Re: Freedom or death? (Was: Re [2]: Extropy in the personal sphere

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Mon, 11 Aug 1997 00:15:57 -0500

The issue at hand is whether Extropian ideas are so obviously, so surely
right, that we should override the free will of dissenters.

The answer, as any individualist knows, is "No." I, personally, have stated,
on this list, that I wouldn't dare override the will of actual schizophrenics.
That is, even if I *know* for a neurological *fact* that somebody is
incompetent, I still would respect their free will, as long as they didn't try
to shoot me or something.

Many religious persons throughout the ages, sincerely and utterly convinced
that they were acting to preserve the immortal souls of others - as you would,
with cryonics - were responsible for pain, torture, and the retardation of
knowledge and civilization. You can't say, "Well, *I* am right." The Law
that governs our actions within a social context - ethics, morality, game
theory, whatever - cannot refer to actual reality, only our perceptions of
reality. Because when we have to make a decision, we know what we think; we
don't know what is.

I'm sure that a lot of people will resent my comparing cryonics to a religion.
Well, I'm not. I'm just saying that, even if you are *certain* that cryonics
is Right, this *still* does not entitle you to override someone's will. You
have to respect the surety of others, or they will be just as sure that
cryonics is the Work of Satan and will - with exactly as much justification,
no more, no less - smash your liquid nitrogen tanks and free the trapped and
frozen souls. Surety gives not the right of Command. Hence the phrase,
"informed consent".

Perhaps I'm something of an extremist on the subject. I need to be. Being a
mutant(*) with strange mental powers and all, you can imagine the depths of
catastrophe that would result if I decided that my "superior intelligence"
entitled me to Mastery. The day I draw a line that separates humanity into
"responsible" and "irresponsible" adults, I just *know* I'm going to wind up
alone on one side. So I draw no line.
(* Usual caveats about how, for all I know, it's postnatal or teratogenic.)

Nor is this a condescending allowance. I truly respect the rights and
opinions of others, and genuinely, deeply, and emotionally believe that They
may be right, and I wrong. Over and *over* and OVER, throughout history,
people have been mistaken. Humans are built for surety in their Cause;
doubters got demoted. So we can never, ever, trust our surety. Indeed,
trusting your surety is a sign that there's a hell of a lot you don't know
about human nature, and that you probably *are* wrong.

In fact, my mutant status really has nothing to do with it. Anybody who makes
the basic error of surety is going to wind up alone on the "responsible" side
of the line, or - at best - in a small and select group of people who exactly
share opinions. My genuine statistical improbability simply means that the
group size would be small, with a corresponding lack of stabilization, and
descent into megalomania. Thus, as I stated, I can't afford to make that
basic error, because the consequences to me would be exacerbated, and hard to repair.

Anyway. As I said once to Dr. Hugo de Garis - who used much the same
arguments, except targeted at females - the trouble with declaring your group
superior is that "your group" doesn't necessarily include *you*. In fact,
just being silly enough to start drawing lines like that excludes you from the Masters.

It's a very contagious meme, "knowing better". We're built to be infected by
it. I tossed out a couple of antibodies at in an effort to present a clean bill of
memetic health... but the meme lives on, and will continue until I finally get
my hands on the source code for human nature. Speaking of which, back to work.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.