COPY: Re: Stasism/Dynamism

Robert Owen (
Sat, 04 Dec 1999 20:59:45 -0500

                 If you want to tell people the truth be sure to
                 make them laugh.  Otherwise, they will kill you.

                                           - George Bernard Shaw

NOTE: Thought I had mailed this to POWER and EXTROPIAN but just discovered not. So I am posting it now as a copy. The quotation, which I liked very much, was supplied by Dale. [RMO] wrote:

> On 2 Dec 1999, Anders Sandberg wrote [commenting on Virginia Postrel's
> stasist / dynamist distinction]:
> > Remember that stasism is more than just wanting things to remain as
> > they are; it is the view that the future must be controlled, otherwise
> > it will all go wrong. Uncertainly or open possibilities are dangerous
> > and should be fixed. One kind of stasist is of course the conservative
> > or reactionary person, but the technocrat is just as pro-stasis (in
> > his case, the future is of course carefully managed by benevolent
> > experts - change will occur, but only approved good change).
> I read a lot of the material on the website you recommended
> and while I find the stasist/dynamist distinction provocative and useful
> to a point I still think it is often deployed in sloppy and disturbing
> ways rhetorically.

I cannot emphasize enough Anders point that technophiles, technocrats, and engineers generally are among the MOST conservative elements of American society. Engineering schools still proclaim that Benjamin Franklin was right: the electric fluid flows from a high positive level to a low negative sink. The arrows all point the wrong way in Kirchhoff diagrams. No, it does not really matter for computational purposes, and physicists use the same fiction. [I know someone is going to write to tell me that in semiconductor materials, "holes" are positive charges, that "current" is wave propagation whose directionality is only statistical, that charge in ionized gasses....etc.]

But, Dale in my view has scored some points. For example: "rhetoricity" (sic.)

> I see the point in distinguishing attitudes of neophilia and
> neophobia in social and cultural analyses, for example, but does that
> distinction *really* map so snugly onto a distinction between those who
> advocate "market" as opposed to "central" planning of economic life? Is
> the ideal of expert management *really* one we want to oppose always and
> absolutely to "dynamism"?

This is a touchy emotional issue ["Give me liberty or give me death"]; if the "free market" really worked it would be innovative; if centralized planning could deal with exceptional local conditions, and if any given economy could be well-simulated, it could succeed without necessarily manipulating the market to an excessive degree while correcting distortions (e.g. the periodicity of inflation and recession).

> .....................................................I am talking about the
> sometime tendency of transhumanists to reject or ridicule the ideal of
> *foresight* in favor of letting the chips fall where they may. Eliezer's
> "singularitarianism" (sp?), for example, whatever his intentions,
> sometimes comes off like this. I think it is perfectly reasonable to want
> a future in which poverty *and* mortality as we presently conceive of them
> look like the utter obscenities that they are...

Certainly, "poverty" and "death by unnatural and unnecessary causes"; I've not been able to resolve for myself this question of the value of "personal immortality" [any other kind is meaningless: "even though I die, my _________ live(s) on in a state characterized by ___________."]

> I personally desire a society that is considerably more dynamic than
> static , but Postrel notwithstanding, suspect that the path to such a
> society may well require a healthy dose of technocratic management
> and wealth redistribution. Go figure.

I have tried to promote discussion both on this List and the Extropian of "what kind of social organization is presupposed as an infrastructure for the achievement of Transhumanist and Extropian objectives?" but to no avail. Anders and his colleague are evidently working to define this in terms of a "Netocracy" which as I understand it would be an electronic matrix for social, including economic, interaction. I don't know at this time what sort of system controls or regulations they have in mind, but I suspect the configuration will be nodal rather than hub-directed. Rather like a "token ring", perhaps.

> Postrel insists that her distinction goes beyond traditional
> conceptions of "left" and "right" but it often ascends to a level of
> generality (as when she uses it to distinguish between those who welcome
> "learning" as opposed to those who yearn for "control" -- why not just say
> good stuff versus bad stuff and be done with it?) that relies for its
> intelligibility and force on an unstated acceptance of almost
> Randian-comic caricatures of left versus right attitudes.

"...a level of generality...that relies for its intelligibility and force... on...almost Randian-comic caricatures of left versus right..." I don't know what this proposition says, but I endorse it completely.


Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA