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Author Topic: EP136: Bright Red Star  (Read 19989 times)
eytanz
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« Reply #80 on: December 19, 2007, 07:18:57 AM »

Troop is a plural noun. A person can't be a "suicide troop" any more than he can be a football team. Let's all try to use language precisely, lest we lose shades of meaning.

Gah, if there's one thing a linguist hates seeing more than anything else, it's that. Language is not static. It changes. Words mean one thing at one time and mean another at another time. You can like or dislike a particular change, and you can comment about it, but it has nothing to do with "using language precisely". Just as Shakespeare didn't speak Chaucer's English, and we don't speak Shakespeare's English, our descendents won't speak the same English as us. Did the inhabitants of Rome lose shades of meaning when Latin slowly became Italian over several centuries?

Complain about specific language usage as much as you like, but don't frame it in terms of gain or loss or right or wrong. It is a change, and whether you like the change or dislike it. Nothing more or less.

(Note - if anyone wants to discuss this further, we should take it to Gallimaufry)
Moderator: If someone wants to start it hear, because of problems quoting or whatever, I'll move it.  Let the fight begin!
« Last Edit: December 19, 2007, 07:43:46 AM by Russell Nash » Logged
Gaijin51
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« Reply #81 on: December 19, 2007, 08:57:19 AM »

Man, those Shardies seem almost as bad as Al Qaeda!

Was any resemblence with the Global War on Terror purely coincidental?

I guess the point is that, if humanity is faced with an existential threat that will resort to any method to annihilate us without moral considerations, like Shardies or Al Qaeda, that extreme methods may be necessary to defend the homeland.
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High 5
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« Reply #82 on: December 19, 2007, 01:20:18 PM »

I guess the point is that, if humanity is faced with an existential threat that will resort to any method to annihilate us without moral considerations, like Shardies or Al Qaeda, that extreme methods may be necessary to defend the homeland.

You mean like taking off my shoes and belt before walking through a detector gate at the airport?
Man, that IS weird.  Grin
« Last Edit: December 19, 2007, 01:22:04 PM by High 5 » Logged

Yeah, well..how is your Dutch then eh?
Czhorat
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« Reply #83 on: December 19, 2007, 03:50:00 PM »

Man, those Shardies seem almost as bad as Al Qaeda!

Was any resemblence with the Global War on Terror purely coincidental?

I guess the point is that, if humanity is faced with an existential threat that will resort to any method to annihilate us without moral considerations, like Shardies or Al Qaeda, that extreme methods may be necessary to defend the homeland.

THis is the same idea we've been tossing around for the last few days, and the one that makes me the most uncomfortable. The Shardies are unlike Al Qaeda in that the latter has goals and an ideology. The Shardie are just a mindless destructive force. Eytanz even thinks that they can be viewed as a force of nature, more analagous to a plague than a military foe. The Shardi also express an existential threat that Al Quaeda really doesn't, despite some politicians' desire to convince you otherwise.

Did you mean the question seriously, or were you being sarcastic? It's hard to tell here on the message board. I apologize if I misread your tone.  Also, do you believe that any actions are justified in the case of a grave enough threat? If not, where would you draw the line?
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Gaijin51
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« Reply #84 on: December 19, 2007, 05:43:24 PM »

THis is the same idea we've been tossing around for the last few days, and the one that makes me the most uncomfortable. The Shardies are unlike Al Qaeda in that the latter has goals and an ideology. The Shardie are just a mindless destructive force. Eytanz even thinks that they can be viewed as a force of nature, more analagous to a plague than a military foe. The Shardi also express an existential threat that Al Quaeda really doesn't, despite some politicians' desire to convince you otherwise.

Did you mean the question seriously, or were you being sarcastic? It's hard to tell here on the message board. I apologize if I misread your tone.  Also, do you believe that any actions are justified in the case of a grave enough threat? If not, where would you draw the line?
I was being slightly hyperbolic. You are right it sometimes being hard to judge tone. I guess that's why they invented emoticons, right? Wink

Clearly Al Qaeda is not as dangerous as the Shardies (although, that's probably because they don't have access to the most dangerous weapons). There are legitimate questions we could ask: Because we are a superpower and Al Qaeda is a motley band of terrorists, the threat is "assymetrical" whereas in the case of the Shardies the threat is existential. We can imagine hypothetical situations where extreme measures are indeed justified, right? They do that on 24 every episode, or so I hear (I live in Japan so I don't get Fox here, although I've read about 24). (I don't have time to write more, right now, because I have to leave for work. I'll try to finish my thought later.)
« Last Edit: December 19, 2007, 05:46:30 PM by Gaijin51 » Logged
Czhorat
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« Reply #85 on: December 19, 2007, 06:55:00 PM »

Clearly Al Qaeda is not as dangerous as the Shardies (although, that's probably because they don't have access to the most dangerous weapons). There are legitimate questions we could ask: Because we are a superpower and Al Qaeda is a motley band of terrorists, the threat is "assymetrical" whereas in the case of the Shardies the threat is existential. We can imagine hypothetical situations where extreme measures are indeed justified, right? They do that on 24 every episode, or so I hear (I live in Japan so I don't get Fox here, although I've read about 24). (I don't have time to write more, right now, because I have to leave for work. I'll try to finish my thought later.)

I didn't mean different only as in "not as dangerous". I meant different in the sense of "having goals and an ideology" as opposed to being a mindless killing machines for no apparent reason.

I also have trouble imagining situations in which the only choice is to commit acts of torture, murder innocent civilians, etc. Part of my problem with this story is that the deck was very heavilly stacked to create such a situation which, at least to me, is hard to imagine in anything approximating the real world.
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eytanz
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« Reply #86 on: December 19, 2007, 07:19:23 PM »

I also have trouble imagining situations in which the only choice is to commit acts of torture, murder innocent civilians, etc. Part of my problem with this story is that the deck was very heavilly stacked to create such a situation which, at least to me, is hard to imagine in anything approximating the real world.

Wait, what? The news is full of governments and people who commit torture and murder innocent civilians, all the while certain that they are doing good. I hope you saying that you cannot imagine a situaton in which *you* would be faced with such a choice, because there sure as hell are plenty of people who are certain that that is what needs to be done. I'm writing this from my parents house, which is about a mile from the West Bank. Cross the line into Palestine and go to a settler's town, or to many of the Palestinian villages, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think that (obviously, not everyone thinks that they personally should do horrific things, just that these things need to be done).

Sure, the story stacks the deck, as you like saying, because it is trying to make people who do not normally hold such a position imagine a situation which will make them agree with it, and you can't do that without stacking the deck heavily. I guess that in your case it failed. But if you don't think that there is a large number of people in the world for whom these situations are normal, then - well, I guess I envy you more than anything else.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2007, 07:21:04 PM by eytanz » Logged
Czhorat
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« Reply #87 on: December 19, 2007, 07:27:07 PM »

Wait, what? The news is full of governments and people who commit torture and murder innocent civilians, all the while certain that they are doing good. I hope you saying that you cannot imagine a situaton in which *you* would be faced with such a choice, because there sure as hell are plenty of people who are certain that that is what needs to be done. I'm writing this from my parents house, which is about a mile from the West Bank. Cross the line into Palestine and go to a settler's town, or to many of the Palestinian villages, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think that (obviously, not everyone thinks that they personally should do horrific things, just that these things need to be done).

Sure, the story stacks the deck, as you like saying, because it is trying to make people who do not normally hold such a position imagine a situation which will make them agree with it, and you can't do that without stacking the deck heavily. I guess that in your case it failed. But if you don't think that there is a large number of people in the world for whom these situations are normal, then - well, I guess I envy you more than anything else.

I obviously live in a safer part of the world than you do, but my point about my own view of morality stands. Simply because people do certain things or believe that it is acceptable to do them does not, in my view, make it true. I see torture, for example, as always wrong. I'll admit that part of my reaction to the story is that it was the actions of a strong group of attackers (the soldiers) against a weaker group (the farmers). I see it as always wrong to use superior military might to commit murder. Creating a far-fetched hypothetical in which it seems like the only choice is not, to my way of thinking, a fair way to argue that point.
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eytanz
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« Reply #88 on: December 19, 2007, 07:53:04 PM »

Wait, what? The news is full of governments and people who commit torture and murder innocent civilians, all the while certain that they are doing good. I hope you saying that you cannot imagine a situaton in which *you* would be faced with such a choice, because there sure as hell are plenty of people who are certain that that is what needs to be done. I'm writing this from my parents house, which is about a mile from the West Bank. Cross the line into Palestine and go to a settler's town, or to many of the Palestinian villages, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think that (obviously, not everyone thinks that they personally should do horrific things, just that these things need to be done).

Sure, the story stacks the deck, as you like saying, because it is trying to make people who do not normally hold such a position imagine a situation which will make them agree with it, and you can't do that without stacking the deck heavily. I guess that in your case it failed. But if you don't think that there is a large number of people in the world for whom these situations are normal, then - well, I guess I envy you more than anything else.

I obviously live in a safer part of the world than you do,

Well, you live in a safer part of the world than were I came from, and where I'm now visiting my parents. I live in the UK.

Quote
but my point about my own view of morality stands. Simply because people do certain things or believe that it is acceptable to do them does not, in my view, make it true. I see torture, for example, as always wrong. I'll admit that part of my reaction to the story is that it was the actions of a strong group of attackers (the soldiers) against a weaker group (the farmers). I see it as always wrong to use superior military might to commit murder.

The thing is, I agree with your view of morality. And I also happen to see torture as always wrong (and, I hasten to point out, the soldiers in the story do not torture anyone, instead taking care to make the killings as painless as possible. So I don't think the story can be seen as condoning torture, for all else it may do). But I have a feeling that I went through a different path in life to get to this position.

What I find disturbing in your posts is not that you take a strong moral position which is differnet than that of the soldiers in it. What I find disturbing is that you are equating the thought experiment of putting yourself in the head of someone with a different moral position with condoning the moral position.

Quote
Creating a far-fetched hypothetical in which it seems like the only choice is not, to my way of thinking, a fair way to argue that point.

I agree completely. Which is why I don't believe that the story is actually trying to argue against you. The way I read the story, it is arguing on the same side as you. It is saying "it takes a really far-fetched unrealistic situation to justify murder. Therefore, in any actualy situation, murder is not justified". Now, that may be overdoing it to the other side - it may be that the story does not really take an opinion one way or the other. But I simply don't follow your logic: "The story does not actively say what it is arguing for, but it is structured in a way that is a really bad and unfair argument for X. Therefore, I'm opposed to the story because it is clearly arguing X". Huh?
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Czhorat
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« Reply #89 on: December 19, 2007, 08:00:24 PM »

I agree completely. Which is why I don't believe that the story is actually trying to argue against you. The way I read the story, it is arguing on the same side as you. It is saying "it takes a really far-fetched unrealistic situation to justify murder. Therefore, in any actualy situation, murder is not justified". Now, that may be overdoing it to the other side - it may be that the story does not really take an opinion one way or the other. But I simply don't follow your logic: "The story does not actively say what it is arguing for, but it is structured in a way that is a really bad and unfair argument for X. Therefore, I'm opposed to the story because it is clearly arguing X". Huh?

(most snipped for brevity)

My contention is that the story was arguing for a certain morality but doing so clumsily. Your view is just as logical and much more charitable to the author.

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Gaijin51
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« Reply #90 on: December 19, 2007, 08:52:25 PM »

OK, so I see at least two different issues here.

First, I think we have to separate these two questions:
1) “Can we imagine a scenario in which torture or even the killing of an innocent little girl is justified, even a moral imperative (i.e., the end justifies means that would be abhorrent in normal situations)?”
2) “Is such a scenario is likely to happen in reality?”

I think this story does a fine job of answering the first question in the affirmative. And under the (fictional) circumstances I think the soldier did it as humanely as possible. I can’t say that anything he did was blameworthy. Indeed, he was heroically sacrificing himself for humanity.

But whether or not such a scenario is likely to happen in reality is a separate question, right? So I’m comfortable saying, “Yes. If that fictional scenario actually happened, those actions would be justified.” But also, “That scenario has not happened yet, and is probably unlikely to happen.”
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eytanz
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« Reply #91 on: December 20, 2007, 03:50:53 AM »

I agree completely. Which is why I don't believe that the story is actually trying to argue against you. The way I read the story, it is arguing on the same side as you. It is saying "it takes a really far-fetched unrealistic situation to justify murder. Therefore, in any actualy situation, murder is not justified". Now, that may be overdoing it to the other side - it may be that the story does not really take an opinion one way or the other. But I simply don't follow your logic: "The story does not actively say what it is arguing for, but it is structured in a way that is a really bad and unfair argument for X. Therefore, I'm opposed to the story because it is clearly arguing X". Huh?

