Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Rise of Energy-Based Fascism

"It has once again become fashionable for the dwindling supporters of President Bush's futile war in Iraq to stress the danger of "Islamo-fascism" and the supposed drive by followers of Osama bin Laden to establish a monolithic, Taliban-like regime -- a "Caliphate" -- stretching from Gibraltar to Indonesia. The President himself has employed this term on occasion over the years, using it to describe efforts by Muslim extremists to create "a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom." While there may indeed be hundreds, even thousands, of disturbed and suicidal individuals who share this delusional vision, the world actually faces a far more substantial and universal threat, which might be dubbed: Energo-fascism, or the militarization of the global struggle over ever-diminishing supplies of energy.

Unlike Islamo-fascism, Energo-fascism will, in time, affect nearly every person on the planet. Either we will be compelled to participate in or finance foreign wars to secure vital supplies of energy, such as the current conflict in Iraq; or we will be at the mercy of those who control the energy spigot, like the customers of the Russian energy juggernaut Gazprom in Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia; or sooner or later we may find ourselves under constant state surveillance, lest we consume more than our allotted share of fuel or engage in illicit energy transactions. This is not simply some future dystopian nightmare, but a potentially all-encompassing reality whose basic features, largely unnoticed, are developing today.

These include:

  • The transformation of the U.S. military into a global oil protection service whose primary mission is to defend America's overseas sources of oil and natural gas, while patrolling the world's major pipelines and supply routes.
  • The transformation of Russia into an energy superpower with control over Eurasia's largest supplies of oil and natural gas and the resolve to convert these assets into ever increasing political influence over neighboring states.
  • A ruthless scramble among the great powers for the remaining oil, natural gas, and uranium reserves of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, accompanied by recurring military interventions, the constant installation and replacement of client regimes, systemic corruption and repression, and the continued impoverishment of the great majority of those who have the misfortune to inhabit such energy-rich regions.
  • Increased state intrusion into, and surveillance of, public and private life as reliance on nuclear power grows, bringing with it an increased threat of sabotage, accident, and the diversion of fissionable materials into the hands of illicit nuclear proliferators.

Together, these and related phenomena constitute the basic characteristics of an emerging global Energo-fascism. Disparate as they may seem, they all share a common feature: increasing state involvement in the procurement, transportation, and allocation of energy supplies, accompanied by a greater inclination to employ force against those who resist the state's priorities in these areas. As in classical twentieth century fascism, the state will assume ever greater control over all aspects of public and private life in pursuit of what is said to be an essential national interest: the acquisition of sufficient energy to keep the economy functioning and public services (including the military) running."

Read more on the AlterNet.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Doctors w/o Borders v. Novartis on Indian generics

The Swiss company Novartis is taking the Indian government to court over its legislation pertaining to generic drugs. Novartis wants to make it more difficult for Indian companies to produce generic drugs. According to a report at MSF is collecting signature under a petition calling on Novartis to drop the case. The medical charity points out that 'India is the pharmacy for the developing world'.

Further information about the background to the MSF campaign can be found here.

The petition is available here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Call for Publicly Financed Elections

From an old article by Jennifer James of the Yale Daily News:

''The American people have made it clear that corruption is not something that will be tolerated on their watch. We as a country are ready for a change. And the change that we need is full public financing of federal elections. Members of Congress are proposing many different ethics reforms. While these are absolutely a step in the right direction, they will not do enough to solve the factor that has led to so many of the corruption scandals we have seen in the past few years: money in politics.

The role of money in our political system is unbelievably strong. It affects issues from the environment and prescription drugs to what we eat and what we watch on television. While it often seems not to be a particularly sexy issue, the exit polls clearly show that this perception is changing. Americans want their representatives to be responsible to them, not to special interests and big business. They want their tax dollars supporting education and health care, not tax breaks for oil companies. They want their representatives in the Capitol voting, not off on lobbyist-sponsored trips around the world.

The system we have in place forces even the most "ethical" of our representatives to be in a position where they have to take money from big business and special interests in order to be elected. They are essentially forced to be "corrupt" even if they don't want to. This system is unfair to Congress and to the American people.

