Re: MacLeod's Cassini Division

From: CountZero (
Date: Mon Oct 02 2000 - 12:21:11 MDT

I was wondering if anyone else had run into this book.
When I read it I found it to be somewhat disturbing (I guess I don't like to
have my beliefs(tm) attacked either), the thing that struck me most was the
combination of the assumed superiority of socialism and the 'True Knowledge'
which seems to translate as 'If I have the power to do something it's OK to do
I really don't see either of these ideas taking off, socialism is a proven
failure and might is right doesn't seem very appealing to the members of this
list, the people that seem most likely to be in a position to take advantage of
the tech that would make that scenario possible.

Robin Hanson wrote:

> I read "The Cassini Division" by Ken MacLeod over the weekend. I couldn't
> find any mention of it in the archives at
> though I think I recall some discussion here once.
> It was well written (or maybe it had been too long since I'd read SF and I
> needed a fix). People like us are clearly the bad guys in the book, but it
> was interesting to see what our worse crimes are from MacLeod's perspective.
> MacLeod seems to favor some sort of socialist society, though he was never
> very clear how it worked. He is, however, able to depict an
> anarcho-capitalist society, and it isn't a terrible place -- just culturally
> backward and unsophisticated.
> **** SPOILER WARNING - I'm going to say what happens! ****
> The people in his socialist society think uploads are just machines without
> any inner life worth considering, but the main character of the book
> eventually get temporarily uploaded and then realizes that she is wrong
> about this.
> It seems that according to MacLeod, our great crime is selfishness. When
> Earth was in bad shape, the people in space split into two factions,
> "beautiful people" who had lots of sex and wanted to help Earth, and
> "outwarder" nerds who only cared about conquering the universe for selfish
> glory. At some point the outward faction violently grabs a bunch of
> resources, kills lots of the others, and uploads more of them to serve as
> slaves. They go off to Jupiter, take apart a moon, create millions of
> upload copies to do their dirty work, become huge million-mind-equivalent
> creatures, and build a wormhole.
> They then get stuck in virtual reality navel-gazing, and broadcast viruses
> that destroy all computers and telecom on Earth, forcing Earth to from then
> on use mechanical computers and no radio. Earth folk are about to destroy
> them all, but then try to talk, and find creatures on Jupiter that seem
> reasonable. Earth asks them to stop the viruses, and asks them to explain
> how to use the wormhole to get to a distant colony of anarcho-capitalists,
> and the Jupiter folk do both.
> Many groups in the anarcho-capitalist colony then decide they want trade
> with Jupiter and send ships there through the wormhole, ignoring Earth-folk
> warnings about the viruses. Viruses from somewhere on Jupiter then take
> over those ships, which is then a justification for killing all life/mind
> on Jupiter.
> So MacLeod's bottom line is that we're right about that technologies like
> uploading and wormholes and anarcho-capitalism can work as envisioned, but
> that our selfishness will do us in. It makes us get stuck in navel-gazing,
> and when we are powerful it makes us so irresistibly grabby that others
> will get together to kill us all. When we stay as weak humans we create
> societies that work, but are culturally unsophisticated.
> I suppose the image is similar to that of the Ferengi in Star Trek NG,
> "ugly, greedy and sexist" traders -- useful to have around, but not the
> sort you'd want to socialize with, or have sex with, and definitely not
> the sort you'd want to allow to have substantial power. Which if you
> think about it is the stereotype of the nerd. And all this fits with
> my theories of why people don't like cryonics, and why they aren't
> thrilled with our becoming superhuman.
> Unfortunately these stereotypes do have a basis in reality. People
> on this list do on average give the impression to outsiders of being
> less sexy, less culturally sophisticated, more selfish, and more caring
> about things and stuff out there than people around here. And ordinary
> people do seem to have deeply ingrained fears of letting such people
> have power.
> My response to all this is not to deny stereotypes regarding values,
> but to deny that the facts will make them very relevant. The common
> SF scenario is a small group of people who have a huge influence over
> history and society, usually via their access to technology, and whose
> values are pivotal to the outcome. But this has almost never happened
> in the past, and isn't likely to happen in the future either.
> Most change is due to large broad social forces, and organizations
> large enough to have substantial power over others are controlled by
> coalitions of many types of people, with many types of values. SF
> scenarios where a few nerds could take over the world with the tech
> (AI, nanotech, wormhole, etc.) that they develop in their obscure lab
> are just fantasy.
> Selfish techie nerds are and will remain largely powerless, even
> if all the changes we forsee and promote come to pass. We may be
> pivotal in making people pay attention to these possibilities, but
> if they happen after that it will be because of social forces and
> widely shared values - our differing values won't matter much.
> Robin Hanson
> Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
> MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030-4444
> 703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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