Updating G.K. Chesterton’s masterpiece, The Man Who Was Thursday, has had its joys as well as its challenges. Taking any story originally written and set in the first decade of the 20th Century and bringing it forward 125 years to our near-future will always have some difficulties. I’ve shared my take on handling aspects of anarchy and technology in my last couple posts. Today I’ll share about one of my biggest challenges of all – how to retain the sense of “gentleman’s honor” that is a major motivator in TMWWT.
Back in Chesterton’s time there was a certain egalitarian class structure that is largely absent in our day. To be a gentleman or lady included adhering to a certain code of honor. To be honorable, one never went back upon his or her word, even to great personal pain and difficulties. One’s honor was vigorously defended too, with duels often to the death to avenge any attacks upon one’s reputation and character.
In TMWWT honor plays such a powerful role that it defines characters, their actions, and their motivations. For example, Syme, the protagonist, comes into possession of information of a life-or-death nature. Yet where we – in his place – would immediately contact the authorities, he struggles with doing that very thing due to a promise he made. His personal sense of honor is so important to him and so valuable, it is a real struggle for him to decide what to do.
Today, the constraints of honor are easily trumped by other motivators, and we look back on such days with amazement. How could such a thing ever existed? Why would people stake their lives on such an intangible concept? And that makes this project so challenging. How can I translate TMWWT to the near-future while still keeping the integral motivator of honor intact? To find an answer I looked to where we see honor systems today.
If you have ever made a transaction on eBay, you have a lot of confidence that someone who you do not know and who is largely anonymous to you will actually ship you something you pay for. Why? Because of rankings. Each transaction is ranked by all parties involved, and these accumulating rankings are attached to your profile. With one glance at their rating you can tell if this is someone you want to do business with or not. To a lesser degree, the “Like” buttons on facebook and even on this blog provide a measure of social pressure to act nice. (BTW, I like “Likes”… please click away!)
I’ve taken this ranking concept in my update of Thursday, applying it to every interaction. Here is a snippet of my rewrite dealing with this concept:
Lucian continued: “Then may I ask you to swear by whatever gods or saints your religion involves that you will not reveal what I am now going to tell you to anyone, and especially not to the police? Will you swear that! If you will place everything as collateral, if you will consent to burden your soul with a vow that you should never make and a knowledge you should never dream about, I will promise you in return–”
“You will promise me in return?” inquired Syme, as the other paused.
“I will promise you a very entertaining evening.”
Just then Lucian G’s contract appeared in Syme’s inbox. As expected, Syme would have to pledge his lifetime accumulation of social points. If he defaulted, he would be ruined, socially bankrupt, a pariah. No one would ever deal with him seriously again, or at least not for a very, very long time. But all of that only mattered if he survived. As he read on, he was shocked by the inclusion of a life pledge. In an Augmented society, where imbedded electronics drew their power from a man’s body, those same electronics could draw out too much power. To violate Lucian’s contract would likely lead to death. But…
“Your offer,” Syme said, “is far too idiotic to be declined.”
So what do you think? Can you foresee a time where our “Likes” are so important it could shape every interaction we take? Will honor make a resurgence as more aspects of our lives find a visible – and recorded – presence online?