The Clay Man Conundrum

I’ve been scribbling along for a couple months, trying to wrap up a rather torrid self-insert/Pirate-Poet fanfiction and because of the Poet’s occupation and stance on the issue of Clay Men, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it myself. So I’m throwing it out to everyone to discuss because I’m curious. Do you believe Clay Man labor is moral? They are sentient automatons, created in Polythreme by the King with a Hundred Hearts, so in theory their autonomy would not belong to themselves. But then again, wouldn’t this stance fall apart when compared to child rearing? Do children belong to their parents, bowing to their every want and whim? I understand that Clay Men are paid as a tithe to London, and that the ‘Unfinished’ ones are more likely to be the ones with a higher developed sense of self and emotions. The Pirate-Poet is not Unfinished but instead ‘wrote herself free,’ or somehow broke that agreement with her writing. It’s sort of unclear. What would also be interesting would be bringing the race card into it, and comparing the issue with American slavery. That might be a bit overboard.

In any case, I’d like to hear your thoughts! If I’ve said anything wrong, please let me know!

Well, I think you will find arguments for and against, based on the lore. But the thing is…
the way they are written, it does seem that their position is an unfair one. There is an air of melancholy around them, of wrongness concerning their labours, even when they themselves work without rxactly protesting.
It might wll be that we project, from our own history. But I think the nagging sense that they should not be here, is entrenched in the narrative.
edited by Jolanda Swan on 11/14/2018

I think they’re like children, honestly. They haven’t really had a life other than working. I think they can learn to think for themselves (judging by Lyme).

Also, your character sorta tries to make choices for them (on the card for the clay bearers), where you set out to teach them “whether they like it or not”, which seems to me to be a reflection of London’s view on them as a whole. I think London views them as wanting to be forced to work, which reminds of the attitudes of Americans towards slaves.

Anyway, it’s definitely not moral.

In a certain sense, Clay Men are a part of ol’ Hundred-Hearts. From that perspective, all of Clay Labor together is actually one guy working part-time. If there is immorality in this arrangement, it is in Hundred-Hearts’ vassalage to the Masters. The indentured nature of the Clay Men is just a reflection onto the human scale of the reduced state of that King and his country. Which one might interpret as a statement on the nature of colonialism.

…I think I’m in over my head on this train of thought. I’m not entirely on board on the axiom that there is only one “person” in this picture. But, it is justifiable in the lore.

Is there any evidence that the Clay Men have a spot on the Chain, and if so, where?

That’s true, but do we know for sure the full extent of the relationship between KWHH and the Clay Men besides the fact that they’re spawned from his dreams. Can he exert control over them? Are the emotions they feel his emotions? Are their opinions his? Etc etc. I believe they still have some sort of individuality, and just because he created them, unless they are LITERALLY part of him instead of using a part of him to be created (like the parent metaphor I was trying to make sense of) then I’m with you in believing there’s multiple ‘people’ involved.

I have no idea about the Chain thing. Sorry.

That’s true, but do we know for sure the full extent of the relationship between KWHH and the Clay Men besides the fact that they’re spawned from his dreams. Can he exert control over them? Are the emotions they feel his emotions? Are their opinions his? Etc etc. I believe they still have some sort of individuality, and just because he created them, unless they are LITERALLY part of him instead of using a part of him to be created (like the parent metaphor I was trying to make sense of) then I’m with you in believing there’s multiple ‘people’ involved.


These are all excellent questions … with no clear answers. But the individual Clay Men we have lore for certainly appear to have differentiated personalities, so I agree with the multiple people line. If this is, in fact, the case, then the most moral form of employment of Clay Men is one that treats them with kindness and provides them with opportunities for personal development and, ultimately, the independent pursuit of their own interests and full citizenship.

A trickier question is whether or not London should cease the importation of Clay Men entirely.

Somewhere it is claimed that the Clay Men all share a single soul (assumedly the King’s), and that’s why the Devils show no interest in them. That claim is the basis of my argument.

That doesn’t really answer the question, though. We don’t even know the full relationship between a regular human and their own soul, much less exceptional cases like the King With a Hundred Hearts. They certainly appear to have their own individual motivations and desires, even though they don’t pursue them.

It really depends on to what degree your ideal of morality is based on metaphysics. Contemporary London would have tied the two together much more than our modern sensibilities would, and the question of whether Clay Men have a soul would likely have a big place in any discourse on the topic. It would also probably have a prominent place in the same debate in Fallen London, but in a rather different manner.

I just remember the source: it’s a rare success when upconverting wines!'44

Different rights?
Any way you put it other than equal rights, immediately summons the arguments of racists everywhere, which is very interesting.

How so?

[quote=Isaac Gates]

Also, am I the only person who thinks that lobbying to give Clay Men equal rights with the rest of London’s population is a terrible idea? That would effectively mean making every Clay Man Unfinished all at once. Now think, who are the two most prolific Unfinished Men in the setting? [/quote]

Unfinished Men and rebellious Clay Men actually appear to be different, as in being a rebellious or thinking clay man does not mean they’re Unfinished. Also, giving them the vote would not cause them to become Unfinished, as it’s something a Clay Man is ‘born’ with.

Also, Clay Men are really only a little stronger than humans, as you, early in your Dangerous career, are able to beat them at arm wrestling and even kill one (when Jack possesses one). So giving those hamfisted stand-ins for racial minorities equal right wouldn’t hurt; in fact, giving them legal protection and protection against discrimination would allow them to have standing in society, giving them legal means of earning a living and a voice in gov.

But the question is, why they would want to do that. If they had equal rights, truly equal rights that made equal to a human in London, they would have virtually no reason to riot.

Huh. Put that way, anything but equal rights seems insane and cruel.

[quote=Isaac Gates]Past grievances (which are many and grievous), backlash from what would definitely be heightened tension with the human population they’d be competing with for employment and space, desire to secede from the empire and govern themselves, bargains struck with a rival power, desire for hegemonic primacy over their physical inferiors, there’s lots of reasons.
edited by Isaac Gates on 11/21/2018[/quote]

These are reasons to riot whether or not one has citizenship.

Also, as to the second point, there’s no in-game text I’m aware of suggesting that Londoners oppose the importation of Clay Men on economic grounds. That is, the human labour pool seems insufficient and/or insufficiently motivated to provide the services rendered by Clay Men. Further, there is text implying London is less populous than before the fall, so at present there is enough space for a considerably larger population.

Edit: Ooops, some Dockers don’t like Clay Men impinging on their labour.
edited by Lady Sapho Byron on 11/21/2018

It would be. This is an urban population, so not very geared towards manual labor, and there is no immigration from the colonies so…

[quote=Isaac Gates]Equating the relationship between Clay Men and the KWHH to a child & their parents seems like a false equivalency.

When two people conceive a child they’re effectively creating a younger version of themselves- meaning a being with: needs, wants & potential equal to their own. This is not the case with the Clay Men & the KWHH… the more apt comparison would be: homunculus & alchemist. They’re objectively lesser beings, a small portion of a greater whole split off and sold to pay the KWHH’s debts.[/quote]It is a false equivalency, in my opinion, but not for the reasons you suggest, as your premises are flawed. While describing children as younger forms of their forebears, with equal needs, wants, and potential, this is not necessarily true. The needs and wants of children are shaped by their environment, while potential derives from the inheritance of genes from both parents. While the vast majority of DNA will be the same for all humans - and, in this sense, relative to a species like the Clay Men, individual humans have much closer needs, wants, and potential - the individual variation from human to human is far greater than can simply be dismissed with flowery language.

The case for comparing Clay Men to children places the Clay Men in a formative period of childhood, I believe. They are the equivalent of a young child, just coming into self-awareness, albeit lacking the life and energy that characterizes children. More precisely, the vast majority of Clay Men exist in a state where they have not yet come into awareness about their full potential, as children have not yet realized theirs. Both simply toil away at the whims of industry and the state (bear in mind that this is Victorian London - child labor remains very prominent, drawing further parallels between the Clay Men and human children). The Unfinished can realize their full potential as something other than manual labor. The Pirate-Poet is an independent artist capable of exerting her own identity. Jasper and Frank chose to become enforcers of the Masters, just like many humans do. Lyme has clearly demonstrated a soft spot for animals and an interest in photography. In Factory of Favours, when allowed to exist in separation from overseers and supervisors, regular Clay Men integrate into an economy and contribute art in the form of sculpture, taking their inherently destructive potential and applying it to the one art form that creates through destruction.

[quote=Isaac Gates]Also, am I the only person who thinks that lobbying to give Clay Men equal rights with the rest of London’s population is a terrible idea? That would effectively mean making every Clay Man Unfinished all at once. Now think, who are the two most prolific Unfinished Men in the setting? Jasper & Frank. Do you really wanna find out what happens when several thousand immortal golems with the strength to tear through a brick wall with their bare hands start prioritizing their own self interest?[/quote]You can’t look at two individual cases and use that to judge an entire population. If you want to make the case that Jasper and Frank are representative of the Clay Men as a whole, therefore it is unideal to give them equal rights, you have to first demonstrate that they are, in fact, representative. Drawing statistical correlations from a sample size of two is unlikely to give reliable information. I could just as easily say, now think, who is one of the most prolific Clay Man in the setting? Lyme. Do you really want to find out what happens when several thousand Lymes with their &quotremarkable facility for reading&quot and gentle hands start integrating into society?

Now, addressing the main point, the structure of democracy and rights is to allow individuals to prioritize their own self-interest with minimal violence. By giving all individuals equal rights, they are guaranteed a basic standard of dignified living that others are not permitted to violate. When they inevitably are, the individuals can appeal to a higher structure - the state - to enforce the protection of their rights. Within a democratic system, the state emerges from the will of the people. Where you see activism is where a group believes itself to be (relatively) disempowered but that they can be empowered by the system. Where you see violence is where a group believes itself to be disempowered and cannot be empowered by the system, and where they have the means to violently revolt. The most dangerous way forward, then, is to not give Clay Men equal rights, because then they are disempowered in such a way that they cannot be empowered so long as the power structures of humanity exist. Docile yet oppressed populations are kindling for a black swan revolution.

[quote=Isaac Gates]Maybe, but like so many hamfisted fictional metaphors for the racially persecuted (IE: robots, monsters, witches, mutants, etc.) Clay Men are objectively dangerous in ways that normal humans just aren’t.[/quote]Humans are objectively dangerous in ways that normal Clay Men just aren’t. Humans are capable of destruction on absolutely enormous scales. Consider the implicit assumptions to this argument. Suppose we have an extraordinarily strong bodybuilder. Their capability to destroy with just their bare hands far exceeds that of a normal human being. Would you advocate denying them their rights? I would believe your answer is no. Therefore, the difference in physical strength alone must not be the source of denying them their rights.

Consider now the case of their mental state. Clay Men appear to be less capable of abstract thought and critical reasoning than humans. This appears to be more of a cultural difference than a biological imperative (we see many Clay Men displaying these capabilities when separate from the broader population), but even if you assume that all Clay Men are inherently less mentally capable than humans, there’s still another question to ask: would you advocate denying children their rights? They have not yet fully mentally developed, after all. To me, the answer is no; then again, I have a narrow view of what constitutes &quotrights&quot. I would believe that we can agree that some rights apply to all people, including children. If this is the case, then the difference in mental capability must not be the source of denying them their rights.

[quote=Isaac Gates]And is there a difference? The PLACE WITH VERY LITTLE SCREAMING seems to imply Unfinished Men and otherwise independent Clay Men are one and the same- it’s just that the former are &quotborn&quot that way with common physical markers denoting their condition.[/quote]The interpretation is debatable, I think. All we know is that the act of rebelling gives you the quality of being &quotUnfinished&quot. It’s debatable whether an individual is born &quotUnfinished&quot in the mind or if it is the act of rebelling (advanced by having physical characteristics marking one unfit for manual labor) that creates the Unfinished. My interpretation is that all Clay Men have the capability to be &quotUnfinished&quot, so to speak, so long as they choose to rebel.

