PHIL: The extropian principles
Fri, 5 Mar 1999 08:10:15 EST

I'm glad my criticism of the definition of extropianism has launched a debate on the philosophical underpinnings of the movement.

Here are my answer to Max More's rebuttals of my previous post (I yield in point 7, for those who want to know):

  1. When I mentioned extropianism's "rejection" of libertarianism, I did not seek to imply that libertarianism had been declared to be incompatible with extropianism, but was merely acknowledging the fact that it had been rejected as an intrinsic component of the philosophy and is now on an equal footing with statist philosophies that advocate the initiation of force by the government.
  2. I do not perceive any contradiction between (1) my minarchism; (2) my complete agreement with Anthony Garcia's position that extropianism should remain anarcho-capitalist. I would be contradicting myself only if I considered myself both a minarchist and an extropian-as-defined-by-Garcia, since I would thereby be claiming to be both in favour of the minimal state and of no state. But I am merely a minarchist, and I feel extropianism (with which I do not fully identify anyway) has been betrayed by the recent inclusion of statists who favour government subsidies to scientific research and compulsory genetic engineering.

Max More's argument is that "if Anthony Garcia had his way, *you*, Mr. Virey, would not count as an extropian." Well I don't care! I'm much more concerned with the term "extropian" actually meaning something than with fitting the label. For the moment, noone *is* an extropian, as the concept is not valid. My point was merely that I am in full agreement with Anthony's principled position, and feel completely disgusted (as he does) by the complete political indeterminacy (i.e. lack of principles) of the new extropianism. In other words: I prefer an extropianism I can have honest disagreements with than one with which noone can disagree.

3) Max More's answer to my post finally revealed to me what is wrong with the extropian mindset as he defines it: extropianism is afraid to stand for anything definite, because it perceives any such stand as "narrow dogmatism". I suspect that the rampant tolerationism and subjectivism of the movement explain the espousal of such an epistemology as "pancritical rationalism", rather than the other way round. The most blatant admission of the tolerationist-inspired fear of clear, logical thinking is to be found in Max's own admission: "I've been considering a more systematic and hierarchical derivation of the current principles from fewer underlying ideas. However, I feel much reluctance to heading in that direction, since it lends itself to monistic and dogmatic system building." I am beginning to understand why such balderdash as Robert Anton Wilson's "Prometheus Rising" is still in the extropian top ten books: a book that advises people to blow up their "reality tunnels" by smoking marijuana *cannot* generate the kind of carefully derived, logical system of thought which Max accuses of inherent dogmatism.

4) I resent the implications of the proposition "since you seem to like logic". I do not "like" logic. I consider it the sine qua non of valid thought. As for Max's assertion that extropians in general are great respecters of logic, my own reference to "those who consider logic a tyrannical imposition on their minds" was based on a recent post by Joe Dees, perhaps the person I dislike most on this list (I merely said I knew "some members" of the list who thought that way. Therefore I can't be accused of undue generalization. I could have been had I said "most (or all) of the members of the list" were that way.) By the way: how can contempt for those who thus reject logic be "misguided"?

5) To my question, "If I classify the books in my library by colour, I have increased the order of a system, which makes my act "good" by extropian standards", Max answers, "No. Your act increases extropy only if the resulting order is useful to you in ways that improve your life." Aha! So the enumeration of "components" of extropy (information, intelligence, order, vitality, etc.) is only a list of *derivative* or instrumental values, whose actual status as values depends on whether they serve a more fundamental one:
"the improvement of one's life" (life as the root of value? That vaguely
reminds me of something.) Why don't the principles say so? And isn't there a contradiction in holding that (1) "extropy is only to be maximized when it improves your life" and (2) that "the essence of extropian thinking is a set of general values and attitudes, not a set of required beliefs about means" (since maximizing extropy itself has become a means)?

6) Max states that my "intention is to attack, not to be constructive." My intention was to attempt a reductio ad absurdum of the definition of extropianism, which I believe to be invalid. I have had a love/hate relationship with extropianism for about a decade. This means that there are elements in extropianism I find excellent, and others I find utterly repellent. Without the former, I wouldn't even bother to criticize the philosophy. It is precisely the mixture of the two that I find depressing. Since the very beginning, I've tried to develop a kind of rational version of extropianism (read: "dogmatic"), one that would be immunized against the likes of R.A. Wilson or F.M. Esfandiary, one in which no extropian would ever proudly claim that "reason is without foundation" or that intellectual systems and clear-cut ideas are inherently narrow and dogmatic. The problem is that I could find no core in extropianism that would enable me to reject the more offensive accretions as "anti-extropian", as I tried to show in my previous post (just as Anthony Garcia won't be able to find any principle enabling him to reject compulsory genetic engineering as "anti-extropian"). So my intent was indeed destructive: I tried to destroy whatever could enable allegedly rational people to put Wilson and Esfandiary on a pedestal, while dismissing Rand as a second-rate, dogmatic thinker.

Max refuses to discuss the examples I chose because he finds them "silly". But their silliness was dictated precisely by the form of my argument: a reductio ad absurdum. I don't think he managed to prove that those silly examples (whose force lies in their silliness) did not flow from his own definition of extropianism.

7) I think Max's most fundamental argument is his rejection of my integration of the three definitions that open the Principles. I have just reread the three definitions and I do realize I have made a mistake in my integration, treating the definition of extropianism as "the philosophy of the extropians" instead of "the philosophy of extropy". Mea culpa: Max is completely right in saying that "The definition of "extropy" contains no reference to "whatever set of ideas is currently
held by..." any set of people". He is also right in saying that I was not thinking carefully at this point. But this only dissolves a secondary part of my argument.

"Extropianism" is still the philosophy that seeks to maximize extropy, and
"extropy" is still an invalid concept- one which does not refer to a definite
set of existents.
My question is: what enables you to lump together
"intelligence, information, order, vitality, and capacity for improvement"?
What do these concepts have in common- i.e. where does their "extropiness" lie? Would I be asking for too much if I insisted on a valid definition comprised of a genus and a differentia, and including no more and no less than the existents it is supposed to include? (I suppose some will find such aristotelian correctness a dogmatic imposition on free extropian minds.)

And please also answer this question: if (1) extropianism seeks to increase
"extropy", (2) extropy means "the extent of a system's intelligence,
information, order, vitality, and capacity for improvement", then "extropy" is extropianism's *basic value*. So where do you get the standard that enables you to decide which type of "order" (or "extropy") ought to be maximized in particular circumstances? You do need such a standard when you assert that
"Extropian thinking does not value just any kind of order in any situation."

8) Regarding my point on "self-transformation into a toad" and "More dumbness", I was merely pointing out that "self-transformation" and "increase" or "maximization" cannot be values in themselves until one has determined the end of the transformation or the attribute to be maximized. For a very similar point, see Rand's article on "Extremism or the art of smearing". I am sorry the "More dumbness" example was interpreted as an insult. It was provocative and definitely irreverent, but I didn't mean it as an insult.


Jean-Francois Virey.