Plot Credibility Question

Rick Sutcliffe's fiction or other CSF

Moderator: rsutc

rsutc
Posts: 185
Joined: 2003 07 22 1023
Location: Bradner BC
Contact:

Plot Credibility Question

Postby rsutc » 2005 04 12 0703

[incentives to reply to the following: If you have a particularly good argument under (b) I'll name a character for you and have him/her use your arguments at court. All those who make a contribution will be eligible for a draw for free web hosting for a year.]

I have a plot credibility and moral/legal question to pose about a possible upcoming arc in one of my story cycles. I'd like to try it on you for your opinions before attempting to write it.

As readers know, my Hibernians live 200+ years post nuclear/biological warfare. Making human genetic modifications is right up there with employing projectile weapons and practicing law for money as capital crimes. They have been known to riot in the streets when they find out about people doing such things. (More strait-laced in their way even than a stiff starchy Baptist like me.)

A research group has found a way to dedifferentiate cells to the stem state specifically to modify them to:
- increase chest cavity size
- add gill tissue to enlarged lungs
(Well, it's also to tie up a plot loose end from an earlier book. Recall the battle of Glenfinnan? I will work on the engineering problems later.)

People who undergo these modifications can breathe the dissolved oxygen in water for an hour or two at a time, but are dependent on a modified wet suit to maintain body temperature, especially in colder waters. They cannot make these themselves, but purchase them on the open market as Royal Army surplus. They can also breathe air, of course, and indeed could pass on the street without anyone paying attention. Not only that, cells in other parts of their body are unmodified, and their children of course are fully human, lack the acquired characteristics, and have to undergo the same treatments if they are to breathe water. But they've kept all this a deep secret--not hard on a remote island.

Now the Mer want to break out of their isolation into the mainstream. One of their number has applied to join the Royal Hibernian Army as an officer cadet, passed all the tests, including the physical, but at the last a full body scan turned up the modifications. The school commander rejects the applicant as not fully human, therefore not a citizen, not eligible. The App appeals to Tara. [Plot details to this point may vary slightly.]

Because of the importance of the case, it is tried by three Brehons, a Senchus, and the full court at Tara. (Five equal votes; same routine as Cath's trial in The General.) Here is a brief precis of the arguments:

1. By Lord High Advocate Duchaine (a Brehon whose task it is to protect minorities)
"Because the Mer genotype is unaltered the modifications are in the same category as the common practices of regrowing severed limbs or adding internal electronic communications circuitry to the body. Mers are fully human and entitled to all rights of citizens."

2. By Michael Malone a prominent MacCarthy lord (many of this clan's leaders are ultra Celtic nationalists who believe lesser races should be exterminated).
"Because some cells have been altered and the phenotype changes are a result of this, the Mer are not human, entitled to no legal rights, and should be isolated without access to this technology until all the altered humans die off. The perpetrators of this outrage should be hung, the technique banned under the Covenant of the Living (1801)."

3. By charming, debonair and influential Lord Thomas Monde, Science and Technology Domain Lord (whom my readers already know is a very nasty and ambitious control freak, some of whose own work has been banned in the past)
"Why not compromise? When they live on land and breathe air as the rest of us, the Mers could have full rights as citizens, but whenever they are live in the sea, breathe water, and are dependent on Tara's technology, they would not be legal humans. Those who made this discovery have committed no capital crime but should be allowed to further research and deploy this technology only under strict court supervision."

Church lords who stand at court (Hibernia does not believe in separation of church and state, but in matters like citizenship the church can only advise) are mixed. Three bishops agree with the Advocate, one with Monde, but the fifth, who is the titular head of the church at Tara and also MacCarthy Mor, sides with his family. Of the military lords present six (including all four women) side with the Advocate, four with the MacCarthys, two with Monde, and two express no opinion. Per the custom, there have been two domain lords speak for each position, but they need not vote as they have argued.

You are one of the regional domain high lords or ladies who stands at court and hears these arguments (or, one of the judging Brehons if you wish). Besides the merits of the opinions, you must also consider the reaction of your people back home and on Tara's streets, who if they get really upset with your vote will replace you (usually done with extreme prejudice).

My questions:
a. How would you vote? Fully human, only human while on land, not at all, or other.
b. Are there better/different arguments to support your view than those above?
c. Is it credible to suppose the general population would accept your answer peacefully?

I have a few other ideas too, but this should suffice to get the discussion going.

Thanks for your help.
Rick
Rick Sutcliffe
Non-fiction, Christian SF, and columns
http://www.arjaybooks.com

Valdron
Posts: 2
Joined: 2005 04 12 0909

Hmmm

Postby Valdron » 2005 04 12 0958

Okay, to start with, I don't know this world or the politics. So I'm looking at it from the background of legal and ethical training.

I don't think that the 'in the water/out of the water' distinction holds up. This ties the definition of humanity to conduct. I assume that your society defines humanity in inherent terms rather than an external variable threshold.

Look at it this way, it would be like defining human life on the street pursuant to the walk signs. If you're on the street and the sign says walk, then you're human. If you're on the street and the sign says 'don't walk' then obviously, you're not human.

Given the option that you've got a variable here which basically shifts at will or whim, where a person could move constantly and freely back and forth between human and not human states, it would be unworkable.

So let's leave that alone.

The real distinction here, and the crux for your society, is whether they consider illegal modifications to be genotypic or phenotypic. Often they're the same thing, as genotypic mods will result in phenotypic mods.

But phenotypic mods may be quite subtle, even undetectable. A modification which results in higher intelligence, less or more aggression, in being slightly taller, or simply biases a person within normal ranges... guaranteeing a mixed race family will produce blonde and blue eyed children. Sometimes there may be no discernible effect. Or the effect may be deliberately recessive and not result in apparent phenotypic modifications.

So this is the quandary for the society. A difference which makes no difference... is it a difference?

Does this society dwell on the genotype? Or on the phenotype?

If on the genotype solely, then there is no issue here. There's no genetic modification, its not transmissible. At best, you've got tailored cells which are used as accessories. The situation is no more significant than breast implants.

It seems that the real issue here is with respect to phenotypes, and artificial modification of phenotypes. Does this society believe or accept breast implants? What about eye correction? False teeth? Glasses? Appendix or spleen removal? Hair colouring? Clothing?

Anyway, those are my preliminary thoughts.

rsutc
Posts: 185
Joined: 2003 07 22 1023
Location: Bradner BC
Contact:

Re: Hmmm

Postby rsutc » 2005 04 12 1208

Valdron wrote:Okay, to start with, I don't know this world or the politics. So I'm looking at it from the background of legal and ethical training.

Does this society dwell on the genotype? Or on the phenotype?


Most are very hung up on the genotype. But this is a new technology, changing pheotype without changing genotype, and the reaction is unpredictable. Not everyone is all that well educated and the "person in the street" in what is becoming a very unstable time may not know the difference. Thanks for your contribution.
Rick Sutcliffe

Non-fiction, Christian SF, and columns

http://www.arjaybooks.com

Valdron
Posts: 2
Joined: 2005 04 12 0909

Hmmm

Postby Valdron » 2005 04 13 0557

Then your real issue isn't necessarily legal/ethical, it's a popular issue.

And generally, that often comes down, once positions are established, to who shouts loudest and longest.

Basically, I think that you start off with a relatively neutral public on the issue, or a relatively neutral tribunal, with various positions expressed. Then as time goes on polarization takes place, the positions differentiate themselves, extreme positions harden and succeed by virtue of their 'all or nothing' imperative. As one side coalesces, the other side is pulled together by default, and the whole thing eventually breaks down into a shouting match and occasionally a shoving match.

rsutc
Posts: 185
Joined: 2003 07 22 1023
Location: Bradner BC
Contact:

Re: Hmmm

Postby rsutc » 2005 04 13 0823

Valdron wrote:Then your real issue isn't necessarily legal/ethical, it's a popular issue.

And generally, that often comes down, once positions are established, to who shouts loudest and longest.

Basically, I think that you start off with a relatively neutral public on the issue, or a relatively neutral tribunal, with various positions expressed. Then as time goes on polarization takes place, the positions differentiate themselves, extreme positions harden and succeed by virtue of their 'all or nothing' imperative. As one side coalesces, the other side is pulled together by default, and the whole thing eventually breaks down into a shouting match and occasionally a shoving match.


The question to be settled is legal, but the rulings of the Brehons are moderated by the vote of the lords, who (though they are supposed to have only one vote collectively) can remove them from the case, and they in turn are influenced by the people. So far, I am still exploring possibilities on how this plot segment ought to go, because it may become the major trigger for the confrontation between the royals and the MacCartheys. The latter never really take "no" for an answer, so if they lose this one, you can be sure they will be back for more.

Thanks for your suggestion.

Rick
Rick Sutcliffe

Non-fiction, Christian SF, and columns

http://www.arjaybooks.com

JLT
Posts: 1
Joined: 2005 04 13 2037

The humanity of Mers

Postby JLT » 2005 04 13 2125

Greetings,

Just a couple of thoughts:

1) the compromise seems hard to defend: if it hinges on one's life being dependent on technology, then people depending on pacemakers, divers and pilots (and astronauts, if any in this universe) using standard breathing apparatus, etc. would also be disqualified as humans; if it hinges on having to rely on technology to survive in an alien environment, once again, divers, submariners, passengers aboard jetliners, etc. would all be non-humans

2) gills: somebody might bring up the fact (?) that, at one point, human embryos or fetuses (I'm not sure) also use gills; therefore, the mere fact of having gills should not disqualify someone from being human; or else, embryos and fetuses have no human rights either in this world... This would require checking.

3) humanity: somebody might also try to argue that humanity is irrelevant; perhaps Mers should not count as humans, but, if ever this civilization meets aliens, it would want to extend to them full civil rights;
therefore, another possible compromise would be to classify Mers as non-humans, while still extending civil rights to them.

Interestingly, one of my future histories is also post-NBC warfare and features a taboo against gene modifications. The parallels mostly stop there, as far as I can tell.

Jean-Louis Trudel

Janet Sketchley
Posts: 1
Joined: 2005 04 14 0834

Plot/Legal Question

Postby Janet Sketchley » 2005 04 14 0934

My vote: fully human, because of the arguments and because of the people who support this one. If you aren't sure what's wise, watch the wise people you trust. Even being convinced it's the right choice, a voter could be fearful of public repercussions maybe to the point of abstaining. What matters more, a handful of unknown mer or maintaining the fragile peace in the voter's familiar world?

Peaceful public acceptance of a "yes" vote: unlikely, because it would be too esy to stir up mass fear of "cruel, inhuman sea-monsters." But, hey, conflict keeps it interesting, and I'm sure the Donal can manipulate behind the scenes until the mer are heroes.

The argument grouping mer adaptations with regrow and internal PIEA and things like nannies makes sense to me. I suspect MCCarthy sympathizers would prefer a "no" so they can quietly create a race of slaves to abuse in the course of advancing their aims.

Some questions I'd consider in the law-making sense:
Was this development a result of breaking the Covenant of the Living? If so, does that automatically condemn the mer or only the perpetrators? How much choice did individuals have in becoming original mer under McCarthy?

If the practice of making more mers is judged unethical, what about existing ones? Require them to be isolated or returned to their original state? Unless they're accepted as human under some special dispensation, accepting them implies it's okay to make more. I can see Tara military making gills a standard modification for their troops.

Will this lead to re-evaluating the Covenant of the Living? There are other things like Maeve's mother's deformity that are forbidden to be corrected, no? But yet Katherina and Brian both got new and different faces and people can grow PIEA eye screens etc. Even if it's not revisited, I can see mer opponents using this as a fear tactic. The thin end of the wedge, and all. If we accept this, what's next?

I don't know if this is what you wanted. Hope it sparks something useful.
-Janet

rsutc
Posts: 185
Joined: 2003 07 22 1023
Location: Bradner BC
Contact:

Postby rsutc » 2005 08 02 1437

OK, I have written the story. It didn't come out exactly as in the proposal at the top of this section, but close. If anyone wants to read it, let me know either here or by mail to my address if you have it, and I will send you the story, under non-disclosure of course as it will also be going to editors.

Rick
Rick Sutcliffe

Non-fiction, Christian SF, and columns

http://www.arjaybooks.com


Return to “Christian SF”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

cron