Public financing of elections would allow our representatives to represent us fairly. They can cast the votes that are in the best interest of their constituents, as well as have more time to spend with them, instead of just lobbyists. If we truly want progress in our country, this is a necessary step.

In our newly elected Congress, there are 108 members who are on record as being in favor of full public financing of elections. This is over double what we've seen in the past. Over half of the challengers who defeated incumbents openly supported public financing. Public financing of elections on the federal level has been a dream of many activists for years, but this is the first time that there has really been an opportunity to make it a reality. The new Democratic Congress has the chance to change the American political landscape in a dramatic way. By passing proposed legislation that would put in place full public financing of all federal elections, they can open up the political process in a way that this country has never seen. Not only would it be the answer that these "anti-corruption voters" are looking for, but also it would mean that more women, minorities and non-rich Americans can run for and win high political offices. This change is a necessary step in making a true democracy.

The American people elected Democrats in this election because they wanted real change. They were tired of the way this country is moving, and want it go in a direction that supports their best interests. I hope the Democrats will take this opportunity and use it to improve America.''

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Little (Abortion) Pill that Could

A pill that could show promise in treating breast cancer, depression, and even schizophrenia, might never make it onto the market because it also provides an effective way to induce abortions.

Read more on the AlterNet.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Plan For Iraq I Support

Not too long ago I posted a rant about the need for Americans to get out of Iraq NOW. Although I haven't changed my mind, I realize now that I should have mentioned that such an immediate withdrawal would be part of a responsible plan for Iraq. This is why I support the one proposed by Congressman Dennis Kucinich:

In November of 2006, after an October upsurge in violence in Iraq, the American people moved decisively to reject Republican rule, principally because of the conduct of the war. Democratic leaders well understand we regained control of the Congress because of the situation in Iraq. However, two months later, the Congress is still searching for a plan around which it can unite to hasten the end of US involvement in Iraq and the return home of 140,000 US troops.

There is a compelling need for a new direction in Iraq, one that recognizes the plight of the people of Iraq, the false and illegal basis of the United States war against Iraq, the realities on the ground which make a military resolution of the conflict unrealistic and the urgent responsibility of the United States, which caused the chaos, to use the process of diplomacy and international law to achieve stability in Iraq, a process which will establish peace and stability in Iraq allow our troops to return home with dignity.

The Administration is preparing to escalate the conflict. They intend to increase troop numbers to unprecedented levels, without establishing an ending date for the so-called troop surge. By definition, this escalation means a continuation of the occupation, more troop and civilian casualties, more anger toward the US, more support for the insurgency, more instability in Iraq and in the region, and prolonged civil war at a time when there is a general agreement in the world community that the solution in Iraq must be political not military. Iraq is now a training ground for insurgents who practice against our troops.

What is needed is a comprehensive political process. And the decision is not President Bush's alone to make.

Congress, as a coequal branch of government has a responsibility to assist in the initiation of this process. Congress, under Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution has the war-making power. Congress appropriates funds for the war. Congress does not dispense with its obligation to the American people simply by opposing a troop surge in Iraq.

There are 140,000 troops remaining in Iraq right now. What about them? When will they come home? Why would we leave those troops in Iraq when we have the money to bring them home? Soon the President will ask for more money for the war. Why would Congress appropriate more money to keep the troops in Iraq through the end of President Bush's term, at a total cost of upwards of two trillion dollars and thousands of more troop casualties, when military experts say there is no military solution? Our soldiers stand for us in the field, we must to stand for them in our legislature by bringing them home.

It is simply not credible to maintain that one opposes the war and yet continues to fund it. This contradiction runs as a deep fault line through our politics, undermining public trust in the political process and in those elected to represent the people. If you oppose the war, then do not vote to fund it.

If you have money which can be used to bring the troops home or to prosecute the war, do not say you want to bring the troops home while you appropriate money in a supplemental to keep them in Iraq fighting a war that cannot be won militarily. This is why the Administration should be notified now that Congress will not approve of the appropriations request of up to $160 billion in the spring for the purposes of continuing the occupation and the war. Continuing to fund the war is not a plan. It would represent the continuation of disaster.

