Re: Contributing to Society [was Re: Premature deaths [was: extropians-digest V7 #4]]

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Mon Jan 07 2002 - 07:20:18 MST

On Sun, 6 Jan 2002, Samantha Atkins wrote:

> What rights one has to a place in society are not necessarily
> dependent on whether one "contributes" to the society or not.

Ok, lets for the sake of the discussion assume every human
is granted the fundamental human rights outlined in the U.N.
treaty on human rights. Lets assume one is also granted an equal
right to an equivalent share of the energy and material resources on
the Earth. So every human in their current form can survive
and live a happy life.

Problem #1: Each additional human born is going to be taking
away from your "fair" share. Solutions: (a) accept the situation
until your resources are depleted to the point where you can
no longer survive; (b) enact a ban on reproduction (which I
expect violates something in the U.N. treaty).

Problem #2: How do you allocate *future* resources that become
available? If I invest my time, energy and capital and then
go risk my neck to stake a claim on Ceres, making it my own
personal island in the solar system, and then reproduction
is allowed to continue until humanity reaches the carrying
capacity of the solar system -- does "humanity" have the
right to take Ceres from me and reallocate it to the people
who sat on their lazy butts watching TV for the next century?

Its a fundamental question -- when do "fundamental" human rights
trump property rights? One almost has to laugh at Fukuyama arguing
for human "dignity" and preventing human cloning when 20 million
people a year die of hunger and starvation. Or probably more
who will die from HIV infections. Lets address the *real* problems.

> Precisely what does "contributing" mean? In
> whose judgment and by what criteria is this to be evaluated?

That is why I raised the point. Evaluation of contributions
seems likely to be quite subjective. Of course one could "vote"
on contributions -- everyone gets 5 votes to cast any way they
like (boy would we all become political then). Or we could
setup a system where the votes are weighted by perceived
contributions -- i.e. your votes count for more if you are
perceived by your peers as contributing more.

> Can it be evaluated for instance by whether or not enough people
> care enough for something one has or has produced or does to
> offer to pay sufficiently for it for those payments to be
> exchanged for the necessities and desires of the individual?

I was thinking more along extropic lines -- one defines some
system of evaluating the degree to which one contributed to
complexification -- one could normalize say art and science
so even though they are working in quite different directions,
equivalent "contributions" were valued equally.

> What of those who are outside of the current envelope of what
> people find valuable enough to pay for?

One would have to have a scheme that valued novelty as well.

> There are many intensely creative and brilliant souls out there who
> cannot find anyone that will actually pay them for what they consider most
> important to do. Should these be considered to be "not contributing"?

Ah, now this is an interesting question. One would suppose that
"humanity" wants "useful" stuff -- i.e. stuff that serves to
uplift humanity over time (increasing productivity, providing
greater entertainment, etc.). But we know of artists that never
became "great" until well after they died.

Being "paid" really isn't an issue -- everyone is in non-survival
mode. If we assume everyone has uploaded, then what might happen
is you get allocated time slices in the computronium matrix in
relation to your "perceived" contribution. No contribution and
your "mind" only gets to run once in a blue moon.

> Or is the society actually likely to be much
> richer when people have the "luxury" of picking what they are
> most passionate at and pursuing that without their very survival
> being at stake if they don't choose something they can charge
> someone else a price for sharing?

*Or* will society become stale and lethargic when people are no
longer motivated by the needs of survival? (Remember -- you
have the fundamental right to "exist" (as a human) -- whether
you have a fundamental right to an "equal share" of the expanded
resources and technologies in the solar system is what I'm trying
to address here. (For example, I believe there is wording in
U.N. treaties regarding "space" and "international waters" that
suggests that every human is entitled to their "fair share" of
these resources -- no matter who develops them.)

> As as been mentioned on this list
> several times, that is only one of many ways a posthuman culture
> might be organized and it is increasingly less likely, or at any
> rate less necessary, as the society moves from one of assumed
> scarcity to assumed abundance.

Agreed. Perhaps what I didn't make clear was my interest
in addressing the end-point conditions, rather than the
transition conditions. The entire period of colonization
of the Americas was a transition period -- you discovered/claimed
and developed physical resources as you were able. Now that period
is largely ended. One can view the world today as one where
the non-expanding physical resources must be allocated to an
expanding number of people. (I'm ignoring the fact that
substitutions and technology development are currently
masking the severity of the situation).

> If it is a truly abundant society with few space/resource constraints I
> don't see that this is an issue as far as actualy physical drain
> on the society goes.

Perhaps some of the Europeans on the list might want to comment
on the issue of the physical drain on society posed by "deadwood"...

> One answer to this is to not have so much (if any)
> central authority.

True, but what happens if the entire 50 billion people on Earth vote
to take Ceres from me by "eminent domain"? No central authority
but I still end up losing most likely.

> Another answer is some form of competency
> testing on voters and perhaps weighing of votes.

Ah, well I see we may have reached similar conclusions.

> Overall, I see no good reason why one's survival should be tied
> to "contributing" to society in an extropian worldview. Such
> criteria of "contributing" smacks of one's worth depending on
> pleasing others. It goes against the grain.

I agree that its unnecessary during the periods when we will
be developing uses for very underutilized resources. Its
a question primarily for periods when those resources are being
substantially stretched -- like the Earth now (until we
expand the technology envelope) or the solar system in
a few hundred to a few thousand years.


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