On Reason, Emotion, Structure, and Eschatology

On Reason, Emotion, Structure, and Eschatology

Let's talk about this new "Age of Reason" that the Obscurati worked so hard to build.

Even if I concede that some aspects of this world may be different than they imagined due to the interference at the ritual site, they stated their intended goals before the planes even changed.

Lya, for instance, stated, "It wasn’t the atrocities I saw, or the horrible wounds my friends suffered that bothered me most. It was that there was no place for reason. When I'm honest with myself, a stranger's suffering—it doesn't bother me. But a mind left fallow, poisoned by desperation? That is cruel." She speaks as if desperation or suffering or any other emotional state inflicted by events that transpire to them are inherently irrational or unreasonable. I would argue the opposite point: emotion and reason may not be the same thing, but they are not at cross-purposes as she suggests. Anger, an emotion, can spring when confronted with injustice, and this is an entirely rational reaction.

Let's lay out reason for what it is. Reason is merely the impetus behind someone's potential actions. It is not some grand sense of objective, omniscient perspective, and it is not inherently correct. It is merely the self-consistency of the actions that someone chooses to take, given a certain context. I may want to eat a staggering amount of chocolates because they taste good and produce a pleasant feeling that I desire. I can simultaneously want to eat something more healthy instead in order to watch over my figure. Those are both reasons that can explain the action I end up taking, neither one is inherently correct. Whichever one wins out will be the reason that more closely aligns with my true motivation.

Rationality alone doesn't necessarily entail correctness, either. It requires knowledge. If I want a glass of grape juice, and I have a bottle of what I think is grape juice, then it's rational for me to pour myself a glass and drink from it, even if it was actually a bottle of witchoil (which I assume would be lethal, even for a dwarf, or at least a little unpleasant). There is the world-that-is and the world-that-we-observe, and the latter does not always correspond to the former. From afar, a mural can make a wall seem like a tunnel that continues on into the rest of the city. The viewer can perceive the light that reflects off of that mural and interpret it as an actual tunnel in the world-that-we-observe, even if the world-that-is only knows of flecks of paint adhered to the surface of a wall.

When the Obscurati says they adhere to reason, they're really trying to gain some authority with the veneer of some insight due to their inherent superiority as people, to convince you that they perceive the world-that-is and the world-that-we-observe as the same thing, and you should trust their particular world-that-they-observe over your own because it ostensibly matches the true world-that-is. I would ask of the world, Ber especially, given its history with mind control: is the true crime the uttering of some incantation, the evocation of a spell, the recitation of a charm, the conjuring of an illusion? Or is it the deceit that comes with it, the supplantation of one's perception with another? Do you really think that the Obscurati are providing the truth, and not something to merely placate and manipulate you? I would similarly ask Crisillyir and Drakr to remember von Copenhoff, who nearly took control of an entire nation by convincing people to agree with him, not necessarily the world-that-is. They have provided you another explanation, not the explanation. (To Crisillyir in particular: How is the "light of reason" meaningfully different than "the light of divine inspiration" that the Clergy adhered to?)

A single decision may seem rational at the micro-level, but a sequence of these singular "rational" decisions can ultimately be irrational.

Imagine if you and I were participating in an auction for a single gold piece, and we take turns, paying any number of copper pieces to bid to obtain the gold piece. Bidding continues until one person yields, the winner gains the gold piece at stake, and both participants pay the full amount of their bids regardless of if they win or lose.

Each choice that a person can make in this auction can be measured in how much their potential net wealth would change after their decision. At the start, let's say I bid a single copper piece. As a result, I stand to gain 99 copper pieces. You then have two choices: bid 2 copper pieces for a potential net 98 copper pieces, or don't bid at all, gaining nor losing nothing. 98 is clearly greater than 0, given the metric and rubric that we're making rational decisions by, more wealth is better. My two choices are to bid 3 pieces for a net 97 copper pieces, or to yield, losing the one copper piece I bid before. 97 is clearly greater than a net loss of 1 copper piece, so I bid.

All of these individual choices are rational. However, they devolve into absurdity. Let's jump to the point where one of us has bid 99 copper pieces and the other has to decide if they bid a full gold piece for a gold piece or to yield. They're already in the hole for 98 pieces, and breaking completely even is clearly better than losing 98 copper pieces, so they bid. The other person is staring down losing a total of either 1 copper piece, or 1 gold piece and 1 copper piece. Clearly, losing 1 copper is better than losing both a copper and a gold, so they bid. For each individual decision in isolation, choosing to bid is always the rational decision, but this extends infinitely and clearly devolves into absurdity where neither person comes out better from the exchange and they both lose much more money than the single gold piece at stake.

One of the early gestalts I encountered in Risur was formed of a bakers' guild that decided they should bake food for people to try and improve their spirits in the ensuing panic a few days into the sun's disappearance and the new planar arrangement. On the surface, this is a noble goal, but you or I probably bake in some additional assumptions about how people should act in a civil society because we have those same faculties that produce a mind 'fallow with desperation.' The gestalt had no such faculties, and let nothing hinder its goal to increase the amount of baked goods at Risur as if it was the only thing that mattered. At one point, they ran out of ingredients. You or I might go to purchase more ingredients, because that's how the society generally works and we adhere to an implicit social contract, or if we're out of money, we try to earn more money to make more baked goods (either by selling those goods or through some other means), or give up at that point, because anything else would involve greater risks like arrest, or we view it as morally wrong, or so on.

The bakers' guild gestalt had no such compunctions. More baked goods, at any cost, the only thing that matters is that there are more baked goods so the decision that produces the most baked goods is the optimal one. All the decisions they took to increase their baked goods output were rational, because the amount of baked goods in question was the metric they used. When they ran out of ingredients, they raided stores and warehouses. When the constabulary came to intervene, the bakers fought them off in concert because getting arrested would mean that they stop production. Like you or I would optimize for copper pieces in the gold piece auction, they optimized for baked goods.

(To be clear: the similarity they share is not the escalation of commitment that the auction demonstrates, but the reduction of the definition of success to a single mathematical quantity to observe.)

The gestalt that formed at the Forward Symposium in Cherage fell down a similar hole that I pray helps people understand what this rationality really is. The catalyst that sparked the hivemind in Cherage came from the late Chancellor Takhenova and Cardinal Banderesso: the appalling thought that people who don't contribute to society are inferior and should be exterminated. I don't know who, specifically, they were referring to, but I would assume that they make no distinction between people unable to contribute (due to injury, illness, or any fault of their own) or duplicitously unwilling to (thieves, idle hands, or so on), instead casting them all as the latter. I, personally, hold the view that we have a responsibility to make the world better for everyone, and people still have a right to exist in this world, regardless of their contribution — there is plenty to go around, and responsibility to help should scale with someone's ability to contribute to make the world equitable.

To be clear, I will not unfairly malign Nicodemus as endorsing the views of Takhenova and Banderesso. He protested, and I believe his protest is genuine. However, he has mistaken reason for truth. If someone believes that ridding the world of the unworthy will result in a better society, much like I may believe this bottle of witchoil is actually grape juice, that's a product of reason. Atrocity can come from rational thought. If we look back to Ber's history, we could say that the Dragons thought of themselves as superior, and should be masters of the humanoid races, treating them as slaves. That, too, is a rational thought. Rationality does not confer this spark of correctness or justice, only justification.

I do not know the Obscurati's blueprint for the planes, only the intent. I will leave room for the possibility that the current planar arrangement is different than what Nicodemus wanted, but I do not think this feature of the world is the product of the saboteur's. If I had to guess at the difference between their blueprint and what we actually observe in the sky, the only difference is the Gyre. Given the Obscurati's stated goals, from the statement that Lya made, among others, I posit that Ratios is the star responsible for this new characteristic of our world. Their intent might have been something else, and it may have been a rational decision, but it was clearly incorrect and no one, Nicodemus himself, wants a world where people make rational decisions that are utterly cut off from their original motivation. I suspect their error was in testing in small motes that could only fit a few people in at a time, they never discovered any problems with scale lurking behind their grand designs. Certainly not the scale needed to produce gestalts and discover those early in the process.

This would have happened anyway, saboteur or not, and I find mosts of the accusations levelled at Risur without merit or evidence, as an obvious xenophobic attempt to label the nation as a whole as the scapegoat responsible for the flaws in the new planar arrangement. Assuming that my theory about Ratios and the Gyre is correct, all I ask of the Obscurati is to own up to their mistake I would agree that the Gyre is a poor substitute for the sun, and I would point out that a small group of saboteurs are only a small part of Risur. We don't all act in concert, just as the citizenry of Drakr has its own disagreements right now. I do not view their entire nation as adherents to Grandis Komanov's destructive philosophy, and I would ask that they extend the same courtesy to us. Synecdoche does neither of our nations any good here.

(( OOC note: I feel like I want to continue with talk of postmodernism and the impermanence of structures, tying it into eschatology. Miller was a utopian, but things decay and end. Conversely, just because things end does not mean that we should hurtle towards that end at breakneck speed. There is no one true structure that utopia will form in, it will require constant change and maintenance. ))

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