Babylon!

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17 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick says:

    As I see it, there are two issues at the core of this episode. One is the ethics surrounding the death of personality. What justice does it provide to the criminal? To the victims? Is it less or more cruel than the death penalty? I’ve already given my thoughts on this, but I’m curious as to what others think.

    It’s unclear from the way they present it in this episode. Although your objection regarding freewill is an acceptable objection, and I agree it could be a problem, it’s not entirely clear from the way they present it in this episode how much of your personality is actually “killed”. Inherent in the analysis is the question of nature v. nurture; you couldn’t get a different personality out the other end of nurture didn’t play an enormous part. To that extent, if nurture is the root cause of the evil persona, removing that is not necessarily removing the core of the person.

    I suspect that how most people feel about this is tied pretty tightly to how they think of free will and how they think of the construct of personality.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Patrick says:

      Let’s say that you could take someone criminal and turn them into a good person. Someone who sees nothing wrong with robbing, say…

      If you could use some process to turn them into hardworking Protestant Ethic kinda people, why shouldn’t you?Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        I think if such a process were available, many or most captured criminals would freely choose* to undergo it, if the alternative was lengthy confinement/death or other harsh punishment.

        “You say I can spend the rest of my healthy years locked in a room, or get The Treatment and be home** by dinner? Sign me up!”

        *Yes, I am aware that that “freely choose” is a bit of an odd phrase, when the leverage society would hold over them would be some other draconian punishment as an alternative; but I think that is the way it would shake out; and having that “choice” presented to the criminal would quell most people’s qualms.

        **Yes, I am ALSO aware that the “person” who goes home, wouldn’t be the person who left there. The whole thing seems like a sort of ‘reincarnation’ – you die and get another shot to do better, but it’s not “you” doing better (except there *is* some seed or essence that *is*; and we hope that seed will grow straight and true instead of twisted and stunted this time).

        I mean, what’s crueler? Locking someone up for life, or ‘rebooting’ them, and letting them have a fresh start?

        Which would you choose, if it were presented to you that way?

        Maybe I want to escape this life of guilt and shame anyway. Try again.

        I can see that being a pretty appealing notion to some people; particularly if the alternatives are harsh.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        I mean, what’s crueler? Locking someone up for life, or ‘rebooting’ them, and letting them have a fresh start?

        I’d not choose to be rebooted. Can’t think of anything worse, actually. I’d rather stay in prison, at least when viewing it from afar in this hypothetical.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        There’s a classic [1] SF detective novel by Alfred Bester called The Demolished Man, in which we’re told over and over that the killer, if caught, is facing “demolition”. We don’t know quite what that is, but it sounds pretty awful. We learn at the end of the book that it means his personality is torn down and rebuilt to remove its criminal aspects. Afterward, he’ll be released, and it’s likely that the same strengths that had made him a highly successful criminal would make him successful at other things. The characters then go on to say (in a way that makes it clear this is a 50s SF novel() “It’s a good thing we’re not living in the backwards 20th Century. Back then, they would have just killed him.”

        It’s clear that this is supposed to be an unexpectedly happy ending, and I think that the consensus back then was that psychiatry would advance, just like the other medical sciences, and someday it would be able to heal sick minds in the same way that a doctor can set a broken leg.

        1. In both senses: famous and brilliant.Report

      • Avatar Jason Tank in reply to Jaybird says:

        Bester. Demolished Man. I knew the character was named after the author, but I didn’t quite know why he earned the honor. I guess I do now.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        Bester’s first two novels (TDM and The Stars My Destination) are two of the best SF books ever written. He was also an amazing writer of short stories. I cannot recommend him highly enough.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        The detective who catches the murderer is a telepath; I gather that’s true of the Babylon 5 Alfred Bester too?Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Jaybird says:

        Bester is a telepath all right, but he’s not one of the good guys.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick says:

      I’d say the attachment to “free will” is epistemic at root, and that personality is viewed as property. So the degree to which free will is valued is based on the epistemic attachment to the idea of its existence (subjectively speaking, which is strong, incontrovertible seems to me, no one will deny this) and that personality is the property of the being in whom that personality is realized.

      Which answers Jaybird’s question, I think. And free will drops out. As it always does. It’s an epistemological necessity even if not a metaphysical reality.Report

  2. Avatar Dman says:

    My favorite scene in this episode is when Brother Edward’s killer is shown to Sheridan after the Death of Personality. Sheridan has this look of both revulsion and horror. Repulsed because he knows what this slime did and is not walking around free and then horrified because the guy is completely different from what he was.

    I also have multiple feelings about the death of personality, but I think it comes mostly from believing that you can never really get rid of the original personality. I would be afraid of it resurfacing. As for which is worse, death or DoP, I think it is about the same. If the old personality cannot come back then that person IS as dead as if they put him in the chair and flipped the switch. I think people get hung up on the whole soul/spirit aspect with this and that DoP is messing with it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dman says:

      One of the things that I thought was cool about Babylon 5 is that they have to deal with stuff like their communicators getting only two (or fewer) bars in certain parts of the building. It’s the freakin’ future and cell phones still don’t work.

      Why shouldn’t futuristic punishments be any different? Sure, they’re sold as “this will do wonderous thing that is so much less barbaric than what we used to do: (describe 21st Century punishments here)” but, at the end of the day, it works approximately as well/poorly as anything else.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Dman says:

      He’s dead, but they’ve effectively reanimated his corpse and have it performing community service. I find that horrifying.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @katherinemw

        While I agree, it’s actually worse than that. Imagine how this technology could be misused. A totalitarian government could do horrible things with mindwipes, especially if they could change your personality without erasing your memories.Report

      • Avatar Dman in reply to KatherineMW says:

        I do not get this. Dead is dead. Once I am no more, I could care less what is done with my body. Now, for the real world that is buried, cremated, etc. But I would not care if my body was reanimated and put to good use, I am still dead.

        I still think it comes back to people thinking there is something left of the real person in the body that bugs them.

        James K, I think there are plenty of things in B5 that would scare me for a totalitarian government to misuse. Mind wiping would just be one arrow in that quiver.Report

  3. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    You know, I think it’s kind of important that even when Edward’s blocks are undone, he doesn’t revert to what he was before. He just wants to face his punishment. So maybe it’s not quite as horrifying as it otherwise seems.

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure you meant to begin Paragraph 4 with “Lyta” rather than “Talia”, even though I quite understand the confusion.Report