09 September 2014


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 101

Pictured today is the cover of the Oryx and Crake edition I would have had if I had been willing to read it in uni. That "frenemy" whom I told you about was so eager for me to read it even after I told her I didn't think it would fit into my book budget, that she offered to buy my copy from me after the trimester, if it were very gently used, at a very generous price. But as I explained, it just wasn't worth it. On the other hand, I'm quite happy to be reading Oryx and Crake today with you all. So it worked out in the end, aye? =)

"We give people hope. Hope isn't ripping off!"

"At NooSkins' prices it is. You hype their wares and take all their money and then they run out of cash, and it's no more treatments for them. They can rot as far as you and your pals are concerned. Don't you remember the way we used to talk, everything we wanted to do? Making life better for people--not just people with money. You used to be so . . . you had ideals then."

"Sure," said Jimmy's father in a tired voice. "I've still got them. I just can't afford them . . . Anyway, [this research has] been paying for your room and board, it's been putting the food on the table. You're hardly in a position to take the high ground."

I just disliked Jimmy's mother at first, but now I see that she's more complex than I thought. While I'm still not happy that she just gave up on being a mother (and then complained about how her son was turning out--just like the parents I wrote about in my Reading Diary entry on John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction), I'd love to know more about her. What was the incident that was just too much for her? Was there another incident that made her finally decide to take action so many years later? And did the latter have anything to do with Crake?

In the next three chapters we finally get to meet the two title characters--and it's easy to see why they continue to haunt Snowman's imagination long after they seem to be out of his life.

Chapters 4 to 6
("Rakunk" to "Pixieland Jazz")

There's certainly something of the cult leader in Crake, although the only disciple he seems to want in high school is Jimmy. Or am I going too far here, and is Crake just the sort of bad influence whom all impressionable boys are vulnerable to? I do see an element of grooming in all the time they spend together, although they do no more than what all the other teenage boys of their world do--namely, playing online games for hours on end and watching porn. It's drugging, yes; and still under Gatto's influence, I can see it as part of a wider panem et circenses strategy to keep "the masses" complacent. But is there also a personal sinister element? (Atwood is really making me paranoid about Crake!)

What is clear is that Jimmy gets prolonged exposure to a lot of things that he might otherwise not have looked at twice . . . and that while he follows Crake's lead, Crake often just humours him. (Oh. Like frenemies. =P) But I love the games that they play together and what these tell us about their culture, so I'll give them a special focus here.

. . . For a whole month, they'd had to play Barbarian Stomp (See If You Can Change History!). One side had the cities and riches and the other side had the hordes and--usually, but not always--the most viciousness. Either the barbarians stomped out the cities or else they got stomped, but you had to start out with the historical disposition of energies and go on from there. Rome versus the Visigoths, Ancient Egypt versus the Hyksos, the Aztecs versus the Spaniards. That was a cute one because it was the Aztecs who represented civilisation while the Spaniards were the barbarian hordes. You could customise the game as long as you used real societies and tribes, and for a while Crake and Jimmy vied with each other to see who could come up with the most obscure pairing.

An interesting take on history, aye? Can't you just see the History teachers promoting this "educational" game? And it makes a great dual-purpose circus: not only does it keep its young players entertained and passive, but it also reinforces the idea of civilisation versus barbarity, which the Compounds use to keep their residents obedient and grateful. And even if some players identify with the barbarians each time, that's perfectly all right: it's only virtual rebellion, easily kept under control.

The "trading game" Blood and Roses is even more fascinating. I love the comparison to Monopoly, because it is so true that some people think of atrocities (Blood) and artistic and scientific achievements (Roses) merely in terms of liabilities and assets . . . and that they act accordingly. Just the other day, a colleague was telling me that if you look at the map of Africa's ebola outbreaks and the map of Africa's oil wells, you'll start to believe that it is all being engineered for some petrol-hungry countries' profits. I haven't done the comparison myself, but if it were true, it would totally be a move in Blood and Roses!

You rolled the virtual dice and either a Rose or a Blood item would pop up. If it was a Blood item, the Rose player had to chance to stop the atrocity from happening, but he had to put up a Rose item in exchange. The atrocity would then vanish from history, or at least the history recorded on the screen. The Blood player could acquire a Rose item, but only by handing over an atrocity, thus leaving himself with less ammunition and the Rose player with more. If he was a skillful player, he could attack the Rose side by means of the atrocities in his possession, loot the human achievement, and transfer it to his side of the board. The player who managed to retain the most human achievements by Time's Up was the winner. With points off, naturally, for achievements destroyed through his own folly and cretinous play.

And how do we price achievements like the Mona Lisa, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and the Great Pyramids? By market value, of course! Similarly, we price atrocities by the number of corpses they produced. While it makes some sense to have the best and the worst fruits of humanity go up against each other, it still boggles the mind a bit that we got from there to the treating of human lives as just another form of currency. Obviously, there's a problem with the premise--but never mind that now. Instead, tell me: which great work of art, music or architecture would you trade for the chance to have nipped the ebola outbreak in the bud?

Extinctathon is the least interesting to me, but of course it's probably the most relevant game of the three. =P It also seems the most subversive. I can't imagine how a fixation on the thousands of obscure species which have gone extinct in the last fifty years would be beneficial to the Compounds. I guess we'll learn more later.

When Jimmy and Crake aren't playing games, they're being voyeurs on the Internet--and it's really all the same to them whether they're watching executions, assisted suicides, pornography, or an exhibitionist with cameras all over her house and some very odd habits. I find it interesting that Crake insists that the illegally filmed beheadings are all staged, but keeps watching them, anyway. I don't think the boys are looking for highs as much as they are searching for authenticity.

And of course the porn brings us to Oryx, whose business was production rather than consumption.

These men all had ideas about what should be in their movie. They wanted things in the background . . . or they wanted ropes, or screaming, or shoes. Sometimes they would say, Just do it, I'm paying for it, or things like that, because everything in these movies had a price. Every hair bow, every flower, every object, every gesture. If the men thought up something new, there would have to be a discussion about how much that new thing ought to cost.

"So I learned about life," said Oryx . . . "That everything has a price."

"Not everything" [said Jimmy] "That can't be true. You can't buy time. You can't buy . . ." He wanted to say
love, but hesitated. It was too soppy.

"You can't buy it, but it has a price . . . Everything has a price."

I found the story of Oryx's childhood, so different from those of Jimmy and Glenn, difficult to read--and at first I thought it was because she is closer to our own time, technologically speaking, than the boys are. We may not be able to help the children in the Compounds (not even our own versions of the Compounds), but we have always been in a position to help children like Oryx and her companions. Unfortunately, we tend to do worse than just ignore them. It also dawned on me that the reason why Oryx made me so uncomfortable was the same reason why Crake wants to think that the public beheadings are all fake: consumer guilt. We don't like to think that people are actually suffering in order to make our lives easier, whether they are shelling out their life savings for NooSkins cosmetic treatments or crying their way through a porno.

There is also a lot in this section about the future Children of Crake and Children of Oryx, but I left them out because they didn't grab me the way these other points did. Of course, if anyone wants to discuss them, feel free to bring them up in the combox as well!

What are your thoughts on Chapters 4 to 6?

1) Have you ever sacrificed something nice for one of your own ideals? (Or if you don't mind going in the other direction, have you ever sacrificed one of your own ideals for something nice?)
2) Can you think of a popular pastime among young people which gives them an outlet for rebellion while reinforcing the status quo?
3) Did learning a sad story behind a good book, movie, or other "human achievement" ever reduce your enjoyment of it?
4) If trading what you consider the greatest human achievement of all time would mean that child prostitution never happens in all human history, would you make that deal?

Image Source: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood


Brandon said...

That's the cover on the book I got from the college library. This one does convey the sense of a surreal Adam-and-Eve story, but I think I like the one in the other post better.

I find by this point that Jimmy is getting on my nerves a bit; he's so intrusive and he seems incapable of listening to anybody. If, during his conversation with Oryx, she had reached over and strangled him for asking yet another question rather than just listening, I would have understood entirely.

I find question (4) interesting, but the difficulty I have with it is that whenever I try to think of eliminating something terrible like child prostitution, I can't help but immediately wonder what other terrible thing people would put that same energy and effort into. So I don't know. But judging from the Children of Crake segments, I wonder if it actually captures the key element of the book. After all, there's a sense in which the greatest human achievement of all time is that huge cumulative network of all human achievements, human civilization itself, so the question could be put in apocalyptic terms: Is moral innocence worth the destruction of human civilization? While I'm only guessing, I have a sneaking suspicion that this question will keep coming up with this book.

(It reminds me of the Zager and Evans song, "In the Year 2525":

In the year 8510
God is gonna shake His mighty head
He'll either say, "I'm pleased where man has been"
Or tear it down, and start again

I keep forgetting to point out this recent interview with Atwood.

Sheila said...

I can't quite come up with a good answer for any your questions but the last .... to which my answer is "Yes, all of them." Seriously. Works of Shakespeare. Parthenon. The David. None of them is worth a thing beside human lives, whether suffering in prostitution or dying of Ebola. I think this is the conclusion also reached by .... someone in the story .... but the trouble is, there's a difference between wanting to end human misery and wanting to save individual human lives. Catholicism's insistence on individual human lives is what saves us from utter insanity. Weighing net human happiness like the utilitarians do will make you crazy.

I couldn't make any sense of the video games when I was reading, but in retrospect I think I was looking in the wrong place. The story isn't supposed to be *about* Jimmy -- Jimmy is just the narrator. The story is about Crake. The particular video games he gravitates to, he seeks out because of his own interests ..... and in turn, they shape him into who he later becomes. I don't think everyone in the Compounds was playing the same games. But they lead Crake to ask questions like you are asking -- poetry for ebola? civilization or barbarism?

Meanwhile Jimmy .... he just doesn't seem to be thinking along those lines at all. He's just enjoying the games and the porn. I don't sympathize with him much.

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- There are several Oryx and Crake covers--something I'm always glad about when doing a readalong!

My own take on Jimmy's questioning was that he was sensing that there was more to Oryx's story than she was letting on . . . but given how unobservant and insensitive he has been about many things, I see now that that's hardly the case!

Question #4 does seem to be one of those "perfect" wishes with a hidden sting in the tail. Having read a little bit further, I see what you mean about the Children of Crake fulfilling that scenario somewhat. They can't retroactively go back and keep child prostitution from ever happening, but they do show what a world which made that bargain would be like. And yes, it would involve a sacrifice of human achievement.

I really like the way you've framed the issue in the question, "Is moral innocence worth the destruction of human civilisation?" Making it about innocence rather than about suffering turns this into a different "game."

Sheila -- It did occur to me that there would have been a lot of other games to choose from. I imagined that Barbarian Stomp and Blood and Roses would be hugely popular in Jimmy and Glenn's time because similarly complex online RPGs are hugely popular today, but there's nothing in the story to indicate that. The only game that we are sure has a big following is Extinctathon--a twist which I'm scrambling a little to explain! =P

I find it interesting that Question #4 made Brandon think of moral innocence, but made you think of suffering. I had been thinking of suffering, too, though I think he makes an important distinction between suffering caused by moral failures and suffering caused by something in nature. There's a big difference between child prostitution and an earthquake and tsunami, for instance . . . though I did once run into an atheist who thought that he could convert believers by getting them to admit that God is morally culpable for allowing natural catastrophes. LOL! But all I'm trying to get at is that I wouldn't trade a human achievement to prevent suffering caused by something in nature. On the other hand, I might be persuaded to trade something that is also from nature.

Speaking of atheists, I've also met a couple who think that the Vatican should sell all its treasures in order to end world poverty, which is a similar kind of bargain that we have here. And your answer also applies: we will never collectively end "human misery," because the poor will always be with us; but there are so many things we can do for individual humans.

Finally, the professor who taught the paper which had Oryx and Crake as an optional text made a big deal about narrators. The more outrageous your story, he said, the more ordinary your narrator needs to be. Jimmy is not just ordinary; he's also very unlikeable--both as his younger self and as Snowman! He's not fun to read about, but I guess he's necessary ballast.

Belfry Bat said...

Re. this #4... Let's first get rid of all the commercial successes that glamorize child prost. and other crimes, from W.Allen's Manhattan to that... that other film about the boy who finds a box of love letters buried in the park... can't remember what it's called...; and the commercial successes that actively enable it, from Scientology to whatever relevant hotel chains; and inattentive airline attendants (and border services...); ... yeah, let's get rid of that before supposing that art itself or cities or medicine can only be had by way of atrocity.

Perhaps it's just facile in me, but I can't believe the premise of the game.

Enbrethiliel said...


After reading your comment, I have to ask: what is your understanding of the premise of the game?

Belfry Bat said...

well, I readily admit no understanding at all what the imagined internal premise is, nor Atwood's purpose in including it, but the only significance I can see in, say, "Blood and Roses", as described here, is the suggestion (as you already said) that human lives and moral goods are tradable with commodities. All I'm saying is that not only is this idea morally wrong, it's also effectively wrong: there isn't a shopkeeper to whom you can actually bring the Mona Lisa or St. Peter's Basilica, who can then hand you your children's safety, or avert the Armenian Genocide. It's a devil's bargain, where you lose either your culture or your innocence of others' crimes, and get nothing in return.

Of course, let me know if I'm getting the game wrong, just file my 2¢ where they actually fit.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat, it would be a lot of work for me to type out all the relevant passages for you (again), so let me just say that you're like someone who has read A Modest Proposal and is complaining that Jonathan Swift's vision is impractical because no one will ever be able to find an abbatoir that will take children.

Belfry Bat said...

Somehow, I don't think that's what I'm doing; the Proposal didn't actually imagine anyone going along with it. A game played in a work of fiction implies there is someone in the narative, at least temporarily, granting the premise of the game. Maybe what I'm saying is: this is not a game I would play, even if I were stuck in the novel, not only because it proposes wrong but also because it's a stupid game.

Enbrethiliel said...


Are you saying that because you find the game stupid, Atwood shouldn't have put it in the novel at all? Those are some big britches you've got on!

Belfry Bat said...

No, I'm not saying anything like that at all!

Obviously my take on the game will also impinge on what I think its players are up to; the fact that the game is there, that it is played, tells us something about the setting and the characters. I'm not about to propose that because an author put something in a book means the author approves of it outside of that book.

... I hope you're not confusing me with ... somebody else ... ;-)

Sheila said...

I don't think the game would actually work either, Bat. It doesn't quite make sense. But it's a very interesting thought experiment, anyway!

And of course there are plenty of cases where you *can* trade accomplishments for injustices, or vice versa. I was reading a debate on vaccines this morning (for once, I actually had the brains to stay out of it), and the question was whether it is moral to get your kids the rubella shot, considering it was made with cells cultured from an aborted baby. (The Church hasn't come out on this; my conscience leans "no," but of course that's easy for me to say, having been vaccinated for it myself.) The main speaker kept pointing out that rubella kills people, particularly unborn babies, and therefore it's okay to use the death of *one* baby to save subsequent babies, especially considering we never consented to or approved the death of the original baby. Then she said that most of our medical developments have involved some kind of unethical something-or-other in there somewhere -- like the infamous syphilis experiments on black convicts, or certain experiments run by the Nazis.

And I had to ask myself, don't we have a responsibility then to distance ourselves from this? But how? Do we *not use* the knowledge that was gained in these unethical ways? Or is it enough simply to disapprove? It seems important to me that we at least make clear that we would make different choices, that *we* don't consider it worth it to kill one baby to save other babies. But when you're daily profiting by the death of that baby, aren't you likely to forget about it -- and then perhaps to excuse similar choices in the future?

This is why I boycott so many dang things. I boycott Nestle because I refuse to profit by child slavery; I boycott the clothing industry in its entirety because it's so impossible to tell what is ethical and what isn't; for years I refused to eat storebought tomatoes because of near-slavery conditions in Florida (though I hear this has changed now). It's my way of saying, "No, this is not worth it."

But .... I didn't boycott St. Peter's Basilica when I went there, even though John pointed out that it cost us the Protestant Reformation. How many pieces of Renaissance art was paid for by corrupt nobles who got the money dishonestly? Should I distance myself from that, or rejoice that the money went into something good instead of something bad? And there is a way that good art, and in particular good literature, can have a positive moral impact ..... so that we have LESS evil as a result of, say, "Dulce et Decorum Est" than we would have if we sacrificed it. (That said, if I had to choose WWI and the poem, or no WWI and no poem, it would be an easy choice!)

Belfry Bat said...

Oh dear, the nice things made by slaves :-(

You've found out just how shallow I can be, haven't you, Sheila.

I won't grant the "St Peters => Reformation" thing, though, because St. Peter's was mostly-built before the reformation; ... I might allow that the Avignon exile and its immediate aftermath (the successions of antipopes and conciliarist controversies) are examples of clerical decadence that maybe did cost the Reformation, and that they should have seen it coming; but Luther was a grump and sometimes one should just delight in beauty where he finds it.

but I digress.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- The "frenemy" from uni whom I mentioned in my post happened to be a Psychology major, and she was very drawn to case studies of sexually abused children. Later, I learned that she had been sexually abused herself. =( She wanted the children's suffering to be seen as a net positive contribution by them to the world--rather than something that was done to them by others--because she saw it as the only way for us to bring good out of such evil. (It was also how she could be at peace with her own experiences: she believed that they had given her the potential to be a better psychologist.) There are shades of the Pelagian heresy here, of course, but the question remains of what we are to do with research that has already been done or innovations that have already been developed. After all, we really can't just unlearn them, can we? No more than I could have unlearned what I know of my frenemy's past just because I got it through someone's unethical decision to divulge details of her medical history to others. But we can try to bring some good out of the evil--not so that we can justify the evil, but so that we can at least block it from gaining any more ground.

It may be that my old frenemy was right in a way, and that separating ourselves from these experiences is the wrong way to deal with them. I've been thinking for a long time about what it means to be One Body with the rest of the Church, and I see that one of the implications of that doctrine is that nothing is ever purely individual. Everything that we do for ourselves is also done for others. I think there is a similar oneness in human nature, even though it is not the oneness of salvation. To distance ourselves from others in order to avoid "contagion" with their sins is akin to amputation--and for Christians, simply not an option. Though the Protestants may beg to differ. =P (Ironically, at around the same time that my frenemy was debating these things with me, she also decided to leave the Church.)

Bat -- I guess the game doesn't seem so stupid to you anymore, does it? ;-)

In any case, it really would work if players agreed to accept the authority of the "shopkeeper" who assigns the values. (I prefer to think of him as the "banker"--just like in Monopoly or Deal or No Deal!) And they would accept his authority because they want to play. It's also a little like the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Blood and Roses is an interactive game based on a story. (Jimmy says that most games end up with the world as a huge wasteland, even if the Rose player wins, but people keep trying because it also possible for the world to turn out okay in the end. The Rose player just has to be savvy enough. Oh, look! I think I just saw Pelagius again!)

And now I must say that you've inspired me to work out a "Catholic edition" of Blood and Roses! =D We have our first big Rose item in St. Peter's Basilica, with the same trading value as the Blood item that is the Protestant revolt. Do we make the bargain? Or how about all the martyrdoms of the early Church? Do we trade all that sanguis martyrum even if it means that we lose the semen Christianorum?

Now jump forward in history to the Holocaust. Would we be willing to save everyone from concentration camps if it meant that we'd never hear about St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Edith Stein? Okay, this one is a no-brainer. =P There are so many saints that we have never heard of and who will never be canonised. But perhaps it took the Holocaust to shock the world out of taking its casual anti-Semitism for granted. I can't remember the historian who pointed out that before WWII, everyone was anti-Semitic and it wasn't a "bad" thing.

Sheila said...

I have heard the theory that Hitler's rise to power was the best thing that could have happened at that point. Germany was a mess anyway, and bound to cause trouble, but for it to be led by a guy who 1. was a racist and eugenicist and 2. was going to lose, is the ideal scenario. It is now no longer okay to be racist, and despite the "advantages" of eugenics, we all know now where that leads and are justly horrified by it. And this is the answer to the question of, "If time travel is ever going to be invented, why haven't people from the future gone back in time to kill Hitler?" The answer is, "They came back in time to kill everyone who could have led the Nazis except Hitler." Because awful as he was, he taught us something.

John blames St. Peter's for the Reformation because it was funded by selling indulgences, which was a great scandal. Of course it's not that simple, but given the choice I'd rather have neither one.

Still, I think we have to take the stance, at least about some things, that the past is the past. Imagine you were conceived in rape, but happy to be alive. Does that mean you approve of the fact that one of your parents raped the other? Of course not! You just accept that what was, was, and the results are good, and luckily there's nothing you can do about it now. (I often think: THANK GOODNESS there is no time travel!) Sometimes -- especially when you have suffered in your life, and made the best of it -- you have no choice but to accept the past, even if there's evil in it.

But at the same time, we can't take the same attitude toward *present* evil, like modern slavery. By profiting from it, you encourage it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Having slept on the issue, I'd like to say that, YES, I would trade in St. Peter's Basilica in order to prevent the Protestant revolt. My humble (Ha!) opinion is that it just wasn't worth it. In an ideal world, of course, we would have been able to build something beautiful without selling indulgences, though I'd have to know a bit more about Renaissance finance to write this Sliders script!

That was actually a logical tradeoff! And a bargain that no one has to feel guilty about! ;-P I'd like to think a bit more about other controversial moments in Church history, from the Crusades to Vatican II. They don't quite fall into the "Blood items" and "Rose items" framework, though, so I'll have to think of another name for this version of the game!

I agree that there's a point when we have to accept that something is in the past and can't be changed. Although I'd trade St. Peter's Basilica in our little game, I wouldn't boycott it in real life. It's now part of the heritage of every Catholic--and not merely a heritage of guilt that some of us did horrible things to get it.

Belfry Bat said...

I rather think there *was* a way to build St. Peter's without that particular scandal, but what it were... I... one shouldn't discount too much that the previous basilica was in remarkably poor repair (it's swampy, in an earthquake-prone region, and it had been there for a thousand years already), and that there should be something important at the site of Peter's martyrdom and Michaelangelo wasn't going to live forever... they'd already been putting off the project for a hundred years, but still, haste on the other hand... I'm rambling, aren't I?

Still not buying the Reformation, though.

There was a rumour (and so, you know, never mind it too much) that CID or some such (or all of them) actually did plot to assassinate Hitler, but pretty soon they worked out that he was such a poor strategist, that if someone else (e.g. Rommel) were in charge, Germany might actually win. And there were also plots inside the Nazi party to get rid of Hitler, too, and (for better or worse) they didn't pan out either.

But, En., to answer your previous needlquestion, I'll concede that there might be a way to do genuine history and moral philosophy in a game-type setting (though I still don't approve).

Enbrethiliel said...


You're not just rambling, Bat, but you're also playing. And then clucking that you don't approve of the game.

Belfry Bat said...

Am I? <inward self-directed “Grr...”> ; ... I never wanted to be a spoil-sport, you know. But I also don't know much of what it's like outside me, either...

love the girls said...

"He came to understand why serial killers sent helpful clues to the police."

"4) If trading what you consider the greatest human achievement of all time would mean that child prostitution never happens in all human history, would you make that deal?"

In a heartbeat. Because achievements a typically understood to be some type of a pinnacle or finally such as walking on the moon.

I am glad to give up walking on the moon or virtually any other pinnacle, but not so much wheels and levers because civilization cannot function without wheels and levers and such not.

love the girls said...

"2) Can you think of a popular pastime among young people which gives them an outlet for rebellion while reinforcing the status quo?"

Voting in federal elections. The system is set up maintain the status quo while giving the rabble the sense that they voting out the evil ones.

love the girls said...

It's zero hour and I find myself mystified. Is snowman a disciple of Crake?

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- This blog is like medieval morality theatre. Sin isn't just something that happens on stage, at a safe distance, but is something that is also acted out by the audience.

LTG -- I'm only halfway through! No spoilers, please!!! I don't get all the bits you're dropping, but chances are that I'll figure them out!

What I really like about your answer to Question #4 is that it was so obvious and the rest of us missed it. No one is keen to trade in achievements in art, literature, architecture, and medicine, because we all benefit from those today--but you may have just found the one huge human achievement that turned out to be no more than a big flash in the pan! (Seriously, how is civilisation better because we put a man on the moon and brought down some rocks? How was science advanced beyond the writing of more encyclopaedia entries?)

