The Gift We Give Tomorrow, Spoken Word [Finished?]

For rea­sons that shall re­main tem­porar­ily mys­te­ri­ous, I wanted a ver­sion of the Gift We Give To­mor­row that was de­signed to be spo­ken, rather than read. In par­tic­u­lar, spo­ken in a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time. It’s one of my fa­vorite se­quence posts, but when I tried to read aloud, I found the words did not flow very well and it goes on for longer than I ex­pect an au­di­ence to listen with­out get­ting bored. I also wanted cer­tain phras­ings to tie in with other se­quence posts (hence a refer­ence to Aza­thoth, and Beyond the Reach of God).

The fol­low­ing is the first draft of my efforts. It’s about half as long as the origi­nal. It cuts out the sec­tion about the Shad­owy Figure, which I’m slightly up­set about, in par­tic­u­lar be­cause it would make the “be­yond the reach of God” line stronger. But I felt like if I tried to in­clude it at all, I had to in­clude sev­eral para­graphs that took a lit­tle too long.

I at­tempted at first to con­vert to a “true” poem, (not rhyming, but go­ing for a par­tic­u­lar me­ter). I later de­cided that too much of it needed to have a con­ver­sa­tional qual­ity so it’s more of a short play than a poem. Lines are bro­ken up in a par­tic­u­lar way to sug­gest timing and make it eas­ier to read out loud.

I wanted a) to share the re­sults with peo­ple on the chance that some­one else might want to perform a lit­tle six minute di­a­log (my test run clocked in at 6:42), and b) get feed­back on how I chose to abridge things. Do you think there were im­por­tant sec­tions that can be tied in with­out mak­ing it too long? Do you think some sec­tions that I re­worded could be re­worded bet­ter, or that I missed some?

Edit: I’ve ad­dressed most of the con­cerns peo­ple had. I think I’m happy with it, at least for my pur­poses. If peo­ple are still con­cerned by the end­ing I’ll re­vise it, but I think I’ve set it up bet­ter now.


The Gift We Give Tomorrow


How, oh how could the uni­verse,
it­self un­lov­ing, and mind­less,
cough up crea­tures ca­pa­ble of love?

No mys­tery in that.
It’s just a mat­ter
of nat­u­ral se­lec­tion.

But nat­u­ral se­lec­tion is cruel. Bloody.
And bloody stupid!

Even when or­ganisms aren’t di­rectly tear­ing at each other’s throats…
…there’s a deeper com­pe­ti­tion, go­ing on be­tween the genes.
A species could evolve to ex­tinc­tion,
if the win­ning genes were play­ing nega­tive sum games

How could a pro­cess,
Cruel as Aza­thoth,
Create minds that were ca­pa­ble of love?

No mys­tery.

Mys­tery is a prop­erty of ques­tions.
Not an­swers.

A mother’s child shares her genes,
And so a mother loves her child.

But moth­ers can adopt their chil­dren.
And still, come to love them.

Still no mys­tery.

Evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy isn’t about de­liber­ately max­i­miz­ing fit­ness.
Through most of hu­man his­tory,
we didn’t know genes ex­isted.
Even sub­con­sciously.

Well, fine. But still:

Hu­mans form friend­ships,
even with non-rel­a­tives.
How can that be?

No mys­tery.

An­cient hunter-gath­er­ers would of­ten play the Iter­ated Pri­soner’s Dilemma.
There could be profit in be­trayal.
But the best solu­tion:
was re­cip­ro­cal al­tru­ism.

Some­times,
the most dan­ger­ous hu­man is not the strongest,
the pret­tiest,
or even the smartest:
But the one who has the most al­lies.

But not all friends are fair-weather friends;
there are true friends—
those who would sac­ri­fice their lives for an­other.

Shouldn’t that kind of de­vo­tion­
re­move it­self from the gene pool?

You said it your­self:
We have a con­cept of true friend­ship and fair-weather friend­ship.
We wouldn’t be true friends with some­one who we didn’t think was a true friend to us.
And one with many true friends?
They are far more formidable
than one with mere fair-weather al­lies.

And Mo­han­das Gandhi,
who re­ally did turn the other cheek?
Those who try to serve all hu­man­ity,
whether or not all hu­man­ity serves them in turn?\

That’s a more com­plex story.
Hu­mans aren’t just so­cial an­i­mals.
We’re poli­ti­cal an­i­mals.
Some­times the formidable hu­man is not the strongest,
but the one who skil­lfully ar­gues that their preferred poli­cies
match the prefer­ences of oth­ers.

Um… what?
How does that ex­plain Gandhi?

The point is that we can ar­gue about ‘What should be done?‘
We can make those ar­gu­ments and re­spond to them.
Without that, poli­tics couldn’t take place.

Okay… but Gandhi?

Believed cer­tain com­pli­cated propo­si­tions about ‘What should be done?‘
Then did them.

That sounds sus­pi­ciously like it could ex­plain any pos­si­ble hu­man be­hav­ior.

If we traced back the chain of causal­ity,
through all the ar­gu­ments...
We’d find a moral ar­chi­tec­ture.
The abil­ity to ar­gue ab­stract propo­si­tions.
A prefer­ence for sim­ple ideas.
An ap­peal to hard­wired in­tu­itions about fair­ness.
A con­cept of duty. Aver­sion to pain.
Em­pa­thy.

Filtered by memetic se­lec­tion,
all of this re­sulted in a con­cept:
”You should not hurt peo­ple,”
In full gen­er­al­ity.

And that gets you Gandhi.

What else would you sug­gest?
Some godlike figure?
Reach­ing out from be­hind the scenes,
di­rect­ing evolu­tion?

Hell no. But -

Be­cause then I’d would have to ask :
How did that god origi­nally de­cide that love was even de­sir­able.
How it got prefer­ences that in­cluded things like friend­ship, loy­alty, and fair­ness.

Call it ‘sur­pris­ing’ all you like.
But through evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy,
You can see how parental love, ro­mance, honor,
even true al­tru­ism and moral ar­gu­ments,
all bear the spe­cific de­sign sig­na­ture of nat­u­ral se­lec­tion.

If there were some benev­olent god,
reach­ing out to cre­ate a world of lov­ing hu­mans,
it too must have evolved,
defeat­ing the point of pos­tu­lat­ing it at all.

I’m not pos­tu­lat­ing a god!
I’m just ask­ing how hu­man be­ings ended up so nice.

Nice?
Have you looked at this planet lately?
We bear all those other emo­tions that evolved as well.
Which should make it very clear that we evolved,
should you be­gin to doubt it.

Hu­mans aren’t always nice.

But, still, come on…
doesn’t it seem a lit­tle…
amaz­ing?

That noth­ing but mil­lions of years of a cos­mic death tour­na­ment…
could cough up moth­ers and fathers,
sisters and broth­ers,
hus­bands and wives,
stead­fast friends,
hon­or­able en­e­mies,
true al­tru­ists and guardians of causes,
po­lice officers and loyal defen­ders,
even artists, sac­ri­fic­ing them­selves for their art?

All prac­tic­ing so many kinds of love?
For so many things other than genes?

Do­ing their part to make their world less ugly,
some­thing be­sides a sea of blood and vi­o­lence and mind­less repli­ca­tion?

Are you hon­estly sur­prised by this?
If so, ques­tion your un­der­ly­ing model.
For it’s led you to be sur­prised by the true state of af­fairs.

Since the very be­gin­ning,
not one un­usual thing
has ever hap­pened.

...

But how are you NOT amazed?

Maybe there’s no sur­prise from a causal view­point.

But still, it seems to me,
in the cre­ation of hu­mans by evolu­tion,
some­thing hap­pened that is pre­cious and mar­velous and won­der­ful.

If we can’t call it a phys­i­cal mir­a­cle, then call it a moral mir­a­cle.

Be­cause it was only a mir­a­cle from the per­spec­tive of the moral­ity that was pro­duced?
Ex­plain­ing away all the ap­par­ent co­in­ci­dence,
from a causal and phys­i­cal per­spec­tive?

Well… yeah. I sup­pose you could in­ter­pret it that way.

I just meant that some­thing was im­mensely sur­pris­ing and won­der­ful on a moral level,
even if it’s not re­ally sur­pris­ing,
on a phys­i­cal level.

I think that’s what I said.

It just seems to me that in your view, some­how you ex­plain that won­der away.

No.

I ex­plain it.

Of course there’s a story be­hind love.
Be­hind all or­dered events, one finds or­dered sto­ries.
And that which has no story is noth­ing but ran­dom noise.
Hardly any bet­ter.

If you can’t take joy in things with true sto­ries be­hind them,
your life will be empty.

Love has to be­gin some­how.
It has to en­ter the uni­verse some­where.
It’s like ask­ing how life it­self be­gins.
Though you were born of your father and mother,
and though they arose from their liv­ing par­ents in turn,
if you go far and far and far away back,
you’ll fi­nally come to a repli­ca­tor that arose by pure ac­ci­dent.
The bor­der be­tween life and un­life.
So too with love.

A com­plex pat­tern must be ex­plained by a cause
that’s not already that com­plex pat­tern.
For love to en­ter the uni­verse,
it has to arise from some­thing that is not love.
If that weren’t pos­si­ble, then love could not be.

Just as life it­self re­quired that first repli­ca­tor,
to come about by ac­ci­dent,
par­entless,
but still caused:
far, far back in the causal chain that led to you:
3.8 billion years ago,
in some lit­tle tidal pool.

Per­haps your chil­dren’s chil­dren will ask,
how it is that they are ca­pa­ble of love.
And their par­ents will say:
Be­cause we, who also love, cre­ated you to love.

And your chil­dren’s chil­dren may ask:
But how is it that you love?

And their par­ents will re­ply:
Be­cause our own par­ents,
who loved as well,
cre­ated us to love in turn.

And then your chil­dren’s chil­dren will ask:
But where did it all be­gin?
Where does the re­cur­sion end?

And their par­ents will say:

Once upon a time,
long ago and far away,
there were in­tel­li­gent be­ings who were not them­selves in­tel­li­gently de­signed.

Once upon a time,
there were lovers,
cre­ated by some­thing that did not love.

Once upon a time,
when all of civ­i­liza­tion was a sin­gle galaxy,
A sin­gle star.
A sin­gle planet.
A place called Earth.

Long ago,
Far away,
Ever So Long Ago.