Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Hate, Life, the Universe, and Everything

So we got to talking.... on a support site for Transsexual people. Initially the talk was about the Matthew Shepard Act, the one that would give some protection in the USA to such as I from being tortured, raped, and murdered without bigoted local law enforcement ignoring it. As happens.

The Matthew Shepard Act would have made such things "hate crimes" under Federal Jurisdiction, not only subject to the prejudices of sheriffs who might think they have better things to do than investigate just another piece of informal garbage collection of human trash.

Would have. It's recently been dropped from consideration, the Senate and House versions were too disparate. They had more important things to consider this year.

Our discussions evolved to talking about hate. We know a lot about that, from the receiving end. So we got to wondering why? Why is Hate?

And that led to thoughts about life in the Universe, as you will see below.

M wrote:
Hatred is not a software mistake. It's an intrinsic property of the hardware.

We're screwed, and perhaps (if it's a logical development in the evolution of thinking hardware) life in the whole universe is screwed too.

I've come to think of hate as necessary, an inevitable by-product in the evolution of intelligence (selection and competition are the only way to produce intelligence we know of).

If intelligence is also an inevitable result in the evolution of life, and intelligence = hatred = self-destruction, it means no life forms survive a certain stage and, for all intents and purposes, the universe is a giant, dumb desert.

Z (guess who that is) replied
The frightening thought is that we may be the exception - that we as a species are atypically hate-free in comparison with others.

Getting OT for a second.. I believe that prokaryotic life is probably fairly common. I believe that eukaryotic life is very, very rare indeed. It may require a double planet in the Goldilocks zone (for tides and speciation from continental drift), with a Gas Supergiant or failed star outside to make sure the reset button doesn't get pressed too often.

But back on topic...

But the reason I'm comparatively optimistic is that I deal with safety-critical systems. The hardware will fail, there will be everything from SEUs (errant beta particles flipping bits) to cosmic rays frying chips and latching memory bits high or low. But it's possible to get things to work anyway, despite this. Hate is probably inevitable, but actual persecution rather than dirty looks is not.

So what to do when everything seems so hard? Move the mountain one teaspoonful at a time. It's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. Personally, I do both simultaneously, it makes me feel better.

K then said
Zoe, please speak blue collar english in the second paragraph. I don't understand a couple of the critical words.

E said
I pretty much got it all bar the goldilocks reference.

I am inclined to agree that how people deal with hate is probably easier to adjust than hate itself, however moving a mountain with a teaspoon and only the light of a single candle would require either a very very big teaspoon or a extra extra long burning candle, no?

M answered
That is a very old theory popularized by Sagan in the 70s. The idea is that life like ours can only appear in a planet with similar conditions to ours: in the Goldilocks belt (a belt around the central star where the radiation is not so high to kill life, but the radiant energy received is enough to produce warm temperatures needed for life), with a double-planet (like the Moon-Terra system, we only see one face of the moon because we are a double planet) and with a giant gas planet close enough to catch marauding asteroids and comets (Jupiter, for us).

Now, exobiologists toy with larger vistas: life that is not exactly like ours, but with many significant differences. The discovery and analysis of archaebacteria in the 90s opened us more possibilities. There can be life which is much sturdier to radiation and heat than thought before, much more sturdier to high salt concentration, to low pHs, to the presence of sulfur, methane and ammonia.

But we're limited in our thinking. We think that life can only evolve through direct competition, that it requires independent beings struggling with each other so that they improve with the passing of generations, because that's all we know.

However, I think there are many more alternatives. I'd consider a gradation of life not so much based on the environmental conditions or the building blocks used, but only on the frequency with which the larger molecules form.

Type A planet: one where the formation of self-replicating chains is scarce. Competition is mostly indirect, evolution takes much longer due to less pressure (fewer organisms). The result could be collaborative intelligence, since violence was seldom necessary and collaboration had a higher value. The beings would need to be very large creatures, to obtain all the resources they need, which are likely to cover a vast area. The resulting intelligence will be very alien to us. Intelligence's chances of survival are high.

Type B planet: the formation of self-replicating chains is more common, but not too common. Collaboration is a must within a group, the conditions would not favour individuals. Sentience and later intelligence would be communal enterprises, same with warfare. Creatures will be of a reduced size, to perform according to the need of the colonies. Larger creatures, due to the relative scarcity of resources, would be exterminated. Intelligence developed in such an environment would be extremely aggressive in the out-group, but collaboration would be strong in the in-group. Intelligence's chances of survival would be low.

Type C planet: even more common self-replicating chains. Creatures can be independent organisms thanks to the abundance of resources. The competition will happen at two levels: in-group and out-group, with the balance of one or the other changing according to the region and external events. Smaller life forms, due to the possibility of individual selection, would become secondary and often parasitic or co-dependent with the larger species. Intelligence's chances of survival would be low.

Type D planet: literally full of life, to the point that the self-replicating chains are all part of the same organism. They join and instead of evolution through external competition, evolution is an internal affair. The entire planet could develop into a sentient, self-aware being. Selection would be against the environment, with diverse internal structures of the mega-creature adapting to diverse challenges. Needless to say, intelligence evolved in such a way would be extremely foreign to us as well. Intelligence's chances of survival: high.

Type B planets are close to what to us is ant life: they form colonies that are like one organism, collaboration in-group is strong but war out-group is merciless. Selection favours specialization into some basic types (warriors, workers, queens) and deviations from the basic types is equivalent to destruction. Type C planets are like our own, with intelligence existing in us larger animals (mammals). In a true Type B planet, their "insects" would be able to reason as a colony. Individual-based intelligence would be unknown.

Z then replied
Sorry Kara, my bad. Communication is mostly the responsibility of the sender, to make sure the message is decipherable by the receiver.

Prokaryotes - simple life.

Prokaryotes are a group of organisms that lack a cell nucleus and some other stuff to do with the internal structure. Most are unicellular, but some prokaryotes are multicellular organisms. They have a single chunk of unoganised DNA.

Prokaryotes consist of the bacteria and the archaea. Archaea were originally thought to live only in inhospitable conditions such as extremes of temperature, pH, and radiation, but have since been found in all types of habitats.

Prokaryotes are hardy beasts, quite capable of surviving eons in interstellar vacuum, hitching rides when the planet they're on has a meteorite impact that throws some debis out into space. My personal opinion is that anywhere there is water, you'll find them. Comets, Europa, deep in the Martian rock, you name it. If they evolve anywhere in a galaxy, they'll spread everywhere, before the heat death of the Universe occurs. I think they appear just after Population II stars do. Population II stars have twice-cooked elements, stuff made in the supernovas of Population I stars, things like phosphorus rather than iron and carbon.

Eukaryotes are a different kettle of fish. Far more complex, and can evolve in special circumstances only. Eukaryotes have cellular nuclei, and are often multicellular - ants, fish, plants, fungi, people. Their DNA is organised in chromosomes. Often the cells have prokaryotic structures in them that they have absorbed over the years, and which reproduce when they do.

Less hardy than prokaryotes, but with far more developmental potential. It may require on average over one universe lifetime for them to evolve. That is, unless their home is an Intergalactic Hellhole, subject to volcanoes, floods, fire, drought, continents dancing around, splitting and colliding to cause speciation (and THAT means a rare double planet system), a slightly variable star to bake and freeze them, but not too many large meteorite or comet impacts, just enough to (literally) make Life Interesting. Oh, and lots of liquid water helps too. A Torture Chamber where complex and adaptive life has an immediate advantage over mere stubborn survivors that reproduce well.

I believe that Prokaryotes are basically everywhere, but Eukaryotes are really, really, really rare and precious. They're also the only way I can imagine that intelligent life can form: it's easier to evolve eukaryotes than come up with a scenario where a planetary mass of bacteria can "wake up to itself". That would take far longer than one Universe lifetime.

Eukaryotes may even construct interstellar colonisation vessels, or silicate or hybrid organo-silicate lifeforms to succeed them before they die out. They may thus be able to cause advanced life to survive after their local neighbourhood becomes untenable for any life - such as when the star they depend on goes Red Giant.

But until then, in terms of biomass, the prokaryotes will always dominate. Earth's life is basically prokaryotic, contaminated by primitive unicellular eukaryotes, and a tiny trace, the merest hint, of multicellular eukaryotic life.

I'd recommend getting a game called "SimEarth" - it puts this all into perspective. You realise just how trivial we are in the scheme of things, yet how terribly precious too.

M answered
There is a game coming out at some point in the next 20 years called Spore. It promises to be a fun, cerebral ride.

Prokaryotic intelligence is deemed impossible. But Nature has surprised us before, She can do it again.

A peek into the world of TS support groups. And into the thoughts of some TS women. Yes, I know according to many "experts" such as McHugh we're only supposed to be talking about fashion, makeup, how we love the feel of frilly panties (and certainly not about children or science), but there you are. Obviously we're lying, and this post doesn't exist.


Laserlight said...

Hate is not inevitable--I can tell because I don't hate anyone. The fact that other people don't achieve my level of enlightenment doesn't mean they couldn't, just that they need to be beaten with a stick ... er ... educated.

M said...

...give some protection in the USA to such as I from being tortured, raped, and murdered without bigoted local law enforcement ignoring it. As happens.

