Re: Islam and extropianism

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Sat Feb 24 2001 - 07:14:39 MST

Hi again -- back from my chill-out week!

On Wed, Feb 21, 2001 at 03:30:50AM -0800, John Marlow wrote:
> **Of course--so long as the wretched poverty and consequent refuge in
> religion last.

But they aren't lasting. Some chunks of the Islamic world are desperately
poor, but others are wealthy. Most of the wealthy Islamic nations have
based their prosperity on the exploitation of natural resources, but a
number have built up a degree of infrastructure and ability that would
be impressive if it were not overshadowed by that of the west. Iran
is evidently building up a large higher education sector (and has an
overwhelmingly young, progress-oriented society that is causing major
headaches for the doctrinaire mullahs); Pakistan has developed the A-bomb
and is working on indiginous missile tech. Anyone want to tell me about
Malaysia or Indonesia?

It's particularly important to note that the Islamic world has a
long history of respect for education, government by rule of law --
although it's not like the law *we* are familiar with -- and technological
progress; until the eighteenth century they were ahead of the west in many
respects. They took a huge kicking in the teeth when the west developed
new business methods and engaged in a massive imperial power-grab and
industrialisation during the 19th century: and the dynamics of oil-driven
economics shored up rich elites during the 20th century. But there's no
obvious reason why they can't play catch-up faster than anyone expects,
especially once there's no oil to cushion their economies from the global
market. And in an economic system where intellectual work carries muscle,
a civilization that prides itself on scholarship and jurisprudence is well-
positioned to play catch-up.

> Here's your basic problem: The leaders do in fact
> realize that technology is a threat to them. They look to the West
> and they see that people who enjoy the benefits of science and
> technology pay little heed to religious leaders--who have actually
> become so completely powerless that banning a book causes the sales
> to skyrocket. Said leaders put two and two together--science and tech
> enhance the powers of the individual and make religious leaders
> irrelevant--and go the other way, becoming rabid antitech nutballs.

This is, of course, why the Pope is denouncing heavier than air flight
("if God had meant us to fly he'd have given us wings") and microprocessors
("man needs nothing more sophisticated than the slide rule").

Or to put it more clearly (and less sarcastically) I don't believe *any*
religious leaders think as reactively as that, with the possible exception
of some highly cynical televangelists. Most priests, of whatever religion,
go into it because they *believe*. Furthermore, religious leadership in
Islam seems to have a lot more to do with jurisprudence and interpretation
of the commentaries on the Koran than upon power politics.

> Of course, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here and assuming
> they possess the ability to reason (and to add two and two).
Please refer to the rider I attached to my first posting: no flames. What
your last statement amounts to is a deep insult directed at the moral
probity, intellectual abilities, and motivation of people who I think we
urgently need to understand. Whether understanding leads to agreement or
dissent is irrelevent at this stage: it seems to me that you're pre-judging
the issue.

This is 25% of our species we're talking about, folks. They presumably
contain the same proportion of geniuses and morons as the rest of us.

-- Charlie

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