The US sent our troops into Iraq without a clear mission. We created a financial, military and moral dilemma for our nation and now we are talking about the Iraq war as our problem. The Iraqis are forgotten. Their country has been destroyed: 650,000 casualties, [based on the Lancet Report which surveyed casualties from March of 2003 to July of 2006] the shredding of the social fabric of the nation, civil war, lack of access to food, shelter, electricity, clean drinking water and health care because this Administration, with the active participation of the Congress, authorized a war without reason, without conscience, without international law.

The US thinks in terms of solving our own military, strategic, logistical, and political problems. The US can determine how to solve our problems, but the Iraqi people will have problems far into the future. This requires an intensive focus on the processes needed to stabilize Iraq. If you solve the Iraqi problem you solve the US problem. Any comprehensive plan for Iraq must take into account as a primary matter the conditions and the needs of the Iraqi people, while providing our nation with a means of righting grievous wrongs and taking steps to regain US credibility and felicity within the world community.

I am offering such a plan today. This plan responds to the concerns of a majority of Americans. On Tuesday, when Congress resumes its work, I will present this plan to leadership and members as the only viable alternative to the Bush Administration's policy of continued occupation and escalation. Congress must know that it cannot and must not stand by and watch our troops and innocent Iraqi civilians die.

These are the elements of the Kucinich Plan:

1. The US announces it will end the occupation, close military bases and withdraw. The insurgency has been fueled by the occupation and the prospect of a long-term presence as indicated by the building of permanent bases. A US declaration of an intention to withdraw troops and close bases will help dampen the insurgency which has been inspired to resist colonization and fight invaders and those who have supported US policy. Furthermore this will provide an opening where parties within Iraq and in the region can set the stage for negotiations towards peaceful settlement.

2. US announces that it will use existing funds to bring the troops and necessary equipment home. Congress appropriated $70 billion in bridge funds on October 1st for the war. Money from this and other DOD accounts can be used to fund the troops in the field over the next few months, and to pay for the cost of the return of the troops, (which has been estimated at between $5 and $7 billion dollars) while a political settlement is being negotiated and preparations are made for a transition to an international security and peacekeeping force.

3. Order a simultaneous return of all US contractors to the United States and turn over all contracting work to the Iraqi government. The contracting process has been rife with world-class corruption, with contractors stealing from the US Government and cheating the Iraqi people, taking large contracts and giving 5% or so to Iraqi subcontractors.

Reconstruction activities must be reorganized and closely monitored in Iraq by the Iraqi government, with the assistance of the international community. The massive corruption as it relates to US contractors, should be investigated by congressional committees and federal grand juries. The lack of tangible benefits, the lack of accountability for billions of dollars, while millions of Iraqis do not have a means of financial support, nor substantive employment, cries out for justice.
It is noteworthy that after the first Gulf War, Iraqis reestablished electricity within three months, despite sanctions. Four years into the US occupation there is no water, nor reliable electricity in Baghdad, despite massive funding from the US and from the Madrid conference. The greatest mystery involves the activities of private security companies who function as mercenaries. Reports of false flag operations must be investigated by an international tribunal.

4. Convene a regional conference for the purpose of developing a security and stabilization force for Iraq. The focus should be on a process which solves the problems of Iraq. The US has told the international community, "This is our policy and we want you to come and help us implement it." The international community may have an interest in helping Iraq, but has no interest in participating in the implementation of failed US policy.

A shift in US policy away from unilateralism and toward cooperation will provide new opportunities for exploring common concerns about the plight of Iraq. The UN is the appropriate place to convene, through the office of the Secretary General, all countries that have interests, concerns and influence, including the five permanent members of the Security Council and the European community, and all Arab nations.

The end of the US occupation and the closing of military bases are necessary preconditions for such a conference. When the US creates a shift of policy and announces it will focus on the concerns of the people of Iraq, it will provide a powerful incentive for nations to participate.
It is well known that while some nations may see the instability in Iraq as an opportunity, there is also an even-present danger that the civil war in Iraq threatens the stability of nations throughout the region. The impending end of the occupation will provide a breakthrough for the cooperation between the US and the UN and the UN and countries of the region. The regional conference must include Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

5. Prepare an international security and peacekeeping force to move in, replacing US troops who then return home. The UN has an indispensable role to play here, but cannot do it as long as the US is committed to an occupation. The UN is the only international organization with the ability to mobilize and the legitimacy to authorize troops.

The UN is the place to develop the process, to build the political consensus, to craft a political agreement, to prepare the ground for the peacekeeping mission, to implement the basis of an agreement that will end the occupation and begin the transition to international peacekeepers. This process will take at least three months from the time the US announces the intention to end the occupation.

The US will necessarily have to fund a peacekeeping mission, which, by definition will not require as many troops. Fifty percent of the peacekeeping troops must come from nations with large Muslim populations. The international security force, under UN direction, will remain in place until the Iraqi government is capable of handling its own security. The UN can field an international security and peacekeeping mission, but such an initiative will not take shape unless there is a peace to keep, and that will be dependent upon a political process which reaches agreement between all the Iraqi parties. Such an agreement means fewer troops will be needed.

According to UN sources, the UN the peacekeeping mission in the Congo, which is four times larger in area than Iraq, required about twenty thousand troops. Finally the UN does not mobilize quickly because they depend upon governments to supply the troops, and governments are slow. The ambition of the UN is to deploy in less than ninety days. However, without an agreement of parties the UN is not likely to approve a mission to Iraq, because countries will not give them troops.

6. Develop and fund a process of national reconciliation. The process of reconciliation must begin with a national conference, organized with the assistance of the UN and with the participation of parties who can create, participate in and affect the process of reconciliation, defined as an airing of all grievances and the creation of pathways toward open, transparent talks producing truth and resolution of grievances. The Iraqi government has indicated a desire for the process of reconciliation to take place around it, and that those who were opposed to the government should give up and join the government. Reconciliation must not be confused with capitulation, nor with realignments for the purposes of protecting power relationships.

For example, Kurds need to be assured that their own autonomy will be regarded and therefore obviate the need for the Kurds to align with religious Shia for the purposes of self-protection. The problem in Iraq is that every community is living in fear. The Shia, who are the majority fear they will not be allowed to government even though they are a majority. The Kurds are afraid they will lose the autonomy they have gained. The Sunnis think they will continue to be made to pay for the sins of Saddam.

A reconciliation process which brings people together is the only way to overcome their fears and reconcile their differences. It is essential to create a minimum of understanding and mutual confidence between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

But how can a reconciliation process be constructed in Iraq when there is such mistrust: Ethnic cleansing is rampant. The police get their money from the US and their ideas from Tehran. They function as religious militia, fighting for supremacy, while the Interior Ministry collaborates. Two or three million people have been displaced. When someone loses a family member, a loved one, a friend, the first response is likely to be that there is no reconciliation.

It is also difficult to move toward reconciliation when one or several parties engaged in the conflict think they can win outright. The Shia, some of whom are out for revenge, think they can win because they have the defacto support of the US. The end of the US occupation will enhance the opportunity for the Shia to come to an accommodation with the Sunnis. They have the oil, the weapons, and support from Iran. They have little interest in reconciling with those who are seen as Baathists.

The Sunnis think they have experience, as the former army of Saddam, boasting half a million people insurgents. The Sunnis have so much more experience and motivation that as soon as the Americans leave they believe they can defeat the Shia government. Any Sunni revenge impulses can be held in check by international peacekeepers. The only sure path toward reconciliation is through the political process. All factions and all insurgents not with al Queda must be brought together in a relentless process which involves Saudis, Turks and Iranians.

7. Reconstruction and Jobs. Restart the failed reconstruction program in Iraq. Rebuild roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and other public facilities, houses, and factories with jobs and job training going to local Iraqis.

8. Reparations. The US and Great Britain have a high moral obligation to enable a peace process by beginning a program of significant reparations to the people of Iraq for the loss of lives, physical and emotional injuries, and damage to property. There should be special programs to rescue the tens of thousands of Iraqi orphans from lives of destitution. This is essential to enable reconciliation.