The linked story is unsourced (or i missed it). I am cynical. Assuming the linked story is true it does say that arrests were made by county officials. In the Matthew Shepard case arrests were also made and convictions made. A crime is a crime is a crime. Why should a hate crime be a federal offense? Is there not already Civil rights issues that can bring Federal intervention? Is trying to bypass idiocy better than punishing the incompetence of an official who would ignore a crime?

If, in 1995, I referred to a transsexuals as "freaks" and in 2007 get into a fight with a TS could it be construed as a hate crime? What if the TS claims I slurred him during a fight but I have no witnesses? What I didn't realize he was a TS but did call him a "pansy" during the fight because I was being mean? If a TS mocks my teeny tiny, little Y chromosome during the fight has the TS committed a hate crime (my chromosomes are in fact small)?

Personally I classify it as "OMG we have to do... something" legislation adding complexity to laws without considering the consequence. I think a crime is a crime is a crime.

(also, if you don't mind, how would you expand/change practical gender classifications (ie census, govt forms, etc) beyond M/F? add a T? add other letters? add a M or F with a footnote? based upon self-reporting, chromosomes, physical characteristics, a combination?)

thank you,

m said...

one more comment. Would the act really give you "some protection" from violence? I doubt it provides for Kryptonian DNA. If you meant protection from the injustice of a crime being ignored then I must point out that wouldn't the local officials be the ones referring cases to the Feds? Couldn't a local official, of whom we are already assuming malice, quickly declare a murder victim an unknown indigent who died of natural causes and have the body cremated?


Zoe Brain said...

M, thanks for your comment. It's one thing to have a cheering squad, another to be challenged in order to test the correctness of what I said.

The facts are, as near as we can gather, that someone who is TS is 17 times as likely to be murdered than the equivalent who is not. Young Urban Black Males in the US are just over 3 times more likely to be murdered than the average, they're the next highest minority.

The results for other assaults are not as firm, the murder metric is the only one we have that is reliable. It would be reasonable to assume that the rates of assault generally would be significantly higher than average though. What rubbery and unreliable figures we have are consistent with this.

We also know that approximately 30% of the murders have their cases closed, though not necessarily resulting in a conviction. This is also way less than the average, and indicates a systemic problem with allocation of resources to the investigation.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if these statistics were similar to those for people of colour in Alabama in the early 60's.

There are 2 elements to a "hate crime". The act of violence itself, and note that words alone cannot be violent, only battery counts, not assault. Then there's the act of intimidation, terrorism if you like against the whole class that the victim belongs to.

Unless the act can be shown to be reasonably construed as having the effect of assaulting (ie intimidating) a whole protected class, it's not a hate crime.

Now there are good arguments to say that existing Hate Crime legislation for other protected classes is flawed, and a better way exists. That is another argument.

But I think that the argument that people who are TS should be a protected class is unimpeachable. Just look at the statistics for crimes of violence against them vs crimes vs existing protected classes.

Regarding your hypothetical, and the cover-up, you're quite correct. But if statistics are kept, a systemic problem like that would possibly be detected. Without such statistics, the chances of it being found out are virtually nil. To me, having resources allocated at the Federal level to collect such statistics is possibly the most important element here.

Zoe Brain said...

Once again, thanks very much M for exactly the kind of comment I most appreciate. I don't have a direct source of Truth, I have been known to be wrong. My views should always be tested.

I'll try to answer your points in detail later, you've raised many issues that should be addressed separately. Ignoring them won't make them go away.

m said...

I object to the concept of a protected class. People are people and crime is crime. I should say that I am biased towards the concept of having laws as simple and understandable as possible (but not simpler). I consider hate crime laws to be "we have to do... something" laws because they seem to have the goal of appeasing those who want something/anything done and the goal of criminalizing things that are already crimes. What real value does the idea of protected classes bring? Deterrent? Symbolic acceptance? Something else?

People seem to think that the possibility of being charged with a hate crime might serve as a deterrent. The murderer of Matthew Shepherd committed a crime that made him eligible to be executed and I doubt the thought of an added hate crime charge would have deterred him.

While I can see the appeal of seeing hate crime laws as symbolic acceptance... But it seems like an odd definition of acceptance to have one group not profess acceptance but to define themselves (or others) as less worthy than the protected group. Violence against unprotected group = x punishment, violence against protected group = x+y punishment.

re: murder rate and conviction rate. Is not a TS more likely to be involved in drugs, prostitution (certainly high risk behavior), have mental illness (possibility of suicide by murder or psychotic behavior) and be socially estranged (lack of family or friends lead to a lack of pressure on officials and a lack of information/clues about the victim. Also could lead to physical poverty & a bad neighborhood)? I'm certainly not claiming hate is not an issue just that TS are a troubled group. (which I base on my own slight experience with TS and comments, i think, you have made. Please correct me if I am wrong or overstating)

I've thrown a lot out to you so take your time but I look forward to your response and an interesting dialogue.