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The Hubris of Neo-Luddism

Franco Cortese
By Franco Cortese
Ethical Technology

Posted: May 26, 2013

One of the most common anti-Transhumanist tropes one finds recurring throughout Transhumanist rhetoric is our supposedly rampant hubris. Hubris is an ancient Greek concept meaning excess of pride that carries connotations of reckless vanity and heedless self-absorbment, often to the point of carelessly endangering the welfare of others in the process. It paints us in a selfish and dangerous light, as though we were striving for the technological betterment of ourselves alone and the improvement of the human condition solely as it pertains to ourselves, so as to be enhanced relative to the majority of humanity.

In no way is this correct or even salient. I, and the majority of Transhumanists, Techno-Progressives and emerging-tech-enthusiasts I would claim, work toward promoting beneficial outcomes and deliberating the repercussions and most desirable embodiments of radically-transformative technologies for the betterment of all mankind first and foremost, and only secondly for ourselves if at all.

The ired irony of this situation is that the very group who most often hails the charge of Hubris against the Transhumanist community is, according to the logic of hubris, more hubristic than those they rail their charge against. Bio-Luddites, and more generally Neo-Luddites, can be clearly seen to be more self-absorbed and recklessly-selfish than the Transhumanists they are so quick to raise qualms against.

The logic of this conclusion is simple: Transhumanists seek merely to better determine the controlling circumstances and determining conditions of our own selves, whereas Neo-Luddites seek to determine such circumstances and conditions (even if using a negative definition, i.e., the absence of something) not only for everyone besides themselves alive at the moment, but even for the unquantable multitudes of minds and lives still fetal in the future.

We do not seek to radically transform Humanity against their will; indeed, this is so off the mark as to be antithetical to the true Transhumanist impetus - for we seek to liberate their wills, not leash or lash them. We seek to offer every human alive the possibility of transforming themselves more effectively according to their own subjective projected objectives; of actualizing and realizing themselves; ultimately of determining themselves for themselves. We seek to offer every member of Humanity the choice to better choose and the option for more optimal options: the self not as final-subject but as project-at-last.

Neo-Luddites, on the other hand, wish to deny the whole of humanity that choice. They actively seek the determent, relinquishment or prohibition of technological self-transformation, and believe in the heat of their idiot-certainty that they have either the intelligence or the right to force their own preference upon everyone else, present and future. Such lumbering, oafish paternalism patronizes the very essence of Man, whose only right is to write his own and whose only will is to will his own – or at least to vow that he will will his own one fateful yet fate-free day.

We seek solely to choose ourselves, and to give everyone alive and yet-to-live the same opportunity: of choice. Neo-Luddites seek not only to choose for themselves but to force this choice upon everyone else as well.

If any of the original Luddites were alive today, perhaps they would loom large to denounce the contemporary caricature of their own movement and rail their tightly-spooled rage against the modern Neo-Luddites that use Ludd’s name in so reckless a threadbare fashion. At the heart of it they were trying to free their working-class fellowship. There would not have been any predominant connotations of extending the distinguishing features of the Luddite revolt into the entire future, no hint of the possibility that they would set a precedent which would effectively forestall or encumber the continuing advancement of technology at the cost of the continuing betterment of humanity.

Who were they to intimate that continuing technological and methodological growth and progress would continually liberate humanity in fits and bounds of expanding freedom to open up the parameters of their possible actions - would free choice from chance and make the general conditions of being continually better and better? If this sentiment were predominant durint 1811-1817, perhaps they would have lain their hammers down. They was seeking the liberation of their people after all; if they knew that their own actions might spawn a future movement seeking to dampen and deter the continual technological liberation of Mankind, perhaps they would have remarked that such future Neo-Luddites missed their point completely.

Perhaps the salient heart of their efforts was not the relinquishment of technology but rather the liberation of their fellow man. Perhaps they would have remarked that while in this particular case technological relinquishment coincided with the liberation of their fellow man, that this shouldn’t be heralded as a hard rule. Perhaps the they would have been ashamed of the way in which their name was to be used as the nametag and figurehead for the contemporary fight against liberty and Man’s autonomy. Perhaps Ludd is spinning like a loom in his grave right now.

Does the original Luddites’ enthusiasm for choice and the liberation of his fellow man supersede his revolt against technology? I think it does. The historical continuum of which Transhumanism is but the contemporary leading-tip encompasses not only the technological betterment of self and society but the non-technological as well. Historical Utopian ventures and visions are valid antecedents of the Transhumanist impetus just as Techno-Utopian historical antecedents are. While the emphasis on technology predominant in Transhumanist rhetoric isn’t exactly misplaced (simply because technology is our best means of affecting and changing self and society, whorl and world, and thus our best means of improving it according to subjective projected objectives as well) it isn’t a necessary precondition, and its predominance does not preclude the inclusion of non-technological attempts to improve the human condition as well.

The dichotomy between knowledge and device, between technology and methodology, doesn’t have a stable ontological ground in the first place. What is technology but embodied methodology, and methodology but internalized technology? Language is just as unnatural as quantum computers in geological scales of time. To make technology a necessary prerequisite is to miss the end for the means and the mark for a lark. The point is that we are trying to consciously improve the state of self, society and world; technology has simply superseded methodology as the most optimal means of accomplishing that, and now constitutes our best means of effecting our affectation.

The original Luddite movement was less against advancing technology and more about the particular repercussions that specific advancements in technology (i.e. semi-automated looms) had on their lives and circumstances. To claim that Neo-Luddism has any real continuity-of-impetus with the original Luddite movement that occurred throughout 1811-1817 may actually be antithetical to the real motivation underlying the original Luddite movement – namely the liberation of the working class. Indeed, Neo-Luddism itself, as a movement, may be antithetical to the real impetus of the initial Luddite movement both for the fact that they are trying to impose their ideological beliefs upon others (i.e. prohibition is necessarily exclusive, whereas availability of the option to use a given technology is non-exclusive and forces a decision on no one) and because they are trying to prohibit the best mediator of Man’s ever-increasing self-liberation – namely technological growth.

Support for these claims can be found in the secondary literature. For instance, in Luddites and Luddism Kevin Binfield sees the Luddite movement as an expression of worker-class discontent during the Napoleonic Wars than having rather than as an expression of antipathy toward technology in general or toward advancing technology as general trend (Binfield, 2004).

And in terms of base-premises, it is not as though Luddites are categorically against technology in general; rather they are simply against either a specific technology, a specific embodiment of a general class of technology, or a specific degree of technological sophistication. After all, most every Luddite alive wears clothes, takes antibiotics, and uses telephones. Legendary Ludd himself still wanted the return of his manual looms, a technology, when he struck his first blow. I know many Transhumanists and Technoprogressives who still label themselves as such despite being weary of the increasing trend of automation.

This was the Luddites’ own concern: that automation would displace manual work in their industry and thereby severely limit their possible choices and freedoms, such as having enough discretionary income to purchase necessities. If their government were handing out guaranteed basic income garnered from taxes to corporations based on the degree with which they replace previously-manual labor with automated labor, I’m sure they would have happily lain their hammers down and laughed all the way home. Even the Amish only prohibit specific levels of technological sophistication, rather than all of technology in general.

In other words no one is against technology in general, only particular technological embodiments, particular classes of technology or particular gradations of technological sophistication. If you’d like to contest me on this, try communicating your rebuttal without using the advanced technology of cerebral semiotics (i.e. language).


Binfield, K. (2004). Luddites and Luddism. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.


Franco Cortese is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, and won our #1 Editor’s Choice Award in 2013. His other positions include Research Scientist at ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, Assistant Editor at Ria University Press, Fellow at Brighter Brains Institute, Ambassador at The Seasteading Institute, and an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation, occupying positions on their Life Extension Scientific Advisory Board and Futurists Advisory Board.
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This is all rather a disgruntled rally against an undefined species termed “Neo-Luddite” with no exact clarification of what this may actually be, other than to state that these species are determined of imposing political viewpoint and ideology upon the freedoms of others?

Well, Neo-Liberalism politics also imposes upon others, and in the name of freedom and utilitarian good also?

Many Trans-Humanists, Transhuman-ists and Techno-progressives disagree on many ethical issues, although most all share common value and worth in the future of humanity and with emerging new technologies. Thus any mind supporting freedom of thought will naturally tend to wish to transform the world as it sees fit and best, both for it-Self and also in opportunity for others of like mind to subscribe also. This will undoubtedly lead to conflicts, even in broadly like-minded camps?

Now the real issue, and the question once again..

“Neo-Luddites, on the other hand, wish to deny the whole of humanity that choice. They actively seek the determent, relinquishment or prohibition of technological self-transformation, and believe in the heat of their idiot-certainty that they have either the intelligence or the right to force their own preference upon everyone else, present and future. Such lumbering, oafish paternalism patronizes the very essence of Man, whose only right is to write his own and whose only will is to will his own – or at least to vow that he will will his own one fateful yet fate-free

Just how far is this ethic from that of Rand’s Objectivism and ideology of Self-Actualization, Self-determination, Self-Fulfillment, freedom and non-interference with the rights and freedoms of others?

Thanks for your comments CygnusX1,

I wouldn’t call my stance disgruntled. I have problems with Neo-Luddite rhetoric, but “disgruntled” brings to mind frustration-to-the-point-of-incoherence - which isn’t my stance at all. I know cleanly and clearly just why I’m against Neo-Luddite polemic.

Regarding your comment “...against an undefined species termed “Neo-Luddite” with no exact clarification of what this may actually be, other than to state that these species are determined of imposing political viewpoint and ideology upon the freedoms of others?”:

You actually quoted one succinct definition I gave in the piece, later in your comment. Namely “They actively seek the determent, relinquishment or prohibition of technological self-transformation”. Not all Neo-Luddites have the same ideological alliances or specific objectives, which is why I think that describing them more broadly as seeking the “determent, relinquishment or prohibition of technological self-transformation” is a better definition, as it pertains to the scope of the article, than listing specific technologies they want to prevent coming into fruition. In addition to this definition, many of their ideological underpinnings can be seen to be inherent in the charges I raised against them and in the ways in which I contrasted them to both Transhumanists and the original, 1811-1817 Luddites. I also included a hyperlink to the Wikipedia entry on Neo-Luddism, where interested readers can find even more material further explicating their ideological stance(s), including more external references. So if you’re claiming that I failed to give a sufficient definition of Neo-Luddism, I would respectfully disagree, feeling that the specific one I pointed out here, namely “[Neo-Luddites] actively seek the determent, relinquishment or prohibition of technological self-transformation” is sufficient given the scope of the article - since it pertains to the “base-premises” of Neo-Luddism rather than specific objectives of specific Neo-Luddites or Neo-Luddite factions. Additionally, I think Neo-Luddism is an ideology most Transhumanist and Technoprogressive readers would have been familiar with already. I included the hyperlink on Neo-Luddism (in addition to the definition I mentioned) for those readers who hadn’t yet come across the term.

Regarding your comment “Well, Neo-Liberalism politics also imposes upon others, and in the name of freedom and utilitarian good also?”:

A point made in the piece is that the nature of the Neo-Luddite ideology entails that their specific aims *necessarily* impose on the freedoms of others (b.c. prohibition is exclusive), whereas Transhumanist ideology do not *necessarily* or inevitably or inevitably impose on the freedoms of others (because the availability of a technology, or the option of using a given technology, is non-exclusive). So this doesn’t pertain to imposing an ideology on others, which either camp could hypothetically do with equal zeal; rather it pertains to the fact that the prohibition (which the Neo-Luddite objective of technological-relinquishment is an example of) is necessarily exclusive, whereas striving for the availability of any given technology is *not* necessarily exclusive, because no one is forced into using or endorsing the technology - they have the *option* of using it, but aren’t forced to. I repeat for emphasis because it’s a somewhat subtle but significant distinction : the distinction made in the piece doesn’t pertain to imposing an ideology upon others (which any given ideology could potentially do equally well), rather it pertains to Neo-Luddism being *necessarily* liberty-infringing (due to its exclusive nature), whereas Transhumanism and TechnoProgressivism are not necessarily or axiomatically liberty-infringing (due to their non-exclusive natures).

Again, I thank you for your comments. I hope that I expressed the specific reasons why I disagree with the two points of yours that I addressed in this comment (i.e. 1. your characterization of my stance as “disgruntled” and 2. the lack of a sufficient definition or description of Neo-Luddism) with respect and civility. Keep up the good fight of holding author’s accountable for their claims!

“Even the Amish only prohibit specific levels of technological sophistication, rather than all of technology in general.”

And remember: the overwhelming majority of the public is focused on now (and the past). Possibly traveling to Mars several decades in the future doesn’t interest them; traveling on vacation several weeks from today does interest them.

@ Franco

Thanks for your reply, however your explanations, whilst I fully understand your meaning and sentiments, are still vague as to what comprises a Neo-Luddite and this still appears as a rather ideological representation of a species who seeks to obstruct future technological change? Thus I still remain unconvinced, (yet this is of little importance).

It may help to provide some examples of what you personally deem as a Neo-Luddite, although I think you will still struggle, as ultimately, (and as I have hinted), Human minds oppose different ideals and models of Humanity’s future for variety of reasons, even here?

Certainly the historical Luddites opposed change and progress through ignorance and fear, yet we should also take note that the change affected them and their jobs/security lifestyle and welfare directly and had real consequences for them in their era. Thus their concerns and fears were “real” and not wholly unfounded?

Regarding the second issue, and Liberal freedoms imposing upon others despite the best of intentions. The European declaration of Human rights is an example of agreement and sanction made by “others” that directly influences and imposes upon the freedoms of the individual, by way of protecting the individual? I am not declaring that I stand in opposition to this ideological constitution, quite the reverse in fact, however some may feel this stifles freedoms of expression and freedoms of speech.

Other examples may include the future introductions of rights to life, euthanasia, liberty, Bio-enhancements, property, Personhood legislation that affect Humanity as a whole and which may be non-exclusive and compulsory for all or most parties to adhere to, or else exclude themselves from worldly affairs?

For example, Cognitive enhancements and Liberal ideals of equality and comprehensive access to this may become commonplace for Humans, and thus any parties opposing and rejecting this ideology, (such as the Amish), may find themselves evolving and competing as sub-species in a world where “Liberal” freedom has “dictated” the path of progress? Such is the dilemma of Liberalism inadvertently imposing upon all parties, “One man’s freedom is another man’s slavery?”

Whomever stands resolutely in opposition to any proposed ideology that affects them directly, and is adamant in their beliefs, may thus be termed as Luddite, even though their reasoning may be rational for themselves and their position, and where change would not be in their best interests?

You may perhaps target the Capitalist as ideological Luddite and opposed to technological change, and yet any true Capitalist would see benefit and profit from investing in future technology?

What actually defines this collective species of Luddite is still unclear?

Anyhow, you missed my most important question in my final paragraph, and I would really like to know your thoughts and feelings as to the relationship of the Neo-Liberal, your own position, and Rand’s Objectivism and ideology of Self-Actualization?


I could have listed people who have been labelled Neo-Luddite, like Ted Kaczynski (the UNABOMBER), Francis Fukuyama and Leon Kass, or specific technologies that specific Neo-Luddites have openly opposed so as to better characterize Neo-Luddism, like genetic engineering on a societal scale and molecular nanotechnology on a global or ecological scale, but I chose not to because my argument in this article pertains to their undermost premises and ideological gestalt, so to speak, rather than specific technologies. The definition I gave in the article, namely contemporary people who who seek the determent, relinquishment or prohibition of self-transformational technologies (i.e. technological mediators of self-modification and the expansion of our available abilities/capacities/faculties (to be technically specific our functional and experiential modalities), whether on a local or global scale, was I think this is both succinct and sufficient for the scope of the piece. But I’ll list a few definitions from external sources below in any case, to whet your appetite for further clarification.

1.From IEET’s Technoprogressive Wiki: [URL:] “The terms “Luddite,” “Bioluddite”,” or"Neo-Luddite” have become synonymous with anyone who opposes the advance of technology due to the cultural and socioeconomic changes that are associated with it.”

2. From Wikpedia: [URL:] “Neo-Luddism or New Luddism is a philosophy opposing many forms of modern technology. According to a manifesto drawn up by the Second Luddite Congress (April 1996; Barnesville, Ohio) Neo-Luddism is “a leaderless movement of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and frightening technologies of the Computer Age.” The name is based on the historical legacy of the British Luddites, who were active between 1811 and 1816. These groups along with some modern Neo-Luddites are characterized by the practice of destroying or abandoning the use of technological equipment as well as advocating simple living. Neo-Luddism stems from the concept that technology has a negative impact on individuals, their communities and the environment. Neo-Luddites also fear the future unknown effects that new technologies might unleash. The modern Neo-Luddite movement has connections with the anti-globalization movement, anarcho-primitivism, radical environmentalism and Deep Ecology.”

3. From Green Politics [URL:] “Unlike anarcho-primitivists, someone labelled a neo-Luddite might not consider technology itself to be evil, though they may believe that many technologies influence human nature in a way that degrades the overall quality of human existence. However, most commonly neo-Luddites oppose the rapid adoption of technology by society on the grounds that such development’s negative effects on individuals, society or the planet outweigh its benefits…Neo-Luddite thinkers usually reject the popular claim that technology is essentially “value free” or “amoral”, that it is merely a set of tools which can be used for either good or evil. Instead, they argue that certain technologies have an inherent tendency to reinforce or undermine particular values. In particular, they argue that some technologies foster social/class alienation, environmental degradation, and spiritual dissipation, though they are always marketed as uniformly positive by the companies that make them. Neo-Luddites claim that technology is a force that may do any or all of the following: dehumanise and alienate people; destroy traditional cultures, societies, and family structure; pollute languages; reduce the need for person-to-person contact; alter the very definition of what it means to be human; or damage the evolved life-support systems of the Earth’s entire biosphere so gravely as to cause human extinction.”

Note, however, that there is always the problem of trying to give definitive definitions to a movement compried of many different voices. We say “Modernism” as though there were some clear doctrine laid out in lists somewhere with its name on the cover. By calling a movement or ideology something, by giving it a name we’re already biased towards viewing it as a static, singular thing, whereas it’s more of a seething confluence of sometimes-contradictory voices. Not entity, but process all fractal around the edges. This is another virtue of using a generic definition that encompasses the movement/ideology/philosophy

Also note that I use ideology to mean a system of ideas, and don’t mean to drag along some of the popular connotations that have constellated around the term, like doctrinal-rigidity or heavy-handed persuasion.

And yes, I never claimed that the original British Luddites were unjustified, I argued that their revolt must be seen in the context of the Napoleonic wars, which was hard on the British working class, and that it wasn’t most essentially about technological prohibition in general, but the prohibition (or in this case destruction) of a specific case of technology. It had more to do with having their positive-freedoms (positive in the philosophical sense) being infringed upon. I go on to characterize the initial Luddite movement as more having to do with the liberation of their fellow man than with technophobia. I then claim that Neo-Luddism is in an important sense antithetical to the true impetus of the initial British Luddite movement (liberation and regaining their positive freedoms), because it seeks relinquishment of the best modern mediator of liberation and best facilitator of the expansion of out positive freedoms, namely technology.

Regarding Objectivism:

Well I haven’t given Objectivist philosophy a thorough enough perusal for me to be confident in my assessment of it, and my conclusions regarding how it relates to Transhumanism (which is itself a farily diverse ideological terrain, with many self-proclaimed Transhumanists disagreeing on various topics), which is why I initially declined to comment, though your question didn’t go unnoticed.

But I can offer my provisional thoughts weighted with a the due uncertainty that comes with not having studied the philosophy-in-question in-depth. Objectivism seems to contain have many eipstemological and metaphysical claims that don’t seem bear direct relevance (though the primacy of existence found in its metaphysics and epistemology do bear some relevance) but I do see some antecedents of what I hold to be the prime Transhumanist imperative (namely self-determination and self-modification-as-increased-self-determination) in certain aspects of Objectivist ethics. The primacy of the self and the lack of duty to anyone but the self, for instance. The inextricable link between life and value as well. However there has been an emphasis on ethics and the provision of rights to non-biological embodiments of being and instances of mind (both sentient and sapient) running throughout Transhumanist thinking since at least the 90’s, and some of the most prominent criticisms of Objectivism seem to pertain to its lack of emphasis on helping your fellow man. This is a strain that I think is antithetical to most Transhumanist thinking. We want to give every sentient and sapient being on the spectrum of gradations called Humanity to power to better determine and realize themselves, and a great many if not most Transhumanists actively work toward doing so more for the benefit of Humanity than for themselves. And it looks like one of the most common objections to Objectivism pertain to its lack of emphasis on “helping others” so to speak, or performing volitional activity that doesn’t benefit you specifically in a definite positive-sum way. Whether this is a true criticism or a burlesque caricature and mischaracerization of Objectivist ethics really cannot be determined without an in-depth reading of Rand’s various philosophical works. But then again Objecvtivist ethics supposedly also emphasizes the primacy of not infringing upon the volitional actions of others. So everyone is free to act as they see fit, provided it doesn’t negate or lessen the possibility of others’ volitional action. This seems to, at least on an intuitive level, run perpendicular to the criticism just mentioned. I also think that her heavy emphasis on capitalism being the only social medium that respects such rights-of-volitional-existence, so to speak, wasn’t formulated with the expectation that government would become increasingly intertwined with private industry, or the way in which systemic conditions of the U.S political system in particular make getting elected without accepting large campaign donations (and the associated expectations and external determination-of-policy, i.e. “strings”, that come with it) next to impossible. This si going to be the case as long as we allow large corporations to donate large sums to political campaigns. And I don’t think the emphasis on capitalism as liberty-facilitating and rights-of-volitional-existence-respecting that seems to dominate at least the surface of Objectivism was initially made with the the increasing intertwinement of government and industry in mind, and many of its conclusions in regard to capitalism are in this way outdated and unfit because such an emphasis was formulated with a different breed of capitalistic system in mind. Lastly, the heavy emphasis Objectivism seems to place on the primacy of existence, in terms not only ethical but also metaphysical, epistemological and ontological, in my view fails to give due account to the touch of telos, of tele, of working toward and valuing projects (i.e. projected objectives) that transcend one’s own existence, so to speak. Its emphasis on primacy itself also potentially runs contra-parallel to the model of view of self as project, rather than subject, as something ever-in-the-making and defined by its indefinite indefinity.

So those are my provisional thoughts on the matter, bearing in mind that they are based upon only a cursory perusal of Objectivist material (largely garnered from secondary sources and majoritive or widly-concurred interpretations rather than primary Objectivist literature by Rand herself).

And I understand what you’re saying in regards to Neo-Liberalism. But I still think the salient matter is that prohibition is exclusive, whereas the availability of a given technology is non-exclusive. If it’s available you don’t have to use it. There may be systemic conditions that make it to your extreme benefit to use them, like a car or modern transportation, but you aren’t forced. Any ideology could impose their views on another with equal ferocity; I agree with that. But I still claim that the salient distinction made in my article isn’t about that, it’s about the fact that widespread relinquishment or prohibition inevitably affects everyone, whereas the only thing that technological-availability or “non-prohibition” of technology doesn’t force anyone to use or not use them. Technological prohibition forces people to not use them. Non-prohibition of technology doesn’t force anyone to use them or to not use them.

I hope this addresses some of your queries and concerns CygnisX1.

@ Franco

Thanks for taking time with your comprehensive reply, much appreciated!

I guess my point of contention concerning over-generalization, is that we can fall into traps by manifesting “windmills” to poke at, and in so doing actually imagine some ideological obstruction to our own politics and ideals by polarizing opposites and counter-position, where no such generalization actually exists? - Similar to arguments over religious politics and perceived Luddism.

That is not to say that such obstructions to technology exist and are real, just that such a “broad brush” does not clarify areas and groups needing focus, nor help provide solutions to identifying specific groups needing focus?

Your further examples have helped clarify and add to the weight of your article, (and I think this has helped?)

Regarding Rand’s Objectivism, your remarks and reflections pretty much cover and align with my own feelings and understanding, and most importantly you have seen the parallels I was hinting at, as I suspected you would and deduced from your own words here. Thanks for this honesty also, as parties are usually quick to dismiss any connection with Self-fulfillment and Self-Actualization, Objectivism and Trans-human ethics.

You are absolutely correct to differentiate between Objectivism and Altruism and higher ideals expressed within Trans-human circles, although I would add that this may be debatable, as Rand held the ethic and principle motivation of applied work and action being of noble value and essential to achieve fulfillment, and her ideals extended specifically towards the industrialist and innovator both, and which included raising all of Humanity in the process of Self deliberation and success, (for which one should receive due recognition and reward also)

For more on that see here..


Objectivism - Rand


My main gripe with your article is that you seem to equate all new technology with expanding freedom and see limits to technology as an unjust intrusion on personal liberty.  But what you fail to consider is that new technology can greatly affect people other than those who choose to actively deploy it.  While you accuse Neo-luddites of trying to impose their paradigm on others, you do not seem to see how new technology often forcefully imposes its paradigm onto others. 

Google glasses, for instance, will impose a paradigm of nakedness/ lack of privacy in public spaces.  It will change the nature of life for everyone.  Those who choose to deploy this technology in fact impose their will on everyone else.  Those who seek to preserve their way of life have every right to question the impact of others who seek to destroy it.

But what you fail to consider is that new technology can greatly affect people other than those who choose to actively deploy it.  While you accuse Neo-luddites of trying to impose their paradigm on others, you do not seem to see how new technology often forcefully imposes its paradigm onto others… Those who seek to preserve their way of life have every right to question the impact of others who seek to destroy it

If Franco were a greenhorn, what you write might be valid; however Franco’s been around and knows that the old ways of doing things are more intrusive than the new. It is ironic/disingenuous for so called conservatives to fear the effects of unfettered use of the Internet.. yet they want the Web anyway. Rather double-minded of them.
The fleas come with the dog.
Nature lovers think autos are natural when they drive to the countryside in them—since when are internal combustion engines natural? You can think of many other examples.
Intrusiveness is a minor difficulty, of much greater importance is how bad-asses can utilise new technologies- for starters every criminal can get a cellphone to communicate with confederates. Someone recently offered me a job as a lookout for drug transactions:

“I’ll give you a cellphone, you wont have to use your’s.”

Criminal use of tech is more serious than Google glasses.



@ Intomorrow

“The old ways of doing things are more intrusive than the new”

What does this mean?  Can you clarify what the “old ways” are, what the “new ways” are and how the old is more intrusive than the new and in what way?

“It is ironic/disingenuous for so called conservatives to fear the effects of unfettered use of the Internet.. yet they want the Web anyway.”

No it is not… take auto-mobiles for example - it’s not disingenuous to see that a car can bring benefits, but that without thinking through its consequences, it could be problematic.  Using this example, it’s not disingenuous to want to have cars around, but to require licenses, emissions testing, and a whole set of driving laws. 

If Franco were simply railing against those who want to stop all technological progress and send us back to pre-industrial society, I’d agree with his message.  But my impression is that Franco had gripes with anyone who wants to slow the progress of transhumanism because they are wary about its possible dangerous disruptions to society. 

I think there is indeed hubris if one thinks they can remake humanity without there being tremendous dangers.  I am not categorically against transhumanism, and frankly see some form of transhumanism as inevitable.  But as we make this transition, it should be done in a cautious and thought-out manner - not so as to impede the coming of a better world simply based on anti-technological ideology, but in order to make sure that whatever transition that occurs is indeed the best one possible.

But I think futurephilosopher has a point nonetheless. It is easy to take comfort in the idea that developing a technology only increases freedom, and opposing technology only decreases it, but reality is more complicated. Do you ever yearn for those days when you couldn’t look up anything on Google? I do, occasionally. And if someone wants to invite me to go somewhere with no Internet connection, I will tell them: but I don’t want to have to escape to some remote corner in order to get away from it all. The fact is that technology has robbed me of the ability to live freely in a pre-technological world (where by “pre-technological” you are welcome to choose any cut-off point you want). Isn’t there a part of all of us that would like the world to be more or less like it was when we were growing up?

This is not to say that Franco’s critique is without merit, but it does seem to me that a balance is needed between techno-enthusiasm and techno-conservatism. Different people will strike that balance in different places, and the same person (like me for example) might strike it differently at different times depending on the mood. It’s not clear to me how much there really is to be gained in building a caricature of techno-conservatives and then shooting at them under the label ‘neo-Luddite’.

That said, the accusation of hubris against transhumanists can be tiresome. Too many people take comfort in essentially pessimistic, even defeatist visions of the future, and then cry ‘hubris’ every time they encounter people who dare to be optimistic. And then there is our fear of technology and the unknown. As you know well, Intomorrow, the real hubris of the ‘neo-Luddites’ is not so much that they want to restrict freedom, as that they lazily believe that some idyllic version of the past is possible, but without bothering to work out how it could be done, and what more realistic - and also awesome - futures they could instead embrace.

As you know well, Intomorrow, the real hubris of the ‘neo-Luddites’ is not so much that they want to restrict freedom, as that they lazily believe that some idyllic version of the past is possible, but without bothering to work out how it could be done

Aye, that’s Middle America for you. The following link shows you Mid America can be masochistically sentimental.. the author is partly pining (though he tries to hide it) for the days of the Vietnam War when no matter how bad it was, it was simpler and we were younger as well:

Another article in the same masthead is sentimental for the Peacock Throne of Iran (the author laments America abandoned the Shah). Now there is a masochistic nostalgia: sentimentality for Vietnam and the Shah.

This is yet another piece both sentimental and petty:

With all known/unknown threats, the author frets about issues which pale into virtual insignificance next to existential issues. Conservatism has become an ostrich with its head in the sand.

‘Bots are what we could stress, for starters. What have we got to lose anymore? Only such as the Amish wouldn’t be embarrassed to say the word ‘plastic’ to describe the world today. IMO politics and religion, no matter how necessary they are—and of course the great majority still need them—are plastic. Don’t you think art has become increasingly commercialised and… yes, plastic? Naturally, there’s some projecting going on; I feel there’s nothing to lose anymore whereas some do think we have something to lose. When we have reached the stage in evolution where virtually anyone who wants a cellphone can have one; when virtually anyone who wants to go online can do so—we know we are waving goodbye to Mother Nature. What is natural about cellphones, computers and all the rest of it?

Right. Here in Transhumanopia we like to deplore those who confuse ‘nature’ with some kind of pre-technological idyll that never really existed, but in doing so we sometimes forget that this pre-technological world, harsh and unpleasant as it was in many ways, WAS the environment in which we evolved biologically, and therefore we DO feel like we’ve lost something when it’s all replaced by concrete and factories. Now we could, of course (and probably will) change our hardwiring so that it’s the cellphones that feel natural, and not the ‘unspoilt’ (and unbearably cruel) savannah, but then, in an important sense, we will no longer be us.

Thanks for your comments Peter, Intommorow and futurephilosopher.

Intommorow, thanks for the ardent support. smile

Peter, I think we’re in general aggreement that we’re not looking to sweep everybody into one cramped category or moniker, and that deliberative discussion is what will foster the best ultimate embodiment, as you’ll find explicated in the comments below.

I sympathize with some of your concerns futurephilosopher, and share your wariness of emerging tech. to some extent. A Technoprogressive is not the same thing as a Techno-Optimist. I wouldn’t endorse the claim that all technologies are freedom-expanding ipso facto. To do so would be to forget or ignore the moral ambiguity of technology, the fact that generally speaking, most technologies can be used to foster good and bad, creation and destruction, expanding autonomy and constricting autonomy. I don’t think its a hard rule (i.e. some technologies are more biased towards destruction rather than creation or systemically embody a certain end-purpose or ideological persuasion, like guns. Guns can be used to free or to disenfranchize, yes, but in the end they’re for killing people), but it seems generally applicable to most new technologies (moral ambiguity that is) until proven otherwise. In other words morally non-ambiguous technologies are the statistical minority.

So I don’t think all technologies are unambiguously good. But I think that whether their beneficial or destructive potentialities are fostered depends on us, both in terms of our use of such technologies as well as in terms of our efforts to shape the ultimate embodiments of emerging, converging, disruptive, transformative and NBIC technologies through deliberative discussion, and to some extent advocacy and awareness-raising.

I argued that technological relinquishment is by definition exclusive, whereas the availability of technology is by definition non-exclusive. This is the only hard line I drew, and one that isn’t the same as saying that all technologies are by definition freedom expanding. Tech. availability is the ambiguous (i.e. non-exclusive) one, tech. relinquishment is the non-ambiguous one. Thus I think it might be easy to mistake my essay for claiming that I think all technological growth is necessarily freedom expanding. I happen to think that this is the case more often than not, i.e. the statistical majority, but that it certainly isn’t a hard rule. To claim that it were a hard rule would contradict the moral ambiguity of technology, which itself is likewise not a hard rule but merely the statistical majority.

I am probably more wary than most Technoprogressives and Transhumanists about certain emerging technologies - though to be fair the safe and ethical use of technology has been a predominant aspect of Transhumanism, especially Democratic Transhumanism, since at least the 1998 Transhumanist Declaration, as well as prior to that in the works of FM-2030 as well as Max more and the Extropy community. Moreover, the people and organizations that are working the hardest to analyze existential risks and Global Catastrophic Risks, and strategist how best to mitigate them (the best current solution paradigm being Bostrom’s notion of Differential Technological Development), like The Future of Humanity Institute and Lifeboat Foundation, express H+ or TechProg inclinations or come from H+ roots. They are also the ones speaking the most frequently and making the most salient points about X-Risk and GCR.

And I don’t think all Techno-Pessimists are Neo-Luddites, nor all people who are wary of the dangerous potentialities of emerging technologies. Neo-Luddites are the very specific subset of these larger categories that advocate or endorse *technological relinquishment*. This is the categorical qualifier. And the only reason that tech. relinquishment is a big enough deal to warrant a separate category from Techno-Pessimists is because it is simply an ineffectual solution-paradigm, and fails to secure its intended end-goal. The main problem is that any technological relinquishment will not be global technological relinquishment, unless we have global governance (which itself is problematic for various reasons, one being the fact that if it ripens with corruption there isn’t another global force to do anything about it, and because one set of policies stifles innovation by eliminating evolutionary diversity [in the sense of Universal Darwinism, not genomic and phenotypic evolution per-se]). If we bad a technology to avoid its destructive capabilities then it will likely be developed somewhere else (i.e. a foreign and potentially non-democratic country) where we will have less oversight, less developmental transparency, less control over its ultimate embodiment and less potential to shape its development into one that embodies our own desires and values. This is why differential tech. development is a better solution paradigm than relinquishment *even if* your projected end-objective is ultimately to negate or deter its destructive potentialities rather than to foster its autonomy-expanding and empowering potentialities.

Outright relinquishment just won’t work because it’s never global relinquishment, which ultimately just gives us less oversight and capability to shape its outcome into a good one.

So you can be a Techno-Pessimist Techno-Progressive. You can be very wary about NBIC technologies being used to facilitate harm or a loss or freedom, and still think that the best way forward, and the best method of mitigating emerging tech.‘s potentially destructive , disenfranchising or marginalizing effects is by deliberating upon (1) what constitutes the best embodiment of emerging technologies and (2) how to best shape emerging tech so as to embody our values and what we think are its best (i.e. safest, most ethical) ultimate embodiments. In such a case you’d be a Techno-Pessimist Techno-Progressive.

The emphasis on technology in H+ and TechProg communities does not come from disdain for our humanity or sheer technophilia, rather it is because (1) we seek to better determine the determining conditions of world and of self (which are to some extent symbiontic and interconstitutive), leave more up to choice and less down to chance, and (2) because technology is simply Man’s foremost mediator of change, of effecting our affectation, and this the best means of shaping the state of self and world for the better, whatever your definition of better may be.

I’m also against the notion of hard categories as well. Certainty is a fool’s crown, every time, and that’s a notion very close to my heart. So every category, Neo-Luddite included, is fractal at the edges and not necessarily definitive or boundary-infallible.  However, this doesn’t preclude or obviate the utility and benefit of using such categories in order to be able to refer to the different sides of a given argument, and actually talk about an issue without recapitulating the ideological stance of each side every 5th sentence. As long as we remember categories are fuzzy things, we can use them to facilitate discussion and deliberation upon these issues.

I am very wary indeed of X-Risk and Global Catastrophic Risk. And I think the largest voices in these disciplines sympathize with if not endorse TechProg or H+ inclinations. This makes a certain amount of sense. These are the ones most invested in the future; they believe in its feasibility and in the desirability of trying to foster its beneficial potentials, even though the destructive potentials are possible, often because, as I’ve tried to argue in brief, the road to those opposite ends is a shared one. Whether you want to foster to good or keep the bad from rising, it’s through deliberating upon the best embodiments and the best way to shape emerging techologies towards those best embodiments.

This was to be grist for another essay, not this one. This essay went into one draw-back of Neo-Luddism - the fact that they are the most frequent to raise the charge of Hubris, while they themselves exemplify Hubris to a much greater extent and with much greater frequency than members of H+ and TechProg communities. That isn’t to say that a hubristic Transhumanist is a categorical impossibility - it isn’t. This is why much of this needs to be said here, in order to clarify and clear up some of the concerns that have been raised. The other prominent draw-back of Neo-Luddism, that it’s actually a poor solution paradigm for its own objective, because tech. relinquishment can almost never be global tech. relinquishment. But that was beyond the scope of the above essay, which was focused on hubris. I’m just so tired of seeing the Hubris card being raised, it’s a criticism far too frequent considering its fallaciousness, so in this essay was my attempt to both refute the claim and turn the trope of Hubris on its head by arguing that the ones who most often play the Hubris card are also the ones to most often embody and exemplify it.

Lastly, is Google Glass by definition exclusive, thus constituting an exception to the claim that tech. availability is ipso facto non-exclusive? First, if it were, this would not invalidate the claim that relinquishment is ipso facto exclusive. The notion of (1) the necessary exclusivity of reninquishment and (2) the necessary non-exclusivity of tech.-availability are both necessary to create the conclusion of the essay (that Neo-Luddites are more hubristic than members of H+ or TechProg communities), but the truth of one doesn’t constitute or require the truth of the other. They are complimentary but not co-constitutive or symbiontic. Second, Google Glass is and isn’t exclusive. Yes, you no longer have the freedom to avoid being filmed in the street without your knowledge: an infringement of your freedom of privacy. You have hit upon the general category of freedoms that is infringed upon by an instance of tech.-availability, thus making the non-exclusive nature of tech availability not a hard rule, at least without some clarification of our assumptions and definitions. When you give a negative definition of freedom, i.e. the freedom to NOT to something, to avoid something, then tech availabiulity becomes, in some cases, exclusive (still a statistical majority, but not a hard rule). It is still a hard rule if you consider positive freedoms (i.e. positive in the philosophical sense), the freedom to do something, to act, more in line with notionf of volition, will and agency than negative definitions of freedom are. You do bring up a clarifying concern though, namely that the claim of the *necessarily/ipso-facto* non-exclusive nature of tech.-availability does not in all cases conform to instances of negative freedom (i.e. the ability to avoid, the capacity to NOT do ___ or have ___ done to you), but *does* seem to conform to instances of positive freedom, the ability to DO.

I hope I cleared up some of the more recent concerns that were raised, and that I gave each of your viewpoints due consideration and likewise didn’t misconstrue anyone’s true opinions throughout the course of my response. Thanks once again for your comments Intommorow, futurephilosopher and Peter. Deliberative discussion and debate is the road to maximizing the safety and ethicacy of NBIC, emerging, converging, disruptive, transformative technologies, and you guys are taking part in that discussion.

The emphasis on technology in H+ and TechProg communities does not come from disdain for our humanity or sheer technophilia, rather it is because (1) we seek to better determine the determining conditions of world* and of self (which are to some extent symbiontic and interconstitutive), leave more up to choice and less down to chance, and (2) because technology is simply Man’s foremost mediator of change, of effecting our affectation, and this the best means of shaping the state of self and world for the better, whatever your definition of better may be.

