Tuesday, May 05, 2015

How to get around a problem of conscience, by Douglas Adams

The problem of the five hundred and seventy-eight thousand million Lintilla clones is very simple to explain, rather harder to solve. Cloning machines have, of course, been around for a long time and have proved very useful in reproducing particularly talented or attractive or - in response to pressure from the Sirius Cybernetics marketing lobby - particularly gullible people and this was all very fine and splendid and only occasionally terribly confusing. And then one particular cloning machine got badly out of sync with itself. Asked to produce six copies of a wonderfully talented and attractive girl called “Lintilla” ... the machine went to work. Unfortunately, it malfunctioned in such a way that it got halfway through creating each new Lintilla before the previous one was actually completed. Which meant, quite simply, that it was impossible ever to turn it off - without committing murder. This problem taxed the minds, first of the cloning engineers, then of the priests, then of the letters page of ’The Sidereal Record Straigtener’, and finally of the lawyers, who experimented vainly with ways of redefining murder, re-evaluating it, and in the end, even respelling it, in the hope that no one would notice. A solution has now been found, but since it is not a particularly pleasant one, it will only be revealed if it becomes absolutely necessary. (Source)
This scenario featured in the second radio series of "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", and a significant part of the drama hangs upon it, so in case this has been absent from your backstory, I won't go into it. Whilst totally tongue in cheek, it does whimsically raise the issue of how to deal with a law that can't acceptably respond to a situation in the real world. In this case, stopping the cloning machine would in effect involve murder. Having failed to wrestle with the moral implications of this, the lawyers resort to trying to redefine, re-evaluate and in the end even respell murder in an attempt to get around the problems of conscience that it raises ... before giving that approach up as a bad job.

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