On the ethics of eating.

On the ethics of eating.

Every living thing needs energy.  But our world is finite.  Energy has to come from somewhere.

Luckily, there’s a lot of potential energy out there in the universe.  For instance, mass can be converted into energy.  Our sun showers us with energy drawn from the cascade of nuclear explosions that transpire in its core. A tiny difference in mass between merging hydrogen atoms and the resultant helium atom allows our sun to shine.

Our sun radiates about 10^26 joules per second (which is 100,000 times more than the combined yearly energy usage from everyone on Earth), but only a fraction of that reaches our planet.  Photons radiate outward from our sun in all directions, so our planet intercepts only a small sliver of the beam.  Everything living here is fueled by those photons.

When living things use the sun’s energy, we create order – a tree converts disordered air into rigid trunk, a mouse converts a pile of seeds into more mouse, a human might convert mud and straw into a house.  As we create order, we give off heat.  Warming the air, we radiate infrared photons.  That’s what night vision goggles are designed to see.  The net effect is that the Earth absorbs high-energy photons that were traveling in a straight beam outward from the sun … and we convert those photons into a larger number of low-energy photons that fly off every which way.

We the living are chaos machines.  We make the universe messier.  Indeed, that’s the only way anything can live.  According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the only processes that are sufficiently probable so as to occur are those that make the world more random.

We’re lucky that the universe started out as such a bland, orderly place – otherwise we might not even be able to tell “before” from “later,” let alone extract enough energy to live.


The earliest living things took energy from the sun indirectly – they used heat, and so they were fueled by each photon’s delivery of warmth to the Earth.  (Please allow me this little hedge – although it’s true that the earliest life was fueled only by warmth, that warmth might not have come from the sun.  Even today, some thermophilic bacteria live in deep sea vents and bask in the energy that leaks from our Earth’s molten core.  The earliest life might have lived in similar nooks far from the surface of the Earth.  But early life that resided near the surface of the seas seems more likely. Complicated chemical reactions were necessary to form molecules like RNA.  Nucleic acids were probably first found in shallow, murky pools pulsed with lightning or ultraviolet radiation.)

Over time, life changed.  Organisms create copies of themselves through chemical processes that have imperfect fidelity, after all.  Each copy is slightly different than the original.  Most differences make an organism worse than its forebears, but, sometimes, through sheer chance, an organism might be better at surviving or at creating new copies of itself.

When that happens, the new version will become more common. 

Over many, many generations, this process can make organisms very different from their forebears.  When a genome is copied prior to cell division, sometimes the polymerase will slip up and duplicate a stretch of code.  These duplication events are incredibly important for evolution – usually, the instructions for proteins can’t drift too far because any change might eliminate essential functions for that cell.  If there’s a second copy, though, the duplicate can mutate and eventually gain some new function.

About two billion years ago, some organisms developed a rudimentary form of photosynthesis.  They could turn sunlight into self!  The energy from our sun’s photons was used to combine carbon dioxide and water into sugar. And sugar can be used to store energy, and to build new types of structures.

Photosynthesis also releases oxygen as a biproduct.  From the perspective of the organisms living then, photosynthesis poisoned the entire atmosphere – a sudden rise in our atmosphere’s oxygen concentration caused many species to go extinct.  But we humans never could have come about without all that oxygen.

Perhaps that’s a small consolation, given that major corporations are currently poisoning our atmosphere with carbon dioxide.  Huge numbers of species might go extinct – including, possibly, ourselves – but something else would have a chance to live here after we have passed.

In addition to poisoning the atmosphere, photosynthesis introduced a new form of competition.  Warmth spreads diffusely – on the early Earth, it was often sheer chance whether one organism would have an advantage over any other.  If you can photosynthesize, though, you want to be the highest organism around.  If you’re closer to the sun, you get the first chance to nab incoming photons.

That’s the evolutionary pressure that induced plants to evolve.  Plants combined sugars into rigid structures so that they could grow upwards.  Height helps when your main goal in life is to snatch sunlight.

Animation by At09kg on Wikipedia.

Nothing can live without curtailing the chances of other living things.  Whenever a plant absorbs a photon, it reduces the energy available for other plants growing below.

Plants created the soil by trapping dirt and dust, and soil lets them store water for later use.  But there is only so much desalinated water.  Roots reach outward: “I drink your milkshake!”, each could exclaim.

