Skeptics Take on the Extropian Concept

Fri, 27 Feb 1998 17:05:38 -0500

[ I wish to stress that this message's sole intent is
to make people reflect about the way certain aspects of
the Extropy Institute are operated. Its intent is not
to flame. After writing it I realized that it might invoke
strong reactions from some people. Its intent is to
represent constructive criticism. ]

I'm guessing that the the Skeptic's Dictionary won't hold
the Extropy Institute ("ExI") in too favorable a light.
Whether that treatment will be deserved is another matter
altogether. I admit I do not completely agree with (or maybe
I just do not understand) some of the thinking I see at ExI.
Extropy is a nice synonym for self-improvement with the added
kicker of transhumanism as an ultimate objective, but I don't
see what all the fuss is over the concept? Esfandiary should
probably be credited with whole concept. What substance is
the act of coining a term for a concept that someone else

Don't get me wrong, coining terms is great idea since it can
help to improve commmunication. Take a concept that would
otherwise take a sentence or two to trigger the reader's
mind and encapsulate it in a word. But I see a lot of people
patting themselves on the back for simply coining a term.

Extropian art? I've just do not get it. What is the
significance of art by people who actively strive for
transhumanism. I am not saying it has no significance. But
how significant is it in the grand scheme of things? Granted,
it may have some peripheral value. But does such a concept
warrant the allocation of resources it has been afforded?
Aren't there other activities these funds and efforts could
be directed towards to further the ideas of extropy? Exempli
gratia, subsidize publication efforts, produce more information
on the Extropy site, etc. I enjoyed my visit to the art site
but could help but wonder what other ways the time and effort
expended to create and maintain that site could have been more
effectively utilized.

Extropa-groups (or whatever the living communities are called).
My wife and my children as a unit, we strive for self-improvement.
We actively seek to prepare ourselves for the future. But we
do not feel the need to use embody our "community" with a term
to illustrate this. What point does calling a group "extropa-
something" serve? More on this below.

Sex and fashion. I visited the site (which I
must profess looked more like an excuse to lock up a site name
than a substantive information resource). These two subjects
were major subject areas. I just do not see the relevance of
even addressing sex or fashion in the same context with
discussions about nanotechnology, AI, uploading, Singularities,
etc. Like art, maybe these subjects have some peripheral value,
but elevating their status makes me wonder whether its a vision
of the future thats trying to be emphasized or just an iteration
of alternative subculture (such as goth, cyberpunk, etc.)

New ways of thinking are very vulnerable to being viewed as
cultish nonsense. Nonsense in the vein that people seize ideas
that resemble salvation from present circumstances. Designated
groups, name changing, questionable commitment to the real issues,
it sounds like a cult more than an intellectual critique of the
future (and more importantly how we can get there while also
performing the trick of survival). Drexler himself said that
if you do not want to imperil funding sources for the various
technical people who will be needed to make the breakthroughs
that would harbor the future we speculate about here then:

"please keep the level of cultishness and bullshit down"

Doug Bailey