Re: Self-ownership
Mon, 18 Aug 1997 18:30:24 -0700 (PDT)

> At 16:06 15/08/97 -0700, Robin Hanson wrote:
> >I suggest social shunning of people who seem to be torturing creatures
> >substantially different from themselves. A positive prospect is that
> >the most useful experiments will probably be best done on copies of
> >yourself - that gives you the most info about improving yourself.
> >So experimenting on creatures very different from yourself is already
> >suspicious. Especially if those other creatures are smart enough do
> >decide for themselves what experiments would help them improves
> >themselves. The problem is experiments on "dumb" different creatures.

Or to put what I take to be your point slightly more (less?) bluntly: The
problem is the way we assign "dumbness" to creatures as a way of
justifying the otherwise problematic interventions we make in their lives.
I am very interested in your turn to "manners" in the above formulation.
As we contemplate the demise of the nation-state, and the disintegration
of many of the institutions that exert material pressures to induce people
to "behave," it becomes distressingly easy to imagine societies whose
"proper" policing seems *un*imaginable. The principal theme of Judith
Martin's (a/k/a Miss Manners) work is that the disintegration of manners
fuels a disastrous rise of litigiousness in our society. A more
"extropian" spin on her thesis would worry, on the one hand, that the turn
to litigiousness, however disastrous on the face of it, may not even be an
available option in the near future, and, on the other hand, that if
anything like a "singularity" occurs it's hard to imagine how manners
could provide any kind of intelligible alternative. How do you make
Powers feel ashamed of themselves? Your discussion above is a step in the
direction of thinking about these things, as is (in a slightly different
way) your pondering of the effects of discussions of mehuman-to-transhuman
sexuality for people of various sensibilities. Anxieties about goo
(especially the grey, the blue, and uber) also tend to provoke questions
and discussions that tangle with this kind of trouble. The fraught and
frustrating discussions of gender, race, and sexuality of a couple weeks
back (and periodically before this) are another place where we think about
these things. I am very interested in other folks' visions of transhuman

On Sat, 16 Aug 1997, Darren Reynolds wrote:
> I went through a phase of being vegan (vegetarian pure) on the grounds that
> I didn't want to get eaten by aliens who used the same excuse that humans
> often do for cows and sheep. But then I figured: hey, in a thousand years'
> time, I'll probably be able to create cows inside my own body at will.
> Surely they will be *my* cows? And if so, then what difference that the
> cows are in a field rather than in my body? Surely they are still *my*
> cows? Hmm ...

I'm vegan to this day and have been for, let's see, just about four years
now. I get nervous about calling this a "pure" practice, but my reasons
for the practice *are* as much about ethics as about keeping trim. Seems
to me that if I create -- intentionally or not -- beings with the kind of
awareness that registers as intelligible to me (I have been accused of
brutally ignoring the rich inner life of broccoli, for example), then I
had best treat them as ends-in-themselves rather than means-to-my-ends in
the good ol' Kantian manner. I think it is a practice of ethical *self*-
brutalization to make a habit of doing things that one knows to cause
suffering. Questions of ignorance of such consequences, and of necessary
suffering in the face of irreconcilable ends are another discussion or
two. But in a nutshell, I for one think it would be potentially
impoverishing to the greatest of Powers to imagine *anyone* on this list,
e.g., was better used as nano feedstock than as a potential peer. Now,
how to spread this meme before the onslaught of singularity makes it

>I still don't eat cows (well, not much), but I wondered what you thought
>about it. And, since the reasoning seems the same, whether you think that
>tomorrow's computers should be called slaves.

Isn't it "reasonably easy" to produce machines that do fabulously useful
and complicated things with little more in the way of awareness than a
bacterium? If not, it's more likely the problem is not whether we should
treat them as slaves but whether we can deal with them as superiors.

Best, Dale

Dale Carrico |
University of California at Berkeley, Department of Rhetoric

It is impossible to make significant change by force.
The only way to make significant change is
to make the thing you want to change obsolete. -- R. Buckminster Fuller
"Death, where is thy sting-a-ling?" -- Noel Coward