Monday, August 17, 2009

Decisions at the Roundtable

Greetings, esteemed followers of our community. Once more, it is time to examine the questions which matter. The questions which drive our every day lives. The questions we ourselves must seek an answer to if only to determine what it is which makes us human. And we must answer these questions . . . as gentlemen.

Imagine if you will, being given a choice. Irrevocable once made, and one which will affect every person living on the planet. What would you do with such power? Such responsibility? Could you make a decision at all? Why would you make the choice you did?

Such is what I posed to the Gentlemen this week. The reaction was excitingly varied, perhaps lending itself to much further conversation on the issue. Thus I present to you our answers, including the debut of our newest contributor, Ms. Alex Keiper.

This week, the Gentlemen answer the following:

While walking alone at night, you encounter beings from another planet. They offer to eradicate either disease or war forever, but you can only choose one, and you must explain to them why.

Adam Winer

When faced with this question, I believe we are forced to confront a sad truth about human nature. I consider disease to be a mostly natural, unavoidable part of life. I consider war to be a mostly preventable thing, because it is a choice. If presented with this opportunity by supernatural beings, I would hope that I could simply wish away disease. If we were rid of disease, and we could choose to stop in-fighting among humans, well, we'd be without both war and disease, which is pretty incredible.

However, the history human nature seems to prove to us that war is natural as well. Also - war can protect us, and if there's anything I've learned from the movie Independence Day, there may be a time when we are called upon to go to war, not with other humans, but with aliens. I don't want THESE aliens taking away our ability to fight, so I'm going to ask them to take away disease.

If it were a genie though, I might go with ridding of war, because war kills so many innocent people when they are so young. I'm okay with disease being part of the game of life, but war, I hope, is unnecessary.

I mean, hey, it's a ridiculous scenario, I can have a ridiculous answer.

Stephen Bragale

My initial reaction was to eliminate disease, and in defense I would state that disease is worse than war.

But I'm hesitant to put such a sweeping measure into action under such vague circumstances. If I couldn't get any more information, I'd probably say neither. How am I supposed to know how this choice will be implemented? Even if there's the smallest chance that something could go wrong with the choice I make, it's not worth risking the fate of the world. What if "eliminating" disease means these aliens kill anyone who has one? What if eliminating war means killing every soldier on earth? Ultimately I believe that we humans can handle both war and disease on our own.

Also, why would these beings offer to eliminate only one of the two? This means that the aliens have the capability of eliminating both war and disease, but are leaving one to carry on. Maybe they don't know how bad our diseases and wars are? Or perhaps they're just toying with us? Those twisted scoundrels!

I've changed my mind. I'd end war on earth... and bring it to the alien home world. In the form of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum.

And I'd have to say "welcome to earf" at some point in the conversation.

Matt Lindeboom

Hello Aliens.
Disease is necessary. People must die. Animals must die. Disease helps death carry out its task in a way that is tragic, but ultimately accepted. Not like a car crash or a bullet in the brain. We rage against death in those situations where it is unnatural and inflicted by another person or an animal. We suddenly behold a physical manifestation of “death,” the enemy. We have a cause. Punishment can be meted out. The person will be jailed, or put to death. The animal will usually be put to death. We have a system for handling those cases, you see. Disease, on the other hand, we cannot punish. If we could punish disease we would. If it is not disease that causes death, then it will be time. We would also punish time. All in the name of giving death the finger.

Aliens, I don’t trust you. This all seems to good to be true. If death is necessary, thus disease is necessary, then you’ll guess that my answer is war: “So you would like us to get rid of War?” Harry Patch, the last British veteran of The Great War said war is the “calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings.” War is not worth one life he said. I agree with Harry. I’ve not seen war -- I’m lucky -- but I want nothing to do with it. (Though one must admit, when your country carries out war in your name you are inextricably linked to it whether or not you like it.)

Forgive me for lacking faith, but how would you Aliens accomplish abolishing war? Would you follow Asimov’s example and protect us from ourselves, enslaving life in order to engineer peace? Would you ignite a war to end all wars in the hopes we’d lose our taste of it after horrible slaughter? Don’t underestimate our ability to forget.

Maybe I lack imagination. Perhaps you’d merely speed up the evolution of our altruistic impulse. Would our parietal cortex swell to accommodate a complete sense of each other? Would you abolish punishment? If there is no compulsion to punish, disease could certainly breath easier (if it were breathing hard at all). We could stop using death to punish, the distillation of war. Cormac McCarthy’s quote, “ the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime...” would suddenly ring hollow, where before it had such an accurate, consuming tone.

Damien Nichols

(thinks to self) "Why would they give me a choice here? This has got to be a trick question."

(to benevolent overlords) "Well it depends on how you look at it. The obvious answer seems to be war. If we get rid of war then we can reappropriate hundreds of billions of dollars per year and a few million people from the mission of ending lives to the mission of saving lives and improving quality of life worldwide. While we're at it we can finally get serious about researching and implementing solutions to extend our available resources indefinitely, since all wars are fought over resources anyway (and because R&D tends to churn out really cool toys).

But it depends on how much of this response swings on semantics. Because if you think about it, war is just a tragic symptom of some heretofore unnamed group-think psychological disorder. It's a disease that convinces us on many levels that there is an 'us' and a 'them' and that 'them' = enemy. This psychological disorder expresses itself from the individual level all the way up to national allegiances, but also finds expression in racial or religious affiliations or more superficial things like what clique you roll with (probably more common in high school and hip hop). The point is, as long as we look at the world and see 'us vs. them' on any level, we're likely to be stuck with both war AND disease. Conversely, the cure for both is one and the same: abandoning politics to science and finding a harmonious balance between society and nature.

BTW, I'm so glad you guys are here. Can you get me Carl Sagan's autograph?"

Max Nova

The short answer: blow up North Korea then end all war so that they can't retaliate.

The long answer: I'd still go with ending war. It comes down to this, what do I have more faith in humans doing -- creating peace across the world or ending disease? I personally have more faith in science. So end war then put all of those wasted resources to ending disease.

Daniel Strauss

It has to be disease, doesn't it? It's funny, initially, I thought war, because war is so horrific, and kills so many people, and has to be just the most unnecessary of man's creations (yes, it rivals even the Snuggie), but then I realized that we have the ability to stop war. If everyone on the planet decided they were done fighting, and no longer wanted to take up arms against each other, war would effectively end. But disease, something like cancer for example, or AIDS, we might be fighting these for another hundred years and still not find a cure. We have so much more control over something like war, something that we created. So, my answer is disease.

Of course, I'd pass on both if it meant I got a fun ride in a real spaceship!

Boudicca Graham

Well because here's the thing: if I choose
disease that probably saves more people and it is the apocalyptic horseman that I am personally acquainted with, so I definitely wouldn't mind seeing him go. And if I choose war I'm going to assume that senseless violence and hatred leave the world as well. But. If I choose disease there's the population overload to deal with, which brings a whole other horseman, famine, in its wake. Not to mention environmental catastrophe. And it was told to me that if I choose war politics and change as we know it would come to a standstill.

So I would mull. And I think, or at least at this exact moment as I type I'm thinking, that I would ultimately choose war. Because as awful as disease is, and as much as it destroys families and relationships, and as terrifying as it is that it can happen at any time to anyone no matter what you do to prevent it, I think war is so much worse. War destroys cities and people and memory and history to the point that what remains is unrecognizable. And political change can come with peace, look at South Africa. Look at Berlin. (Are those our only two examples?)

So I would say Hello aliens, please get rid of war for us. Kthx.

And then I would offer them a Mars bar.

Alex Keiper

War. No question. Ending disease would lead to a ridiculous degree of overpopulation.