For a heterotroph, the brutality of our world is even more clear.  Our kind – including amoebas, fungi, and all animals – can only survive by eating others.  We are carbon recyclers.  Sugar and protein refurbishers.  We take the molecular machines made by photosynthesizing organisms … chop them apart … and use the pieces to create ourselves.

Some heterotrophs are saprophages – eaters of the dead.  But most survive only by destroying the lives of others.

For the earliest heterotrophs, to eat was to kill.  But, why worry?  Why, after all, is life special?  Each photosynthesizing organism was already churning through our universe’s finite quantity of order in its attempt to grow.  They took in material from their environment and rearranged it.  So did the heterotrophs – they ingested and rearranged. Like all living things, they consumed order and excreted chaos.

The heterotrophs were extinguishing life, but life is just a pattern that repeats itself.  A living thing is a metabolic machine that self-copies.  From a thermodynamic perspective, only the energetics of the process distinguish life from a crystal.  Both are patterns that grow, but when a crystal grows, it makes matter more stable than its environment – life makes matter less stable as it’s incorporated into the pattern.

Your ability to read this essay is a legacy of the heterotrophs’ more violent descendants.  The earliest multicellular heterotrophs were filter feeders – they passively consumed whatever came near.

But then, between 500 and 600 million years ago, animals began to hunt and kill.  They would actively seek life to extinguish.  To do this, they needed to think – neurons first arose among these hunters.

Not coincidentally, this is also the time that animals first developed hard shells, sharp spines, armored plates – defenses to stop others from eating them.

The rigid molecules that allow plants to grow tall, like cellulose, are hard to digest.  So the earliest hunters probably began by killing other animals.

With every meal, you join the long legacy of animals that survived only by extinguishing the lives of others.  With every thought, you draw upon the legacy of our forebear’s ruthless hunt.

Even if you’re vegan, your meals kill.  Like us, plants have goals.  It’s a matter of controversy whether they can perceive – perhaps they don’t know that they have goals – but plants will constantly strive to grow, to collect sunlight and water while they can, and many will actively resist being eaten.

But it makes no sense to value the world if you don’t value yourself.  Maybe you feel sad that you can’t photosynthesize … maybe you’d search out a patch of barren, rocky ground so that you’d absorb only photons that would otherwise be “wasted” … but, in this lifetime, you have to eat.  Otherwise you’d die.  And I personally think that any moral philosophy that advocates suicide is untenable.  That’s a major flaw with utilitarianism – rigid devotion to the idea of maximizing happiness for all would suggest that you, as another organism that’s taking up space, constantly killing, and sapping our universe’s limited supply of order, simply shouldn’t be here.

At its illogical extreme, utilitarianism suggests that either you conquer the world (if you’re the best at feeling happy) or kill yourself (if you’re not).

We humans are descended from carnivores.  Our ancestors were able to maintain such large brains only by cooking and eating meat.  Our bodies lack an herbivore’s compliment of enzymes that would allow us to convert grass and leaves into the full compliment of proteins that we need.

And we owe the very existence of our brains to the hunts carried out by even more ancient ancestors.  If they hadn’t killed, we couldn’t think.

Just because we were blessed by a legacy of violence, though, doesn’t mean we have to perpetuate that violence.  We can benefit from past harms and resolve to harm less in the present and future.

Writing was first developed by professional scribes.  Scientific progress was the province of wealthy artisans.  None of the progress of our culture would have been possible if huge numbers of people weren’t oppressed – food that those people grew was taken from them and distributed by kings to a small number of privileged scribes, artisans, philosophers, and layabouts. 

When humans lived as hunters and gatherers, their societies were generally equitable.  People might die young from bacterial infections, dehydration, or starvation, but their lives were probably much better than the lives of the earliest farmers.  After we discovered agriculture, our diets became less varied and our lives less interesting.  Plus, it’s easier to oppress a land-bound farmer than a nomadic hunter.  Stationary people paid tribute to self-appointed kings.

This misery befell the vast majority of our world’s population, and persisted for thousands of years.  But the world we have now couldn’t have come about any other way.  It’s horrific, but, for humans to reach our current technologies, we needed oppression.  Food was taken from those who toiled and given to those who hadn’t. 

Mostly those others created nothing of value … but some of them made writing, and mathematics, and rocket ships.

Although the development of writing required oppression, it’s wrong to oppress people now.  It was wrong then, too … but we can’t go back and fix things.

Although the origin of your brain required violence, I likewise think we ought to minimize the violence we enact today.  We can’t help all the animals who were hurt in the long journey that made our world the place it is now.  And we can’t stop killing – there’s no other way for heterotrophs like us to live.

To be vegan, though, is to reckon with those costs.  To feel a sense of wonder at all the world pays for us to be here.  And, in gratitude, to refrain from asking that it pay more than we need.

On mental architecture and octopus literature.

CaptureI might spend too much time thinking about how brains work.  Less than some people, sure — everybody working on digital replication of human thought must devote more energy than I do to the topic, and they’re doing it in a more rigorous way — but for a dude with no professional connection to cognitive science or neurobiology or what-have-you, I spend an unreasonable amount of time obsessing over ’em.

What can I say?  Brains are cool.  That they function at all is pretty amazing, and that they do it in a way that gives us either free will or at least the illusion of having it is even better.

Most of my “obsessing over brains” time is devoted to thinking about how humans work, but studies on animal cognition always floor me as well.  A major focus of these studies, though, is often how similar human minds are to those of other animals… for instance, my recent hamsters & poverty essay was about the common response of most mammalian species to unfair, unrectifiable circumstance, and I’m planning a piece on the (mild) similarities between prairie dog language and our own.

The only post I’ve slapped up lately on differences between human and animal cognition was about potential rattlesnake misconceptions, but even that piece hinged upon a difference in the way they see, not the way they think.

Today’s post, though, will be about octopi.

A baby octopus (graneledone verrucosa)  moves across the seafloor as ROV Deep Discoverer (D2) explores Veatch Canyon.

A study on octopus evolution was recently published in Nature (Albertin et al., “The octopus genome and the evolution of cephalopod neural and morphological novelties”), and the main thing I learned from that paper & some background reading is that octopus brains are wicked cool.

Honestly, if we asked Superman to spin our planet backward some twenty billion times in order to re-run evolution, I think cephalopods could give apes a run for their money on potential planetary dominance.  Cephalopods are quite intelligent, adept problem solvers, have tentacles sufficiently agile for tool use, and can communicate by changing colors (although with much less finesse than the octospiders in Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series. The octospiders used a language based on shifting striations of color displayed on their skin).


The biggest obstacle holding octopi back from world domination is the difficulty for a water-dwelling species to harness fire or electricity.  But octopi can make brief sojourns onto dry land… and even land-dwelling apes took something like 20 million years to discover fire and some 22 million for electricity.

Sure, that’s faster than octopi — they’ve had a hundred million years already and still no fire — but once Superman spins the planet (first he fought crime!  Now he’ll muck up our timeline to investigate evolution!), there’ll be a chance for him to stop that asteroid and save the dinosaurs.  I imagine that living in constant terror of T-Rex & friends would slow the apes down a little.

I’ve never had to work under that kind of pressure, but it’s probably much more difficult to discover fire if you’re worried that a dinosaur will stomp by, demolish your laboratory, and eat you.

Octopi ingenuity might be similarly stymied by pervasive fear of giant monsters: sharks, dolphins, sea lions, seals, eels, and, yes, those ostensibly land-bound hairless apes.  Voracious, vicious predators all… especially those apes.


And yet.  Despite the fear, octopi are extremely clever.  They have a massive genome, too.  In itself, genome size is not a measure of complexity, in part because faulty cell division machinery sometimes results in the duplication of entire genomes — no matter how many copies of Fuzzy Bee & Friends you staple together, even if you create a 1,000+ page monstrosity, you won’t create a narrative with the complexity of The Odyssey.

That’s what researchers thought had happened with the octopus genome.  Sure, they have more genes than us, but they’re probably all duplicates!  Albertin et al. were the first to actually test that hypothesis, though… and it turns out to be wrong.  The octopus genome underwent massive expansion specifically for neural proteins & regulatory regions.  Which suggests that their huge genome is not dreck, that it is actually the product of intense selection for cognitive performance.  It isn’t proof, but it’s definitely consistent with selection for greater mental capacities.

There isn’t any octopus literature yet, but evolution isn’t done.  As long as octopus survival & mating success is bolstered by intelligence, there’s a chance the species will continue to slowly “improve.”

(I am biased in favor of smart creatures, but more brainpower is not necessarily better in an evolutionary sense.  For an example, here’s my essay on starfish zombies.)


But even if a species derived from contemporary octopi eventually gains cognitive capacities equivalent to our own, we may never grasp the way they perceive the world.  Their brains are organized very differently from our own.  Our minds are highly centralized — our actions result from decisions passed down from on high.

For most human actions, it seems that the mind subconsciously initiates movement, firing off instructions to the appropriate muscles, and then the conscious mind notices what’s going on and concocts a story to rationalize that action.  For instance, if you touch something hot, nociceptors (pain receptors) in your hand send an “Ouch!” signal to your brain, your brain relays back “Pull yer damn hand away!”, then the conscious mind types up a report, “I decided to pull my hand away because that was too hot.”

(Some people have argued that this sequence of timing indicates that we lack free will, by the way.  Which seems silly.  Our freedom doesn’t need to be at the level of conscious decision-making to be worthwhile.  Indeed, your subconscious is as much you as your consciousness.  Your subconscious reflexes reflect who you are, and with concerted effort you can modify most if not all of them.)

Octopi minds are different.  They seem to be much more decentralized.  Each tentacle has a significant neural network and can act independently.  Octopus tentacles can still move and make minor decisions even if cleaved away… like the zombie movie trope where a severed arm continues to strangle someone.

Since we have no good way to communicate with octopi, we don’t know whether their minds are wired for storytelling the way ours are.  Whether they also construct elaborate internal rationalizations for every action (does this help explain why I’m so fascinated by free will?  Even if our freedom is illusory, the ability to maintain that illusion underpins our ability to tell stories).

But if octopi do explain their world with stories, the types of stories they tell would presumably seem highly chaotic to us humans.  Our brains are building explanations for decisions made internally, whereas an octopus would be constructing a narrative from the actions of eight independently-acting entities.

Who knows?  Someday, many many years from now, if octopi undergo further selection for brain power & communication, we might find octopus literature to be exceptionally rambunctious.  Brimming with arbitrary twists & turns.  If their minds also tend toward narrative storytelling (and it’s worth mentioning that octopi also process time in a cascade of short-term and long-term memory the way mammals do), their stories would likely veer inexorably toward the inexplicable.

Toward, that is, actions & consequences that a human reader would perceive to be inexplicable.

Octopi might likewise condemn our own classics as overly regimented.  Lifeless, stilted, formulaic.  And it’d be devilishly hard to explain to an octopus why I think In Search of Lost Time is so good.



p.s. I should offer a brief mea culpa for having listed different lengths of time that apes & octopi have had with which to discover fire.  All known life uses the same genetic code, so it’s extremely likely that we all share a common ancestor.  Everything alive today — bacteria, birds, octopi, humans — have had the same length of time to evolve.

This is part of why it sounds so silly when people refer to contemporary bacteria as being “lower” life forms or somehow less evolved.  Current bacteria have had just as long to perfect themselves for their environments as we have, and they simply pursued a different strategy for survival than humans did.  (For more on this topic, feel free to read this previous post.)

I listed different numbers, though… mostly because it seemed funny to imagine a lineage of octopi racing the apes in that “decent of man” cartoon.  Who will conquer the planet first?!

I chose my times based on the divergence of great apes from their nearest common ancestor (gibbons, whom we’ve rudely declared to be “lesser apes”) and the divergence of octopi from theirs (squids, ca. 135 million years ago).  The numbers themselves are pretty accurate, but the choice of those particular numbers was arbitrary.  You could easily rationalize instead starting the clock for apes in their quest for fire as soon as the first primates appeared, ca. 65 million years ago… then octopi don’t look so bad.  Perhaps only two-fold slower than us.  Or you could start the apes’ clock at the appearance of the very first mammals… in which case octopi might beat us yet.

On the creepy parallel between gene duplication and oppression – as inspired by a passage from Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood.”


