Saturday, April 24, 2004

John Maynard Smith and Olaf Stapledon

I'm in the process of writing an obituary for evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith who died at the age of 84 last week. Look for this on Betterhumans later this week.

While doing research for the piece I discovered that Maynard Smith was a fan of proto-transhumanist science-fiction author Olaf Stapledon, particulary his 1930 novel Last and First Men. Stapledon was also influential for Arthur C. Clarke (apparently Maynard Smith and Clarke read the exact same book from the same library!), but where Clarke took inspiration for his fictional writing, Maynard Smith applied it to his science and politics. Here's a quote from Maynard Smith from a 2000 interview by Natural History:
Possibly most influential in making me interested in genetics and in evolution was a strange book by a man called Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men. It's a history of the next--oh, I don't know--100 million years of human history. It's not terribly well written, but the book's thesis is that there will be a succession of human civilizations that collapse. And it isn't until human beings deliberately change their own constitution to make themselves less aggressive and more friendly that a stable civilization can be made. Although I no longer believe that the only path to human betterment is to change our genes, I was really persuaded by the argument at the time.

The Ten Most Wanted Documents for 2004

A new coalition advocating less secrecy and more openness in government opened its own doors Thursday [4/15] with the release of its survey report, “Ten Most Wanted Documents for 2004.”, comprised of 33 organizations working on freedom of information issues, announced its creation and the report at a 2 p.m. news conference at the National Press Club.

“We are witnessing a broad expansion of government secrecy that runs counter to our core democratic values,” said Rick Blum, who is Coordinator of the coalition, and Director of the Freedom of Information Project of OMB Watch. “We must reverse this course so the public can access the information it needs to hold our government accountable, make our families safer, and generally strengthen democracy.”

Across the many issues covered by the list of Ten Most Wanted Documents, three themes stood out:
·First, respondents expressed a deep skepticism about the information the government provides.
·Second, the government should do more to make its day-to-day operations open to the public.
·Finally, the government should reverse its unprecedented expansion of secrecy and give the public a more open and complete accounting for its efforts to make our communities safer.

List of the Ten Most Wanted Documents for 2004

1. The 28 Pages: Secret Pages of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11 Intelligence Failures
2. Type of crime investigated each time a Patriot Act power was invoked
3. A list of the contaminants found in the sources of our drinking water
4. A number of court cases partially or totally closed to the public and an explanation why for each
5. Industry-written reports on chemical plants' risks to communities
6. Identities of those detained after 9/11 on immigration charges or as material witnesses
7. Gifts from lobbyists to Senators and their staff
8. Federal contracts, grants and other agreements, their total value (in dollars), records documenting violations, and fines and other federal enforcement actions
9. All changes made to publicly available versions of congressional legislation before a committee vote
10. Congressional Research Service Reports is a new unprecedented coalition, bringing together First Amendment advocates, good government groups, journalists, environmentalists, and organizations representing working men and women. The coalition will work to stop the growth in government secrecy and will advocate for greater public access to government information.

Friday, April 23, 2004


Three cheers to all the cyborg democrats and others who will be in Washington this weekend for the March for Women’s Lives!

As we all stare aghast at the ongoing debacle in Iraq and at the shameless spectacle of the current American Adminstration’s panic-stricken scramble to lie its way out of the mess it’s gotten us all into, it is crucial that we not be distracted from this Administration’s countless other blunders, crimes, and atrocities, among them their desire to dismantle women’s reproductive rights.

For some of the reasons why the support of reproductive freedom is crucial to any future transhumanist movement to secure morphological freedom, check out my Betterhumans column from last month, Keep Your Laws Off My Body.

For more specifics about the March, check out the event website, from which I found these details:

On April 25th, in our Nation’s Capitol we march to uphold – Choice, Justice, Access, Health, Abortion, Global and Family Planning.

For the first time ever this pro-choice march is a collaborative effort - seven leading national women’s rights groups have come together to organize this momentous event. The American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women's Health Imperative, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood Federation of America are the principal organizers of the March for Women's Lives and have pooled efforts and resources to lay the groundwork. Other progressive organizations have signed on as co-sponsors - offering everything from member participation to help spreading the word and help defraying costs.

Assembly for the morning rally will begin at 10:00 AM, on the national mall between the Smithsonian museums (between 3rd St. and 14th). The march will begin at noon. After marching on Washington, a rally will be held from 1-4 p.m. on the National Mall. Special seating will be available for people with disabilities. The rally program will be interpreted in American Sign Language. The route is wheelchair accessible and transportation will be provided for those who cannot negotiate the route

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Nick Bostrom's Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom has penned a fairy tale, The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, that exposes the wastefulness of death and the absurdity of those who rail against radical life extension. Here's a taste:
Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The dragon stood taller than the largest cathedral, and it was covered with thick black scales. Its red eyes glowed with hate, and from its terrible jaws flowed an incessant stream of evil-smelling yellowish-green slime. It demanded from humankind a blood-curdling tribute: to satisfy its enormous appetite, ten thousand men and women had to be delivered every evening at the onset of dark to the foot of the mountain where the dragon-tyrant lived. Sometimes the dragon would devour these unfortunate souls upon arrival; sometimes again it would lock them up in the mountain where they would wither away for months or years before eventually being consumed.

The misery inflicted by the dragon-tyrant was incalculable. In addition to the ten thousand who were gruesomely slaughtered each day, there were the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, and friends that were left behind to grieve the loss of their departed loved ones.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Singularitarianism as Counterfeit Religion

James Fehlinger has posted a richly allusive, occasionally elusive, witty, and usefully contrarian short essay Singularitarianism as Counterfeit Religion over at the recently refurbished Transhumanity.