Back to: Doing Our Bit | Forward to: Goodwill

Chrome Plated Jackboots

What are the political threats of the 21st century going to be?

Politics changes over time, so it's fair to say they're going to be different from those of the past. However, history has a habit of being self-similar, so to start with I'm going to take a look back at the past century.

The big political change of the 20th century was the triumph of democracy. At the start of that period, the overwhelming majority of nations were ruled by hereditary monarchies, where your eligibility for a position of power was dictated by an accident of birth (and the loyalty of the army and secret police). Most of the monarchies were totalitarian, and lest you think of them as somehow glamorous, I'd like to remind you that we have another name for absolute monarchism these days: hereditary dictatorship (and the poster child for that system is currently North Korea, where a third Kim appears likely to ascend to the throne chair of the central committee in the next few months). Nevertheless, we've somehow fumbled our way through to a world where in an outright majority of nations, your birth is not a barrier to holding high office, and even more importantly, the high officers of state are in principle directly accountable to the public.

This change was not inevitable. The collapse of the western monarchies between 1917 and 1919 was largely a consequence of a war that need not have happened. And it left a power vacuum, and warring modernist ideologies sought to occupy the vacuum. One of these, Communism in its Leninist form, was initially idealist and utopian — but made the fatal twin mistakes of adopting an elitist, authoritarian leadership structure, and of hewing to ideology over pragmatic reality when the piles of skulls began building up. (The road to hell, good intentions, you know the drill.) The other big contender, Fascism, made no bones about its purpose: it was going to replace the tired, old hereditary dictatorship monarchy with a thrusting, dynamic, air-minded new dictatorship wearing shiny jackboots and reinvigorating the national spirit, which had grown tired and decadent in the fifty-something years since Italy was reuinted. Nazism stole Fascism's uniform and took it to a logical, horrible conclusion, and today Nazism is so thoroughly discredited that nobody takes its politics seriously (only its xenophobia and hatred): but Fascism in the broader sense is worth understanding, because it's still out there (especially in Italy). If you haven't read it already, Umberto Eco's essay Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt is absolutely vital to understanding the Fascist mind-set. (Obligatory troll-bait: John Scalzi was absolutely correct when he gave Jonah Goldberg a wedgie for trying to redefine the author of the Fascist Manifesto as a Socialist. If your ideological reality tunnel is so narrow that you don't get that Mussolini was a Fascist and that Aneurin Bevan was not a Fascist, you're not going to get much out of the rest of this essay.)

But enough about the 20th century. We know what happened to the two big modernist contenders for the power vacuum left behind after the fall of the monarchies (although many books have been filled scratching the surface of their history). We even know about the also-ran contenders that never quite reached take-off speed: Technocracy, Libertarianism, and so on.

And now, the future ...

There are many ways of looking at the politics of the 21st century, and I'm no political scientist; so this is an informal brain dump of what I'm thinking about right now — a pragmatic tour of some issues.

Firstly, it's not going to be about the environment. That war is over — what's currently going on is basically the mopping-up operation, the equivalent of rooting out the last hereditary absolute monarchies to cling on into the 1930s. What opposition there is, consists of the aristocrats sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting "I can't hear you!" as they sit in the tumbrils queuing up at the foot of the guillotine. Quibbling about hockey-stick curves won't get you very far when the oceans are being overrun by toxic jellyfish and anoxic zones, when parts of Australia are peaking at 37 degrees (just shy of human body temperature) in winter, and Vanuatu is being evacuated ahead of the rising tides.

Secondly, it's not going to be about privacy and intellectual property. Or rather, it's going to be about privacy and intellectual property the way that the 20th century was about steam locomotives and iron foundries. These were vital 19th century technologies that provided a platform for 20th century industries to evolve on top of, but triple-condensing steam engines tell us nothing about semiconductor fab lines: they lie too far down the stack of incremental technologies. By the time we reach 2050, the microprocessor and software industries will be about as innovative and interesting as steam locomotives were in 1950; and the big questions about privacy and IP will have been answered (hint: ubiquitous polycentric surveillance, some sort of abstraction layer to encapsulate and insulate the public against the crisis of copyright, and a generation for whom the concept of "blackmail" makes less sense than bleeding with leeches as a cure for a surfeit of billious humours).

Thirdly, it's not going to be about biotechnology any more than the 20th century was about powered heavier-than-air flight. Yes, flight was and is important, but not in the way the Italian modernists of the first three decades imagined, with their manifestos about "air-mindedness" and Douhet's insane, apocalyptic visions of air power — that led to such atrocities as the British Empire's policing with bombers (dropping poison gas!) in the 1920s, and strategic bombing raids against civilian populations during subsequent wars. For the most part, military aviation falls into two categories (better artillery, and better logistics); it doesn't really change warfare, it just makes the whole barbaric affair more efficient (which is to say, more destructive). Biotechnology is going to be an efficiency enabler for a whole lot of things, and have immense second-order effects (just like cheap air travel), but it's not going to fundamentally change us (unless some lunatic repeats the mousepox/interleukin-4 experiment with weaponized smallpox, in which case we are probably all dead).

So what should we be looking at?

Astute readers might just have noticed by now that I have an interest in transhumanism and extropianism. (I've even written a novel that takes some of these themes seriously: Accelerando.)

There's a loose cluster of memes floating around which, like the earlier modernist ideologies, postulate that the human condition is a variable not a constant. (Conservativism, in contrast, assumes that human nature is unchanging: a notion which I refute by inviting its proponents to show me around their caves and give me a tutorial in knapping flints.) Unlike earlier Enlightenment ideologies that looked to the perfectability of humanity in terms of training and education (from the Scottish Kirk to the Soviet Communists), transhumanism focusses on minimizing human constraints by applying new technologies: genetic engineering and tissue engineering, smart drugs, brain implants, mind uploading, life prolongation, artificial intelligence, and so on.

I should nail my colours to the mast at this point and say that, as a child of the enlightenment myself, I'm all in favour of abolishing pain, disability, death, stupidity, and other existential taxes (although I suspect this laundry list is incomplete without the inclusion of sparkly ponies, or at least a chicken in every pot). Maximizing individual freedom to the extent that it doesn't infringe on our neighbours' freedom is hard to argue with — at least until you start arguing about what freedom is: what about freedom to starve, freedom to abuse your kids, or freedom from having your pocket picked to pay for the influenza vaccine for the deadbeat next door who will otherwise incubate, infect, and kill you? Individual freedom versus community interests is a knotty problem, and we don't have a definitive answer to it because we all have different expectations (and evaluations of our perceived needs).

But.

To get to the money shot: transhumanism is going to influence the next century because, unless we are very unlucky indeed, the biotechnology, nanotechnology, and telecommunications industries are going to deliver goods that combine to fundamentally change the human condition. We've seen the tip of the iceberg so far: news stories like this would have been fodder for an SF story twenty or thirty years ago, and this video (playing pong! Using transcranial brain interfaces!) probably still is. But don't be deceived: we're entering strange territory.

And what particularly exercises me is the possibility that if we can alter the parameters of the human condition, we can arbitrarily define some people as being better than others — and can make them so.

Not all transhumanists have good intentions. Earlier I went on for a while about Italy, home of the Modernist movement in art and birthplace of Fascism. Italy's currently in the grip of a wave of racism and neofascist vigilantism, presided over by an allegedly racist media mogul with a near-monopoly on broadcast media in that country.

So it's probably not surprising that Italy is the source of a new political meme that I hadn't heard of before this week: overhumanism:

Italian overhumanism is heavily influenced by the "Nouvelle Droite", a fringe political movement that emerged from the French neofascist microcosm in the late '70s/early '80s, and which attempted to bring far-right ideas into the mainstream by discarding the trappings of historical Fascism in order to convey a similar message in a less unpalatable form. In common with the Nouvelle Droite, it borrows heavily from the extreme left (anti-americanism, anti-clericalism, opposition to globalisation), and has adopted neopaganism as a religious stance. While affirming the importance of science in modern life, this hybrid offspring of neofascism also maintains more traditional far-right positions such as elitism, antiegalitarianism and an interest in ethnic identity that crosses into differentialist racism.
Did you get that? The fascists have noticed transhumanism, and decided that they like it. To continue to quote Giancarlo Stile's warning about the overhumanists:
Nobody doubts that the overhumanists accept what could be called the Central Meme of Transhumanism (CMT), the affirmation that it is ethical and desirable to employ technoscientific means to fundamentally improve the human condition. However, this is only the lowest common denominator of transhumanism and can be adopted, and adapted to their own needs, by most political ideologies, bioconservative and neoluddite ones excluded. That obviously leaves enough room for manoeuvre for some far-right and far-left extremists. It could be argued that this is a strong point of transhumanism, but the other side of the coin is what we have witnessed with the emergence of overhumanism. The founders of modern transhumanism, conscious of these risks, attempted to anchor the CMT to concepts such as the respect of the individual, freedom, tolerance and democracy, underlining how transhumanism's roots are in the Enlightenment, in humanism and liberalism. [8] Extropians have gone further, trying to anchor the CMT to concepts such as spontaneous order at first, and open society later, [9] but it would seem that the overhumanists are more than capable of the ideological contortionism necessary to describe themselves as transhumanists, while maintaning their critique of human rights, their ethno-identitarian obessions, their "Eurasian" fantasies, the fixation with indoeuropean ethnicity, etc.

To be fair, Overhumanism isn't the whole story about transhumanism in Italy. Bruce Sterling picked it up first: there are two different transhumanist organizations, only one of which is wearing the chrome-plated jackboots. Nevertheless, the emergence of this ideology is giving me the cold shudders, because I suspect it's a sign of things to come that will have momentous effects down the line, late in the 21st century.

Why does it matter?

The whole of our constructed weltanschaung of modernity and enlightenment values and democracy rests on the fundamental axiom that existing human lives are of equivalent value. Back in the bad old days, under the monarchies, in the era of chattel slavery, that wasn't so: some people were worth more than others. Update the vision: if your king (or your slave owner) needs a new kidney (or heart), then you'd better hope you're not a histocompatible donor. But as long as we're only dealing with Humanity 1.0, it's hard to argue on empirical grounds that one human is intrinsically worth more than another.

If we run into alien intelligences, or create artificial ones, we will be dealing with beings that may force us to reevaluate that basic axiom of the enlightenment project. But otherwise we've got nothing to fear ... except possibly the products of a political ideology that explicitly rejects the assumption of equality of opportunity. We saw such ideologies at play before: indeed, one of them warped the middle of the 20th century in a ghastly, unforgettable manner. And now there's a new one that might, if it flourishes, evolve into the 21st century equivalent of Nazism.

I think a while back I wrote an SF novel about that, too, and it's not a good feeling to discover a bunch of folks who evidently see bits of it as a road map:

"Hello. We're from the ReMastered race, and we're here to help you."

UPDATE: See comments #64 and #65 from some folks who are considerably closer to the Italian extropian scene than the rest of us.

201 Comments

1:

That's . . . fascinating, and potentially very useful, in a creepy way.

It looks as if one of my next cycle of roleplaying campaigns, starting in 2010, is very likely going to be a curious hybrid: set in Steve Jackson Games's Transhuman Space setting, but instead of that setting's generally benign vision of transhumanism and overall optimism about the future, treating transhuman entities as an analog of Lovecraftian great old ones, "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" lurking beneath the surface of the virtual environment, just waiting till the stars are right (as it were) and they can emerge to make humanity obsolete. But I hadn't gotten to the point of figuring out who the "Cthulhu worshippers" were. These Italian guys sound like they could be ancestral to such a movement.

Of course, Lovecraft himself is well known to have had fascist leanings. Which would add a different level of referentiality to the whole thing.

I'm not sure exactly where to go with this whole thing, but it seems like a productive flavor to stir into the stew. I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the pointer.

2:

Good summary, a lot of the same things I've been thinking. I've been trying to point out to people who object that some idea goes against human nature that very soon "human nature" will be whatever we make it.

On a side note, I'm wondering how long it will be before people modify themselves or their children in to Elves. Give them the genes for height, good looks, excellent reflexes, slender builds, high IQ, longevity, and of course pointy ears (perhaps the most difficult).

3:

Charlie, if reality insists on following your stories around, maybe you should consider writing more Utopian books.

Really, seriously creepy.

4:

Andrew G @2
"On a side note, I'm wondering how long it will be before people modify themselves or their children in to Elves"

Brother, you don't know the half of it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otherkin

5:

Hmm . . . a nitpick, a correction, and a polite disagreement follow.

Nitpick: "interesting as steam locomotives were in 1950" - actually, thanks to the baroque efforts of people like Bulleid, steam locos in 1950 were bloody interesting, too much so, and the final generation of British ones were made far more simple, given the shortage of high-skilled engineers which all steam locos need to stay on the road. But the killer fact for steam wasn't that it wasn't complicated and cutting-edge, it was the fact that any engineer with a brain thought that in 20 years time steam might be a bit better, but diesel and electric would be several times as good. Thus the time, money, and clever which had been pointed at steam changed direction.

Correction: I've looked, and found no evidence that the RAF dropped poison gas on anyone after 1918. The army did shell Iraqis with gas shells, but I don't think that the RAF joined in. HE was good enough for them, including in such tasteful varieties as dropping delayed-action bombs in villages to kill the inhabitants when they leave cover.

Polite disagreement: Remember the immense social and cultural gulf within European states around (say) 1900. ObSF at the time was of course Morlocks / Eloi, but evern without extrapolation, yr proles speak a different language, and fail to speak several that the haut see as essential or desirable (French, Latin). Not only are they nasty and brustish (w. very different standards about violence), they are also short, given the massive differences in nutrition and hence height. Yet this was the generation which got democracy, of a sort, post 1918. You'll need a lot of transhumanism to match that degree of difference within a country between the peasants, the proles, the intellectuals, and the traditional elites.

6:

There's also the possibility of a counter-transhumanism movement. History does argue against it, but we've never had the potential to alter the nature of humanity so greatly either. We may see increasingly great restriction on human modification, apart from the obviously therapeutic.

7:

I'd like to make one minor correction to the above...

Douhet was, to put it mildly, a nutcase; airpower is not, and cannot be, the single decisive factor in warfare (if nothing else, one needs airfields... which require soldiers/sailors to build and guard them from guerrillas). However, it also has two significant military roles distinct from logistics (its primary role) and acting as "better artillery":

(1) Information, both through direct surveillance and vastly shortening the command-and-control loop; any technological development indirectly caused in this area is a more-than-nice-to-have bonus

(2) A radical change in the sea/ground balance of forces, away from sea forces as the foundation of logistical interdiction and denial operations ("blockades" and the like)

Douhet, "Bomber" Harris and LeMay may have been misguided nutcases — although I'm afraid that many longterm residents at Bedlam might be justifiably offended by that comparison — but they also pointed toward schrecklichkeit as an important secondary effect of airpower: Not the military effectiveness (or lack thereof) of bombing raids on infrastructure targets, but the population's fear of such raids as a brake on political adventurism.

8:

Whoops: yes, I forgot surveillance and C3I, both of which are militarily vital and useful side-effects of having aircraft. (Unless you count observation balloons ...)

9:

Hmm . . . political adventurists (Nazis spring to mind) have also thought: "Hey, the other lot are really scared of the knockout blow - let's exploit that and go a-adventuring!"

10:

Talking about counter-movements... I went to a talk by Aubrey de Grey a couple of weeks ago (see the link about life prolongation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey_de_Grey).

Since then, when talking to friends and colleagues about it, the majority of people have expressed a kind of visceral horror at the prospect. The comments have been along the lines of "that's unnatural", and variations of "we have our allotted span and should be happy with it". Having trained as a biochemist, and now being a techie, I find both objections bizarre, to put it politely. But then I'm a fan of Charlie's.... My counter-arguments that "your iPhone isn't exactly natural", and "have you ever been given antibiotics, which may well have saved your life?" cut no ice.

Sadly, I suspect that the best way for such things to be accepted is after they are adopted by celebrities, and offered as prizes....

"In the next issue of Hello Magazine we have exclusive pictures from Jordan's* celebrity-studded 100th birthday party. Enter our competition to win a fantastic treatment by Jade de Grey, rejuvenator to the stars".

* Non-UK readers with a strong constitution may find http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_(Katie_Price) helpful if bewildered.

11:

Sorry Charlie,

I'm going to nitpick a lot on this one, and suggest that rather than superhumans, we're going to see the re-emergence of something very old.

Lyall Watson wrote an interesting essay decades ago, about the "strandloopers" in South Africa, a mesolithic people who may have been the ancestors of today's bushmen. They were gracile, with tremendously large crania, and looked (from their bones) just like everyone's fantasy of future man, less brawn, more brain. They lived and died a very long time ago, which was the point of the essay, that the future has already been here and was selected out. In a world where every environment is rapidly changing, genetically optimizing someone for a particular role (say technocrat in an intensely urban civilization) might be a bad idea, especially if you also engineer him to live long enough to see his optimal environment disappear. He'll have a long obsolescence.

Ditto with technology. Unless someone's getting continually reimplanted with the latest tech crap, and/or getting things fixed (since we all know how long machines last before they break), they are going to be obsolete pretty quickly, and if they're willing to submit themselves to continued surgery....I don't like speaking ill of the dead, but Michael Jackson's a really good example of where that road can lead.

The solution of course is what you already posited in Accelerando, which is where a good chunk of your persona is in external machines and files. This will work. The people who get the power get the remotes to handle that power.

Thing is, this is a very old solution, and goes right back to the chief's retinue right out of the neolithic. It just means that the knowledge and authority to run an organization are vested in the technology that surrounds the person wielding it. It's no different than the "nuclear football" that follows the US President wherever he goes. It's primarily a symbolic tool right now, but if he needed to, he could destroy civilization with it.

Now, I'm sure someone's going to try to become "overhuman." My personal hope is that they try it with first generation new technology, and that the bugs are so horrendous that they discredit the movement for when the bugs finally start getting worked out.

I've got some other thoughts whether it's advantageous to governments to be governed by people who spent time growing up in society and being changed by advances, rather than being isolated and groomed for power. I'll spew those out when they're better formed.

Neat topic though.

Next?

12:

These guys sound like the ultimates from Eclipse Phase - transhuman fascists.

http://www.eclipsephase.com/

"The ultimates are a controversial movement that
embraces a philosophy of human perfection. Decried
by some as immoral or even fascist, ultimates are typi-
cally viewed as elitists. The ultimates have established
several habitats to pursue their ideal society and were
a driving force behind the development of the remade
biomorph design."

13:

There was a recent book Natural Born Cyborgs (review/summary) that argued fairly persuasively to me that humans have been using cognitive enhancement technologies for all of recorded history. (Since writing was one of our first cognitive enhancements)

The core of the argument is that we humans have evolved to assimilate external tools and consider them part of ourselves. For instance there are only few people who can do long division in their heads, but far more can do it if given a piece of paper, and pretty much everyone can do division when given a calculator. So of those 3 categories, who should answer yes to the question "Can you do long division?"

14:

Isn't Freya an example of the over-optimised machine who lost her niche in the ecology?

15:

In a way, fascism or Nazism has always been about transhumanism. The environment that allowed for these groups to argue for superiority (with the corollary that other people were inferior) rested on technological ability. Leaders might have dressed it up with a mythology of innate superiority and people benefiting from this dichotomy might have assuaged their consciences with a belief in the difference in their circumstance being inherent, but it was a still just people getting a grip on a technological/organizational advantage and leveraging it in their favor. Technological enhancement of individuals/populations has been happening for a long time in a multitude of ways, and has been used as an excuse for violent brutality against those without access to it, but the shine always wears off the new chrome jackboots and people get sick of being stepped on and find some way to strike back.

Not that this strikes me as a pleasant cycle, but the more extreme the ideology, or rather the more extreme the effect of an ideology on a different group of individuals, the more extreme the eventual reaction against said ideology. This is why democracy, in some form or another, is emerging as the more stable of the ways to organize a public authority: ideally, it incorporates the widest swath possible of ideologies and input. As this averages out, the direction a society moves in is less harsh and less prone to wild swings. I might get upset about the callousness of my fellow citizens, but up until they start threatening my welfare directly, I'm not going to go crazy and come up swinging.

Any ideology that thrives on targeting a group as victims to supplement their powerbase is playing a delicate game. Play too hard and you kill you victim. If you do this, you either have to change your game or pick someone new to stomp on. If you stay at this game, eventually the folks around you will realize that you will get to them eventually... and gang up and stop you. With modern technology, stomping too hard is too easy, so this ideology combined any small about of resources and know-how can quickly turn into a toxic liability.

I know that what we can do in terms of transhumanism is changing and this will change the political landscape, but I think it will be in this same direction: the more you can supplement your power and become dangerous, the more it behooves you to temper your more aggressive instincts to prevent retaliation from others. Or, on the cynical side, the more it behooves you to control how you are perceived. Democracy or some version of appealing to the organizational potential of informed individuals is going to continue to flourish, but control of message is going to continue to become more and more important.

16:

[ Wingnut apologist censored. Nothing to see here; move along now. -- moderator ]

[ PS: Any further postings on the subject of Jonah Goldberg will be deleted. The guy's an intellectual prostitute (like unto a US neoconservative version of Julius Streicher) and unworthy of any consideration. In particular I see no reason to turn my blog into a soapbox for his reprehensible and vile ideology. -- Charlie ]

17:

With regard to the quaint objections to transhumanism, I was reminded of Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon. Where only anachronistic freaks like Catholics (his characterization) objected to having their minds resleeved in new bodies. However, Morgan's descriptions of the abuses of that technology were so compelling that I think he unconsciously undercut his own anti-religious position. Imagine being tortued to death and then a new copy of you is uploaded to go through the process again and again. How would Cory Doctorow save you from that? Who would bother to resist knowing they potentially faced an eternal iteration? Maybe there actually are things that are too unnatural to be good for us. Charlie's discussion also reminded me of the dozens of Jack Chalker novels that dealt with the confluence of ideology and biological/psychological alteration/conditioning technology. Even though the technologies involved were extreme, one of the central points was that they were just logical extensions to the means already available to hegemonic projects throughout the ages.

18:

I am one of the culprit of the couple of Italian lunatics who made their mission in life to denounce the alleged dangers of my worldview and of my role in organised transhumanism.

Unfortunately for them, not only have I never had "chrome-plated jackboots", but in my writings and public speeches during more than twenty years nobody can find *a single word* which endorses far-right, rightist or even merely conservative POVs, which I personally abhor. And, based on the little Stross's non-fiction I have read sofar, I suspect that I may be much closer to most of his political stances than my personal trolls.

In fact, it is contented by Italian, declaredly leftist, press that they have themselves neofascist connections (see http://www.transumanisti.it/3_articolo.asp?id=67); and you must be aware that faking alarm about the "red-brown plague" has been for some ten years in Italy the trademark of those attempting to disqualify anybody who does not conform with the most "hawkish" US neoconservative views and policies, which are heartily supported by those very people.

But, yes, I prefer Nietzsche's or Marinetti's or Sloterdijk's writings to Ratzinger's, Falwell's or Wolfowitz's. I am glad to admit that.

19:

Fixing senescence, knees, sinus positioning, etc., making everybody beautiful, and probably making them taller isn't really important on the scale of societies; important to people, as individuals, and I'm all for it, but it's not the stuff that matters.

What matters is how well people can gang up on problems; the trans-cranial brain interfaces are only the start of that, and I think a big part of the fight is going to be over attempts to prevent social de-stratification.

The essential (to me, anyway) thing about trans-humanist technology is not so much "distributed intelligence" (we've had that since writing; it's been speeding up, but it's still the old kind) as "distributed organization"; we're going to see intelligence that distributes itself, and organizations that change rapidly without direct planning or policy intervention, because we've already got a competitive ecosystem going, and it's only going to get weirder.

(An organism turns food into shit; an ecosystem turns shit into food. The waste product of an ecosystem is weirdness.)

The notion of an aristocracy, that these people are inherently better than those people, depends on a stable context. That's one of the big reasons, I would argue *the* reason, so much reactionary stuff is happening right now. It's blessed obvious that not only is the stable social context not going to make it, it's getting increasingly obvious that class-mediated social stratification mechanisms aren't going to survive very well, either.

I also think it really, seriously, matters what ideal or aspiration someone sets out to make true.

If some individuals want to be obviously better than others, they're going to run into the problem that individuals are already incompetent to do anything important at a social scale; what they most want (to be overhuman) is going to run into the serious problem that plain, ordinary, unimproved humans with the comms tech and what amount to a temporary distributed group mind can and will kick their ass. It might be rather messy, but it's not a doubtful conclusion. (And I think the lack of doubt attached to that conclusion is a lot of why the US comms infrastructure, relatively speaking, sucks.)

If a group or groups -- as is blessed near inevitable -- set out to make people whom the Pauline marriage model makes *happy*, well. That's going to be interesting.

The one I'm most interested in is how you get your companion device -- never mind how it's implemented, let's just assume everyone's got one -- to be a rational market actor for you. The Efficient Markets Hypothesis using regular humans is plenty falsified, but I'm pretty sure there is no fundamental reason this can't be done using something that isn't human, and at least moderately sure it doesn't have to be sophont to do it. Predicting the *result* of that, though, ow-my-head.

The only thing I'm reasonably sure about in this is that conscious, planned systems design does not inherently beat emergent systems. It's got a shot, but it's not a sure thing.

20:

Graydon: as I see it, our problem is that we are currently in a situation where hierarchical forms of organization predominate (despite the common misconception among denizens of the USA that they don't have a class system). As you note, the notion of aristocracy depends on a stable context. So: what happens if a self-defining aristocracy decide to enforce a "stable context" on everyone else? (As, ah, a "final solution" to the problem of the Bad People™ trying to improve their lot.)

Stefano: I throw no stones at individuals: I'm just interested in exploring possible failure states of the coming century's politics, and the intersection of fascism with extropianism intrigues me. (Previous posting: green activities as symptomatic of religion rather than pragmatism. Coming up soon (or again, depending on your time-frame): panopticon singularities and self-policing states.

21:

If what you want is a sense of superiority, wouldn't it be easier and safer to stay on the 1.0 human genome, and engineer some sub-group towards which that feeling could be in some sense justified?

Subhumanism sounds a lot more practical than overhumanism. Cook up some Herdnerds with a baseline IQ of 130 but bad skin, no interest in art and no capacity for violence. Or servants who are as loyal and unjudging as a dog, and will never be able to parse compound sentences.

What could possibly go wrong?

22:

Actually you are going to get TWO re-emrgent old horrors.
The ReMastered/Fascist/Nazis
AND
Their fellow-travellers, the extreme religious nuts, especially people like Opus Dei and the muslim nutters.

There will almost certainly be a few REALLY NASTY wars over it.

Charlie has commented on the sad state of political affairs in his adopted home-country, before ... read this nasty little piece to give you a starter-feel for what is coming.

ESPECIALLY since it is likely that a disproof of the existence of ANY "god" is likely to be published sometime between now and 24th November this year.
( Why that date? It's an anniversary! )

23:

@18: Graydon,

If I may correct you, weirdness is a function of the observer, not the system. The waste products of ecosystems are things like heat, fossils, and (if you believe Peter Ward) changes in atmospheric chemistry like CO2 or O2 build-ups. Remember, O animal-centric one, that most of the biomass on this planet is either bacteria stuck in the rocks below our feet, or various forms of photosynthetic and chemosynthetic life. We consumers are epiparasites on this basic system.

Otherwise, you've got some good points. I'll debate the idea of an aristocracy, not as people (or now, beings and corporations) who are innately more skilled, but as people who control access to resources, including water, energy, raw materials, and probably computing power. Unfortunately, over time this has been the real definition of an aristocrat, not that they were innately more skilled.

24:

Easily the most frightening socil/politicalprediction I have ever read comes from Nietzsche by way of an essay by Tom Wolfe, "Sorry But Your Soul Just Died":

"The story I have to tell," wrote Nietzsche, "is the history of the next two centuries." He predicted (in Ecce Homo) that the twentieth century would be a century of "wars such as have never happened on earth," wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. And why? Because human beings would no longer have a god to turn to, to absolve them of their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt, since guilt is an impulse instilled in children when they are very young, before the age of reason. As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves. The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods: "If the doctrines...of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I consider true but deadly"—he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations—"are hurled into the people for another generation ...then nobody should be surprised when...brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non–brothers...will appear in the arena of the future."

Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century "on the mere pittance" of the old decaying God–based moral codes. But then, in the twenty–first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of "the total eclipse of all values" (in The Will to Power). This would also be a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not."

Perhaps the greatest threat to our humanity and our human dignity comes not from tyranny, but from nihilism.

25:

doowop: man, that Nietzsche sure had a purty tongue!

(But I disagree with his long-term prediction. He didn't know about game theory, or emergent systems, or the iterated prisoner's dilemma, or a whole bunch of stuff that cropped up after he died. So it's not his fault that he didn't anticipate the emergence of moral systems based on game theory or behavioural psychology. He lived in an authoritarian age, remember -- the age of absolute monarchs as well as the age of God. Not his fault that when he peered into the abyss, he only saw halfway to the other side.)

26:

Future form of government: gerontocracy.

Every society on the planet is experiencing a birth dearth, a collapse of birth rates below the minimum 2.1 kids per woman necessary to keep population stable. It is not just happening in America (which supposedly will be overrun by Hispanics), Europe (who are supposed to suffer the same fate at the hands of Muslims) and Japan (which will be taken over by... robots).

But Latin America and the Islamic world are going through the same demographic transition, they are just a generation behind the more advanced countries. In some countries (Russia) the transition is so extreme that they are doomed demographically.

For the most part, however, the world's population will be top heavy in pensioners as the age demographics shift into the "gray zone". Geezers do two things - consume a great deal of accumulated and produced capital (mostly in the form of health care and pensions both public and private) while not producing any wealth, and vote with a vengence. God help any politican who even thinks about limiting benefits to old Americans once the Boomers begin to retire enmasse.

We Boomers are going to be a crushing financial and tax burden on the younger generation. And we will be the biggest voting block.

27:

doowop: see also "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling. Who got there round about 1998 ...

NB: I am not a boomer -- I turn 45 in a month or so, which makes me leading edge of Gen X, if those divisions have any meaning in British demographic terms. Right?

28:

Charlie @19:

While you're at it, you may extend self-policing to the realm of self-spreading propaganda. Not because it is new, but because people keep forgetting about it.

I may give credit to the wrong person, but I think that Göbbels was the first to put it in widespread use. He realized that you can't get anywhere if you try to shove propaganda into peoples minds using nothing but a run-off-the-mill propaganda ministry. Instead, he aimed to make people spread propaganda on behalf of the ministry without them realizing the true extend of what they were doing. He even said what he was doing in a slightly more poetic way in the propaganda flick "Triumph of Will". (Something along the lines of "Any modern propaganda must aim to spread the flame of propaganda to form a strong government, but it must also make sure that the flame descents(!) to the ordinary people, such that it will spread rise back up to strengthen the state". Or whatever it was. It was quite explicit.)

It worked quite effectively. And keeps on working for other purposes.

29:

I hope Nietzsche is wrong as well. But while we focus our fears on "1984" and "Handmaids Tale" scenarios, let's not forget "Clockwork Orange".

I for one place little hope in moral systems based on game theory or behavioural psychology. Enlightened self interest is a very weak foundation to ensure civilized behavior and control of our baser instincts. The masses have ever been inspired (for good or evil) by dry philosophy. That may require the drama of religious faith.

Suppose mankind as a whole 100 years hence comes to beleive that God doesn't exist, the Self and Free Will are mere illusions, and that existence truley is pointless and without meaning. And then suppose we find out that believing in such things (even if they aren't true) is absoluting necessary for the vast majority of people are for the most part to act in a civil and decent manner.

Perhaps atheists of the future will postion themselves at the head of new and old religions, promoting what they beleive to be a lie - but also knowing the lie to be necessary. And like Pope Leo X they will similarily claim "What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!"

P.S.The Overhumans sound like a retread of the Eugenics Movement from 100 years ago.

30:

Geopolitics: Continued American dominance through the next century.

George Friedman has a new book on my reading list " "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century." While I find his predictions of a Japanese-Turkish axis attacking an America allied with Poland to be fanciful, and his complete lack of discussion of India's future place in the world as a great power to be negligent, he does make some interesting observations on why America is desteind to stay numero uno and why China is never going to be a real threat.

China is isolated by geography and has too many hurdles to overcome if it is ever to be a true succesor to America. America OTOH is perfectly located to dominate both Pacific and Atlantic trade routes. And like the British Empire whose main foreign policy goal was to prevent any single European power from dominating the continent - allowing the Royal navy to rule the oceans, America has only to prevent a single power from dominating Eurasia - so the American navy can rule the maritime trade routes and the America aerospace force can rule the satellite comlinks of low Earth orbit.

The only real "threat" to American dominance would be a true European Union acting as a single nation under a federal government with each European nation nothing more than subservient states having surrendered their military, economic and diplomatic powers to Brussels.

And that ain't gonna happen.

31:

@doowop: And just as the British Empire fell, so too shall the American.

32:

doowop: George Friedman has his own institutional axe to grind. And I don't think he's got even the remotest inkling of a clue about an idea relevant to anything that happens after 2050. Not because he's stupid; but hecause he's in exactly the same position as a former British Army staff officer turned academic in 1909 speculating about the world of 1950.

I'm not saying he's stupid -- STRATFOR emits some very interesting stuff from time to time -- but if you triangulate on his background and interests, there's a heavy bias visible. (Americans with any kind of military/national service tradition/background seem to find it very hard to admit that their nation isn't going to be the centre of the world for ever and ever, even though they've got only 5% of the planetary population, ageing infrastructure, a poor climate prognosis, and are losing their relative advantage over everyone else about as fast as the British Empire did a century ago. This doesn't mean that the USA is going to collapse any time soon. But? Expecting it to still be a hegemonic superpower in 50-100 years is a bit on the optimistic side.)

33:

Andrew G @6: I'd expect a counter-transhumanism movement to come from the fundamentalists. Once Transhumanism becomes more widely known they're sure to complain about "messing with god's design" or some such.

tp1024 @27 'Triumph of the Will' was by Riefenstahl, Goebbels hated her. (Speaking of picking nits)

"Overhumans", call 'em what they sound like: Nazis. From the name =Ubermenschen, to the neopaganism, technology fetish, and racism.

34:

JamesPadraicR @ 32 - Don't be so sure. While I expect there will be a number of religious objections to transhumanism I don't think that will be the only one. Or even the most serious.

Consider for example Leon Kass or Charles Krauthammer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_kass
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Krauthammer

Or UK groups like GeneWatch:
http://www.genewatch.org/sub-396416

35:

Wow. Reading posts like this reminds me why I read blogs in the first place. It's not the fog in Scalzi's backyard, although that is enjoyable and distracting. It's this. And embedded in your article, Scalzi's brilliant "wedgie," as you so nicely put it. Made me read Jonah Goldberg for 3 minutes, which is probably 3 minutes too long.

Keep it up.

36:

truth is life @ 30:

Er, the British Empire "fell" after Britain was near the center of the two largest wars in human history. After being nearly bankrupted by those, they were stuck with a money-draining collection of colonies populated by resentful subjects of different ethnic groups.

How is the situation of the US anything like that? Where's America's Empire?

37:

doowop@25

My old man once told me (around '95) that he didn't expect to collect any Canada Pension Plan benefits since the Canadian Gov't ran it as a revenue stream and had no good plan for dealing with the Boomer demographic bulge.

I asked him if he honestly thought that said Boomer bulge, enhanced with senior citizen voting tenacity, would restrain itself from beggaring the country to get a social benefit it had contributed to for its entire working life.

That principle writ large is a big chunk of the West's political future. I sincerely hope that the Boomers' desire to see their kids and grandkids succeed prevents too much mayhem, but I am not confident.

38:

andrew G @34

I quite agree. America today is not analogous to Britain in 1945.

Having won the Cold War and the world wars we are more like Britian in 1815 after it had won the Napoleonic wars and wars of the French Revolution.

Taking down the British Empire required the rise of new nation states (Germany) and new powers (Japan) that didn't even exist at the start of the empire. Something similar will have to occur to take down America. And our hegemony is not a financial burden. Even with our massive global military committments, our defense budget is only a small percentage of GDP. Yet we still manage to spend more on defense than the next 10 nations combined.

39:

Threats are often inverted promises. What's the promising trend of the past century? The continuing expansion of rights to those previously without.

But even people of good will sometimes feel uneasy about extending rights past a given "bright line" of human. In the US alone, fetal rights, brain-death rights, and animal rights have become hot-button issues. Many people feel that rights need to be strongly delineated else they'll be eroded. A lot of cultural anxiety is generated by edge cases, slippery slope arguments, and the like.

(This seems to be a basic human reaction to reclassifying discrete categories into continuous ones. There are peoples for whom the rainbow is a malign symbol because it blends the colors.)

Right now, the "bright line" is at a rough equilibrium mainly because the entities whose rights are being debated have no direct voice.

What happens should they obtain one? And who's going to be against them?

40:

"I asked him if he honestly thought that said Boomer bulge, enhanced with senior citizen voting tenacity, would restrain itself from beggaring the country to get a social benefit it had contributed to for its entire working life."

Well if we Boomers don't get our way I'm sure we will take to the streets like we did in the 60s.

However, shouting "Up against the wall fascits pig!" won't have the same impact coming from people using walkers and wearing adult diapers.

As for breaking the economy, the big question is whether or not continued real improvements in productivity and automation will keep pace so as to compensate for projected relative declines in the labor force and the tax burdens imposed on those supporting us geezers.

41:

Is the concept of the nation state obsolete? The nation state (as created by Bismark in Germany and Lincoln in America) is an industrial era political construct.

Is it valid in a post-industrial world or is it as obsolete as a feudal monarchy?

42:

"Yet we still manage to spend more on defense than the next 10 nations combined."

We spend more than all other nations combined.

The US does just over 50% and growing of the worlds military spending with just under 25% and shrinking of its economy.

One of those trends is sustainable.

43:

charlie @31
"Expecting it to still be a hegemonic superpower in 50-100 years is a bit on the optimistic side"

And not a moment too soon. Maybe when that happens we can steal some good ideas from countries that "suddenly seem very smart" and get some decent healthcare round here.

44:

Leon Kass? Ugh. A nasty, nasty mind!

Very intelligent, and hatefully invested in a spurious idea of human dignity that makes a fetish out of stoic suffering while denying the possibility -- or even desirability -- of improvement.

(Also a misogynist, but that's par for the course.)

45:

The political challenge from Religious Fundies is clear and obvious but it is under serious assault intellectually and militarily. Maybe we should be looking at how the New Atheist movement will develop and what new politics it will exhibit. As Nicholas Taleb points out in the Black Swan predicting the future is a fools game but it strikes me that the high level of interest and activity generated by this movement will generate change.

When the history of the 21st century is written will there be a chapter about a technocratic Committee for Public Safety whose members were all rational and logical and who believed they had learned the lessons of history? 'This time it will be different'. A faction powered by Hedge Fundies and their sponsored cabals.

46:

Andrew G @34, I was merely suggesting fundamentalists as one possible source of anti-transhumanism. I live in a city which is home to several nationally (US) known evangelical orgs, so my mind tends to go there.

For the most part I have no problem with the basic ideas of Transhumanism, it's the potential abuses (eugenics, etc.) that make me a little nervous, and I'm not too sure about Posthumanism.

47:

Charlie @ 20 -

While Permanent Aristos are in principle possible, as a system it takes a couple of things to pull off.

Firstly, stability requires poverty. (which is certainly what the US Right is trying to get, and they may locally succeed.) If there isn't poverty, somebody has surplus, and can innovate. The only way you can pull off a stable, enforced, fixed hierarchy is by controlling all global surplus. Absolutely anybody with a marcher state and a willingness to go egalitarian with improvements will mess that up, and the ability to act as a global economic hegemon rests with NO ONE right now.

Secondly, the important thing is still not how pretty you are, but how good your group mind is, and that is precisely the tech that is under selection pressure to spread. Individual aristos compete on the ability to concentrate wealth; the more any one individual aristo expands the organizational ability of the plebes, the more wealth they will concentrate. So as a thing the aristocracy would not be stable. It might take three or five generations to come to a bloody and final end, but it surely would.

So, yes, some considerable risk of a much larger and nastier version of the British ID card thing; it can't be done, Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety will do you in even if you can (and they surely can't) make the technical mechanisms work well enough, but someone is going to try because the alternative is surrendering relative social status. I'm quite confident that it will fail, though, so a permanent aristocracy seems highly unlikely.

I'd be much more worried about getting a non-survival of government, corpratist set up that could not achieve any kind of stability; Solmalia with biotech, nanotech, and starting budgets in the billions. It would wind down, too, but it would be a lot messier than even a very muscular attempt to ensure that relative social status never changes again.

heteromeles @ 23 --

Ecologies accumulate contingency through natural selection and the broad interaction of multiple populations of organisms. I think it's fair to regard the accumulated contingency as weirdness, since it can't be explained without reference to the idea of accumulated contingency; it doesn't make sense in any other way.

Aristos aren't, now, innately more skilled; I took Charlie to be worried about a situation where a bunch of wealthy people set out to make themselves innately superior using transhumanist tech, and then used that superiority, instead of ancestry, as the justification for their rule.

doowop @ 26 --

Effective anti-senescence treatments solve the gerontocracy problem, since the old are merely better practiced and more skilled, rather than out of work.

Pretty much nothing is more subject to selection than patterns of reproduction; we're massively selecting for "wants to have kids" and "social systems that support having kids by supporting reproducing women" right now. The current dip is nothing to worry about.

doowop @ 29 --

Life is short. You should try to enjoy it.

No moral system or baser instinct control is required. All you have to do is give up being tied in knots over being a really fucked-up angel, and go on the basis of being a pretty good East African ground ape specialized for co-operating in groups.

48:

Andrew G @6, SF on wanting to kill transhumans: Brenda Cooper's The Silver Sea and the Ship. The rest of my bookgroup liked it better than I did.

Chris King @10, I don't want a longer life unless they make me well first.

Ben @43, I suggest T.R. Reid's The Healing of America. I'm halfway through (between the UK & Canada) and it not only has a lot of facts, he explains a lot of things.

49:

Speaking as a person who's soon to be officially old, I'm persuaded that the basic political model of the old is "vote ourselves money and benefits and don't worry about what happens to the country—we deserve it!" At least in the United States; I won't speak to the attitudes of old people in other countries. The confidence in their right to have everyone else working and going without to make them happy would make the French ancien régime feel right at home. It quite makes me detest the AARP, which keeps trying to sign me up to support their particular brand of special interest lobbying.

50:

@Graydon 47:

Wow:

"Ecologies accumulate contingency through natural selection and the broad interaction of multiple populations of organisms. I think it's fair to regard the accumulated contingency as weirdness, since it can't be explained without reference to the idea of accumulated contingency; it doesn't make sense in any other way."

Let's break this down.

--Ecologies isn't a useful word. Try communities if you want to talk about a group of specific organisms, ecosystems if you want to include the nutrient and energy flows between organisms, biospheres if you want to talk about ones that are functionally isolated from each other.

--contingencies: variation occurs through all sorts of mechanisms, including eukaryotic sexual recombination, all variety of genetic uptake and swapping (especially, but not uniquely, in bacteria), mutation, and the like.

Natural selection specifically is the winnowing of variation by the environment. Rather than a source of diversity (what I think you mean by contingencies), natural selection decreases variation by killing of the variants that don't work, or at least making sure their genes don't pass on.

So no, natural selection doesn't increase contingency.

"Accumulated contingency is weirdness" only if you regard what normally works to keep a biosphere ticking over for four billion years as "weird." To me, it's normal. Personally, I think overhumanism is weird, compared to, say, a platypus or your average intestinal parasite. But the latter two play recognizable roles in their respective ecosystems, and I'm not sure overhumanists are anything more than hosts for symbiotic bacteria, although that is probably my abysmal ignorance speaking.

I'd also question your "we're selecting for "wants to have kids" idea. Really? Like I can afford to have one right now? In rural economies, kids start earning their keep before age 10, by doing chores. Now days, kids are financially dependent on their parents until around 25 or 30 (at least if you're middle class) and in many areas, they're dependent for housing as well, because the cost of housing is unaffordable for anyone who isn't married, and "living with mom" is a major turnoff for many singles.

Having many kids is an economic decision as well as a biological one, and right now, the cost of having kids in a developed society makes them luxuries, not necessities. It's too bad, but that's capitalism for you. When the US government stops eyeballing its collective intestines and starts seriously funding education again (instead of, say, making student loans a great way for the rich to get richer and make educated people poor), then we may start seeing a bump in the birth rate.

Apologies for the harshness, but there's some hot-button issues in there that needed a response.

51:

The problem isn't the Ubermenschen, its the Optouten.

What happens when those that think themselves superior don't want to 'rule' over the prols, they opt out and want rid of all of them?

52:

@50: you're absolutely right, Ian. After we get rid of all the boring people who do all the boring work, then...well, who's going to do the boring work?

Boring, in this case, means the people who are maintaining the sanitation plants, electrical grids, picking up the garbage, picking the crops in the fields, answering at the help desk, and so on.

53:

With regard to the quaint objections to transhumanism, I was reminded of Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon. Where only anachronistic freaks like Catholics (his characterization) objected to having their minds resleeved in new bodies. However, Morgan's descriptions of the abuses of that technology were so compelling that I think he unconsciously undercut his own anti-religious position. Imagine being tortued to death and then a new copy of you is uploaded to go through the process again and again. How would Cory Doctorow save you from that? Who would bother to resist knowing they potentially faced an eternal iteration? Maybe there actually are things that are too unnatural to be good for us.

There was another recent novel, the name of which I can't recall (curse you, Charlie, where are your external memory stares when we need them?!?) in the psychopathic genius genre.

The author took a good hard look at the possibiities of brain hacking, and managed to creep me the fuck out by showing the consequences of his Bad Guy developing the technology to alter the very basics of people's personalities. We're not talking about brainwashing, or something resisted by a stalwart hero gritting his teeth and using willpower, but actually understanding the various sub-processes that go into the illusion of a consciousness and hacking them.

He didn't fuck people over. It was worse - he fucked around with the things that made them them.

Imagine making disloyalty literally unthinkable. Orwell's NewSpeak embodied in neurology.

Charlie's Overhumanists would also make very very good use of the idea of hotshotting contained in the Steve Jackson games - rewiring people to get pleasure out of performing some activity - and their victims would thank them for it. Imagine making it an employment condition...

54:

By the way, Charlie, doesn't the whole of capitalist economics rests on the fundamental axiom that existing human lives are NOT of equivalent value?

55:

heteromeles @ 49:
>> "Ecologies accumulate contingency through natural selection and the broad
>> interaction of multiple populations of organisms. I think it's fair to
>> regard the accumulated contingency as weirdness, since it can't be explained
>> without reference to the idea of accumulated contingency; it doesn't make
>> sense in any other way."

> Ecologies isn't a useful word. Try communities if you want to talk about a
> group of specific organisms, ecosystems if you want to include the nutrient
> and energy flows between organisms, biospheres if you want to talk about ones
> that are functionally isolated from each other.

OK, then, ecosystems; you have a lot of species interacting, from prokaryotes on up in individual complexity. The interaction is in a context of natural selection, which includes as changes in the probabilities of reproductive success the effects of environmental events (weather, solar flares, volcanism, impact events, etc.) with a random component. Over (geological) time, disparity tends down, and diversity tends up.

> contingencies: variation occurs through all sorts of mechanisms, including
> eukaryotic sexual recombination, all variety of genetic uptake and swapping
> (especially, but not uniquely, in bacteria), mutation, and the like.

Yes, it does. All of those processes are contingent; they include a significant element of thermodynamically irreversible randomness. (The online Mirriam-Webster def 3 for contingent -- "happening by chance or unforeseen causes".)

> Natural selection specifically is the winnowing of variation by the
> environment. Rather than a source of diversity (what I think you mean by
> contingencies), natural selection decreases variation by killing of the
> variants that don't work, or at least making sure their genes don't pass on.

Yup.

> So no, natural selection doesn't increase contingency.

Natural selection doesn't increase contingency; it conserves contingency, the happenings of chance. We have no cervical ribs because our tiny ancestors didn't need them, and suffered no adverse selection when they lost them. Same (probably) with lumbar vertebrae. Same with eleventy-squillion things; it's like that because something happened by chance a long time ago. There are people who have a particular immune receptor and apparently don't get, or are very slow to get, AIDs despite being HIV positive; this is strongly correlated with having ancestors who survived the Black Death.

It's all like that; five fingers is the primitive condition for tetrapods because that's how many digits happened to develop in the limbed fish that specialized in anoxic bottom habitats and got to doing pushups out of the water. The forelimb development condensation sequence for hand and wrist bones (if a recent paper is right) happens independently of the upper arm and shoulder, and recapitulates that very ancient fin, across tetrapoda. It might really be six, if there is a pre-pollex lurking in the genes.

> "Accumulated contingency is weirdness" only if you regard what normally works
> to keep a biosphere ticking over for four billion years as "weird."

Not that it works; that it's full of the memory of past disasters, luck, and chance, merrily constraining present possibility, One Spaghetti Code To Rule Them All.

> To me, it's normal. Personally, I think overhumanism is weird, compared to,
> say, a platypus or your average intestinal parasite. But the latter two play
> recognizable roles in their respective ecosystems, and I'm not sure
> overhumanists are anything more than hosts for symbiotic bacteria, although
> that is probably my abysmal ignorance speaking.

They haven't managed to do anything particularly interesting yet, I'll grant you, but the odds of someone not identifying the senescence genes (since that's very probably been done already) *and* of not figuring out how to do therapeutic adult somatic cell genetic modifications in humans strike me as too low to be concerned with, given the continuation of the present post-industrial scientific culture. Once that's available, I can't imagine that it won't be significant in its effects.

> I'd also question your "we're selecting for "wants to have kids" idea.
> Really?

Really. Everywhere reasonable, or even half-assed, contraception is available and used, that's certainly what we're doing. The proportion of people having kids because you must, or you can't avoid it if you have sex, is dropping very sharply. Parenthood is more or less but highly significantly voluntary anywhere that's gone through the demographic transition. (Which can be summarized as "women get access to contraception; this has social consequences".)

Way back in the 30s, the results for tiny percentage differences in success in natural selection got worked out, and it's *not* a tiny percentage difference.

> Like I can afford to have one right now? In rural economies, kids start
> earning their keep before age 10, by doing chores.

Define "rural economies", please?

> Now days, kids are financially dependent on their parents until around 25 or
> 30 (at least if you're middle class) and in many areas, they're dependent for
> housing as well, because the cost of housing is unaffordable for anyone who
> isn't married, and "living with mom" is a major turnoff for many singles.

This is in part a decision to prefer stability of social class to reproduction. It's not universal, either in the States or globally. (It's also not universal across classes in the US; there's recent studies that indicate black single mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds tended to do *better* than other members of their cohorts, economically, not worse.)

> Having many kids is an economic decision as well as a biological one, and
> right now, the cost of having kids in a developed society makes them
> luxuries, not necessities. It's too bad, but that's capitalism for you. When
> the US government stops eyeballing its collective intestines and starts
> seriously funding education again (instead of, say, making student loans a
> great way for the rich to get richer and make educated people poor), then we
> may start seeing a bump in the birth rate. Apologies for the harshness, but
> there's some hot-button issues in there that needed a response.

I was speaking of the global situation, rather than specifically the American one. There are a number of places, less horrified by socialism than the US, that outright pay you to have kids; sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. Even the "a lot" cases don't seem to work well in terms of increasing the birth rate.

At the global level, yeah, I think the idea of selecting for liking to have kids holds, and I think it's going to have very interesting side effects depending on how far along the process is before the effective life extension tech becomes generally available.

56:

A couple of interesting things to consider, raised above.

Regarding the death of the nation-state and the eclipse of US predominance, this could possibly be tied to the rise of regional blocs and the rebirth of Technocracy. Not by the same name, most likely, but as trade and resource blocs managed by unelected meritocracies. China seems to be evolving in that direction, and it's a possible direction the EU could go if nations-states lose power but the voice of the people doesn't shift as supranational governance grows.

Another concern for the next century is the possibility that much of humanity will become obsolete. That a combination of information technology, genetics, and nanotech will create an elite that no longer sees itself as entirely human, and no longer needs the rest of humanity. Combine that with the idea that humanity is a plague on Mother Nature and things could get nasty.

Then there's always the possibility that folks like Kass or the Pope are right.

57:

They US has a tax structure that favors those with children, as well as a very child-friendly culture. It's sort of a joke that every new stupid law is justified as being "for the children".

There's also recent evidence that having children is becoming something of a status symbol for the upper middle class. It's not uncommon to see the wealthy and upper professional families with 3 or 4 children. The middle class, meanwhile, usually has 2 or fewer. So you get a strange curve, where the poor have several of children early in life, the middle class have a few children in their late 20s, and the rich have several children in their mid to late 30s.

58:

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis is still very much worth reading when considering the potential abuses of transhumanist technologies, even if one doesn't agree that modifying "human nature" is an abuse in and of itself.

For that matter, Alisdair McIntyre's investigations of virtue ethics, with his insistence on the central role of community in moral understanding, offer an interesting perspective on the ethical considerations involved, along with a compelling answer to Nietzsche.

59:

Graydon@54: A small minority of people like me use contraceptive technologies to avoid biological reproduction entirely. But the majority use of contraception is to control the timing and frequency of reproduction, commonly in such a way as to allow greater parental investment per child. And that's just an alternative reproductive strategy. If it were automatically going to be unsuccessful then there would be no mammalian species that have single offspring; we would all produce litters, and the average woman would have eight nipples. For that matter, higher parental investment characterizes all mammals and birds compared to the vertebrate average.

If you have the choice between having 1.5 kids and giving them a solid education and a small financial startup stake, or having 3.5 kids and sending them to work (or to pursue criminal careers) with high school education or less . . . it's not a foregone conclusion that the latter represents greater reproductive success.

60:

andrew G @ 36 and doowop @ 38:
Seriously, pointing at the 1950's and our last major wins is sort of like mentioning the last time the Cubs won a world series.
No longer a valid point of reference for a situation which has changed vastly. Even when we win, we loose. And when we loose, we loose and then loose again.

@ the primary blog posting:
I sometimes stand lost in thought, wondering what new brands and breeds of xenophobia we will venture into as we pass into the coming centuries. The transhuman future has plenty of avenues which lead to terribly static, xenophobic places. A world where we've always been at war with EastAsia.

The article on Ur-fascism was fascinating, however, though I believe the author and I have slightly different definitions of fascism.

61:

@Graydon:

So something that eliminates most of the potential variation in the world (i.e. natural selection) conserves diversity? Try again.

I'd also point out that our ancestors experimented with up to 8 phalanges, before settling on five. Why? Probably for some very good reason having to do with maximizing return on minimum limb investment, or maximizing maneuverability. If you get away from animals, convergent evolution is the rule, not the exception, in plants, fungi, bacteria, and most of the life on Earth. Go look up Karl Niklaas' books if you want a decent introduction.

Two big points: one is that natural selection is a picky bitch, and while there are systems that seem to generate diversity, it's more along the line of cheap knock-offs on a few themes (like 800 species of fruit flies, or 20,000 orchids) than anything fundamental.

The bigger point is that there is a 150 year-old, extremely adaptable language for talking about this. It's called the science of evolutionary biology. It's always fun to try to rephrase it in some other language (like increasing weirdness and increasing contingency), but so far evolution has successfully taken on all comers, unlike, say physics, which has fundamental conflicts between gravity and quantum theory, and can't even explain if dark energy exists, much less what it is. Given that record, it's not a bad idea to use terms that have passed the test of time if you're going to talk about evolution.

62:

Working up an idea for a book, eh?

I read your writing for entertainment, but also I think

you are one of the best at predicting possible futures in a

way that rings true. Some SF writers have that talent, some

do not. I had never heard of J. Goldberg. Thank you for

pointing out another person I will not read or listen to.
:)

63:

Charlie, back @ 20 ...
"Coming up soon (or again, depending on your time-frame): panopticon singularities and self-policing states."

AGAIN - sorry to be repetitive, but, this is virtually a definition of Mediaval Europe, as hopefully "organised" by the catholic church, and Stalin's Russia, and N. Korea right now ...

These all failed in the end,or will do, because:
There were always a few people (at first) who didn't dance to the church's tune, who acquired followers - but it was messy - 200 years of religious war across the face of Europe.
Sovumion failed because it was self-defeating, the whole apparat was grinding itself to a halt - oddly enough the asualt by Hitler may have PROLONGED the Russian people's suffering.
N. Korea will collapse as the E. European commie states did, as soon as sufficient INFORMATION reaches those in the North that they've been had. Which is why it is a sealed state - except it is getting more difficult, by the day, to do that any more.
Even the Chinese realise that, sooner or later the information-control game is up.

The ONLY way you can get a stable sytem is the con/bullshit/convince the majority of the poulation that the "rule of the saints" is the ONLY way to go.
But it will lead to ferocius repression. Look at the power-struggle going on in Persia, right now.

Where this COULD happen is the USA, oddly enough, given that something like 40% of the poulation STILL "think" that species are immutable and created.
Scary.

64:

I am one of the founders of one of the Italian transhumanist associations mentioned, the Italian Transhumanists Network (Network H+, transumanisti.org) and I'd like to clarify something, if I may.

Our group was born as a reaction to the arrival of the "overhumanists" at the other association (AIT, transumanisti.it), and their subsequent manouvering which resulted in Stefano Vaj's *appointment* (as opposed to election) as national secretary. While I have no doubt that the overhumanists are, in fact, neofascists [1] it is not fair to say that our cousins at AIT are "wearing the chrome-plated jackboots" - only a few of them are. Neither I nor Network H+ claim or imply that AIT is a neofascist organisation. The vast majority of AIT's members do NOT have neofascist tendencies of any type. What happened is that the founder of AIT decided to ally himself with Vaj, justifying this move with the reasoning that his association should be open to Italian transhumanists of any political conviction. In his view their presence is not controversial, given that the far-right parties in Italy non only are perfectly legal, but some of them even had, until the last elections, a few seat in the Italian Parlament. While I and many other Italian transhumanists find his logic faulty and indeed dangerous for both Italian and global transhumanism, to accuse *all* of AIT of fascist tendencies is not fair.

[1] however atypical, and despite heavy ideological borrowing from the far left, as illustrated in 'The Political Roots of Overhumanism'
http://preview.tinyurl.com/ma69k4

65:

Charlie,

I am a founding member of the Italian Transhumanist Association, and a personal friend of Stefano Vaj (the main target of Mr. Stile's hysterical rants). I am also a founding member of the IEET, an organization known for its rather left-wing, technoprogressive approach, and I am generally known as a left-winger. If there is one thing that I really abhor, it is authoritarianism in all its shapes, colors and flavors. In passing, I wish to mention that my own opinions on individual freedom vs. community interest are quite similar to yours, as outlined above. I am for total freedom of thought, and I am also for freedom of action as long as it does not actually infringe on others' rights.

That is why I am hurt and saddened by your casual remark about the chrome-plated jackboots. The positions of the AIT are clearly expressed by its Manifesto, which does not endorse any authoritarian position:
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/campa20080722/

Concerning Mr. Stile, I will only note that he was expelled from the AIT, by unanimous decision, for repeated disruptive and "trollish" behavious and for spamming the AIT mailing list with personal attacks and insults.

66:

Estropico, Giulio: Hi, welcome to my blog.

I'd like to note, by way of context, that I'm in the UK; political events and organizations in Italy are always rather hard to evaluate from over here. I ran across the overhumanism issue by way of Bruce Sterling's blog, and it caught my interest -- in the form it was reported in -- as an example of one way ideologies might evolve in the next century, rather than as an immediate problem to panic over right now.

I'm more worried about real fascists adopting extropian ideas than about extropians adopting fascism.

(I am not qualified to comment on internal politics within AIT or Network H+, as I don't speak/read Italian and don't personally know the main participants. I note the point about Mr Stile's expulsion from AIT without additional comment, other than to say: because I don't know the people concerned or speak the language, I have no basis for knowing who is the more reliable correspondent.)

67:

to heteromeles @ 52:

Solution to people not doing boring work, I introduce T.H Huxley's "Brave New Word" Copyright 1932. *shudder*

68:

Graydon - "No moral system or baser instinct control is required. All you have to do is give up being tied in knots over being a really fucked-up angel, and go on the basis of being a pretty good East African ground ape specialized for co-operating in groups."

We are nearly identical genetically with our evolutionary cousins the chimpanzees. And they are nasty bastards that wage war, hunting down and killing chimps from rival troops (when they aren't tearing the face off a human woman, as in the news recently). They kill the "Other" without hesitation and with apparent delight. Observe a troop of chimps for a while and you will witness "natural altrusim" in all its glory. We share their same instincts and badass attititudes, along with over 99% of our DNA coding. Remove relgious controls on those instincts and we eventually revert back to our natural selves.

The Romans had a saying, "Homo homini lupus", a latin phrase meaning "man is a wolf to man." Truer words were never spoken. To claim that humnas don't rey on each other (either subtley or brutally) is to ingore the first law of ecology - the threat to survival for any organism comes not from predators, but from members of its own species. This is especially true of those, like humans who sit on top the food chain. We provide our own competition and our own evolutionairy pressures.

Too much is made of selfless altruism found in nature, like Wilson's self sacrificing ants that give their lives for the sake of their sisters. Such altruism is far from universal. Indeed it is limited to only those members of the organism's immediate breeding group. These same selfless ants are just as capable of slaughtering the members of a rival colony.

And within that breeding group, especially for primates, the so-called natural "cooperation" consists of a tyranny imposed by some alpha male. The same is true of human organizations led by kings, emperors, presidents, pharoahs, and CEOs. There are no human organizations that are significantly differetn than a typical troop of babboons. Within the group, the struggle is for power and dominance, and its nearly as brutal.

What civilization requires is a check on our baser instincts. A check that can only be provided by religion and an unseen, all-seeing God that punishes evil doers and rewards the good. Historically, nothing else has worked to make the naturally feral human fit for civilization. Of the two historically proven civilizing agents, policemen and priests, the priests are far more cost effective since they are aided by an invisible diety who can look into peoples hearts as well as observe their actions.

Without a religion commanding us to love our neighbors (and our enemies), and declaring all men to be equal before the eyes of God, the quality of mercy would be forever constrained to immediate loyalty groups. We would continue to kill and oppress those not belonging to our clan or tribe. And even religion usually fails in this taks, becoming itslef just another troop willing to kill members of other troops in jihads and pogroms. For every Jesus, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, or St. Francis of Assissi, there are a dozen Torquemadas and hundred Taliban.

But without religion, the first group would not exist at all.

Nowhere in nature is a dictat that I should universally treat all humans, especially those that are different than myself, with decency and dignity. There is no natural reason why I should respect the humanity of a Black or Jew. So when the Klan lynched Blacks, the Nazis gassed Jews, the Serbs slaughtered Muslims, Communists killed class enemies, and Iranians execute gays they are acting exactly like chimps in the wild. It's all very natural.

What is needed for civilization to survive is something unnatural, it needs religion. Religion is required for a greater expression of mercy and altruism than the enemic, narrow versions found in nature. I don't know if any religion is "true".

But they are all necessary.

69:

The flip side of gerontocracy - a peaceful planet.

Organized violence, either criminal or military, is something primarily performed by young males. Any nation with a shortage of young males will be loathe to risk them in conflict. Heavy combat losses could demographically doom such a reckless society.

Old saying: "What if they gave a war and nobody came?"


New saying: "What if they gave a war and there was nobody to send?"

70:

doowop: your human/chimp genetics is woefully out of date. Sure we share 99% of our DNA with them; but the epigenetic stuff -- methylation sequences, siRNAs and the like, are very different. It's like saying that Microsoft Windows XP and Mac OS X are nearly identical because their kernels share 99% of the same opcodes -- that's kind of inevitable, because they both run on Intel processors (the equivalent of sharing the same basic biochemistry), but it doesn't tell you anything useful.

I hear your argument for religion and I find it so full of holes it doesn't even need refuting. (You want me to produce an existence proof of someone who believes religious beliefs are all hogwash but who wants to see more mercy in the world? Look no further.)

71:

Tony Q, currently #53: that sounds a lot like R. Scott Bakker's Neuropath. Peter Watts talked it up on his blog a while back - google for rifters.com and neuropath. It's currently in my "reading" pile

72:

"but who wants to see more mercy in the world? Look no further."

And where did this meme of yours originate?

How wide spread is this meme?

73:

Doowop, I imagine the meme for mercy is older than the meme for religion, and is shared by a large majority of atheists.

74:
(Conservativism, in contrast, assumes that human nature is unchanging: a notion which I refute by inviting its proponents to show me around their caves and give me a tutorial in knapping flints.)

Conservatism also thinks that the tools human beings have are not what define human nature.

In one of Tolkien's letters, he talked about how toyed with the idea of writing a play to illustrate his thinking on human nature-one where the human actors repeated the same dialogue (some bit of petty household jealousy) in front of changing scenery-first paleolithic, then Roman, then medieval, then Elizabethan, then Victorian, then modern.

The seven deadly sins were and our a pretty good guide to humanity's dark side, and I have no doubt they will be in the future..unless people abolish humanity by genetic engineering, in which case the result will, however superior it is, colored by the sin of pride.

Charlie @16: I rather dislike Jonah Goldberg, at least in his current incarnation of "neoconservative intellectual poseur." (His earlier incarnation, as a kind of P.J. O'Rourke lite, was sometimes amusing.)

But honestly, Julius Streicher? There just isn't a comparison-Goldberg, loathsome as he is, hasn't done anything except publish mildly annoying books.

75:

Mercy as a religious meme is not all that evident in the actual history of religion. Not, at least, of the Christian religion. I'm all too well aware that, as an atheist, I would have been in mortal danger from Christianity through most of the centuries of its worldly dominion: had I hinted at disbelief, I would have been subject to arrest, to torture by inquisitors convinced that my being arrested proved I was guilty, to trial under a legal code that made disbelief a crime, and to death by burning at the stake or some other outrageously cruel method. And when all this was done away with, it was as a result of the Enlightenment's demands for tolerance for all religious beliefs, for which Christianity deserves very little of the credit.

There were decent human beings among the Christians; many of the Quakers, to start with. (I give them credit for one of the other great moral achievements of the human race, the delegitimization of slavery.) But Christianity in practice was largely a justification for murder and torture. Which is hardly surprising, when you consider that the Christian mythology portrayed a totalitarian regime centuries before humanity had the technical resources to create one, complete with universal surveillance and a concentration camp for enemies of the régime. That Christians now find all this an embarrassment is testimony not to the free evolution of their ideas but to their submission to the values of the Enlightenment.

76:

@47: Wait, wait, wait. Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety? There's a law? Why was I not informed?

@53: I'm almost certain you're thinking of a Peter Watts novel. If I'm wrong, you should still pick up one or more as soon as transhumanly possible.

Regarding Charlie's worries of fascist overhumanism picking and choosing from among the buffet table of extropian potential, I can imagine that there might be an "extropian gap" between old-guard, well-funded fascists who can afford the add-ons and the research necessary to implement them, and the hungry kids in garage-cum-hackerspaces doing it on their own. Battles between these two might look like zombie-switched psychopaths versus bio-engineered spider-silk. (Silver stars to whatever soldiers chew through their squad-mates's corpses to make it out; merit badges to the bright young things who lace their glue with, well, necrotizing fasciitis.)

...Wow, I need to write an action scene today. I've clearly gone too long without.

77:

Matt B @67: Oh fer cryin' out loud! "Brave New World" was by Aldous Huxley. T.H. was his grandfather. (still pickin' nits, can't help it)

78:

doowop @68 Religion is required for a greater expression of mercy and altruism

Nonsense.

To use an argument from religion; More than two thousand years ago, Rabbi Hillel was asked to summarize Judaism, he thought a minute and said "What you find hateful, do not do to your neighbor. This is the essence, the rest is commentary." Note- no mention of god, which is why I use it. You remind me of the evangelicals who claim that Atheists have no basis for morality, which is, again, Nonsense.

Look at the Ten Commandments for example. Ignoring the first four, the rest are common sense. Of course it is wrong to murder, steal, etc. You wouldn't want it done to you, so don't do it to someone else. You could argue that this is just self-interest. It is, but so what. As long as you are treating others humanely, does it matter how you got there. It seems the only thing that religion offers is the threat of punishment. You can be religious, if that works for you, but don't claim it's the only path.

79:

There's reason to be worried. Technology is advancing towards allowing transhumanist scenarios while the memetic underpinnings of liberal democracy based on equality of all people before the law are on life support in the face of sustained attack by an overclass of very wealthy psychopaths.

An elite overclass that already rejects notional equality will find enhancement technology both very interesting and very threatening. Interest will come from the prospect of the overclass making itself inherently superior to the rest of us. The thereat, in the eyes of the overclass, will come from the prospect of ordinary people using enhancements to try to catch up with the overclass.

Combine this with systematic decay of representative government and civil liberties and the prospects for serious trouble are non trivial. We may see a scenario where our current elites use enhancements on themselves and then pull out all the stops to pull up the ladder on everybody else. Pulling out all the stops may range from manipulating public opinion to make enhancement socially unacceptable, a legal ban enforced by a total surveillance state, or forced downgrading of ordinary people to make them permanently loyal servants.

80:

If "Love thy neighbour as thyself" is a moral teaching which depends on the existence of a god, I have this bridge I'd like to sell you.

There's a huge amount been added to what might remain of the original teaching, and a lot of it turns out to be pretty vile stuff. There are different tools available now, to explain why these teachings are a Good Thing.

You don't need half as much God to justify or explain things as you might suppose. And if God is as specified by some, how does one explain Alzheimers? But I can't exclude the existence of something from a lack of necessity.

And the only thing I can say about some people is John 11:35


[Note for onlookers: I argue in the context of the God of my fathers. Your parents may vary.]

81:

Equality of rights and legal equality does not depend on equality of ability. Except in cases where people are unable to care for themselves, it's presumed that an athlete with 170 IQ is equal to an overweight elderly person with an IQ of 90. And in many cases we have specific protections for those who are less capable, rather than giving more rights to the more able (see laws about access of the disabled).

The way to deal with enhanced humans would be through licensing and permits rather than presuming they naturally have more rights. After all, we don't let people fly planes now unless they can prove they have the ability -- yet who would argue we're damaging the foundation of liberal democracy in doing so. Perhaps at somepoint there will be similar permission given to people who's enhanced ability allow them to do things safely that would be dangerous for baseline humans.

True posthumans might require some drastic reconsideration. But that would likely be true if we discovered non-human intelligences as well.

82:

Huh. As I read the article, I was thinking in a totally different direction from how you ended up. Whilst neo-fascism can exist, I think that there are other more plausible threats. The biggest I can think of, having just read James Murdoch's spiel, is 'fragmentation of the information space'.

I think the big trend these days online is 'personalisation'. While the media in the past was based, mainly for technical reasons on census - a few TV channels that everyone watched, a few newspapers reusing the same newswire sources, etc - what we are seeing today is the division of things up into smaller target segments. Don't like conservatives? Then go to these websites for the news. And the reverse for conservatives themselves. Or avoid politics altogether. And couple this with the industry's ongoing obssession with commodifying public knowledge...

The thing is, the end point of this fragmentation is incompatible with the democratic model. A democracy assumes and aims for a sensible where all citizens have access to the same information, share reconcilable or at least mallable views, assume good faith on the hand of other members, and are motivated to view participation in the process as a responsibility that is part of the social contract. How will this work when citizens are encouraged to retreat to into their own partisan universes of discourse, while others are dissuaded from informing themselves by financial costs? We have the US, and the divisive and plainly imbecilic standards of public political discourse there, to look at, for the face of this threat.

I'm not sure if there's a name for the system that would replace democracy if this fragmentation is taken to its logical extreme. But I think it's definitely threatening.

83:

What is the definition of a human, anyway?

In English Law, Lord Chief Justice Coke gave a definition of murder, four centuries ago, which seems to give protection to some robots and extra-terrestrials.

"Murder is when a man of sound memory and of the age of discretion, unlawfully killeth within any county of the realm any reasonable creature in rerum natura under the King's peace, with malice aforthought, either expressed by the party or implied by law, so as the party wo, or hurt etc. die of the wound or hurt etc. within a year and a day of the same."

Yes, there is wiggle room there. And the year-and-a-day rule has been abolished by statute.

ObSF: Little Fuzzy

But at what point does a modified human become incapable of discretion, or not a "reasonable creature"? And does it make a difference whether that modification is down to transhumanism-style engineering, or a serious head injury?

84:

heteromeles @ 61

Let me first haul in the evolutionary bio definitions of "diversity" and "disparity".

"To assess the differences between organisms, the amount of diversity and disparity are estimated. Diversity is simply counts of taxa (sets of organisms related together by certain characteristics). In other words, it is the number of species, genera, families, and so forth in the traditional taxonomy of Linnaeus. Disparity, on the other hand, describes the extent of morphological differences between various taxa. This is essentially the organization of anatomical form that defines the larger sets of organisms."

Diversity is observed to trend to increase over time. Mass extinction events obviously lower diversity, but the trend is for an increase. Consider Darwin's finches, and the diversity observed in a population founded by a very small number of individuals. Disparity is observed to descrease over time. This exactly what you'd expect from natural selection, as some morphologies eventually die out, and niche partitioning creates more species over time.

doowop @ 68

Charlie has already addressed this appropriately, but I would like to note that your assertion that [t]here are no human organizations that are significantly differetn than a typical troop of babboons is intensely and vividly contra-factual.

Baboon troops peak at about 250 individuals. Human social organizations readily manage co-operating groups in excess of 250 _million_ unrelated individuals. Nothing else not a eusocial arthropod even begins to approach that. Humans are really, really good at co-operating in groups.

The point I'd like to make is not "Nature serves as a basis for a moral system"; it's "you can have a decent social system, a place happy, productive people who get to exercise individual choice live, without any reference to a moral system whatsoever".

85:

"existing human lives are of equivalent value"–
hahahahha i love that... sure your on the right planet?

86:

doowop @ 68:

Nice, well polished justification for a set of beliefs which, while providing occasional benefits, create rather than a unifying principle a horrible divide which encourages its adherents to view the other side as savage, barbaric fools whose only virtue is to come to the 'right' side. And hopefully to die, redeemed, after swelling the central coffers.

This just read as another grand justifications of the existence of an all-powerful 'God' whose role is, to a cynic, that of a fearsome father. A giver of rule and setter of standards. A punisher of infringement. Those who cannot learn to act within their own society and cultural standards without that over-arching threat are thereby cowed.
But let us not mention the dissent and progress which is also crushed. Nor those killed in the name of that same power. Nor the cultures, languages, and races destroyed in its name. Nor the people of a specific gender, color, sexual preference, or personal belief who are destroyed in the name of those supposed goods.

I hope you realize the inherent problems with your argument - especially that the exact same justifications can be used for fascism, dictatorships, or a panopticon surveillance society. Or a society such that given in Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, where those with any level of gift are reduced so that there is no cause for jealousy. Or go to the young adult section, read "The Giver", and really think for awhile.

No, religion does not perform these duties any better than ANY other human system. Not government, not society, not culture. It's just another control mechanism. No better than any other, and no less corrupt.

87:

Charlie, I don't think Leninism hewed to ideology over pragmatism, but rather the reverse, and also, Italy is not the home of Modernism or even modernism: I think you are confusing Paris and Rome rather.

I think that it might also be interesting to look at the overhumanist movement in the context of techno-libertarianism; there's more commonalities there than I think either group is really comfortable with.

88:

@doowop

The concept of mercy's as old as mankind. Do you really think it took the word of God for the first human with an injured companion to try and nurse him or her back to health, at the cost of their own resources?

As for your gerontocracy - young men might fight wars, but old men plan 'em. Don't put blind faith in any hierarchical structure, no matter how much common sense it might seem to hold.

89:

@Estropico: "it is not fair to say that our cousins at AIT are "wearing the chrome-plated jackboots"

Thanks for the clarification!

90:

Malloy @ 84 doubting the statement "existing human lives are of equivalent value".

Many things are true to the extent or in the way that making a deliberate action because they are not or even on the basis of their not being true and then attempting to defend it informally to the people around you or in court would ordinarily be unwise.

In the case of this statement, it would be extraordinarily unwise.

On the planet of the bees it might not be, but this is the planet of the apes.

91:

dwoop @ 68 see my post @ 22
THERE IS NO GOD
and a proof will (I hope) be published soon.

Now grow up.

Reminder:
"A set of testable Propositions"

1. God is not detectable (even if that “god” exists)
2. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
Corollary: 2a ] Marxism is a religion.
3. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
Corollary: 3a ] There is no such thing as "Psi".
4. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
Corollary: 4a ] The bigots are the true believers.
5. All religions have been made by men.

All the above are testable, by both observation and experiment.
Unless and until they are shown to be false, they must be taken as true, or at least valid, statements.

92:

Dear Charlie,

as I've been mentioned in your post (and in a couple of unseemly comments), I would like to say that your reconstruction (and concerns) about italian transhumanist scene is substantially correct, although I need to specify - as my friend Estropico already did - that we don't claim that the whole AIT (Italian Transhumanist Association) is "fascist". We just mantain that the overhumanist group, headed by Stefano Vaj, gained a disproportionate influence within AIT, and that consequently there is now a concrete (and potentially devastating) risk of confusion between transhumanism and overhumanism. Here you can find a short summary that explains why we decided to set up an alternative transhumanist organization in Italy: http://www.transumanisti.org/index.php?&view=article&id=13 .

Then, I would like to say something about the two comments which directly involve me:

>Stefano Vaj (#18) said:
>In fact, it is contented by Italian, declaredly leftist, press that they have themselves neofascist connections (see http://www.transumanisti.it/3_articolo.asp?id=67 ).

This is one of the funniest jokes I've ever heard: in order to grotesquely claim that *we* (the NTI - Italian Transhumanist Network) have "neofascist connections" (with this, meaning "hawkish capitalist connections"), Stefano Vaj refers to an article written by one of his overhumanist disciples and published by a small euronational-socialist newspaper, "Rinascita - National Liberation Daily" (see the reporting made by the real leftist newspaper "Rinascita della Sinistra" at page 3: "Indagine su "Rinascita', il quotidiano neofacista che si finge di sinistra" - "Inquiry on Rinascita, the neofascist daily that pretend to be leftist": http://etleboro.com/documents/LaRinascita27nov2008.pdf ).

Regarding "overhumanism", I will try to explain why I find it so dangerous, if coupled with transhumanism. In short, overhumanists look at transhumanism as the means to allow a more general principle to emerge again -- they call it "overhumanist principle" ("principio sovrumanista") -- which -- they say -- already expressed fascism and nazism, and which opposes the "judaic principle" (or "egalitarian principle"), the very "origin of evil" -- they say -- and "cause of the spiritual and material decadence of Europe".

For reference, see some excerpts from "Political Expression and Repression of the Overhumanist Principle" ( http://www.uomo-libero.com/articolo.php?id=293 ), by Giorgio Locchi (extreme right-wing author described by Vaj as "my personal guru and maitre à penser" in his article "For a total ethnical self-defence", 2001, see http://www.uomo-libero.com/articolo.php?id=298 ):

«We cannot truly understand fascism if we don't realize or admit that the
so called "fascist phenomenon" is nothing but the first political appearance
of a broad spiritual and cultural phenomenon, which we can call
"overhumanism".»
(…)
«The "overhumanist principle", in relation to the surrounding world, becomes
absolute rejection of an opposite "egalitarian principle" which shakes that
world. If fascist movements considered democratic ideologies – liberalism,
parlamentarism, socialism, communism, anarco-communism – as the spiritual
even more than political "enemy", it's just because, in the historical
perspective builded on the sovrumanist principle, those ideologies represent
as many manifestations, onwards appeared in the course of history but each
one still existing, of the opposite egalitarian principle, (…) all together
cause of the spiritual and material decadence of Europe, the progressive
dejection of european man, the break-up of western societies.»
(…)
«With the purpose of the "mythical" stance of a fascist movement, the
analysis it makes of the first cause and origin of the European nations
decadence and break-up process is essential. Nietzsche identified them with
Christianism, as a transmission agent of the "judaic principle", which he
identified with the egalitarian principle. Wagner, the other reference point
of sovrumanism, considered instead the only "judaic principle" as the origin
of evil.»
(…)
«The issue of "totalitarianism" is linked to a fundamental "political
philosophy" problem. Every society (or more exactly community), if wants to
be "healthy", has to be totalitarian, that is it admits only one
"discourse", the one ruled by the principle which shapes and moulds the
community and, at the same time, represents the "communitarian bond".»

Please note that Stefano Vaj fully adheres to Locchi's ideas (and consequently named his "transhumanist" group "sovrumanismo" = overhumanism): in fact in his foreword to this article he writes:

«Twenty years after its first publication, I think that this short text can
really close the historical discussion over what fascism has represented, as
the first thorough political expression of the sovrumanist world view, and
take the stock from which consider the just concluded century, in connection
with the future we want to build for ourself.»

Moreover, reading the following passage you can judge what Stefano Vaj thinks of "civil liberties" and individual self-determination:

«The real issue concerning abortion may be considered whether and when abortion should be a duty, while on the contrary the claim of abortion as a right may seem irrelevant (or at most something to discourage, from the point of view of population dynamics) -- its claim to be a right rests mainly on economic / hedonistic choices, moreover expressed only by the woman.» (Stefano Vaj, Biopolitica, 2004, p. 9, see http://www.biopolitica.it/biop-testo(all).pdf ).

***

>Giulio Prisco (#65) said:
>I am generally known as a left-winger. If there is one thing that I really abhor, it is authoritarianism in all its shapes, colors and flavors.

Yes, I am aware of that. That's why we find hard to understand why you decided to cooperate with Vaj, most of all letting him to be co-opted in the AIT executive board, and even appointing him national secretary.

>Concerning Mr. Stile, I will only note that he was expelled from the AIT, by unanimous decision,

Again, yes, 3 of the 5 founding members (now we are 10: please consider that we're not an association of individuals, but a network of transhumanist blogs and websites, including www.estropico.org -previously estropico.com-, the first, most known and most visited italian transhumanist website/blog) of the NTI have been expelled. What does that prove? On the contrary, in some sense to be expelled by an executive board which includes Sefano Vaj could be considered something to be proud of.

>for repeated disruptive and "trollish" behavious and for spamming the AIT mailing list with personal attacks and insults.

In this respect, everyone can judge who acts through personal attack and insults ("troll", "hysterical", etc.) and who on the contrary try to support his assertions through quotations, without degenerating into ad hominem arguments (by the way, I actually find Stefano Vaj a very intelligent, cultured, astute and charismatic person, which - coupled whith his ideas - makes him more, not less, dangerous).

Thank you very much for your attention.

93:

"Sure we share 99% of our DNA with them; but the epigenetic stuff -- methylation sequences, siRNAs and the like, are very different."

True but irrelevant. What matters is behavior derived from the genetic code. Both species' behaviors are startlingly similar. To usey our computer analogy, if I read two identlically formated text documents it doesn't matter if one was written by a PC and another by a Mac.

"I imagine the meme for mercy is older than the meme for religion, and is shared by a large majority of atheists."

Never said mercy didn't exist before religion. I'm saying that it is not the norm and it definitely is not universal in its natrual state. In a state of nature, mercy can be counter productive. What I am saying that the existence of some sort of "peaceable kingdom" natural alturism that makes nature sing kumbaya is a total crock. What altruism exists in nature is severely limited to immediate gene groups.

And while atheists can certainly display mercy (often more than a vindictive, self righteous believer) they have no purely natural, purely materialistic meta reason for doing so outside of self interest. However, what you all are unwilling to face is the fact that it may be in a person's self interest to kill, rob or enslave his fellow man. Rape could be in a man's self interest if the goal is to spread his selfish genes and ensure their survival into the next generation.

Dawkins, etal, can respond that selfish genes do not always make selfish people, because it may be in the interests of the genes to encourage some forms of social cooperation, particularly within the family. For example, a mother might spread her genes most effectively by sacrificing her own life to preserve the lives of her offspring, who carry the same genes.

That's a pretty weak reassurance when contemplating the kinds of things that dictators and CEOs tend to do. Stronger medicine is required if Darwinism is to avoid the obloquy that now attaches to "social Darwinism," and so Dawkins desperately tries to square his gene theory with some acceptable morality by proposing a robot rebellion. He writes: "Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to." (TSG, p. 3)

This is not only absurd but embarrassingly naive. If human nature is actually constructed by genes whose predominant quality is a ruthless selfishness, then pious lectures advocating qualities like generosity and altruism are just another strategy for furthering selfish interests. Ruthless predators are often moralistic in appearance, because that is how they disarm their intended victims. In a purely materialistic world there is no reason why the strong should not prey on the weak, and there are compelling materialistic reasons for doing so. The genes who teach their robot vehicles not to take morality seriously, but to take advantage of fools who do, will have a decisive advantage in the Darwinian competition.

As Machiavelli correctly observed, it is better to appear to be good than to actually be good.

94:

Oh, yeah -- "existing human lives are of equivalent value" is obviously (and often strongly emotionally apparently) nonsense.

What is not nonsense, in any way, is the observation that we do not know, and cannot know, what value a specific human life has or will have.

It is from this observation that we get to the idea that it is best to treat everyone as though they were of equivalent value.

95:

Anti-religious ignorant ranting is exactly as obnoxious as religious ignorant ranting. Greg Tingey @ 90 doesn't understand proof (for instance, 2a can't possibly be a corollary of 2, unless 2 is a definition of "religion", and a strikingly useless one at that). Quakerism is a trivial - and not unique - counterexample to 4. What is 4a even supposed to mean? And on, and on, and on. "Unless and until they are shown to be false, they must be taken as true". So Greg Tingey is a rat-eating alien from the planet Spooge.

If we must discuss religion on this blog, can we at least do it with some semblance of intelligence? There is absolutely no point asserting anything, in any public forum, about the existence or otherwise of God or the good or otherwise of any religion or of religion per se. You're not going to convince anyone, you're only going to antagonize people and generate a lot more heat than light. Maybe you like getting in that sort of flame-war, but it got rather tired for a lot of people here 20 or more years ago.

I'd rather argue with CS's assertion, in the original post, that 21st century politics isn't going to be about the environment. I agree that it's not going to be debating the reality of AGW (or other anthropogenic environmental problems, such as ocean acidification or peak oil). That's just echo-chamber nonsense, which I've seen go from interesting to ridiculous in over the last decade. But I think the politics of the next 40 years are very likely to be about what we do about AGW (etc), and about the resource wars we fight when we've failed to do enough soon enough.

Transhumanism is interesting, and might well be politically important in the middle of the century, but those arguments are at least 20 years away from getting any popular traction.

96:

I'm totally confused by all this. I have a mental image of transhumanists - they're the guys who think we're all going to end up as brains in bottles, right? And I have a mental image of fascists - they're nationalistic guys who want a one-party State with threatening uniforms and lots of ceremonial architecture. But I don't see how these two groups intersect in any meaningful way, let alone to the extent that there can be multiple fascist/transhumanist groups with ideological differences. What, do they want the floating brains to be wearing different uniforms?

97:

Andrew@57:

There's also recent evidence that having children is becoming something of a status symbol for the upper middle class. It's not uncommon to see the wealthy and upper professional families with 3 or 4 children. The middle class, meanwhile, usually has 2 or fewer. So you get a strange curve, where the poor have several of children early in life, the middle class have a few children in their late 20s, and the rich have several children in their mid to late 30s.

There's a story in there somewhere - the descendants of the rich shall inherit the Earth by dint of numbers, while the increasingly numerically disadvantaged poor will eventually end up on reservations where they put on public skits depicting the Life of the Poor for yokel tourists and sell them poorly-constructed gee-gaws.

Well, that's better than some of the stuff I've read recently where the rich starve everyone else to death, or where they simply in one Kristallnacht pogrom kill everyone else in the space of a week or a month. That's a scary one; Charlie at least is going for the Gulag model. Auschwitz is a possible outcome as well - four color posters on every kiosk showing a muscular John Galt protector figure forcing hordes of subhuman Morlocks into the disintegration chamber while blond women and children cower in the background.

98:

I'll have to disagree slightly with Charlie on this one. In one of his columns Krugman made the point that there are several equilibrium points for a market-driven economy. Yes, it's entirely possible to maintain a thriving middle-class with a thin sliver of wealthy at the top and a somewhat thicker sliver at the bottom. But it's also possible to have an equilibrium state that is just the classical two-tier system with the extremely rich on top and everyone else on the bottom ala some polities in South America.

Note that these conditions aren't maintained by force of arms(don't cavil with me on this one), but rather on well-honed arguments as to the legitimacy of elite rule. If these sorts of technologies come to pass, one could see a world-wide two-tier system by the end of the 21st century with rather more obvious class markers mediated through technology which become the de facto rationalization of elite rule. The danger here is that this could be a stable condition that lasts not for a century or so, but for tens of millenia.

This could also result in some sort of technological stasis for large numbers of people. Think of anti-senescence treatments that work perfectly well but which cost $10 million and which never come down in price. Why should they? The elite can afford it, and the proles have got to know their place. Increased life expectancies might give them ideas beyond their station. And it's not as if proles who exhibit exceptional service to the state won't get those treatments . . .

99:

@98: ScentofViolets:

I won't cavil, but I'm still wondering about the drive for "anti-senescence." The problem is best illustrated by my 15-year-old car. I bought it second-hand for $1000, and I hope to run it for another 50k miles or so. Now, I could (if I was a collector) keep that car running for another 100 years, by selectively rebuilding it, but by that point, it's going to be a museum piece, not a useful car.

While I hate to talk about people becoming obsolete, that is a major issue. I fully understand the idea that "you" want to live forever, but how much of "you" is a product of the environment when you were born? To use an example from True Blood, the vampire Eric Northman was some sort of dark age warrior when he was made an immortal vampire. Aside from the fact that he speaks modern English with no accent and remembers a language 1000 years old, it's amazing how little his dark age warrior values appear in his modern context as a bar owner.

This is something the novelists have rightly had fun with.

Do you really want to spend the rest of eternity endlessly retooling to stay alive in the current age? How many treasured memories are you going to have to discard when they get in the way of current survival? As a relic of a previous age, what advantage are you going to have over people whose formative experiences come from the current age? Or are you going to be part of some undying ruling caste that represses progress so that you can keep ruling?

Is it worth it? Maybe we'll find out, but I bet we'll find out enough about gerontology to figure out that it's better to have a "good death" as graceful and painless as possible, although some people will undertake the painful, calorie restricted, total cyborging/rebuilding thing to try to live forever. And they'll have to go back to college or equivalent every 50 years or so, just to stay relevant. Some people will want to be classic jalopies, just as some will probably want to collect them and put them in museums.

There's an apocryphal story in Midwestern college biology departments. Supposedly, in some biology department bathroom, someone scrawled on the stall "Oh Lord, why are we born, only to suffer and die?" Below it was written, "Because those who suffered and died left behind more offspring than those who did not." Something for transhumanists to think about.


100:

doowop @93 --

Human societies are constrained, but not determined, by our genes. If it was "determined", we wouldn't exhibit the breadth of social variety that we do; we'd be like ants or bees or naked mole-rats, with a single social model with slight variation.

How society can be put together, well, more people need to read Stafford Beer's Platform for Change, but leaving that aside, you're making an argument that there is no meaningful status outside the basic primate status of "I can hit who I want, and I can rape who I want", which is, indeed, pretty much how chimp or baboon status works.

Some human social status works like that; all human social status does not, so there's an existence proof that this is not the only possible choice for human social organization.

Everything past that is really just details. Especially in a post-industrial society with good contraception (so sex and reproduction get to be socially distinct), it's not obviously more difficult than maintaining an authoritarian hierarchy.

101:

dwoop @ 93 & N. Barnes @ 95

Mercy and rules.
PEOPLE HAVE TO LIVE TOGETHER.
Therefore, it is useful to have rules which ensure that people CAN work and live together, and trust each other.
Oddly enough, SOME of the "10 commandments" (whichever version you happen to pick) are good for this - all the one which don't mention god, actually, and have to do with living together.

My propositions were taken from the head of a much longer and older essay, and are easy to read out-of-context, as has been done by Barnes.
However, he's still talking cods, as well as personal spite.
Let's look closer shall we?
1. God is not detectable (even if that “god” exists).

So even if a "god" exists, that thing is irrelevant, UNLESS we can detect it.
And we can't
I suggest you re-visit the history of Physics, as I got the idea from uncle Albert re. the "Luminiferous Aether".

2. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
Statement taken from observation of how all religions behave.
If you can find an exception, I would be interested to know of it.
It is CERTAIN that the 3 Abrahamic religions clearly state that unless you believe (exactly and correctly) in [insert name of superstition here] YOU WILL BE DAMNED TO ETERNAL TORTURE.
If that isn't blackmail, I don't know what is.....
Never mind the physical threats if said superstition has real political power

Corollary: 2a ] Marxism is a religion.
This was discussed many threads back.
If you REALLY insist, I'll re-quote the statement made at that time. But it IS certain that the holy communist Party, is as infallible as the Pope, and as evil.
Another way of telling is pile of innocent corpses, all slain to protect the "holy truth".

3. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
Corollary: 3a ] There is no such thing as "Psi".
I note you are NOT attepting to try to counter this one!

4. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
Corollary: 4a ] The bigots are the true believers.
Well, show me one that doesn't!
Again, we know that all 3 Abrahamic ones do, and so do most of not all of the others.
I suggest you read the weekly newslatter of the National Secular Society, which now has a piece on the wonderful world of interfaith dialogue, showing (from press reports) how loving, kind and tolerant of each other (never mind unbelievers) the religious REALLY are.

5. All religions have been made by men.
By which I mean MEN, and not women, as well as the fact that they are artificial constructs.

I am reminded, at least 6 days a week as to how wonderful religious believers are (there's a fundie church on my street-corner & a mosque only half-a-block further away), and I suggest that you also take a look at what REALLY hapens, rather than the blackmailing, unctuous and barefaced lies that are put out by religious "leaders" such as Cardinal Ratzinger ....

102:

@Giancarlo: "Yes, I am aware of that. That's why we find hard to understand why you decided to cooperate with Vaj, most of all letting him to be co-opted in the AIT executive board, and even appointing him national secretary."

I can only ask you, again, questions I asked you several times.

This is my own reading of Vaj's work:
In English -- http://cosmi2le.com/index.php?/site/review_of_stefano_vajs_biopolitica/
In Italian, with many comments from you -- http://cosmi2le.com/index.php?/site/dove_va_la_biopolitica/

I am sure your reading differs.

But "fascism" is a term with clearly defined meanings and implications: violence against political opponents, hate for other ethnic groups, support for an authoritarian police state, violent oppression of minorities, one-party states, no protection for the weakest members of the community...

So my question is: just where does Vaj endorse these things in his writings? Please answer with quotes and URLs (or page numbers of printed books). If Vaj does not endorse these things (indeed, he doesn't) then he is not a fascist and this discussion is moot.

103:

@53 "rewiring people to get pleasure out of performing some activity" -- Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky (1999).

@47, 76: Ashby's book impressed me when I read it as a teenager, and influenced me so that my M.S. was in Cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence. As wikipedia prompts my memory:
If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled”. Ashby states the Law as "only variety can destroy variety" [Ashby, 1956, p.207]. He sees this as aiding the study of problems in biology and a "wealth of possible applications". He sees his approach as introductory to
Shannon Information Theory (1948) which deals with the case of "incessant fluctuations" or noise. The Requisite Variety condition can be seen as a simple statement of a necessary dynamic equilibrium condition in information theory terms c.f. Newton's third law, Le Chatelier's principle.

Later, in 1970, Conant working with Ashby produced the Good Regulator theorem [Conant, 1981] which required autonomous systems to acquire an internal model of their environment to persist and achieve stability or dynamic equilibrium.

Stafford Beer defines variety as "the total number of possible states of a system, or of an element of a system" [Beer, 1981], c.f. Ludwig Boltzmann's Wahrscheinlichkeit. Beer restates the Law of Requisite Variety as "Variety absorbs variety" [Beer, 1979, p.286]. Stated more simply the logarithmic measure of variety represents the minimum number of choices (by binary chop) needed to resolve uncertainty. Beer used this to allocate the management resources necessary to maintain process viability.

104:

"It is CERTAIN that the 3 Abrahamic religions clearly state that unless you believe (exactly and correctly) in [insert name of superstition here] YOU WILL BE DAMNED TO ETERNAL TORTURE."

This is not even true, let alone CERTAIN, and has nothing to say about the great majority of religious beliefs in the world. I provided you with a trivial counterexample to a lot of your ignorant ranting in my earlier comment. Does greasemonkey work here? Plonk.

105:

MODERATION NOTE: Yr. hmbl. moderator (and blogger) is suffering from a nasty chest infection. Consequently there may be delays in approving comments held for moderation, and I'm not up to participating in the cut'n'thrust of debate right now. Play nice, m'kay? I'm going back to bed ...

106:

Sorry if I was intemperate. If anyone has already got greasemonkey/killfile to work here, I'd appreciate a pointer. Otherwise I'll spend 30 minutes tinkering with JavaScript tomorrow or the next day, and will thereafter be sweetness and light.

107:

The argument in the post above (which may or may not have gone into the ether) interacts with politics, I think, because by the mid-21st century the fact that some people will live to 120 and maybe some decades beyond (and be somewhat happy at 120 – my grandmother lived to 107, and I can tell you the years after 100 were not happy ones) will just not be that big enough a deal to have political implications. There are going to be more and more people who live to that age “naturally” (sure, a result of advances in technology, but not technology seen as producing “transhumans”).

My point is that there may be people talking about transhumanism – but it won’t be possible to see that happening on such a short time frame as the mid 21st century. Would people from the 1900’s see people today as “transhuman” because the average person today lives to 65 and some people live to 120? Not likely.

Still, even if it’s unlikely people will see life extension as some step-wise change that doesn’t mean “transhumanism” cannot be a political movement – anything more than something odd like “years that end in 00 will be disastrous” or “the world ends in 2012” can be a fringe movement. From a political point of view the reality of “transhumanism” is not necessary for there to be a fringe movement based on transhumanism. It’s also possible that transhumanism can be appended to any existing ideology, but it’s really separable – at least in the time frame being discussed here.

So, in relation to the original post – I think the things that Charlie is (perhaps provocatively) saying are not so important – will continue to drive politics (conflict over resources, especially depleting resources and even old-fashioned things like nationalism and xenophobia). Personally, I’m hopeful that people will work out peaceful solutions to these problems (or at least something less than a species destroying war, yeah, low bar and all that).

108:

[[ oh my, this post was supposed to come BEFORE the previous post ]]

Charlie, sorry to hear the tiny-celled one's have whacked you.

this post is a long one (I'm breaking it into two posts, but it's not a manifesto -- really -- it's just two separable ideas), post when you feel it is appropriate


Maybe we have recently started on a “Moore’s Law” for life span, but I think it’s unlikely to have political implications, at least in the 21st century. Moore’s law has had a fantastic impact on the development of computer power – and yet at no point did people identify a step-wise change in computing power (hunkering behind barricade preparing for onslaught from those who will argue for numerous step-wise changes).

According to that font of wisdom, Wikipedia, a rough estimate of changes in the human life span suggests that from about 5000 years ago up until the early 20th century in most places of the world 30 years was the average life span. And now we’ve doubled that to an average world life span of 65, with the record somewhere around 120 (i.e. “Moore’s law” for human life span just started, i.e. first doubling of life span in noticeable time period). My completely speculative hypothesis is that this dramatic doubling is a result of applying technology to solve the “low-hanging fruit” problems that killed people (mostly getting a handle on communicable diseases through better dealing with our garbage).

It seems that the transhumanists (and general SF stories about life extension) assume some sort of step-wise magic bullets (I really liked Sterling’s Holy Fire on this – but still, multiple magic bullets – and late 21st century) applicable to individuals in a very specific way will be the next step in life extension.

As exciting as this may be, I think a magic bullet is unlikely. Having evidence that people, unaltered, can make it to 120, I think continuing application of “ordinary technology” (no one magic bullet) will be the most likely way life extension takes place, at least through the 21st century.

109:

I've made a 3-part comment on the SFWA blog, the most recent part on 1 Sep 09, which addresses some of the immortality science, somewhat overlapping #107-108 above.
http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/sf-meets-real-life-us-government-issues-patents-on-human-genes/

110:

heteromeles@99:

I won't cavil, but I'm still wondering about the drive for "anti-senescence." The problem is best illustrated by my 15-year-old car. I bought it second-hand for $1000, and I hope to run it for another 50k miles or so. Now, I could (if I was a collector) keep that car running for another 100 years, by selectively rebuilding it, but by that point, it's going to be a museum piece, not a useful car.

The idea is not that "anti-senescence" is all that powerful in the sense that it keeps you living centuries past your sell-by date, but that it serves as a powerful class marker. "Why do these particular elites rule? Because they rule best. Why do the rule best? Because they have accumulated a great deal of wisdom and expertise, which, along with their unfaded vigor translates into effective leadership."

It doesn't have to be some sort of life-prolonging treatment; I just threw that one out there as an example of a class marker abetted by (unequal access to) wealth and technology. It could be any of a number of different attributes. And as far as prolonging life, the treatment(s) wouldn't have to be all that effective, say living to be 120 while enjoying the health and mental acuity of the average 60-year-old. The point is that it is a plausible excuse, or at least one that gives plausible deniability to the ruling classes.

111:

As far as my *political* opinions are concerned, they are promptly accessible in English, being summarised in the Manifesto that we prepared and unanimously approved at the Association of Italian Transhumanists , which can be accessed here: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/campa20080722/, and which I personally collaborated drafting, as per the acknowledgments at the end thereof. Thus, anybody interested, my favourite SF author in the first place, can form a first-hand opinion on the subject without any need to trust or distrust the opinions and reports of third parties.

Of course, for conspiracy's nuts, it would be customary for the forces of evil to say the opposite of what they intend; but I certainly shall not honour the couple of declared Mr. Bush, jr.,'s, and Mr. Berlusconi's supporters involved in this silliness with elaborate distinctions about my alleged like of dogs and that of Adolf Hitler, should they try as usual to engage me in this kind of "debate".

If there is a rightist, fundamentalist drift in Italy, I am afraid that they are part, albeit a minuscule part, of the problem. I am not.

The overwhelming majority of Italian transhumanism is against ideological terrorism, anti-imperialist, pro-choice, in favour of individual and collective self-determination, against the church interferences in the country's political life, and I am afraid that they will have to live with that, no matter what kind of exorcisms they throw at it.

112:

triozyg@108:

It seems that the transhumanists (and general SF stories about life extension) assume some sort of step-wise magic bullets (I really liked Sterling’s Holy Fire on this – but still, multiple magic bullets – and late 21st century) applicable to individuals in a very specific way will be the next step in life extension.

As exciting as this may be, I think a magic bullet is unlikely. Having evidence that people, unaltered, can make it to 120, I think continuing application of “ordinary technology” (no one magic bullet) will be the most likely way life extension takes place, at least through the 21st century.

The idea is not so much - imho - that life expectancy is greatly increased, but rather, one enjoys greatly prolonged health. You still die at, say, 120 or maybe a decade past that. But at 110, you're healthier than someone from 1970 would have been at 60. Whether it's through personally cloned body part replacements, really good medical prosthesis or something else entirely, the point is that it would be, above all else, expensive. Not for the likes of you or me.

This is something about the various species of futurists, transhumanists etc that is faintly amusing: they see not only a future with space travel, robots, and so on and so forth, but that they are also the ones doing the traveling with their robotic companions. This is not unlike people who enthuse about the good old days of Regency Romance where they are not only a citizen, but a wealthy, even a titled one. Yes, it is good to be wealthy. In any era.

113:

Rule by elites is incredibly common in human history, and certainly not restricted to fascist societies. What distinguishes fascism are the following kinds of actions:
1) the extreme use of ideology to justify the status of the elite, and
2) the extreme use of power in any available form to control and/or kill opponents of the ideology.

The technologies which will enable transhumanism could give fascists much more powerful tools to perform those actions. Ideology is typically imposed on people from without, by the threat of violence from thought police and the reward of status from the elite. All totalitarian states have attempted, with varying degrees of success to raise the next generation of citizens with deep belief in the ideology. But suppose they could install that belief into a personality, and keep it there with occasional booster treatments? A clinic every few blocks requires a lot less investment than an array of gulags or death camps, and it means you have fewer police or military commanders who might decide to take power themselves.

Even if they don't give the capability to restructure the internals of consciousness that easily, one almost certain outcome of advanced cooperative technologies is a deep understanding of how to engage the human senses and unconscious behavior systems from outside, by providing appropriate positive and negative feedback from the user interface, while simultaneously tracking the user's emotional state from action timing, eye and head movement, facial skin temperature, and similar techniques. Given this understanding, it should be possible to control the user's reaction to any given input, so that any text or image can become powerful propaganda. Think of the scene in "The Parallax View" where the hero is conditioned while watching a montage of filmed images with no narration, but only a musical score as a weak example of this.

114:

@Giulio (#102)
Once again, I'm noticing that you aren't able to understand "fascism" as general phenomenon. In this respect, I can only join Charlie in suggesting you the reading of Umberto Eco's "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt" ( http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_blackshirt.html ). Then, you will certainly admit that many (if not all) of the 14 points perfectly suit overhumanism.

Anyway - even admiting for a moment that overhumanism isn't linked to fascism (a nonsense, as the same overhumanist intellectuals, Vaj and Locchi, explicitly not only point out, but also claim this link: see quotations included in my comment #92) - overhumanism is anyhow and undoubtdedly an extreme ethno identitarian tendency, fiercely critical of democracy, equality, human rights, and that advocates a posthuman future dominated by an "aristocracy" of the kind that emerged "after the neolithic", with the role to "domesticate the masses" through a rigid caste division (for those who can read italian, among others see http://www.uomo-libero.com/articolo.php?id=101 and the review of Vaj's Biopolitica on "Italia Sociale The National Socialist Fortnightly" website http://www.italiasociale.org/libri/libri110706-3.html ). If coupled with transhumanism (and transhumanism isn't just "brains in bottles": it could also be genetic enginering used to create an intra-communal biological caste division, or nanotech weapons used to "settle" inter-communal conflicts, etc.), there will be two possible outcome: at best, the irreparable discredit of transhumanism; at worst, a nightmarish future.

@Vaj (#111)
As I'm not a supporter neither of Mr. Bush nor of Mr. Berlusconi (just the contrary, and you know it), I defy you to prove your assertion.

115:

@110:

Fair enough, and I get your points. However, I don't necessarily think that it's going to be elite's access to special technology that will be defining, but rather, their age-old control of resources, including energy, water, scarce materials, and (of course) money in its various forms.

I keep looking at the other half of the world. While we are going way up in technical sophistication, we're looking at a future where things like energy, water, and food are going to be increasingly limited, regardless of what technology does (unless someone finds an energy-efficient, high-output way to desalinate sea-water, which I'm not sure is possible). I'm a skeptic, rather than a transhumanist, and I think it's a safer bet that we'll be trading our hard-won technological sophistication to get a drink, rather than living in a technology-derived utopia. On this, I do hope I'm wrong, but I follow the general rule of prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.

116:

Bruce@113: Not to disagree with you about those being traits of fascist regimes, but aren't they also traits of communist regimes? It seems to me that Lenin and Stalin ruled in the same style, not to mention Pol Pot. So I'm not sure these are distinguishing characteristics of fascism.

117:

"As for breaking the economy, the big question is whether or not continued real improvements in productivity and automation will keep pace so as to compensate for projected relative declines in the labor force and the tax burdens imposed on those supporting us geezers."

Posted by doowop

Note that the USA has experienced ~35 years in which stagnating median wages were the norm (~90% of the time).
There is no labor shortage in the USA, except in the sense that employers are almost always short of a large number of highly motivated, highly replacable, highly talented, very hard-working people who have *exactly* the skills and experienced to step in as 'hot replacements'.

118:

doowop @68 — If your postulate that religion and the fear from all-seeing superbeings in the sky are all that protects society from descending into total mayhem mode is correct, how comes several countries (and in fact most of Europe) haven't succumbed to chaos just yet, considering their much-higher-than-worldwide-average proportion of nonbelievers (in any brand of fairy) ?
Furthermore, what of the well-documented tendency of religious conviction to diminish with higher education levels — anti-religionist conspiracy ?

I suppose the case could be made that the population of believers is subliminally keeping the rogue pagans in check, although the argument that people who don't do religion typically are secular humanists may have some merit, too.
[Full disclaimer: although a pragmatic non-believer, I wouldn't call myself a secular humanist, either]

If your argument is that illiterate crowds are easier kept in check by fear of monsters in the closet (or petty, vengeful gods) than reasonable consideration about 'common good', you won't see me disagree, but in my view, it only points at the urgent need for more/better education, not more/better superstition.

Indeed, neither reasonable, skeptic education nor religious beliefs can guarantee society and individuals against barbaric behaviour and undue cruelty, yet at least freethinkers have to be brainwashed individually before they embrace or condone extremist politics, when it takes only one good sermon to turn a church into a lynch mob.
Reason mitigates the damaging ability of ill-minded charismatic leaders by fostering critical thinking, while religion trains brains to accept things blindly, based solely on a 'voice of authority'.

On a side note: Using Dawkins as a strawman against secular humanism is slightly insulting to the readers' intelligence: Richard Dawkins is a very smart man blindsided by his anti-fairies crusade. Poetically, your naivete matches his when you attempt to reduce the options to a binary "religion vs bloody-clawed materialism" choice.

DaveBell @80 — I want a cut on that bridge sale !

FhunZoahg @82 — We're (almost) there yet anyway, and democracy is a fad that'll pass, like other once-dominant political models before it, as its niche environment (slow information, many-skilled-hands nation states) shrink.
It may still be labeled democracy for a while, but who would seriously argue democracy from two centuries ago and today's politics are still the same species, much less the same animal ?
It's threatening only to the status quo and to people (that's us) contemplating from here/now — the interesting part opens if we assume people born between 1980 and 2010 may still be around and kicking to help shape post-democracy through the next century.

heteromeles @110 — About desalinization.
Solar power (of the thermal -> electric kind) can provide the necessary resource for saltwater pumping and desalinization on a massive scale in many areas of the world, with more to come as GW works its magic. In select areas, geothermal or tidal power can help too, and that's without even looking into nuclear power plants (which are basically oversized kettles with steam turbines attached).

The barrier is not technology here, but the increase in political/economic value of control over water supply and distribution as common wisdom internalizes the notion drinkable water no longer exists as a 'natural' resource and only as a man-made product (even though many people today haven't ever drank water off a spring, and consume it from faucets and plastic bottles, they don't yet think about the liquid itself as a manufactured good).


119:

Most of the problem with water, and with a bunch of other things, is open-loop resource management for human consumption.

"Close the loop" is going to be a good slogan for the 21st century, and while it's not going to solve all the water problems, it's going to make them a lot simpler.

120:

@armchair designer: I'm still not convinced. Solar gives you ~300 w/m2 to work with (that's the sunlight, not what's coming out of the panel, which is if you're lucky, 100 w/m2). Desalination is energy intensive, mostly because you've got to deal with the pressure gradient and/or boil the water. As for nuclear power, I don't think that putting a nuke near a coast where sea levels are going to rise is a good idea in anyone's book. Tides? I'm not sure what the energy density is, but the fact that we're not putting in tidal generators right now tells me the energy is less than oil or coal. That's the problem is, except for nuclear, all these technologies provide less energy than we have now, and that's a bad thing. Those who control the energy and water infrastructure will be part of the upper class, much as they are now.

@118: Graydon, you know, if it was simple, we would have done it already. Closing the loop ain't simple. Let's start with replumbing every major city in the world, and going from there. For starters. The waste handling problem is far worse. I suspect we're going to learn how to do this third-world style, which means that, as our cities fall apart, we'll learn how to reuse things out of sheer necessity, much as they already do in the third world. Recycling is extremely efficient there, but that's because they have no choice. We first worlders may be headed that way.

121:

heteromyles @119 --

Making nuke plants float is remarkably well understood tech, oddly enough.

Closing the loop is, indeed, mostly simple; it's not either the minimum capital cost (very different from minimum lifetime cost) nor the politically simplest thing, though, and that has tended to make it unnecessarily difficult to implement. There's also a pernicious equation of wealth and "never been used before" to get around, but pointing out that most of everybody's molecules have been dinosaur snot more than once ought to help with that.

You're wrong about water purification, by the way; freezing also works just fine, it's just slower. Which is bad for (say) shipboard, which is the environment for which the majority of the desalination tech in serious use was developed. Multi-cycle freezing is entirely fine for a large bulk processing system, though, and lower energy cost.

You really ought to google the combination of "James Nicoll" and "awful future" sometime.

122:

ScentOfViolets @112

“…the point is that it would be, above all else, expensive. Not for the likes of you or me.”

I admit my argument was confusing, but I am specifically arguing against the idea that it will be expensive. I think “ordinary” technology will, in a “Moore’s Law”-type of way keep throwing out new technology AND push the price down for better and better medical technology (see the link Jonathon Vos Post links to @109, though don’t know if he’d agree with my interpretation). I think we can all agree that what happened in the past with regard to life extension was cheap (that was my point @108 about the ease with which simple fixes like – provide sanitary living conditions through garbage collection, simple vaccines provided to the entire population, like the Polio vaccine to eliminate diseases – led to big increases in life expectancy).

I’m a small “d” democrat (and, in the US a big “D” democrat, too) and happen to think it is the best form of government we’ve got so far – and likely to be around for a while. I think it’s unlikely that transhumanism will form a basis for elites to undercut that democracy based on a monopoly on medical technology.

So far, medical technologies work best whenever everyone has access to them and all hospitals apply them – the idea of restricting them to gated community wouldn’t work well. Democracy, in it’s messiness is functional. And the medical and pharmaceutical companies make way too much money selling it to the government for everyone rather than restricting their market to a few rich people. So, even crony capitalism, from this point of view would rather expand than contract availability.

Is this economically sustainable? I, again, am optimistic, I think world-wide economies of scale will push companies to make money on the broad market -- selling to the rich is really a niche market.

123:

Interesting discussion.

But it would seem that you all assume that the future will be pretty much like the past.

Suppose the future is not like the past ?

Draw a graph of human progress, i don't care how you measure it, it will be a long, slow, gradual upward slope, and then there is a very sudden and dramatic spike up. (I would add another spike for classical Greece, but that is just personal taste).

Where do you see similar graphs in nature ?

One place, where the process results in a metamorphosis. Where the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The caterpillar never expected that to happen.

There may have been one such metamorphosis already, with the origin of consciousness.

This has been as suggested in a 1976 book by Julian Jaynes, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind " a book I find unconvincing, unsupportable as a factual matter, but not completely unreasonable, just unprovable and untestable.

I am in a position to observe 5 grandchildren, and I remember that their parents were pretty impressive kids, but there is an order of magnitude of difference in this latest generation.

I think we may be on the edge of something completely unexpected, and not derivative of our familiar history. Just a feeling. No sillier than religion...

124:

I'm a self confessed transhumanist who harbours dreams of all humanity (rich and poor) exploding across the cosmos and fostering a million different species of intelligent life.
However, while trolling through the net, I've noticed a fascist tendency within the transhumanist movement for quite a while now. It usually goes something like this: "How are we going to stop the poor and the unworthy from out breeding us? They then usually use some kind of environmental arguement to justify compulsory birth control for the "own good" of these uneducated and dirty lower classes." I honestly believe that if Hitler had been born in this age he would have been a rabid "green-transhumanist".

125:

Nick Barnes @ 104
WRONG.

I was brought up christian, in the church I can see across the school grounds from my front window.
CofE (Evangelical) the teaching was very much of the type I represent - I attended SUNDAY SCHOOL for 7 years, so I am not ignorant, unlike you, it would seem.
I note, that like a lot of christians, there has to be just a WHIFF of mild criticism, and you/they start ranting on about "Atheist militants" - who are merely pointing out that the emperor has no clothes ....
If you are THAT ignorant of christian and islamic teachings that you honestly believe that those who do not submit to the almighty will of [insert name of appropriate sky-fairy and relevant "prophet" here] are eternally damned to tortures, then you are profoundly ignorant of religious teachings.

"Trivial counterexample" - I presume you mean the quakers?
Who are not christians, since they carefully cherry-pick only the "nice" bits, and ignore all the other bits of the bible.
Rather like the sufi, in fact - I have a sufi neighbour, who is not regarded as muslim by the REAL believers .....
The REAL believers are (or some of them are...) the Taliban, the Wahabi, the "khalifah", Opus Dei, the true followers of Calvin, Saints Cyril, & Domininc, all the burner and inquisitors, and the terrorisers of small children, and the authorities running the Irish industrial schools, and theSarah Palin, etc ad nauseam

106 YES you were intemperate.
Putative apology accepted - BUT - please address the issues involved, rather than ranting on about how evil the atheists are, which is irrelevant.

SEE ALSO post # 117 - I suggest you thoroughly digest what is being said there, as well ....

@ 107 interesting point
My aunt lived to 99.9 yrs, and was ok until the last 2.
On Friday I saw a pretty healthy 100-year-old - he only uses a chair some of the time.
How we will do, is a moot point.

Perhaps we should call it "Anti-Struldbrugism"

Uh?
Try this for size

126:

Great article. I disagree with a key point and because of that disagreement come to a similar conclusion.

While it is political suicide to not be a 'champion' of the environment, we are nowhere near a workable solution to our ecological problems. To do that, we have to totally reinvent the economic system, and probably as a result reinvent politics in the process.

As a result of the difficulty in finding a genuinely new way, a pairing between ecological ideals and fascist expression is very likely, but this is nothing at heart just an old way putting on a new mask.

The real solutions will be new through and through.

-----------
The written word was to a controlled economy what the movable type printing press was to market economics. As the internet is to ...

127:

Bruce @113: those traits are also characteristics of absolute monarchies. (You think monarchy didn't rely on ideology? Why do you think they sponsored the Inquisition, then? Their ideological claim to legitimate authority relied on religious doctrine -- the divine right of kings -- but although this might seem antiquated or peculiar today, it's no less an absolutist political ideology than Leninism or Hitlerism.)

hereomyles @120: Don't put nuclear reactors on the coast, put them off the coast, on honking great barges (for values of "off the coast" ranging from "moored in this convenient estuary" to "a third of a kilometer offshore"). In event of really bad storms, uncouple them from the grid and move them out into deep water, or sink them (if you made them minimally submersible), or something. When they need refueling/repairing, attach tugs and ship them back to the factory. All that sits on the coast itself is a transformer hook-up and grid interconnect.

The Russians are actually doing this, for servicing remote communities on their northern coast.

(It also suggests some possible solutions to the plutonium proliferation problem if we need to go to a mixed fuel/recycling economy: Pu is never shipped by land or air, or over inhabited territory, but travels to where it's burned inside a gigantic steel can with a naval escort, and is returned to the factory/recycling plant the same way.)

128:

Of course we need to protect and foster the environment... Without a self sustainable biosphere most of us are toast. However fostering and protecting the environment doesn't necessarily mean keeping it the same. In fact only one thing is certain about the future, it ain't going to be like it used to be. We are here (all 6 billion or so) and we aren't going anywhere until cheap access to space comes along. (That's why I'm so thrilled that the green movement is starting a revival of nuclear power. For a while there I was afraid we were going to give up our technological edge and slowly drift back into a dark age).

My question is, why aren't we helping the biosphere to keep up with us? For example, in Australia there are huge areas of semi-desert on top of large underground water supplies and there are rivers in the north which spew more fresh water into the sea in a year than all the rivers in Britain. Before people arrived in the Great South Land and started burning the countryside, there seems to have been rain forests across the whole north of the country. Let's use a bit of technology and put them back. I'm sure a profit can be turned with the new carbon trading plans.

Instead of playing Eskimo Joe in winter, let's save the Amazon? If we are lucky and there is oil there, then maybe the US will decide to save it for us.

129:

@108

According to that font of wisdom, Wikipedia, a rough estimate of changes in the human life span suggests that from about 5000 years ago up until the early 20th century in most places of the world 30 years was the average life span.

An important fact that's usually overlooked when you casually skim those statistics is that these numbers obscure reality.

In the Middle Ages, people didn't drop dead in droves around 30. They usually enjoyed life to their late 50s, early 60s, even among the peasant class. An old man at 70 was notable, but not unreasonably so in the upper classes.

A simple factor dominated those statistics: Infant mortality. It doesn't matter that you usually die at 60+ when half of the children die before they reach 5. We got a massive jump in our average lifespan when we learned enough medicine to buffer the children during their early years, where most deaths occured.

When you look at late life expectancy, i.e. average age of death for people aged 20, then you see that, while we have made notable progress, it's not as spectacular as "doubling" our lifespan.

130:

You think monarchy didn't rely on ideology? Why do you think they sponsored the Inquisition, then? Their ideological claim to legitimate authority relied on religious doctrine -- the divine right of kings -- but although this might seem antiquated or peculiar today, it's no less an absolutist political ideology than Leninism or Hitlerism.

Most monarchies did not rely upon any ideology that can be articulated and the Inquisition - presumably you mean the Spanish one - was sponsored due to Queen Isabella's fear of conversos combined with King Ferdinand's belated realization of the material threat posed by the Muslim inhabitants of their kingdoms after Gedik Ahmed Pasha wiped out the Aragonese city of Otranto on August 11, 1480 before going on to attack Vieste, Lecce, Taranto, Brindisi, and the Monastero di San Nicholas di Casole. Secular historians now estimate that in the Spanish Inquisition's 353-year history, 3,230 people were executed by the crown. That was less than one-third the number of Aragonese who died at Otranto alone. One need not condone the lamentable excesses of the Inquisition to understand that it was a rational response to a legitimate threat posed to the stability of the newly combined Spanish kingdoms.

And most monarchies obviously couldn't have subscribed to any Divine Right of Kings ideology for the obvious reason that it was first articulated in 1576 and rendered moot by 1688. Since it conflicted with the older English common law in the kingdom where it was most enthusiastically adopted by the monarchy, it was never put into effect, much less accepted by the masses as Leninism or Hitlerism was.

As for transhuman fascists, many of the various flavors of socialism have always harbored the hope of creating a New Man. Now that the technology to do so is on the horizon, it seems quite logical to assume that there will be those who attempt to put it to use.

131:

A little reminder:
Anoxic zones are not caused by global warming. They are man-made all right, but have little to do with warming. More with fertilizer runoffs and just too many nutrients in the water making algae bloom.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_zone_%28ecology%29#Causes_of_dead_zones


War is over? Where?
The joys of internet. There's always a place where like-minded people can go and agree with each other. Perhaps blogs and fora should have some sort of short-circuiting built-in, that would bring people who really disagree to close proximity, so they'd have no choice but to argue until one drops dead.

->The climate models are unreliable.Hansen's temperature data looks pretty dodgy(to me, at least, there seems to be no end of curious corrections). I'll stick with what Dyson said.

I believe in 10-15 years' time, we'll look back at this nonsense and some of us will feel distinctly embarrassed. Less than what the so-called useful idiots felt when the truth about the Stalin Purges came out in the West.

We get what we deserve, right and hard. That's democracy, and no end of self-flagellation is going to change that.

As to warming, there is this graph:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vostok-ice-core-petit.png

We survived all that. Funny, in the previous interglacial ages, it looks like CO2 levels follow temperature increases, and not the other way around.

-----------------------------------------

... I enjoyed the rest of the post. Fukuyama put up the argument that transhumanism is threat to liberalism because it could change human nature several years ago.
There's ought to be a wealth of rebuttals, by now.

Maybe there's a potential for good, bleak hard-sf horror. There's never enough of those. I enjoyed Scratch Monkey very much, despite it's general roughness.

132:

I'm following with some interest the discussion regarding italian transhumanism. I don't know if Mr. Stephano Vaj is a fascist or not. What's for sure is that all his articles are published by L'Uomo Libero (www.uomo-libero.com/autore.php?id=6), an italian bi-annual considered an extreme right-wing and anti-jewish periodical, according to 'Anti-semitism worldwide", the annual report by the Stephen Roth Institute For the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism And Racism:

http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2001-2/italy.htm

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=7Ds6X1j_qkgC&dq=%22uomo+libero%22+neofascist&q=uomo+libero#v=snippet&q=uomo%20libero&f=false

133:

[ Troll suppressed. Again. -- The mgmt. ]

134:

Bruce@113:

Rule by elites is incredibly common in human history, and certainly not restricted to fascist societies. What distinguishes fascism are the following kinds of actions:
1) the extreme use of ideology to justify the status of the elite, and
2) the extreme use of power in any available form to control and/or kill opponents of the ideology.

With respect, Bruce, I would suggest that this is what characterizes at least 90% of government at least 90% of the time. There's some sort of checklist floating around where apparently if six or eight or ten of the twelve items are true you've got Fascism:

(1) Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

(2) Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights

(3) Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

(4) Supremacy of the Military

(5) Controlled Mass Media

(6) Obsession with National Security

(7) Religion and Government are Intertwined

(8) Corporate Power is Protected

(9) Labor Power is Suppressed

(10) Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts

(11) Obsession with Crime and Punishment

(12) Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

But the larger point - and the fact of the matter - is that even in a state that could reasonably called fascist, the elites could not rule without the consent of the governed. Where they lose consent is where you see stuff like the French or Russian Revolutions(No, I'm not some sort of libertarian flake. But I do take Chomsky's observations to heart; they're right up there with "The Prince".)

Yes, it's entirely reasonable to speculate that new technologies might lead to better ways to obtain and keep that consent. The use of TV and Radio to propagandize to the masses is one such relatively recent (or relatively old, depending upon your point of view) technology. But while the new technolgies might be more effective, the problem they address is not anything particularly new, in fact the problem is as old as the hills. You've got everything from divine right of kings to impersonal bureaucratic meritocracy. Without knowing Charlie as other than a net presence, I suspect that what motivated this posting is too much USian TV, what with the Birthers, the Teabaggers, the idiots violently against their own interests wrt to health care, the howls that Obama addressing school children and telling them to work hard and study is somehow 'Socialist', etc. Depressing stuff, I know, and one which leads those with active imaginations to speculations of how these people could be induced to believe this stuff. Charlie being Charlie, this goes off in a certain direction, namely technological. If he had been H. P. Lovecraft, he might have written a post about the insidious and increasing influence of the Elder Gods and their disciples.

135:

Scent@132: Violently against their own interests is not as obviously true as you seem to suppose, if you look at the *actual* content of the Democratic Party proposals. I'm in my sixtieth year and uninsured, because I can't afford what insurance costs, and that's not a good thing. But the House of Representatives proposal would require me to purchase insurance, probably from one of the same overexpensive insurance companies we have now, and to pay up to 12% of my gross income (16% of my net) . . . which is a level of expense I know will put me under chronic financial stress, because I used to pay that much back in my fifty-fourth year (and since then all my other expenses have gone up) . . . or will fine me 2.5% of my gross income annually for not doing so, which I *can* afford to pay but which will make it harder for me to get any health care. It's obvious to me that forcing 45 million people to become customers of the health insurance industry, and forbidding them to say, "No, I can't buy that, it's too expensive" is a win for the industry, but it looks a lot like a lose for the uninsured. If we could afford to spend that kind of money a lot of us would be insured right now.

Sure, a lot of the conservative protests are from people profoundly ignorant of the actual content of the legislation. But the people who support it are often just as ignorant. I discussed this with a friend about a month back, and he was utterly shocked to learn that the Democrats wanted people to pay for insurance and proposed to fine them for not doing so; he had simply assumed that we were going to get single-payer funded out of tax revenues. I suspect a lot of people who support "health care" have similar illusions . . . and thus their support is just as ignorantly partisan as Republican opposition.

Personally, I don't feel any need for health insurance to cover routine examinations, minor illnesses, dental care, and the like; I can afford to pay for all those out of pocket, and if I had insurance for them, I'd just be paying their cost in to the insurance company and having it turn around and pay it out, equally regularly, with some administrative overhead. What I could use is a good catastrophic illness policy, to keep me from being wiped out financially and/or left to die if I get something really expensive to treat. But the Democratic proposals will actually *forbid* people to buy catastrophic coverage, because no purely catastrophic plan will qualify for avoiding the fines. In other words, it will drive people into the very same insurance model that has driven costs upward so catastrophically and funded all sorts of suboptimal care decisions.

In the United States, at least, this has been typical of government regulation of the economy ever since the Progressive era, when the government stepped in to regulate railroad rates, equalizing them between cities . . . equalizing them *upward*. Not only do regulatory agencies get captured by the industries they regulate and operate for the benefit of the big established firms, giving them shelter from competitive pressure to innovate or lower their prices; but the firms anticipate this capture and often orchestrate the "anti-big-business" movements that create the regulatory agencies. Nothing is as often falsely advertised in the US as government policies.

136:

Thanks to the genius of greasemonkey/killfile, I now have the ability that we all had, 20+ years ago on Usenet: to hide all comments by anyone who rants in capitals. Especially people who do that while accusing others of intemperance or ignorance, or who presume to identify True Believers. Debating Archimedes Plutonium had a charm circa 1990 which it has now entirely lost.

A parting shot, trying to shed some light in a determinedly benighted place: our good host's ancestral - and Abrahamic - faith has very little to say about "ETERNAL TORTURE".

137:

Excuse me ...
erm @136 but.

"Eternal torture" (no capitals, see!) is guaranteed if you don't believe in [insert name of appropriate version of sky fairy here] - that's what the priests tell you, anyway.

Why are you getting so wound up, just because I have strongly suggested that your pet sky fairy does not exist?

Come on, put your money where your mouth is, and please, pretty please.....
Produce some objective evidence, that will stand up in a laboratory or evan a court of law, to show that the exiatence of any "god" has any validity whatsoever.
If you can't, then you are debating a subject with no content - which I think is one of the definitions of Theology.

Oops.

I note that you have not answered my main original point:
No "god" is detectable, even if said "god" is presumed to exist.
If undetectable, then irrelevant.
Rather like your wounded screamings, infact.

I pointed out, and repeat, that I am only too well aware of christian teachings, having been exposed to ALL (excuse me) of the bullshit, for many years.
You just ignore this, and choose to call me names.

If you repeat this, I might ask the moderator, nicely, to warn you.
Since you seem incapable of debating the mere possibility of the non-existence of you-know-who.

138:

ScentOfViolets @132 — While a convenient device in fiction writing, homogenous/hegemonic societies are seldom seen in real world, outside of entirely insular, untouched communities.

As pointed by FhunZoahg earlier (@82), fragmentation of society into insulated communities (based on elective affinities) is a growing trend, both as a reaction to times that are a-changing faster than individuals' worldviews can cope, and "because we can" (many of the early adopters of the net culture will remember the moment their social circles suddenly burst wide, no longer constrained by their geographical/social circumstances).
Meanwhile cultural globalization is marching on, Pandora-style, albeit not resulting so much in the sort of Americanitis so many rest-of-the-worlders freak over, but rather in a patchwork of syncretic micro-communities that borrow from each other at the speed of blogging in the process of defining themselves.

There is nothing homogenous or hegemonic about that, and everyone but the rabidly exclusionist and technophobic can carve a niche to their liking in the merry mess of our post-geographical culture.

Are 'the masses' likely to be manipulated by priests/cultural wizards/media moguls, and is that a threat to democracy (as fantasized by 19th and 20th century universal suffragists) ? Obviously, but democracy has been broken ever since it turned into a TV pageant (and that's generously assuming things were marginally less tragic before), so it could be a GoodThing™ if we were to let go of the 'one size fits all' fixation we inherited from the enlightenment era, and moved on to embrace a greater diversity of acceptable ways for people to organize and govern themselves.

Charlie @OP — This is where I disagree with you about environmentalism being demoted as fertilizer for the next big thing over the next century ; rather I foresee environmentalism playing the same pivotal role human rights and universalism have played through the 19th and 20th centuries: that of great enablers by way of self-evident commonality.

Two generations of people are growing up right now, taking for granted that shitting where you eat is not very clever, for a planet-wide value of 'where you eat'.
While the natural impulse for some boomers and Gen X may be to respond with bunker survivalism (we were trained to 'duck and cover' and fear stuff that's not under our control, after all), much of the new generations are as unwilling to live secluded from the global world they take for granted as they are aware of the codependency a shared biosphere imposes on mankind as a whole — additionally, they've been exposed to a much broader diversity of organizational models than their forebears (that's us) and are likely to not worry too much about 'fighting the man', instead going for /ignore (unless some antiquated hierarchy can't be routed around, in which case they'll hack it).

A handy way to define a community/society used to be exclusion ('us' is defined by what we oppose), but next gen'ers are working as much, if not more, by co-optation (we are what we associate with), simply ignoring anything that doesn't directly affects them. This would be a very insular worldview if not for the fact networked communities reach far and wide enough to include a lot of stuff, where previous generations worried only in the comparatively narrowband of class/mass ideology/race and geographical proximity.

I'll go on a limb and postulate RaptureOfTheNerds-type transhumanists are of little concern to pedestrian ape-themed humanity: my personal guess is the singularity will escape our radar, either by GTFO as soon as it emerges, or by just not registering (for) us.

Trans/posthumanism of the cyborg/bioengineered brand, on the other hand, is bound to become as mundane as vaccines, contact lenses and prosthetic teeth are in our current era: standards will raise globally, and everybody will soon forget what it was to remember stuff before memory enhancements and always-on link, just like in your above blackmail example.
Similarly, majority rule as the one true way to settle public matters will probably sound as goofy to them as forecasting war outcomes by gutting poultry is to us.

So my bet is yes, democracy as we understand it will be deprecated in favor of a myriad of ad-hoc organizational models, depending on the task at end (authoritarianism and majority rule being only two of many available choices). People will increasingly vote with their feet, and 'unnatural selection' will work its magic to keep in business any model that fits a niche.
What will prevent the world from descending into chaos is the commonality of interests in preserving the one thing that we can't un-share as long as we're meat puppets: our environment.

Assuming I'm not totally off-mark, wrecking the biosphere is likely to become the universal cardinal sin of this century, unless we all ascend to computronium super-quick.
The good news is, it builds a sense of belonging at a planetary scale: instead of 'us vs them' on a nation/block level, we get 'play nice with your roomates' on a global level, which is bearable for individuals when global awareness doesn't threaten the cellular integrity of monkeysphere-sized self-selected communities.

[Yes, I'm aware it sounds like 1992 all over again, glocal and stuff: that doesn't mean it's entirely wrong, though.]

Nick & Greg @136/137 — Seriously guys… a god vs no-god debate ? Faith in the existence of superbeing(s) is like chocolate vs vanilla, there's no arguing pro or against it. Religion (as a social/cultural construct) may work as a topic, but muddling the two is sure to get you nowhere.

139:

Did you actually read what that comment said?
Because he's right.
The traditional idea of Hell is pretty much a medieval Christian idea, right in there with Limbo and Purgatory.

/rant

140:

Up-to-the-minute update on Heaven, and Hell and the very real thret posed by resurgent religions.

Of the people just convicted of the "lquid bomb plot". This one lived about 500 metres away from me, and another one, on whom the jury did not reach a verdict (so I suppose there will have to be a re-trial) lived about 70 metres from me.
Between the latter and me is a christian church which believes in the (I would put in in CAPS but Nick Barnes might get a fit of the delicate vapours) "literal truth and innerancy" of the bible .....

All these various collections of nutters need is a lever to real political power, and they really will have chrome-plated jackboots.

Remember, it is only too possible for a society to regress technologically and socially, especially if a messianic religion can brainwash a sizeable segment of the population.
Look at the USA right now, for instance.

Or remember the early and still-scary R. A. Heinlein "Revolt in 2100"

@ 139
Thank you.
Not just christian of course.
If you've read the "recital" ( I have, shudder) it is chock-full of repeated rants about how (and in some detail) how "allah" will eternally punish the unbelievers.....

141:

While I am in no way a fan of organized religions (mostly mind control cults) or disorganized religions (mostly woo-woo and superstition), I don't think it's appropriate to rag on them in public, or to pick verbal fights with their adherents: as the man says, never wrestle with a pig -- you won't change the pig's mind and you'll just get covered in pigshit.

<ironic>Also? The god-botherer bothering is disturbing the karma of my blog. So please drop it.</ironic>.

As for the liquid bombers ... I believe in the conspiracy and the intent, but I'm not at all sure about the alleged methodology. We shall see.

142:

CS, sorry if I've disturbed your blog-karma. It now looks all peaceful and level-headed from here. I haven't been a god-botherer, or even argued the pros and cons of religion in a public forum, for a long old time.

143:

This is getting silly - and a little worrying.

I have just turned Radio3 on, and, although it is early (actual date/s should be 3rd October/9th November) there are celebrations, including a performance by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra ...
but
- is it REALLY 20 years since the Wall fell?
Where does the time go?
and, (mis)quoting Tolkien - "aways, after a respite, the Shadow grows a new shape".

So Charlie's original question is apposite - what will the new threats to what little freedoms we have be, and what form will they take?
My money is still on overorganised, messianic religion in some form or another, coupled with exaggerted "respect" for same, until it is much too late.
But - we'll see.

144:

@127: Congratulations Charlie, you just blew my mind. Hope you're feeling better by the way.

Offshore nukes. Yes, I know the subs use them, but...wow. How many ways is this a bad idea.

1) they could be hijacked by swedish police/idiot ecofreaks/russian special forces/whatever it is that was going on with the Arctic Sea. Security suddenly means six directions (up, down, and sideways), rather than five.

2) Salt water's reasonably corrosive stuff, which means you've got to dry-dock the reactor every year or so to repair it. It will be offline but dangerous in dock. This blows one of the better arguments for reactors away (the one about them being available). I'm not sure how often land-based nukes go down for repairs, but the idea is to have reliable power.

3) Pretty much by definition, they're going to be sitting in the middle of shipping lanes, harbors, and/or near naval bases, which makes them even more in the way.

@121: There's this problem with conceptually simple and closing the loop. To start with, I agree with Rackham and Grove, about how it's easy to make a farmer sustainable. Just enact a law that says that he cannot buy or sell land, and tell him that he, his family, and all his descendants have to make off that land forever. They'll be sustainable within a generation. We happen to be in that situation, and in denial about it. That's the problem: unless it's a personal crisis (i.e. you're going to be starving every single year unless you get a clue) most people won't act.

That said, closing the loop is hard, if you happen to live in the real world. I've gotten to see, first and second hand, how much work it is to try to manage the waste of a major US city (a close relative is on the management committee), and while it sounds easy in concept, implementing total recycling is almost impossible in practice, because any system is vulnerable not only to NIMBY politics, but to simple idiocy and technical glitches. It's easy to compost greenwaste, but when people throw diapers in the greenwaste cans, it screws things up (this was from personal experience, finding the used diaper in the mulch for a project I was working on. Fortunately I wasn't the one to find the used needle). Similarly, putting the old car battery in the wood mix going into the incinerator turns all the smoke and ash toxic. That's the problem. If the waste stream was all wood or all batteries, it would be manageable, but the waste is inevitably mixed by accident, laziness, or idiocy, and it doesn't take much contamination to mess up the whole thing.

So, no, I have to disagree: closing the loop is hard. Most of the tech schemes I've seen so far only work under ideal circumstances, and they're way too far from idiot proof to work in the real world. If you've got a good solution, I strongly suggest you patent it, start a company, and start making it work as fast as possible. There are billions to be made in the field, and an increasing number of bright engineers have realized this.

As for desalinization: you're right, I'd forgotten about the ice trick. Now, let's make that work in, say, Cairo or Los Angeles. Finding land for slow desalination technology is a big problem too.

145:

To my knowledge, more accidents have occurred in reactors aboard nuclear submarines than in fixed plants on land, and there are more incompletely or not at all mothballed reactors on the bottom of the ocean than anywhere else. The good news is that high-pressure, low-temperature abyssal water is less corrosive than warmer water near the surface, but eventual leakage from those reactors is still a pretty good bet. Whether this situation is the result of inherent problems with ship-borne reactors or the common lack of care for their surroundings of military organizations is an interesting question.

146:

I suspect that using the same basic design for nuke plants on land as in submarines, or carriers, is not a really good idea. (I've thought this for some time, actually.) We should have better (and probably safer) designs available by now, and we should be using them.

147:

If we run into alien intelligences, or create artificial ones, we will be dealing with beings that may force us to reevaluate that basic axiom of the enlightenment project.

With the artificial improvement of intelligence, we may yet be saved by our own stupidity.
(1) Any salable intelligence booster would have to be validated against the Wechsler IQ scale:
(2) The Wechsler is a brain-dead attempt to replicate the upper-class skill set;
(3) People whose minds were upWechslered would therefore be no better in actual competition in real life than the current membership of MENSA, which is to say not at all.

Until we can say what it is that we want, rather than begging every conceivable question about the mind by using the term 'intelligence', we won't know where to point ourselves, and no conceivable technology will assist us. Luckily.

148:

Moral behavior...sigh. In terms of morality as it subtends the ability for abstract thought, the normal distribution says that most beings can agree to some degree what is right and what is wrong.

Unfortunately, for anything more abstract and less personal than incest and infanticide, the normal distribution also decrees the inability of these same beings to abstract at all.

When the abstraction requires moral decisions at a significant remove from my home, my kids, my personal desire to wear flannel nighties all year round although I've chosen to live in the tropics, I need to be at or above one sigma on the abstraction side of that distribution in order to make decisions about actions with consequences at that remove.

Ideologies have served in the past to simplify the need for abstract thought...but history must teach us that ideology-based systems for directing moral behavior fail in direct competition with one another or produce emergent internal conflicts that cluster neatly (again!) around human ability for abstract thought and conscientious behavior at a remove.

The drastic changes in climate may finally provide an ideology-proof force for moral behavior at a remove. In terms of vanishing resources, declining food sources, increased meteorological catastrophe, it's as likely to trigger the concrete last-banana-on-the-tree part of the distribution as usher in a new age of social responsibility based on a capacity for conscientious and measured behavior.

While I'm waiting to find out, I'm trying to cultivate those qualities that do not come easily to a self-absorbed privileged member of the species; compassion, tolerance, and a willingness to suspend an inherited sense of entitlement in the face of common crisis...

and (down here in Florida) maybe building a really big raft...

149:

Desalination crowd: modern desalinators use osmosis membranes and high pressure to work their magic, not fire or ice. It's an energy-intensive process no matter how you do it, since the basic tendency of a well-mixed solution is to stay that way.

Is it too radical to suggest that it's just a Bad Idea(tm) for some places to be densely populated?

150:

@149: Hi Chris,

First, don't trademark the Bad Idea unless it's a Creative Commons license. I ain't paying to come up with my own Bad Ideas(CC).

That said, I agree with you on both counts. Anyone who thinks that politics and marketing don't drive more than long-term rationality really should look at a lot of the places where big cities currently exist.

Gotta admit though, it makes for a neat vision. How about we depopulate half of LA so that we can locate a nuke to power the freezing ponds/heat desalinators that take up half of LA to provide water for the other half, along with the recycling plant so that the 4 million people (50% of current population) don't have to ship their garbage out, but can support an industry to re-engineer all their garbage into useful products (side note: only Hollywood really recycles its own shit right now, at least metaphorically).

Isn't that a great vision? We can ship the excess people to, say, northern Ohio and eastern Michigan, where there are lots of under-utilized resources and a lot of fresh water that could support them.

If it works, we can do the same with Las Vegas.

And if you think this is a serious proposal, and not a Bad Idea (CC), I've got a lovely carbon sequestration scheme to sell you.

151:

Simple thought experiment to determine if all human lives are deemed of equal value:
Pick one- the person you love most is tortured to death while you watch, or some random guy off the street in China is.
If all lives are of equal value, this is going to have to be a coin toss. But people love those closest to them emotionally, and support their wellbeing more than those further away...
Aristocracies aren't necessarily thugs who stomp on the less fortunate as they are social cliques that wound up trading really, really big favors.

Anyhow, as for future politics, I think it's going to be a choice of integration versus isolation-- one group trying to promote greater ideological and social integration of humanity to achieve greater economic prosperity (or promote some greater good), the other wishing to keep their own pool of memes simple/pure/untainted in order to maintain a distinct identity outside of the mainstream. A million different varieties of Amish versus a horde of cosmopolitans, say.

152:

The first problem I have with Transhumanism is in the way it preaches against the suffering of Humanity. The human as trapped by a destructive Natural force (be it evil, or something rather anti-human) and made to live some kind of horrible existence due to our inability to see beyond our suffering is what Transhumanisim wants to move beyond. To remove what you call, Charles, the existential taxes which withhold true enlightenment from Humanity.
This is agreeable. To want to take away the things that hurt people; to want to challenge that evil which causes suffering etcetra; to move beyond typical mass ideas of existence; all this is positive, and idealistic, and desirable. I feel like those ideals are what a majority of the population of world hold true, and indeed try to uphold within their differing systems of what is just and what is suffering.

BUT.
Those things we find so abhorant; that disease; that disability; that stupidity exist specifially because we have ability; intelligence; health.
My argument being, with Transhumanism, once you start trying to eliminate some part of human existence (be it perceived as a positive or negative thing) you start fucking up the very thing you are trying to help. Take away disabilty, and then we have no concept or appreciation of the fact we have ABILITY.
AND who decides within the Transhumanist discourse what will be determined as something which should be removed from society? WHO will evaluate the masses and deem what should be seperated from humanity if we wish to become posthuman?
These are the things that make me question the motives of such technology based political/philosophical movements.
I am hardly a traditionalist (if anything I define myself as contradictialist) and am not afraid of the implications of the future, and actually I see the future as being one of a Post-human influenced. It is highly likely we will have the age of machine assisted living. But as you say, the Human Condition is more likely a variable rather than a constant, and it must be acknowledged that the variable is split into many branches.

153:

Actually, research is good. The Americans have actually chucked a reactor into the deep, in 1959, and they've had two sub losses, both of which are attributable to being a submarine (Thresher - pipe failure on deep test dive, followed by string of other submarining problems including icing in the main ballast tanks and, oddly enough, over-cautious nuclear reactor procedures - Scorpion - well...take your pick).

154:

@152

Take away disabilty, and then we have no concept or appreciation of the fact we have ABILITY.

Bullshit.
I could paraphrase your argument, saying you can't feel free unless you are in constant danger of getting into prison. We don't need looking at paralyzed people to make us enjoy evening walks.
Or if we do, maybe you should campaign against compulsory polio inoculation and campaign to reintroduce it back to the West in the name of broadening our horizons.

Read Charles Murray. A man after your own heart..
He has a line of argument claiming European social arrangments robs people of enjoyment of their lives... because, unlike Americans, if they lose their jobs or get sick, they are not in danger of insolvency and poverty.

155:

@Giancarlo: Once again, I'm noticing that you aren't able to understand "fascism" as general phenomenon

General phenomenon??? Fascism is not a cultural or aesthetic preference. Fascism is the practice of smashing the head of your political opponents, and murdering representatives or ethnic or other minorities one does not like. Fascism is eliminating dissent and diversity with violence, oppressing minorities and not caring for the weak. Your dislike for others' cultural or aesthetic preference is not sufficient to label them fascism.

156:

Dear Citizen/Occupant, For your convenience, your health insurance and visa have been canceled. Your most recent mandatoy fMRI indicates the likelihood that you will develop symtoms of () Cancer, () schizophrenia, () drug/alcohol addiction, () chronic unemploymnent, () paranoia about your Government and/or politico-religious extremism.

Feel free to verify with your local () government office, () insurance office, () ngo, () college/university, that you are covered by the revised legislation which was prompted by Columbia University Medical Center (2009, September 8). Brain Defect Implicated In Early Schizophrenia.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090907162304.htm
"... this study shows that in the early stages of the illness, before symptoms are fully manifest, this increased activity is evident only in this one subregion and can distinguish who among high-risk individuals will go on to develop these disorders."

Thank you for our attention and consideration.

157:

@Giulio, Did you read Umberto Eco's "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt" ( http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_blackshirt.html )?
Then you will certainly understand what I mean saying "fascism as general phenomenon" (= eternal fascism).
But please, read it!

158:

There's this problem with conceptually simple and closing the loop. To start with, I agree with Rackham and Grove, about how it's easy to make a farmer sustainable. Just enact a law that says that he cannot buy or sell land, and tell him that he, his family, and all his descendants have to make off that land forever. They'll be sustainable within a generation. We happen to be in that situation, and in denial about it. That's the problem: unless it's a personal crisis (i.e. you're going to be starving every single year unless you get a clue) most people won't act.

When Julius Fabricius, Sub-Prefect of the Weald,
In the days of Diocletian owned our Lower River-field

That sort of thing has been tried, and it had ghastly results for something more than fifteen hundred years.

Good systems design -- which is, on the contra-positive of the "never time to do it right and always time to do it over" principle, actually technically easier to do than bad systems design -- doesn't assume no one is ever an idiot, or that all the inputs are perfect. And maybe there needs to be a change in what disposable diapers, or plastic bags, or shoe soles, are made out of.

But the core point is very, very simple -- humans function in an ecology. They can either die in their own waste products like beer yeast, or they can enact an ecology that's sufficiently capable that it turns their shit back into food. (Where "shit" should be understood as "all the material waste products of an industrial or post-industrial society".)

159:

To start with, I agree with Rackham and Grove, about how it's easy to make a farmer sustainable. Just enact a law that says that he cannot buy or sell land, and tell him that he, his family, and all his descendants have to make off that land forever.

The Nazis actually did this. If you were an Erbschaftsbauer or "hereditary farmer", which involved proving your Aryan descent for x generations*, you were guaranteed permanent ownership of your land and immunity from foreclosure...but your permanent ownership was also compulsory because your land was legally inalienable, with the special detail that you had to sell your produce only through the Reichsnährstand.

Of course this had some problems - for example, you have two sons and only one of them can inherit it. The answer was that *handwave* they'd find the lad a spread somewhere...but German agriculture in the 30s was split between a shit load of small and desperately backwards peasant smallholdings that barely supported the peasants and a few really huge aristocratic estates in East Prussia run by those Prussian aristocrats who weren't bright enough to pass out of the Potsdam cadet school or into management at Siemens or AEG or Blohm & Voss.

The Nazis could see problem 1) but didn't want to piss off problem 2)** and refused to countenance the obvious solution of letting most of problem 1) move to the big city and paying the rest of it to buy tractors for essentially insane ideological reasons about cities being the base of modern-day urban nomads (~= Jews) degenerating the race. The upshot was that they decided to conquer Poland and Russia and kill pretty much everyone who lived there and, as they say, Take Their Stuff.


*if your descent turned out to be insufficiently pure, your land was no longer your problem and neither was it yours! of course, the rest of your problems would be solved in due course in a similar fashion*
**or rather, their smarter brothers in the General Staff

160:

Schmidt @154 — I'm not quite sure Jeremy Tapsell (@152) is arguing you should spend your days walking in shoes one size too small so you can finally enjoy the relief of taking them off in the evening. [If you really were arguing what Schmidt read, Jeremy, sorry about misunderstanding you in first place, but count me out: mortification is a sorry way to make life worth living.]
I suspect Jeremy is worried about how an idea of what's 'good' in the short run could squash diversity and opportunity, a problem recently illustrated by the potential to diagnose and select against genetic 'flaws', which could lead humanity to 'clean up' its gene pool and in the process throw away stuff that may prove handy somewhere down the road.

Systematically putting the elimination of suffering above the as-yet-unrealized wealth of variability, because 'some stuff is not deemed useful' at the time can get us in big trouble: much like we choose to assume every human life is of equal value on the grounds that we have no reliable way to assess the relative value of any given human, we must be wary of how we go about 'perfecting' things when we only half-understand how they fit in the bigger picture.

There is a continuum to negotiate here, between improving human condition / comfort and nerfing diversity and the potential for interesting unexpected outcomes ; or put another way, between safety and liberty, in the same way there is a balance to find between individual liberty and social utility (as discussed in the earlier "Merciless" thread).

Some brands of eugenics in their time got endorsed by a lot of well-intentioned people — who only saw how it could make things better for the whole of society and spare the less fortunate the burden of going through lives deemed not worth living — and we know it takes a single Stephen Hawking to sink that boat.

From a slightly different angle, discrepancies indeed qualify traits: there is no 'tall' or 'short' unless compared to the expectation of a median, and even without a median, you still need 'bigger' to evaluate the meaning of 'smaller', and indeed, personal experience of some limitations and duress can be formative in helping one empathize with the suffering or constraints imposed on others.

Until we move past scarcity economics and its corollary of survivalist mindset, I personally fear the end of suffering could lead to the end of empathy in those who enjoy that benefit.

Graydon @157 — That's what has me cautiously optimistic: people who grew up with the built-in awareness that we all are responsible for the balance of a shared ecosystem are more likely to act accordingly to that conviction than to succumb to the impulse of 'every man for himself' that prevails among their elders.

161:

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." ~ H.L. Mencken

Traditionalists (of the left and right) are looking for simple answers in increasingly complex times, and seek to impose (their) order on the shades of gray. They also tend to do this in a top down fashion, although that might have been because large organization has (in the past, at least) always mean top down control (whether it was "the people", "the leader", "The heavens", "the King" or some combination of these)

Sadly technology has made (especially in the last century) easier to do this, at least for a short time. And future technologies are only going to make it easier to impose that order, or at least suppress the apparent disorder for a time.

Elements of Trans-humanism could easy be seduced into fixing the human condition, believing they have the one right way, or the greatest need, and do so in a top down method.

I am more of the belief that what is good, interesting and valuable about 3 human endeavors : the market, democracy, the scientific process, (and what we have learned about ecology, and evolution). Which have interesting things in common and what they tell us about organizing society. To wit: bottom up; messy and wasteful; it's important to have criticism (CITOKATE); test against what is, not what should be; sometimes you take a step back in order to go forward; variation and diversity are necessary; hybrid vigor; mono cultures fall from a single diseases;

Hopefully any successful Trans-humanist community will keep those lessons in mind. I am cautiously optimistic. (if only in that we havn't f**k it up, so far)

162:

@158, 159: Actually, the idea is a lot older than the Nazis. Rackham and Grove were talking about the Mediterranean.

Ghastly? I'm not so sure. Mind you, I intensely dislike the politics, but it's worth remembering that those "poor downtrodden peasants" who were living in such "ghastly" conditions were living pretty close to sustainability. Yes, their life-spans were shorter on average (due to higher infant mortality and total lack of gerontology), they did typically face yearly food shortages, and so forth.

We enlightened types, conversely, are looking for expensive drugs to mimic the effects of starvation, so that we can eat more than we need to and still stay thin, and some of us go to gyms where powered devices help us mimic manual labor, only better. And we're non-sustainable.

The hard fact is that Nature is a really bitchy totalitarian ruler, and she's said that, for the moment, we and all our descendants are stuck on one farm, forever, called Earth (unless we send the occasional extra son out into space to try and found a colony). So, you know, maybe, the peasants who pulled this one-farm trick off back in the Middle Ages, or in China, or the Americas with stone tools, these ghastly downtrodden types who were our own ancestors, maybe they actually knew and did things we need to learn and do?

In this light, the transhumanist view that we'll find the resources we need Out There, or through some unknown new invention, looks a lot like wishful thinking.

Something to think about.

163:

heteromeles @162 --

If you get to the point where you're advocating slavery as a solution, which is what you appear to be doing, you've lost the ability to contribute to a better world.

I've *done* farming with both modern (for some years ago values of modern) and 19th century hand tools. Farming is necessarily and inevitably wildly ecologically destructive, and is generally undesirable in a lot of ways. Also totally necessary at the moment to feed everybody.

The ideas that peasant small holders are ecologically sustainable (they're so utterly not; look at post-glacial-to-present fauna, flora, and climate changes in Greece for a really clear example) and that a technological civilization somehow cannot be ecologically sustainable, despite providing orders of magnitude more realizable access to choice to its citizens, are deeply pernicious and unhelpful.

164:

@158:

Good systems design -- which is, on the contra-positive of the "never time to do it right and always time to do it over" principle, actually technically easier to do than bad systems design -- doesn't assume no one is ever an idiot, or that all the inputs are perfect. And maybe there needs to be a change in what disposable diapers, or plastic bags, or shoe soles, are made out of.

We've reached the point where the tools we have for planning and predicting the consequences of changes to our technical and economic systems can't tell us quickly enough (if at all) what the negative consequences of the changes might be. An example I heard on the radio this morning (National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" program): consumer demand for cashmere sweaters in the West (specifically the US in this report) has resulted in increased production in China, causing increased purchasing of cashmere fiber from Mongolia, in turn causing producers there to increase the ratio of goats to sheep in their herds, which causes overgrazing and increases the rate of desertificaion of the (already fragile) grasslands. In the medium term this will decrease the ability of the herders to raise their goats and sell their cashmere. In the long term, if no corrective action is taken against this trend, one of Mongolia's two sources of international trade (and the livelihoods of a substantial fraction of its population) will be damaged or destroyed.

