Re: Transhumanist Declaration (Now New And Improved!)

den Otter (otter@globalxs.nl)
Sun, 12 Apr 1998 21:05:27 +0200


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> From: Reilly Jones <Reilly@compuserve.com>

> otter@globalxs.nl wrote 4/11/98: <Btw, suggestions for a better sounding
> name are welcome; "Enlightened Rationalism" is too long and sounds too
> pompous-a__ed.>
>
> A recap of the description you gave:
>
> <What it all boils down to is that any rational person... will use any
> means that are available to him to reach his goals. Sometimes his actions
> will benefit others, sometimes they will be neutral, and sometimes people
> will get hurt.>
>
> No rationality is used in setting goals, only morality.

These two are in fact heavily intertwined, and it's allmost impossible
to tell which came first and how they mutually influenced eachother.
Morality itself is usually based on selfish hedonism: you (for ex.)
help people because it "feels right", increases your self-asteem and
you don't hurt people because that would you feel bad about yourself.
Of course "feeling good" or "feeling bad" can also be dependent
on what *others* think of you. So you're either pleasing yourself directly
or pleasing the crowd (to please yourself). As time goes by another
mechanism kicks in: the reluctance (fear/laziness) to change. Even if the
old pattern of behaviour no longer gives the desired result, you keep it
anyway out of habit.

There are plenty of other elements when it comes to the moral memetic
system, of course, but they all are more or less based on the punishment
vs reward system, whether the subject realizes this or not. "Morals" and
"ethics" are not some metaphysical, divine spark that's unique to (some)
humans, but rather primitive impulse mixed with some logic.

> <A rational person will recognize that most ethics and morals are nothing
> but artificial (extra) burdens on the way to ascension. Life is difficult
> enough as it is. Castigating yourself with piontless self-imposed rules and
> regulations is pure S&M.>
>
> Rational individuals do, in fact, use induction, they do not merely drift
> on the waves of infantile desire. They see that adherence to variations of
> morals lead to variations of consequences, some good and some bad. Some
> morals are inductively superior to other morals, if the presupposition is
> made that "life is good." The ability to develop self-discipline is one of
> the key capacities that distinguishes homo sapiens from the amoeba.

ER certainly encourages self-disciple, because it's very rational (useful).
The idea that one has to have eleborate, inefficient morals based on
a world view that's not in touch with reality in order to be "civilized" is
downright silly. "Infantile desires" are the core of our being, instead of
blindly suppressing them as you imply we should try to control their
flow in such a way that we get the most out of life. By the way, your
high morals are just another manifestation of primitive desires, the
only difference is that they have been coated with some rhetoric fluff
to make them look like something else.

> <But, unlike many less user friendly philosophies Enlightened Rationalism
> (TM)* does not forbid the use of force, including the use of force "just
> for fun". It just says "keep an eye on the consequences", which is, wel...
> rational. So if you feel like it, and think that you can get away with
> it... by all means go ahead!>
>
> Past adherents of E.R. would include Pol Pot, Attila the Hun, Mao Tse Tung,
> Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan, V.I. Lenin... A "nice" crowd,
> all very successful, all very happy with their consequences, very rational.

I saw this one coming from a mile away, that's why it said in the original
message:

"Ah, you might say, that would mean folks like Hitler, Stalin, the IRA and
any damn street robber are enlightened. Not so. The other part of enlighten-
ment is seeking technotranscendence (immortality, increased intelligence,
physical strenght etc. through rational means like technology). To achieve
this one needs a lot of foresight, which includes keeping a relatively low profile
and (thus) minimizing the number of (potentially) dangerous enemies. Also,
being nice can pay off in several ways, ranging from simply "a good feeling" to
substantial material gain".

> <After all, most problems are caused by ridiculous, sanctimonious rules and
> standards, and people not being able to live up to them an getting
> frustrated because of it. Setting the morals too high only breeds
> corruption, lies and blackmail, and sooner or later those who helped to
> perpetuate the system will be eaten by it themselves.>

> Obviously, someone has offended you somewhere along the line by expecting a
> standard of conduct from you that you couldn't live up to without
> sacrificing your adolescent worship of the desire of the moment.

A touch of ad hominem? Actually, what I meant here is that making
moral codes with lots of elaborate rules (like many religions do) will
ultimately just backfire because hardly anyone can live up to all of
them. Breaking rules will thus become an integral part of the moral
memetic comlex, ultimately resulting in a neglect (open or secret)
of *all* the rules/guidelines, including the useful ones. It is much
more effective to reduce the number of rules (and dogmatism) to
a bare minimum, and base them on common sense instead of ideas
that fly in the face of human nature and logic.

> The
> record of history shows that corruption, lies and blackmail always result
> from a lowering of moral standards, never from an elevating of them.

The real problems only start when all parties know (deep inside) that the
rules are not sound, yet for the sake of "keeping up appearances" won't
admit that to one another. The result is a hypocrite, two-faced society
where problems aren't dealt with openly but are swept under the carpet.
The "war on drugs" is a great example of this attitude.

> It is
> irrational to ignore the historical record.

Indeed.

> Frustration over not being
> able to live up to a high standard is adolescent, it is stereotypical of
> the spoiled-child syndrome.

In some cases, yes. But often it is a result of the "high standard" being
extremely human-unfriendly without any sound, logical reason, other
than suppressing the population and teaching them "obedience".
Although this may be useful and even necessary in some cases,
overdoing it only makes life miserable for everyone involved.

> It is caused by an abrogation of parental
> authority, i.e., decadent children come from corrupt parents.

Many of the worst psychopaths come from families with strict (religious)
rules, and the ones that don't crack up completely will carry the scars
for life. Btw, this doesn't apply to me, I'm from a fairly liberal background.

> <For example, E.R. is neutral on the issues of increasing diversity and
> being "life promoting". These are matters of individual choice and depend
> on the situation.>
>
> If E.R. cannot bring itself to incorporate the metaphysical presupposition
> that "life is good" then it is death-worship. There is no neutrality on
> this question, the default is always to entropy.

E.R. firmly assumes that being alive is preferable to being dead. However,
this does not force the individual who values his own life to act in a "life
promoting" way towards *other* life forms. That's a *personal choice*, for
which one must carry *personal responsibility*. In a complex world as
ours a dogma like "must preserve all life" is not realistic/practical. It's
as arbitrary as a dogma that says "must bark like a dog and hop on one
foot every time I see a red car".

> In summary, it sounds like E.R. is merely license for a bunch of adolescent
> Uzi-toting street-corner ‹bermensch out for a joy-ride using up the moral
> capital stored up in previous generations by the prey around them.

Theoretically, you could be right. In reality (which seems painfully predictable
at times) those kind of people don't give a damn about transhumanistic ideas,
and thus aren't ERs. If they were they'd wait with this kind of behaviour until we
have perfect VR, unless by "Ubermesch" you mean something akin to a Power.

> I
> suggest, instead of "Enlightened Rationalism", the more honest "Sophomoric
> Parasitism".

Sophomoric parasites can be ERs, yes, just like they can be regular
transhumanists, christians, communists etc, but it's hardly an appropriate
name for my elegant theory, don't you think? ;-)