Re: extropian memes in business week
Sat, 25 Sep 1999 10:58:51 EDT

In a message dated 99-09-22 16:15:45 EDT, (Stan Kretler) wrote:

> > 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.
> If you're thinking of the views of the majority, you're absolutely right
> about the newness. In fact it isn't even *close* to a majority that
> believes techno-humanist ideas, even today in 1999.

That's right. One of the things I try to do here occasionally is remind those who live personal and professional lives almost entirely within the advanced scientific and technical communities, or in social settings in which "techno-humanist" ideas are prevalent, that this is FAR from the "norm". In fact, for the vast majority of humanity - even in the First World - the scientific revolution and political enlightenment simply haven't happened yet. This is very important because there's a real risk that things like the swiftly growing backlash against genetically engineered food sources will take technological and cultural elites by surprise.

> I guess I didn't realize how much measures of success in this group
> (these groups) involve the general public. It makes sense of course that
> the general public should be taken into account!
> But I still don't see a justification for "daring". Science and humanism
> were daring a few hundred years ago because people who advocated them
> were at risk of losing their life. Many did lose their lives.
> No one advocating really smart computers or technological enhancements
> to the brain is very likely to be executed. (There are always
> psychopaths of course. But they can target anyone.) Indeed society
> *loves* these ideas. The media has been eating them up at a ferocious
> pace.

As the old saying goes, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. The images with which mass culture can become infatuated can just as swiftly become objects of fear and hatred. Look how quickly the political ideals of the Enlightenment were mutated out of all recognition in just a few short months during the French Revolution, as just one particularly grisly example. While I believe it is a fairly low-probability scenario, I think there's at least some possibility that the current wave of anti-genengineering hysteria could gather momentum quickly and fuel a general anti-scientific and anti-technological "backlash" that could result in the cultural equivalent of "execution". Consider the terrifying scenario of an increasingly desperate Al Gore embracing Rifkinism in an explicit way and forcing all of the mainstream US presidential candidates into a "genetic litmus test". Rifkin's big antitrust suit against the biotech companies will be a developing media monster precisely during the period when the US presidential campaign rigs up into sound-bite high gear next year. We know there will be one or more major breakthroughs in human biomedical applications of genetic science during the same time. Gore's already signed his political soul over to the religious fundamentalists . . . I leave fleshing out this horror story as an exercise in reader paranoia.

> The snipped stuff included a lot that sounded Libertarian. Some other
> posts made me think that extropianism *wasn't* libertarian. Well, if
> extropianism *is* libertarian, then then there's certainly a lot for
> libertarians to toast these days. But that has to do with what seem like
> very separate issues, like the state's relation to the individual
> person. Technology is a different matter.

I disagree. One of the fundamental energizing insights of extropianism is the realization that there ARE fundamental connections between social, economic, political and artistic values and the values that have given rise to the scientific and technological revolution. Progress in one area of culture is intimately linked with other areas: Think Lysenko. The values of critical openness found in classical liberal humanism are part and parcel of the scientific mind-set.

> Thanks for the lengthy, very useful article.

You're welcome: Informed and diplomatically posed questions about "the basics" ARE valuable here from time to time, as they give us a chance to test and restate our fundamental ideas.

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