Fear is real.

Around the same time that we discovered the weak nuclear force, we discovered another force: fear. Fear is a part of the universe, it’s something we can sense. But it was only during 1973 oil crisis that we started to take it seriously. That was when we first began to study the science of fear.

 

Fear is power. 

Almost every mammal experiences fear. So do most birds. It turns out that the domesticated red junglefowl – the common chicken – can experience fear on the level of much larger mammals. This proved crucial for later developments.

 

Fear is a reaction.

Necessity is the mother of invention. By 1979, the time of the second great oil crisis, we understood the science of fear and the challenge was in the engineering. We built new kinds of engines that could harness fear and produce locomotion. These were unreliable, at first, but they were affordable, and they improved over time.
 

Fear is the greatest motivator.

When the second oil crisis ended, internal combustion engines were still dramatically more reliable than phobic engines. But the trajectory of each was already clear. By the mid-80s we could reliably induce fear as needed, matching and then beating the reliability of gasoline engines. The computing revolution allowed us to increase fear output to new heights, with even greater levels of reliability. The new cars were faster, more reliable, and environmentally cleaner. The gasoline car was a dinosaur.

 

Fear is the mind-killer.

Unfortunately, there are people who have a bizarre obsession with fear that seems to have dulled their wits. They seem to think that the things that power the engines, the ones being fed triggering sensory stimuli, are people. They are not people, they are chickens. They are a source of power. And yet, our troglodyte opponents seem determined to reject fifty years of progress in order to coddle the lowest life forms. They are obsessed with building economically infeasible electric cars with absurdly large batteries and limited range, for no good reason at all! And where will the cars get their electricity from, if not the local phobic reactor?

 

There is nothing to fear.

These people have to learn to let things go. If we wanted to eradicate animal fear, we would have to kill every wild animal on Earth. It’s completely impossible, even if we tried. Live your life. Drive your car. If you hear screeching sounds inside your vehicle, get your engine replaced. But don’t worry about it. 

And enjoy the race.


 

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I'm sorry, but I straightforwardly don't get the story. It definitely feels like it's trying to make a grand analogy but the analogy does not, for me, connect. I don't know what it's trying to say - there's about twenty potential things I could imagine it having been written to be analogous to, all of which seem to me no more than 40%-70% fitting - and so I got no emotional charge out of reading it, only vague curiosity as to what it was meant for.

Yeah, enough people have to me they were confused by this story that it's clear I'm not managing to convey clearly what I meant to convey.

Here's a summary of the story:

During the 1970s, we discovered that fear could be used as a power supply. We learned that chickens could emit large amounts of fear and used them to power our cars. The narrator is both telling this story and defending it, arguing that terrorizing chickens is both morally permissible and worth the cost. (The nature of the terrorizing, which the apologist calls "triggering sensory stimuli" is left to the reader's imagination, though the reference to the computing revolution is meant to hint at computers and AI.)


The analogy is to eating chicken and eggs, particularly those raised in battery cages. Instead of us getting our nutrients from previously tortured chickens, it imagines us driving cars directly powered by torture.

On my second reread, I figured out what was supposed to be going on in the events, if not the meaning of the story. But while I considered factory farming as one possibility for the thing it was supposed to be equivalent to, I felt the analogy whiff, and so decided it probably wasn't what you intended.

The reason is, the story depends on your initial belief that animal suffering (specifically the suffering of chickens) is fundamentally important. But what it's trying to convince you of is that animal suffering is fundamentally important. So it's a closed loop. If you aren't a vegetarian and are a consequentialist (hi), it's saying "you know the thing you know a little about and don't really like, but don't have strong enough opinions about to change your behavior over? What if we had more of that, and less of lots of other things you DO feel strongly are bad?" My general attitude isn't that the narrator is wrong, it's that people don't talk like he does. He's talking as if he has some kind of dark and terrible secret to hide, but the secret is only dark and terrible if you start out believing he's wrong, and then his secret isn't dark and terrible, because he's admitting it openly, so it isn't a secret.

