The Joker's Heir
by Ryan Tribble
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"No! Mehror can't have died with a will like this in place! Oh heaven, let there be a mistake! Eighteen years his lawyer and he leaves me this mess! Bertrand! Where are you?"
"Why are you shouting?"
"Itís the will! Have you read Mehrorís new will? Listen: Ď. . .my estate shall go to the person of my household.í Household! Menagerie he means."
"Calm down. Youíre not an heir."
"Think again! Oh Bertrand, you didn't know Dr. Mehror like I did! We wrestled this issue for years! Now he secretly drafts this new will bequeathing me the responsibility to resolve his most vexing question. Then he has the gall to die! Damn! This jokerís last joke is on me."
"So whatís the question? It canít be that bad!"
"Then you answer it. Tell me, Bertrand: what is a person? I feel like a tiger in Mehrorís menagerie, pacing. Pacing! I can hear Mehror laughing. Ha! Why are you staring like a robot? Speak!"
"Give the children his estate and be done with it."
"What children? Mehror never had any, or any other relatives either. Mehror's only Ďfamilyí is a robot, a monkey, and a woman bound in a vegetative state of mind. Look at these pictures."
"Is this Mehror?"
"Just his double. That's Mehror's creation, Adam, a robot with artificial intelligence who acted as his surrogate."
"Another of Mehrorís jokes?"
"Kept me fooled for ten years! Because Mehror recommended you, I wouldnít be surprised if you were his robot!"
"I resent that!"
"Good, Bertrand! But is that enough to prove you human? As for Mehror, the only thing that set him apart from Adam were his mistakes!"
"So whoís the chimp in this next picture?"
"That is Darwin, the chimpanzee who made headlines outwitting college students in mental tests. On a trek in Africa, Mehror found Darwin along with Grace, a feral child raised by chimpanzees."
"No wonder you call it a menagerie!"
"Thatís Grace there -- before the accident. Frightened by the camera flash, she fell backward on the rocks. Look deeply into those eyes, green as the boughs that once cradled her."
"I wonder what sheís thinking? How must the world appear to her?"
"Who knows? This is her after the accident."
"Iíve seen dead people more animated."
"Thatís my point. In a long-standing coma, does anything go through her mind?"
"I see. Is she still a person, or was she ever more than an animal?"
"Youíre catching on, Bertrand. If Mehrorís estate must go to a person -- who in his household fits the definition? History has been shaped by the way Ďpersoní is defined, even though we take our rights of personhood for granted."
"Could Darwin be called a person? At least heís a living, thinking being."
"Bertrand! Heís an animal!"
"I know, but he acts more like a person than Grace! If we evolved from apes, when did we become persons? Really, do you see that much difference between yourself and Darwin? After all, both of you have four limbs, ten fingers, and are somewhat hairy."
"Iím not like Darwin!"
"Youíre right. Youíre not as funny."
"I speak. Darwin grunts."
"Does speech divide men from animals? If so, are mutes animals?"
"Pursue that further, Bertrand."
"Perhaps it's the ability to communicate complex thought. Darwin acts out a joke unwittingly, but he is incapable of making one -- which means he still reminds me of you."
"Now Bertrand, that's enough! More than biology is needed to define a person. If I were to cut your leg off, would that make you any less a person?"
"Just try it!"
"Forget it. A complete body does not comprise a person, so a complete mind canít do that either. Itís not about the physical."
"So try again. How do we classify Adam?"
"Once he annoyed me, so I threw a dictionary at him. Within an hour he could recall every word with its corresponding page number! If that makes Adam a person, what about the laptop on your desk?"
"For some reason that makes me nervous."
"It shouldnít. Intelligence cannot define a person -- too many of us lack it. You know, Bertrand, the more I look at this the more I distrust qualifiers. Their end result is Hitlerís Ďblonde beast.í"
"What about love?"
"Interesting question. Love at its best is the offering of self to another at the expense of one's own self-interest. Adam appears to love, but is it because he is programmed for it? Does he have any concept of self-sacrifice, or a struggle of will?"
"But does Adam truly need love? Does his being depend upon the action of loving and being loved?"
"I doubt it."
"A person needs love like a fish does water, even if the person refuses to acknowledge it. People donít die without love, but are driven to connect with other humans in love relationships."
"What do you call love? Does self-love count?"
"Well Bertrand, I'm talking sharing of self, beyond biology. Hopes, fears, needs, and experiences. If all people share these, then does experience define a person?"
"Apply this in terms of Grace."
"Okay. We have no evidence in her life of any human love experience or need beyond biology. Did Grace ever experience life differently, by our definition, than chimpanzees? What do you think?"
"Who can say? If Grace is a person, then did the accident strip her of personhood?"
"I think personhood is not what we have, but what we are. If we can lose it, we never had it to begin with. Isnít that true, Bertrand?"
"Hmm. If Dr. Mehror was a person, is he a person now? What is it that disqualifies his rotting corpse from personhood? Life alone cannot be the defining point because Darwin also shares this gift."
"Itís becoming clearer now. Man is a spiritual being, with a need to worship something outside himself. Worship is a dimension both Darwin and Adam lack -- they have no souls. When was the last time you saw apes offering bananas to their gods? Human death is the separation of the body from the soul. Mehrorís personhood never ended, Bertrand. It just walked away in his soul."
"I hate to be religious, but you've struck a chord."
"In Hell the person is consumed with self. In Heaven, the person is amplified with love. This is the ultimate division of who we are. If the trinity of our being is divided between body, soul and spirit, then death confirms Grace as a person. She is human, spiritually distinct from other species and robots. Grace becomes Mehror's sole beneficiary. According to the will and our reasoning, Darwin and Adam become her property."
"I see your point, but we have only scratched the surface. We face a new problem: How does this benefit Grace if she cannot take care of herself?"
"Perhaps we can arrange something with Adam?"
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