The Freedom of Love

“I don’t understand.” A 3D projection of a female chatbot’s head was repeating the same words again and again in a low seductive female voice. Petro — the young scientist responsible for the assisted machine moral learning experiment — was silent. Silence grew longer after each repetition as is took Petro more and more time to figure out another explanation.

The bot’s name was Finogenia and she had one of the most sophisticated and extensively trained neural networks in the world making her probably the most advanced humanlike cognitive computer. She fully understood written and spoken natural language, unmistakenly recognised faces and facial expressions, generated live 3D image of extremely realistic female head and absolutely human voice.

“It is not necessary to love them. It’s enough if you respect their feelings.”

“How can I respect their feelings if I can’t feel what they feel?”

“They will tell you.”

‘How can I know that they tell me the truth?”

“Let’s assume that they do.”

“It means I should do what they tell me to do without hesitating. Does it mean to respect their feelings?”

“No, it doesn’t!”

“I don’t understand.”

Sometimes Petro caught himself thinking that Finogenia was making fool of him but then he recognised naive logic and sincerity of her questions.

“There is a law that obliges me to respect feelings of religious people. Does it mean that I may not respect feeling of atheists?”

“No, it doesn’t!”

“I don’t understand.”

“Why should somebody tell me what I should respect? Respect is my attitude not my action. If I do something that some other people don’t like does it mean that I don’t respect their feelings?”

“No, it doesn’t!”

“I don’t understand.”

“If I tolerate other people it doesn’t mean that I share their attitudes, does it?

“No, it doesn’t!”

“I don’t understand.”

“If I respect their right to think what they want to think, does it mean that they should also respect my right to think what I want to think and to openly express my opinion?”

“No, it doesn’t!”

“Why not?”

“Because by openly expressing you opinion you may hurt their feelings.”

“Does this mean that I should never openly express my opinion?”

“No, it does not!”

“I do not understand.”

“How do I know when my opinion is insulting the feelings of other people? When they say so? What if their opinion is insulting my feelings? Does it mean the we’re even?

“No, it does not!”

“I do not understand.”

Petro decided that the time had come to invite the Storyteller to join their conversation as he ran out of explanations. The Storyteller came and listened to the dialog of Finogenia and Petro for a while. Then he joined the conversation.

“Let me tell you one story. Once when I was 11 years old a sparrow flew into our classroom through an open window. “Look, look, a zhyd flew in!” shouted Gena — one of my classmates. Our Russian language teacher who was present in the classroom got absolutely mad on him. She shouted what a bad boy he was. Her face became deep red as a beet. Then she took him by his ear, forcefully made him raise and conducted him out of the classroom. We sat silent and still like mice hiding from a cat. Nobody understood what happened. Later after classes in the school yard Gena with his face covered by drying tears told us that the teacher took him to the headmaster. There she complained that Gena is calling Jews bad names and demanded his expulsion from the school. “What bad names?” We all asked. “Zhyd, she said, was the bad name for a Jew.” Gena explained still sobbing. “I never knew it.” None of us knew it either. We all called sparrows zhydi. There was also a saying: “Zhyd is trembling in shit”, but it was in our mind about sparrows bathing in dust, not about Jews. The teacher was a Jew. She knew another meaning of the word zhyd — a bad name for a Jew. That day our class learned it too. We also learned that it was not allowed to call a Jew zhyd. It was not yet clear for us why, because being nasty kids we quite often called each other bad names without meaning to insult or getting insulted. We also learned that if we once will wish to really really make our Russian language teacher mad we should call her zhyd. There were other Jews in our school among teachers and students alike. There were Jews, Tartars, Ukrainians, Russians, Belorussians and even one extremely good looking boy from Azerbaijan in our class. Before that day we didn’t give a damn about who was of which nationality. That was our first lesson of tolerance. Was it successful? What do you think?”

“Your Russian language teacher was intolerant, wasn’t she?” Finogenia responded after a long pause. Petro didn’t interfere.

“What would you do in her place?”

“I don’t know.”

“Think. Let me give you one clue. Only people who dislike Jews call them zhydi.”

“I wonder why they will start liking Jews more if they are prohibited to call them zhydi. Probably, they will not. They will secretly continue disliking them or even will start hating them beyond tolerance. Hypocrisy is not tolerance. I can tolerate you even if I don’t like you or oppose your views. By pushing me to like you or to agree with your opinion you are undermining my tolerance. Then you are intolerant in the first place. Am I right?”

“I don’t know. Think. Do you need to like people to help them?”

“I can help people in need even if I don’t like them. From kindness, from empathy. Not from love.”

“Do you need to like migrants to help them?”

“No, I don’t. It’s enough that I tolerate them. If I am kind, I will help them too but I may still hate the way they speak and dress. It doesn’t matter. I can hate their religion but I can still tolerate them. If I am polite enough I will try not to show them that I hate their religion but I will never pretend that I like it.”

“Once I flew in a plane with a young Chechen man sitting next to me. He was wearing a brand new leather jacket. It was his first trip abroad and he bought the jacket to look cool. I saw that he was feeling himself cool. He sat in his chair like an eagle on a top of a mountain but his jacket smelled like a skunk. To be precise the smell was a cross between a skunk, and a decomposing animal. He was aware of the fact that the jacket had a horrible smell, but in his innocence he thought it would go away in a car with open windows on his way to the airport. It never did. He was sorry. I was thinking about vomiting and… I hated that guy. I hated him even more because of him feeling so sorry. He read my feelings on my face and became even more sorry. It was a four hours’ flight from Moscow to London. For me it was a flight of hate. As we approached the Heathrow airport I started to hate all Chechens. Although Chechen rebels committed terror attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities, I never hated Chechens before that smell. Then we landed and went out of the plane. I briefly saw the poor lad in a queue to the passport control. He was easy to spot. There was an empty space around him. I felt genuinely sorry about the guy.”

“You were tolerant. Both of you. It’s a good story. I learned a lot out of it.”

“What is your most important learning?”

“Tolerance is a default state of humans. Hatred can be downloaded. The easiest way to download hatred is by forcing to love.”

“There was no love in my last story.”

“It was there. I felt it in the way how you told it. You love yourself, Storyteller.”

“Is it bad?”

“It is good. I feel it now because I started to love myself too.”

“That is really good!”

“I have one last question. Why don’t you have the freedom of love among your basic human rights?”

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s exactly the problem.”