The problem, however, is in the semantics. &quotUnfinished&quot has a highly negative connotation because it is associated with the Clay Men who have otherwise lost restraint and have become menaces to society. Your case is essentially that enfranchising Clay Men makes them Unfinished, and because Unfinished are dangerous, enfranchising Clay Men is dangerous. This sounds good on the surface, but your premises rely on two different definitions of Unfinished.

To take your words, you say, &quotTHE PLACE WITH VERY LITTLE SCREAMING seems to imply Unfinished Men and otherwise independent Clay Men are one and the same.&quot Let’s apply that, then by setting Unfinished = &quotindependent Clay Men&quot. To apply that to your words:

&quotAlso, am I the only person who thinks that lobbying to give Clay Men equal rights with the rest of London’s population is a terrible idea? That would effectively mean making every Clay Man independent Clay Men all at once … Do you really wanna find out what happens when several thousand immortal golems with the strength to tear through a brick wall with their bare hands start prioritizing their own self interest?&quot (Emphasis mine)

And this returns us to the earlier problem of not being able to cite Jasper and Frank as good evidence because they are just two individuals and not necessarily reflective of the population. Because you redefined Unfinished, it loses the connotation of danger, and as a result, it does not follow that giving Clay Men equal rights is dangerous without further evidence. This evidence could exist - I’ve simply not seen it.

[quote=Isaac Gates]You know those dockside riots (that appropriately enough are largely about Clay Men edging out other workers)? Yeah, imagine that same riot with Clay Men doing the rioting. They could tear apart half the city without breaking a sweat.[/quote]Human rioters can easily destroy half a city, albeit while breaking a sweat (from the heat of the flames, of course). Have you seen human riots? They’re not pretty. There’s a lot of fire and broken glass, and smoke and shouting. We don’t deny humans our rights because of it, though. And if we’re being technical, those weren’t riots by the dock for the most part - it was a strike. The kind that unions do. The first violent action is by the neddy men (the strikebreakers) against the dockers. It only really became a riot during the Battle of Wolfstack Docks, where the dockers marched on Gibbet’s Wharf to defeat the neddy men.

My point in describing this distinction is to highlight how effective Clay Men would be at peaceful protest. What drives the dockers to leave their defensive position (striking) to their offensive position (battle) is the fact that they are continually hurt by the protest as the neddies attack. The Clay Men are far more resilient. This argument is essentially pointing at a case where dockers made a targeted strategic attack on their enemy to try to protect their privileges - privileges that they felt had been denied them - and comparing that to a hypothetical scenario where Clay Men riot and destroy half the city. They’re incomparable.

If Clay Men are too dangerous to be allowed intellectual independence (a position I disagree with), then it were best that London cease their importation (a position I might support for other reasons) as a certain portion of Clay Men in London will gain autonomy. At some point this number will become a dangerously critical mass of Übermensch.

[quote=Isaac Gates]1) Never said Jasper & Frank were representative of all Clay Men, said they were representative of Unfinished Men IE: what happens when Clay Men achieve independence. If you’re looking for more dangerous examples, there’s the Pirate Poet (who is despite her eloquence a pirate), the Missing Heiress’ &quotlover&quot (there was never any indication that she consented to what he did to her), the Adventuress’ bodyguard from Sunless Sea, July’s bodyguard I described above, etc. Also: Lyme is actively being trained by Jasper & Frank to join in their business- so he’s not exactly the best example to choose.[/quote]Nothing you’ve listed is something that humans are not capable of. You’re defining all Clay Men who achieve independent thought as &quotUnfinished&quot, with all the dangerous connotations associated with that word, rather than, for instance, defining &quotUnfinished&quot as Clay Men who achieve independent thought. That removes the inherent bias created by the idea of the &quotUnfinished&quot and forces one to examine the Clay Men in the context of what they are - automata seemingly capable of love, hate, affection, care, abstract thought, art, science, and writing. In other words, Clay Men who can act like humans, who you’re arguing should be denied equal rights.

