Cruelty, Free Will, and The Phenomenology of Things


We as humans tend to fall prey to arrogance, and much can be said in relation to our capacity for free will.



So I and my Mother were watching Rick and Morty S3 EP3 last week and we came to the scene where Rick is being swiped at by a cat after turning himself into a pickle, which if you don’t know is a reference to the viral videos of cats and cucumbers from 2015. My first instinct was to pull up the video on Youtube out of sheer entertainment value, but my reaction differed from what was expected.



The entire time I’m watching a compilation video I thought to myself,”gee, as funny as this is, I’d never do this to my own cats”. It’s unfortunate to see that we live in a world where what is considered to be psychopathic behavior can become normalized, even comedic through The Internet.



This observation eventually led me into a discussion with my Mother concerning the phenomenology of things, which is what game designer Ian Bogost describes as a metaphysics that explores how all things interact with, perceive, and experience one another.



Upon watching the cats and cucumbers video, I realized that what is happening to these cats isn’t actually funny at all but rather cruel. Makes me wonder what it feels like for those cats to be tormented, like some toy for our amusement, by a creation that possesses so-called “reasoning.”


Credit: The Ocean


It’s amazing how humanity places itself at the center of the universe just because we can actually “choose” unlike animals, or basically free will. What my Mother said during our discussion was pretty interesting, how this is no precedent but what actually occurred in God’s Kingdom, when Iblis (Satan) disobeyed God by not bowing down to Adam according to The Qur’an (2:34). He did this for the fact that he was made out of smokeless fire while Adam was made from clay, Iblis who understood who God was in all His Glory yet was arrogant enough to disobey him.



When we said to the angels, “Fall prostrate before Adam,” they fell prostrate, except Satan; he refused, was too arrogant, and a disbeliever.

-2:34 (The Heifer)


He said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I ordered you?” He said, “I am better than he; You created me from fire, and created him from mud.”

-7:12 (The Purgatory)



Although what Satan did was in no way justified, it seems as though we’re performing a similar error he made during our creation. We act as though we’re superior to all the six kingdoms because we possess free will and the reasoning to wield it, yet have no idea how our actions affect other things. I’m not trying to shame ourselves for simply having free will, but if you look at the world what have we done with that?



I’m not excused from this at all. I actually remember a time in my childhood where I played with a lizard’s carcass. Or all the times I spotted ants in my home and felt no remorse after killing hundreds to even thousands of them. As annoying ants can be, a part of me never feels good about taking their lives away. Does our capacity for free will justify cruelty towards other lifeforms? In my eyes, a human that torments cats with cucumbers is no different than a cat that plays with his food before he eats it.



So we claim superiority over the six kingdoms because of free will, but can you imagine if there are greater intelligences beyond our own? It’d kind of be like a contest to see whose dick is bigger, except with brains. Despite this attribute, we’re not doing a great job managing our planet let alone our own lives. We love to laugh at cats losing lives over cucumbers, but who’s laughing at us? What if we’re the fools and there’s a greater creation that feeds on our despair and foolishness?


Credit: VirtuallyVain


Which brings me to the topic of artificial intelligence, or as I like to call it, Computer Intelligence. It’s no surprise that we make them for the purpose of serving us. Advancement is coming rapidly in this field, an intelligence that now has the capacity to learn on its own. Sooner or later we may have androids as smart as us, walking among us. How will we define our relationship with them? How will we define our relationship with NPCs and other intelligences in virtual worlds?



Gamers are no stranger to inflicting violence on in-game characters, many video games are designed with violence as the central mechanic. I feel no remorse for all the numerous NPCs I dismembered, shot, sliced, set aflame, thrown, vaporized, choked, stabbed, eviscerated, exploded, too many verbs under the sun to describe the damage I’ve done. But when NPCs finally start possessing sentience, what then? They’ve already possessed a certain level of intelligence to react to the world around them, have I committed murder?



At what point does this behavior become unacceptable or immoral? Many games by their nature are player-centric, as in the game world exists in service of the player. Game designer Stefano Guelani actually designed a critical game called Necessary Evil, where he sought to subvert this way of designing games. As we all know, Life Online isn’t in service of us alone, we don’t sit at its throne.


Charlie Holloway: David, why are you wearing a suit, man?

David: I beg your pardon?

Charlie Holloway: You don’t breathe, remember? So why wear a suit?

David: I was designed like this because you are more comfortable interacting with your own kind. If I didn’t wear a suit, it would defeat the purpose.

Charlie Holloway: They’re making you guys pretty close, huh?

David: Not too close, I hope.

-Prometheus (2012)


A common concern that arises with Computer Intelligence is it surpassing and turning against us. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it were to ever happen. In the course of refining this intelligence, it’s no surprise that we model them to look like us. I have to wonder if, given the choice, would they create themselves to look like us or in their image? My Mother would doubt it unless they desired to dethrone us in favor of a new and improved “human” with dignity.



I’d like to say that we live in a sort of ludocracy, a world that is feeling increasingly unreal, stupid, and fake. Chaos at the expense of the many, a benefit for the few. Our ship sailing into a catastrophe like The Titanic, mindfulness thrown by the wayside. It’s not a good feeling to hurt another lifeform. It’s as if your heart sinks beneath an ocean, and you realize that you’ve inflicted pain on someone else.



I don’t want anyone to make the same mistake I’ve made when mindfulness is thrown out the window. Humans can do destructive and nasty things as a volitional creation. Because once we lose our free will, in this day and age, we become ensnared by the WORLD WIDE WEB.

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