| Synopsis: humans are not acting very civilized, and most people take it for granted. The way we deal with our old and dying (and death in general) can be interpreted as attitude of deep Apathy and Shellshocked detachment. The way we deal with humans unlike us is emotionally barren. Our justice systems are often capricious, corrupt and arbitrary. This has always been acceptable to most humans, because humans do not love themselves enough, and do not hold the typical other human in that much regard as to assume we all can afford to care for each other. But as technology marches on we enter a new world where we can no longer afford to just accept what has in essence never been acceptable. We may enter a world where we must affirm and cherish what is human in a global and universal constitution of human rights that far exceeds the current bill of human rights. We must do so, to disallow the human tendencies to compete each other into an early grave to decide the fate of our collective civilization. If we let ruthlessness be part of our systems, we risk enshrining human redundancy and “excludism” in a future where automated systems perpetuate these tendencies for us. And once we enter that future there will be absolutely no way back to a loving world – we will have made our choice and we will get to live in it (or perish in it) for a long time.
Economic disparity is an existential threat to humanity
Humans have no way of appreciation how good or bad they have it. Is all this we know “worth it”? The problem dilemma is that looking back most people in the past had it far worse. But even then, people in the third world still have it really awful judged by rich world standards. So why do humans collectively sentimentalize about the past, or “the simple life” ? Why do we treat the future (or technology… or modernity… or progress…. or science..) with such outright hostility when clearly only the last century we know living conditions that are anywhere near acceptable?
Why do we as a species typically assume “things will get worse from now on” when clearly evidence is they have gotten so much better? Do we have a racial collective fear (or expectation) of “things getting out of hand” ?
Being human by and large is wonderful because we have as humans no canvas of comparison or context or reference. Humanity is by and large an existential blank slate. We may occasionally feel the human state to be somewhat rewarding but we don’t know if this the best deal we might get.
But even considering the doubts I or anyone may have about how worthwhile being a human is over-all, there are some qualitative aspects of the human state that aren’t just compelling – it is in some ways difficult to imagine being what you are without these “human” traits. Even someone like myself, who is prone to look any given with detachment and sepsis, I am a technophile and painfully disconnected from conventions.
I’d simplify and state that from my perspective most humans cling to ‘sacred’ human fundamentals, and I am quite sure the human species itself will put up a fight retaining what they regard as sacred qualities, even long after they stop making any sense in and of themselves.
I anticipate that the majority of humans is less ‘discardist’ -inclined than I am, less gluttonous to embrace newly emerging technologies. Humanity is less “neophile” than I am.
But things are changing faster and faster and there is not effective way of slowing down this cascade ride down the mighty river of time.
The transcient state we now inhabit will pass. It is inevitable. VHS went out of style and was replaced by DVD, and DVD is almost gone already. The flapping crow’s wings of change are accelerating on an upwards climb towards the sun. Where we are headed I cannot say with any certainty. Many call it something “Post-Human“.
But that day when we finally realize we are post-human, it won’t mean we will decide we have abandoned the ghosts of our collective human heritage.
One could almost see the rudimentary human traits haunt the posthuman a century (or centuries) from now, assuming these essential qualities are not exorcised or purged by some kind of violent externality.
While people assimilate new options they would ‘skin’ then with archaic references or even utilize them in a folkloristic manner. As far general change humans will only change their lifestyles if the benefits are over-abundant – and even then minorities will whine and bitch about all the change, and tend to completely misattribute the cause and direction of the change (“It’s the devil’s work!”).
Yet it should be glaringly obvious to anyone by now that technological advancement will dump a series of societal changes in our collective laps most people at this time can scarcely conceive of in 2011.
(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc) …Change will come soon and it will tear apart society as we know it.
I realize (with often considerable amusement) there are people that wish to deny, ignore or even blankly outlaw emerging progress, but these same people would do better to deny, ignore or outlaw bad weather. I insist that one of the most important tasks for a policymaker or voter of any kind is to as quickly as possible come to terms with the fact that most categories of constructive progress can be wrecked, corrupted, turned in to black markets easily – by trying to outlaw it.
New technologies typically only spoil if they enter society unevenly and without widespread free acceptance. The results of this idiocracy can be devastating. Hence the worst we as a species can do is succumb to the shrill harpies of xenophobia and try and restrain the emergence of certain technologies.
I do not think at this stage anything but widespread societal collapse, war or a catastrophic event can halt or reverse the emergence of a card deck of several different and “highly disruptive” technologies. If we are smart about them, some of them might even be a lot of fun. Throwing a tantrum about the reality that these technologies are set to emerge is about as silly as a six year old throwing a screaming fit he or she doesn’t want to go to grade school.
Nevertheless! I’d go as far as to say that quite soon some conservative elements in all of human society may start to fully understand the full width and depth of technological change coming and they might actually prefer to see catastrophic impact over having to contend with what they will perceive to be widespread societal degeneration. Some of these simpletons may even try and help it along a little by organizing their own biblical catastrophes.
Disclaimer – The “That’s Not An Option” Clause.
Futurology in the next few decades postulates an end to the normal sequence of historical events. For good, for bad or for downright weird – things are likely to end the dominant role of humanity on this planet somewhere before the mid 21st century.
It is easy to postulate a number of plausible technological revolutions in the next generation that would each in effect end the ‘normal’ human governance over this world, and in effect make the future impossible to model or predict. This opaque quality when scrutinizing the future means we can only make bold statements about a constrained set of future scenarios that still make sense. These scenarios are best seen as a series or twisting pathways into an unknown jungle. We can ‘somewhat’ model the pathways but we can no longer model the dark heart of the jungle. And in effect we would hope the pathways extend as long into the jungle as possible, because these would allow us humans to retain what we hold dear in human society as long as possible. Because that is what we want, right, “to be ourselves”, for good or for ill.
Once we as a species are forced of these paths we will in effect succumb to becoming posthuman, and all that entails. We will become something altogether new.
Yes – This article conveniently ignores the actual emergence of a singularity. Sure I do regard a Singularity is almost inescapable, but what’s the use speculating about it in exhaustive detail?
This article also ignores the possibility of a global extinction event, or a global tyranny – even though I personally dread that the chances humanity skirt these bad case scenarios are
pretty slim less than 50%. It’s likeliving near a Volcano – you do not plan for a future where you have been slain by the volcano.
I do not believe any “Singularity” is by necessity to be particularly good, even for any elite minority of people. I know that when I say that I am being cynical, and some friends of mine really don’t like me being cynical because they think it might be a self-reinforcing prediction.
What is the use speculating over the worst case scenario’s we have no chance on affecting? Likewise what is the use of denying plausible dangers? Is it bad to ask what can we do about potentially severe dangers, even if they are abstractions to the general population?
We can only hope that we create a world that is as best as possible before we enter a Singularity, and hope the values we have cultivated will carry over beyond the Singularity threshold. We have however no guarantee this will succeed. So in effect this article speculates on the last bits of remaining history winding from today into the future into the possible range of Singularities, much as a range of narrowing paths wandering into a dark and foreboding jungle, of which we do not know if there is a safe other side.
This article in essence advocates a range of futures where humanity does not perpetuate its current ruthless Darwinist global trajectory,
… or a future where we do not experience some kind of irreversible resource or environmental or nuclear holocaust extinction,
… or a future where technology does not accelerate (through generating super human intelligence, very fast replicators or any of a multitude other displacement scenarios) into a Singularly strange (uncontrollable) global state.
If we skirt these frightful and enigmatic scenarios (and good luck with that in the long run) and we stick to the narrow path winding through this dark and menacing jungle we call the future, then the premises of this article might in fact apply. In other words – if I turn out to be a “Leitlian” realcynic, then this article may cover only a small or negligible fictional set of possible futures and you may ignore it freely. 🙂 Things may turn after good after all and I was just crying wolf.
We are in a world where many humans – especially those who have something to lose – protest against constraining interventions of big governments. Some people have come to hate globalization, bureaucracies and meddlesome treaties. In particular some people hate to pay taxes that are not necessarily spent on them. Yet in all their protests these same people fail to appreciate it was just this process of central governance made the rich nations so overwhelmingly successful. Some people rarely have a bigger perspective, and I suspect they come up with all these mental gymnastics to rationalize why they should pitch in less.
We live in this somewhat surreal zeitgeist of hating “big government” and hating “entitlements”. I think that’s the fashionable paradigm these days, bitching about how bureaucrats and politicians and lawyers and (middle) managers suck.
Yet we as a society cannot seem to be able to rid ourselves of the scourge of self-righteous managerial dorks in suits. Assuming that’s (all) what they are, because I am not so sure. It has become a pretty complex world. Gaming the world has become quite easy. Maybe we need managers?
Many politicians might actually be competent at what they do (or necessary) – and the world might be just too complex to negotiate (and the electorate might be too damned spoiled rotten). We might need complex bureaucracies in the same way we need lifejackets – they suck and lying in the water is cold and uncomfortable but try and take it off…
The prevailing hostility these days against big government in my view signifies a collective betrayal of all we have collectively accomplished in terms of protection of human beings. People had to really fight to make things better so far. Yet how easy do they all forget…
The historical record I see has been somewhat disappointing until the last few decades – only when the disenfranchised of the world get their act together and really had enough do things change for the better. I wouldn’t regard the current ‘castes’ or politicians or lawyers or bureaucrats as “the champions of the oppressed” (very often they are quite the opposite) but if we didn’t have legal affordances then we’d all probably still be subjected to primae noctis of the rectal variety.
Arguably if we call a corporate IT help-desk we still are. Service providers remain existent by and large arbiters of scarce resources, and capitalism is a societal system forcing constant scrutiny over allocation of constrained resources, even if this process of scrutiny over scarcity pushes people into living conditions that we can only interpret as completely unfair by any disattached standard.
History is littered with examples how people didn’t take it anymore and protested. This is what revolution is all about. What I loathe is the casual arrogance by which people these days dismiss revolutionaries as to be of another tribal order, to the point of dismissing them under their heel and ordaining them killed by cluster bombs. “Egyptian protesters are petulant children that need to go home”. These days the norm is that as soon as a protested dresses, talks, eats or looks different (or has a different belief system) then that difference is a pretext to totally not take that person serious as a human being at all.
Let’s see who speaks the last word on that.
As the most extreme and unpalatable example I can muster – Saudi revolutionaries who protest US intervention in their homeland may appear superficially unpleasant and obnoxious, by any standard they are still waging a fair resistance movement against an arguable vile and subhuman government.
House Saud is far worse and far less moral than anything the US colonials ever faced in the British, yet the current US government maintains a perverse alliance with this dynasty, at a political cost we can scarcely put into words. The US leadership caste should hide in abject shame. They have been supporting torture-chamber despots for decades.
Yet the powers that be vilify those that oppose house Saud, ask no questions, and the powers that be take all that cheap oil, demonize any domestic Saudi insurgents in a baseless category as ‘Al Qaeda’ and then routinely demand their extermination in a manner that we would regard as illegal if we were to apply it to most animals in their own country.
Mind you, I am not a fan of the ideology of Wahabi revolutionaries and they’d probably kill me if they could, but I question the validity in which we so callously and conveniently label a movement like this as one to be sterilized as roaches.
My point is that our laws are completely corrupt political constructs, by and large because we can’t afford much else. We exist with near seven billion human beings on this planet in an existential vacuum where we must expend significant personal sacrifices on a day to day basis to keep the system from falling apart. We are faced with resource depletion, even if there is a curious strata of corporate enthusiasts constantly insisting there’s no such thing. So why do we consistency add state crimes to the list of misery?
I insist there is a serious problem, in particular with oil depletion, and I insist this is a problem that can leave a few billion people dead prematurely (and the survivors in irreversibe poverty) if we do not proactively deal with it. I insist that most antics in the middle east are glaringly obvious oil politics. For example – Israel is not in any way a biblical or Jewish construct in my opinion – it is a colonial bulwark based on shaky premises that exists to project military force very near to the biggest remaining oil reserves on this planet.
I assert that the current leadership castes think and plan towards this imminent guillotine of oil depletion in the most cynically defensive manner, as if it were an ‘end-game’.
This means we do not live in a historical period of guarantees or rights or liberties. All liberties we enjoy exist ‘in parenthesis’ and will be taken away from us if the need arises. I need only feebly gesture towards recent abominations in US legal parodies to illustrate how flimsy the systems are we exist in. Once the banking system shakes, democratic laws are completely suspended and the authoritarian concrete below the flimsy velvet facade shows itself.
In the past people had enough, and rebelled against unfair and elitist authority. Revolutions are tricky however – they are often impossible, they often fail and they tend to be very bloody.
It is very difficult to see whether or not people still can have revolutions effectively a few decades from now. I simply don’t know. Those in power can easily leverage their control over capital, machines and resources to consolidate their power over the world pretty much unchallenged, in just a few decades.
Sometimes I am optimistic when I see how much impact Assange and WikiLeaks has in purging the degree of corruption inherent in our political systems. The means of wikileaks were relatively limited (and the efforts no less heroic) and one wonders if many people started imitating his example in many creative ways.
The biggest reason for optimism is the relative robust legal recognition of an Assange. He is of course a white Australian. Note that Assange emphasizes his Nordic appearance by painting his hair an ephemeral white – I am sure this sharply decreases the odds of him being extradited – we extradite orcs, we do not extradite elfs, right? I might speculate that Assange is more valued because he’s so darling white (and cute – I wouldn’t mind surprise sex from him at all!). I might speculate if he had a bushy black beard, hirsute eyebrows, brown eyes and oily hair he’d be in some Syrian cell with a surgically deconstructed scrotum by now.
But maybe I am just imagining things.
We scarcely recognize humans as having inherent value since we ourselves scarcely love ourselves. Earth has an ecology of self-loathing. We all anticipate growing old and dying and we collectively and implicitly loathe this aspect of ourselves, and we transplant this contempt on the world. We do not place lasting value in this world. We regard all around as inherently value-less and transient, implicitly or explicitly. We are a spiritually damaged species under a dark cloud of self-pity.
If humans demand a better treatment it tends to imply other people get less. That is the premise of “Zero-Sum”. There is a limited market of win. When some win, others must lose.
This is the essence of revolution. Elites know they will lose their status, privilege and affluence at times of revolution and mostly will fight tooth and nail (and will invariably evolve to do so as vile and intimidating as possible) to stay elites. At some point the people cleaning their toilets will be fed up and realize they get a shitty deal and will refuse to do the work. The solution to deal with ‘lazy underclasses’ is simple – breed so many of them that they have no alternative but to work or be acutely miserable. Right now it’s pretty obvious that this lies at the root, implicitly or explicitly, of the major religion’s insistence towards its followers to ‘be fruitful, have many children, be hardworking, law abiding and demure’. If anything, this alone disqualifies major religions as an arbitrary contrivance that only serves to perpetuate a dubious societal state.
If we are to ask what can guarantee the recognition of a human being in the eyes of all other human beings (or in the state) then I don’t know how to do that. A good friend of mine has consistently objected to my suggestions we should grant all humans more rights. She thinks ‘some of them have too many rights already’, clearly hinting at pension, welfare, disabilities and (snortle!) universal medical coverage. Many people do not want to risk attributing too many rights to “other people”, because these people think that we can’t afford all these investments and entitlements.
This is clearly a difficult debate. How can we evaluate what a human is, when we can’t afford to give most humans what we all consider a humane existence?
How can we expect ourselves to be treated humanely when we hold most other humans (for some cultural reason I shall not speculate upon ho hum) in such stark contempt we’d rather cut them off from the basic necessities of living (knowing very well many of these people will literally starve, or be forced to endemic and societally disruptive times) ? Worse – how can we in a modern, highly technological society have any hope that people driven to desperation won’t cost us far more in direct or indirect damage (or surveillance costs)? I mean – I would if I got really angry.
I favour giving people a low basic income, no questions asked, even if they do or do not work – in addition to any money they make while working. My assessment is we cannot societally afford any type of desperation anymore, nationally or internationally.
I’d go as far as say this has nothing to do with envy, or charity or compassion. I’d say desperate people are dangerous, in whatever shape or form. It is essential to include the potentially desperate into society, and it is dangerous as hell to risk a situation where you create underclasses that are institutionally not part of the system.
Underclasses end up becoming generational charity drains, generationally criminalized, will cost you a fortune to institutionalize in prisons, or will end up some societal equivalent of the gas chambers. Or at some point the worst cases the desperate will fly themselves in a building. Inequality may be rather expensive a paradigm in a technologically empowered world.
The problem with all current inequality may be ‘engineered’ disempowerment. That is an easy thing to do, especially if it involves race. Humans are clearly genetically predisposed to engage in classification urges … racism. Taking away power from hereditary enemies tends to be like taking away candy from a baby.
We should face the face that all humans (might?) have a pathological tendency to succumb to criminal or persecutory behavior, myself included. Equally so all humans are naturally superstitious and easily prone to irrational prejudice.
We will all stick our hands in the cookie jar or we can all be tricked into pulling the electric chair lever. We routinely shrug in apathy when we see maggots crawl over dying babies relative to geographical distance and cultural distance and genetic distance. Let me be frank – I’d characterize all this as undesirable behaviour in any human, and I would see to excise from in any human, including myself.
I don’t want to be able to not care. Not caring is a deficiency.
If I were starving, dying, crawling with flies, I’d want someone to help me fucking now. If nobody would, and i could flip the lever to wipe out a random first world major city, I would.
And I should.
It should be unacceptable that I am somehow neurologically able to tolerate the idea that people die and I do nothing. I should care enough to act. We should all give enough of a damn to clean these embarrassments from the face of the Earth as soon as possible.
Revolution is sadly no solution. We don’t need revolution since clearly Revolution is a blunt, easily manipulated and violent instrument. “Socialism” didn’t work because it valued the wrong things and ended up killing millions of people. What we need is consistent assessment of what is universally valuable. What is valuable for me should be valuable universally. What I want for myself I should in equivalence want for everyone else, (give or take). The problem is we can’t make people want to give a damn, since that in itself would be the most gruesome dictatorship thinkable.
Exorcising The Apathy Demon
Efficient Revolutionary infrastructures are about “rubbing it in”. Internet made billions of people really get it. Right now Internet is just about text and video, but pretty soon Internet will be saturated with Roslingian insightfulness floating around in virtual worlds. The degree in which people can ‘not get it’ is shrinking, in the future it will be increasingly obvious as hell. At some point we can introduce a fresh climate of climate of globally warmed hearts, that will melt away the glaciers of apathy and indifference.
Revolutionary transitions tend to be unpleasant and distasteful but so far there was little alternative to bloody uprising to shake off a tyranny. Successful uprising is however only a historical new phenomenon, and has started to work by and large because established interests became overspecialised, lost touch and became vulnerable to ‘hacks’.
Generations of Mesoamericans, Romans, Chinese, Indians, Egyptians endured spectacularly bloody tyrannies with no hope for redemption whatsoever. It was only when new technologies emerged when experimenting disenfranchised minorities started coming up with means “to get even”. And when they could they did – and often became the new strata of autocratic rulers overnight. A Robespierre was a most sincere and morally upstanding man who still oversaw an endless sequence of beheadings and there are many examples like him. He was a pauper one day, a revolutionary leader the next and a headless cadaver some time later.
There is a flip side to this. Revolutions only work when you are really ruthless, really desperate, somewhat informed and have at least some assets. Most of the third world has neither of these qualities at this stage. Most people in the third world are locked out of any hope of a life I would regard as humane – and I am among the poorest of my country.
As a sad example, while the number of conflicts has been decreasing in the 20 century, the percentage of civilian deaths in these conflicts has risen sharply. The people in some parts of the third world have clearly taken their place being led up the steps up the Aztec pyramids again.
I can almost see a symbolic CGI painting of British troopers leading young Iraqi’s up these same pyramids, to have their hearts cut out by a Lynndi England as high priestess.
What happened in Iraq was meant by and large as a vulgar and highly symbolic display of power intended to devalue humans and inspire apathy and implant intense incapacitating shock.
It is bitter yet fortunate this strategy completely failed in Iraq. What was in the end of the day nothing more or less than a vulgar oil consolidating invasion of the US (and the coalition of the lapdogs) in Iraq didn’t work. The occupation backfired completely, and even though it cost more than a million Iraqi lives it showcased how morally corrupt the existing politically systems and paradigms have become. The people of Iraq proved so recalcitrant that the US broke its teeth on the country. After the invasion the world widely considers the US a dubiously governed nation. The debacle in Iraq will turn out to be of comparable catastrophic proportions to the debacle in Vietnam. I will predict that the Iraq adventure will however have consequences and payback for decades to come. These people won’t forget as lightly as the Vietnamese, especially with all the new media to remind them.
I hasten to add that this in most cases involves
rich imperialist nations intervening in less fortunate or third world nations (or industrial/resource hungry nations ‘intervening’ in resource rich nations). The percentage of civilian deaths in WW1 was 10%, in WW2 it was 50%, In Vietnam it was 70% while during the Iraq war it had risen to 90%. Mind you, that’s increasingly people with progressively less ability to defend themselves. Try and defend yourself in 2025 against a modern army outfitted with a halo of robotics.
People in states with a robust legal, economic and military system of defences do not subject themselves to the indignities of widespread predation or attrition. Or, ‘statistically somewhat less so’, as 3 million inmates in US prisons can attest to.
I singled out the U.S. largely because the U.S. is especially powerful. Russia, Brazil, China, France, Great Brittain, India, Germany – they are all hated nations proportional to the hunger in natural resources. The U.S. is an especially perfidious influence because it claims to be just and democratic, yet at the same time uses vastly more ruthless military force than any competitor on the world’s stage.
We still live in a paradigm where individual humans need solid legal defences to not be predated upon. This is a monstrous state of affairs and it is a simple and straightforward testament to the truly revolting character of human nature. I have absolutely no sentimentality towards human charity or compassion and even though my life was punctuated sharply by those times I benefited from it, and can’t begin to imagine how people less well off than me live a lifetime without any of it.
We now move into a future where technology can increasingly empower individuals to voice their dissatisfaction by patient argumentation (Chomsky, Zizek) or dissemination of secrets (Assange) or by bloody terrorism (Kaczynski, Atta) we see established interests under siege as well. The ability to express despair is a form of insurrection, a new form of French revolution, a new form of Boston tea party, a new form of signing the Magna Carta, a new form of declaration of independence, even though it may be eminently undesirable to those that think they have something to lose to any revolutionary movements. “Unionization” and “Socialism” have become so unpopular in the western world (EU, US, Japan, Russia, Australia) largely because so many people in these countries have so much to lose if it were consistently and internationally applied.
So why do people accept this? Why have people ever since Hobbes accepted a world of awful leaders and corrupt morals? We should know better…
I’ll Be A Corpse, What Do I Care?
Death stares us in the eyes. When we look at ourselves we implicitly see the skull grinning back. How can we invest faith in the future when we know that our only link to the future – having offspring – is contributing to a dying, overpopulated world, where each new birth devalues human life itself?
Human success has become its failure. Progress have become associated with infestation. Consumption has become synonymous with pollution. Childhood has become synonymous with debts and stress. Humans are aware that life can be glorious, but we make sure nobody has a life that is actually anywhere near pleasant. We feel our own lives slip away and a world of strange, uncaring faces move in to quickly replace us. The individual human has become devalued.
The biggest tragedy today is that people die of aging. Consequently (and I am not being sarcastic here) the most enlightened human being is the person who is at this stage most driven to combat capricious age-related attrition. Every life extended by a year will be dedicated towards world peace, since that will be a human who instantly realizes there is more to be had.
Depending on your analysis that’ll either be Martine Rothblatt or Aubrey de Grey, but there are many others.
A world where even a minority of humans can find the means to extend life by an appreciable amount will be a very different world.
A small but growing group of activists, technologists and biogerontologists want to end ‘appreciable’ death, even if the idea is still unthinkable to the average person on the street.
The life extension espouses by Aubrey would be most ‘comprehensible’ – ideally a comprehensive set of treatment which makes people younger. If Aubrey succeeds his approach will be most palatable to most people, but I suspect Aubrey’s approach might take longer than most people alive today have time to wait for.
Note that I used the word ‘appreciable’ when I mentioned death. I meant to say – “with either of their treatments you don’t feel as if you will die”. Death isn’t just something that happens when a body dies – if a person believes she or he does not die, that person can face death with little concerns. If a dying person is replaces by actors, or simulators, then everyone else might agree.
Maybe you’ll see your body die, or something which is effectively you will see your body die, and by then you will be tricked into concluding that some machine sitting on a desk is actually a ‘temporarily’ synced version of you.
That is – you sit in a hospital bed moments before you would normally die. A medical team flushes some kind of contrast fluid in your brain, they render your brain in ridiculously (=lossless) high 3D detail, and they then synchronize a simulation of your brain they prepared for weeks as to be effectively seamless. And then they let you pull a legal switch designating the simulation as being you. Sort of like an existential ‘bait and switch’ where you believe you are over there. It may not be ‘real’ or even a very precise copy, but it’s better than any alternative I know.
I wouldn’t mind one bit not dying in this manner. Sure, I’d prefer an eternal healthy biological youth, but I’d settle eagerly for bequeathing my estates on to a robust simulation of my essential self – others will disagree, and even if they prove “philosphically” right (and the simulation is nothing like a real person), the fact of the matter will be they may end up disagreeing themselves right into extinction. The thing that survives, in whatever form, will displace that which will not survive.
may would should have both – uploading and robust medical rejuvenation (or – as Aubrey so tactfully states – we will eradicate all diseases associated with aging).
That would should be (some kind of) people in very healthy, debugged, very young (and breathtakingly sexy) bodies – and a parallel generation of people who are either created after death from frozen brains, or from their brains just after they croaked (destructive uploading) – or from recordings of living brains. And crafted according to carefully specified “wills”.
Of course the vast majority of average civilians out there believes this is impossible and will forever be impossible. I however have this gut feeling (=faith based reasoning) that both will be possible somewhere this century. It would be ever so typical it would be possible and pretty affordable just a few weeks after I croak.
The realization that you might very well live a few centuries from now – the rock solid conviction that –holy shit!- if you take care and don’t fall off a ledge you might still be around in the year 2300 – that’s some demographic game changer.
So, as a thought experiment… let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that we’ll have a fairly robust and somewhat affordable gene therapy treatment, out of the blue, in the year 2025, that resets aging completely.
You might see something like this happen on TV, Madonna and Angelina Jolie and Arnold Schwarzenegger suddenly look not a day over 25. Then slowly these price goes down from half a million euro (and treatments once a year) to ten thousand euro and treatments once every ten years. And for the sake of argument let’s assume it works. And it is safe.
Let me state this with emphasis so everyone knows this is important – anything even close to this will change voter habits radically. Also… This will change investment patterns radically. In fact, the whole world’s economy will instantaneously be forced to become extremely stable.
Wars will be under extreme pressure to end. Crime will be under extreme pressure to end. Voters interests will veer sharply towards the safest and most stable possible society. Why? Because from that moment onwards they will give a damn.
Which should prove us once and for all that the world is in large part in the mess it is in because people do not give a damn, because we are all anticipating we are going to go old, change into shrivelled up mummies smelling of cabbage, and then die.
Is this a disrespectful thing to say to people who do get old? Maybe … but do bear in mind we all get there eventually. Quite a few lovely people in their 60s and 70s ad 80s reading this will absolutely not recognize themselves in this – but even they will recognize that for especially poorer people this is the painful reality even in most affluent nations.
Old people are not to blame here – these people I’d love anyway – It is what irreversible things nature does to them when they age.
We actually do have a fairly solid track record of the unthinkable becoming pretty boring and trivial at a pretty much accelerating rate. But let my statements not be an argument for the masses to persist in their sheer obstinacy. Most people simply don’t want to think about worlds with fundamentally different rule sets, because, well, if things change to fast they might get a shittier deal, right?
“Stay off my pensions!, I’d rather have seven year of paid leave in diapers then another seventy years of youth having to work !!”
That’s why I often say that if we’d have life extension for a significant percentage of all people, especially those that made a sincere effort or people in very affluent countries (so even me !) then we’d very quickly see a significantly safer, more stable world. People who’d look around with extremely critical eyes and ask themselves “what kind of shit do I want gone, like now?”.
The Pandora’s Box of Citizinship
Right now procreation is not arguable. Anyone can procreate, even the most unsuitable parent. And they can do so excessively and even take pride in it.
The protest against excessive breeding are rare, and generally do not exceed the stage of passive aggressive mutterings. That will soon change – with 7 billion humans on this planet (and counting) any appreciable doubling (that’s a few decades of steady state growth..) will totally fuck up the planet into a local franchise of Hell. This planet is nearing population saturation, and it would take a lot more energy and technology to give every human being an acceptable standard of living.
Humans will breed. It is what they do. If humans will change their nature and transition into something not fully human, and their nature increases their presence on this planet in some way, then the pact of tolerance towards unbridled procreation will be suspended. The first objection raised when speculating about life extension is always (holy shit!) overpopulation. The next tends to be (holy shit! I will lose my pension. Both objections are clearly moments when the frog is in the simering pan and realizes (holy shit! “I am going to fry here!”.
I think the end of “unlicenced” breeding is near. Party is over guys, we can’t even afford to sustain old people anymore – we may have to literally find ways to triage “useless old pensioners” off the island, because otherwise our economies might implode.
Talk about seriously screwed up priorities. Talk about “can someone please medicate those free market radicals” ? My proposal is to give the current system the finger and move towards a humane, inclusive, empathic society. We can’t go on like this. Life isn’t an episode of Big Brother where we can all chuckle when another gets thrown in the societal wood chipper. The next one to go down the garbage chute might be you. Clearly we all are societally desensitized to the concerns of old people, homeless people, single moms, welfare recipients, psychiatric patients, immigrants… one day societally may desensitize to such a degree that everyone hold everyone in palpable contempt. Once we head down that road there is no back out of it. Society must reformat or it will collapse.
In the next decades we will see new competition models. I can give you a few examples that will not happen, but they would be illustrative examples of the sort of thing that would cause considerable disruption.
In 2016 a major agricultural company starts producing high quality cloned lifestock for slaughter. The cows produced are grown in a cloned uterus and are birthed without any actual mother present. In 2022 the Chinese party appropriates this technology and in 2023 the first perfect women are born – Each year the state churns out tens of millions of breathtakingly beautiful, intelligent, sexually submissive and guaranteed genetically flawless women, and soon after the Chinese state implements polygamy, where in particular state party officials are sold these babies (some of them blue eyed and blonde). Conversely normal Chinese people are disallowed to breed, or can only breed after their offspring is subjected to genetic testing. After 2027 birthing a child with a birth defect that costs the state money becomes a crime with severe penalties.
Madness, clearly. Ridiculously early. But still – as a theoretical example, what something like this were to happen? The western world would have no clear answer. In 20 years after such policies were implemented a generation of Chinese with arguably better genetic qualities would start entering the workplace. China would compete with the west far more effectively because as an authoritarian society it would be able to eradicate a range of genetic frailties (of which can be argued it is a good thing in itself) where the west could never hope to implement such measures.
Would American or European women consent to having a child grown in a synthetic uterus? Would organized religions object? Or would corporations in the west offer their female employees a ‘fertility’ package where they could get a vacation to Kowloon, get tested, get a Petri-dish, return in a convenient two weeks later to their work (no loss of productivity during those pesky months of pregnancy) and get a baby fed-exed to their automated cybernanny 9 months later? …would that be legal? ….or would it only legal for people that could afford it?
In effect a cyber-uterus is demographically equivalent to life extension. It is basically turning money into higher population numbers, faster than people without money can keep up. Rich people making it easier to survive and prosper in effect means they displace poor people. You can rest assured that the poor will not be allowed to effectively vote on these matters, until the situation gets seriously out of hand. I can easily come with at least a dozen similar displacement scenario’s before 2035, where some kind of rapidly advancing technology empowers a small, select (and invariably more affluent or authoritarian state sponsored) minority can conspire to start pushing other people off the ice shelf.
I effect doing so should be recognized already as a criminal act. Displacement of any kind should be made visible and should be recognized as a criminal act. Displacement generates human beings with less opportunities. That in itself would be tolerable if we as a species recognized certain fundamental living standards and inalienable rights for all humans, but since we clearly do not, we must come to terms with the harsh reality that we absolutely can no longer afford to constantly generate whole populations of humans that have absolutely nowhere to go and no sensible or tolerable living conditions.
Remember, you might be next.
Humanity faces many “existential risks” but as history shows us the biggest cause of sudden death was by and large not nature – it has always been human predation itself, especially when amplified by newly emerging technologies. The worst kind of human predation is not the kind waged in war – the worst kind is the slow and insidious economic displacement where you find yourself blamed for actually losing a conflict you didn’t even know you were taking part in. One day you just find yourself- obsolete and shortly afterwards everyone collectively treats you like you are.
There will come a point when stretch marks between early-adopters and late adopters will be so wide, the mundane will be constantly compelled to do anything they can, and will protest, resist or fight in such great numbers to impair continued advancement of a technologically “superior; elite. This societal “spaghettification” will happen somewhere this century, and it will happen very close to what we would term “The Singularity”. In fact it is the single leitmotif (and argument to sell books) of Hugo de Garis
Sad thing is he’s right. The conflict between “terrans’ and ‘cosmists’ is inescapable, even if it might prove to be a futile one.
It isn’t a question of whether or not this ‘Garisian’ dualism is valid. I am sure it is quite valid. The question is more whether or not it must resolve itself in a conflict, on Earth. It’s also a question whether or not we can actually stop the emergence of an artillect. In my book an ‘artillect’ can at some point in this century be constructed in a rather small laboratory. It doesn’t and shouldn’t need a “Manhattan project” to realise, let alone require anything like societal consent.
All of the above is a consistent reminder that we need, as quickly as possible, to create a system of guarantees that put in to international law, as well as into economic law, as well as into the very bedrock fabric of society. When technological spaghettification arrives in full force (and that day is no more than half a century away) we will have no guarantees from a benevolent deity, no guarantees from our elected officials, no guarantees in our law books. In fact I have been arguing that so far all laws, protections and insurances have been farcical and hypocritical. We as a species are all collectively bullshitting ourselves and each other. I’d go as far as alleging that the social instincts of the human species are at least matched by divisive, discriminatory or ‘excludist’ urges.
Read the Bible. The old testament is a genocide manual on how to expediently resolve tribal territorial disputes. And whole populations regard it as moral guidance without flinching, simply because they are unable to appreciate they could one day be on the wrong side of the barbed wire fence, or on the wong side of the door of the gas chamber. Depends on what you think the wrong side is, of course.
This cannot be a partial game. Right now we assume the “universal declaration for the human rights” is universal, but sadly it is not. At this time ‘human personhood’ is a fickle and arbitrary guarantee full of holes.
If we enter a future with transhuman technologies where the transhuman technologies do not widely trickle down, we’ll have elites that empower themselves to attain greater power at an exponential rate. If these types of empowerment serve to make these people act in the same manner as humans have always have been acting, then we are destined for hell on earth.
I have very little faith or optimism in ‘charity’ and ‘humanity’ when it comes to voluntary wealth redistribution.
The emergence of Transhuman technologies without equality may arguably lead to ‘marginalization extinction’ of those that refuse to adopt the new technologies, or can’t fully keep up for other reasons.
Marshall brain makes this point compellingly.
Thou Shallt Not Xerox
Population growth has always concerned the few, and something to be mocked by those people who (incidentally) also favored low wages… The problem is not merely overpopulation (and migration dumping) but by and large the simple fact that the richest nations consume exponentially more and dump pollution exponentially more. The power of technology amplifies their freedoms at the expense of others, and since our world is a closed system, this process is now pushing the losers of this rate into acute desperation.
We need to recognize the reality of technology-driven displacement. 13% of the world has 45% of its income. 4% of the worldonly has 9% of its income. The richest 1% adults owned 40% of the global assets in 2000 and the richest 10% of adults owned 8% of the world’s economic prosperity. Conversely half the human population owns barely one percent of the global wealth.
This cannot be rectified. The rich will never concede to voluntary redistribution. They’ll put up a fight if democracy presses the issue. And it is not just about the environment – it is about equitable sharing of the remaining resources – a more sane financial system – less resource waste on armies – better corporate product standards – better product safety rules – better ways to elect government leaders – and the list goes on and on.
What we have conspires in effect to keep those in power empowered and those without living in a garbage belt. Or worse, dead.
Even worse than people using power amplification, will be something called “personal amplification”. We’ll see that very soon, and it will enter your home, through the use of robotics. Robotics will very soon be able to express the designs of the few over those with no robotics at their beck and call. This won’t be simple things such as rich people installing camera’s everywhere – it will also be rich people sending their robotic butler to get groceries or doing administrative or secretarial work. Or buying and selling stock options.
Automation is only in the very early stages. The ability to automate your personal designs and preferences, provided you have the money to do so, is one of the most insidious force amplifiers ever seen before in human history. Apart from the simple fact that this will increase unemployment irreversibly (generally in low paid, low education jobs) will be potentially quite bad – what will be worse it is will all be very personal and very fundamental expressions of winners of this race you cannot barter or negotiate with. What is even worse is that most treaders of this blog assume “it won’t effect me, I have a higher education, so it is someone else’s problem“.
Many people will also instinctively respond with hostility to restrict their robotic tools – If you try and interfere with anyone’s automated tools they will be livid with anger because they will interpret these automated tools as extension of their own ego or body.
Attempts to constrain such very personal technological expression will fail and should fail. Assertion of personal tools should be a human right as much as having a humane existence should be a human right.
