Re: The Politics of Transhumanism

From: S.J. Van Sickle (
Date: Mon Jan 14 2002 - 21:02:42 MST

On Tue, 15 Jan 2002, Damien Broderick wrote:

> I've never read them, but I gather that sf writer Stephen Stirling's
> of novel about South African Nazi racist supermen, the Draka, does
> something like this. And one of Jerry Pournelle's spin-off series
> glorifying combat apparently has the gene-engineered Sauron supermen who
> luckily get defeated by the brave free normals (yeah, right). If
> read these books, it might be interesting to hear how they fit into this
> discussion.

I've not read Pournelle's, but I have read Steve Stirling's (a guilty
pleasure of mine).

The first and second books take place in this alternate world's version of
WWII and its aftermath. The third and fourth books actually deal somewhat
seriously with some of the themes of transhumanism. By the third book,
the Draka have have conquered half the world, and remade it in their
image...a world in which the chattel slavery of the American South
embraces the industrial revolution; imagine Henry Ford able to buy his
workers on the auction block rather than having to pay them ever
escalating wages.

The Draka elite actually realize that they have painted themselves into a
corner. Their model of society, while workable (barely) in a growing
heavy industrial society, cannot in the long run compete with with the
growing information economy of the West. They must conquer the rest of
the world, while they still retain the capacity. Furthermore, they
realize that they will always be threatened by their own slaves, and
politically divide into two factions over this. One faction favors (after
the conquest allows them the luxury) a gradual liberalization, granting
more freedom to the slave class over time. The other, whose work has
already begun with the birth of the first of the New Race, favor
genetically engineering the Master Race, and just as importantly the
engineering of a slave race designed to be dominated and like it. They
hate and fear the liberals, and the liberals fear the the human race will
be engineered into termites.

It is an interesting depiction of essentially *choosing*, for non-rational
ideological reasons, the sort of society you want, and then going about
engineering people to fit that preconception. I suppose the commies would
create Socialist Man, and the Nazi's something like the Draka. What sort
of people would libertarians create?

No brave free normals defeat the Draka; they win.

The fourth book is set about 400 years later (and on present day Earth,
our own alternate timeline), and depicts the engineered Final Society, as
well as the technologically advanced decendants of the the handful to
escape the conquest of the Earth in the first starship. The Draka focus on
biological technology, the Samothracians on computer technology and eschew
biotech (at least the permanent kind the Draka have). There is handwaving
about how strong AI is impossible and how Moore's law plateus early to
keep the characters recognisably human. There also are limits to the
genetic engineering of the Draka...a sort of Campbellian trade-off between
agressive domination and creativity.

In the interstellar cold war, the Samothracian's face an interesting
dilemma: suppose they did eventually defeat the Draka...what do they do
with the slaves? They are breed to be docile and obedient, but not
stupid. They would just go about recreating their old masters, but how
can you justify exterminating them (the Samothracians are suppose to be
the good guys, after all).

Not the greatest books in the world, and many have trouble suspending
disbelief (the Draka seem to get *all* the breaks, and the tech advances a
bit faster than believable so the Final War can take place at the close of
the Millenium), but an interesting challange to the notion that the good
guys always win, and a warning that the future can still turn out to be "a
boot stomping on a human face, forever"...particularly when techology can
be used to change the game completely.

steve van sickle

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Nov 01 2002 - 13:37:34 MST