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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Discussions About Orson Scott Card » What's your favorite OSC philosophical insight? (Page 1)

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Author Topic: What's your favorite OSC philosophical insight?
Lucky_Sean
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Mine would have to be the eating from the tree of knowledge and the tree of life bit from Enders Shadow. It just made sence and opened up my thinking into many other areas on how this could be true.
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Dagonee
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Mine is when Novihna tells Ender that believing God exists is not believing in God.
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TomDavidson
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The one I find myself using in real life is the distinction made between utlanning, raman, and varelse.
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Dr Strangelove
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I agree with the Demosthenes Heirarachy bit. People always look at me like I'm a freak when I use it. :-)
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mr_porteiro_head
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Freak as in raman, or freak as in varelse?
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Dr Strangelove
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I would say generally raman, but I'm sure some varelse. btw, what would be the correct way to pronounce that?
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Orson Scott Card
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var-ELSS-uh
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pooka
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You people actually use that one in real life? I'm...a bit disturbed.

I favor the Worthing Dilemma, myself. What do you do when you realize that by helping people too much, you're destroying everything that makes their life meaningful? Of course, I have a totally different answer, but I like the insight.

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Dagonee
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Pooka, I wondered that myself.
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Dr Strangelove
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lol. I think its a pretty cool system. Its been a while since I've read the books so I've probably changed the meanings a bit to suit my environment, but hey, it is cool. Oh, and I also like the whole "In the moment you truly understand your enemy enough to beat them, you love them". I thought that was a pretty cool concept that was written in a very good way.
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Survivor
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It's the simple truth, though. Oh, there are qualifiers, naturally. Most victories and defeats happen mostly by accident or overwhelming force, after all. Understanding the enemy at a fundamental level doesn't usually play into it.

But when it does, you become like those guys that study loathesome insects to figure out ways of beating them. If you learn enough about even something as small as a bug, you'll come to feel admiration for it. Even a sort of love. And what do you do with the knowledge you've gained? You think up the dirtiest, meanest trick you can possibly play on them, and tell it to everyone else.

But that's what it means to be a soldier. You have to figure out the one thing that would be the worst thing that could ever happen to your enemy, and then, not just wish it, but do it.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

You people actually use that one in real life? I'm...a bit disturbed.

Yep. It's actually the most practical of Card's lessons, IMO, once you realize (again, IMO) that practically no one on this planet qualifies as varelse.

quote:
I favor the Worthing Dilemma, myself. What do you do when you realize that by helping people too much, you're destroying everything that makes their life meaningful?
See, I find this a little presumptuous; it's the creation of a false dilemma, in a way, since we assume that removing human hardship removes what makes life meaningful. And even Justice cheats, because not removing human hardship when you have the power to do so is monstrous.
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Hamson
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The first one that comes to mind for me is the one from, I think, Alvin Journeyman. It says something about 'when two folks are lyin, and they both know they are, it comes awfully close to tellin the truth'.
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Tresopax
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quote:
The "true" story is not the one that exists in my mind; it is certainly not the written words on the bound paper that you hold in your hands. The story in my mind is nothing but a hope; the text of the story is the tool I created in order to try to make that hope a reality. The story itself, the true story, is the one that the audience members create in their minds, guided and shaped by my text, but then transformed, elucidated, expanded, edited, and clarified by their own experience, their own desires, their own hopes and fears.

The story of Ender's Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is the one that you and I will construct together in your memory, If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that we made together.

This is my favorite OSC insight, and it's from the introduction to Ender's Game. I'm not even really sure if OSC believes it completely, because on this forum he at least once suggested that readers should not argue with the author of a character about what that character would or would not do - which contradicts the whole notion that the character is jointly created by reader and author. I do believe it, though.
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rabbit209
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Center/Edge nations is the one I believe in most, partly because I don't have to wait for the future to see if thats how things work, and partly because it somehow just feels right.
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DavidGill
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Spelt.
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Treason
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Philotes

Beautiful idea.

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archon
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I second philotes, also. When you're so bound to another person that even when they're not around you can feel what they're feeling is the height of human experience, in my opinion.
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pooka
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Even if we don't have free will, we must believe we have free will. I saw someone saying this the other day, and I don't know if they were quoting OSC or if OSC got it some other place. The philotic web, the net of life, the weaving, the ravelling. It's all good.

And Tom, I didn't actually post that. The person who did post it had to explain it at length to me. And I still don't understand why the

SPOILER
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descendants of Worthing had to kill themselves over it.
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/SPOILER
I mean, it is the fundamental human condition once you become a parent, to know you can help but if you do help you aren't really helping. I mean a parent once the kids are no longer Varelse- which I think is a progression children go through. They are cuddly Varelse.

I don't know, does Varelse imply hostility or just something it is impossible to understand, which if it becomes dangerous you do have to kill? Abortion proponents certainly rely on such an interpretation of our offspring.

And yeah, of course these ideas apply to humans because they came from a human language. Though in English we tend to say "countryman, foreigner, savage, and animal (or perhaps neadrethal)." The point in using the Icelandic was to step back from our normal judgement of such things and gain some meta-ethical space.

So I'll cut to the chase: Are Wahabist "muslims" Varelse? Well, they are entrenched in a belief system that if they depart from, their former comrades feel it is doing them a favor to kill them. And that belief system teaches that it is honoring God to kill infidels, which is anyone who is not Muslim. If the belief system taught that it was honoring God to kill anyone other than other Wahabists, I would say they are Varelse. But since they do expand their view of people worth not killing to other Muslims, there is some possibility, I think, of reasoning with them. That is why I don't think a Wahabist is synonymous with terrorist. But that, to me, is where the line breaks.

When a person draws a circle around themselves and anyone outside that circle is not a person in their eyes, they see Varelse. Ironically, in declaring another Varelse, you become Varelse to them. Insofar as it doesn't involve a motive to kill, but simply true compassion for others, I used to be in this state by default. I am working on getting better. I used to think I couldn't open that circle without losing myself.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

I would say they are Varelse.

And I would not. And that, I believe, is why the terminology is useful. [Smile]

They are not varelse. They're ramen at worst, and probably only seem ramen to us for lack of a truly different species to compare them against.

"Varelse," as I see it, has nothing to do with hostility; it has everything to do with the inability to usefully communicate.

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Ramdac99
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Entropy, the unavoidable conclusion to the species. This is covered both in The Worthing Saga and in Hyperion by Dan Simmons.
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Omega M.
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Is the plural of "raman" really "ramen"? If so, I hope this was named before the noodles became popular...
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Dagonee
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So varelse is useful as an empty set, Tom?

That's interesting. The reason I didn't put the hierarchy on my list of favorite insights is that there are many OSC insights that I actually use in my philosophical searching, and I don't consider there to be human varelse. If we get invaded by aliens in the future, I'll certainly find it much more useful.

But I guess as an empty set it is indeed useful as a reminder that we are all human.

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Soara
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quote:
Originally posted by Orson Scott Card:
var-ELSS-uh

yes!!!! thank you!!!!!! that's how i've always said it was pronouced. but my friends are like "va-rel-se" or something. ha! HA!

*errm* anyway, back to the original question...

This, from SftD:
"But the Speaker for the Dead, the one who wrote this book, he's the wisest man who ever lived...While Ender was a murderer, he killed a whole people, a beautiful race of ramen that could have taught us everything--" (Miro)
"Both human, though," whispered the Speaker.
"Sickness and healing are in every heart, death and deliverance are in every hand." (Human quoting from the Hive Queen)

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Audeo
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My favorite insight is from Ender's Shadow. "...fools look up for power. People above you, they never want to share power with you. Why you look to them? They give you nothing. People below you, you give them hope, you give them respect, they give you power, cause they don't think they have any, so they don't mind giving it up."

