Doctor Frankenstein didn’t set out to create a monster. He wanted to create life – to show his mastery of it – and to share that knowledge with the world. He imagined his creation as an extension of himself: a being whose thoughts and actions would be the embodiment of his genius. Instead, he found himself confronted by The Other.
Creation, Motivation, and Responsibility
I recently finished Defenders by Will McIntosh. In it, the earth is losing a war with alien mind readers, and when humanity creates a new species to defend against the invaders, it leads to a confrontation with an Other as complex and potentially dangerous as the aliens, themselves. The novel speaks to whether humanity can be trusted, as an ally or as a giver of life.
Humans may refer to creating life as the purview of the gods, but when they give those gods human weaknesses, it becomes clear that this belief is driven by discomfort with the responsibility of creation, rather than humility. Regardless of whether life is being created by god or man, motivations vary: is life given thoughtfully, or whimsically? Is the resulting creation seen as unique, or an extension of the creator? Is it a free entity, or a slave? Is the new life a symbol of creativity, or raw power?
Historically, gods expect worship in return for the gift of life, even as parents expect respect from their offspring. When the new life fails to meet the expectations of its creators, the gods become angry and lash out; as likely as not, the creation responds in kind.
The Anger of the Wronged Child
Frankenstein’s monster wanted the love of his fellow creatures as well as the respect of his creator, and in McIntosh’s novel, the Defenders have similar expectations. The failure to understand that the act of creation results not in an extension of self, but in an independent Other, results in a creation whose anger is a byproduct of its own, careless creation.
The created Other – like a child – expects to grow into an adult: to be treated with respect, and to have a seat at the table. Seen this way, the relationship between creator and created isn’t just about power: it’s about justice.
Human beings don’t set out to create equals. Whether creation is driven by whimsy or ego, power or purpose, the goal is never to create an Other for its own sake. Exploring the creation narrative is a way of processing the various power dynamics that exist in our own lives, between power that exists, and power that is emerging.
Creation, Power, and Letting Go
The relationship between creator and created is a distilled form of the relationship between parent and child, or student and teacher: at its broadest, it can be used as a touchstone for any relationship that involves not just a power imbalance, but an intentional transfer of power from the greater to the lesser, that results in mutual expectations, and the possibility of conflict. When we empower The Other – for whatever reason – it becomes frightening. We try to control it, and resent it when it resists our control: we create monsters, we create people that turn into monsters, we create students that rebel against their teachers: oblivious to the risks, we are driven to create when we have the power to do so.
As I pointed out when speaking to the dangers of the billion player MMO, life is about the connections we make, and the interplay between those connections – an interplay that is at its most constructive when there is a balance of power. The life creation narrative is a type of connection that we form with a less powerful Other – a relationship that involves transfer of power, expectations, responsibility, and justice.
Refusing to believe that power is something to be shared, rather than held on to at all costs, usually results in either the destruction of the creator, the creation, or both. Our continued examination of life creation and its aftermath represents our struggle with the concept of giving power away without expectations: of allowing our creature to become our equal.
Think of a narrative involving a creator and a created Other. How would the story have changed if the creator had treated his or her creation with respect? Why is that narrative so rare? Do you think that humans, as a species, are capable of letting go of power, once we have it? Is there such a thing as selfless creation?