The Clay Man Conundrum

The thread has made me want the Dauntless Campaigner back more than ever.

Something must, since different groups aren’t continually murdering each other all the time.

I disagree that humans are dangerous ‘by default’. We have the capacity to be incredibly dangerous, but the degree that this capacity is realized, for good or for ill, is dependent on a vast array of factors, of which just one–and not the prime one–is genetics.

The response then, to the dangerous potential of people (and Clay Men) is not to lock everyone down into the incapacity for violence; rather it is to build societies where the better angels of our nature can flourish.

An excellent reason for humans to cease doing those things giving Clay Men the specific cause in question.

Given that the rate of murder and violence fluctuates dramatically over time and across cultures (and indeed, given that pacifists and pacifist cultures exist), and given that ‘we haven’t meaningfully changed as a species since the paleolithic era,’ something other than DNA must contribute to the frequency human violence.

In the United States slavery ended, voting rights are no longer restricted by race or sex, the sex of partners no longer determines their right to marry, and businesses may no longer pay their employees in scrip. In the U.S. (and many other countries) many things wrong with human society have been fixed (or, at the very least, are far better than they once were).

What if you apply this logic the other way? Far, far more people never murder and never get murdered than do commit murder or get murdered. And there’s always one or more ongoing peaces.

I’m not saying humans are by nature virtuous–as you rightly point out, we have done and continue to do horrible things to each other and other species. Rather, I advocate that the sine qua non of humanity is behavioral flexibility, for both good an ill. Assessments of humans as inherently violent or peaceful are views that are really really knee jerk & short sighted.

Compliance does not logically imply the absence of resentment. That said, it is possible that ‘Finished’ Clay Men don’t harbor resentment. I will need to read Clay Man lore more closely.

considering that Clay Men are made of basically the same spiritual stuff as humans, I don’t see much of a difference between the two. One is made of clay, sure, but it seems to be mainly a physical difference. They seem to have the same exact potential as any human, and clay man labor is really no different from slavery because of that in my eyes.
edited by Addis Rook on 11/23/2018

‘Stops’ was sloppy and, thus ambiguous, shorthand. To be more precise: Why does the frequency and intensity of violence between individuals and groups and humans vary and vary greatly?

I ask this in response to your assertions that humans are genetically predisposed to favor violence and other ills and as such, “no amount of social engineering that can fix what’s wrong with human society.” Since violence, etc. has been be reduced in times and places, and since humans have been genetically the same (essentially) for a very long time, genetics are not the sole determinate of human behavior. Indeed, very many people have lived and do live peacefully and prefer not to be violent. My reference to gay marriage and voting writes addresses your second assertion by pointing out that human societies have successfully fixed, or at least ameliorated, wrongs.

The pacifist cultures created by early Christianity, Ghandi’s civil rights movements, and King’s civil rights movement were a response to all those things. And while pacifism fails in the face of pure hatred devoid of moral qualms, all of the above persisted and lead to great moral advances … presumably because humans are not biologically forced to be red in tooth and claw.

Natural selection isn’t the only thing that determines survival. There’s also genetic drift, and, since the advent of humans, cultural selection. Further, in addition to engendering the genetic and behavioral capacity for violence, etc., natural selection and cultural selection also yield peaceful cooperation within and between species.

As to Clay Men, here are some bits of lore that I believe show ‘Finished’ Clay Men are capable of recognizing kindness and cruelty, having affinity to those who offer the first and aversion to those who offer the second, and for desiring self determination:

  1. The tea shop is in a quiet side street. The owner is refusing to serve a pair of Clay Men their pot of tea and sponge cake.
    Inform the owner that his prejudice is intolerable. You will patronise more humane establishments in future.

You throw down your napkin with some force and march out with the two Clay Men. They don’t quite know what to make of you, but they recognise a gesture of support when it’s offered.

  1. Recruit Clay Man labour

Many who frequent the Quarters dream of a change of employer.

  1. The special status they award masterless Clay Men – somewhere between prophets and bombs

  2. You spend the day restoring sagging loam faces and filling dents in earthy shoulders. They pay you in impurities panned from their vein of fresh clay: nuggets of gold, fragments of jade.

  3. Emancipate a Clay Man

Free him from your service – from everyone’s service.


Obtaining the necessary licences and certificates is exhausting – even by the Bazaar’s baroque standards of bureaucracy. It’s almost as if the Masters don’t want Clay Men freed.

You cross the last ‘t’ with a flamboyant stroke. You dot the final ‘i’ hard enough to put a hole in the paper. With that, the Clay Man has no master but himself. The poor s_d’s in the same boat as the rest of us, now.

Down in the Clay Quarters his compatriots welcome him with reverential handshakes. Nor are you forgotten. They pile you with gifts: oddities unearthed from the tunnel walls, secrets told unwisely in their presence.

Polythreme’s Unfinished also shows they are born capable of thought and understanding, however people of Polythreme (or London) use the Unfinished as an example of those who choose to rebel. Thus, they hide their intelligence and desire to be free because they also fear becoming like the Unfinished due to rumors, not actual fact.

I admit this thread has exposed once more how subtle the FL writing is. It spoke of colonialism in a way so subtle that you HAVE to begin as one of the colonialists (instead of behaving like a 21st century person)… until instances persuade you otherwise. Amazing.
Oh and something else: altruism and compassion have been shown to be positive evolutionary traits. People need those to survive. I don’t know about Clay Men but… the writing doesn’t suggest they would be different.

I made this thread mainly with the intent of learning more about what people see in the nuanced writing that I’m too blind to notice, and damn I’ve done that five times over. Thanks to everyone who replied! That being said, there are multiple instances where Clay Men are capable of compassion and gentleness(Lyme & child, Lyme & cat), and to be honest if I was stuck in a cargo hold for months with the intent of eventually being sold into what is essentially slavery, I think I’d go berserk too.
Just because they’re PHYSICALLY dangerous, though, doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve the opportunity to grow into individuals (as they’ve shown themselves capable of) and learn and develop. One could argue that the tigers in the Labyrinth are equally as dangerous and have access to Parabola, and you are able to physically best the Pirate-Poet in a duel in Sunless Sea by yourself. One on one. So even if they are capable of immense feats of strength, they can be beaten by humans and I don’t think that introducing them to society as equals will tip the balance by a lot. After all, Londoners have shown themselves to be accepting of pretty much anything(the city was STOLEN by BATS for Christ’s sake).
I don’t quite have the attention span as of right now to read through all the replies, but I love how this conversation is going so far, and please correct me if I’ve said anything wrong.