Saturday, January 03, 2004

Project Syndicate

Although the term "globalization" is regularly invoked by leaders everywhere, public discussion about that process - whether the topic concerns IMF lending or genetically modified foods - is often haphazard, neglected, and uncoordinated. Ideas and issues raised in one country rarely enter debates in others. Project Syndicate was founded to close this gap by creating a truly global forum for broadening debate and exchanging ideas.
Indeed, before discussion of today's political, economic, scientific, and medical revolutions hardens into stark political decisions, it is vital for the broad public everywhere to understand the implications of the choices being made. By developing an "international conversation" within the world's print media, Project Syndicate establishes an institutional framework to help disperse today's "cloud of unknowing".
The website offers a weekly briefing on important things happening in the world and monthly column on specific themes e.g. Science and Society, Health and Medicine. Articles published here are reprinted by newspapers around the world.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

More on Transhuman Space

More on Transhuman Space from Another World is Here, the blog of Jamais Cascio, one of the authors of the series: Cyborg Democracy had a post yesterday about the game series Transhuman Space. I note this for several reasons. The setting of the game is interesting and provocative. A game like this is a different way of thinking about the future. And I'm one of its authors.
Transhuman Space is a role-playing game setting. (No, not on a computer. This is old-school paper & dice role-playing, kind of like Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, people still play games like these, although the number of players is way down from 10 or 20 years ago.) It actually comprises 11 books, covering what the world of 2100 looks like on Earth and throughout the solar system, and doing so in as scientifically and conceptually plausible a manner as possible -- there's no faster-than-light travel, telepathy, or humanoid alien life. I wrote two of the books: Broken Dreams, just released last week, which looks at the developing world and the global politics of intellectual property in 2100, and Toxic Memes, due out in the spring, which examines conspiracy theories, political movements, urban legends, and the like in 2100.

Raelian Politics or Religion and Politics among the Big Brains

Ever wonder what the Raelians' idea of the ideal political order is? No, I hadn't either. But if you are curious, the Geniocracy Project is apparently a distillation of Rael's political vision: "Geniocracy is then a political system who’s hierarchy revolved around intelligence. It is a system to enable a society’s most intelligent individuals to be in a position where their intelligence can best service humanity and also to place into governance the individuals most suited to the act of governing itself." In other words, replacing democracy with a global state ruled by a technocratic elite selected for on the basis of their intelligence. Charming that the Raelians assume that they would make it past the selection process for high IQs.

Of course, intelligence is already correlated with wealth and therefore power. The children of the affluent gain an intellectual advantage through better nutrition and health care, and a more stimulating social, educational and work environment. Conversely, there is some meritocratic advancement of the intellectually advantaged, and the intellectually deprived have fewer communication and organizational skills to advance their political interests.

Not that there is that much class mobility on the basis of intelligence. The children of the affluent still generally end up rich no matter how dull, and a smart poor kid may become shop steward but very rarely shop owner. And if you were a dullard, and all you ever managed to accomplish in life was to drive a couple of businesses into the ground but your daddy was rich and got elected president, why then you get to control the US military-industrial complex.

To the degree that high IQs do have political influence, however (which seems a diminishing prospect in the US) they have one clear salutory benefit: secularism. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between atheism and IQ. Higher education, separate from IQ, also reduces religiosity. And if you combine high IQ, higher education and a familiarity with science you get a strong atheist bent. One study of the US members of the National Academy of Sciences, for instance, found that 72% are outright atheists, 21% are agnostic and only 7% admit to belief in a personal God. Another study found that while 90% of Americans believe in God, only 40% of scientists and mathematicians do, only 30% of biologists and 20% of physicists do.

So this technocracy thing looks a little more attractive, if only because it would reduce the influence on politics of Raelians and Southern Baptists.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Transsexualism and Transhumanism

Our recently completed survey of WTA members found that 2-3% are transgendered, which means a transhumanist is about a 1000 times more likely to be transgendered than a non-transhumanist. Which makes sense since, as Vanessa Edwards Foster, the Chair of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) says, transsexuals were transhumanist pioneers. And check out this article from ChinaDaily about the dramatic coming out of mainland Chinese TS/TG culture, partly due to the dramatic and very public transformation of a high-ranking Chinese army general into the very popular, and very attractive, dancer Jin Xing. The article points out that the classic Taoist idea of sexual and especially seminal conservation as a means to longevity had a corrolary in the idea of castration as a way to enhance magical power.

Life Extension Advice: Men - Get Married, Women - Stay Single

The supposed benefits of marriage are a very hotly debated topic in the sociology and epidemiology. It is very clear that children benefit from having two cohabiting, preferably married, parents, although there is no evidence that the children living with heterosexual parents have any advantages over children living with cohabiting gay couples. (Step fathers and live-in boyfriends appear to be especially hard on kids, so it can be better for divorced moms not to hook up with another man.)

It is also very clear that men live longer when they are married, because they tend to take fewer health risks, probably because they are adjusting to the expectations of fathers and providers, and because they have somebody taking care of them and nagging at them. One study found that married men who drank and smoked lived longer than single men who didn't drink or smoke.

Linda Waite, author of The Case for Marriage, is the principal sociologist outside of the Christian Right arguing that marriage confers health benefits on women as well as men. Certainly married women are more affluent and have better access to health care. This may explain why just cohabiting is good for men's health, but only marriage confers any benefit to women's health - men get the nagging by shacking up, but women only get the health insurance and inheritance through marriage. Similarly this study found that women are happiest staying with their first love while men are happiest with serial monogamy. This study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that women with more social ties live longer than those with fewer social ties, and that marriage is one of those social ties; i.e. having an old husband is as good for you as having friends from the bingo club. Your bingo partners usually won't shag you though - married people, both male and female, get more, better and safer sex.

But other benefits of marriage to women are harder to find. The more common findings are ones like this British study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health which finds that "single women have fewer mental health issues than their married counterparts. This study from Health Psychology found that women only get a health benefit from marriage when they have a happy marriage.

One of the problems with the research is that underlying personality and health factors may be driving both marriage and health. In other words, people with chronic physical or mental illnesses are less likely to get married, get education, and hold employment.

Anyway, while the battle continues, the human rights case for gay marriage, the legalization of polygamy and the creation of child-rearing and cohabitation contracts is clear. Also check out the Alternatives to Marriage Project (AtMP) which "advocates for equality and fairness for unmarried people, including people who choose not to marry, cannot marry, or live together before marriage."

Transhuman Space

In the coming decades, technologies like genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology will transform humanity. A strange new world is unfolding -- nightmarish to some, utopian to others. Soon we'll have the power to reshape our children's genes, build machines that think, and upload our minds into computers.
And Earth no longer confines us. Space tourism, mining the Moon and asteroids, a settlement on Mars: all are dreams poised to take wing. The universe of Transhuman Space is a synthesis of these two visions -- a world in which ultra-technology and space travel fuse to forge a new destiny for mankind. Neither utopia nor dystopia, it is a place of hopes, fears, and new frontiers.
I have not seen the book but from the description on the website it seems a good way to introduce young persons to these concepts.
It's the year 2100. Humans have colonized the solar system. China and America struggle for control of Mars. The Royal Navy patrols the asteroid belt. Nanotechnology has transformed life on Earth forever, and gene-enhanced humans share the world with artificial intelligences and robotic cybershells. Our solar system has become a setting as exciting and alien as any interstellar empire. Pirate spaceships hijacking black holes . . . sentient computers and artificial "bioroids" demanding human rights . . . nanotechnology and mind control . . . Transhuman Space is cutting-edge science fiction adventure that begins where cyberpunk ends.
This book contains a complete roleplaying game: A future history of the next 100 years: the rise of China, the terraforming of Mars, and the birth of the first artifical intelligence - A gazetteer of solar solar system, from Earth to thriving colonies on Luna, Mars, and beyond - A detailed encyclopedia of transhuman space - Dozens of transhuman character templates, from space-adapted parahumans to digital infomorphs.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Drug War Fascism Forces Sick to Die in Pain

Great article in the Washington Post reports on physicians cutting back on prescriptions of pain killers for the sick and dying because the Drug Enforcement Agency is arresting doctors suspected of over-prescribing.

Why I am still against the Iraq War despite the arrest of Bad Santa

[Posted Dec 25 by Justice De Thezier]

All humanitarians should be and are pleased by the capture of Saddam Hussein and demand a fair trial for him by a United Nations International War Crimes Tribunal much like the one Slobodan Milosevic is currently facing in The Hague.

However, as brilliantly explained in the Institute for Policy Studies primer, Understanding the US-Iraq Crisis, way back in January 2003, this event should not distract us from the U.S.'s true motives for invading and occupying Iraq which still "are largely driven by oil and empire - expanding U.S. military and economic power. As these goals primarily benefit oil companies and the already rich and powerful, the Bush administration relied on fear to mobilize public support for war among ordinary Americans by linking Iraq falsely with the very real threat of terrorism and through rhetoric like "axis of evil." Bush also played on Americans' genuine concern about human rights to gain support.

Many top officials of the Bush administration come directly out of the oil industry. President Bush himself, as well as Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans and others all have strong ties to oil companies. But the U.S. didn't invade simply to ensure its continued access to Iraqi oil. Rather, it is a much broader U.S. play for control of the oil industry and the ability to set the price of oil on the world market. Iraq's oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's. And with U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia increasingly unstable, the question of which oil companies - French, Russian, or American - would control Iraq's rich but unexplored oil fields once sanctions are lifted has moved to the top of Washington's agenda.

Many in the Bush administration believe that in the long term, a post-war, U.S.-dependent Iraq would supplant Saudi control of oil prices and marginalize the influence of the Saudi-led OPEC oil cartel. Iraq could replace Saudi Arabia, at least partially, at the center of U.S. oil and military strategy in the region, and the U.S. would remain able to act as guarantor of oil for Japan, Germany, and other allies in Europe and around the world. Expanding U.S. power, central to the Bush administration's war strategy, includes redrawing the political map of the Middle East. That scenario includes U.S. control of Iraq and the rest of the Gulf states as well as Jordan and Egypt. Some in the administration want even more - "regime change" in Syria, Iran, and Palestine, and Israel as a permanently unchallengeable U.S.-backed regional power. The ring of U.S. military bases built or expanded recently in Qatar, Djibouti, Oman and elsewhere as preparation for the U.S. war against Iraq will advance that goal.

But the super-hawks of the Bush administration have a broader, global empire-building plan that goes way beyond the Middle East. Much of it was envisioned long before September 11th, but now it is waged under the flag of the "war against terrorism." The war in Afghanistan, the creation of a string of U.S. military bases in the (also oil- and gas-rich) countries of the Caspian region and south-west Asia, the new strategic doctrine of "pre-emptive" wars, and the ascension of unilateralism as a principle are all part of their crusade. Attacking Iraq was only the next step."

As a revolutionary technoutopian, I have to agree with bio-Luddite Jeremy Rifkin that "the world must switch from a fossil-fuel economy to a hydrogen economy. This must happen soon for three reasons: the imminent peak of global oil production, the increased concentration of remaining oil reserves in the Middle East one of the most politically and socially unstable regions of the world and the steady heating up of the world's atmosphere from fossil-fuel dependency."

Although a tragedy, September 11th would have been the perfect opportunity for an American administration, not co-opted by oil oligarchs, to build domestic and international cooperation to start this reconstruction of the world while fighting a war against the real terrorist threats such as Al-Qaida. Remember them? The recent terror alert raise shows that they haven’t forgotten about us despite our being distracted by Iraq…

Merry Christmas!

Defending Dr. Moreau from the human-racists

I'm reading The Island of Dr. Moreau to my 8 year-old son, and its a fascinating read for child and parent. As I describe in my Betterhumans column this week "Monsters in the Media" tracking images of human-racism and non-human intelligence in the media has been a longtime research project. Also take a look at Ron Bailey's piece in Reason giving Stuart Newman and Jeremy Rifkin a good thwack for trying to stop chimeric (human-animal transgenic) research by getting a patent on the idea of human-animal chimeras. See also Mark Dowie's piece on the Newman/Rifkin patent scam in Mother Jones this month which hysterically concludes with rhetorical questions about the looming enslavement of human-animal chimeras, which is precisely what a personhood-based rather thana Rifkinite humanness-based public policy would make impossible.


Extropian lawyer and Extropy Institute activist Greg Burch has a libertarian-oriented blog Burchismo. He appropriately gives a lot of attention to shortcomings of Chinese authoritarianism. His much quoted speech at the last (2001) Extro "Progress, Counter-Progress and Counter-Counter-Progress" is as close to a political analysis and strategic manifesto as you get from libertarians:
I believe that for transhumanists, open and direct conflict is unavoidable on each of the three fronts opposed to our program. On the religious or spiritualist front, in the end we cannot accommodate limits on our knowledge and actions imposed in the name of supernaturalism, whether based on tradition, imagined revelation or a mish-mash of syncretistic, subjective symbols. On the political front, we do not seek to force our plans on anyone, but ultimately, our basic values of individual autonomy are fundamentally incompatible with the kinds of limitations desired by Guardians of both culturally conservative and "progressive" tendencies, whether they espouse some limited "liberal" ideology or are more explicitly collectivist. And we certainly cannot avoid clear conflict with arguments by cultural conservatives like Leon Kass', who oppose human cloning and genetic augmentation based on an irrational "moral disgust". Neither are our values compatible with the "for your own good" management of the bureaucratic wing of the Guardian mentality. Finally, we will not be able to stand restrictions on our program proposed in the name of a romantic division drawn between humanity and nature: We are about the program of changing our own "nature" and no amount of rhetorical diplomacy can mask that fact forever or, in the current situation, even for very long.