Even if we had a centrally-planned world economy (and that is a really bad idea) there's no way we could predict all the tertiary effects like that which will negatively effect the medium or long term stability of the environment or the economy that depends on it. So we need to have some sort of feedback system in place, to detect negative consequences, find their cause(s) and implement corrections. But this requires some sort of international cooperation, which isn't likely any time soon. On the other hand, if we actually do succeed in getting international action on climate change, the political and technical instrumentality we use may be a useful model for more timely action on unexpected consequences.

165:

doowop @68: Others already addressed your (top put it bluntly, BS) claim about necessity of religion, but I need to address your one other point --

And within that breeding group, especially for primates, the so-called natural "cooperation" consists of a tyranny imposed by some alpha male. The same is true of human organizations led by kings, emperors, presidents, pharoahs, and CEOs. There are no human organizations that are significantly differetn than a typical troop of babboons. Within the group, the struggle is for power and dominance, and its nearly as brutal.

Try finding the "alpha male" within organization responsible for Wikipedia. Or for Linux. Or for any other open-source project. Then look up "gift economy".

ChrisB @147: (1) Any salable intelligence booster would have to be validated against the Wechsler IQ scale:
(2) The Wechsler is a brain-dead attempt to replicate the upper-class skill set;
(3) People whose minds were upWechslered would therefore be no better in actual competition in real life than the current membership of MENSA, which is to say not at all.

And for how long do you expect such ridiculous "booster" to remain salable? Besides, YOU obviously would not buy such booster in the first place. I assure you there are MANY people who understand (lack of) value of Wechsler scale, and will go for something more practical, like continuous Google access.

As far as immortality or significant life extension is concerned, I do not belive it will ever become very controversial let alone basis for social classes because I do not believe that there will ever be a single "treatment" (or even a discrete collection of treatments) which makes one young and without which one is old. Such "either you got it or you don't" scenario is common in SF, but completely unrealistic. I think much more likely scenario is immortality sneaking up on us without anyone truly grasping the implications until it effectively occurred.

Today an average 60-year old plays tennis and bad knees get replaced; by 2030 an average 70-year old plays tennis and bad hearts get replaced; in 2050 an average 80-year old plays tennis and bad livers get replaced. By 2100 no 50-year old even thinks about heart attacks, or breast cancer, or enlarged prostate... and there is a billion fairly healthy centenarians. By that time major societal changes must have happened even though no one is technically immortal yet.

At no given moment will anyone have access to medical procedures radically ahead of those available to "the rest". Sure, some people will always be able to afford better than others -- that's the case already today, -- but medicine has a tendency to filter down pretty fast; if nothing else, because there is more money in a bigger market, as someone already pointed out here.

"The first person to live forever will never know it, because forever is always ahead!"

166:

By the same token, I am not overly concerned about bioenhanced people becoming Ubermenshen/"Optouten" over the rest, because it will be a continuous spectrum, not a two distinct sets. At some point will exist fully posthumans, and "merely" transhumans, and just heavily augmented, and lightly augmented, and perhaps Amish. No easy way to define any one group any more than you could define "tall" from "short".

167:

1930s German agriculture was far from kumbaya; one of the reasons why the British naval blockade sucked so much for Germany, in 1916 and in 1941, was because they imported so much animal feed.

168:

@163: I have to agree with you: by your standards, agriculture is by definition unsustainable, and so far as I can tell, any change to the environment made by any human is, by your definition, unsustainable.

By your logic, I'd point out that hunter gatherers are also unsustainable, because they were probably responsible for the pleistocene megafauna extinctions.

Thing is, I'm not quite as anti-human as you are. I'm willing to admit that humans have a right to exist, just like almost all other species (I'd eliminate smallpox, but that's my personal prejudice).

I'm talking about the calories in=calories out kind of sustainability, along with the "we've kept this land under more-or-less continuous cultivation for the last 2,000 years" kind of sustainability. That's what peasants do. And unlike you, I can point to several examples where small farmers increased local diversity of native plants and animals.

Right now, we're nowhere near even the basic level of balancing the ecosystem books, and we're feeding ourselves by mining energy and groundwater from non-sustainable sources, and using that mined energy to create nitrogen fertilizer, also in a non-sustainable process.

If you think we're damaging things now, wait until it all falls apart and we have 3 billion starving people (instead of 1 billion hungry people) to deal with.

Maybe the Singularity will happen, and we can all live as uploads in mile-high diamond, solar-powered towers. That would be...nice, I guess. I'm not waiting for it though.

169:

@160 Armchair Designer

That was the point actually, I guess I should have been a little clearer. I think in human nature we have systems in place that will, no matter what we eliminate, create contradictary states to the norm, and whatever is defined as ability, healthy or intelligent, we will always find another "thing" to call disabled or diseased or stupid to fill the vaccum we created by removing the existing signified state. I feel that is the basis of how humanity creates knowledge - in that semiotic sense anyway.

170:

Alex, #167, I don't know much detail about German agriculture, but farming and munitions production compete for nitrogen. The nitrates which become explosives are the same nitrates needed to sustain food production.

Never mind the structural differences, the German economy was certainly poorly managed for a war. At least some of that might be down to a divide and rule pattern of thinking by Hitler.

One thing the UK did was provide a lot of state-care for babies and infants, keeping the mothers working in the munitions factories. That's how my mother started as a trained nursery nurse. But I wonder if that wartime effort to maximise the number of munitions workers had consequences in the Sixties, when that wartime generationbecame adults and parents themselves.

It didn't create the teenager, but was it something that went into being a teenager?

171:

@168

We could have a sustainable industrial economy with current technology. It's just a matter of costs and politics.. so far, it's been cheaper sticking to fossil fuels.

@169. So you claim euthanizing the severely mentally retarded would provide no benefits at all? Those people will be never able to take care of themselves, or be useful.

If we moved the "stupid" handle upwards, and the most stupid people would be the ones with IQ of ~85, who, can be useful. Gas station attendants, construction workers, US presidents, etc, there are ways to employ them.

It would be an improvement, I think. (ethics aside)
There'd be no more stories of parents throwing their lives away by spending their time caring for someone who won't ever be independent or even useful.

172:

Schmidt: Be careful when you advocate euthanasia for the neurologically damaged -- it could be you, right after you walk in front of a bus. (And some googling on locked-in syndrome might give you grounds to re-think your position ...)

173:

heteromeles @168 --

No, just those environmental changes that reduce diversity or disparity in the ecology. There's absolutely no core, fundamental reason it has to be that way.

I am aware of the cases (such as Denmark) where a sustained pattern of smallholding created greater diversity through ecologic change, too; the thing about those is that they are rare, of limited geographic scope, and very fragile because they optimize poorly, so any competition that lasts even a couple generations with something that does optimize—no matter how much of a smoking hole it leaves behind itself—is awfully hard on them. (As we now see in Denmark; loss of small-holders is likely to lead to loss of the mixed woodlands.) So it's not a model for anything that could work, long term.

Bruce @164 --

That's an example -- there's a plethora -- of the system not including land/ecology/diversity-and-disparity in the pricing structure. That's not a tough fix in technical terms; hella difficult in political terms.

And, if you haven't, do read Beer's books; I usually say "Platform for Change" but you might prefer "Decision and Control". The core point is that we don't need to use a bureaucracy to make decisions, it's not an either-or choice between stability and responsiveness.

174:

@Charlie Stross

Why? I've heard people close to me describe such experiences(similar to locked-in syndrome, caused by botched anaestesia during a major surgery), and I believe death is preferable to being conscious yet unable to move for an extended period of time. You won't get better anyway.

Same goes for Alzheimer's. If you lose your mind, you are gone. No point in keeping the body alive any further.
Better to blow your brains out before your forget how to buy a gun.

Terry Pratchett has a long article about suicide published:
http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article-1203622/Ill-die-endgame-says-Terry-Pratchett-law-allow-assisted-suicides-UK.html

175:

Schmidt @164 — There's a world of difference between allowing people to self-terminate (or be self-terminated if they can't, under provision they made their will clear beforehand), and you, or me, or any select group deciding who is to be terminated without the consent of the subjects.
I honestly doubt you fail to grasp that unsubtle difference.

Euthanasia is a complicated matter, eugenics is another, mass-extermination on the other hand is simple: don't go there, it backfires.

As for the "you won't get better anyway", it's a baffling statement, assuming you're not being disingenuous.
A peritonitis was a near-certain death sentence (bundled with agonizing pain) a century ago, nowadays it's a life-threatening temporary condition that gets fixed in a matter of an hour of competent (and reasonably painless) surgery.
The entire "he broke a leg on the oxer, put him down" philosophy is either candid or callous when applied to non-life threatening chronic conditions — cf. Stephen Hawking again for an illustration of the "it takes only one exception to disprove an absolute" concept.
The locked-in syndromes of today could potentially be productive members of society shortly after decent neural interfaces start hitting the market, and… oops, look, they are.

176:

Decent neural interfaces hitting the market?

I suppose the series of tubes have got tangled between parallel universes.. as I've not yet heard about anything workable.

Sticking electrodes into brain doesn't count. As you know, in this universe, they haven't even figured out how to prevent the brain from degrading the electrodes over time.

.. yes, killing people without their consent is sort of evil(unless they are enemy civilians and it's war, of course. Then it's just strategy).

Yupik eskimos were reported to kill sociopaths living among them.
Were they evil if they refused to let themselves be exploited?

But what about people who don't even understand the concept of death or the concept of language?

There is a number of conditions where no help is possible. If I am not mistaken, once Alzheimer's is through with someone, that brain can't be restored. Same goes for some vegetables.

If no one's home..


177:

@176 Schmidt

You sound really awful.

So you are saying Transhumanism has no hope then? That those disabilities/diseases/ignorances will not be able to be removed from society? That the advances in medical technology could possibly reverse the effects of Alzheimers is something I have faith in (excuse my use of faith)

I believe that they will be! I believe in the transhuman future. I just don't think that the IDEA/MEME of, say, disability will be removed from the human conscious and that humans will be as free of these things that they assume they will be.

178:

Schmidt @176 — "But what about people who don't even understand the concept of death or the concept of language?"

What about people who don't understand the concept that they may not be right about what's best for others, especially when "what's best" translates into ending them ?

Vegetables and sociopaths, and people who look at you funny, or have hair that curls counterclockwise (those freak me out), where does the list end ?

Some tribes reportedly eat people without their consent, too, but I'm a mild-mannered old worlder, so I'll ask first:
"Can I haz you-burger ?"

179:

@178- You're assuming that there has to be some sort of agreement on the subject.
Presumably, every "tribe" would have its own opinion on who gets eaten and who doesn't. Probably arbitrarily-determined, too, for that matter.

Everyone does not play by the same rules.

180:

@176

Right now, Transhumanism is nothing but a pipe dream. Nothing more, nothing less. A handful of ineffectual intellectuals expounding pompously about technologies they don't know a damn about. See the wiki article..

Even those who actually did something, Kurzweil, are unreasonably optimistic.
I'm willing to bet his processing power /cost predictions won't come true.

Dreaming about something won't make it come true.. and we have the misfortune to live in a civilization where most energies are involved in figuring out how to get money without actually making anything. We'll see where that gets us. (finance industry was what, 20% of US GDP. And USA is the vanguard)

@178
I stand by my assertions that zombies(see late stage Alzheimer) and vegetables(people in permanent vegetative state) and other cases where it's determined there is no one inside and can't be short of a brain transplant shouldn't be watered and fed. I wouldn't call them people, as they lack a mind.

You forgot Greenpeace members, islamists, neonazis ,supremacists of all stripes, welfare-abusers, politicians, lawyers, gay fashion designers, football fans, bible-thumpers, neoconservatives, communists ...

Of course you can have a bite. If you provide contact info, I'll include the provision of one burger being made from my mortal remains. Burying meat seems wasteful to me. I'd like it much more if we ate our dead. With dignity, of course.
I hope there's some way of shipping frozen burgers around the world in small quantities. You have to be patient though, I am still young and won't likely expire until 2065 or so.

181:

Schmidt: I hope there's some way of shipping frozen burgers around the world in small quantities. You have to be patient though, I am still young and won't likely expire until 2065 or so.

Well, I guess that last zinger explains the lack of empathy ...

182:

@181- How odd...I've found the more experience one has with people, the less likely one is to like them. Progressive empathy burnout?

183:

@182

Oh, you don't have to like someone to empathize with them. Anti-death penalty advocates will tell you that.

184:

Charlie @181 — Aye, my sentiment exactly.
It takes most of us direct, personal experience of some duress to fully grasp how it can affect someone way beyond a condition's superficial description.
Being poor, or sick, or illiterate, or having a close relative/friend or life partner in such situation does more than add a trait to somebody: in many non-obvious ways for those who fail to empathize or relate, it (re-)defines one's identity.
Under less-than-optimal circumstances, many sick or socially-challenged people are not content to sit in their misery hole: they simply lack between an inch and two feet to get a view over the edge and pull themselves out.

My 2c to Schmidt: wait for age to start affecting you in many subtle ways (needing more than a day to get over a night of boozing when you have a day job, finding out you may get smarter yet definitely slower in the head over the years, feeling muscles and organs you never realized you had starting to develop their own agenda) to carve this petulant "swim or sink" rule in stone.
Unless medical science fixes those pedestrian ailments before they catch up with you (and that's assuming you're among those with access to good medicine by then), getting off your übermensch horse now may spare you some embarrassment later.

185:

.. don't blame my age. Blame my family. They're all MD's and their attitudes are infectious.

What lack of empathy? Once the brain is gone the person is gone, and only lack of education keeps people from doing the right thing and letting nature take its course. Only problem I can see is, that right now it's hard in cases of some vegetative state patients to make a reliable prognosis.


186:

To Schmidt.

Try having an (unpleasant) near-death experience.
As I can tell you, that will permanently change your ways of evaluating people, and the world - been there, done that (having woken up in hospital hurting all over, and lost (eventually) more blood than I started with ......

I agree, that once the brain's gone, that's it - but - how can you tell?
There have been cases and experimental results that show that even (especially in the early stages) Alzheimers maybe (is? can be?) reversible.
So be VERY careful about saying "no hope EVER"
Maybe, not right now, but that isn't the same story, is it?

187:

Being able to reverse the progress of diseases such as Alzheimer's is going to have interesting social implications. One of the things they affect is memory. If the memories are lost, is the person who comes out on the other side the same person?

Being able to deal with the problems of an aging brain is an essential part of life extension. And a good many other problems of age may be all the same area of, eventually, regeneration of nerve tissue. Which is, in turn, a major benefit in many other cases.

I was lucky when I fractured my spine. I didn't even need surgery. I know there have been many improvements in the handling of such injuries, working towards preventing irreparable damage. Being able to overcome the nervous system barrier in healing is possibly one of the bigger breakthroughs in medicine.


188:

Neurogenesis is a truly weird subject, especially in its associations with smell. New neurons migrate to the olfactory bulb first, then move on to their definitive locations in the brain, almost as if they went there for preparation of some sort...also, in some creatures, the smell of the alpha male sets the females neurogenesing like crazy. (I think of it as the Kylie effect - can't get you out of my head, boy, love is all I think about...)

189:

@Giancarlo #157: I know Eco's essay, and please note that I like and admire most of Eco's work. But in this particular case, I feel he is falling into a certain PC thought-policing attitude typical of the Italian left. I prefer to judge people based on what the DO, not on what they like or not (which is not my business).

190:

@Giancarlo #157, continued.

Eco says: In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

This is the same as: "it is enough that beer is present to allow hooliganism to coagulate around it.".

True enough. So what? I disapprove of hooliganism, but I still feel free to drink beer, and I don't disapprove of others who drink beer.

191:

How Do You Analyse A Criminal?
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090902122441.htm

"... Within law enforcement the reliability of the data is, however, vitally important. And that is where the problem lies: the available computer models are not considered to be reliable enough...."

192:

There are a number of reasons why I do *not* worry about the Fascist tendency within Transhumanism. In no particular order:
a) By the time all this tech arrives a PostHuman watching two people arguing over "superiority" will be about as riveting as two lab mice arguing the same point. It will be utterly irrelevant.
b) Real genetic changes that could result in the classic Superman will be very slow to happen. People just don't breed fast enough. Even if this was a hard aim, technology would overtake the process and render it obsolete.
c) Most intelligence will reside in the machine part of our minds, and will be a commodity, just as PC's are now.
d) Massive genetic engineering, if it occurs, will wipe out racial differences of the conventional kind. What do you call a 7ft tall four armed green skin Human with the strength of a gorilla, an IQ of 400, the ability to survive in vacuum or undersea and who does not get ill or age? [Apart from, as the old joke goes, "Sir"]
e) I suspect that when it comes to intelligence it will be easier to boost people with low IQ (as shorthand for intelligence) to high IQ rather than enhance people of already high IQ. In other words, GE and nootropics will make for a more equal society that the one we have now.
f) When it comes to Fascism, worry about China *now* not Transhumanists in the future.

BTW, if you ever visit London would you care to give a lecture to the UKTA on whatever, or just hang around for a chat?

193:

"your human/chimp genetics is woefully out of date. Sure we share 99% of our DNA with them; but the epigenetic stuff -- methylation sequences, siRNAs and the like, are very different. It's like saying that Microsoft Windows XP and Mac OS X are nearly identical because their kernels share 99% of the same opcodes -- that's kind of inevitable, because they both run on Intel processors (the equivalent of sharing the same basic biochemistry), but it doesn't tell you anything useful."

Poor metaphor. Genes may be only 20% of the genome -- but they're not close to being opcodes. Of the rest of the 80%, they're still so poorly understood that what significance they have, relative to the fairly clear 20% that are genes, is unknown.

The difference may only be the difference between Debian and Ubuntu -- or the difference may be the equivalent of the difference between OSX and BSD -- sure, the libraries overlap massively, but the kernels are completely unique.

On a different note -- I wouldn't worry about political ideas coming out of Europe or NA. They're both low growth societies, making it difficult for them to hit the exponential change. Dangerous and big political ideas come out of the exploding societies where everything is up for grabs -- which would be China, India, maybe even SA. The infrastructure may be built in the "old" societies -- but they'll be assembled in the new, just as fascism wasn't constructed in the older imperial cores of the UK, France or Denmark, but the upcoming states of Germany and the US.

194:

snorely toad: genes aren't merely not-even-close-to-being-opcodes; I strongly suspect that when we really understand the genome they'll be seen to be more like statically defined strings and/or unserialized data structures.

Good point about the real source of worrying political ideas: look for the exponentiating societies. Mind you, 30's fascism was indeed a major threat in the UK; you might want to google on Oswald Moseley and the BUF. As for France, I'm no expert -- but I strongly doubt that Jean Marie le Pen came out of nowhere.

195:

Charlie: well, you have to think of the genome as an interpreted language, where there is no distinction between data and code -- we design things that way because it's easier for our puny minds, but evolution has no such limitation.

I'd think of them as procedure template elements -- when I write self-modifying code, most of the code is actually quite fixed: the underlying loops, references, etc. Of course, the most interesting bits are the variable elements, small but crucial. And we need to remember that the genome isn't a one layer programming system -- it maintains another sets of machines that themselves may be thought of as a computer -- which is where much of the miRNA and sRNA elements act. Reverse engineering information systems is a job for the insane. That may even be too much metaphorizing about this.

Have you ever read up on HG Wells's ideas on liberal fascism? It's an interesting way station on the development of the consumer state as a third way. Regardless, even though fascism was influential everywhere, it was in the "developing" economies of the time that it was apparently most acceptable at the highest levels. A fascist coup may even have been in the works in the US against FDR; and the ideas were clearly very popular among the US elite. Some states didn't even renounce eugenics until the late '70s.

196:

True, but come to think of it, most of today's fast-industrialising nations have already had a bad experience with developmental dictatorship of either left- or right-wing tendency.

Brazil: arguably development really kicked off after they abandoned the idea that Serious Technocrats and the Incorruptible, Decisive Military could Drag This Country Into the Future. See also: Spain and Portugal.

Poland: had a caudillo in the 1930s, had Stalinism, then had a sort of secretly rightwing technocratic junta.

Turkey: fast-industrialisers invented their own political party determined to Drag etc and join the EU, as an alternative to the IDM.

India: well, Indira Gandhi's emergency rule in the 70s counts as development dictatorship to me, and there was certainly a hell of a lot of technocratic authoritarianism about before that. Can haz giant modernist secretariat building? Thnx!

China: has been a development dictatorship, of varying forms and degrees of success, since 1911.

South Africa: what was Afrikanerdom if it wasn't a right-wing tyranny dedicated to Dragging This Country Into the 20th Century etc? Certainly a lot of Big Technocratic Projects (SASOL, DENEL, the nuke and missile programmes) enabled by our old pals in development dictatorships, Cheap Labour and Secret Police.

197:

I seem to've missed something - in paragraph 13, you talk about the human condition. Specifically, the fact that conservatives make the assumption that it is unchanging. You then say that they also say that human nature is unchanging. I presume that the human condition is how people live, whereas human nature is the people who are living?
One does not seem to be the other to this unenlightened - what'm I misreading?

Thanks,
Yorick

198:

@165, I hate to give aid and comfort to doowop's arguments, but this does not stand:
"Try finding the "alpha male" within organization responsible for Wikipedia. Or for Linux. "

Jimmy Wales and Linus Torvalds are rather famously the respective alpha males of those organizations: Linus less so than Jimmy, but in both cases they constitute a controlling authority. Without that authority OS projects tend to fork and fork again, making a delta of braided channels each of which eventually sinks tracelessly into the sands..

As a pessimist, transhumanism doesn't worry me in the least. We'll have rendered the planet uninhabitable long before reaching transhumanism.

Alex, the S. African projects like Sasol, nukes etc were not aimed at Dragging the Country etc. They were aimed at keeping power. TV didn't arrive in Saffrica until 1975 or so, as it might have polluted our minds with visions of racial equality. In 1975 the Powers took a gamble on its utility for propaganda, which they lost, not for want of trying.

199:

Dammit Charlie you do have the gift for future extrapolation thats for sure, i could happily spend the rest of the day in a darkened room thinking about this. Food for thought indeed! Terrifying, terrifying food.

200:

You're under arrest for being likely according to our model of someday abusing your spouse or signifiacnt other.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090929194203.htm

"Doctors could predict a patient's risk of receiving a domestic abuse diagnosis years in advance by using electronic medical records as an early warning system, according to research published on the British Medical Journal website...."

201:

> your birth is not a barrier to holding high office

Not quite true.

If you are fat or bald, or otherwise televisually unappealing, there is *no* way you'll hold high office.

Specials

Merchandise

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 4, 2009 10:01 AM.

Doing Our Bit was the previous entry in this blog.

Goodwill is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda