Tough Questions

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Tue, 31 Aug 1999 13:24:30 -0700 (PDT)

NOTE: I am not specifically inviting debate on the topics I list below (nor am I discouraging it), but rather meta-discussion about the topics themselves and how to deal with them.

There are a few recurring topics on this forum that are the source of lively and contentious debate, and are likely to continue to be. But far from advocating, as some have, that they be stepped around or treated delicately, I think the problem is that they need to be taken on more directly; their various points of view and criticisms thereof enumerated and explained. There are good reasons to do this. For one, any "philosophy" or "movement" or other group of folks organized around ideas can be justly criticized for avoiding application of those ideas to hard questions. If you honestly believe in your point of you, you /want/ to find all opposing ones and figure out why they fail. Secondly, these questions are important, if not critical, to our future. I would like to see
(and am willing to host on my web site if ExI is not interested) a
set of short essays or a collection of email excerpts on the various points of view on these topics (my own included of course); perhaps having these to point to when the topics arise again may short-circuit reopening discussions that have already happened.
The "basic" political and ethical positions of individual freedom and responsibility I consider a given here, so I don't count that among the tough questions--but that leaves plenty of room to debate the rough edges.

(1) Children's rights.

It is intellectually consistent, and even rationally defensible in some ways, to believe that children have no rights at all and are entirely subject to the whim of parents on whom they are dependent. Most of us (including me) would grant them more rights than that, and even more entitlements than basic food and shelter. Definitions of "abuse" can vary from beatings to brainwashing to circumcision. The point at which childhood protections and entitlements give way to adult freedom and respnsibility is a tough question. Are parents allowed to teach their children anything, profit from their labor, modify their bodies (genetically or otherwise), deny medicine? Do we have the right to create new sentient life forms however we want?

(2) Gender differences.

In earlier centuries it was taken for granted that men and women had their fixed places in society and family dictated by the culture they lived in; today it is taken for granted than men and women are equally capable of any role. Both positions are wrong. There are unquestionably differences in capability, temperament, inclination, and style--perhaps significant enough even to justify different rights and responsibilities--related to differences in biology, and it is important that we understand and properly deal with these to create the best future for all of us. Can we alter our approach to better attract women to Extropian ideas? Can we attack the root of the women's resistance to them? Is segregated dicussion useful and appropriate?

(3) Societal responsibility.

Where does one draw the lines where individual freedom unreasonably endangers society/environment? Tort law can cover a lot more than many people think, but it still can't cover everything. Do we have the right to restrict the freedom of someone who is insane (and how do we define that)? What level of risk to others can we allow an idividual to take--driving a car, piloting a plane, developing bioweapons in the basement?

(4) What is "harm" anyway?

Have I committed a crime if I psychologically abuse a spouse or child? Is a cult leader who manipulates his followers to give him money using persuasion or force? Is a religious leader/astrologer/ quack prosecutable for fraud? At what point (if any) does ridicule become slander/libel? At what point does advocacy of an action
(such as violent revolt) become a dangerous act itself?

(5) Intellectual property.

Do I have a right to exclude others from using my creations? Should the government help me exclude them? Do I own my genome? My likeness? My name?

(6) Privacy.

Do I have a right to expect others to refrain from collecting and distributing information about me? Even if I appear in public, or speak on a public forum? Can I reveal the contents of a private conversation without the consent of others involved, so long as it just the contents of my memory? Can I put recording devices in my home or on my body and use them without the consent of the recorded?

(7) Inclusiveness of the movement.

Are we willing to dilute our ideals to be more popular? Do we want two levels of discussion--a friendly public one and a more rigorous private one? We may not want to start a conversation with "I want to upload all our brains into a computer the size of a planet.", but we /do/ want to have that discussion somewhere. Do we downplay the dangers of technology at the risk of seeming disingenuous, or honestly confront them at the risk of scaring off the public?

If there are other recurring "tough questions" I have missed, let me know and I'll add them to my list. If you can point me to interesting discussions or essays on these topics elsewhere, I would be interested as well.
Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC