Premature deaths [was: extropians-digest V7 #4]

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sun Jan 06 2002 - 12:21:39 MST

On Sun, 6 Jan 2002, Tom Andrys wrote:

Tom cited Dossy quoting John, then didn't correctly attribute my
following comment (perhaps no fault of Tom's since this may be
a fault of the "digesting" process):

> > John -- can you make the case that you equally distribute your
> > energies on a *per* death basis for each premature cause of death
> > that occurs in the U.S. (or the world)?

Then Tom continued:

> Dossy, I think that Mr. Clark was more focused on the /reason/ the victems
> died. In this instance, some 3000 people died, yes. But the reason they died
> is completely different from your list of statistics- intention. Bin Laden
> *wanted* those people to do, whereas if somone died in an auto wreck, that is
> O.K. because there was no intention. ... [snip] ...
> If we take the Bin Laden case, its obvious we have a clear enemy whose fault
> it is, thus designating the distinction.

I think John made some comments similar to this either offlist to me
or to the list.

I'm going to stick a pin in the balloon.

What is the bottom line? People are prematurely dead.
People will not get to have their lives extended. People
will not get to experience the singularity. People will not
get to live in the era where one does not have to *struggle*
for survival (at least we hope). People will not get to live
in the time where the greatest challenge one faces is what to
do with thousands of years of time in which one can explore many
subjects, quite deeply, and become acknowledged as a renaissance
person. In short they have lost a huge opportunity.

(I am assuming here that recovery or simulation technologies
can never recreate the "real thing" using a significantly
compressed information database.)

Now, from an extropic perspective, I would argue we should seek
the "greatest good" -- the survival of the most individuals.
(One could also argue that one wants to promote the survival of
the "best" or most creative individuals -- but that gets into
some *extremely* subjective subject areas and potentially even
eugenics so I'm not going to go there.)

I'll simply state for the purposes of this discussion that "more"
individuals are better than "fewer" individuals because it increases
complexity and that is extropian. (Those of you reading this may
note some subtle frictions between extropianism and transhumanism
when considering whether trans- or post-humanism at least along some
paths is likely to generate the greatest complexity (extropicness),
i.e. you could have two "post-human" situations, equally "complex",
one of which involves a large number of individuals and one of which
involves a single meta-mind.

So, from a rational standpoint (given the above premises) the goal
should be to minimize premature death. We all have finite resources
(time, money, etc.). So the question becomes how to maximize
the minimization of premature death given our limited resources.


Sure -- it is true -- we perceive actions by individuals that
cause deaths (proactive deathists) as more heinous than a lack
of action that causes deaths (passive deathists) which are
worse than "natural" deaths (the underlying natural hazard
function -- ranging from heart disease & cancer to earthquakes
and asteroid impacts). *But*, feeling my ears grow into sharpened
points, *is* that logical?

Are not these distinctions "artificial"? Aren't they driven
by genetic programming in humans? {e.g. Identify your enemies
and eliminate them before they eliminate you. From a reductionist
perspective (and those of you with narrow minds can nail me to
the cross, I'll willingly lie down on it) the males are attempting
to identify and eliminate the next Alpha male and the females are
attempting to eliminate those who would compete for access to
"their" Alpha male. Bearing in mind that our society is complex
enough that the entire concept of "Alpha" male is quite subjective.}

Taking the discussion back to a forum most of us are familiar with
(Star Trek) -- we must ask whether the Klingon philosophy has
merit. Is there ever a day when perhaps "it IS a good day to die"?

If the answer is yes, then we cannot fault recent attempts
at creating "good days to die" (other than to object to the fact
that "we" (Westerners) were the ones dying. If the answer is no, then
we have to make the case that living and surviving is of much greater
value than (a) the "stories" of ones life (e.g. the Klingon perspective)
or (b) what one has contributed during ones life (a somewhat human
perspective considering contributions of Einstein, Feynman, Darwin,
etc.) [I think this translates into the concept that after one
ceases to make "significant" contributions, ones life is devalued.]
{ Side-bar: This may be a quite interesting concept as it involves
the concept of the depreciation of human lives. I know some (the
humanist gaggle) might object to this but from an extropian perspective
it may have merit -- if you aren't "contributing" to the society
what rights do you have to "occupy" a place in it. }
(You know -- survival of the fittest and all that...)

Returning to the issue -- how does one prevent premature deaths
at the lowest cost? I am asserting that *IT DOES NOT MATTER*
what caused those deaths. What matters is the relative costs
of reducing such deaths. Taking an alternate position means
one must argue the relative "acceptability" of deaths. E.g. *These*
deaths are bad and should be prevented while *those* deaths, well,
they are not so important and we will choose to ignore them.

So to maximize the extropic vector, extropians should be asking
the question "How do I save the most lives at the lowest cost?".
(Or alternatively, stepping deeply into the swamp, make the
case that some lives are more valuable than others -- and
suggest policies that promote saving those "specific" lives.)

I will go on record here (and probably be crucified for it)
that I do believe that some lives are inherently more valuable
than others. There *are* some lives that *will* save more lives
than they destroy (e.g. Winston Churchill vs. Josef Stalin).
But I also question whether it is possible to identify the lives
with greatest value in advance with sufficient certainty to be
"picking" them. So one is rolling dice when one attempts to
follow this path.

But, *if* one can come up with reasonable statistical measures
that suggest that some political paths or leaders will save more lives
than they eliminate -- then I would argue that in such situations
that militant actions, even terrorism, in support of such paths
are potentially justified.

In response to my arguments that early on, American revolutionaries
were "terrorists", some have claimed that they only assaulted
(in relative terms) "military" targets. In response, particularly
to those arguing the fine points of the Geneva Convention, I must
propose -- if one feels one will never "triumph" without taking
the "pain & suffering" to the general population opposing your
position -- is not the use of such tactics justified?

Barbara Steisand, in Yentl, sang a song "Papa, can you hear me?".

It would appear to me that this question is one that must be answered
definitively in the west -- we must answer both those people currently
disenfranchised as well as those who might someday be (from the Fukuyama
posthumanist perspective).

It seems necessary that we remain aware of the need to maintain
a dialog. Once people have concluded "they are not heard", it is but
a small step to ignore any "civilized" protocols as to how "conversations"
should be conducted.

With regard to the prevention of premature deaths it becomes a
question of whether listening (and responding) is less costly
(from an extropic perspctive of preventing premature deaths)
than proceeding on our along previous paths that assumed we were
relatively secure. Another way of looking at this is -- will
each $ spent on "Homeland Security" save more or less lives
than each $ given to the NIH (or the DoD, or the NSF, etc.).
(The same discussion applies to other countries as well.)

How *do* you save the most lives at the lowest cost?


(I know some reading this post may find it stretching into a
number of different areas (byegones), please keep the subject
title for the central topics -- premature death prevention or
equivalence of premature deaths -- if you want to comment
on some of my divergences a different subject title may
be appropriate).

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