Re: Utopia

GBurch1 (
Fri, 10 Apr 1998 09:42:15 EDT

In 1859 wrote:

> It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

And then some time later, (ChuckKuecker) wrote:

> Having been around Europe and North America a bit, and this before the
> Berlin Wall fell, I think the present American system is just about the
> there is today. Not by any means perfect, but preferable to almost any
> system I have personal knowledge of.

I've also done a bit of traveling, including to China not long after the fall
of the "Gang of Four", Nicaragua just at the end of the Sandanista period and
Mexico over a few decades, as well as places with more attractive civil
societies, such as England and Costa Rica (and even Canada) . . . and I have
to echo Chuck's comment.

There seem to be two elements to one's feelings about where we are on the
continuum of progress: One is a study of history and the other is one's
personal inclination to optimism or pessimism. It's hard to separate the two,
but at the extremes one can perhaps be more certain. Only a fool would have
been optimistic living in Weimar Germany in the late 1920s, but I find that it
is hard to be pessimistic for long living in the United States in the late
1990s. At this moment in history, the U.S. is experiencing perhaps
unprecedented economic prosperity and opportunity for just about anyone
willing to participate, even the very statist mainstream political parties
make at least public statements in favor of less centralized government and
there seems to me to be as much experimentation in social institutions as
there ever has been.

Of course, there are constant struggles in the cause of liberty: Essentially
all institutions and public figures endorse at least some state control over
intimate private activities such as drugs and sex and accept without question
that individuals should be forced to pay for "public goods" of dubious
goodness. Some of these threats are aimed at core values of liberty, and
there can be no doubt that the mainstream conception of the proper reach of
state power is greater than it was during the zenith of classical liberal
thought in the Anglo-American world from the late 18th to the late 19th

But all over the world, far beyond the borders of the States, I see causes for
hope: The communist nightmare has passed as the bad dream that it was, only a
lingering memory in Cuba and North Korea, and not long to haunt people there;
there isn't a single real military dictatorship in Latin America I can think
of; a black man is the president of South Africa and elsewhere on that
continent civil society is at least becoming aware of the tribalistic passions
that have wracked it for centuries; and in Asia people are perhaps at last
facing the consequences of carrying too much of Confucianism forward into a
capitalist world order.

True, there are deeply troubling problems in the world. The worst is probably
the swath of the planet from the Balkans to Sri Lanka dominated by
fundamentalism and primitive religious bigotry; where the concept of civil
society has only a tenuous hold over the human condition. Here in America,
seemingly growing numbers of baby boomers are turning to traditional religious
institutions or "new age" pseudo science in reaction to realization of their
own mortality. Throughout the "developed world" the mainstream supports
legislative restriction on at least some promising biotechnology.

But in much of the world the material conditions of even average people is
superior to that of kings of old and, despite a few luddite laws here and
there, economic pressures compel an accelerating feedback of research and
development of key transhumanist technologies. It seems increasingly
improbable to me that fundamentalists could stop that trend before we reach
some sort of critical point in our ability to use technology to transcend
traditional human limits. Regardless of what spokesmen for the mainstream may
SAY, in fact the best and the brightest are working around the clock to put
the tools of transcendence in our hands.

Sure I'd like things to happen faster and for life to be more free. And we
should all do what we can to make it so. But in the meantime I, at least,
feel that this is a time for optimism and pride.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover