left biblioblography: 'If I Could Turn Back Time'...

Thursday, April 05, 2007

'If I Could Turn Back Time'...

No, not a big fan of Cher. Rather, I'd like to share a Gedanken Experiment, one that appears relatively simple, but is a paradox to tax the brain. Somewhere along the lines of the Sound of Thunder, and crossed with Zelazny's short story "The Game of Blood and Dust".

It's really a hoary old chestnut amongst the science fiction genre, but humor an old man, willya?

I hand you a gun. It has one bullet. I can send you back to any point in human history, and you have the option of killing one person of your choice. Who do you choose?

Simple enough, no?

No.

Think about it.

If for example, you elect to go back in time and dust Martin Luther, maybe hundreds of thousands of peasants manage to survive. But the Roman Catholic church, deprived of an antagonist, never undergoes the Reformation, and when you return, not only does the US NOT have Separation of Church and State, but the Vatican is the center of the civilized world.

If you go back, and finish off the attempted assassination of Adolph Hitler, perhaps the Third Reich goes on to conquer the world, and you return to find that you are under arrest as a member of the Resistance.

If you go back, and dust old Adolph while he's a starving street artist, millions will be saved, but Israel will probably never exist, America never becomes a world power, and maybe Germany will find a more benign (or malign, but that's stretching it) way of rising up from under the impact of the Treaty of Versailles.

So chew on it, get back to me.

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22 comments:

beepbeepitsme said...

Well, in reality, I am unlikely to gun down anyone. I can think of an extraordinary circumstance or 2 when I might be persuaded to resort to such an extreme measure, but as I said, this would be a most extraordinary circumstance. (Like if someone was hurtling up my driveway with a submachine gun and screaming that they were going to kill me. I think I could be persuaded then.)

Now, as a matter of "hypothetical entertainment", who would I dust off?

Geee, I don't even like to think about that.

Ok, I will go for Plato. Sorry Plato, ya grumpy ass-kissing old bugger, but you are dusted.

Why? because of the concept of the noble lie as expressed in 'The Republic.'

remy said...

While there is scant evidence for his ever being born, dispatching the Christ would be my unfortunate duty. It would be VERY difficult for me to shoot anyone, no matter what their crimes.(There is actually more evidence for the existence of his brother James.)

The countless lives saved and the more rapid advancement of science would be worth it. Alas, given the fact that there were numerous pretenders to the throne of messiah, it is quite likely that one of them would have ris-ed up and caused even more suffering. A boy just can't win.

karen said...

I'm going for pure selfishness.
I'd kill my grandfather, even though that's too good for him.

Chris Bradley said...

I'm with BBIM. I wouldn't kill anyone. I don't believe in murder.

Additionally, in terms of history, I doubt killing any one person would change the general viciousness of human history (indeed, I would think it's a little absurd to think that the world can be improved through murder). Martin Luther was a tool for tensions that had been growing in Catholicism for a long time (indeed, he wasn't even the only person agitating against the RC church -- there were also guys like John Hus and Calvin . . . if it wasn't Martin Luther, it'd've been someone else).

I mean, heck, if I thought that killin' folks would do the world good, I wouldn't need a time machine. Guns and bullets are readily available in America. ;)

Krystalline Apostate said...

BBIM - Plato? Really? The noble lie, hmmm? Souls of metal, how weird.

karen - would that be before he made your grandma pregnant, or after?

chris - well, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand triggered WWI, although it was a culmination of a # of small events. So if someone kills the assassin, would WWI be averted?

Chris Bradley said...

KA,

Probably not. The assassination of Ferdinand was simply the pretext for doing what the European powers already wanted to do. It was a mind bogglingly stupid example of the politics of the time -- secret fucking defense treaties?! -- but France, Germany, England, Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Empire all had various grudges against each other that they were gonna sort out in a war.

England wanted to destroy Germany's navy. Germany wanted to horn in on the British Empire. France wanted to recover from the humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War. Austria wanted to show they were still a big wheel in European politics. The Ottoman Empire wanted to regain Greece as a province. They all wanted to test new weapons that had been invented since the end of the Franco-Prussian War -- machineguns and airplanes at the top of the list, with all kinds of new naval technology for the Brits.

Added to this was the personally belligerent attitude of Kaiser Wilhelm, who deeply wanted a war for a number of psycho personal reasons -- he wanted to be called Willie the Great, basically, and the way you do that is buy getting into a big ass war.

Ferdinand was just the pretext for doing what they already wanted to do. When he was assassinated, even after Austria had declared war on Serbia, invoking the secret defense pact they had with Russia, it would have been quite possible -- even easy -- to stop the war. Nicholas II didn't want to go to war, in particular, but there was a treaty. What could he do? And Austria didn't stop the war because they arrogantly felt they could defeat the Russians and regain international prestige.

WWI happened not because Ferdinand caught a bullet, but because of the social pressures of the various European powers. They hadn't had a big war in forty years and they were itching for one in the worst possible way.

Sadie Lou said...

Sick question but interesting to say the least.
Remy's response to dust Christ made me laugh. Instead of Judas doing the deed--we have "Remy". Maybe the difference would have been that while Judas later regretted his betrayal and commited suicide, Remy would have thrown himself a party.
Anyways,
I'll chew on my response some more. Killing is wrong but I see this is as hypothetical question and it appears, by KA's examples, that this would be a killing to better serve mankind.
Hmmm...

Krystalline Apostate said...

chris - good points all, but a 'what if' scenario might entail a dispersion if that final domino wasn't toppled.

sadie - exactly. It's a 'lesser of 2 evils' scenario.

remy said...

Sadie,
I believe I said that it would be difficult for me to kill anyone. I am in fact against the death penalty. This is a hypothetical parlor game so, to extend it to post deed celebration changes the the whole endeavour. It would never occur to me to celebrate anyone's death.

It has occured to me that Paul, as the real architect of this monumental error would be a more appropriate choice if I wished to spare humankind a gret deal of suffering and lack of progress.

Krystalline Apostate said...

remy - BINGO! That's exactly what I'd do. Descartes in 2nd place (THAT clown caused mass neuroses w/his crap).

Chris Bradley said...

KA,

Yeah, maybe. And maybe, by delaying it a couple of years, the conflict might have been worse, with more advanced technologies and even more horrific results, with more belligerent leaders even more dead set on destruction. It is impossible to say. However, and I believe this is the position of nearly any WWI historian, the conflict was virtually inevitable due to the social tensions and government structures of the time -- most of the governments *wanted* to go to war. The people in the know largely think that it was inevitable and the murder of Ferdinand was a pretext. So, stopping Ferdinand's murder would probably not have much of an effect.

I feel this way about most people that history attributes terrible deeds to. Like, say, Hitler. Hitler didn't invent the anti-semitism and eugenics pseudo-science that lead to the Holocaust -- it was virtually inevitable that thinking be taken to it's logical conclusion somewhere (indeed, during the 30s and 40s, some of it was happening here in America). Destroying Hitler as a youth wouldn't have destroyed the forces that created him, or empowered the Nazis.

I'm just not a fan of the Big Man theory of history, I guess. ;)

Sadie Lou said...

It has occured to me that Paul, as the real architect of this monumental error would be a more appropriate choice if I wished to spare humankind a gret deal of suffering and lack of progress.

Remy, you don't have to remind me that this is a parlor game. If you read my response, I already reasoned that out.
*wink*
Paul isn't the guy you want. It would have been Peter--the Catholics believe he was the apostle to build the Catholic church.
The "true" church.
He was killed too--you just would have to do it sooner.
I think mine would be a serial killer--I would just have to choose one. Perhaps Jeffery Dahmer?
Although I heard he became a Christian in prison, so I'd have to do it before his conversion.

Man--that sounds pretty evil.

remy said...

Sorry Sadie but Peter was an after thought of the catlicks. The religion to which you subscibe really ought to be called Paulism. Saul did more to spread the word and institute dogma then anyone.

Please, tell an old man who you think the planet would be better off without.

Krystalline Apostate said...

sadie - remy's right. It was Paul who spread it far & wide.

karen said...

KA
Before or after he got my grandma pregnant?
Long after. It would be after the first time he raped me. Then I could claim self-defense.

Sadie Lou said...

Please, tell an old man who you think the planet would be better off without.

I did.
I would pick a seriel killer.
I just don't know which one.
I'm favoring Jeffery Dahmer but I might want to pick one that killed children. Or raped women.
I'm still chewing.

Krystalline Apostate said...

sadie - well, the exercise was more towards influencing history.
Given that Dahmer converted, wouldn't icing him prior to that be more of a conundrum for you?

elisabeth said...

My inclination would be Paul as well. I have yet to see any significant evidence of an historical Jesus Christ, so Paul is the one I see as spreading the religion. It's possible someone else would have spread a similar religion, but I can only go on what we know now. Paul was the marketeer.

As far as the morality of killing anyone, I believe the greater good outweighs the cost of one human life. There are numerous other candidates throughout history.

OTOH, I tend to think there always will be. To a large extent it seems to be human nature for people to latch on to charismatic leaders with dogmatic beliefs that give them a pretext for killing lots of other people who believe something else.

Krystalline Apostate said...

elisabeth - hey, thanks for dropping in.
Yeah, old rabbi Solly - what a weird cat he was, no?
To a large extent it seems to be human nature for people to latch on to charismatic leaders with dogmatic beliefs that give them a pretext for killing lots of other people who believe something else.
True enough. As Chris pointed out, WWI probably would've happened regardless of Ferdinand's assassination. If AH had died prior to his rise to power, chances are good someone else would've risen up to lead the Germans.
"Nature abhors a vacuum" seems to apply on multiple levels.

Sadie Lou said...

sadie - well, the exercise was more towards influencing history.
Given that Dahmer converted, wouldn't icing him prior to that be more of a conundrum for you?


You can't change history. If you bumped somebody off that influenced history in an adverse way, maybe something even worse would happen. I don't know, it's hard to rationally think about it so I chose someone that influenced people lives and that the world wouldn't miss if he were gone.
And yes, I'd do him in before he converted. I already said that too--I got the fishy feeling people don't read my comments all the way.

Aaron Kinney said...

Or heres another take:

What if I went back in time, gunned down Jesus before he got crucified, and then spat on his body and declared a "new Satanic Empire," but THEN I cut off Jesus' ear and ATE it. Wouldnt I get eternal life and be forgiven for what I just did and would STILL be considered worthy for heaven in God's eyes?

Krystalline Apostate said...

Aaron - if you went back in time, everyone (on the proviso you could speak ancient Aramaic) would probably ask you, "Which Jesus are you talking about? Who? What miracles? Messiah? What?"
You probably couldn't even find the guy.
'Cause he never existed.