And now, a random digression into the implications of time travel.

This argument is weaker than it appears: for those not clicking through, it’s a comic that suggests that our current timeline is the result of somebody going back in time to assassinate a German politician in 1930 before he could… put in place fiscal policies that would extend the Great Depression for a few more years.  Needless to say, the time traveler has never heard of Adolf Hitler: the punchline was “Why, what happened?”

Funny, except one big glaring question: Why the hell would you go back in time and kill somebody over a technical adjustment in monetary policy?  Particularly since you could have just have easily gone back and, say, double-tap Josef Stalin.  After all, if you’re going to destroy your entire timeline anyway, you might as well get as much of a karma offset as you can…

14 thoughts on “And now, a random digression into the implications of time travel.”

    1. I like to note in my defense that I am slightly high on cold meds, so that came out not like I wanted it too. Redo:
      Moe, I laughed. Why ruin the joke with an honest debate?

  1. He could have just stayed in the future and let FDR extend the depression until 1940.

  2. Speaking of buying (or at least mentioning) a book…
    Pastwatch: The {illegible}* of Christopher Columbus
    Rather obscure little title, pretty decent read, though.
    * illegible in my memory, that is. I think it’s “redemption”, could be wrong.

  3. I just assumed it meant the time traveler came from a relatively idyllic timeline: one without any (well, most) of our post-WWI history’s various conflicts, abominations, tragedies and outright stupidities. Perhaps the Hartler chancellorship also produced an early end to the USSR by not providing Stalin a great war to galvanize the Russian people, which would also have undermined Castro, Mao, Kim, etc, in addition to rendering Hitler a poorly-known Austrian housepainter.
    (On the whole, I find SMBC much less thought-provoking than, I suspect, it thinks it is. Usually good for a laugh, though, and that’s really all I ask.)

  4. We all know that if you invent time travel, your best option is to go back in time, and kill yourself just before you did.

    If history is mutable, and you change the past, you’re directly responsible for all the negative consequences you failed to forsee.
    If history is immutable, your efforts to change the past, inadvertently play a role in causing the events you were trying to change. And you’re responsible.
    Don’t try to change the past, and you have to live with the knowledge that you could have tried to make a difference, but elected not to. Millions died because you dared not interfere.
    It’s a losing proposition any way you look at it.
    (And yeah, I’d try. I’m stupid like that. But I’d start with small, localized changes to see what happens.)

  5. Years ago I read a short SF story in which the police had arrested an old man for murder. He was a physicist with some odd theories … When they searched his house, they found newspaper accounts, souvenirs, and other evidence indicating that over the decades he had somehow committed a long string of murders all over the world, apparently without motive. He’d killed obscure young men, most less than twenty years old, named Adolf Hitler, Josef Djugashvili, Heinrich Himmler, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Richard Speck, Kim Il-sung, Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald … When the cops totaled up the numbers, they realized that he was the worst mass murderer of the Twentieth Century! He’d killed eighty-seven people!

      1. I remember that. These days I’m finding the notion that killing Hitler would necessarily prevent WWII or the Holocaust rather suspect. I strongly suspect that the critical path to WWII goes through the Soviet Union. I don’t think a single person going back in time and causing a single death is enough to have that much of a difference. Doing something like sending an army back to the late nineteenth century to reform Europe’s diplomatic (to prevent WWI) and political police services (to prevent the USSR) simply seems too contrived to be a very attractive scenario for the readers.

        1. If I were going to change history for the better, I’d tap Kaiser Friedrich III on the shoulder … creating just enough of an alteration to his life that a different sperm united with an egg to become Kaiser Wilhelm II. If Kaiser Bill had been a different person, or even if his delivery hadn’t been bungled (so that he didn’t develop a macho complex to compensate for his withered arm), World War I might never have happened.

    1. Herp,
      Doesn’t quite wash for me. I can almost see there being that few political type mass murderers. Blah, blah, blah, low political turmoil and modern, corruption free states with trustworthy competant police and all that. Counterargument to that side includes the Tulsa Race Riots.
      The real issue is libido types. a) a society where everyone is entirely willing to subordinate their drives to law and morality has severe plausibility issues. I do not believe that there has been a majority of such in any society, historic or prehistoric. I count humanity fortunate that the portion of people who naturally swing to murder-rape is so low compared to the population as a whole. b) This should still amount to a very good number of people who both swing towards murder-rape, and are unwilling to entirely limit themselves, for a twentieth century earth with decent population. I’m pretty sure that this would either add up to more than 87 people to murder, or other murderers with equal or greater kill count.

      1. It doesn’t have to be plausible to be an entertaining story. In fact, the “butterfly effect” would be more of a “blue whale effect” in which the mouder of any one of these delightful people would have latered the course of history, preventing some of them from being born or rising to power and creating new mass murderers instead.

  6. Point one, thanks. I kinda had my eye out for a good, clear example of poorly thought out Alternate History.
    Point two, you were expecting better from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal why? Things that don’t pass the fridge test are not so unusual as to be unexpected.
    ‘Unicorns are Real’ et al are still quite amusing.
    Hartler probably would have had weaker security than Lenin, Stalin, et al. Remember, time travel is not the only limiting factor in murdering historical figures. There is also the matter of finding and killing the person. This is hardly a trivial factor

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