by Timothy Lane 12/11/14
In 1947, Jack Williamson wrote the first of his stories about the Humanoids, about a race (if that’s the right word) of robots who foreshadowed the modern nanny state with their Prime Directive: “To serve and obey and guard men from harm.”
The problem was simple: the second part actually contradicts the first. What if someone wants to do something dangerous, such as climbing Mount Everest (or perhaps the Eiger in Switzerland)? “To serve and obey” requires helping the climber ascend, but the higher he goes the greater his risk even with robotic assistance. So guarding him from harm arguably requires not only disobeying him and not serving him, but actually preventing him from attempting the ascent.
A friend of mine once described the result this way: A Humanoid would refuse to let someone ride a motorbike because it’s dangerous. And if that makes the person unhappy? Well, the Humanoid would suggest a lobotomy to get rid of the unhappiness (and probably also the dangerous wishes).
Others have reflected this potential danger in robotic servants. Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics have the protection of human life as the First Law, and obedience to all human orders (unless they violate the First Law) as the Second. As a devout socialist, Asimov never chose to demonstrate where this might lead, though he occasionally came close. Similarly, in the Star Trek episode “I, Mudd”, the robot leader (Norman) says that the robots will effectively take over human society by serving them.
But, whether they ever read Williamson’s works or not, nanny-state liberals have truly taken the Humanoids as their model. Nominally the bureaucracy are in public service, and we are their master. As I said, that’s nominally. In reality, they see themselves as the masters and are very cross about any who challenge their authority (as the IRS demonstrated to many grass-roots Tea Party groups). And in all of this their cry is either “It’s for the children” or “It’s for your own good” — or both together. After all, there have been a number of recent incidents in which parents who allow children to go outside without constant supervision have been attacked as (in effect) child abusers. The protection of the cocoon seems to be their goal (which inevitably is one aspect of an infantilized population).
So can anything be done about our modern Humanoids? Well, it would help to make people aware of what’s going on. Whether or not a 32-ounce drink is desirable (and what if a whole family is buying a larger-size drink because it’s cheaper than buying smaller individual drinks?), or smoking in a restaurant for smokers (something you can probably do virtually nowhere in America now), or for that matter rock climbing or caving (they don[t want another Floyd Collins, after all) or eventually even water-skiing. (For those who are curious, none of these affect me at all, except for me displeasure at the loss of freedom for others. Most liberals are incapable of grasping this, because — like the Southerners a sesqucentury ago — they’re only concerned with their own personal freedom. The freedom of others, or at least those who have different tastes, is irrelevant to them.)
And a good start would be consistently referring to them by such a slighting name. Insult is only beginning, but it at least registers displeasure. This is why I routinely refer to the nanny-staters as Humanoids (with Health Nazis as a subcategory).
Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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