My latest Locus column is "Cold Equations and Moral Hazard", an essay about the way that our narratives about the future can pave the way for bad people to create, and benefit from, disasters. "If being in a lifeboat gives you the power to make everyone else shut the hell up and listen (or else), then wouldn’t it be awfully convenient if our ship were to go down?"
Apparently, editor John W. Campbell sent back three rewrites in which the pilot figured out how to save the girl. He was adamant that the universe must punish the girl.
The universe wasn’t punishing the girl, though. Godwin was – and so was Barton (albeit reluctantly).
The parameters of ‘‘The Cold Equations’’ are not the inescapable laws of physics. Zoom out beyond the page’s edges and you’ll find the author’s hands carefully arranging the scenery so that the plague, the world, the fuel, the girl and the pilot are all poised to inevitably lead to her execution. The author, not the girl, decided that there was no autopilot that could land the ship without the pilot. The author decided that the plague was fatal to all concerned, and that the vaccine needed to be delivered within a timeframe that could only be attained through the execution of the stowaway.
It is, then, a contrivance. A circumstance engineered for a justifiable murder. An elaborate shell game that makes the poor pilot – and the company he serves – into victims every bit as much as the dead girl is a victim, forced by circumstance and girlish naïveté to stain their souls with murder.
Moral hazard is the economist’s term for a rule that encourages people to behave badly. For example, a rule that says that you’re not liable for your factory’s pollution if you don’t know about it encourages factory owners to totally ignore their effluent pipes – it turns willful ignorance into a profitable strategy.
Cold Equations and Moral Hazard
BB pal Rob Walker says: My Significant Objects co-conspirator Joshua Glenn and I have started a new adventure: PROJECT:OBJECT will publish four “themed” volumes of stories-about-objects from an all-star cast of writers. Volume 1, POLITICAL OBJECTS launched today, with stories from Luc Sante, Lydia Millet, and Ben Greenman. This series will continue on HiLobrow through […]
If you’re a California state employee — including an employee in the UC system — no longer use California state funds travel to Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina or Tennessee, or any state “that has passed a law that (1) authorizes discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, or (2) voids or repeals […]
My friend Clayton Cubitt has taken a phenomenal series of portraits for the Women’s March on Washington.
With countless applications for modern life, artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most in-demand fields of study in tech. Beyond modelling human decision making processes and learning abilities, AI can be used to analyze massive volumes of data and create complex interactive systems.This Machine Learning & AI for Business Bundle made mastering these concepts possible for […]
Computer hacking isn’t just something happening to the DNC. Major software companies need white-hat hackers to ensure the security of their products and users, and I came across a Computer Hacker Professional Certification Package that conveniently teaches those advanced IT techniques online.This course package will prepare you for various computer security certification exams with over 60 hours […]
One of the best ways to progress a career in project management is through earning recognized certifications. These certifications carry significant clout and don’t require expensive tuition or student loans. This Ultimate Project Management Certification Bundle is a great example of an affordable way to get ahead. It includes training for 9 certifications including PMP, […]