Re: Contributing to Society [was Re: Premature deaths [was: extropians-digest V7 #4]]

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Tue Jan 08 2002 - 00:06:57 MST

Robert J. Bradbury wrote:

> On Sun, 6 Jan 2002, Samantha Atkins wrote:
>>What rights one has to a place in society are not necessarily
>>dependent on whether one "contributes" to the society or not.
> Ok, lets for the sake of the discussion assume every human
> is granted the fundamental human rights outlined in the U.N.
> treaty on human rights. Lets assume one is also granted an equal
> right to an equivalent share of the energy and material resources on
> the Earth. So every human in their current form can survive
> and live a happy life.

As others have mentioned, if these rights are "fundamental" aka
"natural" then they are not ours to grant. But let's say we
acknowledge these rights.

A share of raw energy and matter is pointless. It would be more
reasonable to say that say, housing, education, clothing, food
and so on are givens as a citizen of the local sentient space
(although some sentients may not require all of these things).

> Problem #1: Each additional human born is going to be taking
> away from your "fair" share. Solutions: (a) accept the situation
> until your resources are depleted to the point where you can
> no longer survive; (b) enact a ban on reproduction (which I
> expect violates something in the U.N. treaty).

It is exceedingly unlikely that enough humans could exist in the
immediate area that the amount of energy/matter necessary to
feed the MNT could not be procured. I suggest we deal with that
situation in the unlikely event we run into it. There is no
reason that humans would desire to breed indefinitely at a
disasterous rate given that much opportunity to do other things
and given a local universe to expand into. So I think the
problem is more than a little contrived and contrived toward a
highly unlikely scenario. No ban or starvation is necessary.

> Problem #2: How do you allocate *future* resources that become
> available? If I invest my time, energy and capital and then
> go risk my neck to stake a claim on Ceres, making it my own
> personal island in the solar system, and then reproduction
> is allowed to continue until humanity reaches the carrying
> capacity of the solar system -- does "humanity" have the
> right to take Ceres from me and reallocate it to the people
> who sat on their lazy butts watching TV for the next century?

It is your scenario that created the problem. It is not mine.
I simply posited that an ahundant society is more than capable
of providing a reasonable standard of living for all of its
citizens as a baseline. What is possible and desirable and how
it is organized beyond that baseline is a different question
entirely that I did not address as it was not part of the
initial subject or response. I very seriously doubt in any
case that humans much as we know them today are going to be
around and inclined to make babies in the conventional way long
enough to "reach the carrying capacity of the solar system".
The place of private property in future expansion into space is
an interesting problem that has a great deal of complexity. Any
answer I gave right now would be pretty much irrelevant and
debatable to no good end.

> Its a fundamental question -- when do "fundamental" human rights
> trump property rights? One almost has to laugh at Fukuyama arguing
> for human "dignity" and preventing human cloning when 20 million
> people a year die of hunger and starvation. Or probably more
> who will die from HIV infections. Lets address the *real* problems.

It is not one I plan to answer right now. I am not at all sure
what we will even consider "property" versus "commons" 20 years
from now or for that matter in 5 years. Some problems that
could be cast as property rights problems might in fact be
meaningless in such terms. Now the deed to Ceres may or may not
be available to any particular individual exclusively.

But generally, human rights do not ever trump property rights to
the extent that "property" is applicable in a particular
situation and to the extent property rights derive from human

I agree on the importance of addressing real problems. Whole

>>Precisely what does "contributing" mean? In
>>whose judgment and by what criteria is this to be evaluated?
> That is why I raised the point. Evaluation of contributions
> seems likely to be quite subjective. Of course one could "vote"
> on contributions -- everyone gets 5 votes to cast any way they
> like (boy would we all become political then). Or we could
> setup a system where the votes are weighted by perceived
> contributions -- i.e. your votes count for more if you are
> perceived by your peers as contributing more.

So great, some bubbleheaded sex god or goddess gets the majority
of the votes and those smelly old brainiac nerds get almost none
at all. :) My point is that there can be no rational system of
determining life or death based on "contribution".

>>Can it be evaluated for instance by whether or not enough people
>>care enough for something one has or has produced or does to
>>offer to pay sufficiently for it for those payments to be
>>exchanged for the necessities and desires of the individual?
> I was thinking more along extropic lines -- one defines some
> system of evaluating the degree to which one contributed to
> complexification -- one could normalize say art and science
> so even though they are working in quite different directions,
> equivalent "contributions" were valued equally.

This obviously will not work. There is no objective way to judge
these things.

>>What of those who are outside of the current envelope of what
>>people find valuable enough to pay for?
> One would have to have a scheme that valued novelty as well.

If the scheme could capture the novelty then it would no longer
be novelty.

>>There are many intensely creative and brilliant souls out there who
>>cannot find anyone that will actually pay them for what they consider most
>>important to do. Should these be considered to be "not contributing"?
> Ah, now this is an interesting question. One would suppose that
> "humanity" wants "useful" stuff -- i.e. stuff that serves to
> uplift humanity over time (increasing productivity, providing
> greater entertainment, etc.). But we know of artists that never
> became "great" until well after they died.

But we know this assumption is actually false in practice. Most
humans want stuff that will please their immediate appetites and
give them some illusion of being more than they are to be
perfectly frank about it. In any case the majority are not fit
judges of the truly new and cutting edge.

> Being "paid" really isn't an issue -- everyone is in non-survival
> mode. If we assume everyone has uploaded, then what might happen
> is you get allocated time slices in the computronium matrix in
> relation to your "perceived" contribution. No contribution and
> your "mind" only gets to run once in a blue moon.

