post I argued that some notion of ethical norm
is crucial to Jason Sanford's difficult but fascinating 'Plague Birds' (IZ 228). Its sequel, 'The Ever-Dreaming Verdict of Plagues' (IZ 236), suggests that I was wrong. An ethical norm is a prescription for action that a group of individuals accepts as morally justified. Philosophers (especially Kant) sometimes argue that any norm is binding across all groups and individuals. I assumed that justified universality was central to the plague bird notion, and wondered if Jason Sanford realised this. My mistake was, I think, to assume that ethical norms in this sense are involved at all.
This possible error is understandable, since 'Plague Birds' concerns one community of humans and the desire of others to return that group to some normative baseline concept of humanity. Its sequel introduces another community, in which a quite different desire for genetic development is at work, one which seems to be as morally decent as that governing the group in 'Plague Birds.' Why prefer one over the other? Why should plague birds be used to enforce one set of 'norms'-those of the first tale-across all communities?
I'm being abstract, because I do not wish to spoil the pleasure that these stories can supply. So I shall now claim that instead of justified, universal, ethical norms, each community's development is determined by different goals
. One is enforced by the blood AI in 'Plague Birds' and the other is imposed by the AI that manipulates life in the community introduced in 'The Ever-Dreaming Verdict of Plagues.' I think that Mr Sanford is fictionalising (1.) two ways of forming cohesive human groups, such that (2.) different groups can cohere by having diverse goals (whether such goals are consciously shared by a group's members or imposed by an external force) and (3.) that group coherence is a purely natural phenomenon.