Saturday, February 18, 2006

Timmy and the Dragon

Februrary 11, 2006. Mexico. The services were in Spanish, a language I spoke for two years in Spain as a missionary in a time that now seemed as impossibly distant as my religious past. The trembling convictions spoken by Timmy's siblings, my wife among them, were thus understood, but foreign. Familiar, but empty. The contradictions of a heavy dream.

I was seated near the front center, my eyes left to idly study the casket, a handsome cloud-gray vessel in tasteful, fully rectangular proportions. Sturdy shafts ran along the sides. The pallbearers, a group including myself, would use these to heft the too-light assemblage away to a place where it would never be seen again.

The mounting brackets for these shafts were decoratively embellished. Each seemed, to me, to resemble the mask of a ravenous reptile. I recognized this for what it was: The mark of the Dragon-Tyrant.

For Timmy, it was no mere cliche to say his life was over before it had begun. Born severely disabled, he was never able to whisper a single word, never able to give his parents a hug. Had he not been adopted from birth, he would almost certainly have been left to die, either tacitly or explicitly, in the cage of extreme poverty into which his was born.

Every day of his seventeen-year life, his very existence was thus a living reflection of his parents' indefatigable charity. Theirs was a love so powerful and pure that the entire community basked in it. (That so many people were now crowding the church for the funeral of a drooling, twisted mute was final evidence that I do not exaggerate.)

It was not enough. Under the rules in which humanity came into existence, the house always wins. The Dragon-Tyrant of physical aging and death has a particularly loathsome modus operandi, typically tearing first into your grandparents and parents before moving on to your friends and perhaps some of your children. As he then spirals in to finish you off, you may well feel that life is no longer worth living. The kill of the Dragon is thus total, both in body and spirit.

I am probably luckier than most. I did not lose so much as a grandparent until my early twenties. Then I lost my Grandpa. After a pause of several years, the Dragon has returned to assert his dominion. In the span of about a year, he has consumed my Grandad, my Grandma and now, my brother-in-law, Timmy.

The Dragon's orbit draws tighter and faster.

In such times, a natural instinct is to reach for a belief in a better life after this one. To accept death as the will of god. There is comfort in these ideas that I will not begrudge on anyone. Submitting served humanity well for many thousands of years, when revolt against the Dragon-Tyrant was clearly impossible. But in the end, when we submit, we still collaborate with the enemy -- especially now, when the possibility of defeating him is real.

Yes, he is the enemy. And I will not submit.

This makes me a cornered animal. An ice floe drifting in the sun. A sack of thermite left next to a furnace at the onset of winter. For inevitably, the Dragon must devour someone I have loved very closely, and my fury may well incinerate me from within. For even in the exquisite, faithless pain of total mourning, I will not submit.

It is customary in many circles to make charitable donations in memory of loved ones at the time of their passing. This is a good tradition. Timmy's parents, for example, run a school for disabled children in an impoverished corner of Mexico. I admire and respect anyone who contributes to this or any other worthy cause.

I definitely participate in this giving tradition, but have nothing left to donate on the occasion of Timmy's passing, because I have not been postponing my charity for such occasions. It would be wrong of me to wait until my loved ones are gone, for my charity of choice intends to save them.

So it is that I share my tears with Timmy's many loved ones who, because of their beliefs, cannot fully endorse my cause. But I will not submit.

In the name of Timmy, I will fight the Dragon.

Join me. The Singularity Institute seeks to create benevolent artificial intelligence as a stepping stone to ending involuntary death and suffering in our time.


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