“If, as has been shown for ethnographically documented hunter-gatherers, women in the most meat-dependent foraging societies spend less time procuring food and more time engaged in the production of technology and performing nonsubsistence tasks, then Clovis women likely spent the majority of their time not gathering plants.  In this sense, equating women solely with plant gathering is reducing their role in prehistoric societies to activities for which they may have spent little time and effort.  The ‘shrinking’ phenomenon may not be entirely the effect of preservational bias but the inherent bias of archaeologists limiting female labor to the plant realm.”

     ~ From Nicole Waguespack’s article “The Organization of Male and Female Labor in Foraging Societies.”

There’s a term in there – “perservational bias” – that I hadn’t seen.  I guess that shows how little archaeology I’ve studied.  The idea: if a task uses tools that will decompose – anything with wooden baskets, or even a free-standing windmill – then it might fade away and disappear from the archaeological record.  People digging through the strata later will find only durable tools – a stone arrowhead, for instance – and get a skewed impression of how people spent their time.

Anyway, I thought this was interesting – modern archaeologists, given the biases present in their own societies, ascribed limited roles to prehistoric women.  Waguespack wanted to address that bias, arguing that if women’s contribution to diet wasn’t needed, they probably still did *something* as opposed to sitting around twiddling their thumbs all day.  Seems like a reasonable assumption, right?

And I came across this article because I was trying to learn what percentage of people’s time was spent on food production through prehistory.

This article does have a chart of numbers for the time spent on foraging for modern hunter-gatherer societies – often four to six hours per day – although, really, the numbers I should’ve been looking for were for early agricultural societies.  Because hunter-gatherer societies are often regarded as highly egalitarian, and I’d just come across this passage in Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood:”

“By the end of the fifteenth century CE, agrarian civilizations would be established in the Middle East, South and East Asia, North Africa, and Europe, and in every one–whether in India, Russia, Turkey, Mongolia, the Levant, China, Greece, or Scandinavia–aristocrats would exploit their peasants as the Sumerians did.  Without the coercion of the ruling class, it would have been impossible to force peasants to produce an economic surplus, because population growth would have kept pace with advances in productivity.  Unpalatable as this may seem, by forcing the masses to live at subsistence level, the aristocracy kept population growth in check and made human progress feasible.  Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers who eventually brought our modern civilization into being.  As the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton pointed out, all of us who have benefited from this systemic violence are implicated in the suffering inflicted for over five thousand years on the vast majority of men and women.  Or as the philosopher Walter Benjamin put it: ‘There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.'”

That passage gave me a lot to think about.  Many people participating in the modern economy of the United States feel a residual squeamishness because the distribution of capital in this country is deeply rooted in the history of slavery and genocide – if you buy a house, well, no one *made* the land it’s sitting on, so if you delve far enough back through time murder or the threat of violence was necessary for that piece of land to be claimed by someone, who then sold it to someone else, onward through time until it ended up with you.  But I hadn’t previously considered the idea that *all* the trappings of modern culture – so much of it brought to us by discoveries rooted in the scientific method – is rooted in oppression. Early scientists were aristocrats: no one else had as much free time to pursue experiments.

So, right, I rooted around to find some numbers (in the United States, for instance, we went from 90% of the populace being employed in food production some 200 years ago to less than 2% today – so presumably the percentage of people working in food production was 90% or higher through most of history), and spent a while thinking about this.  And figured I could write an essay, because I’d recently written one that mentioned gene duplication events as a driver for evolution.  Not sure what article I posted for this fact previously – I have many in mind for this topic – so here’s a nice recent review by Katju & Bergthorsson, again stressing that gene duplication events give you room to maneuver:Gene-duplication

“[G]iven that most mutations are degenerative, a duplicated gene is much more likely to end up as a pseudogene than to acquire a function that is distinct from the ancestral gene and actively maintained by natural selection. Loss of one copy, either due to deletion or mutational inactivation is the fate of the overwhelming majority of duplicated genes.”

Which, right – most of the time accumulated mutations after a gene duplication event turn your new sequence into symbolic dreck – but, think, without the prior duplication, you would’ve even have the chance to try out that dreck.  Mutations that reduce the function of a necessary gene, if there were only a single copy, would be selected against.

And I wanted to write an essay about the metaphorical link between gene duplication events and the oppressive taxation that Armstrong wrote about.  Perhaps I should include one last background quote – from Richard Dawkins’ introduction of the concept of “meme,” an evolving bit of culture, presented in his work “The Selfish Gene.”

