Re: extropian memes in business week
Mon, 20 Sep 1999 09:33:31 EDT

In a message dated 99-09-20 03:41:57 EDT, (Stan Kretler) wrote:

> Anyway, maybe I asked 'illegal questions' or something. If so, sorry.
> Didn't mean to offend.

No offense taken -- and there aren't really any "illegal questions" here (I can hear the howls . . .). But when you ask about "the basics" it sometimes takes longer to muster a response satisfactory to the person who asks the question, because it's difficult to gauge the person making the inquiry's level of familiarity with our ideas and values . . .

> However I still don't quite get what the list is about, and your
> suggestion to self-toast reminds me of my puzzlement.

Part of this is the feeling of having been right. Some of us have been exploring these ideas and coming to basically the conclusions you've seen discussed here for 30 years or even more. When things you've been thinking for decades all of a sudden become "news", you can't help but be a little self-congratulatory.

> The changes that I see taking place towards the end of this century,
> including those changes in discussion about the following century, seem
> nothing other than the logical, historically predicitable, outcome of
> the renaissance and the enlightenment. We're descendants of Bacon,
> Descartes, Newton, etc. Science improves, and eventually turns its eye
> towards the brain, towards artificial brains, and so on. This seems
> totally obvious, and was predicted years ago.

Seems obvious to me, too :-) Which is why I have repeatedly called transhumanism and especially extropianism "The New Enlightenment."

> In a historically local way, advocacy plays a role in the
> particularities of how things develop. Is that what's being toasted?

Partly - see below.

> I guess my general question would be: What's the big deal? I get the
> sense that a lot of what I read here is just cheerleading for the
> inevitable. I don't mean to say that it's not very cool stuff being
> celebrated. But it's just the train we're on, little more.
> > We should be in the mainstream *while* maintaining our daring
> > and original character.
> Another way to ask my question would be: what is it that's daring here?
> Sorry. I don't mean to be difficult. But I really don't get it. It makes
> me think that what really matters here are minor political battles like
> those involving Rifkin. Rifkin and his type are dead or dying. Speeding
> up the inevitable by a few years is a good goal, I won't argue that.
> Showing how Rifkin is silly might achieve that. But I don't see how it's
> *daring*.

Consider the world mid-20th-century that Hayek and a few others faced: Pseudoscientific, anti-humanist totalitarian hogwash (and worse) had caused a tide of blood to surge over half the world. The Renaissance and Enlightenment ideals of free inquiry and exchange were under attack from many fronts. Even the societies that had achieved greatness by embodying those ideals were turning their backs on them. Jeremy Rifkin didn't just happen by accident.

While it would be nice to believe that progress of the classic liberal, humanist and scientific programs is truly inevitable, I think it is dangerous to do so, because it cedes the energy of advocacy to the enemies of these agendas. Creeping statism, anti-scientific attitudes and cultural pessimism became dangerous because the forces that had propelled progress in all these things became complacent. The Renaissance and Enlightenment program of developing an integrated scientific world-view became a far from universal motivating ideal. Instead the corrosive mentality of deconstructionist post-modernism came to dominate in academia and began to seriously undermine the integrity of the scientific method on many fronts.

Transhumanism and extropianism are "daring" in exactly the same way that humanism, science and classical liberalism were "daring" when they were new. In historical terms (to say nothing of biological terms), these ideas are very, very new. Superstition and mindless submission to authority are in fact the "mainstream" of human history. Personally, I believe that failure to maintain an energetic effort to continue the progress we've had so far will result in a return to the norm of human history: If we don't WORK at being rational, we won't be, as a species; instead, we'll just be stupid with more powerful tools.

> (And does "meme" mean "idea"?)

A "meme" is to "ideas" (or information, really) what a "gene" is to an organism. "Memetics" is the notion that information reproduces and evolves in a manner analogous to genes. This notion was orginally expressed as a sort of afterthought in Richard Dawkins "The Selfish Gene" and has since spawned some fairly rich speculation and analysis by fleshing out his metaphorical thinking on the subject.

      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