Cale Canis

When Frederick Francis Cale was a babe, he observed his father’s dog barking at a cat which had stepped across the street and swiftly dropped to his hands and knees and keened at the top of his lungs, to the surprise and amusement of his parents and the grand terror of the tabby, which, wide-eyed, sped off to the distant alley from whence it had come.

From that moment on, whenever young Frederick would chance upon a cat, he would fall to all fours and bark until exhaustion overtook him.

At first, his parents were greatly amused, but after several months the boy’s behavior remained unchanged. Mr. Cale feared some dark aberration had taken root in the lad’s mind, but could find no example, in the excavation of his memories, of any queer turning in the child’s development; his upbringing had, until recently, been completely normal, which made the boy’s strange behavior appear, in retrospect, all the stranger.

“Surely we should speak to him.”

“Oh, darling,” Mrs. Cale cooed, “Its just a phase. He’ll grow out of it.”

“Perhaps you’re right.”

The next month, the Cale’s neighbors, The Cumberlands, bought a young feline from the local shelter and gave it to their daughter Esmeralda, as a present for her birthday, who decided to take her new ward for a turn around the culdesac. When Esmeralda passed the Cale House, young Frederick, upon spying the cat, rushed to the window, howling and yelping and slobbering upon the glass, giving the girl a terrible fright and causing her cat to tug against its leash, tail flickering, hair standing on end. Mr. Cale shut the window, shot his son a withering glare, shook his head and bounded quickly from the house to greet the woman upon the green and grey.

“I’m sorry. We’ve no idea why he does that.”

To his great surprise the woman only smiled and laughed.

“Its alright. I’m sure its just a phase. Worse to be too strict than too lenient, right?”

A year passed and Frederick’s peculiar behavior remained unchanged—indeed, had compounded. The matter came to a head when, in the month of January of that year, Frederick, in one of his canine fits, tried to bite Esmeralda’s cat. Despite his wife’s protestations and the fact that the Cumberlands were nonplussed about the affair, Mr. Cale sent the child off to the local shrink.

One day, scarcely a month into Frederick’s new regime, the Cale’s phone rang. Mr. Cale answered and was greeted by a frantic female voice.

“This is the Cale Residence?”

“Yes ma’am. This is Arthur Cale. I assume this is about my boy?”

“It is. Please, come as soon as you’re able.”

“What happened? Is he all right?”

“There’s no time to explain. You must see for yourself.”

“Very well, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

He hung up the phone and, with a thrumming heart, dashed to his car, and spun out of the short, white gravel drive.

When Arthur arrived at the shrink’s office, he found the psychologist snarling at a tree.

A cat upon its gnarled branches.

Pihoqahiak

A loquacious waltz droned phantasmically throughout the spacious foyer of Partridge Manor. Charles Jauther found the music simultaneously entrancing and unnerving. He paused beside the U-shaped double stairway which let up to the second floor landing and loosened his tie, eyes roaming aimlessly over peculiar marble statues and framed monochrome illustrations, and ornate synth-spun tapestries, looking for an exit from the oppressive opalescence.

“What is it, Charlie?”

Charles turned to his elegantly garbed wife and forced a smile.

“Nothing, nothing. Just nervous is all. I’ve never been to a showing this ritzy.”

“Whats there to worry about?”

The couple were met at the base of the left foyer staircase by a pale, middle-aged woman dressed all in black. Charles found her outfit curiously antiquated and her lynxish gaze disturbing.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jauther. So pleased you could both make it. I’m Ariadne Campbell.”

“Oh yes, we spoke briefly on the phone,” Catherine Jauther replied with a warm smile, “You’re Mr. Partridge’s secretary, right?”

“Yes. He speaks highly of your husband’s work. I’m sure he’s keen to meet him. This way.”

The couple followed the woman up the left stairway and then left again down a long corridor, lined with simply framed photographs of various people and places. Always there would be a portrait and a construct, a building, a painting, a line of code, directly across from it.

Charles gestured to the photographs.

“Who are all these people?”

Ariadne replied without turning or pausing.

“Mr. Partridge’s students—and their work.”

“There’s… so many… he must be quiet a busy man.”

“Industriousness is one of the few qualities you and he share.”

He felt that the words were meant as a subtle insult and wondered if it was the quality of his work she took issue with, or the philosophy that motivated it, or both. He decided against addressing the issue for the sake of his wife and continued following the icy hostess.

The hall of portraits let out into a massive ballroom where the bulk of the host of the stately manse had gathered. The buzzing throng huddled around a singular figure, pale and elegant, garbed in long white coat, tipped at the collar with similarly albescent fur, appearing more as one of the marble statues that lined the manor’s halls than a man.

Ariadne stopped before the pristine figure and turned towards the two new arrivals.

“Mr. and Ms. Jauther, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Partridge.”

The albescent man turned to greet the couple, revealing a sharp, bloodless face and keen, azure eyes.

“Salutations. So pleased you could make it.”

Catherine smiled and curtsied as Charles extended his hand and shook Lynder’s black-gloved own.

“We appreciated the invitation.”

Lynder nodded and then beckoned a young servant, who approached bearing a platter filled with drinks.

“Wine?”

“Oh yes, sounds lovely. Thank you.”

“What kind is it,” Catherine inquired.

“Scharzhof riesling,” Lydner replied as he gingerly removed two glasses from the servants silver plate and handed them to his guests.

“That’s quite expensive, isn’t it?” Catherine cooed as she eagerly, but cordially, took a glass.

Lynder nodded, “Indeed, but, as the saying goes, one gets what one pays for.”

“Fraid I don’t know much about wine.” Charles declared flatly as he stared down at his glass indecisively.

Lynder raised his vessel to the light, gently swirling the topaz liquid within.

“The drink of choice of the ancient Mediterraneans.”

“Didn’t know they had Scharzhof riesling back then.”

Lynder turned to Charles with a faint smile gracing his bloodless face and then gestured for the man to follow him.

“I hear you’re planning a trip to Nunavut to record the wildlife.”