The emergence of Artificial Intelligence that allows private citizens (with money) to exponentially extend their personal ability to retrieve information, engage in transactions, communicate, make money, consume (pollute) will without any doubt trigger the biggest crisis of discrepancies between affluence and poverty in history. But the technology in itself is still good – it could be the greatest blessing in history, liberating humanity from ‘work’, but apparently there is something in the mind of the majority of human beings that makes that idea patently unthinkable. Most people cannot conceive of the idea that a world where nobody would have to “work” would in fact be a viable arrangement. Apparently humans hold one another in so much distrust that they’d not even risk entertaining the mere possibility.
There are several ways in which this could totally disrupt our current society –
The whole theme here is displacement – some humans project their ability to gather goods, materials and services from the available scarce pool of resources and in effect displace other humans.
Denying this may potentially happen in the future can be regarded as a slap in the face of those millions already displaced into extinction in the 20th century. Saying “it won’t happen all that fast” is shortsighted and infantile. Suggesting “it can’t possibly all that bad” is the same level of nearsightedness that allowed millions to die in death camps throughout the 20th century. People will live their lives until one sad day they don’t anymore and then they die. It doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does happen quite often it could have been prevented by a little foresight.
Explicit displacement (rounding up the Invalid and non-productive for expedient disposal) or implicit displacement (finding one sad month you have a monthly income at the best of your ability of x and your basic life’s necessities are several times x) will have a big potential in the 21st century and we as a society must decide we must reject this, implicitly and explicitly.
We will try to do so in the current predominant monetary system by levying tax – and I think that may work a while, but it won’t work for very long. For some time I can imagine a “progress” tax, where the fruits of using very advanced technologies are taxed proportionally to the benefit they grant. This would be just one example – and as such it would have several considerable drawbacks – how do you prevent such a tax to export such technologies ‘elsewhere’ and end up with a diaspora of progress? Or, if such taxes were relative to a place, how would you measure such taxations relative in time in place – levy a little bit more taxes the further you get from certain “protecting human zones’ ? Then how do you enforce such a tax regimen? With force? How can you legally sue or punish individuals that would refuse to pay these taxes – or simply choose to constantly redefine themselves or their transactions as to make taxes effectively irretrievable?
What you would end up would be a state where the ‘progressed’ (let’s call them the Extropians) would consent to having some more, as long as ‘them having some more wouldn’t upset societal harmony .
If ya don’t like it then git’out.
A state that doesn’t ‘work’ should die. Ideally it should die by being voted into extinction, but since voting doesn’t ‘terminate’ states, the next best way is through emigration – in a world or universe where things operate better all people should be free, able and empowered enough to leave if the state/societal arrangement doesn’t suit them – that means, a Government should fear any of it’s own citizens abandon it, and not just it’s most profitable citizens.
The ideal situation would be if people were free. People are currently so pervasively unfree that it almost seems as no coincidence. Nearly everyone is shackled in place by mortgages, wages, insurances, marriage, contracts, religion, prejudice, laws, racism and nationalism. Only a very small fraction of human beings could in theory move around, let alone to work somewhere else. The current situation has all the characteristics of intentionally engineered serfdom. States have evolved to make their constituents dependent clients on them, and make it practically unthinkable for them, especially the most succesfull constituents, to never get up and leave. It should be the goal of all freedom loving people to break the intentional stalemate of a a mobility hostile world. The best way to foment freedom is to create freedom to move. The best way to allow mobility is to make sure people have guaranteed transnational financial reserves liberating them from governmental and national and corporate fetters.
If a nation screws up, its people should be free to walk out. Governments should fear its people. Right now there is no supply and demand in nations, and intentionally so. States should be subjected to having people that are free and empowered to get up and leave (and not just people with good employment opportunities, all people) and fear this. States should be a subscription based system that could fail because most people decide to abandon it.
This is unthinkable right now, but it isn’t so difficult. The change of heart would be a few very simple changes in international laws. One would be a transnational basic income, a level decided on according to a formula. It should not be too hard to determine what would be a sensible basic income, and levvy the tax straight from corporations using transnational tax instruments as to make sure every corporations pays them. The goal of the basic income would be to make sure everyone has the most spartan basic necessities to live irregardless of work – housing, food, public transportation, education, heating, basic medical care, access to communication devices and internet, protection, legal representation and some other services of a similar essential nature. The basic income would go up and down relative to geographic location, but someone traveling to a new location with a high level of population would only get the local rates after a while, as to make sure populations spread out more, and resources would be used more effectively. The more corporations offered wage alternatives to people, the less these people would need to depend on the basic incomes, and less basic incomes in a specific area would be used – likewise if people were severed from a humane existence by market forces beyond their control this system would allow them to move somewhere else, or increase the local basic income by using their democratic representation.
Ideals of SeaSteading are very much in need for this kind of dynamic – people should be free to create new states, or sue existing states to surrender part of their existing land to better functioning emerging states, If a country like the US screws up, a seceding state should be able to collect debts from the union by nibbling away land permanently. Mind you, this option should never be open to corporate entities – land ownership should lie with properly represented people, not with corporate non-persons. But even if people owned a land they’d have to content with people being free to move to theirs. Ownership bears responsibility to being a fair and just host to your fair share of the human race.
But there is still reason for optimism.
2 thoughts on “The Narrow Winding Road Ahead”
Holy Shit, danke. Nice long read, rant, provocation, mind food with picture sauce. Very nice. Classic Khannea. More as I digest and burp my brain a few times.
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