Episode 082: Saunders on Saunders

Imagine if falling in love was as easy as taking a pill. Scary? Exciting? Kind of rad? Well, to make up for the distinct lack of anything resembling actual philosophy last week, we decided to delve straight into this and other hardcore questions, courtesy of George Saunders and his recent short story in The New Yorker. Don’t let the sub-par audio or the happy-go-lucky children chuckling in the background of Panera Bread fool you. We got REAL SERIOUS AND STUFF. You can tell by the caps lock. Drip on? Hell yeah!

This Week’s Post-show Song Pimpage: “I Feel Fantastic” by Jonathan Coulton

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2 Comments on "Episode 082: Saunders on Saunders"

  1. Taz
    26/01/2011 at 6:37 am Permalink

    Bloody marvelous, chaps. Bloody, bloody marvelous.

    It feels like a long time since you guys have sat down to properly tear into the meat of some philosophical quarry; and what topic to get into.

    I’ve got to say, I take the other side of the topic; that the actions of Abnesti and the body he worked for are inherently wrong. I can’t help but feel that the moment tests were resumed after Heather’s death, and with an acceptance that the same was very probably going to happen to Rachel, that the program moved out of the realm of valid scientific enquiry and into the macabre horrors the likes of Japan’s Unit 731 (I concede that the level of horror and twisted humanity present in the latter exceeds that of Spiderhead, but – whether it be the death of two girls or half a million(ish) POWs in the name of knowledge and progress – the moral and ethical reprehensibillity remains the same.)

    What I found more interesting, and I’m glad Kevin brought it up, was the difference between actual drugs and the Mobipak drugs. What we know as drugs tend not to, in the short term at least, change a person or dictate their actions, but rather exaggerate certain aspects of their personallity while repressing others. So, as each person is different, they’re affected differently by the same drug. a good example of this is whiskey. Given half a bottle of whiskey I become a genial and gregarious (sometimes garrulous) sort of chap. Conversely, a co-worker’s father has, on threat of divorce, been banned from whiskey because it (and only it) turns him “evil.”
    The Mobipak drugs seem not to work this way, but rather override the person completely. Take ED289/290: fuck yourself into friction burn. Take Darkenfloxx: kill yourself. This is quite a troubling concept. Comparatively giving two strangers a combination of, say, MDMA and Viagra, won’t necessarily result in the two subjects rutting like wild boars – in fact, I’d wager that it’d happen very rarely and depend on some instantaneous attraction occurring before the introduction of the drugs. Not so with the Mobipak. Any and all human personallity and free will (or, debatably, illusion thereof) seems to be overridden. This raises the most interesting question of all.

    Again, it was Kevin who touched on questioning the reality of the emotions experienced via the mobipak: and i would like to extend this into questioning the validity of the experiences in general. Stephen briefly bought up this idea of a person being the sum of their connectome – which, if I’ve managed to garner the layman’s grasp of this, is the very architecture of their perception and reactions. If you can override a person’s perceptions and reactions to produce the uniform results described in Escape from Spiderhead, do you not change the person in toto? If so, how valid are those results if, once the subject is returned to normal, the entity created by the mobipak no longer exists?
    There certainly seems to be some concession to this in the story. For instance, Jeff was supposed to have fallen completely in love, but once returned to “baseline” the memory of this seems to stir no emotion of love, not even the slightest hint of the sort of residual emotion commonly connected with memory. Whereas the emotion of another form of love experienced when not under the influence of the Mobipak, the love for his mother, seems to shine through in stages throughout the story. Especially in the penultimate paragraph. Perhaps this is waxing literal more than philosophical, but it would seem that Jeff still holds that love for his mother because it was Jeff experiencing it, whereas he retains no love for Heather or Rachel because it was not him loving them – it was something else.

    Is it right to actually change a personallity? Is the instatement of a second, new personallity tantamount to the murder of the original? Who is this new person? As the product purely of concoctions alien to the body is this person actually human? and the questions continue.

    All in all, a bit of a thinker and damn good show guys.

  2. rbzargon
    31/01/2011 at 3:57 pm Permalink

    Great show!

    You guys did a much better analysis than I could, I just want to share what I was thinking when I read the piece.

    The Mobipaks are a metaphor for the mental hardware with which we are born, the neurotransmitters which can cause us to feel love, pain, perhaps even improve our verbosity. In some sense we are regulated with physiological and psychological responses which are independent of our desire to feel certain emotions. I certainly feel like I only superficially consent to emotions or other physiological reactions, “Drip on?” “Acknowledged.” At first I thought it strange that the experimenters were allowed to consent for the application of neurotransmitters for other people. Yet I suppose as social beings we are also incapable of escaping from tampering with the feelings of others, as Abnesti was trying to force the narrator to do.

    With our personal and social free agency being limited by our neurological ‘Mobi-paks’ coupled with the human suffering and anguish (Darkenfloxx), why not commit suicide?

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