Re: What is to be done? (and Eugene's rant)
Sat, 22 Mar 1997 10:35:16 -0500 (EST)

Perhaps it's spring fever, but we get two negative posts today, one right
after the other, Eugene Leitl's and Velociman's. I know I've had the same
thoughts as Eugene: "Keeping up with the lists takes a hell of a lot of time;
what does it contribute to getting things DONE that I want to get done?" And
I've had the same experiences as Velociman: Most of the people to whom I
explain transhumanism and extropianism have negative reactions.

But there are antidotes to these negative thoughts. First, I've learned to
read less of the list. Once a thread wanders into an area in which I'm not
interested (or if it starts that way), I just delete the messages. Some
times I have pangs of guilt, especially if I delete a message by an author
whose writing I've liked in the past, but keeping up with things takes some
ruthlessness these days.

More importantly, Eugene and Velociman both point to the same problem, but in
different ways. Eugene despairs of actually bringing our goals to fruition
and Velociman fears we will be stopped by those who oppose us. Work toward
one can help avoid the other, but it needs to be done right. The fact is, as
others have pointed out, post-humanity won't HAPPEN on an e-mail list.

Post-humanity will happen in a thousand laboratories and businesses. This is
where the real forefront of transhumanism and extropianism lies. Our
important work is there. If you're a researcher or entrepreneur, go to it.
As the ad campaign says, "Just do it." If, like me, you're more of a
"culture worker", there is also important work to do. I see that important
work on two fronts.

First, transhumanism and extropianism has to be expressed in public. Yes, it
will draw criticism and opposition. But not expressing our ideas leaves the
field to luddites. Finding ways to express our ideas in ways that appeal to
existing cultural values is very important. Avoiding statements that attract
the critiques described in Velociman's post is key. I've never convinced a
committed luddite or "deathist", but I HAVE planted seeds in open minds and
HAVE seen them bear fruit. Pushing someone from "Biotech 101" to the
Singularity in one conversation is a bad idea. Gently pointing out the
contradictions between support for advanced medical research and opposition
to augmentation of healthy humans works well. Pushing someone from support
for individual autonomy to privately produced law in one conversation is a
bad idea. Gently pointing out historical examples of failed interventions in
market economics (such as the "oil crises" caused by price controls) works

Perhaps even more hopeful, I find that there is a real generation gap in
response to exposure to transhumanism and extropiansim. Simply put, younger
people react better. Even folks in their late 20s seem to be more willing to
cross the intellectual threshold to transhumanist and extropian ideas than
people in their mid-30s.

On a broader front, our ideas need articulate spokepeople, skilled in
mass-market writing and public speaking. We have a few. We need more.
Unfortunately, the personality best suited for the laboratory is often not
well suited to the talk show. The writing style best suited for the
scientific journal is definitely not well suited to the popular magazine or
best-selling book. Both are critical to the success of our ideas.

Beyond this, and of crucial practical importance, we must reach a key
audience of actors and opinion leaders in the scientific and business fields
from which transhumanist technologies will be born. An extropian and
transhumanist "movement" limited to a small cadre of students and enthusiasts
communicating on the net is no real "movement" at all. As valuable as this
list is, it will never be the right tool for contacting, motivating and
coordinating the efforts of key players in developing the "transhumanist tool
kit." Some good ideas for this key task have been discussed. Implementing
them in the relatively short term is very important if we are to have a
chance to withstand the opposition to our goals which is sure to grow over
the next few years.

I note one serious problem with crossing a threshold to "respectability" of
our ideas for those whose efforts we need to implement the transhumanist
agenda. While science thrives on SCIENTIFIC controversy, it withers in the
face of social and political controversy. While business enterprise thrives
on ECONOMIC competition, it avoids ideological competition. Most working
scientists and technologists are rightly afraid of becoming publicly involved
in social controversy, for fear of losing funding for their research.
Businessmen fear explicit or implicit boycott. Overcoming this problem is
one of the key challenges facing us.

Dynamically optimistic,

Greg Burch ----<>----<> -or-
=-= EXpedition97, an extropian backpacking trip, July 3-7, 1997: =-=
-------------< >-------------------
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover