Interrogation Time (Getenrou 6)

by suimasenscans

Bad Cop Inbound

First question: Would you like to buy a monkey?

In the aftermath of Professor Kikuchi’s murder, the Metropolitan Police pick up a suspect who readily confesses to the crime. The problem is – his story doesn’t add up.

To figure out why, Detective Sakuraba Saeko is on the case. Will her new one-person good cop, bad cop routine save the day?

> Get the new chapter here <

[Translator: Umin; Typesetter: Oyashiro; Proofreader: slyborg]

So, I will be busy for the next few weeks. I might be able to squeak out a chapter of Getenrou before then, and possibly a chapter or two of SZS if Umin is available for translating. SZS should be ending in about a month, and doing the last 10 or 11 chapters is probably going to be about the best we can do with the project. Hopefully, we’ll all be up to speed with the goings-on of class 3-F (inasmuch as there is a storyline in this manga) and we can end our work on the project on a good note.

– Oyashiro

(PS: Bonus points awarded to those who get the reference in the picture caption)

14 Comments to “Interrogation Time (Getenrou 6)”

  1. Thanks for the new episode of Getenrou. I really like the combination of science fiction and detective stories. I have always thought that one of the functions of the detective story is to explore and anticipate the impact of new technology on the justice system. I am reminded of Arthur Reeve’s Craig Kennedy stories which were written about 1910 to about 1935. One of the stories written about 1913 was about the then new crime of “automobile theft.” Getenrou appears to me to have some of the flavor of Isaac Asimov’s 3 detective stories about Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw which also take place in the future and involve robots.

    I don’t get the monkey quote at all.

    • Yes, I’ve really gotten an Asimov feel with the last two chapters. I especially enjoyed some of the questions that the last two chapters have brought up – namely, is an artificial construct of humanity capable of feeling true emotion, and even if they are considered to be human, or even human-like, is it a crime to murder one?

      At least in this universe, I’m not even sure that the artificial intelligence fully “human” in terms of emotion. Yes, there was the incident a couple chapters back where the android tried to upgrade husbands, but in this world, there are also robots programmed for sexual acts, and yet these are also considered by some to be “human” or deserving to share the full rights of a human. I think on some level that the sexbots aren’t really programmed to display true emotion or free will, but it’s interesting to broach the idea that they do, and as a result, should be entitled to the same rights as a human. And then that leads into a tricky situation – if you can regulate a certain type of robot’s existence, as an object/being considered fully equal to a human, does that mean that you can also regulate a certain type of human’s existence? Sure, certain types of activities are made illegal, but that doesn’t stop lawbreakers from existing in the first place.

      On the topic of murder, total destruction of a robot is much harder. Generally, I think what makes a person a person is the sum of one’s experiences and temperament. With a robot, even of the artificially intelligent variety, these factors aren’t dependent on easy-to-destroy organic matter and systems. Assuming that these factors are stored on an electronic storage media, it would take special effort to “murder” a robot, since these would have to be targeted. Bodily destruction wouldn’t affect these to any extent, and even if the rest of the body was mangled beyond repair, if the storage survived, it could simply be uploaded to another one. Some acts, like the stabbing portrayed in this chapter, are treated as murder, although it should be possible to repair the robots injured in the factory attack with no ill-effects. Wouldn’t something like this be better classified as “intent to injure/damage” rather than “murder”?

      Asimov touches on some of these themes in his stories, but it’s always fascinating to think about. Transplanting the human ethical system to something that is for all intents and purposes, an alien system forces one to think of which parts take root in fertile ground and others which wither away. I think one of the best things about Getenrou is that the author has taken the trouble to explore these issues more fully than most. I’m seeing why it was nominated for the Manga Taisho award, and it’s a damn shame it didn’t win. It was certainly deserving enough.

      • One of the good things about science fiction is that it is a useful tool for exploring philosophical issues because you can perform thought experiments with it, and even more importantly you can perform thought experiments on issues which we can perceive will come upon us in the near future. It seems to me that there is only one real issue which has confronted us in the 20th and 21st century, and that issue is the impact of technology on the human race. Even those societies which would prefer to get away from it still have to deal with it – those drone aircraft force it onto their attention. Further, just about the only branch of literature which has been making the effort to deal with the issue is science fiction. I am convinced that in another hundred years, when the literary histories are being written, the evaluation of the authors who will be considered to be important from this time period will almost all be science fiction writers. Who reads a mainstream novelist now?

        For instance, H.P. Lovecraft is actually primarily a science fiction writer. When he was alive, he was almost totally ignored and he died poor. But what Lovecraft was doing was in fact very important. Lovecraft was essentially an atheist, and the world he presented was really an atheist’s vision of the world. But if you look at the vision of the world he presented, it is the worst possible place to live in anyone could imagine. In his world, if you actually put all the pieces of reality together, what you would find would drive you insane. The only kind of knowledge it is possible to get is found in cursed books of necromancy, and when you read them you just call up monsters that destroy you. What Lovecraft was presenting was a radical vision of a world without religion and he was doing it with the gloves off. What he was really presenting to us in the 20th century was what the 21st century would become. I have never seen a better argument for believing in some sort of religion than Lovecraft’s works, and his work is very important in this regard, but because his chosen form was writing science fiction for the pulp magazines, of course he was ignored. It is only now that the full force of the problem of the diminishment of religious faith is upon us that Lovecraft is starting to get some critical attention.

        When we move on to the problem of what constitutes a human being, we in the 21st century are at once faced with the problem of what standard to use. It appears to me that there two means of attempting to resolve the problem. The first means is to state that it is an ethical problem and the second means is to state that it is a scientific problem.

        In regard to attempting to resolve this matter as an ethical problem, in the West, this means that it is really a religious problem, because the Western ethical system has its roots inextricably intertwined with its dominant religious system. The problem is, as Lovecraft points out, there has been a diminishing amount of faith in our religious system, or, so to speak, our belief system. If that is the case, then how can our society arrive at a concensus opinion of what constitutes a human being by referring the matter for decision to our ethical system? Christianity has been the dominant religious/ethical system for the West for many centuries, but if you ask a Christian to define “human'” he will state that man is a creature composed of a body and soul and made in the image and likeness of God, which is what Christianity teaches.

        F. C, Copleston says the following in his book “Aquinas” (page 29): “His [Aquinas’s] point of view was that I become aware of my existence as a self through concrete acts of perceiving material things other than myself, inasmuch as I am concomitantly aware of these acts as mine. … I not only perceive a man, for example, but I am concomitantly aware that I perceive, that the act of perception is my act. And this awareness involves the awareness of my existence as a self. ‘The soul is known by its acts. For a man perceives that he has a soul and lives and exists by the fact that he perceives that he senses and understands and performs other vital operations of this kind. … And so the soul comes to the actual realization of its existence through the fact that it understands or perceives’.

        It appears to me then that in the Western ethical/religious tradition, a person is a human being if he possesses a soul, and he is seen to have a soul if he is conscious of himself as a thinking being. But it appears to me that this point of view is only acceptable to persons who believe that persons in fact possess souls. If you do not believe you possess a soul, or if your society is fully secularized so that the religious point of view is not part of a general consensus in your society, then this will not be an acceptable definition of “human” in your society.

        So then the question is whether we can define “human” in scientific terms. It appears to me that this cannot be done because of the following reasons:
        a) Science by itself is a mere collection of facts. It possesses no ethical content.
        b) Organized science, as far as I can tell, does not admit that there is any scientific evidence that either the soul or even human consciousness exists. In any event, neither of these two concepts appear to be subject to being tested by the scientific method.

        It has been hypothesized by some that the test for machine consciousness can be made by the so-called “Turing test,” but those arguments strike me as being entirely subjective and unconvincing.

        The problem with all of this, therefore, is that the only quality that appears to differentiate man from the other animal is not that we possess intelligence (because the other animals generally have some sort of intelligence) but rather the fact that we are self-consciously aware of the fact that we are intelligent beings. But this is not a fact that is susceptible to testing by means of the scientific method because science cannot locate or test this particular quality or substance. But if there is no other quality that separates man from the other animals, then there is no real definition of “human” in a scientific context. We are just another type of animal. And this of course has consequences.

        It follows from all of this that our society finds itself in the peculiar position of being unable to define by some sort of testable method exactly how to define the term “human being.” If we have nothing certain to hang our hat on, there can be no social consensus in this area. This is an absolutely crucial issue, indeed it is the crucial issue for our times, but I do not see how it can be resolved in our current circumstances.

        If you were to ask me how man can be defined, I would go for the religious/ethical solution: I would assume that any object that is aware of itself is only aware of itself because it possesses a soul, and if it possesses a soul then it is a “human being.” I am not quite certain, however, how anyone would go about proving that something was self-conscious. In the end it would appear to me that we would just assume it if it in fact appears to be so. It does not appear to me that one must be a carbon-based life form to be a human being. I do not see why a lumpy black substance should be privileged over any of the other elements.

        As far as why the Getenrou world would want to regulate the sexbots, it appears to me that they might conclude that these sorts of things would need to be regulated regardless of whether the sexbots were self-conscious or not. Socities generally attempt to regulate even non-conscious sexual outlets such as pornographic magazines. From society’s standpoint, if people are spending their time with sexbots instead of procreating with real people, that society will not last too long. And in fact, the population rates of the indigeneous populations of most of the advanced nations on this planet (e.g., the U.S., Japan, etc.) have fallen well below replacement level. So I can well believe that most socities would seek to regulate or curtail the introduction of sexbots in society. Fat chance though that they will succeed.

        The real problem with all of this is that if we cannot adequately define what constitutes a human being, then we end by being mere animals. But if we are merely animal, then how can we have any protectable rights at all? At that point we will be merely animals to be controlled by the state. In other words, if we cannot define what constitutes “human,” then it does not appear to me that there is any real distinction between a human and a robot. As you stated in your e-mail, if you can regulate a robot’s existence, why can’t you also regulate a human’s existence? And in fact, that is exactly the direction we seem to be going. The problem won’t really hit until genetic engineering becomes more practical, but that is not far off. Huxley’s “Brave New World” is really just a world where the people are treated as though they are robots. And frankly no one seems to mind very much. All I have to do is walk down the street and watch everyone with their ipods and cell phones, everyone connected to everyone else 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to see the machine taking over to see the mechanization of man that Leiji Matsumoto got workd up about in Galaxy Express 999. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.) Then we will really be in Lovecraft land. (Check out “The Whisperer in Darkness.”) One of the interesting thing about anime is just how often the issue of what constitutes a human being does come up.

        • A few short remarks (I’ve got to get busy on chapter 8 here):

          1. It seems to me that Lovecraft, although an atheist, comments more on a religious universe taken to an extreme than as an atheist universe being the worst possible place to live. You have godlike beings (which to some extent, are similar in insanity potential to YHWH and a legion of heavenly creatures found in the Old Testament) roaming the universe, and either a) uninterested in humanity (the Mi-Go); b) see humanity as just another creature on Earth to be scientifically classified (the Elder Things and the Yith); c) something that is fun to mess around with/torture (Nyarlathotep); d) an obstacle towards controlling Earth that must be destroyed (Cthulhu/Yog-Sothoth). In his stories, humanity is hanging under the spectre of a powers much greater than themselves, and those powers are capable of warping reality. I think a more atheistic science fiction setting would be that humanity is beholden to nothing but itself.

          In fact, I almost see him as predicting Clarke’s Third Law: “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Elder Things and the Yith, show a mastery of technology that is somewhat integrated into the species itself, The Elder Things with the ability to fly through space, and the Yith, an ability to travel through time and project themselves into other beings. It also occurs to me that the more advanced the creature in Lovecraft’s universe, the more alien its thought processes become. I think that this is probably a response to how aliens were portrayed before Lovecraft started writing fiction: similar to humanity, but with the added wisdom/cruelty that technological advancement brings, i.e. the Martians of H.G. Wells, or Barsoom in Burroughs’ Martian Trilogy.

          2. While the Western ethical thought certainly has a religious undercurrent to it, I’m not sure whether it springs from religious thought, or if religion is used as a justification for ethical values. For example, during the Enlightenment, even in the more atheistic wings of the movement, human rights were held to be self-evident, even if not derived from a god. The right to freedom seems to echo throughout much of modern Western history, even with the continued secularization of society. We see subjugation of peoples, even today, as an ethical wrong.

          Despite cultural differences in what is considered ethical, most civilizations seem to have the Golden Rule included within that value set. Perhaps it’s something deep within the human psyche that keeps springing forth, with slightly different formulations in its expression. Perhaps defining what is ethical, then, is like defining art. It’s not something that is easily defined, but you know it when you see it.

          3. It’s also hard to pin down what defines a human, but perhaps that it is a combination of things we display that other animals don’t. Empathy, the ability to plan ahead, the ability to pass information through a number of generations, etc. Again, I don’t think that this has to have a religious or ethical basis.

          4. Humans, for the most part, aren’t keen on regulating its own existence. I think you could see genocide as an attempt at outlawing certain parts of humanity from existing. It is attempted from time to time, usually in areas of tense ethnic relations where one side has a dictatorial majority. A stop is usually put to it by outside forces these days, and almost always, the perpetrator is tried and convicted of war crimes. I think that’s a forward thinking development for humanity, as we’re able to see something that almost everyone finds ethically wrong and move to put a stop to it.

          (Sorry for the scattershot reply, I really only have enough time to sit down and type out my personal impressions on your post)

  2. well OBVIOUSLY it must be an oblique Merchant of Venice reference, you cunning dog you; the correct response is of course “Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.”

  3. 1. In regard to your first point, I would not say that Lovecraft believed, per se, that life was not worth living. As to Lovecraft’s system of ethics, there is a long discussion on the matter in chapter III of S.T. Joshi’s book “H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West.” Lovecraft’s ethical opinions appear to me to be rather confused and derivative of the opinions of various philosophers, especially Epicurus and Schopenhauer. In Selected Letters, Vol. V, pages 240, 241 and 242, in a letter written late in his life, Lovecraft states the following: “The fact is, of course, that no active & uncrippled mind could possibly accept any sort of religion in the light of today’s scientific knowledge. The whole basis of religion is a symbolic emotionalism which modern knowledge has rendered meaningless & even unhealthy. Today we know that the cosmos is simply a flux of purposeless rearrangement amidst which man is a wholly negligible incident or accident. There is no reason why it should be otherwise, or why we should wish it otherwise. … Actually, organic life on our planet is simply a momentary spark of no importance or meaning whatever. … Although meaning nothing in the cosmos as a whole, mankind obviously means a good deal to itself. … Now since man means nothing in the cosmos, it is plain that his only logical goal (a goal whose sole reference is to himself) is simply the achievement of a reasonable equilibrium which shall enhance his likehood of experiencing the sort of reactions he wishes … This goal can be reached only through teaching individual men how best to keep out of each other’s way, & how best to reconcile the various conflicting instincts which a haphazard cosmic drift has placed within the breast of the same person. Here, then, is a practical & imperative system of ethics, resting on the firmest foundation & being essentially that taught by Epicurus & Lucretius. … Today time spent in considering religion is simply wasted. What is needed is scientific social vision & cooperation, with the rational happiness & balanced development of men individually & collectively, as its sole object.”

    This sort of thing is all very well if you are willing (as I am not) to buy into Epicureanism and scientific humanism. As far as “social vision & coperation goes,” just what does he mean? I can’t think of a better example of “social vision & cooperation” than Huxley’s Brave New World, which is hedonism (of which Epicureanism is an example) carried to its final end point. The point I would like to make is that it appears to me that the proposition that man is in a very bad position is one that a person could naturally conclude from reading Lovecraft’s works. I think that Lovecraft the artist did a better job of explaining the consequences of his beliefs than Lovecraft the would-be philosopher was ever able to achieve in his letters or essays. The fact remains that a character in a Lovecraft story is lucky indeed to find himself alive and relatively unscathed on the last page. He is either dead (as in The Color Out of Space), or is a monster (as in The Outsider) or is in the process of transforming into a monster (as in The Shadow Over Innsmouth) or at some point will become a monster (as in The Shadow Out of Time). Our protagonist at the end of “The Whisperer in Darkness” winds up with his brain in a metal cannister being flown around the universe; and he is one of the relatively lucky ones. The apocalyptic vision of the destruction of civilization in chapter 2 of “The Call of Cthulhu,” in the era when men would be “beyond good and evil” appears to me to be the true ending of Lovecraft’s ideas, and I think Lovecraft the artist knew it.

    It is Joshi’s interpretation of Lovecraft, as he states in the book I cited above, that Lovecraft was essentially a follower of Spengler in his belief in the decline of the West. I believe that Joshi is correct in this regard. Lovecraft would have preferred to live in an aristocratic agriculture-based society, but he knew very well that that was not going to happen. So the only thing that was really left for him was the quiescence of Epicureanism, which is the sort of philosophy you create when your culture is in decline and you know it.

    2. As far as the Golden Rule goes, I would simply state the following: (1) in its positive form it appears to be particular to Christianity and (2) I have not seen a single society throughout history which ever actually followed it. I think Gibbon nailed it when he stated that history was “little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” That is not the kind of register I would expect to see if people were following any approximation of the Golden Rule.

    3. As far as genocide goes, I do not see that there has been any end to it, and it is hardly appropriate for the West to judge others in this regard. It is the announced policy of the United States that we will not attack civilian targets, unless it is unavoidable, and then with damage strictly limited. Yet in World War II, the United States destroyed entire cities filled with civilians: Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. A ball bearing factory, or a naval station (eg., Pearl Harbor) is a legitimate military target; an entire city is not, according to our own announced standards. According to the Internet, Brown University published a report last year in which they estimated that there were 132,000 civilian casualties which occurred as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, two nations which did us no harm. This is sometimes referred to as “fighting the terrorists over there so we won’t have to fight them over here.” I think I may conclude that genocide is with us yet. I find it difficult to see how the United States can complain about genocide and war crimes by others when we have a record like this. I think the proper standard was stated by Osamu Tezuka: “No one has the right to preserve his own life at the cost of someone else’s.” (It was in an episode of Astro Boy.) Whether or not you incur retribution as a result of these sorts of actions depends on how powerful you are and whether you are the victor.

    4. I can’t speak for any other society but my own, but it appears to me that in their origins ethical systems are perceived as originating from a god or gods. So the stele with the Code of Hammurabi shows the law being handed from the chief god Marduk to the king. The 10 Commandments were directly handed by God to Moses. Further, when we look at our own Declaration of Independence, the justication for revolution it provides is essentially as follows: (1) there are certain self-evident truths [i.e., truths derived from the law of nature and nature’s God] (2) according to these truths, men are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, (2) governments are instituted to preserve these right, (3) when governments fail to do so, the people may get rid of the old government and start up a new government. So the Declaration is essentially stating that if the king violates the higher law, the law of God, then it is all right to get rid of him. The Declaration is based on the concept that the law proceeds from God I would certainly agree with you that since the Enlightenment the effort is being made by some to separate politics from religion, but that does not change the fact that historically the ethical system and the religious systems of particular socities, such as our own, were inextricably intertwined.

    So what do you think? I know you are busy right now. More to the point, and more importantly, do you think anyone will be able to do anything with Joshiraku?

    • Well, as far as Joshiraku is concerned, we actually have a few chapters translated and awaiting typeset. I remember someone in the staff was talking about maybe importing the tankobons to scan, but I also recall that those were *very* high quality tankobons, and as a result were much more expensive than normal. I’ll ask around tonight to see what’s going on there.

      A couple of short responses:

      1. I’ve really only read Lovecraft’s stories, not any of his letters or related literary criticism regardign him. I would love to get my hands on the Selected Letters books, but I believe they were out of print last time I checked, and are much too expensive for my tastes. The local libraries are also of the small, rural variety, and it’s highly doubtful that those would be in their collection. I’ll take your word for it. I was just arguing from what I felt I got from the stories.

      It’s also helpful to note that Lovecraft lived through the horrors of WWI. While he didn’t directly participate in them, I’m sure he would have kept fairly up to date on the happenings of the war (see “The Temple”). Watching the mechanized slaughter of an entire generation does little to assure one’s faith in humanity and technology. I wouldn’t find it surprising if Lovecraft, a man who embraced science, would have recoiled at the thought of what science allowed man to do to one another. It’s not a very big leap to see this playing into his worldview of ultimate knowledge being capable of destroying a person.

      He was living in a time of what was possibly humanity’s greatest expansion of scientific knowledge, and his worldview from the quotes you provide sounds very much like a man affected by an apocalyptic war and the reordering of the universe by quantum physics and the growing awareness of just how big the universe is.

      2. I don’t think the Golden Rule is particularly well followed, but it seems no matter what the formulation, positive or negative, the fact that it pops up throughout the world tells something of humanity. The fact that humanity in general has ideals, even if they aren’t lived up to is something positive. I recall reading a response somewhere to the question of whether man was fundamentally constructive or destructive, and the answer was “If we were fundamentally destructive, then how do you explain the arts or man’s general work ethic?”

      3. I didn’t say that there was an end to genocide, or even that there was one in sight. What I was suggesting is that humanity is getting better in this regard. Before the 1900s, entire nations could be slaughtered without second thought. There’s no better example of the Spanish conquest of America. At least these days, we generally think twice before we do it, and occasionally we do think enough about it to step in and try to stop it.

      I’ll agree that the West is pretty hypocritical in this regard. While it’s a bit of a false equivalency, it’s very hypocritical of us to condemn the Nazis for the Holocaust (which we rightly should) while patting ourselves on the back for winning the war with nuclear weapons on civilian targets (which we shouldn’t). I strongly disagree with your assessment that just because we do it, we shouldn’t point out when others do it. However hypocritical it may be, an evil should be brought to light wherever it happens. Sitting around and saying “we’re guilty, so we don’t have the right to condemn others for doing it” does nothing to bring about the ultimate end of that evil. Humans very much turn a blind eye to themselves, but no one grows if isn’t pointed out in themselves.

      As for America’s current wars, I believe that the war in Afghanistan was somewhat justified by its government harboring a terrorist network that perpetrated an attack that killed nearly 3000 civilians. However, along the way, it turned from a war of rooting out a terrorist network into a campaign of nation-building. Our main problem there is that we’ve created governments there, and propped them up no matter how corrupt they become. Once this happens, anyone with a legitimate gripe with the government becomes “the enemy”. So I don’t see it as a direct genocide as much as it is the result of hopeless incompetence. It’s a wrong for very much different reasons, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want it to end, either.

      4. I think that the slow evolution of legal and ethical codes away from religion is that humanity is not so much on top of change as it is struggling to keep pace with it. Getenrou is very realistic in this regard, showing how humanity lags between creating a world-changing technology and using it responsibly. This kind of goes back to WWI at the top of this reply, as it was a war occurring in a time of rapid technological change.

      As for my point in the Enlightenment, it represents one of the first attempts to disentangle ethics from religion. The idea of the social contract essentially states that law doesn’t descend from a god, but from the will of the people. Many formulations of ideas from this time include God, possibly because the philosophers were unable or unwilling to make a complete break with tradition or religious systems, but many of these ideas can still be sensibly restated without. Even the Declaration could be rewritten without “bestowed by the Creator” and not lose much of its impact. I think the statement “the laws of nature” derives from a very rough understanding of humanity’s moral compass, something that is derived from deep down in the human psyche. Perhaps it is a basic desire for fairness, or want of empathy from others.

      I think it is kind of like how ancient peoples explained events they could not understand by saying that it was an act of the gods. Most of us have this basic desire deep down, and we cannot explain where it comes from. By going with the simple explanation that “it must be the work of God”, we entwine it with religion. However, removing the idea that these thoughts and feelings are derived from God, we’ve separated these codes from religion. From there, it becomes a matter of formulating these ideas in ways that are most consistent with our internal moral compass. This is the difficult task, because even though for most of humanity, it points generally north, for every person, “north” is slightly different.

      Don’t misunderstand, I agree that for most of history, ethics have gone hand in hand with religion. I’m simply arguing that it doesn’t have to be so.

  4. As far as buying the Selected Letters, I note the following prices on Amazon.com: Volume 3 – $18.94; Volume 5 – $39.93; Vol 4 – $65. At Arkham House Publishers, Vol 3 and Vol 5 go for $25.95 apiece. Over at Hippocampus Press they have the following: The Lovecraft-Howard letters (a big 2 volume set) for $55; Letters to Morton for $25. They have a special on the combined Galpin and Reinhart letters for $35. Letters to Barlow goes for about $40. The individual letter volumes are actually better than the Selected Letters, which are often cut and which usually have only part of the correspondence to the individuals. Hippocampus Press also has the five volumes of Lovecraft’s Collected Essays for $20 apiece; they also have the whole set of essays on a disk for $65. Finally, your library (either local or university [I think you said something about studying geology]) should be able to get you the books through the library interloan service. You seem to me to be a big Lovecraft fan. If that is the case, I would recommend to you that you get them while you can because I doubt that they will ever be this cheap again. These generally have small print runs and once they are out of print you will never see them reasonably priced again. I have found the Joshi book “H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West” to be quite valuable, and it is reasonably priced on Amazon.com for about $17. Joshi’s definitive life of Lovecraft “I Am Providence” is I think, still available from Hippocampus Press for $100, but that is more life than I need or can afford. Sooner or later there will probably be a paperback version.

    I was looking at “A Day at the FBI” on your blog. I guess you like detective stories also. I only saw one installment. I thought it was good. Maybe you should consider finishing it.

    As far as the Joshiraku tankobon, Amazon.com.jp lists volumes 2 and 3 for 700 yen apiece. That does not sound so bad. I don’t know what the postage is though. As I stated once before I can try and buy them for you if you have some means for me to get them to you.

    I think you are right when you say that Lovecraft was aware of the advances of physics in his time. Joshi quotes a passage from “The Shunned House” concerning the possibility of his alien entities existing as a theoretical possibility in the light of relativity and quantum theory, and then goes on to quote Lovecraft in another paper as saying that Lovecraft urges us as a result to forget that “such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all.” Joshi also states that Lovecraft attempted to draw ethical inferences from the theory of relativity (to the effect that all is chance) and why Joshi thought Lovecraft’s hypotheses in this regard were invalid.

    I think in the final analysis if we as a society really and truly believed that mankind was, as Lovecraft says, “negligible,” that the continued existence of society would be impossible. The Golden Rule, “good and evil” would not have “any existence at all.” If that is the case, then Lovecraft cannot be a good guide to human conduct. I think that the value of Lovecraft therefore lies in the opposite direction; he is showing us, through his artistry, what we don’t want. Philosophically, Lovecraft appears to be an Epicurean, which is to say that his ethics are hedonistic; this is a philosophy which appears to me to be anti-social by nature because it posits that the greatest good is individual pleasure. But I don’t think you can build a viable society on such a basis either. I think it is the exact antithesis of the positive Golden Rule which requires us to go out and actively assist others even if there is no benefit for us.

    I think you suggest that if we see some nation-state doing something that we think is wrong, we have have the right to stop them by force. It is my opinion that we have no such right for the following reasons:
    1. It is my opinion that there is no authority higher in the world than a sovereign nation state. The reason I think this is the case is because this is the best guaratee for our individual freedom. What I mean is this. If you look at the United States, you will see that our guiding principle for the maintenance of our freedom is the system of checks and balances of power. When the Framers of the Constitution were deciding how to best provide for our freedom, there going-in assuption was that man was evil by nature and could not be trusted with power. In the famous quote from Madison, “men are not angels.” (Indeed!) Since this was the case, the only way to secure our freedom was to ensure that the power was broken up among many different parties, and then the parties would be set in conflict with each other. In this way, too much power could not be accumulated by any one person and liberty would be preserved.

    The system of checks and balances is just as important at the international level as it is at the national level. We preserve our own freedom as well as the freedom of others by ensuring that no one state gets too powerful. As we agree, the United States is just as prone to kill others for it own benefit, just as prone to violence and evil, as any other state. It follows that the United States must also be restrained. This must be a self-restraint because just as we should not interfere with any other nation’s sovereignty, so we should not permit anyone to interfere with our sovereignty. The reason why the U.S. Government must remain on good terms with its citizens, and protect their liberty, is precisely because it must rely on them to voluntarily protect the state. It would not need its citizens’ support if its power was predominant on earth. The thing that keeps me free is that the government absolutely needs my voluntary consent to be governed, and this is only the case if other nations are a real threat to it. Consequently, I can only preserve my freedom if my government is limited by checks and balances imposed by other nations. If the United States could interfere with the acts of other nations at will, it would also be strong enough to dispense with my consent. It is not just the other nations which would lose their freedom; it would be me as well.

    2. It follows that a world government must inevitably be a world dictatorship because a true world goverment would be able to defeat any nation state or combination of states. But if this is the case, then there is no set of effective checks and balances, and tyranny must inevitably result because, as we know, men are not angels. It doen not matter what type of government would be involved. A capitalist tyranny is just as bad as a Communist tyranny.