If open and perhaps vigorous conflict is inevitable - at least in the cultural sphere, and perhaps beyond in the world of atoms as well as memes - two other strategies must be pursued to allow continued progress with our now much amplified world-view. I call the first of these "fortification of the core". By this I mean that we must identify key cultural, institutional and legal factors that protect our right to continue to pursue progress and work to strengthen them against the onslaught of our opponents. Fortunately, the pioneers of the Enlightenment have left us powerful tools to work with. I identify the founding of the American Republic as the last high-water mark of the Enlightenment because, in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, it bequeathed to us the most potent defenses we have against those who would thwart progress in the human condition. As Jefferson said, "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance": We must be sensitive to every attempt to restrict the liberty of those who espouse unpopular opinions, every move to break down the wall between church and state, every encroachment of government power into the liberty of the individual, for every such move is a direct assault on our ability to move forward with our program of transcending the limitations of the human animal.

In this regard every transhumanist should take the personal responsibility of supporting the kinds of public interest groups - like the Institute for Justice, the Electronic Freedom Foundation and, yes, even the ACLU - who do the important work of protecting our liberty. We must be watchful of the growing trend against "globalism", that is really just a resurgence of a kind of tribalism that seeks to raise barriers to the free exchange of goods and ideas. And we have to look to identify "for-your-own-good-ism" in all its seductive forms.

Free market eugenics

Reuters: Through the Danish transnational sperm firm Cryos the 5.3 million Danes have contributed to more than a 100 pregnancies abroad. "Childless couples can browse through about 250 successful donors on Cryos' U.S. web, under Viking aliases such as Birk, Gorm, Olaf and Thor alongside a curriculum vitae which lists hair and eye color, height, education and professional details." But fret not, ye of eugenics angst! Although currently only accepts Danish sperm, "within a year or two, Indian, Asian and African men will also be able to donate to Cryos." Northern Europeans don't have many of the taboos that inhibit sperm donation, but the article points out that new laws in Sweden and Norway that forbid anonymous donation - presumably to protect children's rights to know their parents identities - have put a crimp in the sperm industry.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Open Source software support for the Dean Campaign

From Another World Is Here: Political analysts talk about Dean's success in raising money via the Internet, but they miss the social value of the campaign's clueful Internet strategy. In the past, grassroots presidential campaigns tended to fail because they couldn't compete with established party machinery in reaching enough voters nationwide to win an election. The first grassroots presidential campaign to make at least some use of the Internet was Ross Perot's, and he at least succeeded in influencing the outcome of the national election.
Dean is the first candidate to establish his viability via online organizing, though, and he's succeeded partly because he hasn't insisted on complete control. Dean volunteers are empowered to create web sites, weblogs, and other innovative online presences as volunteers. A community of open source developers have created a complete content management system, Deanspace (originally called hack4dean) to support the campaign. Deanspace is a customization of Drupal, an Open Source platform for web applications, sort of an application server and sort of a content management system. Drupal has many modules to support many kinds of functionality, including weblogs and content syndication. The latter two items are perhaps the most valuable: as built, Deanspace facilitates easy sharing of blog items among Deanspace sites and aggregation of content from any or all sites.
From the Deanspace and Drupal websites: DeanSpace provides a place online for members of your Dean group to stay in touch, share information, work together, and coordinate with each other in a variety of ways. It can serve your existing group or help you build a new online community. Every DeanSpace site starts off with a few basic abilities: there's an online sign-up form for new members, a member directory, and a main page where you can post announcements. Beyond that, DeanSpace is made up of many parts called modules that can be separately switched on and off. So, although DeanSpace has lots of features, you don't have to use them all.
Drupal is an open-source platform and content management system for building dynamic web sites offering a broad range of features and services including user administration, publishing workflow, discussion capabilities, news aggregation, metadata functionalities using controlled vocabularies and XML publishing for content sharing purposes. Equipped with a powerful blend of features and configurability, Drupal can support a diverse range of web projects ranging from personal weblogs to large community-driven sites.