Re: Extropian principles, let's have a look

From: Emlyn \(hotmail\) (
Date: Fri Jun 09 2000 - 21:26:58 MDT

Max More wrote:
> Emlyn: First, thank you for your thoughtful comments on the Principles. I
> found these latest thoughts much more stimulating that your claim that the
> first principle is "linear" and "modernist".

It wasn't my intention to say that it was "linear" and "modernist" (although
I probably did); I meant to say that it presents as such. Which is probably
bad enough.

As a reply to your earlier post critiquing my earlier post (arrgh), Anders
said all that I would have said, particularly with respect to
Modernism/Postmodernism. Actual not all...

One point I would add; "Progress" is a term used by Functionalists, esp
Evolutionary Functionalist theorists, and was used in context of talking
about the world in terms of developed and under-developed nations, including
putting all "pre-newtonian" societies in the under-developed nations
category. They seem to have an idea that you (a nation) just need a swag of
cash and a can-do attitude, and you can become a developed nation; this idea
has been shown to be untrue. That's Modernization theory (slightly
paraphrased), which I think overlaps with/is Modernism to a high degree.

Evolutionary materialists, with whom extropians (even Extropians(tm)) would
agree I think, say, rather than the status quo being good because it exists,
and all kinds of other functionalist might-makes-right stuff, which is very
static stuff, that the world is made up of people/orgs/countries/whatever
that have certain levels of power, and they all participate in an elaborate
dynamic process where generally those with power tend to hang on to it (and
increase it) and do better than those without. The important point made is
that the control of resources, and other forms of power, drive social
structure, which drives moral/ideological framworks (rather than the other
way around).

My point about "Progress" is that it's use has been used by
Functionalists/Modernists for a long time now to pretend that a process of,
for example, rich countries taking stuff from poor countries, and a trend of
overall improverishment of the average world citizen, is something positive,
a moving forward. A related concept has been something like "unfolding",
that societies "progress" through stages, and that western capitalism is at
the pinnacle (or certainly more "advanced") than any other
social/economic/political structure existing thus far. Yet again, it is
"might-makes-right". Why is western-capitalism the best, ideologically (and
usually on all axis of measurment)? Because it is winning. Materialism would
say that this is a classic case of the power structures determining social
structure, which in turn are determining ideology.

It is this historical usage of "Progress", still a very strong memetic
association invoked by the word's use, which makes it distasteful to me.
When I said linear, what I perhaps meant was an implication of determinism
(we are treading the path that fate has laid out before us), and a glossing
over of the fact that we don't actually know, often, if "progress" is
positive at all.

(Hmm, disjointed; my apologies, I've got the flu).

> >I have a bone to pick about the first principle. I don't think that it
> >much that the other principles don't already say, and I think it is
> >simplistic about "progress".
> I'm sympathetic to what you're saying, though I don't entirely agree. I've
> been gradually gathering notes for version 4.0 of the Principles, and some
> kind of architectural revision is likely. You've certainly spotted
> something that I had thought of, even if I don't go along with the idea of
> ditching the first principle.
> I take the essence of your constructive criticism to be that Principle
> (Perpetual Improvement) is redundant since it is covered by the principles
> of Self-Transformation (#2), Intelligent Technology (#4), and Open Society
> (#5).
> If you read the full text of the Principles, rather than the short version
> that you quote, I think you will see that Perpetual Improvement has a
> not identical to that of those other principles. I think you're insightful
> in seeing the overlap. I see Perpetual Improvement as something of an
> important "metaprinciple", out of which you can draw some of the other
> principles (though not completely without remainder). I would like version
> 4.0 to reflect that in some way, though I am not keen on the idea of a
> hierarchical set of principles where I try to derive everything from one
> master principle.
> The Principles are a group of somewhat fuzzy sets that overlap, but where
> some are more central than others. Perhaps the only way to convey this
> effectively is through a graphical representation. Alternatively, for
> interested in the intellectual minutia, I could write an "Explanatory
> Comments on the Principle" that explores the relationships between the
> principles. I like the idea of a graphical representation that somehow
> shows the links between principles. Once I'm ready, perhaps someone can
> help me put this together in a Java applet?
> Perpetually overcoming constraints on our progress and possibilities.
> > - Why not just "Perpetually overcoming constraints on our
> >self-actualisation and self-realization"? Removes that dogmatic
> >"progressive" tone.
> I still don't grok why you think this is dogmatic. Extropian thinking
> certainly *is* about progress. The terms "self-actualization" and
> "self-realization" will not do at all. What kind of self is to be realized
> or actualized? The self-transformative aspects of Perpetual Progress are
> compatible with a huge array of possible ways of self-actualizing, but not
> with all. Actualizing a self who is excellent at viciously destructive
> behavior is not obviously extropic. Nor is actualizing a self who
> epitomizes complete and utter laziness or parasitic reliance on others. I
> know, I know, you don't *mean* that. But the terms do not exclude those
> possibilities. At least "progress" does imply something a bit more
> specific. Yet the term is sufficiently unspecific and open to personal
> interpretation that I do not see the sense or justice of calling it

Excellent point Max. That's not what I mean, and yet it can of course mean

This is a difficulty, and something for which I have no good answer this
morning. Either you express something about improvement, increase, progress,
etc, which has the problems of oversimplification and denying diverse
approaches which I have addressed previously. Or, you go down the relativist
route; self actualisation, change, transformation, none of which have much
of a directional component, or no absolute directional component. So they
can mean all kinds of really crappy stuff, because they are relative, and
can mean what you want them to mean.

Any ideas how you get a clear sense of the idea of improvement, without
glossing over the complex, evolutionary (and thus entirely non-linear)
approach to that which must be desirable, while still being able to express
the whole thing in a few buzzwords?


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