Themes: Paracausality

So, stepping out of the ‘verse for a moment, why does paracausality exist?

Thematically speaking, the existence of paracausality says something very important about the nature of the universe. It means that it’s impossible to deny the existence of free will. (Or, rather, you can, but it’s about as useful as standing on a planet’s surface and denying the existence of gravity.)

You make choices, and your choices make you, and the universe you exist within. Create or destroy, heal or harm, save or damn, it’s all down to choice.

And either way, it’s your fault. No-one made you do it, not without rooting your brain and turning you into a non-volitional tool. Not society, not your parents, not circumstance, not culture, not memes, not instincts, not your friends, not your enemies, and certainly not the deterministic unfolding of acyclic causal graphs. Just you.

You chose, and the world responded. You did it. And the consequences are yours to own and to live with, forever and a day.

This gives the world a rather vital quality, especially in fiction: meaningfulness.

The Problem Of Choice

Given the overall emphasis the eldrae place on freedom of choice and freedom of choices, how do they deal with issues of overchoice and the apparently paradoxical consequence that having too many choices on the table makes people less likely to effectively make the right choice due to the need to spend more time and resources (physical and psychological) to effectively evaluate them? How does that in turn manifest in practical terms?

There’s a thing I wrote way, way back in pre-this-version-of-the-‘verse history contrasting the eldrae and human approaches to automotive dashboard design that seems peculiarly relevant here.

Specifically, that starting from what were probably fairly similar arrangements, the latter have stripped down the engine monitoring to a generic ‘check engine’ light and a vestigial temperature gauge, while the climate controls are mostly run by an overall temperature setting and some simple push-button preset configurations…

…while the former have built them up to the point at which you can not only drill down to monitor, say, the exact composition of your exhaust gases in real-time but also rewrite all 438 key parameters of the engine management computer as you go. And the climate controls let you specify individual temperature and humidity settings for each vent.

(As I believe may also have been mentioned, there’s a related effect in product design and manufacturing, which can be summed up as: the more options, the better, since products that aren’t hugely customizable don’t sell…

…this has been known to cause a few problems in the export market. There are resellers whose entire business model revolves around taking those choices away from the customer.)

This particular non-human psychological quirk has its origins back in the Precursor Era. The trakelpanis trakóras amán desired servitors capable of managing highly complex industrial and other processes that they did not wish to concern themselves with for long periods of time, something for which choice fatigue and/or overchoice error would have been a distinct flaw. Being giant reality-warping dragons at the height of their civilization, they got rid of it. Or at least pushed the threshold for it so damn high that it’s not a significant phenomenon.

(As a side note, I’d add that this would almost certainly have bitten the trakelpanis trakóras amán right on the ass given time, inasmuch as a lack of choice-fatigue corresponds strongly with qalasír and the spectacularly dynamic temperament of the race. This, though, never had a chance to happen inasmuch as their civilization blew itself up shortly thereafter, freeing the unfinished proto-eldrae to make their very own bloody, destructive mess of their First Civilization.)

The Hardest Part

The first part of acting in accordance with jírileth is the easiest: do as thou wilt. To exercise the power of choice comes naturally to all who think, as it must, and in the hearts of the eldrae qalasír burns bright. We do as we choose, obeying only our need for mélith and the dictates of our own necessities. Thus it has been; thus it shall always be, for jír is the core of our nature.

The second part is more difficult than mere action, for it is right action. To tame the fire of our passions, to discipline ourselves to the Codes and Excellences and to take on talcoríëf, such that we may pursue only our enlightened self-interest with mind and countenance as serene as the moon captured in still water, that is the first challenge of mastery we must each overcome; and yet it is the smallest.

The third part is that which the Canticle of Truth speaks best:

“The Fire burns in the Heart,
Through choice its blaze is stoked.
Can a fire burn without fuel?
When one man takes another’s will;
By this the Flame is quenched.

“This is the first Darkness.
Vile and accursed are they
Who would command another’s soul.
They shall know death beyond this world,
The Twilight City denied them.”

It is the renunciation of kóras, the power of compulsion. At first this seems simple: we may say to ourselves, “I shall not tyrannize; I shall not enslave,” and this task is easy. At second glance, we come to realize the myriad ways in which kóras and choice-theft may hide themselves behind good intentions, and justifications, and by guising itself as mere persuasion, or as duty, or as implicit obligation, and rooting it out of our minds’ gardens becomes a worthy challenge. But this, too, is not the pinnacle.

There will come a time in all our lives when another’s choices, we perceive, will lead them to loss, ruin, even death; when example, advice, and warning all fail; when they stand at the brink, and begin their leap. The highest test of our commitment to jírileth is, when that moment comes, to stand aside.

It is the power of choice that makes us sophont; the Flame that elevates us above clank automata and the lower beasts. To commit choice-theft – even with the best of intentions, and in what you perceive their best interest to be – is to reverse this, to reduce them to little more than an infant, an animal, or a clank; it is to fundamentally violate their self-integrity. Even if it was done out of one’s highest motives, it remains a rape of the soul; the conversion of a person, an end in themselves, to a mere instrumentality for our choices, a chattel of our will.

Thus, we must permit a lesser destruction, for in its avoidance lies a greater one.

“To trade the eternal for the ephemeral
is to sacrifice a greater thing for a lesser.
This trade has no worth.”

– writings of Sardonyx, student of the philosopher Arlannath


Trope-a-Day: Just Following Orders

Just Following Orders: Averted – despite being less inclined to this sort of thing anyway, if we take a moment to imagine an in-universe rerunning of the Milgram experiment – Imperial Service training and even basic ethics education makes it very clear that this will not be considered an excuse for anyone, of any rank, ever – and it is specifically never wrong to disobey an illegal or unethical order, even in the extreme cases where you have to shoot the issuer of said order in order to disobey.

Those who have volition and the capacity for ethical reasoning are expected to use them. Or else.