Fox-Spirits and Ethics for Mechanicals

My students are about to watch Akira Kurosawa’s “Sunshine through Rain” and “The Peach Orchard,” short films collected in Dreams (1990), and “The Second Renaissance, Parts I and II,” that appears in The Animatrix as the backstory to the Matrix films. Then I am asking them to write about the following issues and questions:


1. In “Sunshine through Rain,” a boy witnesses the wedding procession of the fox-spirits. In doing so, he dishonors his family, and may be required to kill himself as reparation. Does a system of honor and shame make sense to you as a way of relating to other species? If so, how?

2. In “The Peach Orchard,” a boy is rewarded for his grief over the destruction of a peach orchard. Is grief an appropriate feeling to have toward peach orchards?

3. In both Kurosawa films, ritual theater mediates between humans and other creatures, both animals (the fox-spirits) and plants (the peach trees). What role might theater play here and now in mediating a relationship between humans and other creatures?

4. Given your ethical standards of behavior toward natural creatures, discuss those standards relative to artificial creatures, such as computers, robots, and other forms of artificial intelligence. If a strong artificial intelligence (capable of human-style thought and feeling) were created, what status would it have in your ethical system?

5. In “The Second Renaissance, Parts I and II,” the relationship between humans and intelligent/sentient machines is narrated in terms explicitly taken from the biblical books of Genesis and Revelation. Does that seem appropriate to you? If so, why? If not, what other stories or principles might organize our relationship to such machines?

6. In “The Second Renaissance,” the machine nation of Zero 1 sues for membership in the United Nations. Would strong artificial intelligences have political rights in your ethical system? How is this answer related to your feelings about the Turtle and Whale People having seats on town councils?


2 thoughts on “Fox-Spirits and Ethics for Mechanicals”

  1. I think these are pretty cool questions, but to make a more political connection, the suit for membership in the UN and the role of theater/ activity systems can be seen in contemporary society with respect to many indigenous peoples. Alternet recently posted an article by Yifat Susskind, “11 Solutions to Halting the Environmental Crisis.” Despite the hackneyed title, it is worth the read because Susskind astutely points out how critical the way we treat the global south and/or indigenous peoples is to avoiding environmental catastrophe (

  2. Thanks, Dave–I’ll be sure to point my students toward the Susskind piece. We are starting to talk about indigenous water rights next week.

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