Re: Free Markets: Extro-Nazi's or Extro-Saints (Extrosattvas)
Sat, 13 Sep 1997 08:56:46 -0400 (EDT)

[This week I have read the threads generated by Holly Pearson's original post
with great interest and, until they spawned such a large volume of
discussion, the intent to make a detailed response and comment on the entire
discussion. At this point that volume has grown so large that detailed
quoting would consume all of my available writing time, so please excuse the
lack of attribution and inevitable redundancy . . .]

First, a comment on nomenclature and rhetoric (and one I know others have
made). The misuse of the words "Nazi" and "fascist" is a pet peeve of mine.
The Nazis were near the bottom of any spectrum of morality one can distill
from a study of human history. Fascism has a specific meaning in a rigorous
discussion of politics: Elitist -- usually ethnically based -- statist,
nationalistic totalitarianism. Applying those terms where they don't belong
debases the currency of political and moral dialogue. There is an undeniable
tenancy in leftist rhetoric to apply the term "fascist" to any mode of
thought or action that doesn't endorse coercive income redistribution. That
same school of rhetoric uses the inflammatory epithet "Nazi" somewhat less
indiscriminately, but nonetheless almost uniformly in an unjustified manner.
Unless one is discussing a party of armed psychopathic bigots intent on
world-scale violence with a program of pseudoscientific eugenics, the word
"Nazi" is hyperbole of a sort that does no credit to a writer.

Now, on to my two cents' worth. Misperception of classical liberals,
libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, transhumanists and extropians as
myopically selfish and uncaring is a real threat to the power of our ideas.
One of the real contributions of extropian ethical thinking has been the
melding of insights about the evolutionary value of cooperative
life-strategies with classical capitalist values. What distinguishes
extropians from our classical liberal and anarchist intellectual forbearers
is our realization that sentient beings must find a moral and ethical
framework that can withstand the utter transformation of the material
circumstances of human life and the complete mutability of the self.

To put it in game-theoretic terms, we are impressed by the apparent truth
that reflexive defectors have low survival value in any social system
requiring trade or in which cooperative action yields competitive advantage.
At the other end of the spectrum, we see that reflexive cooperators reap
equally unsatisfactory results from any iterated interaction. A middle
strategy -- known by the charming schoolyard term, "tit-for-tat" -- appears
to be the optimal strategy in essentially any social situation.

This somewhat abstract realization bears out millennia of human wisdom and
common sense: An ethic of transparent reciprocity seems to arise
spontaneously from the very fabric of the natural world of actors in society.
It so happens -- not surprisingly -- that an open marketplace of maximally
free individual actors is the ideally best structure for optimizing each
individual's potential. From this realizations, extropians come to endorse
agoric systems wherever possible as not only the most efficient, but also the
BEST way of life in any moral sense one can reconcile with a scientific view
of reality.

This leads to the question Holly Pearson poses: What place, in this world, do
values of kindness and charity have? One simple and direct answer is that a
reputation for reciprocal kindness is very valuable to an individual. Being
good is good for you. Or, to put it in terms of game theory, being KNOWN as
good is good for you, in most instances -- the exception being that one
should also be known to be FAIR and RECIPROCAL, i.e. a reputation for
completely unqualified charity is ultimately bad for you.

How do these ideas and values translate into the transhuman and posthuman
world? First, all but the most egocentric of us expect that we will continue
to live our lives somewhere along a spectrum of capability, i.e. in at least
some aspects of our lives -- no matter how long or augmented -- our
individual power, wealth and knowledge will be greater than that of some
individuals and less than others. We will need to cooperate -- trade -- with
moral entities both more and less powerful than ourselves, and we will need
to do so on an ongoing basis. In fact, as immortalists, we expect that we
will do so on an indefinitely extended basis. It will be a very long game,
indeed. And throughout this game, our moral reputations will be just as
important as the specifics of any isolated trade within any such hierarchy of

When you interact with others over only the brief span of three score and ten
years, and expect that only a very limited amount of movement through any
hierarchy of capabilities will be possible over that time period, one may be
unkind or "unreciprocal" ("defect", in game theoretic terms) quite a few
times, and expect to get away with it over the anticipated term of the game.
But where the game may go on indefinitely and the weak may transcend to
unimaginably higher powers in the future, one takes a somewhat different
view: The disenfranchised person to whom I am cruel today may be the demi-god
of next century, able to exact a revenge of proportions I cannot imagine now.
Even if the specific person to whom I am cruel now is extinguished, an
immortal reputation for unkindness will be a significant handicap in
transactions -- whether purely economic or not -- with entities who do
persist and transcend.

All of which leads to an idea I have been cultivating for some time and for
which, I gladly admit, Anton Sherwood has found a term for which I have been
looking: "Extrosattva". The more I think about transhumanism and
extropiansim, the more I am struck by the rich moral raw material to be found
in classical Hinduism and Buddhism. As we know, the boddisattva is, for want
of a better term, the Buddhist "saint"; the transcended (or almost
transcended) individual who "hangs back" from complete nirvana to assist
others in the process of enlightenment and transcendence. (If memory serves,
the person of the boddisattva is the defining difference between classical
hinayan and mahayana Buddhism, the former largely ignoring the possibility of
assistance on the road to transcendence.) Further, the classical Hindu
concept of "karma" makes great sense as an encapsulation of the wisdom of an
ethic of reciprocal kindness in an essentially eternally-iterated prisoner's
dilemma game.

I have always imagined the boddisattva as one for whom kindness is no burden,
because of the liberation of the enlightenment that she has experienced.
Freed from the illusion of the immutability of one's own consciousness, one
is free to help others at little cost to one's self. Consider how this image
translates to a conception of a post-human "Power": With complete mastery
over material reality through advanced nanotechnology and intelligence
augmentation, how simple it becomes to help others. Not every transcended
Power would devote effort to such endeavors, just as every newly-enlightened
buddha doesn't hang back from nirvana to assist others less enlightened. But
that some will seems inevitable. For instance, the concept inherent in
cryonics that the first-revived will devote themselves -- at least in part --
to reviving the rest, is entirely consistent with this image of rational
charity. I hope that any here who may pass the threshold before me will
remember this post.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover