderer, but that he was so mis-treated, harbors such darkness and lived a life always thinking he was a deformity of some sort - similar to Frankenstein's monster. They were never accepted.

In making a "transhuman" it seems to me the real question is in trying to define a human. What is the good, what is the bad, and worse...where lies the truth? Society is about learning to sacrifice.

Badness (none / 1) (#124)
by losthalo on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 09:43:28 PM EST

"I sometimes fancy myself an evil which exists to destroy other evils. . . and on that Great Day of which prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses."

--Corwin

[ Parent ]
sorry, i am the missing seventh person (1.00 / 2) (#99)
by taste on Sun Jul 31, 2005 at 11:11:04 PM EST

but this article was great. i used to think transhumanism was all for the greater good and we'd 'evolve' into something better, but this article made me realize we could just as well Become something worse, depending on how you look at it from our current standing in what's good or evil or course. sorry for the incoherence, i'm still trying to get over the appalation. i think i need to get these books.

Kill all aliens! (2.66 / 3) (#101)
by doctor logic on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 12:21:36 AM EST

But Harris shows us a view of Transhumanism so revolting that one might expect the entire human race to rise up en masse and divert every effort to stamping it out if it should ever become more than an occasional curiosity. While most would-be Transhumanists probably do not plan on becoming cannibals, the whole point is that you really can't plan at all on what a transhuman being would think is an appropriate way to treat traditional humans.
Remember, if you see any aliens, kill them! This includes Yoda, Starman, the Coneheads and ET. They are not human, and cannot be judged on the merits of their character!

Wait! I can make the same argument for people from other races. Wait! And people who speak different languages! You can't plan at all on what foreigners would think is an appropriate way to treat traditional Americans.

Please.

The core belief of transhumanism is that the goodness of humanity is not solely in its biology. If you cannot judge goodness except by biology, then you are just plain xenophobic.

"You will know them by their works." (none / 1) (#102)
by localroger on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 08:26:35 AM EST

I would submit that neither humans nor aliens should be trusted unless one has enough experience with them to make that a sensible choice, and that both aliens and humans should be trusted if they demonstrate trustworthiness. And both should be treated on an individual, not group, basis.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
Human (none / 1) (#106)
by JVincent on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 10:01:50 AM EST

Humans being different, language, cultural and such isn't the same as racedifferences. A simple exsample is that the dog that feeds from your hands, will without hesitation eat your face of your roting corpse when you die. We give the dog human characteristics, calling it our best friend and talking about loyalty, but that illusion dies with us. We can't assume that neither transhumans or aliens or any other being follow the same patterns as humans simply because different humans follow them. As for yoda, ET and their kin they are all humans or at the best a derivative of humans even if they do look different.

[ Parent ]
Bad human! No bone for you! (none / 1) (#115)
by doctor logic on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 01:58:01 PM EST

We can't assume that neither transhumans or aliens or any other being follow the same patterns as humans simply because different humans follow them.

Who is making any assumptions?

Besides, I would not hold up human behavior as the ideal. We know that human behavior is frequently quite bad (just read any national newspaper), for both biological and cultural reasons. Transhumans can be good and bad just like humans can be good and bad.

A program to "stamp out" transhumanism because it might lead to badness strikes me as a cross between a witchhunt and a book burning.

[ Parent ]

"Lector" means teacher (3.00 / 2) (#107)
by elaineradford on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 10:03:52 AM EST

I pretty much think that Harris always knew what he was doing, although he gave himself a very difficult subject. Transformation ain't cheap and easy. You won't become a God by pulling out your credit card and attending a few drumming ceremonies. The personality has to be completely broken down, shattered, and then the pieces put back together into the new shape. Some, maybe most, of the personalities who undergo the experience won't survive. There's no free ride to Godhood. Most people who look it over decide that the small chance that they'll make it through the entire initiation process and become as a God isn't worth the risk. Hence, society's scorn and near-hysterical fear even of such benign shamans as Timothy Leary. We view our teachers as monsters because of our own fears.



An aside (none / 1) (#113)
by localroger on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 01:07:42 PM EST

My wife prefers to interpret Lecter as a shamanistic figure. This also fits very well.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
"Lector" means READER /nt (none / 1) (#120)
by rpresser on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 04:37:48 PM EST


------------
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
[ Parent ]
it means both (1.50 / 2) (#125)
by elaineradford on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 09:45:51 PM EST

Although my dictionary does point out the use of "lector" for teacher or lecturer is more common in Europe.

[ Parent ]
Is this a hope? (2.33 / 3) (#112)
by surelyserious on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 12:40:52 PM EST

Regardless of the lack of any credible understanding of anything other than cheap shockploitation, what is the point of the exercise in dreariness?

This sort of fan-fiction does not merit front-page.




GIANT runs the streets, and the streets run the World. http://www.howtorockstar.contagiousmedia.org/
Valentine Michael Smith (none / 1) (#116)
by smithmc on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 02:52:56 PM EST


'Cause I already have his name ('cept for the "Valentine"), and he was always getting the class-A poon.

Write in (none / 1) (#123)
by loualbano on Mon Aug 01, 2005 at 08:47:55 PM EST

Patrick Bateman

Not quite (none / 1) (#157)
by Dyolf Knip on Thu Aug 04, 2005 at 10:33:42 PM EST

Bateman is perfectly human, albeit a rather violent & deranged one.  He's clumsy, careless, and kills at whim.  He is just begging to be caught.  It's the people around him that are sub-par, making him look transhuman only in comparison.  His yuppie companions are so stupid, so ignorant of their surroundings, so utterly immune to perception (especially of the subtleties of Huey Lewis), that they don't even notice they are being hunted.  They can't even tell each other apart!

Imagine you were dropped into a world where everyone was utterly identical.  Identically boring; identically insipid; identically deaf, dumb, and blind.  You are the only person with any sort of uniqueness or identity or ability to enjoy life.  That's the situation Bateman finds himself in.  Small wonder he goes insane.  And is incredulous when he discovers at the end that these mindless clone-drones do not show the slightest spark of interest, or indeed even recognize the very fact that he is slaughtering them.

---
If you can't learn to do something well, learn to enjoy doing it poorly.

Dyolf Knip
[ Parent ]

for a mere human, maybe (none / 0) (#130)
by eleitl on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 08:35:56 AM EST

For a *very* small value of dog. "Bow before me, I am the god of pumpkin pie, and iron filings."

Meh.. (none / 1) (#132)
by Nyarlathotep on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 10:36:27 AM EST

Not much effor put into the transhumanism side of it.  Mediocre.  Moreover, others have pointed out that your definition of transhumanism is wrong, i.e. transhumanism is a form of humanism, not just love of technology.

Still, your point can be discussed if we switch away from transhumanism, and focus just on the belief that "evolution too a posthuman condition" is a good thing.  Basically, your saying that our existing moral framework is good, and should be kept period.  I tend to disagree becuase our existing moral framework ain't all that consistent really, although you have people like Peter Singer impriioving it.  Moral frameworks are ultimately subject to natural/memetic selection, same as anything else.  Why not just try to ensure that societies can't impose their own morals upon one another too much, and watch  natrual selection take it course.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!

Bullshit (none / 1) (#134)
by Fen on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 04:25:40 PM EST

If done right, humans won't stand a chance against a posthuman. One such being--perhaps an alien--could enslave/wipeout/destroy every last human (and other animal) on Earth. Just one--no armies of aliens or anything. And the ones on the ISS or shuttle will go down as well.
--Self.
Hey localroger (none / 1) (#135)
by Fen on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 05:24:55 PM EST

Read both MOPI and passages. I was talking to khallow(of this sight), and those struck him as the most transhuman of the books he's read (and he's read a lot). I consider passages pro-transhuman, and MOPI slightly anti-transhuman. Why not really flesh out a solid pro-transhuman story--either an engineered alien or homegrown on Earth.
--Self.
Mainly drama (none / 1) (#137)
by localroger on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 07:40:45 PM EST

As Eliezer Yudkowsky himself once told me, a perfect Singularity doesn't lend itself to the telling of stories because there are no conflicts to create dramatic tension. In my fiction I have been exploring various versions of what might be called the pre-/post-transhuman relationship, but in order to have stories to tell there pretty much has to be something *wrong* to make the story worth telling.

I am not personally in either a pro- or anti- transhumanism camp; I do think such transcendence will eventually occur, and I share Eliezer's general pessimism that it will go well if it's done hastily or without due consideration. But I also tend to think we'll destroy ourselves anyway if we don't make such a transition, so it might be the lesser of the dangers.

Since you've probably given as much thought to this as anybody alive, here is a question: If I do such a story, and the very fact that it's difficult makes it interesting to me, could you suggest a conflict which would need to be resolved which would not ruin the positive depiction of transhumanism? (Note that I won't cast the transhumans as deus ex machina to correct some obvious pre-transhuman foible; that's just too obvious.)

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Some ideas (none / 1) (#143)
by Fen on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 11:30:57 AM EST

If it is homegrown, an obvious conflict is with those who want to remain human. Maybe tack on a love story of a guy who transforms and his girlfriend who sticks with her human family. So he forces her eventually and everybody's happy--except the dead family :).

For an engineered alien it's a bit tougher. Maybe have the similar conflict of those who want to be uploaded versus those who want to stay human.

You have a great writing style. I already think passages is pretty pro-transhuman, although I don't see why a posthuman would care much about humans except as pets.
--Self.
[ Parent ]

Been done (none / 1) (#145)
by bugmaster on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 12:43:05 PM EST

Maybe tack on a love story of a guy who transforms and his girlfriend who sticks with her human family.
This has been done, in horrifying clarity, by the Brothers Strugatzky (sp?) -- as seen here: one of the books, main page. Unfortunately, you'll have to take my word for it, because A.B.S. are Russian wrters; I don't know of any English translations of their books, and I doubt that it can even be done correctly.

Anyway, I wouldn't call what A.B.S. write "science fiction"... it's more like "experimental ethics". The transition that they show, from a regular human society to a post-human one, is kind of horrifying... because the posthumans have no impact whatsoever on the regular people. They don't care about the rest of us, in any way -- we are simply too small and insignificant, and they are too alien to be properly called "human" any longer. The plot device you mentioned plays a brief part in the story.
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]

Since I wrote this... (2.00 / 2) (#151)
by localroger on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 09:49:50 PM EST

...I have remembered a short story I wrote back in the 1980's which might be worth digging up and updating. It concerned a vastly superior power's attempts to help us up by our bootstraps, and how their efforts were pretty much stumped by our fear and trepidation about their motives and our inevitable dependence on them during what they would likely see as our "childhood."

It wasn't a very strong story, but it had its moments, and it was entirely positive toward the whole idea of superior beings and their efforts to help us up to their level. I might dig it up and see what I can make of it.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Practicality ? (none / 0) (#144)
by bugmaster on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 12:34:50 PM EST

I do think such transcendence will eventually occur...
Do you really ? As far as I can tell, all the tradional notions of the Singularity require access to some sort of nanotechnology, which is powered by an energy source so abundant that it might as well be free. I am not convinced that this is possible at all, given what we know of physics.

By analogy, nearly all space opera novels require access to faster-than-light travel, which, as we know, is highly unlikely. This is why I don't take space operas seriously (well, ok, that's one of many reasons), and I don't take the Singularity belief seriously, either.

Some people would handwave at this point and say, "well, given Moore's Law, we will develop magical quantum nanotech sooner rather than later". There are two problems with this: 1). Moore's Law is not guaranteed to last forever (it's really more of a guideline), and 2). some things (such as FTL travel) are impossible regardless of how smart your computers are (in fact, smart computers may let you find out what's possible and what's not), and I am not convinced that free nanotech is not one of these things.

I admit that Singularity fiction can be fun to read (I enjoyed MOPI, even though I found the zombie sex kinda boring), but I wouldn't go as far as saying that any of that stuff is actually prophetic.
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]

Nanotech? (none / 0) (#154)
by Fen on Thu Aug 04, 2005 at 09:45:52 AM EST

Who said anything is nanotech? We have devices that can directly input sound impulses into the brainstem. All we need to do is get over our hangups about keeping all our evolved parts and we'll be halfway there.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
Wha ? (none / 1) (#156)
by bugmaster on Thu Aug 04, 2005 at 08:37:08 PM EST

We have devices that can directly input sound impulses into the brainstem.
We who ? What does this even mean ? Is this the same as shouting very loudly, or not ?

Anyways, as I understand it, transhumanist transcendence requires at least two things: 1). uploading human minds into computers, and 2). vastly increasing the processing power of these computers. In every scenario I've seen, points (1) and (2) both required access to a lot of energy, and the ability to transform ordinary matter into whatever you want, at will (i.e., nanotechnology). Otherwise, you can't make computers that are smart enough (remember: you are trying to make them at least as smart as a reasonably sized god, not a mere human being), and you can't power them with enough electricity, or whatever magic juice these computers end up using.
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]

Hmmm... (none / 1) (#146)
by bugmaster on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 12:56:42 PM EST

could you suggest a conflict which would need to be resolved which would not ruin the positive depiction of transhumanism?
Interesting question... I don't even know if this can be done. The most positive (while remaining somewhat realistic) description of transhumanism I've seen was depicted, oddly, in the TV series Stargate: SG1.

Warning ! Spoiler warning ! Warning !

The basic idea is that the Ancients, who have created life in our galaxy, have Ascended to a level of virtual godhood an umptillion years ago. The problem is that, ethically, they can't interfere at all in the lives of regular humans (or other intelligent aliens). If the Ancients try giving the humans some advanced technologies, the humans will inevitably screw it up somehow -- most likely by trying to use them as weapons (and any advanced technology can be used as a weapon, ultimately). The only way to stop this is to squash the humans' free will (directly or indirectly), which isn't a very ethical thing to do, either. Well, of course there's always the option of wiping out the "bad" humans while cultivating the "good" ones, but that's not really any better than making them into puppets to begin with.

As the result, the Ancients are stuck. Most of them don't care about lower life-forms at all (having the power to create galaxies will do that to you); those who do care, are bound by ethics to sit by and do nothing, no matter how much it pains them -- because every action they could possibly take is unethical, regardless of their intentions. If that's not a conflict, then I don't know what is.

You can read a different take on the same theme here... well, or you could, if you could find a translated version (or translate it yourself, of course).
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]

doesn't work for me (none / 0) (#136)
by speek on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 06:55:51 PM EST

Two reasons why:
  1. Francis and Lector "Become" primarily because they were broken by their early environments. Red Dragon was quite clear that Francis was a very ill individual. Your description of Lector's early formative experiences suggests he also was a very ill individual. Which implies transhumanism comes from illness. This doesn't seem right to me. Real transhumanism would be a profound choice - not an involuntary path taken due to mental illness.

    Starling wasn't mentally ill, you say, but...

  2. Starling's choice at the end didn't ring true for me. I never got a strong sense of Starling as a serial-killer mimic the way Graham was. I don't ever remember her struggling as Graham did to keep separate his various sides, and to stay "sane". Therefore, Starling choosing to "Become" with Lector doesn't seem to follow.

    Additionally, Starling always seems like nothing but a person caught in Lector's power. Again, this takes away the validity of her choice at the end.

But, I like your attempt. I enjoyed Red Dragon and SOTL, but not Hannibal. I thought the ending didn't work, and I thought it was significantly poorer writing than the previous books.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

One point (3.00 / 2) (#138)
by localroger on Tue Aug 02, 2005 at 07:48:25 PM EST

Your points are certainly valid and a lot of people agree with you. You seem to have given my interpretation a chance and I can ask for no more from any reader.

I would offer this idea, though: The transition to transhumanism can be likened to birth. For humans, birth is a violent, dangerous, and unpleasant event which some of us don't survive. One could make the analogy that this life we enjoy now is a kind of a womb, which we would only leave if we were forced to for some reason. And one of those reasons might be that this life was horribly broken. But another might be that you are seduced by things you want and admire and are denied in this life.

Anyway, I won't belabor the point. Thanks for at least giving the idea a shot.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

another take (none / 1) (#140)
by khallow on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 01:00:02 AM EST

Currently, it appears to me that we're working the angle that "transhumans" could completely abandon conventional notions of morality, eg, engage in cannibalism as mentioned in the case of Hannibal Lecter.

A more obvious angle is that many of the rules, even soem of core rules of human morality, benefit the people who make the rules. A specific example is that a human life has more value than a nonhuman life. But in the world of the near future that may be turned on its head. Namely, a transhuman (who probably would be considered "nonhuman") may genuinely be more valuable than a human life. More generally, the laws and codes of humanity society tend to favor the elite humans of that society.

The transhuman will probably fail to fit nicely into that power structure. But they might also obtain the power to change the rules. Even if they don't, they will still have strong incentives to operate outside those laws. In effect, Lecter has terrible cannibalistic urges. He is hunted by the instruments of human law. But because of his intellect, cunning, and utter ruthlessness, he is able to stay free. More importantly, he *has* to exercise these powers. Human society will not let him exist unfettered.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Ok but (none / 1) (#149)
by Fen on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 06:44:50 PM EST

I'm still having my empty sack and dick removed.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
great write-up (none / 1) (#141)
by jvcoleman on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 01:05:37 AM EST

I really liked Red Dragon the most out of Harris's novels. I think you have an interesting idea about Graham's character, but I always thought of him as being more Deckhard-like. In fact Harris alludes to Graham's past in such a nebulous way that I interpreted it as being something that he was trying to forget about. Never saw the film version of Hannibal but thought the novel was crap. Not so much for the reasons you outline, it was just much more cartoonish than the previous works.

Stick to sci-fi. (1.33 / 3) (#147)
by alexboko on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 03:25:56 PM EST

You write transumanist sci-fi, obviously inspired by some of the conversations on #virus and similar forums, and then you "give back" to the community by writing a review about slasher movies with a tenuous link to transhumanism in three paragraphs at the end.

And nice title.

I'm having OSC deja-vu again... in other words, an author whose work I admire turns out bent on being an asshat.

No, Roger, Lecter is not my hero, and it's starting to look like you aren't either.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.

Sorry you feel that way (2.00 / 2) (#150)
by localroger on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 09:43:54 PM EST

Look, my take on the whole transhuman/Singularity phenomenon is that it is very complex, that it will most likely manifest in a way we won't recognize until it is too late, and that it is both infinitely promising and infinitely dangerous. And I tend to write about the aspects of it that disturb me, since those are the things that are most interesting.

While I have derived a great deal of pleasure and a great education in modern Singularity-related thought by hanging around #Virus, the works that drew me there -- MOPI and Passages most obviously -- were not inspired by modern Singularitarian thought. In fact I was pretty much unaware that modern Singularitarian thought even existed when I wrote MOPI and the first Passages story.

I never thought of it as "slandering" transhumanism to identify Lecter with it. Rather, I thought of it as a way to emphasize that the result may be completely alien in ways that surprise us. Cannibalism obviously isn't a likely outcome, and technology will probably have a lot more to do with it; but compared to some of the things Eliezer has bothered to warn us about Hannibal Lecter is Mother Theresa.

This poses one of those dramatically interesting, and therefore story-worthy, questions to me -- suppose the path to transcendance opens up before you and, lo and behold, you do find yourself in Starling's position, seeing that the path before you to that power and knowledge you've always wanted also violates some awful taboo. Do you resist or do you go through with it? What calculus would you use to make the decision?

My wife prefers to think of Lecter as a shaman, but a shaman is just a pretechnological conception of what a technological person would call a transhuman. I think Harris himself (at least originally) thought of Lecter, as William Blake seems to have thought of the Great Red Dragon, as the Devil. But the Devil is just a pretechnological conception of a transcendant being whose power has made his morality opaque to us. In fact, the Devil is a perfect example of how an at first morally repulsive character turns out in some interpretations to be the good guy who takes a bad rap in order to fulfill a more important function keeping bigger things on course. Need I remind you that the fellow who runs #Virus goes by the nick Lucifer?

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Yeah, I should write on a cooler head. (none / 1) (#155)
by alexboko on Thu Aug 04, 2005 at 10:30:27 AM EST

My later post summarizes my take on this--

Transhumanism is the willingness to recognize, have  a stance on, debate, and plan for the advent of life-altering technologies... not necesserily support for these technologies.

So perhaps as a metaphor for what it would be like to try and understand a posthuman entity, Lecter might make sense. I think a better fit might be the Cynabites from the Hellraiser series. Lecter is too chatty, too interested in communicating his opinions. Usually, though, I think about the question in reverse. I think, how do animals view our behavior?

Getting back to topic at hand, the problem is the rowdy, sensationalist character of people in large anonymous groups. Nuance is missed. Points of view get marginalized and ridiculed without readers taking the trouble to understand them in the first place.

So what would be the outcome if many influential individuals started making unnecessarily negative connections in the public mind with transhumanism? Some of the most useful debate and thought about our future as a species would be silenced, replaced with a hysterical rejection of technology on the basis of vague and unexamined but endemic prejudices that masquerade as ethics.

If we do, as a society, choose to place a moratorium on certain life-altering technologies, it should be for intelligent, carefully considered reasons, and I just don't see that happening if the first thing people hear about transhumanism is that Hannibal Lecter is its icon!


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Decisions. (none / 1) (#158)
by NoMoreNicksLeft on Thu Aug 04, 2005 at 11:27:38 PM EST

There are bigger things going on than are obvious even to the most gifted humans ever to walk this planet. I don't believe that, I know that, even having grown up in an environment where if agnosticism wasn't cultivated then at least it wasn't molested.

Those that think transcendance will be a result of a technology we haven't invented yet, they're just a little daft, and more than a little unimaginative.

I remember wondering at age 10 or so, why, if some weird looking guy somewhere in India could learn to will his body to use 50% less oxygen than a normal person needs to survive, why couldn't someone with a better understanding of biology learn to, through the sheer force of willpower, do even stranger things. As a child, these thoughts were still a bit unsophisticated, but in particular I wondered about changing your own DNA. I figured that even if the mechanism lying there triggerable by your brain was a bit clumsy, then it could be used to bootstrap on up to even better means to that end.

Now, 20 years later, I think that maybe that was just the crude thoughts of a child who believed himself more clever than he ever really was... even biology itself seems awkward and clumsy.

The one constant though, for me, has been to be something good. But I don't even know how to define that outside the context of a few religions I don't even really give a flying fuck about. If Satan pops up in front of the door labeled Transcendence with a kitten dangling from the one hand and tells me I have to stomp on it to pass, I think I'll tell him to go fuck himself and maybe even try to stomp him.

Figuratively speaking, of course. And not only would I do that, I think that it has something to do with transcendence, that doing that is the rite of passage. Even as I type the words though, they come out hollow. It's nothing ever so simple as "not betraying your principles" or some lame-ass "last 45 seconds of the show" moral.

They aren't even my principles. And they aren't God's either (or maybe if God does exist, they aren't his principles anymore than they are mine, he's beholden to them in the same way I am).

I can't help but feel there is a more articulate way to express all this and that it's only possible in a language that doesn't exist. Next time, ask me a fucking yes/no question.

--
Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
[ Parent ]

Lecter has fuck-all to do with transhumanism. (1.75 / 4) (#148)
by alexboko on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 03:56:14 PM EST

Transumanism is specifically about transcending human limitations through technological methods. Not through spirituality, nor "believing in yourself", and certainly not through murder!

Not that transhumanism is opposed to spirituality-- just orthogonal to it-- and there is the same variability of opinions on it among transhumanists as there is among any other group of reasonable people.

Obviously, there is virtually unanimous opposition to murder, on obvious grounds of game theory and ethics. Again, like among any other group of reasonable people.

I'm trying to understand why you of all people would choose to slander transhumanism. The best thing I could come up with is that you're conerned about continued technological developments leading to loss of indvidual autonomy and privacy.

Well, join the club, and guess what? That too is a transhumanist opinion. To me, transhumanism is not blind technology-worship any more than it is blind technolgy-rejection. It's an understanding of the paradigm-changing direction in which technology is headed and having an opinion on the matter.

Believing that AIs need to be regulated is as much of a transhumanist opinion as believing that AIs need to run society. The fact that one is seriously thinking about the societal ramifications of AI (or nanotech, or life extension, or cryonics, etc.) is what makes one a transhumanist.

But why am I wasting time talking about transhumanism? Your article was about Hannibal Lecter, not about transhumanism. At best it was a misinformed and poorly articulated warning for us all to respect our own humanity, as if we don't already. At worst... dunno... maybe trying to score some cheap points by pandering to mob hysteria? But I'll keep trying to believe you're better than for as long as I can.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.

I've accidentally written a play (none / 1) (#152)
by harrystottle on Wed Aug 03, 2005 at 09:55:31 PM EST

I've accidentally written a play

which takes place after our evolution into a digital lifeform (digital transhumanism)

it started life as the first part of a book, but the dialogue was too obviously geared to a radio play to ignore it. I intend to try to persuade the Beeb to put it on as either a Friday Night or Saturday afternoon play. Eventually.

Just thought you might be interested in a different angle.



Mostly harmless
By this logic, is Starling a (mere) humanist? (none / 1) (#153)
by nostalgiphile on Thu Aug 04, 2005 at 09:13:04 AM EST

It seems she is often shown as the foil, or opposite number, to Harris' Lecter. A bit of the Mulder/Scully dichotomy seems to seep into "Hannibal" there, I felt.

Eh, who cares about Humanism these days anyway. S'pose it's not trendy enough to want to read Spinoza in your spare time. You have to be trans- or post- everything to get ahead. Transhumanism seems like techies playing at philosophy from all I can tell.

But what the Transhumanists on K5 should be proud of is that a google search for "Transhumanist" yields up this article in the #9 spot.

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
Diverting feelings (none / 1) (#159)
by EternityInterface on Fri Aug 05, 2005 at 09:22:27 AM EST

Lecter is not quite the Nietzschian Superman for one reason: He does not divert his feelings and emotions

"The profound - Men of profound thought appear to themselves in intercourse with others like comedians, for in order to be understood they must always simulate superficiality"

He could turn those feelings off

Is exactly what beyond human (egoistic animal) is.

"The growth of wisdom may be gauged exactly by the diminution of ill temper"

For a human is just as primitive as animals, but doesn't have any enjoyments beyond feeling good about himself. That's his instinct - materialism.

"One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection"
[Chapter 3]

Sometimes he's beyond his normal state. Randomly, it seems, and easily forgotten - back to instinct again. A transhuman just realizes this, works more towards it. Control. Realization. Relativity.

Use my cat analogy! (none / 1) (#160)
by alexboko on Sat Aug 06, 2005 at 01:19:07 PM EST

Think of a cat or some other animal you know. Think of a story that happened involving that animal and you or some other human. Now cast humans as the animal and a posthuman entity as the human.

Example:
There are feral cats living in my patio. I pursue a policy of benign non-interference: I don't bother them, but I also don't let them in or feed them. Yet I find my non-interventionist relationship is not as stable as I thought-- if other humans find out that my patio is the source of the cats, they may hold me responsible for their behavior... or even demand that I trap them and take them to the pound or to the vet and have them spayed. I believe that they are wild animals and are best admired from afar but allowed to survive or not in proportion to how well the local ecosystem can support them.

Example:
There was once an ant highway extending all the way from my front door to my kitchen. Day and night, two lanes of busy little ants, ass-to-antenna accross the walls and counters. Other humans thought I was a slob. I tried traps, pesticides, mass squashings, scrubbing away their pheromone trails... they always came back. Finally I realized the obvious and traced the ant highway to its other end. Behind my refrigerator. Where there were huge stalactites and stalagmites of perified molasses or whatever it was left behind by the human who owned the house before me. I removed the sticky, crumbly, presumably very tasty mess and the ant highway vanished overnight without any further violence on my part.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.

Oops, meant as a response to a post. (none / 1) (#161)
by alexboko on Sat Aug 06, 2005 at 06:31:07 PM EST

This was meant as a response to the post where you were thinking about how to write a non-dystopian transhumanist story, I just hit the post link instead of the reply one.

Don't knock yourself out too much trying to portray posthuman entities in a good light. I don't disagree that they may be very creepy and scary to normal humans. Science fiction usually is dystopian in one way or another, but manages to convey a pro-science message nonetheless through the excitement with the subject matter that pervades it even at its most critical.

Well, except the old-guy-whose-wife-died-from-cancer-gets-contacted-by-fairies-in-a-lonely-cottag e-in-the-woods magical realism tripe that infests http://scifi.com/scifiction/ but (thank goodness) you never come anywhere close to writing in that style. shudder

What I was bitching about before was how transhumanists get portrayed, not how transhumans or posthumans get portrayed. Transhumanists are real, non-hypothetical people who exist today, and will naturally respond unfavorably to inflammatory associations even if the underlying point is an interesting one. Just one of those politeness things. Like how I resist the urge to compare, say, cultural conservatives with Genghis Khan out of respect for Genghis Khan's descendents. ;-)


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Superb interpretation (none / 1) (#162)
by echarp on Mon Aug 08, 2005 at 06:45:02 PM EST

Lovely how lecter goes from so bad and without redemption to so deranging. Still scary though :)

I wonder what the author would say about this take.

Note: lecter does have the obligatory flaw, not going by the rules of society means that society goes after him. If besides superhuman he was immortal, this would be a very bad strategy in the long term.

Plus: anybody knows how humans taste?

Well... (none / 1) (#163)
by Midnight Toker on Thu Sep 08, 2005 at 11:32:35 AM EST

Not exactly, but you can always try Hufu! Human-flavored tofu: http://eathufu.com/ They even have the obligatory picture of a cannibal looking as happy as a lamb while he dines on hufu stew. Awwwww!

[ Parent ]
Hannibal Lecter: Transhumanist Icon | 163 comments (105 topical, 58 editorial, 0 hidden)
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