“We do not have to look for conventional biological survival values of traits like religion, music, and ritual dancing, though these may also be present.  Once the genes have provided their survival machines with brains that are capable of rapid imitation, the memes will automatically take over.  We do not even have to posit a genetic advantage in imitation, though that would certainly help.  All that is necessary is that the brain should be capable of imitation: memes will then evolve that exploit the capability to the full.”

The idea is that culture will also evolve, in a way similar to the evolution of genetic sequences.  As long as a bit of culture is good at propagating itself – either a story that’s fun to hear, or fun to tell, or a piece of knowledge that helps its carrying people survive – it’ll pass through the ages.  You might think of biblical proscriptions against certain foods.  If those foods caused people to get sick, there’s a survival benefit to the meme’s carriers by propagating them, and they’re encased in the bible, which people enjoy reading from.  Their very souls depend on it.

But any scientific or technological discovery “evolves” similarly.  The principles of mathematics, the scientific method, knowledge about electricity.  As our knowledge is refined, in ways that make what we have to say more useful, it’s spread more widely … to the point that now 80% of the world’s population has access to electricity.

(Also: only eighty percent?  We are not doing a great job.)

But for that process to start, electricity has to be discovered in the first place.  And that is what I see as the link between stratified oppression and gene duplication events.  Once humans were living in agricultural societies, where there was a big benefit to ownership of capital (which, right – this claim can be contested.  The whole idea that farming heralded the beginning of stratification and oppression.  Heather Pringle wrote a nice article on the effect of staked claims in pre-agricultural societies – think, “This is my fishing rock… go sit somewhere else!”  Or, “This is where I hunt for berries… in this here berry patch… go forage over there, in that rocky field!”  But there isn’t any evidence that any pre-agricultural peoples attempted to build the type of long-ranging empire made possible by farming), by using violence or the threat thereof to claim ownership of land and tax the people working it, you create leisure time.  Like a duplicated gene, the person who no longer needs to work for food is free to do something else.

And I think the analogy goes farther.  Most duplicated genes degenerate and produce nothing of value.  And I personally imagine that most aristocrats through history were more the Caligula type – only drinking some wine, sleeping with some slaves, causing trouble – than the Ben Franklin type (who, uh, did other stuff too).  But, because useful information spreads so rapidly, it took only a miniscule fraction of good ones to create our modern culture.

This perspective – the idea that stratification was important to give the lucky few a chance to pursue cultural advances – also gives me a new vantage for some passages from the Ramayana.  Many of the hardest passages for me are those involving caste.  The idea that a kingdom would be thrown out of balance if someone who’s supposed to be oppressed instead pursues enlightenment is pretty horrible to me. Here’s a passage from M.N. Dutt’s translation of the Ramayana:

“On the banks of that pond one ascetic was performing the most austere penances with his legs upwards and head downwards.  There upon approaching him, Rama Said–O you of good vows, blessed are you; I do ask you, now, O you highly effulgent and grown old in asceticism, in what Varna you are born.  I put this question out of curiosity.  I am the son of king Dasaratha and my name is Rama.

“For what are you going through such hard austerities?  Is it heaven, or anything else that you pray for?  O ascetic, I wish to hear, of the purpose for which you are performing such hard penances.  Art you a Brahmana, or an irrepressible Ksatriya or the third caste Vaisyas or a Sudra?  Do you speak the truth and you shall be crowned with auspiciousness.

“Hearing the words of Rama, the ascetic, whose face was downwards, gave out his degraded birth and communicated to him for what he was performing ascetic observances.

“Hearing the words of Rama of unwearied actions, the ascetic, with his face downwards, said.

“O highly illustrious Rama, I am born in the race of Sudras; and with a view to reach the region of the celestials with my body I am going through these austere penances.

“O Kakutstha, I shall never utter a falsehood since I am willing to conquer the region of gods.  I am a Sudra and my name is Sambuka.

“The Sudra ascetic having said this, Rama took out of scabbard a beautiful sharp sword and chopped off his head therewith.”


Right?  Very crumby.  Dude is just trying to be good!  But the king’s job was to ensure that oppressed people stay oppressed.  And now I, sitting here typing on a laptop computer, surrounded by all the comforts of the modern world, am the disconcerted beneficiary.