Tag Archives: state of nature

This isn’t exactly a writing question but does it make you guys as mad as it makes me that when a superhuman and a human fight (like Superman and Batman) and like SM punches BM and BM gets up like it was nothing. SM can punch thru steel, he’d severel

“…severely break everything in BM’s body“

Not so much, given that Batman has superpowers; he’s just in denial. Exactly what his superpowers are very widely based on the writer, much like Superman. (No, seriously, Superman has cooking and gardening as superpowers.) Most of the time, Batman is simply super-intelligent. There’s also jokes about him having money as a superpower, which is apt, if you look at how he operates. When it’s convenient, he’s presented as inhumanly resilient to injury, and capable of healing at supernatural speeds. Such as when he took a year off crime-fighting because his spine had been severed. Then Frank Miller gave him exo-armor and prep time; and Batman transcended his mortal plane.

It doesn’t bother me because of where Batman comes from as a character. He started out as an homage/expansion of the pulp era superheros like Doc Savage and The Shadow, and their vague superpowers acquired through dubious means. So the idea that he’d be taking hits that should turn him into the world’s greatest meat smoothie isn’t that strange.

DC’s official justification is that Superman pulls his punches when he’s fighting humans, Bats included. It fits with most versions of his character. The modern dynamic of these two characters is pretty interesting, and it explains why Supes doesn’t want to kill.

Batman is a character who believes that people are inherently corrupt, and they must be terrorized into line. Either through violence, or the threat of violence. Ironically, his no-killing policy, and even his aversion to guns weren’t originally part of the character, they were added later to differentiate him from The Shadow.

Superman is a character who believes that people are inherently good. If they’ve resorted to crime or violence, it’s because they don’t see another way to solve their problems. He’s not here to turn you into a statistic. It’s about offering you a way out, and trying to help you through your problems.

Now, these are both characters that have been in print for over 75 years, so there’s some variance, but that is the overview of who they’ve become. If you’re trying to reconcile Adam West’s Batman with the one I just described, don’t, he’s actually on the Big Blue Boy Scout’s side of the spectrum.

For Batman (ignoring his personal code on killing), death is an acceptable outcome. He’s terrorizing people into line, and death is a very effective disincentive.

For Superman, death is a failure. It’s the inability to actually rehabilitate someone. So actually killing his opponents becomes a much more measured choice, and dependent on the entire situation.

Now, when someone declares they’re doing a “realistic” take on Batman, I have to laugh a bit. We’re talking about a character who, literally, dresses up as a bat, and beats the snot out of people. The more you think about it, the less sense it makes. So trying to inject him into an approximation of the real world is a losing proposition. But, this is an issue for most of the genre. Superheros function on a kind of dreamlike logic that falls apart in daylight. There have been thousands of articles, books, and comics written on the subject in the last 30 years.

But, no, Superman resisting the impulse to liquefy Batman is a character choice, and a genre convention.

-Starke

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I’ve been having ideas about a story that involves widespread transhumanism, but when I think about it, there’s stuff about the concept I’ve never understood. What happens to your augments as you age or your body shape changes? How are the augments maintained? Do you clean them? What powers them? What happens when technology advances and your augments are obsolete? If your job requires augs that are weapons, what happens when you’re off duty? I know it’s MY story, but I’m stuck for answers.

We had a professor in college who used to say, “when you encounter a word you don’t know, look it up.” It’s good advice, and might have helped you here. I’m going to assume you first ran into transhumanism in association with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So, let’s look at all three pieces of this, transhumanism, cybernetics, and the philosophy at play in Deus Ex.

Transhumanism is a philosophy that advocates the use of technology to transcend the human condition. I’m being a little reductive here, and this isn’t a philosophical strand I’m well versed in, but, the entire goal is to use technology to make life better.

For someone who views cybernetic augmentation as the path to take, the answer is fairly simple; if a body part is failing, you repair or replace it. But, that’s not the full extent of the philosophy. In fact, at this moment, as you’re reading this sentence, you’re engaging in another strand.

Remember, the basic idea is to use technology to fundamentally improve the human condition. Welcome to the internet: giving you free access to information that, thirty years ago, would have taken months of research going from library to library, fishing through the stacks for that one thing you needed.

At a fundamental level, the internet is, already, a major piece of transhumanist technology. It brings us together and opens up exchanges of ideas that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. It changes the nature of the world, and they way you can interact with humanity as a whole. Using technology to make us more than we were.

It’s really hard to explain to someone born after ~1995, just how massively the internet has changed the world.

While I’m not very familiar with his work, another major proponent of transhumanism, and a separate strand of it was Timothy Leary. In his case, he was advocating higher human consciousness through pharmaceuticals. That is to say; LSD. Using, drugs to achieve some kind of spiritual enlightenment isn’t what comes to mind, when I hear the term. But, there it is.