“Yes. I’ve recorded damn near every land-animal on the continent, but never a polar bear. Besides my wife has always wanted to see the north. So its a win-win.”

“Taking anyone else along?”

“Wasn’t planning to. Why do you ask?”

“Its dangerous up there.”

“Its dangerous everywhere.”

“Yes, but, on my island, for example, you stand little chance of being vivisected by a polar bear.”

“Equipment is sensitive. Won’t be getting too close; that is, if I’m even able to find any.”

“You will at least take a gun with you?”

“Don’t own any. Wouldn’t take one even if I did. Cat hates guns.”

“So do polar bears. Did you know that a man was eaten by one last year. On Sentry Island, up by Nunavut.”

“I know of the place, but I hadn’t heard. What happened?”

“Man named Ridley Garrick had taken his children – a son and daughter, both very young – up for a fishing trip. The isle is a popular fishing spot. While Garrick was distracted, a bear attacked the children-”

“Oh god…”

“However, Garrick was able to intervene before it could reach them and fought it – unfortunately, for him, he was unarmed, and thus, swiftly killed.”

“Did the kids get away?”

“Yes. RCMP was notified and found the bear eating Mr. Garrick’s remains. They shot it in the face – twice – and that was the end of it.”

“What an unfortunate affair.”

“One which could have been easily avoided through the addition of a lightly armed detachment.”

“Do you write for the gun lobby or something?”

Partridge smiled with amusement and took a sip of wine before replying.

“If I were a lobbyist, you’d have long ago returned to your wife out of boredom.”

“Ha, well, its just… you seem like you don’t like animals.”

“We are animals, Mr. Jauther. I’m speaking specifically about the bears. It is not a question of liking or disliking them, but of understanding their nature.”

“Its only because of our disruption that they attack.”

“I’ll not insult your intelligence by suggesting you truly believe that.”

“Condescend all you like, but we press into their territory. Disturb the natural balance.”

“The ‘natural balance?'”

“Yes. Natural harmony.”

“Mr. Jauther, there is no harmony.”

“Butterflies and pollination – that isn’t harmonious?”

Lynder downed the last of his wine and turned the sanguine dregs in the light.

“Even butterflies drink blood.”

 


 

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Riven Cage

The body had no face.

Guiles Dörre recoiled from the bars of the tiger cage, inhaling deeply to steady himself. A horrified moan, stifled in his throat, choked by his slowly eroding constitution. The zoo’s emergency sirens blaring in the din. Scent of blood, heavy in the air, mingling odiously with the pungent alloy of the bars and the urine and gore of the caged and disemboweled.

The Bengal tiger crouched over what had once been a woman, canines and carnassials sanguine from the killing bite and its play thereafter. The body’s faceless head was strangely angled, one ear skyward as if to better hear the ringing alarm; the neck, clearly broken.

Fear further enveloped the night watchman as he realized the entryway into the animal’s cage had been rent by heavy bolt-cutters which swung wide with the night wind—bolt-cutters which lay within the cage beside the body of the dead woman.

He locked eyes with the moonlit beast, but thirty five feet away, as it dropped the ruddy, mangled corpse, arched its back and bared its fangs. Amber eyes glinting full with the pale bone of the moon.

Dörre raised his shotgun and fired.

Once. Twice.

The great feline collapsed in a bloody, matted heap.

Dörre swiftly reloaded, then cautiously moved through the wind-blown door and inspected the carcass of the beast where it lay upon the rutted ground beside its prey.

The body had no face.

Art+ificiality: Machine Creativity & Its Critics

 

§. In Sean D. Kelly’s, A philosopher argues that an AI can’t be an artist, the author, at the outset, declares:

“Creativity is, and always will be, a human endeavour.” (S. D. Kelly)

A bold claim, one which can hardly be rendered sensible without first defining ‘creativity,’ as the author well realizes, writing:

“Creativity is among the most mysterious and impressive achievements of human existence. But what is it?” (Kelly)

The author attempts to answer his selfsame query with the following two paragraphs.

“Creativity is not just novelty. A toddler at the piano may hit a novel sequence of notes, but they’re not, in any meaningful sense, creative. Also, creativity is bounded by history: what counts as creative inspiration in one period or place might be disregarded as ridiculous, stupid, or crazy in another. A community has to accept ideas as good for them to count as creative.

 

As in Schoenberg’s case, or that of any number of other modern artists, that acceptance need not be universal. It might, indeed, not come for years—sometimes creativity is mistakenly dismissed for generations. But unless an innovation is eventually accepted by some community of practice, it makes little sense to speak of it as creative.” (Kelly)

§. Through Kelly, we have the definition-via-negation that ‘creativity is not just novelty,’ that it is not random, that it is a practice, bounded by history, and that it must be communally accepted. This is a extremely vague definition of creativity; akin to describing transhumanism as, “a non-random, sociohistorically bounded practice” which is also “not nordicism, arianism or scientology.” While such a description is accurate (as transhumanism is not constituted through or by the three aforementioned ideologies) it doesn’t tell one much about what transhumanism is, as such a description could describe any philosophical system which is not nordicism, arianism or scientology, just as Kelly’s definition does not tell one much about what creativity is. If one takes the time to define ones terms, one swiftly realizes that, in contradistinction to the proclamation of the article, creativity is most decidedly not unique to humans (ie. dolphins, monkeys and octopi, for example, exhibit creative behaviors). One may rightly say that human creativity is unique to humans, but not creativity-as-such, and that is a crucial linguistic (and thus conceptual) distinction; especially since the central argument that Kelly is making is that a machine cannot be an artist (he is not making the claim that a machine cannot be creative, per-se) thus, a non-negative description of creativity is necessary. To quote The Analects, “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything” (Arthur Waley, The Analects of Confucius, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, p. 161).

§. A more rigorous definition of ‘creativity’ may be gleaned from Allison B. Kaufman, Allen E. Butt, James C. Kaufman and Erin C. Colbert-White’s Towards A Neurobiology of Creativity in Nonhuman Animals, wherein they lay out a syncretic definition based upon the findings of 90 scientific research papers on human creativity.

Creativity in humans is defined in a variety of ways. The most prevalent definition (and the one used here) is that a creative act represents something that is different or new and also appropriate to the task at hand (Plucker, Beghetto, & Dow, 2004; Sternberg, 1999; Sternberg, Kaufman, & Pretz, 2002). […]

 

“Creativity is the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context” (Plucker et al., 2004, p. 90). [Kaufman et al., 2011, Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol. 125, No. 3, p.255]

§. This definition is both broadly applicable and congruent with Kelly’s own injunction that creativity is not a mere product of a bundle of novelty-associated behaviors (novelty seeking/recognition), which is true, however, novelty IS fundamental to any creative process (human or otherwise). To put it more succinctly: Creativity is a novel-incorporative, task-specific, multi-variant neurological function. Thus, Argumentum a fortiori, creativity (broadly and generally speaking), just as any other neurological function, can be replicated (or independently actualized in some unknown way). Kelly rightly notes that (human) creativity is socially bounded, again, this is (largely) true, however, whether or not a creative function is accepted as such at a later time is irrelevant to the objective structures which allow such behaviors to arise. That is to say that it does not matter whether or not one is considered ‘creative’ in any particular way, but rather, that one understands how the nervous system generates certain creative behaviors (however, it would matter as pertains to considerations of ‘artistry’ given that the material conditions necessary for artistry to arise require a audience and thus, the minimum sociality to instantiate it). I want to make clear that my specific interest here lies not in laying out a case for artificial general intelligence (AGI), of sapient-comparability (or some other), nor even, in contesting Kelly’s central claim that a machine intelligence could not become a artist, but rather, in making the case that creativity-as-a-function can be generated without an agent. Creativity is a biomorphic sub-function of intelligence; intelligence is a particular material configuration, thus, when a computer exceeds human capacity in mathematics, it is not self-aware (insofar as we are aware) of its actions (that it is doing math or how), but it is doing math all the same, that is to say, it is functioning intelligently but not ‘acting.’ In the same vein, it should be possible for sufficiently complex systems to function creatively, regardless of whether such systems are aware of the fact. [the Open Worm Project is a compelling example of bio-functionality operating without either prior programming or cognizance]

“Advances in artificial intelligence have led many to speculate that human beings will soon be replaced by machines in every domain, including that of creativity. Ray Kurzweil, a futurist, predicts that by 2029 we will have produced an AI that can pass for an average educated human being. Nick Bostrom, an Oxford philosopher, is more circumspect. He does not give a date but suggests that philosophers and mathematicians defer work on fundamental questions to ‘superintelligent’ successors, which he defines as having ‘intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest.’

 

Both believe that once human-level intelligence is produced in machines, there will be a burst of progress—what Kurzweil calls the ‘singularity’ and Bostrom an ‘intelligence explosion’—in which machines will very quickly supersede us by massive measures in every domain. This will occur, they argue, because superhuman achievement is the same as ordinary human achievement except that all the relevant computations are performed much more quickly, in what Bostrom dubs ‘speed superintelligence.’

 

So what about the highest level of human achievement—creative innovation? Are our most creative artists and thinkers about to be massively surpassed by machines?

 

No.

 

Human creative achievement, because of the way it is socially embedded, will not succumb to advances in artificial intelligence. To say otherwise is to misunderstand both what human beings are and what our creativity amounts to.

 

This claim is not absolute: it depends on the norms that we allow to govern our culture and our expectations of technology. Human beings have, in the past, attributed great power and genius even to lifeless totems. It is entirely possible that we will come to treat artificially intelligent machines as so vastly superior to us that we will naturally attribute creativity to them. Should that happen, it will not be because machines have outstripped us. It will be because we will have denigrated ourselves.” (Kelly)

§. For Kelly, then, the concern is not that machines will surpass human creative potential, but that we will think that they have after fetishizing them and turning them into sacral objects; deifying them through anthropomorphization and turning them into sites of worship. This is a salient concern, however, the way to obviate such a eventuality (if that is one’s goal) is to understand not just the architecture of the machine but the architecture of creativity itself.

“Also, I am primarily talking about machine advances of the sort seen recently with the current deep-­learning paradigm, as well as its computational successors. Other paradigms have governed AI research in the past. These have already failed to realize their promise. Still other paradigms may come in the future, but if we speculate that some notional future AI whose features we cannot meaningfully describe will accomplish wondrous things, that is mythmaking, not reasoned argument about the possibilities of technology.

 

Creative achievement operates differently in different domains. I cannot offer a complete taxonomy of the different kinds of creativity here, so to make the point I will sketch an argument involving three quite different examples: music, games, and mathematics.

 

Can we imagine a machine of such superhuman creative ability that it brings about changes in what we understand music to be, as Schoenberg did?

 

That’s what I claim a machine cannot do. Let’s see why.

 

Computer music composition systems have existed for quite some time. In 1965, at the age of 17, Kurzweil himself, using a precursor of the pattern recognition systems that characterize deep-learning algorithms today, programmed a computer to compose recognizable music. Variants of this technique are used today. Deep-learning algorithms have been able to take as input a bunch of Bach chorales, for instance, and compose music so characteristic of Bach’s style that it fools even experts into thinking it is original. This is mimicry. It is what an artist does as an apprentice: copy and perfect the style of others instead of working in an authentic, original voice. It is not the kind of musical creativity that we associate with Bach, never mind with Schoenberg’s radical innovation.

 

So what do we say? Could there be a machine that, like Schoenberg, invents a whole new way of making music? Of course we can imagine, and even make, such a machine. Given an algorithm that modifies its own compositional rules, we could easily produce a machine that makes music as different from what we now consider good music as Schoenberg did then.

 

But this is where it gets complicated.

 

We count Schoenberg as a creative innovator not just because he managed to create a new way of composing music but because people could see in it a vision of what the world should be. Schoenberg’s vision involved the spare, clean, efficient minimalism of modernity. His innovation was not just to find a new algorithm for composing music; it was to find a way of thinking about what music is that allows it to speak to what is needed now.

 

Some might argue that I have raised the bar too high. Am I arguing, they will ask, that a machine needs some mystic, unmeasurable sense of what is socially necessary in order to count as creative? I am not—for two reasons.

 

First, remember that in proposing a new, mathematical technique for musical composition, Schoenberg changed our understanding of what music is. It is only creativity of this tradition-defying sort that requires some kind of social sensitivity. Had listeners not experienced his technique as capturing the anti-­traditionalism at the heart of the radical modernity emerging in early-­20th-century Vienna, they might not have heard it as something of aesthetic worth. The point here is that radical creativity is not an “accelerated” version of quotidian creativity. Schoenberg’s achievement is not a faster or better version of the type of creativity demonstrated by Oscar Straus or some other average composer: it’s fundamentally different in kind.” (Kelly)

§. Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) was a Austrian-American composer who became well known for his atonal musical stylings. Kelly positions Schoenberg as a exemplar of ‘radical creativity’ and notes that Shoenberg’s achievement is not a faster or better version of the type of creativity demonstrated by the Viennese composer Oscar Straus (1870–1954) or, ‘some other average composer: it’s a fundamentally different kind.’ This is true. There are different kinds of creativity (as it is a obviously multi-faceted behavioural domain); thus, a general schema of the principal types of creativity is required. In humans, creative action may be “combinational, exploratory, or transformational” (Boden, 2004, chapters 3-4), where combinational creativity (the most easily recognized) involves a uncommon fusion of common ideas. Visual collages are a very common example of combinational creativity; verbal analogy, another. Both exploratory and transformational creativity, however, differ from combinational creativity in that they are conceptually bounded in some socially pre-defined space (whereas, with combinational creativity the conceptual bounding theoretically extends to all possible knowledge domains and, though it almost always is, need not be extended to the interpersonal). Exploratory creativity involves utilizing preexisting strictures (conventions) to generate novel structures (such as a new sentence, which, whilst novel, will have been constructed within a preexisting structure; ie. the language in which it is generated). Transformational creativity, in contrast, involves the modulation or creation of new bounding structures which fundamentally change the possibility of exploratory creativity (ie. creating a new language and then constructing a new sentence in that language wherein the new language allows for concepts that were impossible within the constraints of the former language). Transformational creativity is the most culturally salient of the three, that is to say, it is the kind which is most likely to be discussed, precisely because the externalization of transformational creativity (in human societies) mandates the reshaping, decimation or obviation of some cultural convention (hence, ‘transformational’). Schoenberg’s acts of musical innovation (such as the creation of the twelve-tone technique) are examples of transformational creativity, whereas his twelve-tone compositions after concocting his new musical technique are examples of exploratory and combinational creativity (ie. laying out a new set of sounds; exploring the sounds; combining and recombining them). In this regard, Kelly is correct; Schoenberg’s musical development is indeed a different kind of creativity than that exhibited by ‘some average composer’ as a average composer would not initiate a paradigm shift in the way music was done. That being said, this says nothing about whether a machine would be able to enact such shifts itself. One of the central arguments which Kelly leverages against transformational machine creativity (potential for an AI to be an artist) is that intelligent machines presently operate along the lines of computational formalism, writing,

“Second, my argument is not that the creator’s responsiveness to social necessity must be conscious for the work to meet the standards of genius. I am arguing instead that we must be able to interpret the work as responding that way. It would be a mistake to interpret a machine’s composition as part of such a vision of the world. The argument for this is simple.

Claims like Kurzweil’s that machines can reach human-level intelligence assume that to have a human mind is just to have a human brain that follows some set of computational algorithms—a view called computationalism. But though algorithms can have moral implications, they are not themselves moral agents. We can’t count the monkey at a typewriter who accidentally types out Othello as a great creative playwright. If there is greatness in the product, it is only an accident. We may be able to see a machine’s product as great, but if we know that the output is merely the result of some arbitrary act or algorithmic formalism, we cannot accept it as the expression of a vision for human good.

For this reason, it seems to me, nothing but another human being can properly be understood as a genuinely creative artist. Perhaps AI will someday proceed beyond its computationalist formalism, but that would require a leap that is unimaginable at the moment. We wouldn’t just be looking for new algorithms or procedures that simulate human activity; we would be looking for new materials that are the basis of being human.” (Kelly)

§. It is noteworthy that Kelly’s perspective does not factor in the possibility that task-agnostic, self-modeling machines (see the work of Robert Kwiatkowski and Hod Lipson) could network such that they develop social capabilities. Such creative machine sociality answers the question of social embeddedness proposed by Kelly as a roadblock. Whilst such an arrangement might not appear to us as ‘creativity’ or ‘artistry,’ it would be pertinent to investigate how these hypothetical future machines ‘self’ perceive their interactions. It may be that future self-imaging thinking machines will look towards our creative endeavours the same way Kelly views the present prospects of their own.


§.Sources

  1. Allison B. Kaufman et al. (2011) Towards a neurobiology of creativity in nonhuman animals. Journal of Comparative Psychology.
  2. Brenden M. Lake et al. (2016) Building machines that learn and think like people. Cornell University. [v.3]
  3. Oshin Vartanian et al. (2013) Neuroscience of Creativity. The MIT Press.
  4. Peter Marbach & John N. Tsitsklis. (2001) Simulation-based optimization of markov reward processes. IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control.
  5. R. Kwiatkowski & H. Lipson. (2019) Task-agnostic self-modeling machines. Science Robotics, 4(26).
  6. Samer Sabri & Vishal Maini. (2017) Machine Learning For Humans.
  7. Sean Dorrance Kelly. (2019) A philosopher argues that AI can’t be an artist. MIT Technology Review.
  8. S. R. Constantin. (2017) Strong AI Isn’t Here Yet. Otium.
  9. Thomas Hornigold. (2018) The first novel written by AI is here—and its as weird as you’d expect it to Be. Singularity Hub.