*which includes how existential threats to humans (cockroaches- that’s a different story) cannot be dealt with via nature. Living in harmony with nature wont prevent asteroids from striking the Earth. We shouldn’t, as you mention, reject nature but neither ought we overestimate nature. Death is perfectly natural; pain, mosquitoes, poison ivy, flesh eating bacteria, etc etc are all natural.

It is easy to take comfort in the idea that developing a technology only increases freedom, and opposing technology only decreases it

For better and worse: freedom for many law abiding citizens can be enhanced.. unfortunately, freedom (or is it license?) is enhanced for bad guys.

Franco, many thanks for your very comprehensive reply. I may indeed have been unfair to imply that you were “building a caricature of techno-conservatives and then shooting at them”. As far as I can tell from an admittedly cursory first read-through of your reply I don’t think we have any substantial disagreement.

Thank you for your reply as well, Peter. I too am glad that we don’t have any fundamental disagreement.

Also keep in mind that the vehement and adamant tone my article might have seemed to embody does reflect a fair amount of impatience and jadedness with Neo-Luddites (again, which doesn’t denote all tech. pessimists or conservatives, but instead those who endorse outright relinquishment and/or those who seek an idyllic, pre-technological, wholly-revivalist state of affairs) because they DO still cause palpable and real harm in the real world. That vehemency could have been mistaken for over-certainty and pigeonholding, or wanton want of bad guys to shoot at, but it’s for far more tangible reasons. This isn’t simply a disdain for and disagreement with their ideological and political sidings, which is what it would be limited to if my article’s vehemency was just about how tired I am of seeing the cliche of Hubris brought up again and again (and it wasn’t always a cliche, but now I think it has become one).

People are still refusing medical treatment for religious reasons (and I think this inclination has a shared gestalt and impetus with revivalism and Neo-Luddism). In other words real people still die every year due to relinquishist and revivalist religious ideology. In 2008 an 11 year old Wisconsin girl DIED from a wholly-treatable form of Diabetes. [See here:]. She DIED due to lack of insulin! Absurd! Her parents chose prayer over insulin, and she is now dead. She had been palpably ill for 30 days, and then she died. Her parents told reporters the cause of death was lack of enough faith… These people don’t seem to appreciate what they’ve even done… That THEY are the cause of her death…

This is the modern world, and this is happening in Wisconsin! The issues of biopolitics and technopolitics are real and happening today. This is why I support borderline-militant atheism and anti-theism - because real lives are being lost and it’s an untenable cost in order to “let people believe what they want to believe”. Just this past May, a couple was arrested and could face 14 years in jail. [See here:] They believe in faith healing over medical care, and their 8 month old son died this past April after a week of respiratory problems and not eating, which the parents combated with faith healing. This was after the death of their 2-year old son in 2009, again for similar symptoms, which they refused to seek treatment for. They were charged that first time with involuntary manslaughter, put on 10 years probation and ordered to seek medical care for all their children in future. With this second death, they’re now facing prison charges, as a judge declared the second death a breach of their parole. They have 7 “surviving children”, and the ones still under the legal adult age are in Foster care.

These examples come from Wisconsin and Philadelphia… It’s really sickening that this stuff happens in this day and age, over ideology. These people’s beliefs concerning contemporary technology and medicine is the cause of real deaths - and the fact that they were children, depending on another for life and unable to make the choice (to get medical care) for themselves only makes this harder to swallow.

So that’s the reason for what might have seemed like reckless certainty and rampant categorization. It rather reflected a certain amount of dull rage and revulsion for the fact that this stuff still happens. People look at biopolitics and technopolitics like we’re squabbling over minute and obscure ideological or political distinctions that are far removed from everyday concerns, when we’re talking about issues, concerns and debates where real lives hang in the balance. It’s not that I’m trying to characterize villains for us to vilify. I’m trying to better distinguish and differentiate what I consider existing villains who think their own beliefs about technology and contemporary society justify such things as the death of 11 year old girls for lack of a substance like insulin that could have been purchased with sickening convenience, but wasn’t for outdated, inappropriate and downright dangerous religious beliefs. People can believe anything they want, until it creates palpable harm for others, in which case we should put a legislative stop to it just like we do for other crimes like murder, theft, etc. It’s not because religious doctrines aren’t true that I have a problem with them, it’s because they’re still responsible for the arbitrary and quite-preventable loss of real lives in contemporary society, and everyone acts like we’re supposed to be good relativists/perspectivists and let everyone believe what they want. When it costs us lives we shouldn’t. Period. And if that sounds insensitive to anyone then they need to tough up, step back, and gain some needed perspective.

But in any case Peter, I didn’t think that you were saying I was building a caricature of techno-conservatives for no real reason. You did, after all, say “but that’s not to say that Franco’s argument doesn’t have merit”. So I’m glad that we’re on the same essential page, and I just wanted to explicate the reasoning underlying this article’s arguably argumentative tone, because it could be mistaken for overeager certainty and an arbitrary desire to prop-up-and-shoot-down.

I share your frustration, Franco. I worked for many years on environmental policy, and for a while went along with environmentalist technophobia, at least to some extent.  Then my eyes were opened to the true potential of technology, first by coming across (more or less by accident) an article by Nick Bostrom, then by reading The Singularity Is Near. In parallel to that I was also going through a more personal process of self-empowerment, and eventually came to realise to what extent the environmental community had become (if it ever wasn’t) more anti-technology and anti-business than it was pro-environment. I think to a large extent it still is (even if I also think there are deepening splits within the community regarding their stance towards technology and business) and I think this is a significant problem.

To a large extent I also share your impression that the safe and ethical use of technology has been (and remains) a predominant aspect of Transhumanism. That said, I also think that the risk of getting caught up in our enthusiasm - and thus justifying the ‘hubris’ critique - is a real one. It is so easy to slide into complacency and wishful thinking…

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