Your answer to Question #2 is great, too. How depressing, aye? At least Barbarian Stomp kept all that rebellion from affecting the rest of the world, even if the cost of it was stunting the players' development. Elections magnify the rebellion until we all pay for it . . . and the players/voters are stunted anyway!

Brandon said...

Thinking about the question more, I still have difficulty answering it, and part of the reason, I think, is that while a trade may be the better of two evils, that is not the same as the trade being a good deal, in pretty mcuh exactly the same way that trading brain cancer (the active malignancy) for brain damage (the lack of healthy growth) is simply not a good deal, despite trading a worse evil for a lesser one. Obviously the unity of the Catholic Church is a greater good than any number of church buildings, however great. But if we make it a trade, we're being impoverished on both sides, just in two unequal ways. These human achievements are not just things we happen to have; they are part of how we link ourselves together and unite in common cause. Not to achieve these things is a failure. (I think this is somewhat obscured by the difficulty of finding achievements that match the scale of our atrocities. If we were only to allow in the trade achievements that involve as many people as have been involved in child prostitution through history, we'd be talking about a truly massive segment of human civilization simply not being there anymore.)

Blood and Roses is a game of trading in failure; and the danger comes if we're tempted to think that the trade is a good deal rather than just finding the deal that happens to be least bad. In a sense that's perhaps the temptation, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thinking we can somehow get a good deal out of weighing good and evil against each other on a common scale.

Enbrethiliel said...


It is quite ironic that St. Peter's Basilica, one cause of the greatest division in Christendom, is also the greatest visual symbol of the unity of Christendom. It was something that everyone in the Church (well, the Western Church?) built together, and even the first Protestants contributed something before they broke away. You could say that later generations' having to deal with the scars of that schism counts as our own contribution!

The fact that achievements have that unitive function you point out is what would hold me back from making most trades. We really are experiencing all of this as one body, which makes it possible for the sufferings of some members to be turned into something good for all members in the end. Not because the fortunate ones used and exploited the unlucky ones, but because our being connected is a given. That is, we're not talking about currency that can be stolen or traded or even hoarded, but about the circulation of air or even blood.

I think that one moral benefit of playing Blood and Roses is that it can help you to get the righteous anger at all the injustices of history out of your system by making you see, after you've turned the world into a wasteland a few times in a row, that you actually don't know better than the ones who came before you. Of course, your learning this is a function of how self-aware you are--and Jimmy and Crake certainly weren't!

Sheila said...

I think overall Blood and Roses would be morally detrimental -- teaching you to search for a relative metric for weighing good and evil. Eradication of smallpox, or the Holocaust? The only conceivable metric is number of lives at stake. Were more people saved with the smallpox vaccine than died in the Holocaust? Then it's a fair trade. From there it's only a small step to committing a crime like the Holocaust, if only a greater number of lives might be saved from it. Too many people already think this way. Hiroshima couldn't have happened if people drew their morals from unchanging laws (one must never do X) rather than relative ones (one must never do X, unless there's a sufficiently serious reason).

Perhaps we are only bound to the moral laws we are because we can't see all ends. Bilbo didn't kill Gollum when he had a chance, Gollum became the means for Middle-earth's salvation. Who knows how many people have been converted at St. Peter's -- is it more, or less, than the number who left the Church over the scandal of it? Who knows how many people would have died without the smallpox vaccine -- and without knowing that, you can't say if it would be "worth" a Holocaust or not. "The Sorrows of Young Werther" isn't worth all the suicides it inspired, but it's also possible it spurred a depressed person or two to get help. You never know. Adhering to an unchanging moral code is humbly accepting our human ignorance. Which, I suppose, is one of the reasons why it isn't murder on God's part every time someone dies of natural causes. He has the right, not only because he made us, but because he can see all ends.

I think the space race was a rather stupid project; so much money poured into "achievements" that weren't actually worth that much. And we sent that man to the moon long before we were ready -- it was such a long shot, and with none of the technology we have now that could have made it safer. But since it *did* work out -- not just the moon trip but the whole space race -- we now have cellphones and GPS and early warnings for hurricanes from weather satellites. And again, no one could have known at the time what all the effects would be. It kind of cracks me up that we would do all that just for national pride, with no idea just how useful it would end up being.