mustela_nivalis: It is a least weasel. (Default)
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The media of this era proves to be problematic, inadequately representing moral dilemmas where we have discovered none in our time. This is an example of such a dilemma.




It is always amusing to reevaluate the cultural detritus of earlier times through a transhuman lens. Many of these quaint interpretations show a remarkable naïveté and a failure to adequately account for societal change. Some stories try, succeeding in noting the easy game of identity played by those no longer limited by a single corporeal prison. Yet others fail to consider the potential implications of technologies implemented in their works. This is most apparent in the vehicle for the saga mogul Joseph Whedon. In his television series “Dollhouse,” this admittedly bodybound human fails to fully realize the consequences of replacing the native personality of a body with a “blank state.”

Identity is a complex issue, and has only become a more complex one with the advent of noncorporeal humanity. I, myself, have been a white, straight male, a bisexual woman of East Asian descent, a genderqueer genetically augmented post-national human, a purebred cat of an experimental breed, a steamroller, a colony of termites, and a colony of naked mole rats (this list only encompasses more traditionally embodied aspects; my travels as a sentient toaster are perhaps too incomprehensible for the reader’s purview). Throughout all these changes, I fundamentally remained a being with strong interests in medical (post-medical?) technologies and social commentary, and on some level, failed to change in my behavior or convictions regardless of external features. However, upon vacating some of these material confines, they have regained or formed their own identities. It is also important to note that those who had relinquished their bodies did so willingly or vacated them for their own reasons; animals, not being able to offer consent, remain free game. The man I was has become a famous pro-corporeal activist, while the post-national is currently a colonist/computational device on a generation ship, a fate more stultifying than anything I can imagine. Thus, like most people in our more enlightened age, I recognize the fundamental disconnect between one’s self and one’s body–Whedon fails to account for this in his television series.

In this series, people contract their bodies but not their minds to business organizations. The fundamental problem with these contracts is instantly recognizable to anyone with knowledge of our legal system. One does not make a contract involving a being that is not you. I never entered any sort of legal deal as a colony of termites that would lasting longer than my residence in their (my?) bodies. They (it?) remain quite grateful to me for doing so, as it left them to pursue their own livelihood after my passing. Whedon chooses to ignore this obvious truth, instead asserting the supremacy of the original personality over any new self. This viewpoint is clearly outmoded and is one I find incomprehensible: corporeals whose bodies I have used are now independent beings. Their sovereignty as individuals is not a right I granted them, instead beginning as soon as I vacated their bodies (or a new inhabitant claimed it: the mole rats currently hold the minds of an environmentalist commune). Should they choose to become incorporeal themselves, another corporeal could inhabit their bodies, requiring a renewal of any contract they are under.

Joss Whedon fails to account for this, a sensible claim if the “blanks” fail to inculcate their own identities. But to any viewer of the series, this appears instantly untrue: Echo, the protagonist, is presented as a “blank” who has gained self-awareness. Moreover, the various other “blanks” present signs of muted personalities, forming rudimentary relationships with each other and their handlers. This becomes more problematic when on realizes missions include those involving personal harm, such as acting as a bodyguard, or sexual advances. The first is, of course, something that a person should always have been informed they are going to do. Whedon tries to portray this as the “blanks” gaining personas from memory banks, thereby becoming “actives.” This adds yet another layer of complexity, as now a handler must (by our own legal standards) get the consent of the new persona. Furthermore, the “blank” persona would have to consent to being replaced with this persona.

As it stands, Whedon presents a society committing numerous crimes against the three-personed “blanks.” They are regularly rendered comatose and revived, while other personas are killed and forced to exist at the whims of the fictional Dollhouse corporation. Murder is abominable; the assumption that murder only applies to corporeals is meritless. Were I to be erased purposely while in the meganet, it would be murder. This does not change for identities that only temporarily hold a body. Moreover, erasing them is equally cruel. I have created personas before, and I would be a murderer in the instance of erasing them. In fact this fictional world has digital domains where such personas could live, albeit a nightmarish one (the so-called “Attic”).

Why would it not be possible to store every “active persona” in a similar data-based world, asking them if they wish to return to the material world if they are needed. As for the “blanks,” they should voluntarily go into comas for the purpose of “engagements.” If these “engagements” involve sexual conduct, they constitute rape, as the “blank” never gave consent for sex. In every case, they involve murder of the “active” created for that “engagement.” As is clear from the above, the 21st century is populated by people who on some level fail to understand the full implications of the singularity. Identity is nowhere near as tied to the body as turn-of-the-century monists believed. With that, I bid you farewell–I have decided to be a stand of quaking aspen for a few weeks.
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