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.

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.

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.

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…

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.


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,
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.