Monday, 29 June 2009

The Omnipotent Robocop

"Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims. When unlimited and unrestricted by individual rights, a government is man's deadliest enemy. It is not as protection against private actions, but against governmental actions that the Bill of Rights was written."

"Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law."

"The Declaration of Independence laid down the principle that ‘to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.’ This provided the only valid justification of a government and defined its only proper purpose: to protect man’s rights by protecting him from physical violence.

"Thus the government’s function was changed from the role of ruler to the role of servant. The government was set to protect man from criminals – and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government. The Bill of Rights was not directed against private citizens, but against the government – as an explicit declaration that individual rights supersede any public or social power."

- Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights", The Virtue of Selfishness

I came across these in the appendix of the book by Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, that I am about to finish, and immediately with the force of a hammer, Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics kept excitedly badgering my mind:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "Government that governs least governs best." The social system that allows such a political ideal is capitalism, which is fundamentally the only social system that upholds individual rights and enables a free society. Fallacious economic justifications for capitalism aside, the only correct defense and justification for capitalism is individual human rights. Individual rights are based on the premise that rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. The fact that man is an entity of a specific kind - a being who survives through reason and rationality - means he cannot function to his fullest potential under coercion and rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival. Thus, if man is to live on earth, it is right for him to exercise his rational judgment unimpededly; if life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being. Only through the most rigorous upholding of reason can man be completely free.

I got home, did my research, and while most mainstream reviews, critiques and analyses of Asimov's work discuss the prolific writer's great literary ability (he wrote an incredible 470 books in his lifetime, ranging from science-fiction classics to annotated guides of great literature to limerick collections), I finally managed to uncover an insightful assessment of the intellectual nature of his work by Chris Suellentrop from Slate Magazine. In a response to the poorly interpreted movie of the same name starring Will Smith in 2004, he writes:

"Asimov mocks unions for having shortsightedly 'opposed robot competition for human jobs', and he derides religious objections to new technology as the work of 'Fundamentalist radicals.' Almost without exception, anytime robots in the book appear to be doing wrong or seeking to harm their human masters, it turns out that the suspicious humans are misguided; the robots, as programmed, are acting in man's best interest.

"Asimov's faith in the rule of robots was genuine and based on his faith in the rule of reason. He viewed his now-canonical Rules of Robotics—the code for robot behavior used in his books—as a roadmap for human ethics. Just as Asimov's machines are better than people at calculating mathematics, they're superior at coming to moral judgments as well. Susan Calvin, the book's protagonist, calls robots a "cleaner better breed" than humans because they're "essentially decent." Superior logic produces superior ethics."

Asimov was essentially thinking of a robot as a symbol for objective rule undergirded by logic and reason; as a non-human, unemotional, unwhimsical arbiter for moral law; as perhaps a representation of government under capitalism. And he also mentions the religiously fundamentalist opposition against this 'robot'.

Only through the most refined understanding of ethics and morality can a country's ideology be properly spelt out and turned into a vision that can spearhead a united citizenry together, and this involves clear-headedness in each and every civil participant's personal philosophy. Without a clear basis of logic, a nation is subject only to the whims of whoever holds the biggest gun.

If I wasn't such a half-assed thinker I could've had enough ideas gushing out of my head by now, because I'm thinking of a story where capitalism is reflected by a robot programmed with the US Constitution. But reality sets in, the ideas only reach up to mere conceptualization and it's already past midnight and there's 5-6 more weeks of internship to go and pahscrewit.

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