9. Political Sovereignty. Put an end to suspicions that the US invasion and occupation was influenced by a desire to gain control of Iraq's oil assets by A) setting aside initiatives to privatize Iraqi oil interests or other national assets, and B) by abandoning efforts to change Iraqi national law to facilitate privatization.

Any attempt to sell Iraqi oil assets during the US occupation will be a significant stumbling block to peaceful resolution. The current Iraqi constitution gives oil proceeds to the regions and the central government gets nothing. There must be fairness in the distribution of oil resources in Iraq. An Iraqi National Oil Trust should be established to guarantee the oil assets will be used to create a fully functioning infrastructure with financial mechanisms established protect the oil wealth for the use of the people of Iraq.

10. Iraq Economy. Set forth a plan to stabilize Iraq's cost for food and energy, on par to what the prices were before the US invasion and occupation. This would block efforts underway to raise the price of food and energy at a time when most Iraqis do not have the means to meet their own needs.

11. Economic Sovereignty. Work with the world community to restore Iraq's fiscal integrity without structural readjustment measures of the IMF or the World Bank.

12. International Truth and Reconciliation. Establish a policy of truth and reconciliation between the people of the United States and the people of Iraq. In 2002, I led the effort in the House of Representatives challenging the Bush Administration's plans to go to war in Iraq. I organized 125 Democrats to vote against the Iraq war resolution. The analysis I offered at that time stands out in bold relief for its foresight when compared to the assessments of many who today aspire to national leadership. Just as the caution I urged four years ago was well-placed, so the plan I am presenting today is workable, and it responds to the will of the American people, expressed this past November. This is a moment for clarity and foresight. This is a moment to take a new direction in Iraq. One with honor and dignity. One which protects our troops and rescues Iraqi civilians. One which repairs our relationship with Iraqis and with the world.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dreaming with Diderot

(An edited version of this essay was published in the 50th anniversary issue of New Scientist magazine in December)

J. Hughes

The Enlightenment idea that we can build a better future for ourselves is still young, and still lighting fires around the world. As Enlightenment ideas have spread since the seventeenth century they have ignited struggles for religious tolerance, freedom of scientific enquiry, democratic government and individual liberty. The battle for the Enlightenment, for progress itself, is still being fought, and now the battlefront has reached our gametes and neurons.

The idea that we should use technology to transcend the limitations of the human body and brain was dubbed "transhumanism" by the biologist Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous. Huxley believed that "the human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself" through an "evolutionary humanism." But transhumanism, improving on the human form and not just our social institutions, was implicit in the Enlightenment from its beginning, from Denis Diderot, Jean de Condorcet, William Godwin and Robert Boyle to Benjamin Franklin and Tom Paine.

In 1769, Diderot, editor of the Encyclopédie, wrote three whimsical essays known as "D'Alembert's Dream" recounting imaginary dialogues between himself, his friend d'Alembert, a cultured lady friend, and a physician. In these dialogues Diderot proposes that, since human consciousness is a product of brain matter, the conscious mind can be deconstructed and put back together. Science will bring the dead back to life. Animals and machines can be redesigned into intelligent creatures, and humanity can redesign itself into a great variety of types "whose changes and whose future and final organic structure it's impossible to predict."

It seems likely that this century will see Diderot's prescience confirmed. In the coming decades, as pharmacology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and biotechnology converge, life spans will extend well beyond a century. Our senses will extend to perceive sights, sounds and sensations beyond our current abilities. We will remember more of our lives, with greater fidelity. We will master fatigue, arousal and attention, and give ourselves more working intelligence. We will have greater control over our emotions, and be less subject to depression, compulsion and mental illness.

Our bodies and brains will be surrounded by and merged with computer power which itself will become as, or more, powerful than our brains. As we merge machines into our minds we will indeed be deconstructed and put back together. We will use these technologies to redesign ourselves, our children and animals, into varieties of intelligent life impossible to predict.

For the last three hundred years, the idea that humans should take creative responsibility to improve the works of the Intelligent Designer, whether monarchies or reproductive biology, has been resisted by religious conservatives, political authoritarians and romantic defenders of an idyllic past. In today's debate over the future of human evolution these diverse voices from left and right have joined in a bioconservative alliance to oppose life extension and human enhancement technologies. For bioconservatives attempts to acquire radically longer lives, healthier bodies or quicker brains are hubristic flights from God, consumer capitalist false consciousness, neo-eugenic Brave New World-ism or Faustian pacts with the techno-industrial age. For these critics of the Enlightenment becoming more than human threatens "human dignity" and is doomed to disaster.

As Diderot prefigured, central to this emerging biopolitics is the debate over whether mind is unique to human beings, whether "human" is a meaningful moral category. For Enlightenment partisans mind is an emergent property of matter, and "human" is a constantly evolving category with indistinct borders. Our accidental gift of mind is shared to various extents with our mammal cousins and recent ancestors. If we and our fellow citizens make ourselves more than human, wherever that line might lie, and if our society is joined by intelligent animals or machines, this would not be an untenable abomination but an enrichment of our diversity. Bioconservatives reject this future diversity since only humans can have rights, and our culture and polity depends on human-racial unity and purity.

Between the distracting extremes of naïve techno-utopianism and bioconservative bans on emerging technologies there are many legitimate questions about the risks of tinkering. One challenge is to ensure that access to enhancement technologies is widely distributed so that we are not fractured by the emergence of an enhanced elite. Universal access to enhancement may seem impossible in our grossly unequal world. But there are grounds for optimism.

Some enhancement technologies will probably be cheap. Gene therapies or pharmaceuticals to suppress aging and repair the body and brain could be as inexpensive to distribute as condoms, mosquito nets and vaccines. Of course, though within reach, the world's poor don't yet have the condoms, mosquito nets and vaccines they need, so it can seem perilously foolish to propose that they have a right to life extension and brain boosters. Yet, ten years ago, when anti-retroviral therapies for HIV cost $40,000 a year, it was inconceivable that we would now have billions of dollars in a Global Fund to make those therapies available to people living on a dollar a day. The response to the challenge of global access to HIV treatment was not to ban antiretrovirals in the North, but to force pharmaceutical companies to accommodate humanitarian need, to develop cheaper therapies, and to invest in the health systems of the South. We will need the same policies to ensure access to enhancement technologies, from $100 laptops to gene therapies to cybernetic implants.

Even if enhancement therapies aren't cheap, their social benefits will generally make them cost-effective. Diderot bids d'Alembert goodnight by saying "Give a man, I don't say immortality, but only twice his lifespan, and you'll see what'll happen." As the Baby Boomers pass into their seventies in the developed countries, with shrinking numbers of children taking their place in the workforce, our health care and pension systems will stagger. If aging-related diseases and disabilities can be postponed by therapies that slow aging and repair the brain the graying of society will be far less traumatic. Spending one or two percent more of the GDP to develop anti-aging therapies and guarantee their universal accessibility would then be an overall economic necessity.

Similarly, the burdens of cognitive deficits such as dementia, addiction, and mental illness will make universal access to cognitive enhancement therapies an obvious choice. Yet these same neurotechnologies also have grave risks. In Diderot's dialogues his sleeping friend d'Alembert muses that human beings could devolve into "large, inert, and immobile sediment." In other words we could, through accident or intention, lose faculties we value, such as our capacities for empathy, creativity, awe or calm reflection. Some addictive drugs, like methamphetamine, rewire the brain to focus on only the next fix, while hormones and neurotransmitters can manipulate our feelings and interests. We need guidelines and policies to steer human evolution away from dead ends of radical selfishness and addictive absorption, and towards greater sociability, self-awareness and reason. Even self-chosen brain engineering could make us all less than human, and we need instead to encourage one another to enhance the virtues that we value.

Diderot's third dialogue addresses another bioconservative anxiety, the hybridization of humans and animals. Blurring the line between humans and animals violates deep taboos, stirring visions of the Minotaur and the Island of Dr. Moreau. U.S. President Bush and the Church of Scotland have both called for a ban on hybrids. Such a ban would profoundly harm biomedical research, which uses animals with human genes and tissues to explore cures for many diseases.

There is, however, also a legitimate concern in human-animal hybrid research. At what point do hybrids acquire human level rights? D'Alembert's physician proposes the creation of a race of goat-men to liberate humans from drudgery. But why would it be more moral to enslave goat-men any more than other humans? Perhaps Diderot anticipated this objection since the final line in the dialogue notes that a French Cardinal had proposed to baptize an orangutan if only it would speak.

In fact the Spanish government is about to extend fundamental "human rights" laws to include great apes. Opponents argue that apes should not have rights because they do not display human levels of thought and culture. So what if apes were given human-level mental faculties through genetic engineering? Would there still be any objections to full enfranchisement? Now that we have the full genomes of humans and apes sequenced, and have identified the key genetic differences that differentiate our brains, this is an imminent possibility. The moral status of such an ape would be one of the starkest lines dividing the human-racists from the Enlightened.

Diderot also proposes the possibility of a sentient and living keyboard, a clavichord that might reproduce. While Diderot appears untroubled by the prospect, of all the risks posed by emerging technologies emergent machine minds are perhaps the greatest. In Diderot's dialogue the cultured lady suggests that, as the mind is connected by nerves to the body, all minds are connected to one another and the rest of the universe through sensitive fibers like a giant spider's web. The doctor responds that if minds that expansive were to exist there would be "an epidemic of good and evil geniuses" and "the constant laws of nature would be interrupted by natural agents." The capacity for apocalyptic chaos from self-willed intelligence rising out of our exponentially accumulating web of machines surely rivals the risks of climate change and bioterrorism. Staying ahead of this potentially apocalyptic "Singularity" will require that we merge with our web, our exocortex, spreading our minds across multiple bodies and machines, to become smarter and faster, to remain the web's weavers and not its ensnared victims.

If we defend liberal society and use science, democratic deliberation and prudent regulation to navigate these challenges, we have a shot at an inconceivably transcendent future, where we leave behind this pupal stage of humanity. Dreaming d'Alembert imagines humanity splitting apart to form separate cocoons, each distilling particular human traits - magistrates, philosophers, poets - and each birthing its own distinct butterflies. "Who knows what new race could result some day from such a huge heap of sensitive and living points?" We can become a new species of great diversity, united in fraternité by our shared appreciation of the preciousness of self-awareness in a vast, dark universe. This is the positive vision of the Enlightenment, each of us reaching our fullest technologically enabled potentials while living as one tolerant, abundant, democratic society.

Still, the skeptic asks, to what end? Why risk the path to posthumanity? What projects would we pursue with our immortal bodies, boundless minds, and sublime senses? Just as our Paleolithic ancestors could not have anticipated our great cities, our arts and machines, or our spiritual traditions, so we cannot now imagine the grandeur of the accomplishments of our posthuman descendents. The cultured lady in the dialogue imagines taking apart the mind of a genius for storage, and then reconstructing it later to see " memory, comparison, judgment, reason, desires, aversions, passions, natural aptitude, and talent reborn." Perhaps our descendents will use nanotechnology to turn whole planets into intelligent, living stuff, each atom a processor in a planet-sized mind, conscious of the fall of every sparrow and capable of preserving the memories of every life. In such a world our personal identities could continue for billions of years.

When D'Alembert wakes he asks "if everything is a universal flux, as the panorama of the universe demonstrates to me everywhere, what would the changes in a time span of a few million centuries produce here and elsewhere? Who knows what a thinking, feeling being is on Saturn?" Perhaps our descendents will reach out to find the other far-scattered forms of intelligence in our galaxy, and begin engineering the universe to stop its racing expansion to heat death. Or, as Michio Kaku suggests, perhaps they will build a new, more congenial universe and migrate there.

Whatever our descendents' projects they – and perhaps some of us - will look back on our lives today with the wonder, pity and gratitude that we feel for our Paleolithic ancestors. As our ancestors left their caves to build farms and cities, we must now take conscious rational control of our biological destiny and grow to reach the stars.