    3. I do not know of anyone or any nation which is wise enough to make decisions for another state in regard to their internal affairs. One hundred and sixty years age, the U.S. was involved in an extremely bloody civil war. It was the opinion of the North that it had the right to force the South to remain in the union against their will. An argument can be made that the South was fully justified in leaving. This argument received widespread support in England. Certainly the North did not scruple to attack civilain targets, as seen in Sherman’s march to the sea. Sherman’s justification for doing so was simply that the south was still fighting; a patently inadequate argument for attacks on civilians. We would have resented it intensely if any other nation state had dared to interfere in our internal quarrel. In fact, when England assisted the South by supplying its naval raiders, we were extremely perturbed and made England pay for the damage caused by the raiders, the so-called Alabama Claims. If the U.S. does not want interference in its internal affairs, it has no right to interfere in the affairs of other, regardless of our perception of their actions. Almost a million people died as a result of our Civil War. If that is okay, as our history books assure us it is, then I cannot see that we have any right to interfere in the internal affairs of others regardless of our perception of their acts. Once we concede that it is all right to interfere with the sovereignty of another nation, we must be prepared to have other nations interfere with our sovereignty if they percive that we are doing something wrong. I am not prepared to do that. Nobody governs me except for officials elected by myself, nor does our Constitution provide for the loss of even one iota of our sovereignty. It is very likely that nations will do things, even very evil things, within their own borders, but I am not prepared to risk my liberty and the liberty of my fellow Americans for the benefit of others.

    4. No one has the right to risk the lives of American soldiers for the benefit of others. They signed up to protect the U.S. and only that.

    5. In the end, violence does not solve anything. The problem is that the winners never remember and the losers never forget. Sooner or later they will pay you back. That is something I must risk when I am fighting for my own liberty, but it is foolish to make enemies by involving ourselves in quarrels not our own in regard to issues we do not understand and which do not involve us.

    I would certainly agree with you that we don’t have the ethical tools to deal with the effects of technological change. That is exactly the central point of this entire discussion. An ethical system needs to be based on some kind of valid authority in order to gain the assent of the governed. The only two grounds I see available which would claim the assent of the people are either religion or science. The modern world is plainly attempting to do away with the religious foundation for our ethical system, but it plainly has nothing to put in its place. In the 19th century, the artists attempted to say that ethics are founded in man’s sense of beauty, in the aesthetic sense. That didn’t get anywhere; no one was stupid enough to follow a bunch of poets. Then the scientists got up and claimed that ethics could be founded on science and what they like to call reason. All we got out of that was social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest, eugenics law (followed by Nazism) and atom bombs. The upshot of it all is that I really don’t see that we have any authority supporting our ethical system. We have an ethical system, but it is being supported mainly by the vague religious feeling of the past. But we are rapidly consuming the remainder of that capital. There is no ethical system inherent in the machine which is consistent with human values. With no ethical constraint on the machine, we must end by being swallowed by it. Lovecraft believed that such a system must collapse, and it would not surprise me if he was right. His response to the problem, however, was Epicureanism, which is to say to run away and make yourself as comfortable as you can while you wait for Cthulhu to come and eat you. This is not an adequate response.

    The upshot of it all is that some may think things are getting better but I do not think that is at all the case. There may be solutions to our problems but I do not see anyone taking adequate steps in that direction.

    You refer to an “internal moral compass.” In Christian terms this would be referred to as a “conscience” supplied to us by God to assist us in making ethical judgements. If we remove God from the picture, then what is the source of this moral compass? Where is it supposed to come from? Can its presence be tested by means of the scientific method? If it is based on biological laws, which biological laws form its basis? The last time someone started in with that, we got social Darwinism, then eugenics and the sterilization of “the unfit” and so on to Nazism. And why do I see so little evidence of it in world history? Why is it that there always seems to be a payback for persons who perform “benevolent” acts in terms of fame or self-applause? You might have noticed how often charitable organizations are named after their founders. If we can’t define “human” (to get back to the original problem) within the terms of modern culture, then how can we know what is good or bad for this organism?

    I guess what I am really interested in this point is what does anime and manga have to say on these subjects? What would our good friend Zetsubou Sensei have to say? Just fall into despair and hang yourself? Have you got any thoughts on this subject?

  5. I think we can say then that we have narrowed the discussion down to a single point: assuming that ethics is not to receve its authority from religion, what would you put in its place? What is to be the source of authority for our ethical system if it not to be found in religion? And what would Zetsubou Sensei think? Once we have determined the source of authority, then we can define what constitutes the definition of “human.”

    • I don’t really have much to answer you with (I’ve been running for about 28 hours straight now, so I beg your forgiveness). I’ll try to come up with something in the next couple of days, but I’m probably going to be too busy to come up with anything detailed.

      To shortly answer a couple of your questions:

      I’m not a very huge follower of anime and manga, and my experience for the last couple of years is essentially what I’ve typeset. I turn into somewhat of a workaholic when it comes to scanlating, so when I get in the groove, almost all of my free time goes into my work. Since I’ve been slowly cutting ties to the scanlation “biz”, I’ll probably have some time in the future to bring myself up to speed on what’s current in manga. Keeping current with a lot of different things (I’m interested in spaceflight, astronomy, science fiction, etc.), staying on top of my studies, and sort-of managing a scanlation group takes a lot of time, and I generally just spend large chunks of time on one or the other because I’m not so good at moving smoothly from one task to another.

      The same problem applies to anime, although there was one OAV series, “Eve no Jikan” that you may be interested in. I haven’t been able to watch it myself, but it does tackle some of the same problems that Getenrou does.

      As for our friend Zetsubou-sensei, I do recall an episode where he turned to Epicureanism before attempting suicide. Then complained about how expensive it was to die these days. He’s very much an anti-hero of the Osamu Dazai mold (see No Longer Human, which I’ve heard is Kumeta’s favorite book), and so is a very sensitive young man who can find no real meaning to life. In No Longer Human, the protagonist turns to drink and women, but in Zetsubou-sensei, it seems the protagonist turns his attention to suicide attempts.

      I think he has a very negative view of life, but deep down, can see the bright side of everything. Sometimes it just takes Kafuka to drag it out, kicking and screaming.

      • I can see you are very busy. Hang in there. I have copies of a number of Dazai’s books, including No Longer Human, Blue Bamboo (which I see from your blog that you have read), The Setting Sun and Crackling Mountain, but I have not yet had time to read any of them although they seem to me to look like they are very good.

  6. Zetsubou-sensei reminds me of Orwell’s “man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache.” He was raised in an atmosphere of privilege and could continue to do so like Rin if he wanted to, but he feels a sort of general malaise about everything. A lot of his actions could be perceived as reflexive responses to this; in equating his upbringing with his unhappiness, he seeks escape through extreme privation. The time that he goes on a hedonistic spending spree is the exception that proves the rule; what he is really reacting to are real hardships that have been imposed on him by Chiri in the first part of the chapter, and he reacts in typical manner by making straight for the opposite extreme.

    —————-

    Orwell had a few interesting things to say about moral centers in his WWII newspaper article “Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun”. The whole thing is too long to post here but you can read it at http://www.netcharles.com/orwell/ctc/docs/fun.htm. Briefly, it is a discussion of historical portrayals of Utopias and an exploration of what he believes a better world would be like. An excerpt:

    —————-

    “The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. Dickens can describe a poverty-stricken family tucking into a roast goose, and can make them appear happy; on the other hand, the inhabitants of perfect universes [in fiction] seem to have no spontaneous gaiety and are usually somewhat repulsive into the bargain. But clearly we are not aiming at the kind of world Dickens described, nor, probably, at any world he was capable of imagining. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable. But does that mean we are aiming at some painless, effortless Utopia? At the risk of saying something which the editors of Tribune may not endorse, I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.

    Socialist thought has to deal in prediction, but only in broad terms. One often has to aim at objectives which one can only very dimly see. At this moment, for instance, the world is at war and wants peace. Yet the world has no experience of peace, and never has had, unless the Noble Savage once existed. The world wants something which it is dimly aware could exist, but cannot accurately define. This Christmas Day, thousands of men will be bleeding to death in the Russian snows, or drowning in icy waters, or blowing one another to pieces on swampy islands of the Pacific; homeless children will be scrabbling for food among the wreckage of German cities. To make that kind of thing impossible is a good objective. But to say in detail what a peaceful world would be like is a different matter.”

    • Your quote from Orwell is interesting, but it does not seem to me that Orwell gets us very far. He states the the objective of socialism is “human brotherhood” rather than happiness. This is very noble, but the devil is in the details, and Orwell does not provide us with any. How is socialism, which is the organized theft of private property, supposed to result in a world of human brotherhood? He states that he would like to live in a world where charity is unnecessary, which is to say he wants to live in a world where our noblest individual impulses have no scope for action, because instead of me giving it away of my own volition, the government steals it and gives it away in my stead. Socialist societies are managed by governments, but our own American experience is that “men are not angels” and I would no more trust a socialist government than I would any other sort of government. In the end they are all corrupt, and only function at even a minimal level when the people keep them under tight control. Indeed, it appears to me that modern history indicates that socialism as a form of government has failed. Socialism as practiced in Europe appears to me to have brought the entire continent to the verge of bankruptcy. I would certainly agree with him that war is bad, but his vague, pious wishes of universal brotherhood to be brought about in some unspecified manner by government theft does not seem to me to advance our position any further.

  7. Just to elaborate a little further, I think that Sensei, Chiri and Kafuka are the three strongest characters in Zetsubou-sensei is that they represent three extremes in reacting to a problem. Thus, there is always a place for them in any storyline.

    Chiri and Sensei are the two ends of the fight/flight reflex; Sensei always flees and Chiri always fights. Their actions are recognizable as human responses to difficulty; they are just totally outsized in proportion to the stimulus.

    Kafuka always denies that there is a problem. This is NOT a response that that makes sense on a visceral level for an individual, and I think it might be the main reason that she is so unnerving. Her behavior is almost more characteristic of people working as a group than of an individual; she’s like a corporate press release responding to a chlorine gas leak, the physical incarnation of the impulse that drives policemen to say “There’s nothing to see here!” as they wave people past the chalk outlines.

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