Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Regular Dogma

One of the areas where I appear to have taken a stand, but it no longer really makes sense and I can't justify it, is to insist on preserving irregularities of the English language. When I was involved in development of some roguelike games (aside: this looks really interesting), I often made and submitted patches to properly pluralise "staff" to "staves" rather than the (easier to program) plural "staffs", similar with index and indices. Is this a good thing? I like playing around with language, and am antidogmatic for larger rules (I verb nouns and nounify verbs, play with suffices, etc), but something about abandoning irregular conjugations and plurals bugs me. Perhaps it's a butterfly-like delight in seeing a word undergo a deeper transformation when altered, or perhaps it's that most people I see who are pushing further regularisation arn't people who strike me as really having mastered the language. I think it mostly comes down to what's primarily an aesthetic judgement built from familiarity though -- grammar and style are important to me, and to an extent I judge people's intelligence by them (people who speak english as an extra language are exempt). I think the difference I see in playing around with words and not having mastered the language is kind of akin to judging people by the jokes they tell -- in the right circumstances I expect them to be able to put away their quirks and write properly, even if they normally operate in a more fluid realm.

I keep thinking I should go revisit my old roguelike project MOLD one of these days. I'm not sure if anything's been going on with it since I was distracted by other projects and handed it off to another programmer. If I got back into it, I'ld probably want to rewrite most of it to use named parameters, as I've become convinced they're a good idea. It'd be kind of tempting to write it in the toy versions of Perl6 or in Ruby, but I don't know if I'm willing to change languages or if Perl6 is ready yet. I'm curious in general about the state of Perl6, but haven't found a good (ideally RSS/Atom-able) source of info.

Over dinner yesterday, I read over The Case of the Speluncean Explorers and came to some conclusions on it that I thought I might share. For the unfamiliar, the case is a hypothetical written in the 1940s about happenings in a fictional jurisdiction. By the story:

A group of miners are in a mine for a few days, at which point a landslide occurs and blocks their return to the surface. Twenty days after the landslide, they enter radio contact with the surface, seeking advice and fearing starvation. They are told that estimated rescue time is 10 days, that they probably would not last 10 more days without food, and that killing and eating one member of their group would ensure their survival, but are refused advice on if that is an acceptable thing to do. A few days later, they hold a lottery and kill one of their member, eating him. About 30 days after the landslide, they are freed. (I am fudging away a bit of ambiguity as per dates in the case, because in my opionion this fudging does not have much significance)

People are asked to judge the situation from various perspectives. Issues:

  • Is the will to live something that society should ever require people balance other things against? If so, a framework for this is suggested
  • What is the fole of good judgement in matters of fact among the trapped in this situation?
  • Hypothetical: If Miner X dislikes Miner Y and unilaterally pushes for their sacrifice or kills them himself, does that change anything?
  • Hypothetical: If Miner Z cheats in the lotto, does that change anything?
My Thoughts:
  • True Necessity justifies anything for the participant. Society should never judge a person badly for doing what they actually need to do to survive, be that kill, cheat, or any other act, regardless of its ferocity or duplicity. No contract or understanding that breaches this may be considered valid in that part. People may choose to sacrifice themselves, but that is always a decision of the moment and should never be commanded.
  • Justice does not need to be consistent outside of personal perspective (although it is nice when it can be worked out to be so). People defending themselves against actions of necessity do not lose any of their perogative to do so -- both are within bounds of acceptable behaviour
  • Good judgement must be part of this -- if the actions are not based off of a fairly accurate (within human bounds) judgement of true necessity, people should be considered partly or fully liable for their actions. Hysteria, for example, should be considered only a partial defense at best
  • Intentional creation of situations of necessity (as opposed to intentional acts that through little or no negligence happen to create such situations) can be considered to be crimes in themselves with punishment similar to intent to murder (although philosophically they are different as this is not exactly a criminal murder), but if the person is immersed in selfsame situation afterwards does not transform the situation into a standard murder
  • Intent is key
  • The actual choice and administration of the necessary death should not be considered significant in the eyes of the law

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