Brightburner

From the womb the creature came, naked and squealing, fording the waters of life-knowing, ill-formed and strange to himself. Blurry sights and sounds echoed all around the small and squirming being, obfuscating the world through their eminence. Words there entailed and them amenable to the creature’s unfurling sensibilities: Miras, Miras, Miras. “My name,” the creature thought, “Such is my name.” Other sensations filtered in thereafter; from the outside.

Cold.

Damp.

Distance.

Presence.

Weight of biomass.

A lingering emptiness.

Alienation subsumed him and he cried out, grasping through the foggy amniotic sludge, stretching his bony, slathered hands to that which hung above, enveloping everything; the ambit of all his world. His caterwauling availess. Great arms there embraced him and a voice, lofty and sonorous spake with tender concern. “Hush and be still, dear Miras. I am here now. Here for you.” Miras smiled and closed his unburnished eyes and rested his malformed and twisted bulk upon the breast of the great being and fell to a slumber that was of a thousand years. When he awoke it were as if the passage of time had skipped him over. She was nowhere to be seen.

Miras unfurled himself from the filthy ground and stretched as light filtered in from a billion radiant spheres. Luminance blinding. Raising one of his small, fleshy protrusions, the creature slithered-flopped across the ground, moving towards the source of the radiance in the far-flung distance. He wanted to know the source of the lights and the wherefore of his cradle’s vanishing. A pain gripped the beast then, shattering the splendor of his idle and rending confusion whole. A horrid pulsation in the pit of the creature’s abdomen. It was hunger. His ill-formed fangs clattered dully with nervous agitation as he scanned the barren, rocky terrain of the cavern surrounding. No sustenance. Only stones and darkness.

I must leave this place. I must devour.

Pace quickened. Within. Without. Shortly, the sanctuary came to an end and Miras, called by his hunger, beheld a great chasm of white, as if a terrible wound in the face of the holo. Light like blood spilling through it, cascading upon and over and through his sensorium – needle piercing his marrowing with understanding and filling him up with wonderment. Descending through the portal, the creature emerged entire unto the plane of light, scall’d by some calamity beyond all reckoning and the air was thick with voice. A hundred thousand million screams. All at odds with the other, jockeying for position as if in the midst of some great competition. Miras dragged himself through the blackened silt of the barren plane, following the voices and beheld a great tower in the distance and it in ruins and upon it’s 99 terraces great creatures with slithering faces and mighty wings perched silently, beholding below them, workers who heaved stone after stone up great dusty ramps to their fellows above them on parapets and they in turn hefted them higher still to those above them. All the men at the bottom were equal to those at the middle and those at the middle to those above them, but all listened to the mighty beasts who sat upon the towers, cawing into the endless and red and boiling sky. Suddenly, one of the workers – young and emaciated – collapsed from the stain of his labors, the heavy stone hefted falling with a dull thud upon the ashen ground before the tower and him likewise following. A hush fell over the crowd and the people made a circle-clear before him. One of the beasts descended and inspected the organism with it’s tendrils and then lifted him up and shook him and then slid the man into it’s enormous maw with a clatter of broken bones. Glass on ice.

Miras, horrified, slithered behind the closest rock, fast as his stunted flippers would carry him as the great beast turned to scan the place where he had been, as if it knew it were being watched by the outside. Then all the slaves threw themselves at the monster’s feet and began to chant in tongues and the beast stretched its wings and ascended to the skies which whorled with sanguine hues. Blood rained and the ground squirmed with small, hissing creatures without eyes, mutilcolored and with jaws distended, who licked up the blood before them with long chaneled tongues and feasted upon the remains.

Despite his horror, Miras swiftly seized his chance for sustenance and dove at the first of the wormy beings. He was surprised how easy he tore them to pieces and how sweet their radiant insides tasted upon his palate. He grew quickly in size and wobbled about the same height as the slaves; he began to eat them too and soon he was nearly big as the slither-faced overlords who perched as yet upon their towers. Watching. Gone were the flabby flippers, replaced by powerful arms and legs and retractable claws; the mushy slurping maw now chiseled and extended, eyes sharpening against the harsh glare of the light which bathed the rutted plain with its sterile effulgence. Being yet unbecome; his hunger lingered still, this of different grade and it burnign in his now fully formed loins. He clamber quickly, bipedal sleek up the first dusty ramp and there took one of the workers and pressed him down and satisfied himself to his cavitives and ate him. The brightness would not abate and though less, still it burned Miras’ eyes and he moved up to the next ramp and continued his work til there were no slaves there either and upon the third a female laborer he took and she pressing her fragile limbs against his mighty frame, cawing, “Eat me not!” And he did not and instead extended his tongue across and within her and tasted her over and then coiled the organism into his own and with his pulsing hardness met her slick holes and filled her with his seed. As they twined upon the ground in feral embrace the beasts flew down from the tower and assailed the tresspasser, for the stones no longer were ferried and all advance had ceased. Strike as he may, Miras could harm them not and shortly, they tore him to pieces and the woman slumped upon the ground, eyes wide and stomach vast and from her womb, a river of blood and a tiny form that sucked the light down from the sky. It stood up on meshy flippers from the rent husk of its mother and gazed about with sorry eyes.

I must leave this place. I must devour.

The Farm and the Forest (Part VI)

~6~

A New Day Dawns

The winter had been long and grueling. More than a few animals on the Farm had succumbed to the cold or shortages in rations. Others had been dragged off in the twilight hours by the ravenous animals of the Forest who always struggled in the cold months and became frantic in their search for sustenance. As if this were not bad enough, internecine violence had exploded within certain groups of animals. The geese, their ranks bolstered by the growing numbers of wild geese crowding in from the Forest, had become particularly self destructive. Most of the Forest geese fled south for the winter, but the change in the Rules inspired the craftiest, and laziest, of their number to move onto the Farm instead. Even with all of the troubles plaguing the Farm, it was still a far and away better life to live in pens, receive any kind of ration, and sleep somewhat soundly under the watchful eyes of the dogs. This influx pushed the accommodations to the breaking point, which in turn caused unrest among the geese who unleashed their angst on the neighboring chickens and ducks. Birds are quick to anger, and it never took much for violence to break out, particularly at feeding times.

One bright and bitter morning, as a service sheep was filling the feeding troughs of the birds under the less than watchful eye of a shivering, young pig, a perturbed Forest goose bullied his way to the front of the line. He was larger than any of the ducks or chickens and with hisses and honks he forced a gap that a gaggle of other geese quickly sought to exploit. The service sheep, who had never felt like he was accommodated adequately for the job with which he was tasked, elected to just dump the entire bag of morning ration in a pile and skeedaddle on to safer pastures. This caused a feathered frenzy as every bird lunged towards the fast shrinking lump of feed. The pig tasked with overseeing the fair distribution of rations squealed in dismay and remonstration, but the three flocks ignored his protestations so he beat a hasty retreat to a less violent corner of the farm for propriety’s sake. The battle began in earnest when the mound had been dispersed and trampled. The geese formed a ring around what was left of the scattered seed and used their size and ferocity to great effect, beating back the uncoordinated assaults of the chickens and ducks. Having been rebuffed, they turned on each other in an effort to capture what few morsels the geese were not defending. It was a terrifying many minutes before a brace of dogs and a horse finally quelled the riot.

The tally of casualties stood at four dead ducks, a dozen dead chickens, and more than a few hovels completely destroyed. Even after the fighting had stopped, the triumphant geese refused to give up any seed. The guard dogs were incapable of reasoning with the geese on one side and were equally unsuited to calming the wrath of the aggrieved chickens and ducks. The horse who had helped stop the violence hoofed off to find a pig, leaving the two dogs as the only level heads in the bunch. Unseen in the corner, a youngish rat crept quietly in amongst the geese. She bode her time, waiting until she found the legs of the original boisterous goose that had started the whole fracas, then bit him viciously on the webs and belly. The boisterous goose trumpeted wildly in pain and anger and proceeded to strike out at any bird within range. This caused the conflict to boil up once more, only now it was in the presence of two dogs who were already at the limit of their natural tolerance. They were trained to keep order through barks and nips, but they were evolved to rip and rend. As the battle was joined anew by the chickens and ducks, who were still ravenous from their slumber and seeking to break their fast at almost any cost, the dogs saw no recourse but to wade in and put down the riot by any means necessary.

Their work was quick and brutal. They snapped the necks of the three biggest geese and mangled a handful of both chickens and ducks. The carnage served to quell any baser motivations of greed or hunger and the three separate flocks segregated themselves in abject fear and horror, their lamentations rising louder than their battle cries. When a handful of pigs and a coterie of rats finally made it to the scene, the sight was grim. It looked as if blood mad wolves had tore into the flock of innocent and starving birds. More than a few of the pigs wretched in disgust as the rats made a show of investigating each and every corpse repeatedly, lapping at the weeping wounds and poking into the rent carcasses. No one noticed the addition of an extra rat to their number as they were all coated in the syrupy blood of the unwitting sacrifices. The death toll now stood at three geese, thirteen ducks and almost a score of chickens. The two guard pups, their muzzles covered in blood, feathers, and down, sat at attention as they were trained. The pigs could not bear to look them in the eye, being cowed by their potential violence, and were given over to frantic whispers with their rat compatriots. The matronly German Shepherd was sent for, as well as more horses. The hullabaloo had caused a crowd of Farm animals to gather and, having no background information to go on, they began to speculate wildly as to what in fact had occurred. By the time the matronly German Shepherd had arrived, the rumors of near rabid dogs going on a murderous rampage had spread to every corner of the Farm, causing hue and cry to be raised against this grave injustice perpetrated by the violent dogs against the poor, starving flocks of geese, chickens, and ducks. A council was quickly convened in front of the Big Barn.

This is bad, very bad. These two pups have violated every code and custom we hold dear on this blessed Farm. Their carnivorous evil cannot be tolerated. The pigs have decided that an example must be made. They must be executed forthwith if any semblance of law and order is to be maintained. Of course you understand that we the pigs, as peaceful and just leaders, cannot carry out this sentence, so it falls to you and your ilk to do what it appears you relish in… that being murder most foul.”

The rats did not even attempt to hide their amusement at the less than clever wordplay. The other pigs all murmured their agreement. In the distance, the geese were still trumpeting their despair. The matronly German Shepherd slumped to her belly in complete disbelief.

This… this is not the way of things. We have Rules here, and these pups deserve a fair chance to-”

A fair chance‽ As fair a chance as the poor, starving geese had when they were attacked by the greedy ducks‽ As fair a chance as all the birds had against two blood mad, wolfish mongrels hellbent on murder most foul‽”

The youngish rat, now clean from the blood that had coated her snout to tail, stood on two paws with her tail keeping her propped up as she excoriated the matronly German Shepherd with her shrill rhetorical inquiries. The pigs murmured their assent to this sentiment, and the matronly German Shepherd could do nothing more than pant and whine in frustration and confusion. She had been overwhelmed by events and her iron allegiance to tradition and hierarchy left her ill equipped to handle the overwhelming sorrow that had overtaken her simple mind. She was left to act on her instincts, and chief among them was her instinct to obey. So she rose to her paws and lowered her head in supplication.

I… I will do as I am commanded. If the Rules say that murder is required, then murder I shall provide.”

She bowed her head again, and with a yip she loped away to the kennel where the two guard pups were being detained by their kin. As they matronly German Shepherd approached, the rest of the dogs rose at the ready.

What shall it be mother? Who shall be held responsible for those damnable geese and their wanton ways?”

We… we are… we are ordered to execute the Farmer’s justice, and we shall do as we are commanded to…”

They assembled dogs barked and bounded in elation, for it is always a dog’s greatest pleasure to follow a command for the good of the pack.

What then, dearest mother? How best can we obey?”

The matronly German Shepherd could only gaze into the unfeeling depths of the cold and distant Forest as she issued her command:

Fall upon your brothers and wring their necks until they are dead. Do it now and make no delay.”

