Re: sentient rights (was RE: Battleground God)

Date: Thu Feb 21 2002 - 17:34:52 MST

Anders writes:
> The principles do not seem to be enough to constrain an ethical system;
> they do not form a set of ethical axioms or constrain the basis for
> extropian ethics. They certainly have ethical content, but this content
> deals more with desirability of different things than the core
> "mechanics" of an ethical system.

But doesn't Extropianism give us a handle by which to judge the
desirability of different world outcomes? And doesn't this, in itself,
constitute an ethical framework?

It is true that it does tell us how to get there. Even if we agree that
extropy is a desirable goal, we may not agree about what are the best
practical decisions on a day to day basis.

> Personally I would say that this is not a flaw. Extropianism rather
> inherits the ethical underpinnings of its parent philosophies of
> libertarianism and humanism (a kind of philosophical object
> inheritance); it is compatible with most versions of them, and does not
> as expressed in the principles have to redo all the immense work that
> has been done on expressing ethics and politics elsewhere. It is a bit
> like how Robert Nozick simply starts _Anarchy, State, Utopia_ by simply
> assuming certain rights - the book is not about deriving them, it is
> what conclusions can be made *after* they have been derived.

I am not so comfortable thinking that we can graft conventional
libertarianism onto Extropianism, or that we can start with libertarian
ethics as a foundation for our Extropian ethical system. Haven't Max
and others attempted to distance themselves from a strict libertarianism
in order to open the movement to a wider range of political philosophies?

Even in the early days of this list, when most contributors were staunch
Libertarians, we explored outside the libertarian box. We talked about
private law systems where communists who shared everything could live
and work side by side with capitalists who paid a fine for breathing
the other guy's air. We looked at forms of anarchy which were well
beyond the libertarian mainstream. All this was an attempt to further
Extropian goals of self transformation and expansion by giving people
maximum freedom to experiment with interpersonal relations and agreements.

> One can try combining different ethical theories with extropianism and
> see what happens. I would say that utilitarianism and extropianism are
> not a very successful combination; such an extropian utilitarianism
> would either have to be based on maximizing extropy or have to show that
> increasing personal extropy and increasing utility are identical. In any
> case it would tend to run over indiviuals in the pursuit of
> maximization, and it seems hard to combine with the self organization
> principle in the old version of the principles. A rights based form of
> extropianism seems far more consistent, although we still have to find a
> derivation of rights that convinces.

One of the big question marks in the Principles which we did not explore
much is whether they should be seen as collective or individual. When we
seek to maximize extropy, as defined by the Principles, are we trying
to do so each of us individually for ourselves, or for society and the
world as a whole? Is my goal a world with maximal extropy, or is it a
world in which I personally have maximized my potentials? I don't see
the Principles as giving a clear guideline for answering this question.

This is perhaps the most fundamental ethical question we face. It is
the difference between being generous and being selfish; between being
trustworthy and being a cheat; between being honest and lying for self
benefit. If I can benefit myself by harming another, without getting
caught, should I do so? It arguably maximizes my own potentials for
extropy, but also arguably reduces the net extropy for the two of us.

Although Extropianism is often seen as an individualistic philosophy, I
think most of us would agree that from the ethical perspective, we care
about more than our own personal benefit. We want to see a world where
the potentials promoted by Extropianism are available to as many people
as possible. I don't know if many of us would go so far as to say that
we would sacrifice ourselves if it increased the net extropy of the world,
but we are far from being dedicated only to our own selfish goals.

Of course in many cases these two extremes do not actually lead to
different strategies for day to day life. Often we can do good by
doing well. We behave in a trustworthy and honest and unselfish way,
and in the long run we benefit directly and personally by these actions.
So to some extent we can get away with ignoring the issue.

But then for each of us there will come times when we are tested and
tempted. You find someone's wallet with money in it; you are carrying a
load of trash to the dump and find a secluded spot where you could toss
it for free; you are offered to join an Internet pyramid scheme which
will inevitably leave the latecomers with severe losses. Then you have
to decide whether your ethical system is just about you, or about the
world as a whole.


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