I feel as if, in order to write a story to make someone emotionally feel the importance of vegetarianism, you would need to say "X, which you already condemn is morally equivalent to eating meat" in such manner that people who read it actually agreed with you that X was morally equivalent to eating meat and that since they condemn X, they should stop eating meat, without instead having them say "But X isn't equivalent at all!" or - the trap I found this story to fall into - "why should I care about X?"

Because, conditional on chickens not haveing qualia, I don't care if they do have fear. The evil done in the story could be evil if we are supposed to believe that the fact that chickens do have fear proves they do have qualia, but I didn't get that idea from anywhere - so we're back to the closed loop, where you need to be a vegetarian to be convinced by the story of vegetarianism.

I feel like eating meat but not being willing to torture animals is the best and most common example of facilitating evil that you wouldn't directly perform purely because of your distance from it. 

Probably the most famous example of this is illustrated by Peter Singer:

 To challenge my students to think about the ethics of what we owe to people in need, I ask them to imagine that their route to the university takes them past a shallow pond. One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class.

I then ask the students: do you have any obligation to rescue the child?

Now, you can bite the bullet and say "Oh, a Nigerian child? No way, their lives are valueless!" And indeed, Peter doesn't have an answer for that. But most people don't give that answer, rather they gesture at distance, uncertainty, and the fact that the task is seemingly intractable. By removing that distance we make the dilemma salient.

In short, this isn't directed at people who are certain that chickens (or Nigerians) don't have moral worth. It's aimed at the majority that would never torture an animal but gladly feast on tortured animals.

I mean, I see these as totally different things (preventing suffering in Nigeria - well, and other third-world countries - is why I'm here), but that's probably moving outside the question as posed. I wouldn't be willing to be a butcher, but that's squeamishness, not a moral decision; I wouldn't want to be a plumber, either.

But... actually no I think I'm going to move my actual advice to the 'do you have recommendations' thread just above. See you there!

Suggestions for making the story clearer are welcome!

I have a question for you, and I think the answer might help make the story clearer.

Under what context is your narrator giving this explanation? Why is he saying all this? What's the framing device for it? Because if he's trying to explain quick history to someone who doesn't know it (why doesn't the person know it? A small child? A foreigner? Just someone technologically ignorant?), he has no reason to bring up the analogue-vegetarians at all. Just "this is how cars work." If the listener then asks (possibly offpage) if this is wrong, he can explain "it's not like chickens actually matter" (and I wouldn't even say 'some people have a delusion chickens are people', we can just appeal to the perceived-as-true-to-most-of-humanity-belief that chickens have no moral value and leave it at that) "and anyway it's better than the alternatives which are all super-expensive."

But if, instead, he's bringing it up in the context of trying to argue someone out of analogue-vegetarianism, then he needs numbers. Then he would want  the ability to say, "if everyone did that, that would dectuple the cost-per-mile of cars, the economy would collapse. Nobody would be able to afford to drive to work from their houses, we'd have to go back to coal power plants polluting the air, factories would close across the country, we'd be in a desperate battle for survival." It's not that these things would necessarily be true; in our world, which doesn't have the Phobic Reactor, our economy is fine. But if he's pitching his side's case, he isn't just going to say, "this side is delusional," he's going to say "and their delusions would have horrible consequences if people believed them." Otherwise he's leaving good arguments on the table.

Does this make sense? I'm not saying these are the only two possibilities, obviously; there's lots of other contexts in which he might be explaining. (An ad for the newest, super-efficient phobic-reactor-fueled-car, say - someone might explain history there, just to clarify how awesome the new product was.) But I think that thinking about the question would help with troubleshooting the story.

Surreal and awesome. "Phobic Reactor" feels like something straight out of my favorite horror games / stories. I feel like an expanded version of this concept -- humanity discovers that emotional valence of qualia is a fundamental property of physics, and starts experimenting with new ways to use and produce it (creating hyper-concentrated experiences not found in nature, plus ways to combine valences to create more complex states of experience) -- could make a really great Ted-Chiang-style sci-fi tale.

Thanks! Part of the reason the cars use chickens is that chickens are quite small. Once you start thinking about full-sized phobic reactors, you open up a whole world of possibilities. (And what about smaller motors and batteries?)