It fits in well with a thought from Jason in the Worthing Saga. "and you would trust me as faithfully as you trusted in your parents' god before your disillusioment. But I would never disillusion you. I'm what you longed for your whole life-someone you could believe in...I'm the god that will not fail."

Both of these thoughts led me to think of social dynamics in a new way. It frightens me a little to contemplate someone else having such power over my life, but I know that it happens. I guess to round out the philosophy I'll quote from the tail end of Ender's Game: "Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to fill the roles given you by good people, by people who love you."

So looking at it, I would suppose that any rational being would reject being forced to obey someone they didn't like, didn't have a common goal with, and who was not very nice. But in studying the rise of civilizations it is clear that one humanity's greatest strengths is the ability to work together for the advancement of all. On the other side of the forum there was a discussion about people who do things that they would never consider when they believe that someone with 'authority' is telling them to.

These quotes, have made me consider who I trust and confer authority onto, and all three of them suggest a style of leadership that is ethical and two way, where both the followers and the leaders have power, though only one of them may be aware of it, as long as he is aware of his added responsibility in using that power responsibility. "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security..." Here the Declaration of Independence asserts that it is a followers responsibility to ensure that the leadership is still protecting the interests of the entire group. I didn't mean to write a whole essay, but I think it's an interesting idea of the form of leadership that OSC seems to promote several of his works.

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human_2.0
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The one that I remember most is center/edge. It is a part of me now. I don't have to remember to check anymore if I'm being edgy. I think it drives a lot of people around me crazy because it actually works and it gives me something of an advantage over them. [Wink]

I wonder if he has the secret instructions to the universe because I can't see how else he could know what he knows. I often find the answers to the most important issues in my life in his books.

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Survivor
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If you think about it, Card makes a pretty good case for the idea that all humans are varelse to each other, both in his Ender books and in his Shadow books.

I think that the distinction is meaningless because the simple fact that you can understand another person doesn't eliminate conflict. At best it helps you to know whether the conflict is unresolvable in principle.

If we take the Worthing Dilemma for a spin here, what would Tom do if he were up against people that felt that struggle was the source of meaning in human existance, and intended to make life more meaningful by active means rather than passive (say, causing a bunch of "natural" disasters rather than simply not protecting people from bad stuff)?

Presumably he'd try to talk them out of it. But at some point you have to face up to the fact that they are operating from fundamentally different assumptions about what is meaningful in life. Or rather, if you insist on genuinely trying to understand them you come up against that. You can't talk them out of it. So what do you do then? And how helpful is it to make a distinction between a person you really can't understand and a person you can understand but with whom you can't agree?

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TomDavidson
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quote:

And how helpful is it to make a distinction between a person you really can't understand and a person you can understand but with whom you can't agree?

Enormously, actually. Of course, it helps if you can understand a few people first in order to see the distinction. [Wink]
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Scott R
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Demosthenes heirarchy is the one I use most in every day thought.

But I love Ender's talk with Wang Mu about what God is.

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TomDavidson
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I think you could say "yes" to that one.
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Jay
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I like the "Since when do you have to tell the enemy who has won?"
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Soara
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Humans are varelse to each other in that you can never truly understand what is to be another person other than yourself.
Humans are ramen to each other in that, if one person explained their most private thoughts to another, the other person would be able to understand most of it with reasonable comprehension. and maybe even recognize some of the feelings as their own.

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0range7Penguin
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I have a great many philosophical insights from OSC's works:

1)My take on Worthing was different. It was akin to the Darryl Worley song "awful beautiful life". That is that it is the bad things that make the good things special. Example: If we had never lost at love than we would never appreciate true love when we find it. You cant make a good movie/book/storie without a dilemma.

2) In EG when Mazer instructs ender that the only teacher you can really have is the enemy. To anyone who ever played an RTS (like Starcraft) you will realize the truth of this statement. You can read the manual all u want and play the one player and get tips from freinds but the only way you can get better is from getting your but repeatedly kicked by those better than yourself.

Theres a whole bunch more but Im running short on time so I'll just throw in my thoughts on those two for now.

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Survivor
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Ah, but some things can't be taught. Particularly in an RTS, you can copy some aspects of overall strategy and stuff, but the ability to pay attention to a large number of units and their current dispositions, and accurately guess what the enemy is doing behind the fog of war...those depend on your own mental capabilities and instincts to a great degree.

The underlying truth is that a commander's proof is in how he deals with the enemy on the battlefield. But Mazer et al couldn't afford to be proved wrong in their choice of commander. So they manipulated Ender to make sure he'd win, even though he didn't feel like it.

As for sociopaths, they're only utlannings. Sociopaths live in the same reality as everyone else, but they don't assimilate to the surrounding culture for various reasons. You can still talk to them, and while some of them will lie whenever it suits them, they aren't pathological about it. They have identifiable motives, even though they will usually have a fairly primitive morality based mostly on narrowly selfish ideas.

The reason that it seems wierd to talk about someone being Raman or Varelse is that those terms aren't intended to refer to humans ever. Which is why they were appropriate for discussing the morality of human dealings with sentient aliens. By using those terms, Card was pointing out the obvious fact that you can't deal with non-humans by assuming that they are just humans with a bit of latex on their faces.

Of course, by defining them the way he did, in terms of communication, he left the door wide open for it to be applied to humans. But the implications are frightening if you look at what he says about that situation. After all, amongst humans there is no way to certify that communication is genuine. A person could be lying, and you can only find out for sure by catching that person in a lie. You can never be sure that someone isn't lying.

That's where trust comes into the picture. But trusting other humans isn't rational. The vast majority of available evidence suggests that humans aren't trustworthy. Further, because of the way humans learn language, even a sincere attempt at honesty is always in danger of being misunderstood because the meanings of given idea/tokens in language are idiosyncratically developed by each person. Card therefore is justified in the way he presents that as being a problem.

My problem with the whole system is more fundamental. And it is, after all, strongly suggested by Ender's prime insight. After all, if you can understand someone, and yet still destroy that person using your understanding, then what safety does being understood bring? The Hive Queens weren't varelse to Ender, he understood them at a level that most humans don't understand one another. And he destroyed them anyway. Which is why, when he leads the discussion of that heirarchy of being, he doesn't submit any strong opinion on it. In fact, he very strongly submits a non-opinion.

Because he knows that it doesn't matter that you can understand and even like the other guy. How often have we seen the speculative fiction where a person is copied somehow? Most of these eventually resolve into the easy out of saying that one copy (usually the original) is good and the other is an evil doppleganger. But if you don't take that out, if you say that both copies are geniune (and this ignores the question of whether humans have unique "souls" or something like that) the usual answer is that one still must kill the other, even though it doesn't make any difference which one lives and which dies.

I have no idea why this is the case, but it certainly says something about the question of whether the whole utlanning/raman/varelse thing makes any difference at all in deciding what is justifiable in a conflict.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

Because he knows that it doesn't matter that you can understand and even like the other guy.

Except that it does, y'know. [Smile]
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James Tiberius Kirk
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"Be the shoe."

--j_k

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pooka
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quote:
what would Tom do
I'm going to print this on a bunch of crappy bracelets.

And it's easy to imagine you can understand someone when you don't speak their language. You think "oh, I'll just get a translator."

I challenge those who say they don't consider any humans varelse. If you support abortion, you have made varelse of something that is considered human by many. If you support capital punhishment, I believe you also must. Maybe I need to go back and look at what it says, but if you believe there are persons who under certain circumstances don't deserve the fundamental right to keep living, isn't that saying they are varelse?

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Survivor
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No, because the decision to kill another isn't a matter of whether you could communicate.

Many humans keep pets, for instance. Most of them are complete varelse, the pet doesn't really understand what the human says beyond "good dog" or whatever, if that, while the human rarely has any functioning knowledge of the animals natural language.

The pet is in an inferior, desperate position, it can't know that its owner won't kill and eat it. So why don't more pets kill their owners?

Because the ability to communicate isn't the sole determinent of whether you must kill. Communication is one option that can be tried before resolving a conflict by force. But it can fail to resolve the conflict even if the communication itself is fully successful in allowing both parties to understand the needs and goals of the other. And lack of communication doesn't imply an unresolvable conflict.

If you fail to admit that communication could result in one or both sides seeing that their conflict was unresolvable in principle, then you claim that communication can only exist between entities that have compatible goals. It is true that communication is only mutually beneficial between individuals that have compatible goals, but it is possible between entities that have fundamentally opposing needs. Often, communication can be used as a weapon, a way of shaking the confidence, poise, or attention of an enemy. Lies are communication, as are statements that are disputed. Communication is a matter of transmission and reception, not of intent.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

It's when a high intelligence cannot be reasoned with and insists on being destructive that it has to be regarded as varelse. That is, if you can't communicate but you tacitly leave each other alone, you have agreed, without words, to coexist. But the true varelse is intelligent enough that it should accept a modus vivendi, yet does not - it poses a continuous and relentless threat.

That's how I've always interpreted it, myself. The question I find particularly interesting from my POV is this: how do you determine whether someone else is varelse? When do you decide that someone cannot be reasoned with? And how can you make that determination without making yourself essentially varelse to them if you're wrong? We see two examples of this in the Ender books, of course, which are specifically acknowledged by the characters themselves; IIRC, the books do not present any example of someone or something that is truly varelse, although several things are perceived that way.

Is there a firm line beyond which you can conclude -- without compunction or remorse -- that someone appears to be enough of a threat that, even if you are later discovered to have misunderstood them, you were justified in attacking them and making yourself their enemy? When is it no longer worth trying to communicate?

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pooka
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When harm is imminent. Are you wanting to discuss a particular case?
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TomDavidson
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See, I'm reluctant to conclude that imminent harm is really the breaking point, here. And if imminent harm is the driving factor, why not conclude that someone pointing a gun at your head and demanding your wallet is varelse? I think there's a distinction between someone who is hostile to you -- even someone who means you harm -- and someone with whom communication is so fruitless and whose path is so incompatible with your own that you literally are forced to deny their common humanity (or xenanity, or whatever.)

I'm not sure that specific cases can really be discussed fruitfully, because most of the obvious possibilities -- from abortionists to terrorists to Nazis -- are so politicized as to basically fall under the umbrella of Godwin's Law. If you can come up with one that's not quite so divisive, I'd be interested in taking a whack at it.

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Dagonee
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A guy's got a hostage tied up, gun at his head. You have the sniper rifle. He has a countdown clock. The guys has said two things: 1) When the countdown clock reaches zero, he will kill the hostage. 2.) Any attempts to communicate with the guy will result in the death of the hostage.

Varelse? I don't know. Does the sniper take the at the first moment the gun isn't pointed directly at the hostage's head (assume very high shot of successful execution with no shot at the hostage)?

I think so.

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pooka
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Well, elsewhere I have raised the question of people who consider FGM (female "circumcision") to be a good thing.
(The following might be considered graphic)

I mean, part of what must be understood in their viewpoint is that men have one organ devoted to sexuality, where women have nine (including the hair on her head). Women are considered the instigators of sexual desire. It is considered more the norm in muslim cultures for a woman to feel punished by not having sex instead of the man. So to them, the removal of a clitoris is no more imporant than piercing ears or removing foreskin.

I suppose I also don't udnerstand the viewpoint of my own husband in thinking our sons should be circumcised. I think for him there is some vestigial religious significance to it, or perhaps just the need to feel his parents did the right thing in having him circumcized.

P.P.S. I don't know that I agree with saying any politicized topic invokes Godwin. I mean, if you are trying to say you have won the debate because I mentioned abortion, I guess you are refusing to communicate with me in a sense.

P.S. Dagonee, I think a ranking of some kind must occur in the sniper's mind, that the life of the hostage is worth killing the... uh, hostager.

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Tresopax
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You can neither see the future nor see into another person's mind, so there is no possible way to determine who is varelse and who is not. You can't predict how they might or might not be able to communicate you and understand you. You can only guess and/or estimate.

Because of this, I see no reason to ever stop trying to communicate with someone. Because it is possible that anyone is Ramen rather than Varsele, there is always hope that communication will succeed, and thus allow for an option that will make everyone happy. Never assume anyone is Varsele.

However, while it is a good idea to hope for the best, it is also smart to prepare for the worst. When your back is against the wall, and ONLY when you back is against the wall, you must be prepared to disarm whatever threat they pose - whether they be Varsele who can't understand or Ramen who you've simply failed to communcate with. The only real difference between your treatment of the two at that point is who you blame afterward - whether it is the impossibility of communication, or your failure to succeed in communicating.

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Dagonee
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In my hypothetical, there has been communication - including the demand for no further communication - so I guess it's not a true varelse situation.
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TomDavidson
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Hm. The bit I quoted up above was from a post of OSC's that's now missing. He posted several times last night, and appears to have deleted around half of the resulting posts.
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pooka
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And?

I guess I'm rather free with my distribution of the Varelse label. I also consider multi-level marketers to be Varelse, because they view relationships as a profit center rather than sacred. That is not to say I endorse their wholesale slaughter. Simply that if they were threatened, I would not feel passionately about helping them (from, say, a law making what they do illegal.) But since I used to be one, I hold out hope for them.

I think it's significant that profit/love of money is so denounced in the New Testament. I was wondering this morning if civilizations do not ultimately revolve around either God or financial opportunity. I'm not saying any civilization founded around something other than God is necessarily evil. Just that civilizations allow groups to do things like let some people do work other than feeding themselves.

The whole obsession with civilization kind of follows from a hypothesis I have that to be civilized means to create a set that some could exist without, making them Varelse. Put another way, to call oneself civilized is to say there are some who are not.

Tres- in your interpretation, is true communication ever possible between any two people? I mean, if I were taking that strong a tack, I'd say no one even understands themselves.

[ October 16, 2005, 11:20 AM: Message edited by: pooka ]

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TomDavidson
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quote:

I also consider multi-level marketers to be Varelse, because they view relationships as a profit center rather than sacred. That is not to say I endorse their wholesale slaughter.

This might be why you don't find the heirarchy helpful. I find it useful to draw a distinction between people I do not understand, people with whom I disagree, people who are even a threat to me, and varelse.
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Tresopax
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quote:
Tres- in your interpretation, is true communication ever possible between any two people? I mean, if I were taking that strong a tack, I'd say no one even understands themselves.
What do you mean by "true" communication?

I would say, yes, communication is possible - like I am hopefully doing right now! But you can't know beforehand that an attempt at communication will be successful in any given particular case. And you can't really tell for sure that your attempt at communication has succeeded afterward either. But you can make educated guesses at when it is more or less likely.

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pooka
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I think that it is not possible for people to know why they behave as they do, why they are thinking what they are thinking at any given moment. Or else psychologists would be out of a job, and it wouldn't be so difficult to replace us all with robot monkeys.

I was also thinking about the fact that Arabic has no superlative adjectives. This came mostly to the fore of my attention when trying to translate the title "Dumber and Dumberer" which you technically can't say in English either. It comes out "More dumb thant dumb and more dumb than more dumb than dumb." Just FYI. No wonder some of them consider us the great Satan.

What do I consider true communication? I was musing on this just the other day in a freewriting session. In college I attended a lecture on someone's dissertation on the four meanings of "understand" in German. I do throw in that theological cop out that only God really understands me, in ways I cannot understand myself.

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