Re: MacLeod's Cassini Division (spoiler warning)

From: Geoff Tillman (
Date: Mon Oct 02 2000 - 17:39:28 MDT

I also read Cassini Division and got a slightly
diffent impression. MacLeod (who's sympathys are
certainly with the "beautiful people") also points out
the advantages of the "outworlders" The new martian's
are a great deal more advanced than the Earthers.
Earth manufacting is not capible of matching the New
Martians. And the Earth technology including those
really spiffy "smart suits" is considered quaint. The
main character even wounders if competition may be
necessary for real advancement. Earth in the story is
a rather boring and stagnent utopia .
just my 2cents worth

--- Robin Hanson <> wrote:
> I read "The Cassini Division" by Ken MacLeod over
> the weekend. I couldn't
> find any mention of it in the archives at
> though I think I recall some discussion here once.
> It was well written (or maybe it had been too long
> since I'd read SF and I
> needed a fix). People like us are clearly the bad
> guys in the book, but it
> was interesting to see what our worse crimes are
> from MacLeod's perspective.
> MacLeod seems to favor some sort of socialist
> society, though he was never
> very clear how it worked. He is, however, able to
> depict an
> anarcho-capitalist society, and it isn't a terrible
> place -- just culturally
> backward and unsophisticated.
> **** SPOILER WARNING - I'm going to say what
> happens! ****
> The people in his socialist society think uploads
> are just machines without
> any inner life worth considering, but the main
> character of the book
> eventually get temporarily uploaded and then
> realizes that she is wrong
> about this.
> It seems that according to MacLeod, our great crime
> is selfishness. When
> Earth was in bad shape, the people in space split
> into two factions,
> "beautiful people" who had lots of sex and wanted to
> help Earth, and
> "outwarder" nerds who only cared about conquering
> the universe for selfish
> glory. At some point the outward faction violently
> grabs a bunch of
> resources, kills lots of the others, and uploads
> more of them to serve as
> slaves. They go off to Jupiter, take apart a moon,
> create millions of
> upload copies to do their dirty work, become huge
> million-mind-equivalent
> creatures, and build a wormhole.
> They then get stuck in virtual reality navel-gazing,
> and broadcast viruses
> that destroy all computers and telecom on Earth,
> forcing Earth to from then
> on use mechanical computers and no radio. Earth folk
> are about to destroy
> them all, but then try to talk, and find creatures
> on Jupiter that seem
> reasonable. Earth asks them to stop the viruses,
> and asks them to explain
> how to use the wormhole to get to a distant colony
> of anarcho-capitalists,
> and the Jupiter folk do both.
> Many groups in the anarcho-capitalist colony then
> decide they want trade
> with Jupiter and send ships there through the
> wormhole, ignoring Earth-folk
> warnings about the viruses. Viruses from somewhere
> on Jupiter then take
> over those ships, which is then a justification for
> killing all life/mind
> on Jupiter.
> So MacLeod's bottom line is that we're right about
> that technologies like
> uploading and wormholes and anarcho-capitalism can
> work as envisioned, but
> that our selfishness will do us in. It makes us get
> stuck in navel-gazing,
> and when we are powerful it makes us so irresistibly
> grabby that others
> will get together to kill us all. When we stay as
> weak humans we create
> societies that work, but are culturally
> unsophisticated.
> I suppose the image is similar to that of the
> Ferengi in Star Trek NG,
> "ugly, greedy and sexist" traders -- useful to have
> around, but not the
> sort you'd want to socialize with, or have sex with,
> and definitely not
> the sort you'd want to allow to have substantial
> power. Which if you
> think about it is the stereotype of the nerd. And
> all this fits with
> my theories of why people don't like cryonics, and
> why they aren't
> thrilled with our becoming superhuman.
> Unfortunately these stereotypes do have a basis in
> reality. People
> on this list do on average give the impression to
> outsiders of being
> less sexy, less culturally sophisticated, more
> selfish, and more caring
> about things and stuff out there than people around
> here. And ordinary
> people do seem to have deeply ingrained fears of
> letting such people
> have power.
> My response to all this is not to deny stereotypes
> regarding values,
> but to deny that the facts will make them very
> relevant. The common
> SF scenario is a small group of people who have a
> huge influence over
> history and society, usually via their access to
> technology, and whose
> values are pivotal to the outcome. But this has
> almost never happened
> in the past, and isn't likely to happen in the
> future either.
> Most change is due to large broad social forces, and
> organizations
> large enough to have substantial power over others
> are controlled by
> coalitions of many types of people, with many types
> of values. SF
> scenarios where a few nerds could take over the
> world with the tech
> (AI, nanotech, wormhole, etc.) that they develop in
> their obscure lab
> are just fantasy.
> Selfish techie nerds are and will remain largely
> powerless, even
> if all the changes we forsee and promote come to
> pass. We may be
> pivotal in making people pay attention to these
> possibilities, but
> if they happen after that it will be because of
> social forces and
> widely shared values - our differing values won't
> matter much.
> Robin Hanson
> Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
> MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030-4444
> 703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

"Beware he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he deems himself your master
...Sid Meier

When we turn away from the darkness of
our past to take comfort in our peaceful lives, we
sometimes forget how dearly that peace was bought. But
there is much worth remembering in the darkness..."--Tolkein

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