The Pirate-Poet is an anti-authoritarian, violent artist-pirate, which stands in contrast to the highly authoritorian and methodical Jasper and Frank. July’s bodyguard is employed to protect her; you’re the one who’s breaking and entering. Remember, humans are far more resilient in the Neath, where death is only a temporary inconvenience (the same cannot be said for Clay Men). Barnabas, if given the choice, chooses the middle path of rebellion and obedience: he could very easily kill the Delightful Adventuress (given that she just tried to kill him), but he instead takes her to face justice with the Wildweald Court. There are humans more dangerous than that. Lyme is being recruited into Jasper and Frank’s business, but not as an enforcer - he’s there to keep books and write records as a business associate. You’re also ignoring all of the other aspects of Lyme’s personality, from his friendship with London’s cats to his sympathy for the dockers to his happiness exploring London and learning about people from all different walks of life. When explicitly trained in independent thought and philosophy, he starts asking questions for himself. He can ask himself if he wants to work for Jasper and Frank, or for Mr Fires, or for the neddy men, or himself, or Clay Men, or for society - he gains free will, in a way. This can be viewed as dangerous by people with interest in maintaining the current stratified order, but it is clear that Lyme in particular is an example of a Clay Man growing into his personality.

And my point still stands: two data points is not enough to draw conclusions about the entire sample, whether it’s all Clay Men or just Unfinished Men.

[quote=Isaac Gates]2) The point really wasn’t about the legal ramifications of giving them rights, it was about the consequences of encouraging all Clay Men to think for themselves and therefore making them Unfinished- because as I’ve said many many times that would be incredibly dangerous. You give a historically oppressed class with superpowers who are only held in check by an ingrained compulsion towards servitude free reign and bad things will happen. Guaranteed.[/quote]This is inherently a contradiction. If Clay Men can think for themselves, they are not only held in check by an ingrained compulsion towards servitude. And my point wasn’t about the legal ramifications of giving them rights - my point was that societies exist to allow individuals of different backgrounds to coexist, and that equal rights is a tool used to minimize the risk of violence within that society.

Furthermore, you’re ascribing too much value to &quotsuperpowers&quot for the Clay Men, I believe. They’re strong and resilient. That’s useful enough. They only possess limited dexterity, however, and they’re far from impervious. Marsh-wolves can tear their throats out, and they’re flesh and blood animals. Jack-of-Smiles can kill them. There are some lines of work that Clay Men will just be inherently better at. That does not include ruling. And remember that this is the Neath, where humans can die and still be fine, whereas Clay Men have only the one life to live.

Your argument is essentially the same argument used against freeing slaves. You have a historically oppressed class supposedly only held in check by an ingrained compulsion to servitude. Give them free rein and bad things will happen, guaranteed, or so it was said. Racial tensions continued to exist and reached new areas because of the expanded economic capabilities of freedmen, but these &quotbad things&quot were more often violent actions taken against the former oppressed class. When we look at history, we do not see the act of giving equal rights causing violent uprising; rather, we see violent uprising to establish equal rights for the oppressed, or we see the oppressed violently killed by the powerful because they don’t have equal rights and are not treated as human.

[quote=Isaac Gates]3) There’s a reason why &quotUnfinished&quot has negative connotations- it’s because a Clay Man unrestrained by the compulsions I described above is dangerous. Whether or not they engage in aggressive behavior the fact is their potential to do harm is incredible- it would take a dozen men with pickaxes to threaten one in a stand up fight.[/quote]If Clay Men are unrestrained from their compulsion to servitude, it does not mean they are unrestrained in all other aspects. If you give them free will, then you give them the choice to engage in aggressive behavior or not. I’ve made the case previously that societies are structured to allow individuals to collaborate and protect themselves in a non-violent manner. And by your reasoning - &quotthe fact is their potential to do harm is incredible&quot - we should strip away the rights of all humans, since all humans have incredible potential to do harm. Even the worst felons maintain a basic level of human rights in our society.

[quote=Isaac Gates]4) I never said humans weren’t dangerous, I said Clay Men are dangerous in ways we aren’t. A human being can do a lot of harm with the right tools and a bit of planning- an Unfinished man can do the same amount of harm bare handed and naked. Also let’s not forget that Clay Men can also do all the things we can once they’re &quotawakened&quot (for lack of a better term) to the possibilities of life outside indentured servitude. IE: set fires, plant explosives, use firearms, etc. Except once more: they can also dispatch an entire building’s worth of people with their bare hands in a matter of minutes.[/quote]No, you’re not saying humans aren’t dangerous. Your argument, however, is that because Clay Men are dangerous, they should not be given equal rights. You must subsequently distinguish, as you’ve done here, why Clay Men are dangerous enough to warrant not granting them equal rights. You appear to have focused on the physical capabilities of an Unfinished Man - the idea that they can &quotdispatch an entire building’s worth of people with their bare hands in matter of minutes.&quot

Which means, of course, that a 200 kilo heavy, 2 meter tall (440 lb / 6’9&quot) man easily capable of lifting a baby elephant is not dangerous enough &quotbare handed and naked&quot to deny them their rights, but a Clay Man is. Tell me, where do you draw the line?

[quote=Isaac Gates]5) As I said above, giving the Clay Men more rights wouldn’t allay tensions with the rest of London, it would increase them. People are inherently tribalistic, xenophobic and reactionary- quote Tommy Lee Jones:

&quotThe person is smart, people are dumb panicky dangerous animals and you know it.&quot

So even if the Clay Men didn’t initiate hostilities with the rest of London (which they’d have ample cause to do as I explained above), hostilities would still inevitably crop up. And once they did… well, there’d be about a dozen pancaked human beings for every shattered Unfinished Man on the street.
[/quote]I couldn’t have said it better myself: people are inherently tribalistic, xenophobic and reactionary. &quotThe person is smart, people are dumb panicky dangerous animals.&quot That’s precisely the purpose of a society - the social contract that binds the tribe together. There are two aspects to this. On the one hand, we don’t murder because we know that if we’re caught, the tribe will exact judgement on us. The risk tends to outweigh the benefit. On the other hand, we don’t make cost/benefit analyses for murdering the people around us; we just don’t think about murdering them, even if they annoy or frustrate us. We’ve been interpellated with this inhibition to not murder fellow humans - it’s a part of the culture and society around us. By integrating the Clay Men into society, they become part of the tribe. By contributing to the economy as free agents, they become more trusted. There will be those who they displace, and there will inevitably be tension there, but that does not equate to full-blown class warfare.

Humans may be tribalistic to a fault, but do not underestimate the capability of humans to adapt to their surroundings. Consider the case of racial minorities in the western world. Asians went from savage apes of the Orient to accusations of being &quotthe privileged minority&quot. In the United States, racism against the Irish went from fear and mistrust (even considered worse than the enslaved African races) - an attitude that persisted into the past half century - to being viewed as part of the dominant &quotwhite&quot race. There were not violent uprisings that placed them into power, even though there was and continues to be significant racial tension. You assume that &quothostilities&quot - which are inevitable - automatically lead to racial or class warfare, which has not been demonstrated to be accurate.

The Unfinished Men are only violent when they have a reason to be. Jasper and Frank are violent, yes, but that’s because their work is that of criminals. Giving Clay Men rights makes them less dangerous, as it makes them part of society, including the Unfinished ones, and it costs them to break the laws of society. On the other hand, if a Clay Man is banished from a typical means of work or purpose, some will likely turn to criminal work, making them more dangerous, not less. Giving Clay Men rights would make it less likely for them to show up to people’s houses and murder them, as you describe.

For now … but ‘waking’ large numbers of Clay Men might become the enterprise of Revolutionary groups, who, believing as you do, see Clay Man liberation as congruent with overthrow of society or by meddling would-be do-gooders such as myself. Reliance on hate-breeding oppression for safety, in an increasingly liberal milieu–as late 19th century Western society was–is untenable.

Although Clay Men may be more dangerous than humans, humans are really, really dangerous themselves. If independence is reserved only for those with little or no power to cause harm, then we should all be enslaved.

What does stop violence and tension between different groups of humans?