That said, pharmaceutical transhumanism can also include things like anti-agapics (immortality serums), and any superhero that got their powers from drugs. Retroviral engineering might also count, depending on how loosely you define “pharmaceuticals.”

The term itself originates in the 1960s, but there’s actually elements of the philosophy far earlier. The health science craze of late 19th century is probably an example. Finding a way to be more than human through the wonders of science and technology is not a new idea.

Now, that’s the philosophy in very broad strokes. I’m not well versed in the political strands. The two political outlooks I know of are ones that take a libertarian free-market approach, and one that takes a self deterministic approach. But, again, I have a bachelors in political science, and this is the first time I’ve ever run across a formal write up on Transhumanism as a political ideology.

For cybernetics, it really varies based on what the piece of hardware actually is. Pacemakers and other powered implants require some power source. So that requires either an external accessible port, or they require surgery every-time the battery needs service.

Internal prosthetics, like hip or knee replacements, have a shelf life of 10-15 years. They’ll decay over time and from use, and eventually need to be replaced. That does involve surgery. The implant gets pulled, tossed, and replaced. The old one might be refurbished, but it’s not user serviceable.
I’m less familiar with external, removable, prosthetics. I suspect the overall lifespan is lower, with some user serviceable parts.

As for full on powered augmentations? I don’t know. Anything with that many moving parts is going to need to be serviceable. Especially if it’s going to get shot at. Exactly how modular they are, or if the pieces use proprietary tech is a world building question. It will depend on what you’re saying in your work.

It is probably worth dragging out the old observation. If you replace someone’s arm with a cybernetic one, it won’t let them toss cars around. The arm itself may be superhumanly strong, but that just means it will be able to tear itself from its owner. So, if you’re wanting to give a character super strength, they actually need to have their shoulders, spine, and legs also reinforced, or replaced. I have no idea what those would do to someone as they age, but I suspect that they would interfere with any changes to the body from aging. Actually, I know that’s the case, to some extent, because it’s a real concern for people who suffer serious injuries in childhood.

So, Deus Ex is about transhumanism. All three games are, actually. But, the original game, and it’s title, come from the transhumanist apotheosis in the plot. The title derives from the phrase, deus ex machina, or literally, “god from the machine.”

As writers, we usually use deus ex machina in reference to an author pulling a resolution out of their ass. To an extent, that’s the meaning of the original Greek. In some Greek plays, an actor playing a god, would descend on a crane or ascend using a levered platform, to resolve the story.

With the original Deus Ex, the title is oddly literal. A major chunk of the original game, after you get past the whole Illuminati versus Majestic 12 storyline, is the use of artificial intelligences to function as all knowing, all seeing, gods in the machine and, in one ending, merging a human consciousness with an AI and giving it full control over all human communication.

In spite of that, the philosophical core of Deus Ex is an information age state of nature debate.

I usually break the state of nature debate down into the Superman/Batman dichotomy. That’s probably disrespectful to the historical discussion, but, it is a very good abstract. The basic question is, how will humans behave without a civil society or government? And, it has direct implications for how you govern.

The Superman side of things is that humans are fundamentally good. Laws and society are necessary to protect people from their worst impulses. But, those impulses are an aberration, not the norm.

The Batman side is that people are fundamentally self interested and dangerous to the whole. “Life is nasty, brutish, and short,” to misquote Hobbes’ Leviathan. Laws and government are necessary to coerce people into line.

Most of the state of nature debate happened in the 17th and 18th century. It’s not “resolved,” but, modern philosophy has moved elsewhere. Deus Ex revisits this basic question, and frames it in the context of global conspiracies and a counterterrorism plot that was, honestly, a couple years ahead of its time.

The original game is the one most relevant to your question about obsolesce. The main character in Deus Ex is a nanotech augmented agent, working alongside, now, obsolete cyberaugmented agents. The game presents this with a mix of fairly solid character moments. Some of this runs as a basic analogy for aging soldiers, but the residual prejudices regarding cybernetic augmentation make for some interesting texture. Especially given that nano augmentation is much less invasive, and difficult to detect at a glance.

The second game, Deus Ex: Invisible War is mostly a rehash of the first game, and as a result, probably the weakest Deus Ex title (ignoring the spin-offs). This does have some of the most disturbing endings in the series, however. Including two different endings where the entirety of humanity is forcibly augmented.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the game you’re probably familiar with. As with the original game, it’s more interested in letting you participate in the conversation then explaining three-hundred years of state of nature thinking. This is probably the best one for looking at how normal people would look at cybernetic augmentation. This generally gets used as an analogy for racism, which is probably useful, if you remember that’s what they’re doing.

-Starke