Re: The Politics of Transhumanism

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Fri Jan 18 2002 - 01:04:38 MST

Anders Sandberg wrote:

> On Tue, Jan 15, 2002 at 11:25:58AM -0500, Smigrodzki, Rafal wrote:

> Actually, I think the idea of technology being the central meme
> is horribly wrong, and if we present ourselves based on *that*
> we will lose much.
> As Mark Walker pointed out, technological transformation is
> really just one part of a triad of ideas
> ( : "1. The Technology
> Thesis: Within a hundred years humanity will possess the
> technology to reengineer Homo sapiens. 2. The Ideal Thesis: The
> goal in the reengineering task is to perfect ourselves. 3. The
> Ethical Thesis: We ought to employ technology to realize this
> ideal."). The technology part is just a means to an end, and if
> you leave out this end transhumanism becomes arbitrary. It
> cannot be a motivator for anything else than promoting cool
> toys. Transhumanism is commonly criticized as being mere
> technophilia, and seeing the core of transhumanism as technology
> reinforces this. There is nothing wrong with liking technology,
> but aren't we aiming higher than that? Saying that tech can
> change us doesn't say what changes are desirable or not.

Yes and well stated. Which is part of why I keep asking
annoying questions like:
how do we want to change?
why do we want to, why is it important?
how many of us get to participate in this and on what basis?
what kind of world do we want to create for ourselves?

The tech by itself will not provide most of the really
interesting answers.

> The central meme of socialism isn't government control, the
> central meme of libertarianism isn't free markets. They are just
> means to ends (equality and liberty, among others).
> I think the concept "the central meme of transhumanism" ought to
> be staked through the heart and buried behind an event horizon -
> it is too dangerous and seductive through its apparent
> simplicity, catchiness and ecumenism. :-)

Sounds good.

> I can, given my view that transhumanism is indeed based in
> humanism, firmly say that a nazi post (even when dealing with
> the subject) in a transhumanist forum is wrong in the same way:
> nazism is fundamentally incompatible with transhumanism.

Well, one could ask exactly what you define humanism as that
excludes Nazis so automatically. More interestingly, it would
be worthwhile to see how much of the "baggage" of humanism
really seems all that desirable or reasonable given the
possibility of radical transformation of humans and/or their
eventual overshadowing by non-human sentients.

>>Same with an ecumenical
>>transhumanist organization devoted to the furtherance of human enhancement
>>technologies - you agree to disagree on a lot of issues (like Rifkinites and
>>the church when talking about reproductive medicine) but you work together
>>on things you can agree on. If somebody's views are beyond the pale, you do
>>not argue - you exclude them by fiat.
> This is a great example on why core values are important. If you
> were sitting in the same organization as Rifkin and the Church
> and only trying to base your decisions on the view that humans
> can technologically enhance themselves, you would never have any
> arguments in favor of doing this other than some practical
> benefits, and they would always have firm arguments why it was
> unethical.

Actually, they don't have firm arguments why it is unethical,
only very strident ones. If X improves life and one's ability
to enjoy it and it harms no one then what ethical argument can
there be against X? Perhaps the argument that those that do not
do X will be at a competitive disadvantage in certain respects,
Y? Then you need a way to deal with this argument, perhaps by
making it so that those who do X are a net benefit even to those
who do not. Or perhaps simply by pointing out that there are
many types of X that give a competitive advantage that it would
be silly and pernicious to make illegal simply because of that.

>>Second, and I think this is a more severe problem, is that trying to
>>appeal to a lot of people by having more diluted values or ideology will
>>mean that you get more people importing their own favorite ideologies
>>into the movement and more people who don't get understand whatever
>>central values there are and are more into it for the community or
>>### You can always have a restricted-entry organization for the special
>>people, and a free-entry club for the proles. The two together can achieve
>>more, without spoiling the experience for anybody (at least initially).
> Inner and Outer circles seldom work, since they tend to get out
> of sync (as well as the usual sociopsychological problems of
> in-groups and out-groups, power struggles and "my conspiracy is
> better than yours"). The "elite" may have the core values and
> ideology, but without them the other organisation will start
> drifting ideologically on its own.

True but they actually have existed in most movements and
religions throughout recorded history and they generally work
quite well. Since people are very different from one another in
  intelligence, dedication to a cause, understanding of the
central aspects of that cause, what they are in it for
personally and so on - it makes quite a bit of sense that
various subgroups including more general outer groups versus
more inner-circle ones will emerge.

The vast majority of any movement are followers basically rather
than originators, planners and main motivators. I don't think
transhumanism will be any different. I don't see how it can be
until after much transformative technology is already widely in
use, if then.

> A good example is the swedish liberal party Folkpartiet. When
> asked, their chief ideologist gave us quite transhumanist and
> libertarian answers to a number of questions. At the same time,
> the politicians of the party have been protecting liberty by
> supporting bans on behaviors that may be dangerous (like going
> by car without seatbelt, harsh rules against drug use and
> prostitution), more regulation of the markets in the interests
> of equality and freedom (including the state monopoly on alcohol
> sales), and supported many very restrictive laws on research in
> genetics. There is a total discrepancy between the "inner party"
> and the "outer party" that actually does the political work.
> This is what not taking ideology seriously leads to.

Actually, this is generally what each level taking things
seriously leads to as not all levels will have the same vision
or consider the same things important. This is one of the
trickiest things about any mass organization.

> Actually, many of the ideas that were discussed were hardly
> low-lying fruits: transhumanist architecture, utility fogs, idea
> futures, reputation systems etc.
> And there is plenty of important stuff this side of the
> singularity: how to shape societies, economies, institutions,
> legal systems and careers to handle the predicted dynamic high
> tech society? How to handle the problem of destruction from
> replicating technology? What ethical, aesthetic and cultural
> principles to promote in order to produce a transhumanist
> society? How would a transhumanist society even work? - these
> questions have hardly been developed, new data is arriving daily
> and they ought to be high priority for all of us.

Hear, Hear.

>>Third, what use are the masses?
>>### Demonstrations, marches, security, letter-writing. Don't underestimate
>>the value of a bunch of stalwart believers, even if their thinking is not as
>>fine as their leadership's.
> Having a lot of people supporting you is good if your ideas are
> regarded as part of the serious discussion. That don't happen
> because you have many supporters, but rather because your ideas
> are shown to be relevant to current policies, have a cultural
> and ideological impact and convince key people. *Then* the big
> campaigns might be truly useful, but before that it is a blunt
> weapon. Most elites regard million man marches as more relevant
> in that they show that somebody has organisational ability than
> in that there are a lot of people out there.

Unfortunately, in most modern democracies, you are heard largely
on the basis of the size of your group and the size of the
group's resources rather than on the relevance or insight of
your ideas.

>> But I question
>>the point in having a million members in WTA or ExI if their membership
>>doesn't *mean* anything. A far more successful strategy is to create a
>>real world view (and a world-view is far more than a view of
>>technology!), make the intellectuals and cultural leaders recognize it
>>and then watch the mainstream move in your direction. It has worked
>>well in the past.
>>### Why not take both roads?
> I want to invest effort rationally. They payoff in the
> intellectual sphere is far greater than in the mainstream
> sphere. If I can convince one intellectual (in Hayek's sense of
> the group of people in society that process and spread ideas),
> then he will go on convincing other intellectuals and spreading
> the idea to the masses. Intellectuals certainly listen to the
> masses and do pick up ideas, but usually the memeflow is in the
> other direction. This means that the same effort in spreading an
> idea is likely to produce a far greater (and faster replicating)
> return if I concentrate on the cultural leaders.

I think it is increasingly evident that it is not intellectuals
per se who shape mass ideas and political decisions much of the
time today. They have been supplanted by less refined
manipulators of pressure groups and public opinion. By far the
vast majority of people are not swayed by intellectual arguments
alone. You need to capture their hearts and their guts (if you
will) as well as their mind. Intellectuals are not generally
that good at that. History is full of intellectually started
movements that eventually became mainstream but were twisted
into something far different than the intellectuals attempted.
Often those same intellectuals were the first victims of their
"success". I also don't think we have the time now to wage a
relatively slow intellectual/teaching type of campaign.

Many of the cultural leaders are not idealists. Many are
pragmatic individuals bought by various pressure groups and
interests. At the least in most developed nations you will face
an uphill battle against established interests, many of whom
have strong conflicts with a transhumanist worldview and its

> Ouch, I dislike talking about the "masses". Makes me sound like
> a technocrat. I *love* talking to random people! But to have
> maximal cultural impact you have to talk to the right people.

Well, we do have to talk about the "masses" and it is important
that transhumanism have appeal for them. It is also important
to recognize that the vast majority of human beings will not
understand what you are on about at all unless you break out
very concrete benefits/liabilities that come from it or from
forbidding it. Without that we will never succeed in creating a
mass movement. An alternative is to sell the intellectuals on
the full goals and the masses primarily on the necessary amount
of freedom to keep the Singularity humming right along rather
than trying to sell them some of the most interesting
possibilities and results outright. I think there is a place
for both.

- samantha

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