Okay, that's the glib, snarky explanation, but I really do think ending war would be a much better choice. Doctors and scientists are constantly working to cure diseases. No, it's not exactly the instant solution offered by our extraterrestrial visitors, but I have a lot more faith in their abilities than I do in the sanity of certain world leaders. At least there's been progress on the disease front: polio isn't crippling children (in most of the world), smallpox has been eradicated, and, well, we have penicillin. Meanwhile, an instant of lunacy from any of a number of countries could have cataclysmic effects on a global scale. I think that destructive potential certainly warrants the quick-fix remedy offered by the otherworldly beings.

David Pratt

This offer seems tempting. It would appear this is no wrong answer - no matter what I choose, humanity will be spared countless billions of lives as the centuries advance. Certainly eradication of disease would mean no more AIDS or malaria, immediately and irrevocably improving life in underdeveloped African nations and other third-world countries. The end of all war would do the same across the globe. With no more senseless killings or the threat of mass slaughter, nations like North Korea and Iran could be handled diplomatically, with beneficial solutions arising for all.

It doesn't seem like I can go wrong here. That is, until I recognize the aliens clever double-entendre. Permanently getting rid of disease or war? I see what they're saying here. They're talking about murdering the human race.

Well aliens, you picked the wrong human race to murder.

I'd pretend I was having a difficult time with my decision and ask for 24 hours to decide. If they refused, well, there'd just have to be an old-fashioned throw-down between me and the bug-eyed freaks right then and there. However, were I granted this time, I'd take the opportunity to clandestinely alert our national security. Now granted, the only people who would believe me would be a conspiracy-theorist nutcase and his tough-as-nails partner, but they'd be enough. Teaming up, we'd trick the aliens into getting aboard their mothership, and from there we'd unleash destruction such as the E.Ts have never known - except when they're brutally eradicating innocent species, of course.

Unfortunately, our efforts would only serve to trigger the invasion signal for the main fleet. Earth would brace for attack, but our strongest weapons would be no match for their advanced technology. Millions would perish by death ray. It would seem all was lost. However, working 'round the clock at Area 54, a team of scientists from all over the globe crack the secrets of the alien mothership we captured. With the entire world's Air Force deployed in brutal combat, only one man would be able to fly it. That man would be me.

As I steered the ship into the heart of the alien fleet, my wise-cracking co-pilot and I would be discovered. They'd hammer at us relentlessly, buckling our shields in moments. Our systems malfunctioning, we'd have no choice but to activate the gargantuan neutrino-bomb on board manually. However, at the last moment, my co-pilot knocks me unconscious and shoves me into the escape hatch. My screams of "Nooooooooooooooo!" are lost in re-entry as I watch him bravely sacrifice himself to destroy the entire alien armada.

On Earth, a victory parade is held in his honor. Reluctantly, I accept the newly-minted Earth Medal of Epic Win on his behalf from all world governments. Using the salvaged alien technology, a new era of peace and prosperity is ushered in, and mankind migrates to the stars, leaving their petty conflicts and diseases behind. Also, I am elected President.

Alternate Ending: Co-Pilot survives because he is Chuck Norris, and the payload on the ship was one of his roundhouse kicks. He lets me keep the medal anyway, as he already has two.

John Ozkirbas

Extraterrestrial beings land on Earth and promise to eliminate two of Earth's great problems with no motivation outside of pure altruism? I've seen this somewhere before:

ABC presents a re-imagining of the 1984 television series "V," where an alien race (known only as "the Visitors") appears from outer space promising technological breakthroughs and medical miracles. Wars and famine will end. The blind will see. Behind the veil of the Visitors' apparent altruism and benevolence, their devious and insidious intentions slowly curdle. Their medical marvels come with a heavy price tag - a trojan horse. The human race has never seen darker times.

I decide on neither. I choose to kill 'em. Kill 'em ALL.

And there you have it, reader. Responses varying from war, to disease, to killing the aliens. Such vast difference of opinion is human nature, is it not? So now let the discussion begin - where do your fellow Gentlemen fall short in their logic? How would you defend your answer when faced with their reasoning? What do our readers have to say?

As ever, we welcome your opinions and feedback. Come chat with us here at the Roundtable, only on These Gentlemen.


Dennis said...

Disease would be my choice, easily. With the Earth's population sky rocketing like it will in next few centuries due to global increases in health care and sanitation a real contagion would be devastating to us. People all around the world are living longer and longer lives. The higher populations get, the harder it becomes to contain a pandemic. I'm doing my part to contain the population explosion by eating red meat 4 times a day, thus shortening my lifespan by decades, but everyone else seems to be leaning towards the healthy eating/exercise fad. (yeauch!)

Also, the only real side effect of disease is fear and death. War can churn economies (through war mongering and movies/video games deals) as well as stimulate scientific growth.

I don't really see there being a world destroying war anytime in our lifetimes. It won't happen until a crazy person gets a hold of enough wmds to be a significant threat to the planet as a whole.

O wait, the U.N. is a powerless entity that does (effectively) nothing to curb weapon hoarding.

Eh, I still choose disease. I'd rather us all be killed by other people than some microscopic organism.

ali d said...

An unfortunate work schedule this week led to my forgetting to send in my Roundtable response in time. In retrospect, I'm glad, because I wasn't planning on having a clever conversation with our alien visitors as so many of my fellow Gentlemen did. So I will shunt my answer to the comments section where its lack of creativity isn't so clearly displayed next to its partners.

I'd ask them to get rid of disease for two reasons that I'm going to qualify as particularly American.

1. War promotes technological advances, many of which can be applied to other areas of science after we've used them to beat the shit out of the other guy.

2. I'm selfish and right now two of my friends have cancer.

Done and done.

Stephen said...

I'm a huge fan of the plan Max has for using the end of all war as part of a military strategy. There were a couple of responses that made it seem like the aliens were tricking the decider, but this plan where decider turns around and pulls a fast one on North Korea, well that's forward thinking right there. You, sir, should be Supreme Allied Commander of Earf.

B.Graham said...

Well I trusted the aliens entirely. I stand by that choice.

Ozkirbas said...

@Britt - Traitor! The aliens want us dead! They fear us! Fear what we may become! You'll see!

@Collaborating Mob- You'll ALL SEE!

Jason Heat said...

my answer is/was disease. humans control war, not disease - therefore war is our own curse, a curse of our own creation. we'll have to deal with it. but disease isn't.

also, no stds is just about the best thing i can think of

nevie said...

i was gonna comment, but then i scrolled down further and saw that alex said exactly what i was thinking in her first sentence.

Scotty said...

I love the fact that not one of you made a glib reference to popular music and questioned what war was good for, thereafter positing "absolutely nothing" as an answer, and requesting that it be said again. Good god y'all.

AZ Winer said...

well there were TWO Independence Day references... isn't that good?>

Ozkirbas said...

We also used the terms "altruism" and "Benevolence" several times across multiple people

Scotty said...

I have come to expect references to comic books and summer blockbusters from this blog. Has anyone compared Obama to Batman yet?

Ozkirbas said...

I think someone may have compared him to Luke Skywalker

Jstone said...

I'm with OZ on this one, keep em both. Everyone places too much value in human life. If you eliminate disease you would commit an act of genocide unprecedented. What about all those bacteria? They perform useful functions even if the result often seems destructive. In fact "cures" are usually more destructive than the disease itself, just on a temporary basis.
As for war, I see nothing wrong with it. If not for war what would be do with ourselves? Pursue peaceful technologies? No, war is a motivator for advancement. Would we gallop about the galaxy exploring? Assuming that is physically possible (which is likely) what would we do when we got there? Even Star Trek had phasers and torpedoes.

War is good, disease is natural and a just part of existence.

Btw, he definately does not say "earf" that's a myth (myff). If you pay attention Will Smith's annunciation of "Earth" is perfect. The whole "earf" thing is just plain racist. You bunch of racists...