Re: Are enhancements really at risk?

GBurch1 (
Sat, 28 Feb 1998 09:01:03 EST

In a message dated 98-02-22 20:12:31 EST, Damien Sullivan wrote:

> What's the evidence that enhancements are likely to be suppressed? Many
> people seem to assume that anything useful but weird will be attacked
> and banned. They're probably right on the attack, but banned?
> Possibly, but can it be said to be certain. [snip] My point,
> if it isn't clear by now, is that I see no reason to assume that
> economically useful and fairly safe enhancements will be banned.
> It violates sense, and has little precedent. New but useful
> technologies have survived; banned things are in the large genuinely
> dangerous, for all that I feel individuals should be allowed to take
> their own risks.

Perhaps my geographic location near the buckle of the Bible Belt informs my
view too much, but I see real threats to the developments of enhancements. I
often experience a sense of dread when I contrast the world-views of my
friends living on the West Coast or northern Europe, almost completely
surrounded by a social circle of skeptical, scientifically-minded people, with
the expressions of opinion I see as the near-universal cultural milieu
elsewhere in the world. Transhumans are a tiny minority among scientific
humanists, who themselves comprise a tiny minority of the human race. Of
course scientific humanism has had an impact on the world out of all
proportion to the numbers of people who have really grasped the scientific
revolution and have internalized its values, but the I FEEL that the
possibility is very real that all we have achieved in the last 500 years
stands threatened to be inundated by the ocean of irrational superstition and
primitive values governing the minds of the billions of humans who make up the
vast majority of the human race.

What evidence of this is there, you ask, Damien? The current ban on human
cloning is only the most recent. Galileo's suppression by the Inquisition is
perhaps the most famous. In between there are many, many more examples. You
argue that the self-evident economic benefit of real enhancements will
overcome the ideological opposition that is only now forming as the great mass
of people come dimly to be aware of the possibility of radically transforming
the human condition. And of course Galileo's work was not suppressed for
long. By expressing the new knowledge in terms more palatable to the current
world view, pioneers have insinuated their revolutionary insights into the
mainstream to slowly subvert old ways.

But the very realization of the truly fundamental change that lies just ahead
that has given birth to a uniquely transhuman or extropian world-view will
eventually dawn in the minds of the majority. When it does, we shouldn't
expect a grudging accommodation. Get too close to the core and you provoke
coercion and violence. People with too deep a stake in the old order react
very badly indeed to unavoidable challenges to that order: They bomb abortion
clinics (in contemporary America) and pass laws against the free formation of
capital (in late feudal Europe); they invoke the mandate of god against
contraception (in Latin America today) and send writers of seditious
literature to the gulag (in Soviet Russia); and they do ban the use of
threatening technologies (the Ming prohibition on construction of deep-water
vessels; the Japanese cultural prohibition on firearms technology following
the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate). Occasionally, they launch wars
of annihilation against their memetic adversaries (jihads and crusades).

At some point in the not-too-distant future, the ideas we have been discussing
here for the last few years will become known to the larger world. People
like Eric Drexler and Max More and Damien Broderick and Ed Regis are doing
their best to see that that happens, for better or worse. (For better, I
happen to think.) The idea of creation of "post-biological man" (as the term
was uttered in hushed tones in _Virtual Obsession_) will become a commonplace
in popular culture. When that happens, buckle your seat belt, for a I fear we
are in for a bumpy ride, at least, and probably some severe turbulence. Let
us hope that it is no worse than that.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover