Re: memetic war
Sun, 18 Apr 1999 08:59:09 EDT

In a message dated 99-04-18 03:38:41 EDT, Lyle Burkhead wrote:

> Michael Lorrey wrote,
> > a person on the bleeding edge will be far more likely to consider
> > primitive humans to be included in their perception of 'humanity'
> > than a primitive human is to consider the transhuman being
> > to be 'human', simply because the individual primitive's
> > slope of perception is much less steep than that of a transhuman.
> You may be right. If so, it would be prudent not to call yourself a
> "transhuman." That's just asking for trouble. I don't want to be part of
> God's Chosen Transhumanity, or the Transhuman Master Race (which are two
> sides of the same coin), I just want to be a ridiculously healthy
> bodybuilder. I don't think primitive humans will have a problem with that.

I agree that applying labels to one's self that emphasize one's superiority over other people is unwise, generally, but I feel compelled to comment on a couple of points here. First, no one within the transhuman community explicitly labels themselves or their aspirations "God's Chosen Transhumanity", or the "Transhuman Master Race": These are terms that create a negative caricature of the ideas most of us share. The first emphasizes a notion of "predestination" that most of us either explicitly disavow or don't see as the primary focus of future human evolution. To the extent that transhumanists find it highly likely that some form of life more capable than current humans will develop is to do no more than observe the adaptive process of evolution in action and project it forward. In any case, it injects a theological notion into the discourse that is of course completely foreign to our thinking. The second caricature refers to concepts of mastery and evokes Nazi ideology that is, again, utterly foreign to extropian values.

As to the use of the term "transhuman", I agree that it may well connote a concept of superiority to many people. But I do not find that it universally evokes the notion of condescension inherent in the exaggerated terms you mention. To the extent that it does, I think it behooves us to work at countering such perceptions.

Now, I've certainly considered the idea that it might be better to pursue the goals of transhumanism in a stealthy fashion, so that people's fears won't be triggered by the perception that some segment of humanity is somehow the beneficiary of "unfair" and "unnatural" advantages. If I believed that omnipotent "genie machines" could be developed within my lifetime, overnight, by a small group of people working in relative isolation, I might endorse such a strategy. But I know you don't think such a thing is likely, Lyle. And neither do I.

As to the reaction of "primitive humans" to being a "ridiculously healthy bodybuilder", I believe you can't escape the issue in this way. From my many discussions about these subjects with as broad a cross-section of people as I've been able to engage, I find that people who have not embraced the concept of transhumanity ultimately "draw the line" at "artificial" biological augmentation. The minute you exhibit visible and obvious signs of physical or mental capacity beyond what can be achieved by "natural", unaugmented humans, you will have to come to terms with the fear most people have of being superseded by some "unfair advantage" and the revulsion most people feel at the "unnatural".

In sum, without a community of technically competent people who have at least implicitly accepted the goals of transhumanism, how do you hope to have access to radical augmentation technologies and, without some work having been done to blunt and assuage the widespread fear of such augmentation, how do you plan to avoid social prohibitions on augmentation technology?

> I don't want to be a Power, but the situation leaves me no choice. In the
> coming decades I intend to build an elaborate bodyguard around myself, to
> protect myself from violence of all kinds. The external immune system is
> just as important as the internal immune system.

Without meaning to be overly personalistic, is your goal to become immensely wealthy, and then achieve transhuman goals or become posthuman "on your own", in secret, while protected by an elaborate security system. Can you say "Fortress of Solitude"? Seriously, this seems possible, but far less probable than achieving these goals in concert with other people who share them, and by taking advantage of a wide community of researchers and businesses working to develop and provide the benefits of human augmentation technology. From what you write below, I suspect that you think that it is not effective to try to build such a community through propagating the ideas and values of transhumanism. While I don't think that simply spreading the memes of transhumanism is a sufficient condition for achieving post-human status, I do think that working to build understanding and acceptance of those ideas and values is at least ONE important step in building and then having the benefit of a community of the right kind of people working together to achieve those goals.

> My experience of poker is much more limited, but it tends to confirm your
> experience. However, poker is basically a waste of time.

I'm not a poker player, but I can't help but note that it is, after all, a GAME and games aren't a "waste of time" in the sense that 1) play is important to the psychological health of any mammal, especially primates (and, I suspect, any sentient being) and 2) most games offer at least SOME strategic insight beyond their own realm.

> It doesn't lead
> anywhere, and you can't make real money (hundreds of millions of dollars)
> playing poker.

Through an odd turn of events, I was exposed for a while to the realm of top-level professional poker players. The highest echelon of these people make as much as tens of millions of dollars in their careers. So, while it's certainly not a "good bet" as a career choice :-) and you're right that you can't make HUNDREDS of millions of dollars playing poker (unless you get into that big game with Bill Gates), it is actually possible to make some pretty good dinero playing the game.

> Poker tests your perception of your immediate surroundings,
> but the real challenge is to decide which game to play. That's the real
> test of your perception of reality.

I certainly agree with this.

> In war, technology and physical skills do have a big impact, and they
> depend on planning. You have to foresee years or decades in advance that
> you need technology and physical skills, and get ready for the moment when
> those things are needed. The technology that you bring to the battlefield
> reflects your perception of reality. In business, you have to decide years
> or decades in advance which business to go into, and how to prepare for it,
> and then implement your plan. It may be true that even those with fuzzy
> minds can make money, but it is also true that a lot of people lose money.

I agree with all of that.

>, for example, is in debt. There is no money to be made in
> propagating memes. That's the wrong business to go into.

Tell that to Ted Turner, Pablo Picasso, Oscar de la Renta, James Cameron or Oprah Winfrey . . . well, you get my point.

No one expects to get rich propagating transhuman ideas or extropian values, per se. (Although it COULD happen, I doubt it's likely any time soon.) With all due respect, Lyle, I think you may be attacking a straw man, but one that you aren't the first to attack. I've encountered expressions of impatience with Extropy Institute and this mailing list before to the effect that "This is all just TALK! You people aren't DOING anything! TALK won't get you anywhere!" Well, to use the vernacular, "duh!" You don't expect to find anything but "talk" on a mailing list, and a non-profit networking organization isn't itself the vehicle to develop new technologies or make money. If you drive your car into the water, you shouldn't be surprised if it doesn't do a good job as a submarine.

But memetic propagation and networking ARE valuable precursors to profitable achievement of transhuman goals. Just as Tsiolkovsky's, Oberth's and Goddard's writing and then networking were necessary elements of a foundation for spaceflight (I'll be glad to explain why, if you doubt this), so exploring and developing the ideas and values of transhumanism and extropianism, and building networks of people who share those ideas and values, is also a valuable activity in these early days of augmenting the human animal. It's entirely possible to be a "free rider" in this process, Lyle: Even people who don't actively participate in the early stages of memetic development and propagation will benefit from those efforts. The networking aspects are a different matter, though: "Going it alone" has its disadvantages.

> We are entering the age of memetic competition. What kind of meme can
> create a phenotype around itself that has the strength to survive and
> become immortal? An ism? A corporation? or some new kind of meme?

I would answer your question by saying "All of the above." How would you answer it?

	Greg Burch     <>----<>
     Attorney  :::  Vice President, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
                         "Civilization is protest against nature; 
                  progress requires us to take control of evolution."
                                      -- Thomas Huxley