The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

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Once upon a time, a dragon tyrannized the kingdom. Covered with thick black scales, its eyes glowed with hate ,… … and from its terrible jaws flowed evil-smelling slime. Some tried to fight the dragon … … priests and magicians called down curses to no avail. Warriors, armed with the best weapons, attacked, only to be incinerated. The dragon’s claws, jaws, and fire were so effective, … … its scaly armor so hard, as to make it invincible. The dragon demanded from humankind a tribute: … … ten thousand men and women, randomly chosen, … … to be delivered every evening to the foot of the mountain to be eaten. The king and the kingdom, their weapons useless, … … had no choice but to pay the grisly tribute, …. … to suffer the misery, to feed the insatiable hunger. And humans, ever adaptable, came to accept the dragon-tyrant as a fact of life; … … knowing, even embracing, that everyone’s final moments would be in its maw. How could the world be otherwise? The kingdom began to teach its children that the dragon had its place … … in the natural order and, the very meaning of being human to end up … … in the dragon’s stomach, their shorter lives motivating them to lead good lives. And the dragon was helping the kingdom by keeping the population … … from growing too fast. Learning this, attacks on the dragon ceased. But the kingdom still grew, slowly, and with it so did the dragon, … … becoming as big as the mountain on which it lived, its appetite increasing. The logistics of collecting and transporting so many every day… … to the mountain came to occupy the king’s mind more than the deaths and the dragon itself. The king had to hire registrars to keep track of who would be sent. There were people-collectors dispatched to fetch the designated victims. There were clerks who administered the pensions to be paid to decimated families. And there were comforters who would travel with the doomed … … on their way to the dragon, trying to ease the anguish. And there were dragonologists who studied how these logistic processes could be made more efficient. Steam engines were invented and a railway constructed leading to the dragon’s abode. Trains arrived at the mountain terminal crammed with people and return empty. Some dragonologists also studied the dragon’s behavior and collected samples … … its shed scales, the slime, the excrement speckled with fragments of human bone. The more the beast was understood, the more its invincibility confirmed. But. . . humanity is a curious species. Every once in a while, someone gets a good idea. Others copy the idea, adding to it their own improvements. Over time, many wondrous tools and systems are developed. Some of these tools make it easier to generate new ideas. Thus, the great wheel of invention, … … which in the older ages turned imperceptibly slow, … … began to accelerate and humans did what would have seemed magic before, … … communicating instantly across great distance, building machines that could fly, … and many other astonishing things. A few dragonologists argued it might be time argued for a new attack … … one had invented a material so sharp it could pierce a dragon’s scale. It would not be easy but if a huge projectile could be made out of this material … … and launched with sufficient force and sufficient precision it might penetrate the dragon’s armor. However, it would be difficult and expensive and time-consuming to do. The dragonologists explained their proposal to anyone who would listen. But the people were skeptical; they had been taught the dragon-tyrant was invincible and the sacrifices it demanded a fact of life. Yet when they learnt about the new material and the idea for a projectile, many became intrigued. When the king read about the plans, he decided to hold an open hearing … … it took place on the last and darkest day of the year, in the largest hall of the royal castle. People packed in to every last seat and crowded the aisles. The king's advisor spoke first: telling the people it was best they accept the inevitability of the dragon… … and the dragon-administration department provided many jobs … … that would be lost were the dragon slaughtered and, in any case, … … the kingdom's coffers were empty after building the new railway. Next the leading dragonologist explained how the proposed device would work, … … how the requisite amount of new invented material could be manufactured. Given the requested amount of funding, it may be possible to complete the work in fifteen to twenty years. With greater funding, maybe twelve. However, there could be no guarantee. Last to speak was the king’s advisor for morality: "Let us grant" he said "The project is technologically possible, though it hasn’t been proven to me. … … Presumably, you think you've got the right not to be chewed up. How willful, how presumptuous, how vain. The shortness of human life is a blessing. Getting rid of the dragon, which might seem such a convenient thing to do, would undermine our dignity. This preoccupation with killing the dragon will deflect us from realizing more fully … … the aspirations to which our lives naturally point, from living well rather than merely staying alive. The nature of the dragon is to eat, and our own nature, my friends, is nobly fulfilled only by getting eaten. The dragon is necessary. The dragon is good." The great hall was silent. Then a small child yelled out from the audience: "The dragon is bad!" The child’s parents turned red and hushed, but the child said again: "The dragon is bad -- it kills people... it ate my Granny... I want my Granny back." The hall was silent again -- then a woman stood: “The dragon killed my parents.” And man followed and stood: “The dragon killed my wife and my daughter.” More and more people stood -- the simple fact that the dragon killed everyone, the loss of it, the weight of it, crashing over the hall. The way out from under remote, yet maybe possible. The king, looking at the first child to speak, announced: "Let us kill the dragon". The next morning, a billion people woke to realize they or those they loved might be sent to the dragon before the projectile launched. Whereas before, active support for the anti-dragon cause had been limited, … … it now became the number one priority and concern on everyone’s mind. Mass rallies raised money for the projectile project and urged the king to increase support, … … which he did, passing extra appropriations bills and selling his summer castle, announcing: "I believe that this kingdom should commit itself to achieving the goal, … … before the decade is out, of freeing the world from the ancient scourge of the dragon." Thus started a great technological race against time. To make the dragon-killing weapon required solutions to a thousand technical problems, … … each of which required dozens of time-consuming steps and missteps. Test-missiles were fired but fell dead to the ground or flew off in the wrong direction. Terrible accidents happened. But there was now a seriousness of purpose, and the work continued. But despite almost unlimited funding and round-the-clock work by technicians, the king’s deadline could not be met. The task was hard. The decade concluded and the dragon still lived — still ate. But the effort was getting closer. A year later the first prototype missile successfully launched. The construction of the final projectile eventually set to complete and launch on New Year’s Eve, … … twelve years after the project’s inauguration. The last day of the year was cold and overcast, but still and clear — good launch conditions. As the sun set, technicians scuttled around making the final adjustments and checks. The king and his advisors observed from a platform close to the launch pad. Further away, behind a fence, the public assembled to witness the great event. A large clock counted down: ten minutes to go -- the dark slumped profile of the dragon beyond, eating. From the crowd, someone jumped the fence and ran to the platform where the king sat. He arrived, accompanied by security, in a frenzied state, his nose bleeding. He shouted: "The last train! Stop the last train!" The young man was a junior clerk in the ministry of transportation. He had discovered that his father was on the last train to the mountain. The king had ordered the trains to continue to the very end, … … fearing any disruption might cause the dragon to stir and the missile to miss. The young man begged the king to issue a recall-order for the last train, … … due to arrive at the mountain terminal five minutes before time zero. "I cannot do it," said the king, "I cannot take the risk it will alert the dragon“. The clouds above their head let loose the rain. “I am so sorry” The king continued, “had we started but one day earlier your father would not have to die.” Looking at the crowd, thinking of all the losses that they and he, had endured. “This project should have been started years earlier than we did. So many need not have been killed by the dragon, had we but awoken from our acceptance of its horror sooner.” The young man's wailing ceased. The king looked up at the countdown clock: five seconds remaining. Four. Three. Two. One. Zero. A ball of fire enveloped the launch pad and the missile shot out. The masses, the king, the low and the high, the young and the old… ... that white flame, shooting into the dark embodied the human spirit, its fear and its hope. It struck the heart of evil. The silhouette on the horizon tumbled and fell. Thousands of voices of joy rose from the masses, joined seconds later by a deafening drawn-out thud from the collapsing monster. After all this time, humanity was at last free from the dragon. The joy cry resolved into a jubilating chant: "Long live the king! Long live us all!" The royal entourage, huddling in the downpour, accumulated around their monarch. So much had changed in the last hour. The right to an open future had been regained, a primordial fear abolished, and many long-held assumptions overturned. “What do we do now?" they asked. "We have come a long way. . ." said the king, "yet now we are like children again. The future lies open before us. We shall go and try to do better than we have done in the past, for we have time now… … time to get things right, time to grow up, time to learn from our mistakes. Let all the bells in the kingdom ring until midnight, in remembrance of our dead. Then after, we will celebrate and begin the process of building a better world. . . for we have time now. [Music and crackling sounds]
Channel: CGP Grey
Views: 4,762,134
Rating: 4.8541327 out of 5
Keywords: cgpgrey, education, fairy tale, story, fiction
Channel Id: undefined
Length: 13min 0sec (780 seconds)
Published: Tue Apr 24 2018
Reddit Comments

Grey is really pushing his war on death, huh? I can get behind it.

👍︎︎ 1816 👤︎︎ u/KingPotatoHead 📅︎︎ Apr 24 2018 🗫︎ replies

By the time Grey posts his next video, it will be too late.

My train will have already arrived.

👍︎︎ 595 👤︎︎ u/vanoreo 📅︎︎ Apr 24 2018 🗫︎ replies

This feels like an extension to his earlier video about death. The dragon is aging or disease - something that humanity has accepted as fact but nonetheless causes incredible sadness.

👍︎︎ 508 👤︎︎ u/detry322 📅︎︎ Apr 24 2018 🗫︎ replies

Just to make it clear, this story is not made by CGP, it's from Nick Bostrom.

👍︎︎ 122 👤︎︎ u/guricatarinense 📅︎︎ Apr 24 2018 🗫︎ replies

Glad to see podcasters entering the YouTube arena.

👍︎︎ 670 👤︎︎ u/AgentElement 📅︎︎ Apr 24 2018 🗫︎ replies

a lot of people are saying that the dragon is an allegory for death, but i think that misses the point a little in that it's specifically about aging or aging related death. death could be caused by diseases, accidents, genetics, but they are all things humans are cognizant of as one day curable.

aging is a different matter entirely. up until recently, aging was thought to be apart of what it is to be human. the concept of curing aging was unimaginable. so much so that humanities collective worldview is rooted in the fact that one day we all die. i think changing that belief is going to be the hardest obstacle in combating aging. much more so than doing the actual science and developing the technology.

you can read the story and the morals of the story as told by the author if you scroll to the bottom here.

👍︎︎ 226 👤︎︎ u/wadss 📅︎︎ Apr 24 2018 🗫︎ replies

Really solid metaphor on death. I knew Grey was working on something big, but this... this is crazy.

👍︎︎ 330 👤︎︎ u/ElatedGatorRater 📅︎︎ Apr 24 2018 🗫︎ replies

I don't think too many people are fundamentally disagree with conquering death, I think most people do have an understandable aversion to the methods of it, and the impossible-to-answer question of "does this actually work?"

No one has a fondness/love/whatever for death, they have a deep comfort in themselves, and take a great security in knowing that it is their selves.

There's a finite amount of resources on this planet, and we have a shitload of big awful social and ecologic problems. Some ecologic problems have us clocked at 50 years left, and we still entirely ignore these coming disasters.

The best case scenario for AI is that it has a massive affect on global trade that could crash most of the world's economies. The worst case scenarioS goes without saying.

Nuclear Weapons are less regulated and secure then they were 20 years ago.

Civic problems ignored, ecological problems too expensive. But tech gets to pour the lion's share of the world's liquid $ into robotics, nanoprocessing, all sorts of micro-mechanics, fucking alchemy, and let's not forget their crown jewel of supercomputing with machine learning at the helm. All of this is fastpassed through regulation and funding on a micro and macro level, while ecological R&D, medicine research, cellular research, genetic engineering, body regeneration - ALL of those fields which I think many would agree are a critical way forward to slaying the dragon are stuffed in the backseat while tech drains resources of our current economy into purely computational and mechanical methods of slaying the dragon. Mars research has more funding then any of the physical science fields I listed. And I guess I'm fine with that, most of the planet is, but I think it might only be because at this point ecological collapse seems inevitable and we might need a backup planet. Think about how fucked up that really is? Instead of actively devoting the needed resources to fix up, we're planning on a shitty backup planet out of apathy while IBM throws blank checks at watson.

I'm like most of controversial-but-upvoted people in this thread, the person you were replying to, and the person you used to be. As it currently stands, I'm pro leaving the dragon as it is. I'll accept death with a smile. But it's not necessarily that I believe human life needs an end date. I just don't want to "live" in the way society has essentially seemed to have just decided we will have to "live" after the dragon is slain. Our narrative pop culture is dominated by human transcendence into a computational network of some sort, it dominates, shows, movies, public intellectual activity, etc. It's part of out constant national conversation, along with Mars. That's it. And everyone seems content with that.

Well I didn't choose that, a lot of people didn't. And there's an injustice with how much of our global resources we allocate to one specific cause of "killing the dragon" and how it's nearer than we think - and especially keeping in mind how near to ecologic disaster we are.

Science has had the problem of the brain for nearly 500 practical years and they still haven't unlocked it. We're talking about uploading into a server when we haven't mapped out the human brain. Consciousness has been a problem for society for several Millenia. Maybe solve those two thorns before the world just gets shoved into "transhumanism is the best way forward, k lets just burn earth and upload." At least prove something regarding replicating consciousness before devoting so much to it being our way out. Because as far as all of us know regarding computing being the answer- with complete objectivity, it is a undeniable fact that that method of slaying the dragon is based in 1s and 0s and we have ZERO evidence so far to prove that that is the sum total of consciousness.

The cause of immortality that this video is clearly promoting isn't lost on me, I'm on board, but this current scenario we're cornered in absolutely fucking stinks. I'm not a lot of things, but I am lazy and I am paranoid. And if there's two things I can sniff out every time it's a conspiracy of lazy men. Consumer technology is making everyone so much money, and is doing wonders for making governing easier, even in somewhat unethical ways. And to the private citizen it makes us more complacent and submissive of pact mentalities. It's so much easier to hope the minds driving tech, devoting everything they have to supercomputing and machine learning, just figure out something their way rather than accept the "we all on a global level need to tighten our belts to deal with the earth collapsing."

A choice seems to have already been made for the planet, and as this video illustrates, this is an insanely monumental chapter for our species, we could live forever. It seems wrong to make something so important to all of us, so dominated by one particular philosophy.

So while I like this video because I'm not against immortality, and this is the sort of thing people should be thinking about more- I'm also somewhat critical of it because, let's be honest, to the average person (not a paranoid conspiracy weirdo like me), they'll take the message as "Yeah, he's right, I should put my hesitations aside and embrace immortality! Let's kill the dragon! Here I come singularity-based-upload!" When in practice, if that person isn't constantly inundated with "AI/computing is the answer to the dragon problem," maybe there would be more civic and cultural parity to this immensely important decision that affects all humans, that we should all have a say in, not just succumb to whatever contemporary economics dictates.

So yeah, I guess I'll say I'm pleasantly surprised there are so many "I'll take death over created consciousness" people here. Even if I don't agree with their reasonings at least there is some kind of conversation offering pushback which may lead to publicly seriousness of alternative ways to live forever.

I don't want to roll the dice with uploading my brain to a server on Mars. I want to advance wherein my body and organs can survive indefinitely on a recovered and healthy Earth. And it's a shame that that option ostensibly isn't even on the table any longer.

👍︎︎ 12 👤︎︎ u/FootballGuyRandy69 📅︎︎ Apr 25 2018 🗫︎ replies

Somebody read HPMOR.

👍︎︎ 41 👤︎︎ u/hoseja 📅︎︎ Apr 24 2018 🗫︎ replies
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