Now that would be incredibly stingy considering the unimaginably
vast resources available in such a space. Of course, if you are
basically a couch-potato with no subjective lapse in
consciousness watching the tube or whatever you probably
wouldn't know the difference. But why do this? Run the potato
at full speed and it might get over such a dull trip that much
faster and do something far more interesting. In any case, who
will say what the contribution is or allocate timeslices? What
is this allocating time-slices anyway when an almost limited
number of conscious and not processes will be runnable in
parallel? Why should some of those have the right to determine
that others run much slower? This would be the computronium
equivalent of imprisonment, of being shackled. It would
especially be unfair if one is actually in competition with
other entities not so shackled.

>>Or is the society actually likely to be much
>>richer when people have the "luxury" of picking what they are
>>most passionate at and pursuing that without their very survival
>>being at stake if they don't choose something they can charge
>>someone else a price for sharing?
> *Or* will society become stale and lethargic when people are no
> longer motivated by the needs of survival? (Remember -- you
> have the fundamental right to "exist" (as a human) -- whether
> you have a fundamental right to an "equal share" of the expanded
> resources and technologies in the solar system is what I'm trying
> to address here. (For example, I believe there is wording in
> U.N. treaties regarding "space" and "international waters" that
> suggests that every human is entitled to their "fair share" of
> these resources -- no matter who develops them.)

I don't know about you but I most definitely don't become
lethargic at all when I don't have to "make a living". You are
probably right about something I believe was called the "Space
Treaty" that had all kinds of plain wrong-headed notions in it.
  On the other hand I suspect that most of the true wastrels
will happily sell their rights to a piece of Europa or whatever
to the highest bidder without blinking an eye. Human rights does
not require equality of results. As long as skills, interests,
motivations and drive diverge, results will also diverge. I am
in no wise advocating a homogenous society. I am advocating one
with a lot more options and freedom to chart one's own course
than I believe is presently the case. And I am advocating that
no one starves or goes homeless or is cut off from the
information net or anything else considered basic. Beyond that
it is in the hands of skill and chance what happens to any
particular individual sentient.

>>As as been mentioned on this list
>>several times, that is only one of many ways a posthuman culture
>>might be organized and it is increasingly less likely, or at any
>>rate less necessary, as the society moves from one of assumed
>>scarcity to assumed abundance.
> Agreed. Perhaps what I didn't make clear was my interest
> in addressing the end-point conditions, rather than the
> transition conditions. The entire period of colonization
> of the Americas was a transition period -- you discovered/claimed
> and developed physical resources as you were able. Now that period
> is largely ended. One can view the world today as one where
> the non-expanding physical resources must be allocated to an
> expanding number of people. (I'm ignoring the fact that
> substitutions and technology development are currently
> masking the severity of the situation).

But I think you would agree that ignoring that makes a problem
or at least more of a problem than actually is present.
Especially at this time in history we are about to release the
genie that can chase physical scarcity off this world for quite
some time and allow us to transcend both this world and most
likely our fleshy conditionings if not flesh itself. So where
exactly is the problem? We are at the cusp of the greatest
transitional period of all time.

On the other hand, that is only apparent to those with a certain
amount of technological sophistication. And even for us, we
can't eat or wear MNT produced goods just yet. Right now there
are many appearances of scarcity and drain.

A dark thought I sometimes ponder is for how much longer we must
depend on unfair levels of inequality and unfair (not just
caused by merit or market) distributions of currently not
unlimited wealth, in order to amass the time, knowledge and
skills to overcome the limitations. Looked at historically, it
is obvious that concentrations of power and wealth have been
essential to progress. It is not at all clear when these
concentrations become less relevant to progress or if they do.
If these are indeed required then there will be in all
likelihood episodes of defending these concentrations against
those who have more or less justified gripes about having less.
   Can you actually tell them that it is so they or their
children will have many times more than you do today? It is
true imho but it smacks of pie in the sky and the old communist
call for sacrifice for the sake of State and the future.

>>If it is a truly abundant society with few space/resource constraints I
>>don't see that this is an issue as far as actualy physical drain
>>on the society goes.
> Perhaps some of the Europeans on the list might want to comment
> on the issue of the physical drain on society posed by "deadwood"...

Now, at this snapshot in time, there is an apparent drain. OK.

>>One answer to this is to not have so much (if any)
>>central authority.
> True, but what happens if the entire 50 billion people on Earth vote
> to take Ceres from me by "eminent domain"? No central authority
> but I still end up losing most likely.

How would they "vote" and have their vote enforced? By whom?
By a lot of individuals banding together to produce a space
armada to come and take it by force? Sure, that is possible.
And it is possible that you could make it difficult enough to do
so that they ultimately consider it not worth the cost. That is
what would occur in pure anarchy. With a few more legal
agreements in place you might have other recourse. Yes, you
still might lose. So?

>>Another answer is some form of competency
>>testing on voters and perhaps weighing of votes.
> Ah, well I see we may have reached similar conclusions.

<g> Yes. And some things should be off-limits and not subject
to a vote at all in a sane society (if such is possible).

>>Overall, I see no good reason why one's survival should be tied
>>to "contributing" to society in an extropian worldview. Such
>>criteria of "contributing" smacks of one's worth depending on
>>pleasing others. It goes against the grain.
> I agree that its unnecessary during the periods when we will
> be developing uses for very underutilized resources. Its
> a question primarily for periods when those resources are being
> substantially stretched -- like the Earth now (until we
> expand the technology envelope) or the solar system in
> a few hundred to a few thousand years.

Until then, Onward!

- samantha

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