Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sic semper posterus

Edit: The original post was lost; this is a recreation, sans relavent links.

For some of us, science is ensuring that the future will be every bit as glorious as we’d ever hoped.

By "some of us," I mean those of us whose parents read De Quincey’s "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" to us while we were still in the cradle. We’ve a macabre (not to speak of morbid) bent, and a heightened appreciation for aesthetically pleasing methods of putting others to death. The artistic murder, the one which appeals to a sense of beauty and fitness, to theology and geometry, deserves admiration as much as a well-turned violin solo.

One can point to the achievements of Dr. Anton Phibes, of course (and I often do), but we needn’t restrict ourselves to fiction. History is full of murders which are pleasing and symmetrical, which have a certain panache or élan or je ne sais quoi, mais il assassine joliment néanmoins.

Tradition (if not modern Japanese scholars) tells us that Uesugi Kenshi was killed by a ninja who hid in Uesugi’s privy for several days; when Uesugi sat down to relieve himself, the ninja thrust upward with a spear. (Something similar befell Emperor Caracalla). Divine Claudius was murdered by a poisoned feather, stuck down his throat in an apparent attempt to induce vomiting. The Markov death umbrella has a pleasing pulp feel, while the Great Molasses Disaster, long rumored in Boston to have been industrial sabotage aimed at killing one particular worker, is on the correct side of the surreal.

But those are all in the past. We have more wonderful murder weapons awaiting us.

You will undoubtedly have been aware of the use of rats in detecting landmines. It makes good sense, seeing as rats have a better sense of smell than dogs, are easier to train, are generally cleverer, and of course much lighter. But you may not have heard that scientists, using fifty-year-old science, are using rats not only to discover buried earthquake survivors but are even controlling the rats’ behavior from a distance. Those behind this use, in their article in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods (v133n1-2, 15 Feb 2004), describe their equipment as "a multi-channel telemetry system for brain microstimulation in freely roaming animals." A Boston University researcher is achieving similar results with sharks, electrically stimulating the sharks’ sense of smell via remote control.

Meanwhile, for at least fifteen years experiments have been carried out in recording and "artificially" eliciting saccades, "fast eye movements by which objects of interest are sought and captured." (See, for example, Trends in Neurosciences, v13n10, Oct. 1990). And scientists have shown that remote electronic stimulation of the monkey brain can artificially and automatically evoke fight/flight reactions. (Neuropsychologia, v44n6, 2006).

My point?

Very soon now we will no longer need fear the gracelessness of the sniper, the obviousness of the suicide bomber, or the crudity of the poisoner. In their stead will be the assassination by remotely-controlled animals. Humans being what they are, we can expect gaucheries: the predictable pecking to death of a president by a flock of pigeons, the general tediously killed by the no-longer-urban-mythical rat-in-the-toilet, who was there to gnaw through the general’s exposed genitals, and the unimaginative (albeit lethal) alligator or hippopotamus attack on a tyrant. But there will be artists among the killers, the occasional Cassius standing out from the many Servilius Cascas and Decimus Brutuses. We can expect straightforward symbolism: the glutton gnawed to death by pigs, those who malignly buy up stock being trampled by bulls. We can look forward to homonymic puns: boors gored by boars. We can pleasantly anticipate whimsy: a lethal bear attack on Stephen Colbert, peacocks smothering whichever vapid heiress is the celebrity-du-jour, rabbits lethally abrading the skin of the president of a cosmetics company. Those of us of a pulp mindset will be able to glory in remote-controlled monkey assassins.

Fear the future? Some of us can’t wait for it to get here.


Chris Roberson said...


Jess Nevins said...


Stephen Dedman said...

Not to mention handgun manufactuers being stampeded by colts and llamas...