Re: Heresy

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Tue Aug 07 2001 - 15:23:45 MDT

This got longish, almost like a kind of FAQ. Maybe it could be reworked
into something like that?

On Tue, Aug 07, 2001 at 06:00:49PM +0100, Aina & Bones wrote:
> Is Extropianism mainly for American's? How many Europeans are on this
> list and how much, if any, european philosophy is in your
> Extropianism?

I am an European (swede); I'm not certain of the percentage of europeans
on this list, but I know we are a few. There are other local lists like
exi-euro for more local matters too.

The question is what you mean by european philosophy. Extropianism
builds on western philosophy, which has until recent centuries been
largely european. You can trace a line from the pre-socratics through
the big three Greeks (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) to the renaissance
humanism to the enlightenment and onward to transhumanism. If you are
referring more specifically to modern european philosophy like
analytical philosophy or continental-style poststructuralism I guess Max
may answer the question of how much they influenced the extropian
principles better than me, but their impact doesn't seem that strong.

> How will the transhumanist movement deal with people's fears: the
> pessimism/realism that experience engenders? Will technology really
> change how people are or will people have to do that for themselves?

Technology is a tool for change: it does not change who people are by
itself but only when applied by people for achieving whatever they want.
If people change how they are, it will be because they seek to do it and
are enabled by technology.

As for dealing with fears, I think we have to move beyond merely
rationally showing that certain technologies and possibilities are
possible, beneficial and safe. That is of course important, but in order
to truly overcome fear we need to show how they can be integrated in
human life, to show they ethical and humanistic importance.
> The degree of optimism on this list concerning the future is
> definitely infectious and I'd really love it to be as e.g.. Mr.
> Broderick envisions but People have milked the meme concerning the
> power of science to improve the human condition to death.

True. But that people no longer blindly trust claims of utopia tomorrow
only means that we have to demonstrate benefits and a philosophy more

> The egg heads (no offense intended) have been saying that technology
> will solve this and that and remove this and that for centuries now.
> Technology has indeed developed the cures for many diseases and
> increased crop harvests etc. but most people don't get the benefit of
> it.
> Will what most people get out of a time and technology that can
> produce diamond houses cheaply be a diamond bullet in the head? If not
> why?

If you look at the long term changes in the human condition over the
last centuries it seems very clear that technology - including social
technologies such as free trade and democracy - has actually improved
the human lot quite a bit in terms of life expectancy, freedom, material
standard, availability of information and education etc. This is not
just focused to a small group (which is how many people believe it is)
but an ever broader part of mankind. At present *3 billion* people are
living in nations that are moving from third world standards to first
world standards! While the exponential growth of technology/economy
means that the leading edge of people are moving away from the tailing
edge of people, free trade seems to be able to help developing nations
grow faster than first world nations (Sachs, Warner: "Economic reform
and the process of global integration", Brookings Papers on Economic
Activity, 1995 no. 1) which would actually lessen the division.

Radical technologies like nanotechnology are likely to at least fix many
aspects of material poverty fairly easily. Real poverty (measured in
terms of lack of money, even if diamond skyscrapers are cheap) may of
course remain, but that is something that can and should be solved
politically, economically and culturally - it is not a purely
technological issue.

> Will Transhumanism become a sort of super technocratic society in
> which technologists develop technology only for themselves or can
> others join? Will it be the third word that matches: aristocracy,
> racism.......... transhumanism?

Transhumanism is strongly connected to the humanist ideas of
human self-determination, rationality, freedom and democracy. This
means that the closed elite scenario you sketch is anathema to the core
of transhumanism. People are welcome to join - or chose not to change.
This negative right is also important to remember, since many ideologies
claim theirs is the only way and that everybody must eventually join
into their project. From a transhumanist point of view there is no
problem even if very many people chose not to self-transform, as long as
neither group interferes with the other.

Also, such a closed scenario would be highly inefficient from a
transhumanist point of view. If we on this list were the super-rich
techno-elite, only we would be customers for our toys. Hence they would
be very expensive, wasting our resources. But if you have a market of
billions, then the technology gets cheap. Many people want improvements,
and the total brainpower involved in the project increases tremendously.

Of course, even the most enlightened idea can become warped when
implemented in practice by groups of fallible humans subject to all the
problems of group think and other social psychology problems,
corrupting biases such as those described in public
choice theory and especially the dangers of turning living discourse
into rigid ideology. Transhumanism could become something other than it
is intended, just as (say) the romantic movement led to many destructive
ideologies. But this is something we have to deal with on the way, I
don't think transhumanism is more likely than other ideas to turn bad
over time.

There are of course people calling themselves transhumanists who don't
get it, too. This may be a harder problem: there is a huge spread of
views among transhumanists and no strict definition of who is
transhumanist or not. There may be a real danger that a fringe group
calling itself transhumanist grows malign, or does things in the name of
transhumanism abhorrent to the core transhumanist values.

> After all this biotech superman thing is basically a child of National
> Socialism. Sure, now one can in theory claim that with gene
> manipulation even defectives CAN be healed. WILL they be healed?

It should be noted that the idea of improving humanity biologically is
far, far older than national socialism. It is expressed in the Gilgamesh
epic (3000 BC) and the various taoist doctrines of China.

Perhaps more important than the question of whether defectives will be
healed is the question who decides who is defective and what is to be
done? The collectivist answer (the government and its appointed
organisations) has led to atrocities. The transhumanist answer would
instead be that it is up to people themselves (and in the case of
children, possibly the parents). Nobody should be forced to change, just
as nobody should in principle be prevented from changing.

(I'm right now finishing a paper on morphological freedom, the right to
modify one's body. One of the central implications of this freedom as
well as the right to one's body is that it is up to me to decide whether
I allow a change to my body or not)

Issues of healthcare systems and allocation of course remains to be
hashed out; they depend very much on local economical systems,
availability of resources and what cultures are around. Messy, real
political questions. But once some core values have been defined they
can at least be solved to some extent.

> Are the words can and should synonyms?

> Over the time (years) that I have been a member of this list I have,
> from time to time, noticed what I (perhaps wrongly) interpret to be
> disdain for poor/uneducated/less intelligent people in many postings
> so I wonder Will everybody get a better body or will there be a races
> of super humans and slave race that serve them?

The disdain might be one of the less endearing effects of a closed
debating environment with a fairly narrow (and self-supporting) list
membership; the typical in-group, out-group behavior we see in most
human group. It doesn't really fit in with transhumanist values. I think
that if transhumanists got into debates outwards with society more
often, these group effects would lessen.

> What is to stop Transhumanism from becoming the scientific arm of
> future dictatorships?

One simple hinder is unfortunately credibility: at present the
credibility of transhumanism is very low, so a dictatorship would find
many far more credible groups (unfortunately) willing to be its
scientific arm.

More seriously, the best way to avoid this is to remember the core
values of transhumanism and integrate them in the transhumanist debate
and presentation: without core values transhumanism is just enthusiasm
for cool transformative technology. If transhumanism remains true to its
humanist values it would become a most uncomfortable arm for any

> Can Libertarianism be summed up like this: all the freedom, justice,
> health and life that money can buy. If so how does that change things
> from the way they are now?

Money and free trade is IMHO not really a core part of libertarianism,
it is rather a corrolary to acknowledging the rights to life, freedom
and property (all necessary for human flourishing). See for example
Tibor R Machan's _The Freedom Philosophy_ (1987 Timbro) for one
derivation of the legitimacy of free trade from an essentially
aristotelian framework.
> Is or will Transhumanism be nothing more than intellectual confusion,
> moral imbecility, and willful ugliness elaborated into a
> self-conscious ideology: the worship of wealth, power, novelty and
> machinery? Will it become the ultimate expression of what many call a
> culture less and materialist America: a sort of burger and coke
> religion?

Only if the internal debate forgets what it is about. Which is of course
a real danger for any ideology or system of thought.

> Must Transhumanism demand spiritual pathology. Obviously not since Mr.
> Broderick seems to allow for something else, as it were, but how many
> transhumans can make allowances for that which they cannot see?

Did you really mean pathology?

> For me the ends justify the means but it seems that in Transhumanism
> the means is the end. Is this a fair judgment?

To my knowledge nobody has analysed whether transhumanism best works
with a consequence ethics or some other system. But if you take into
account not just the ends but also the consequences of the means it
seems you get a much more workable system than just looking at the ends.

I think there is a problem that means often are more philosophically and
technologically interesting than ends - they are often interesting, can
be analysed technologically etc, while the ends are just boring old
ethics, so the debate tends to be drawn towards the means while
forgetting the ends.

> There are those who say that Libertarians and individualists are most
> likely to be solely concerned with their own egotistical and
> Narcissistic gratification. Since there are a few here on the list I
> ask would you refute this claim and how/why?

Even when seen from a purely self-interested point of view altruism and
social interactions with other are beneficial. This is not just
reciprocity, but also due to the fact that humans are social creatures
who enjoy each other's company and experience empathy and sympathy. Even
if one doesn't acknowledge any inherent value in these interactions,
they are still good for the individual.

Libertarians are humans. Something many critics seem to forget.

> How would a Transhumanist egalitarian/collectivist effort express
> itself? Would they go for a Borg type society as in Star Trekk?

Either that or some form of technocracy. In the later case of course a
lot of the core ideas have to be warped. In the former case I think they
could be retained; some people might decide to voluntarily form

> Why not find ways of extending the use of our already existing brains
> instead of making new ones? If the mind can work outside of the human
> body why go for any form of containment at all? Is it possible to
> exist without limits?

Why go for a single solution? Transhumanism is far broader than having
everybody working on a single Extropically Correct solution; if one
approach that previously was thought to be flawed or useless shows
promise or results, people will begin to investigate/invest in it.

> Since our instincts and emotions are our driving forces if we insulate
> ourselves from them or get rid of them what will our motivating force
> be?

None. But we can refine them, turn them from the current somewhat
oldfashioned survival tools into something that promotes human
flourishing to a far larger level.
> Are people in general in greater danger of being mistreated by
> transhumans/extropians than, white people are of being mistreated by
> negroes?

In what situation? This all depends on the kind of society you have, and
this is something that can be affected by our decisions rather than
being seen as predetermined by the current state of transhumanism.

> In attempting to become more than human will we become less?

The human drive to become more have IMHO so far made us far more. Self
actualization is an expanding process.

> Don't get me wrong. I'm not against science and technology. I'd
> install a bionic leg today if I could -_- It's just that I have lived
> a lot of my life in what you would call primitive circumstances and
> have taken a long time to learn about all the different stuff you guys
> talk about here.
> In reading up I have found questions which have bothered me but I did
> not want to trouble you all with my lack of knowledge/understanding.
> However since some people on this list seriously wanted to discuss
> whether or not white people are nicer than black people I figured that
> my questions won't be the most stupid ever brought up on the list.

I must admit that I got a bit irritated when I first read your
questions, and I still don't like the tone of many of them. But I think
you are right in that these issues need to be brought up. My answers are
in some sense all the same answer: "Back to basics: transhumanism will
only work if we have a workable system of values, and the
liberal/humanist values extropianism is based on seem to be such a
workable system".

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:40:03 MDT