And in the way of their kind, the pack did as they were ordered. The two guard pups keened in despair and rolled belly up in submission which only served to hasten their demise. When the grim deed was done, the matronly German Shepherd and one of her sons grabbed the corpses by the scruff and dragged them to the front of the Big Barn. The pigs and rats were waiting there, as well as a large crowd of other animals, both Farm and Forest. When the bodies were cast down before them, a cry of joy and righteous indignation rose up from the assembled. In unison, the pigs and rats intoned:

Justice has been done.”

The two dogs began to slink away, but they were halted by a command from one of the younger pigs.

Halt! Stand fast and accept the wise and just judgment of the leaders of this Farm.”

The matronly German Shepherd turned and sat, and her son rolled onto his back, belly exposed and tongue lolling.

Forthwith, the dogs of this Farm will no longer be the keepers of the peace. In their stead, the horses and goats shall keep the peace. The dogs are to stay in their kennels for the safety of the Farm. The dogs are to sit in quiet contemplation of their murderous inclinations. Perhaps in time they will seek to progress to a higher level of peaceful coexistence. Begone, curs, and see that you obey or there will be greater and more grievous sanction rendered. Of course, it is still the responsibility of the dogs to defend the borders of our great and good Farm, but they must do so in accordance with the reformed Rules. As such, they may only patrol at night. And they must avoid, at all costs, any temptation to bring harm to peace loving animals, whither they hail from Farm or Forest. Go now, and do not disobey. Flee!”

As ordered, the two dogs fled, their tails between their legs. After their exit, the pigs waited for the hubbub to die down, then ordered the rest of the animals back to their quarters. When only the pigs and rats remained, a secret council was instated. The pigs discussed the particulars of how the running of the Farm would continue with the dogs absent from the bulk of their traditional duties. The rats listened in silence, twitching their whiskers.

This is terrible, simply terrible. Slavish brutes though they be, the dogs did serve an important purpose in the running of this Farm. Who now will protect the peace should honest and understandable disagreements arise?”

Why, the horses will have to finally pull their weight around here. Yes, and the goats too. Why, a goat can be a fearsome beast. I mean, they do have horns after all.”

Indeed. The goats and horses, then, shall be tasked with keeping our great and good Farm safe and civil. Of course, if we have need of them, it is certain the dogs will come when called. They always do.”

The pigs continued back and forth like this for quite some time. The rats listened intently but made no statements, least ways not to any of the pigs. In quiet whispers to each other, they made note of the proceedings. Occasionally, one or two would slink off on some task even as others appeared with whispered news of this or that. In the midst of it all, the big fat rat sat stone still, the youngish rat at his side, slowly preening her whiskers in silence. After much bombastic discourse, the pigs found their way to a conclusion and declared the secret council adjourned. They went on about their day, each to his own little fiefdom, leaving the rats to their own council. They gathered in a close circle around the big fat rat, awaiting his guidance. The youngish rat held her station it his side.

My sibling-children, the great work set before us would be daunting to a humbler and less canny race than we. Our deep history of wandering and injustice at the hands of mongrel mutts is coming to an end. A brave, new world awaits all animals of the Farm. Though we have accomplished so much, this is only the beginning. Evil forces hide within the midst of this Farm, biding their time, waiting to strike a blow against peace and equality. We must remain steadfast and resilient, for change does not come naturally to the simple races. It is our solemn duty to carry these poor, ignorant creatures into the light of a new day. You know what must be done. Go now, and continue the good work that has been started.”

To a rat they scattered to the four corners of the Farm, but the big fat rat remained, stock still like the statue of a rodent from ages past. He slowly cast his glance about him, taking in all he could see. A dark greed welled up inside him, making his beady eyes flash red. He bared his sizable teeth and spoke quietly to the youngish rat, still loyally at his side.

The farm is ours to lose, daughter. See that we do not.”

It has been said that for evil to triumph, the good need only remain idle. In truth, all the evil need are a few of the good to blindly obey.

 

The Brass Rat

The old curio-shop was half buried in the tumbledown tenement, it were as if some arcane force held the cement at bay, differential by its diminutive size. The man walked in the door and was greeted by a strange old man, the pawnbroker, who stood at the counter. Pawnbroker nodded; wordless and stoic as statuary. The man looked about the shelves, books and baubles, baseballs and baseball cards and trading cards and broken radios; the detritus of dead decades. After some minutes of rummage he chanced upon a glistening statue behind a pile of junk; a brass rat of relative size. He asked the broker how much it would cost. The broker replied, “$10 for the rat. $1000 for the story behind it.”

“I’ll just take the rat. You can keep the story.”

Pawnbroker nodded and took the money as the rummager left the shop and headed out upon the sidewalk. After a pace he heard a scuttling. He looked behind him. Nothing. Continuing on he heard the sound once more. He looked behind him. A filthy, fat rat scurried up behind him from a sewer drain, squishy, amniotic eyes gazing with bottomless hunger, its movements liminal in the sprawl. The man shooed the furry beast away with a hiss, annoyed and disgusted and left off. A few moments later he heard the scuttling once more and, turning, beheld ten rats. Fear seized him like an ephemeral vice. Shortly ten become twenty and twenty became fifty and fifty become a hundred and hundred became hundreds. A chittering mass of claw and teeth and feral desire, the sight thereof pounding his heart’s pistons into manic machinery, ceaselssly sounding behind the blood and the bone.

The man began running now, the little statue tucked under his left arm. He turned sharply and vaulted a fence which let out to the shipping yard adjacent the sea. The rats follow still, their savage increase unabated by time. All their squishy black eyes fixed upon the statue. Realizing this, the man bounded to the edge of the nearest pier and, with a grunt of exertion, hefted the totem in a wide arc, sending it up to met the sun and then down into the briny depths below with a resounding splash. The rats followed without hesitation and spun out into the abyss. Drowning in the vastness of that capricious waste of salt and scale and swirling wetness. The man looked on in shock, the wind then sweeping up as if in mourning of the grotesque affair.

The man returned to the curio-shop and slammed his wallet down upon the counter, his eyes intense, fearful and filled with yearning. Pawnbroker met his gaze.

“I take it you’ll be wanting to hear that story now?”

Anthropomorphization: Warden & Executioner, Prt 1

Consider the following.

  • The internet is making people less intelligent.
  • Violent video games make people violent.
  • Gun prevalence causes mass shootings.

A discerning reader will instantly realize a single commonality, namely, the imposition of agency onto non-agents. But then, what is an agent? We might define it here for our purposes as a conscious entity – that which is aware that it itself is aware of it being aware of its own awareness. Furthermore, a agent thinks and has intent, they are causal forces of will. Here then arises a problem, one that is suitably encapsulated by the bullet-pointed list provided above – how can a gun or a video game or the internet or political rhetoric cause any given individual to do something or rather, anything at all.

They can’t. For they are not causal agents. Rather, a given individual reacts to outside stimuli and is thus shaped by such reactions. “Guns kill people!” is, in essence, a very different statement than, “Guns make people kill people!” The problem with guns (obvious though it may be) is not that guns make people homicidal but rather that any given individual who fails to resist some internal impulse to slaughter now has a medium upon which to paint their bloody visions that is far more effective than a knife or sword (generally speaking). The real world consequences of such a notion are so obvious and endemic that I scarcely think they require elaboration. But just for good measure I shall elaborate nonetheless by further examining the previously mentioned example: Guns.

Due to the belief that guns are primarily responsible for school shootings (as if they were possessed of some dire malevolence), there has been a notable uptick in firearm restrictions within the United States of America, the principal ensign of which being the “Gun-free zone.” The problem with gun-free zones is that they have had the precise opposite effect that was intended.

Now, for those whom have payed no mind to any current affairs for the past couple of decades or their selfsame surroundings, a “gun-free zone” refers loosely to any public or private arena wherein guns are explicitly banned. Most schools, for instance, are a prime example of a gun-free zone (though sometimes allowances are made for the armaments of trained security personnel). Simple. The idea behind such places is similarly simple and as follows: If there are less guns there will be less shootings, if there be less shootings then there will be less harm and if less be the harm then more be the good.

This idea, when put to practice, turns out to have backfired (see what I did there) however, as is evidenced by a recent study from the CPRC (Crime Prevention Research Center). The Center’s study shows that contrary to popular belief, gun-free zones put the general citizenry at an elevated risk of violence due to the fact that, from the 1950’s through July 10th of 2016, 98.4 percent of mass shootings have occurred within gun-free zones, exclusively. The sum is truly staggering and is but one of many examples of the earth shattering applications of impulsive, unchecked anthropomorphization. Consider it, the pathological belief that guns kill people has, in no uncertain terms, actually killed people.

What is difficult about this issue is that it sneaks up upon one as might some fell kheft, shaded and soundless. But be not confused – the impulse to imbue the un-living and naturally occurring with some form of malevolent intent is not the sole dispensation of the crazed or the intellectually stunted, but of everyone – who, after all, has not felt the hairs raise upon the back of the neck and the blood beat in the heart liken to some madman’s drum when some nameless thing beyond ones placing went bump in the night? The prevalence of this strange impulse is not manifestly obvious but there are some theories which make sense of it.

The most popular of these theories may be derived from evolutionary psychology and is what I have taken to calling the “Warden Theory of Anthropomorphization,” which may alternatively be described more precisely, but less stylistically, as a Subservient Hypothesis of Anthropomorphization (SAH – which we shall use from this point on). The theory holds that our innate proclivity to imbue maleficence to the shaking of a shrub comes from a cost-benefit analysis of predator evasion. For example, if you notice something move out of the corner of your eye and you jump and it turns out to only be the wind shaking a bush, you have leapt in vain but expended a minuscule amount of energy. If, however, you jump and it happened to be a poisonous snake, then your instincts just saved your life. The converse is that you do not leap, ever. In this case, if the bush shakes and it is nothing then you expend no energy – maximal bodily efficiency – but if it shakes and it is a poisonous snake you are dead. You can then see how a body might adapt to best evade potential fatalities by mapping potential danger-agents onto the world, regardless of whether they exist or not. The theory is “subservient” biologically speaking because it refers to a adaptation which is shared by individuals but not necessarily the collective (the converse of which would be a supervenient adaptation).

The secondary theory is what I have taken to calling the Supervenient (Emergent) Theory of Anthropomorphization (ETA). A supervenient process, in contrast to SAH Theory), is one which the collective possesses but which the individual does not. Issam Sinjab of the University of Sussex describes the process thusly:

An emergent property is a property which a collection or complex system has, but which the individual members do not have. A failure to realize that a property is emergent, or supervenient, leads to the fallacy of division. 

In chemistry, for example, the taste of saltiness is a property of salt, but that does not mean that it is also a property of sodium and chlorine, the two elements which make up salt. Thus, saltiness is an emergent or a supervenient property of salt. Claiming that chlorine must be salty because salt is salty would be an example of the fallacy of division.

The ETA hypothesis asserts that the perception-mapping of human-like behaviors in non-human entities arose as a emergent property caused by the increasing interplay of various different modules of the human brain as archaic man transitioned to modern man. The theory was first laid out by Steven Mithen in his landmark book The Prehistory of the Mind. Though it should perhaps here be noted that though Mithen believed that the ETA theory of anthropomorphization began as a emergent enterprise, he also believed it ended as one which had become subservient to human fitness and thus indispensable which attests to the interplay of both theories as they are not, necessarily, mutually exclusive (though some evolutionary theorists dispute this).

At any rate, I trust that the reader is now developing a picture of how biologically deep-seated the impulse to impart human-like agency upon non-human agents is within human nature itself. To extract it is neither desirable nor, at this juncture, possible, but cognizance of it is and self-cognizance of such “red-alerts” in one’s being might very well be the difference between life and death but no longer in the fashion nature had intended.