Context-Dropping in the Misinterpretation of The Transhumanist Wager

The predominant "mental error" that I've seen in the most negative reviews of the book is: context-dropping.

It's the context, stupid!

It is perfectly reasonable, according to their worldviews, for people to think that the many extremes in the book are preposterous, unrealistic, would NEVER happen, are "juvenile" or "adolescent fantasies." You can refuse to accept the plausibility of the book's premise all day long, but what you DON'T get to do, according to logic, when evaluating the actions of the characters, is to ignore the context of facts and the causal sequence of events that comprise the world that Zoltan has created, however farcical, ludicrous, simplistically "black and white" you may find it to be. Even if you do this UNCONSCIOUSLY, it is still a breach of logic that will lead you to erroneous conclusions. 

You don't get to merely go on your gut reaction to some harsh and distressing words without noting whether the worst of those words were ever played out through actions -- whether those "words had consequences" later in the story. In THIS story, some do and others do not, and it is extremely salient to the evaluation of the characters' and the novel's "moral landscape" as to which are which.  


Contrary to his harshest and most OBSCENE rhetoric, once Jethro is in control of the world, he doesn't set to work implementing the HUMANICIDE FORMULA to evaluate each "drone" in the Transhumanian "hive" to determine their existential fitness and "eliminate" the useless. Even during the war phases of the struggle, he doesn't treat non-combatants as dispensable "variables" that may be killed without concern, as any competent fascist psychopath worth his salt would do. 

To the contrary, he even sends out boats to rescue ENEMY survivors who only minutes before were part of a worldwide navy that attempted to commit MASS GENOCIDE against himself and 10,000 other transhumanists. He also warns civilians REPEATEDLY about the precise times that specific buildings and monuments will be destroyed because his intent is to have no civilian casualties. 

Of course, to say: "He's not as bad as he sounds" ain't exactly high-praise, but these distinctions DO need to be made.

I'll quote from my review…

"I have an intuition or hunch that the majority of the negative feelings people have for Jethro just may be for his words more than his deeds. I have a suspicion that if all the same actions were taken, but with FAR FEWER explicit, in-your-face explanations, the negativity toward Jethro might be much less intense."

If Zoltan had decided to have Jethro actually implement the worst of the extremist things he had said, he would have lost me. I would then have written a review of a story about a true irredeemable MADMAN and totalitarian. However, the "sins" that Jethro ACTUALLY committed fell FAR short of some of his harshest Nietzschean, TESTOSTERONE-POISONED rhetoric.

Some reviewers are just fundamentally indignant and offended, as any normal compassionate humanist would be, by many of the most strident and Nietzschean-esque statements of Jethro.

And I could have easily fallen into this mindset as well, if I had only let myself react instinctually to those abrasive words without looking deeper into certain crucial and strategically placed plot-points and philosophical-drivers that mitigate many actions that are much more shocking and inexplicable minus those considerations.

Here is the most pervasive and consequential example of context-dropping…

The aggressive ACTIONS (not words, not thoughts, not philosophical speculations/conclusions) that Jethro Knights takes are in the context of…what?…wait for it…

SELF-DEFENSE and the aftermath of attacks by the militaries of the 10 most powerful countries of the world, in a WAR they DECLARED, with the intent to commit GENOCIDE against 10,000 transhumanists.  

First, war is declared on all transhumanists for the "crime" of?…being transhumanists. Then the first attempt at mass slaughter by the world military powers is for the CAPITAL CRIME of what?…thousands of scientists going off to a floating city and working on science without interference from these very same beligerant governments.

Later, these blood-thirsty governments decide that nuking the entire population of transhumanists is the best solution to their "problems."

Jethro's technology is advanced enough to thwart both of these attacks with much less loss of life than would have occurred if the battles had come to fruition.

The trend I have seen, from the serious haters of this novel, is that these explanatory and mitigating FACTS OF THE CASE, are almost entirely overlooked, disregarded, or absent from their analyses. They are content to quote "scary-talk" and sling around terms like dictator and fascist without mentioning the very context that would shed a very different light on those actions and statements. 

I did a search in one EXTREMELY negative review for the words: "government" "declare" "war"…the result? No match for the first two words and the only mention of "war" was about Zoltan having been a war correspondent before he wrote The Transhumanist Wager. 

Really? No mention AT ALL of the governmental aggression against the transhumanists that necessitates their self-defense and subsequent "de-fanging" of the beast that is out for their blood? No mention AT ALL of the major driving force of the grand events that dominate the ENTIRE NOVEL and motivate the characters in this fictional world?

Was this an oversight? Was it intentionally omitted?

Imagine if you saw a video that starts in the middle of a very brutal fight and you see one very skilled fighter systematically demolishing 5 or more other guys. I mean he seriously overwhelms and defeats them. One reaction might be to assume that guy is a real violent bastard who is abusing and maybe bullying all those other guys who clearly aren't as skilled as he is. It seems like he's the perpetrator of a lot of violence.

And then someone says, "Oh, you came in in the middle of it. Let me rewind it to the beginning." And then we see the dude who was the "perpetrator" sitting on a park bench reading a book and a gang of guys come up and attack him and try to rob him. The only flaw in their plan was that they are a bunch of minimally skilled, undisciplined gansta-wannabes and the guy on the bench is a martial arts expert with decades of training and experience under his belt. Oh wow, with that piece of information in hand, your whole interpretation of the guy's actions changes. Exact same actions, but there are now mitigating factors to be considered. 

The point to grasp here is:

It makes absolutely NO DIFFERENCE if you think this whole TW scenario is ridiculous and juvenile, this IS the scenario we are to deal with in the world that Zoltan created, when judging Kinghts' actions. Everyone needs to be aware of a potential mental-trap that's fairly easy to fall into if we're not careful, and that is: To unconsciously evaluate Jethro's actions as if they were happening in a world that is more like our "real world" as opposed to the extreme world that Zoltan has created. A corollary to that is the tendency to isolate certain statements and actions from their context of a war and of self-defense, and EXTREME personal tragedy and find them to be, therefore, extreme and inappropriate. If you omit that context from your consideration, your analysis of Jethro can't help but be incomplete and inaccurate.

I've seen the same thing with peoples' reactions to Atlas Shrugged, to which TW is routinely compared, and for good, albeit superficial, reasons. People would say: "Why did he have such an extreme reaction?" or "Real people don't talk/act that way." And they are quite right if they are thinking of the people they know and of present-day America, where things are generally pretty stable compared to other parts of the world AND the fictional world of Atlas Shrugged. 

But what I have to keep reminding them is that, in the world of EXTREME circumstances and the hyper-idealized businessmen/creators and hyper-villians that Ayn Rand created, the characters are reacting extremely to extreme situations in THAT fictional world, in accordance with the psychologies and motivations that RAND GAVE THEM. Their actions make sense, given THAT FICTIONAL WORLD and their RAND-GIVEN personalities.

These characters are reacting in ways that make little sense to you because they have a psychology and motivations that are extremely different from your own. However unrealistic you find this world to be, it still must be judged in its own context and on its own terms. If you drop that context, your comprehension of Atlas Shrugged and The Transhumanist Wager will be entirely off-base.