(most snipped for brevity)

My contention is that the story was arguing for a certain morality but doing so clumsily. Your view is just as logical and much more charitable to the author.

More charitable to the story. Other than the quote Steve provided earlier, I have no idea what the author either intended, nor do I really care.
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ajames
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« Reply #92 on: December 20, 2007, 06:52:07 AM »

I'm loving this discussion.  I don't mean to influence its direction, but if anyone's interested, Bud Sparhawk put some notes on his own motivations behind the story on his bibliography page:

Quote
Bright Red Star is my reaction to the events of September 11, 2001. I tried to get inside the heads of someone who answers to a higher morality but sacrifices something very human in the process. The core of moral choice in this story is the use to which the protagonist puts a little girl, and the logical consequences of that choice.


Of course this doesn't make any other interpretation wrong.  Once a story is written, my personal opinion is that the author has no more authority about what it means than any other reader.  >8->

I'm quite glad I listened to the story without having read this first.  I think trying to figure out how successful the author was at "getting into the head" of a terrorist would have lessened my appreciation of this story, because I think he missed a few things in that regard.  Although now I understand a bit better why the author made some of the choices he did.

Regardless of what the author was or was not trying to do, the important thing for me was that the protagonist did what he had to do with compassion, and in an impossibly horrible situation retained his humanity.  That was what made it a compelling story for me.
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Jhite
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« Reply #93 on: December 20, 2007, 02:15:04 PM »

Quote
Regardless of what the author was or was not trying to do, the important thing for me was that the protagonist did what he had to do with compassion, and in an impossibly horrible situation retained his humanity.  That was what made it a compelling story for me.

I 100% agree.  I never read what other people have to say about a story before I read it / listen it.  It ruined so many stories for me in high school and college.  Teachers / professors trying to sex up Shakespeare or tell me how this or that event influenced this author or how that author was ground breaking in his time.

Don't get me wrong discussion after the fact is great.  I really can give you a better understanding of what the story or the world around you.   But if you "hear it" before hand it can really taint your view.

Last thought on this story, and really most things that I try to read.  I read / listen to a story because I want to visit another place.  Sometimes knowing what the author was thinking can kind of ruin that.  In this case though I think that because he tried to get in their heads to develop a character, does not mean that he was trying to make a political statement.  I don't know, maybe he was, but I like it better just thinking that he used them as a model.  It makes it a story with some depth and provokes some good thought, without making me think too much about the real world that I will have to come back to at the end of the story.
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ericnay
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« Reply #94 on: December 21, 2007, 04:56:28 PM »

OK, so I see at least two different issues here.

First, I think we have to separate these two questions:
1) “Can we imagine a scenario in which torture or even the killing of an innocent little girl is justified, even a moral imperative (i.e., the end justifies means that would be abhorrent in normal situations)?”
2) “Is such a scenario is likely to happen in reality?”


To reply, I quote my own post from before.  Find "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin, 1954, as found in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, Edited by Robert Silverberg.  It's actually pretty easy to define situations where Scotty does NOT get the engines online before the star blows up.

Also, I really liked that these were not Star Trek aliens, where all we have to do is talk to them and everything will be ok.  Inevitably there will be conflicts, resources will be scarce, and blood will be spilled.  I doubt those rules of existence will be canceled just because we might figure out how to go faster than light.


Eric
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CammoBlammo
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« Reply #95 on: December 27, 2007, 06:24:28 AM »

I had a slight problem today --- I listened to EP55 (Down Memory Lane) off the Classic feed today, and then this one. Both are fantastic stories, and both are fighting for a spot in my top two or three Escape Pods. Ah well, they'll sort it out.

I had two reactions to this one. Contrary to many of the comments posted I found the complete 'Otherness' of the Shardies liberating. Politically I am a pacifist (and a closet anarchist) but I enjoy descriptions of military stuff and I love reading accounts of historical of battles and the like. This conflicts me no end --- I appreciate this stuff intellectually, but I can't get away from the fact that the hardware I ogle and the battles I read of are ultimately connected with killing other human beings.

That's why I like this story. Savage is the noble warrior --- completely human, yet finely trained and honed to do what he has to do. I like him intensely. The war he fights, though, seems to be completely just. Thus I can revel in the story without the associated guilt that comes from enjoying what I ultimately perceive as evil.

My other reaction is more painful. Like others, I guessed fairly early on what had to happen to Becky. I hoped that a twist would come along and there would be a happy ending, but the twist never came. I remember thinking at the crucial moment to look away, which I did... of course, I averted the wrong sense.

All in all, it was a fantastic story and I would love to hear more about the war with the Shardie. Just as long as they don't become less than pure evil.
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Russell Nash
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« Reply #96 on: December 27, 2007, 06:49:05 AM »

CammoBlammo,  Welcome to the forums.  You're out of the gate with a well thought out and interesting post.  I agree with you almost completely.  This might be why I called it a well thought out and intelligent post.  Hope to read more from you soon.
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Czhorat
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« Reply #97 on: December 27, 2007, 04:34:11 PM »

The war he fights, though, seems to be completely just. Thus I can revel in the story without the associated guilt that comes from enjoying what I ultimately perceive as evil.

This, in a nutshell, was my problem with the story. A completely just war against a completely evil enemy is simplistic, unrealistic and, in my mind, at least a bit boring.
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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #98 on: December 27, 2007, 05:17:44 PM »

Welcome CammoBlammo.
Very interesting perspective.
Mind if I ask a question? I don't mean to nitpick, and this might just be one of those contradictions you mentioned, but how do you square with the killing of the farmers? I understand being able to jive with the war against absolute evil, but this was a conflict between soldiers and civilians.

This conflicts me no end --- I appreciate this stuff intellectually, but I can't get away from the fact that the hardware I ogle and the battles I read of are ultimately connected with killing other human beings.

That's why I like this story. Savage is the noble warrior --- completely human, yet finely trained and honed to do what he has to do. I like him intensely. The war he fights, though, seems to be completely just. Thus I can revel in the story without the associated guilt that comes from enjoying what I ultimately perceive as evil.
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CammoBlammo
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« Reply #99 on: December 28, 2007, 06:13:01 AM »


Mind if I ask a question? I don't mean to nitpick, and this might just be one of those contradictions you mentioned, but how do you square with the killing of the farmers? I understand being able to jive with the war against absolute evil, but this was a conflict between soldiers and civilians.

This conflicts me no end --- I appreciate this stuff intellectually, but I can't get away from the fact that the hardware I ogle and the battles I read of are ultimately connected with killing other human beings.

That's why I like this story. Savage is the noble warrior --- completely human, yet finely trained and honed to do what he has to do. I like him intensely. The war he fights, though, seems to be completely just. Thus I can revel in the story without the associated guilt that comes from enjoying what I ultimately perceive as evil.

Good question. I don't think I was able to make it all jive that well. As I said, I spent most of the story hoping it wouldn't come to that, and I think that's why I wanted to look away when I did. I knew the murder had to happen, and my squeamishness derives as much from my empathy for Savage as it does my own dislike of murder. I guess I saw it as an invidious decision --- you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, and Savage chose (or had chosen for him) the lesser of two evils. The fact that he knew he was only minutes away from a similar fate helped as well --- he wasn't asking anyone to do what he wasn't willing to do himself.

Of course, the same could be said for your standard, run of the mill suicide bomber too.

The war he fights, though, seems to be completely just. Thus I can revel in the story without the associated guilt that comes from enjoying what I ultimately perceive as evil.

This, in a nutshell, was my problem with the story. A completely just war against a completely evil enemy is simplistic, unrealistic and, in my mind, at least a bit boring.

Yes and no. I guess it depends on what the story is doing. If it's commenting on the human condition and the rightness and wrongness of war, the enemy needs to be more like us. The fact that the enemy might not be human can very useful in getting us to properly question the assumptions underlying our ethical systems.

On the other hand, if the story is meant to be about inter human relationships, the enemy probably isn't as important. (I'm thinking of Starship Troopers but it's been a long time since I saw it, and I don't plan on reading it!) Or, if the story is about how cool the weapons are, or the wonderful intelligence of our generals we need just enough enemy to justify having the weapons (especially if we want to see if they work).

In this case, the war is simply a plot device to set the action. I think that's where I (originally) put this story. Now, I'm not so sure. I might just have to go and listen to it again!


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