SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Is Your Child Experimenting with Ethics?
And others dilemmas.
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I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no philosophizing required.
Our lives are full of choices, both inconsequential and life-altering. Today I bring you 2 questions and I’ll leave you to guess which is which. First — who would you rather fight, an army of Centibots or Shakey the Robot himself?
Nils Nilsson and Sven Wahlstrom marveling at Shakey’s power sometime in the 1960s.
Was Shakey glamorous? Did Shakey abide by our modern, narrow robot beauty standards? (Even non-minimalistic robots deserve love, Apple). No, but nonetheless Shakey persisted. This disheveled technological icon was the first robot to truly reason and perceive his environment. The ugly robot celebrity lived from 1966 to 1972, during which time Shakey set the foundation for all these fancy, Instagram-ready robots we covet, like Roombas and Teslas. But what good is telling you about Shakey when you can see Shakey in all his incredible 1960s glory in his debut film. (That’s right, Shakey’s had more screentime than you — *cable flip*).
You may have rightfully decided that Shakey is far too advanced for you to fight and at 6’5” he towered majestically above us fleshies.
You must now face the Centibots.
The last thing you see after underestimating the bloodlust of a Centibot.
The Centibots may seem innocent with their tiny stature and Christmas toy coloration, but these robots are as ruthless in their coordinated abilities as an ant pile overtaking a scorpion. Centibots are a dictator’s dream; they accomplish big ambitions like creating maps within several centimeters of accuracy, carrying out surveillance, and finding objects of interest like an intruder or war prisoner. If one Centibot falters, another Centibot patriotically takes his place.
Sure, Shakey could reason, but an army of single-goal-oriented Centibots is probably the plot of a movie you don’t want to be in.
You versus the Centibots DARPA told you not to worry about.
I admit it — I had a preconceived argument ready for The Güd. I searched and searched for examples of collectivist thought throughout the history of American culture; the best I could find was two poems, the history of the neighborhood watch, and maybe Rousseau’s Social Contract as a last resort. I wanted to tell you that, though American culture has historically been the poster child for rugged individualism above all else, we had pockets of collectivist thought that could be stirred when needed.
Break open collectivism in case of emergency.
Trying to curb the spread of syphilis was one highlight of American collectivism.
Ahh collectivism — we only call you when we’re drunk (or dying).
The concept of social responsibility in America is largely dominated by the corporate world. You know, those socially responsible corporate acts like not spilling oil on baby animals and or dumping factory farm waste next to low-income neighborhoods. More of this would be great but in the public health crisis posed by COVID-19, socially responsible corporations are only a sliver of the picture. How socially responsible are the individuals who make up our individualistic society?
Early 1900s Chinese medical propaganda.
Celebrating over 100 years of trying to get people to wash their damn hands.
Since we can’t turn to history for inspiration here, we’ll look to philosophy instead, which is exactly when it shines most.
When you make decisions, who do you think of first — yourself, loved ones, or your community? If you’re a westerner and not a damn liar, you’ll probably say a mixture of yourself and your loved ones. When you consider what interests to pursue, how to conduct yourself publicly, what brings you shame, you’ll mostly base your answers on ideas pleasing to you and those close to you. Pretty much all Americans do, hence the whole rugged individualism brand. If you make those same decisions and place more weight on what your society and community find pleasing, that’s collectivism. Think of China and Japan for different but equal examples of collectivism.
"Those who have a fever and don’t say anything are class enemies hiding among the people.”
— Ancient CCP Proverb (COVID-19 propaganda).
Both views have their positives and negatives but that’s irrelevant here — you’re an individualist living in an individualistic society during a public health crisis that requires collectivism for faster containment. Now is not the time to lament the cultural foundations of western society; instead, here’s where philosophy will give you your individualist cake and let you eat it too.
Nothing wakes you up like an ethical dilemma in the morning. Normative ethics is how we go deep into the right and wrong of making choices. We invoke normative ethics daily in our decision making — should I have another glass of wine; should I tell off this annoying person; should I fight Shakey the Robot or 100 Centibots; should I avoid socializing even though I don’t think I’m sick?
“This year a house visit, next year a grave visit.”
Sure, ethical philosophy is boring but you choose — Kant or CCP propaganda? Actually, don’t answer that.
Our dilemma with COVID-19 is defined by an easily identified desirable outcome — fewer sick people. When you have a consequence you know you’re aiming for, consequentialism is the ethical theory for you. In consequentialism, the means justify the ends. Now, consequentialism is like the internet; it’s completely neutral until you set it upon a task of your choosing. Will you open your browser and steal an ebook or post on social media? Is one of these things worse than the other? Doesn’t matter — only achieving your desired outcome does.
The neutrality of consequentialism becomes hedonism if your outcome is self-serving and becomes utilitarianism if your outcome is other-serving. As you make your decisions within an individualistic culture on the precipice of a contagion that reliably decimates the most vulnerable of a population, define your desired consequence and use philosophy to temper cultural leanings.
COVID-19 forces us to make yet another choice among the hundreds we make daily.
Just choose your consequence.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.