Re: Nanotech promotion and post-government feasibility
Mon, 6 Sep 1999 12:43:08 EDT

In a message dated 99-09-04 09:34:58 EDT, you write:

> I've been thinking about the situation in Russia, especially
> - the oligarchy that has developed and their emphasis on
> stealing and hiding as many assets as possible
> - the fact that there seems to be so little awareness of
> the ideas we discuss in Russia
> - the fact that "hope" has been crushed from the people
> multiple times over the last ten years
> - my impression that the Russian people have an very
> high standard of family values and are willing to make
> significant sacrifices so their children can be better off
> - the fact that Russia still has a very high number of
> highly trained scientists, mathematicians, etc.
> whose skills are in many cases underutilized or being
> cast aside due to the simple requirements for survival
> - the fact that they still are sitting on enough plutonium
> for something like 10,000 nuclear weapons.
> Given these things, I've been considering writing some pieces
> for the Moscow Times (one of the major English language papers
> in Russia) about gene-tech, extended longevity, nano-tech,
> Extropian/transhumanis ideas, etc. hoping that they might spread
> to the Russian papers.
> The reasons to do this might include:
> - give the population in general "hope" in the future
> - devaluing the worth of controlling resources or assets
> such as oil/gold/diamonds/metals/etc.
> - devaluing the worth of power in general
> - providing something for the underutilized minds to do
> (nano-designs, non-self-aware AI, etc.)
> - potentially provide competition to Western efforts that
> could make things go faster
Robert, I think you should definitely do this, and I would encourage whatever collaboration with Sasha and his contacts can be developed so that the articles can, if possible, be translated into Russian. I think the West has really missed an opportunity by failing to try to help shape the cultural landscape in Russia since the end of the USSR. We (meaning the forces of classically liberal culture) should have done much more to spread information about just how capitalism works and what citizenship in a free society is all about. Showing how such societies produce fruits such as the high technology products you would be writing about would be a Very Good Thing, in my opinion.

> However, this is a very tricky thing to do and could put me
> on the bad side of some very nasty people.

Hey -- we gotta take risks! If we could get a significant interest group formed around transhumanist and extropian ideas, I'd certainly want the central works of extropians and transhumanist thinking (and a little of my own writing) translated and, given the relatively modest cost, would probably support that effort with my own funds.

> So I want to float some ideas.
> We still seem to a large degree to focus discussions on
> concepts that I suspect will be irrelevant. If we assume that:
> (a) nanotech makes the Bill Gates lifestyle possible.
> (b) Since there are many places (Australia, U.S., Canada,
> oceans, etc.) that have much more land/surface area than is
> required to provide power for their population, it would
> seem that during the nanotech-transition that these "free"
> areas could be opened to settlement from overcrowded
> countries or those with oppressive governments.
> So we should see a migration to the places that provide
> the freedom level that individuals prefer.

While I agree with what you're saying here in principle, I think you underestimate the extent to which existing power structures will resist wholesale revision to existing social orders. "Opening up" unsettled areas in the American West and the Australian Outback will run into significant opposition from the property owners and governments that now control that territory. I'd be much more inclined to expect a path of least resistance to lead to ocean settlements.

> Now, this implies that governments now have to either:
> (a) imprison their citizens; or (b) compete with each
> other to provide maximal freedom. Assuming (a) doesn't occur,
> I presume that this stabilizes around some "maximally" free
> point where some societies allow you to do self-destructive
> things (thrill seeking recreational activities) and some
> discourage it. Since everyone is aware of the dangers
> of nanotech, everyone actively participates in verification
> and self-policing of the designs. Since everyone is virtually
> wealthy, you don't need to pay any bureaucrats, run subsidized
> programs, worry about retirement funds, etc. etc. Because
> of the wealth & migration possibilities, war seems obsolete.
> The risk-benefit tradeoff seems completely unjustifiable.
> It seems the role of government gets very small.

This all sounds extremely rational -- which is why I suspect things won't happen this way. Consider how old social and political orders hang on long after the specific economic and political power arrangements that gave rise to them have passed. Look at how long the structures of the Roman Empire defined the landscape of political and cultural "legitimacy" in Europe; in many ways, they still do (much of the conception of the EU, in my view, is just the rebirth of the dream of the "Holy Roman Empire").

The fact is that primates are inherently conservative when it comes to social relationships: It's a survival value that's been hard-wired into our brains. I DO expect the "state to whither away" in the nanotech era, but it will be by by-passing it little by little, not in some wholesale "ignore it and it will go away" manner.

> And yet we seem to focus huge amounts of conversation
> on what governments will or will not do. We don't
> seem to be able to climb out of the current system
> enough to see what the new system will look like.
> And if I can't communicate that then the articles
> are unlikely to have the impact I want.

I, for one, tend to focus on the near-term reaction of existing state and social structures because history teaches us that great upheavals are sensitively dependent on initial conditions. Look at how the same Enlightenment ideas bore such different fruit when planted in the American and French historical contexts. How current social, economic and political orders react to the first stages of the nanotech revolution will have a profound impact on the subsequent development of the human race.

     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