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The Community Delusion: “We” are not the world.
Rene Milan   Jul 14, 2016   Ethical Technology  

Over the last few decades one hears the term ‘community’ bandied about with increasing frequency.  The most quoted is in my anecdotal memory the ‘black community’.  One also often hears about the ‘gay community’ and more recently the ‘lgbt (or lgbtq) community’.

In order to verify this I just googled these terms with the following results:

  • black                                   918,000,000
  • african american                 152,000,000
  • gay                                      246,000,000
  • lgbt                                      24,400,000

Of course the number of hits includes not just the combination of terms but each one individually and perhaps other criteria, so the actual numbers in terms of adherents to these ‘communities’ will be much lower, but it is safe to assume that the proportions will be similar.  While there is probably not much difference between ‘black’ and ‘african american’ other than the number of syllables in the descriptors, there is a clear difference between ‘gay’ and ‘lbgt’ in that the latter contains the former.

But who or what are these, and other, communities, and what is it that distinguishes them as such ?  Perhaps because of my German background in sociology I have generally followed Tönnies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society) which he defines as follows: “Community should always be understood as a living organism, society as a mechanical aggregate and artefact”.  If this definition is still useful in 2016 is of course debatable[1], as is the question of the corresponding semantics in English speaking sociology.

A perfunctory search on “difference between society and community” resulted in several hits of varying quality 1, 2, 3, 4, which have one thing in common with Tönnies and each other, namely that according to these definitions or descriptions the four examples of “communities” mentioned above

do not qualify.  One of the more interesting treatments of the concept of community that I came across is presented by California State University in Bakersfield in a PowerPoint presentation (download or online).  Its definition of community:

Community is a population whose members;

  • Consciously identify with each other
    • May occupy common territory
    • Engage in common activities
    • Have some form of organization that provides for differentiation of functions, which allows the community to adapt to its environment, thereby meeting the needs of its components.
  • Components include the persons, groups, families and organizations within its population and the institutions it forms to meet its needs

Upon reflection I find that both this contemporary concept and Tönnies’ classical definition are missing the basic condition of the element of intention in joining, or declaring oneself to be part of, any community.  One often is assumed to be part of a certain community merely by virtue of sharing certain characteristics with those who indeed are part of it; in my case, having lived in many countries, I at times was mistakenly seen as part of an “expat community”.

Admittedly there is not always such a conscious step involved.  Someone born into a medieval village, which would probably be closely matching Tönnies’ ideal of a community, is not asked but joined by birth.  But even he can sooner or later decide to remain or else to leave, even just internally as in a kind of inner exile.

The above quoted presentation concludes with the words:

The communitarian viewpoint is attractive.

It reestablishes community as the focal system in the effort to bring a sense of belonging to the atomized society of the United States.

To emphasize mutual obligation among its citizens.

And this appears to be the reason why the notion of community has such strong currency: it feels good to be part of a community, even if this community is largely an imagined one.  The 1985 song “We are the world”, well intentioned as it probably was, is a perfect example of this kind of wishful thinking. 

What or who is this “we” expressing such a strong and futile claim ?  The song writers ?  The performers or producers ?  It seems more likely that the intention was to create an imaginary “we” that included the audience, and in addition all those whom the members of the audience deemed sympathetic to the cause (hunger relief for Africa).  And like so often this approach was fairly successful despite the hype being far removed from reality.  Similarly the “we” in Obama’s 2008 electoral slogan “yes we can” was apparently a somewhat successful attempt to create a feeling of unity among his supporters and it probably helped creating a level of enthusiasm that was soon lost again.  Implicitly this usage of “we” creates of course a non-we, or “they”.  Bush 43 was merely a recent example of a long tradition when in 2001 he made this explicit in proclaiming that "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."  None of the people I know, myself included, would have then or now agreed with that view which since has shown itself to be a fallacy.

Besides this ‘sense of belonging’ the quote also describes the emphasis on mutual obligation implied by the communitarian viewpoint as attractive, and this constitutes the rationale for my position that true community requires choice.  People simply drafted into communal participation are unlikely to fulfil their ‘obligations’ in the expected manner.

Propaganda

The above quoted CSUB definition includes “engage in common activities”, but does not address directly the purpose of these activities.  In a classic rural community this would obviously be the facilitation of living together, exchanging goods and services, providing common protection, and agreeing on future developments.

Likewise do societies, such as cities, regions, states and international organisations, have purposes that are deriving directly from their raison d'être.  However the translation of these purposes into specific activities or policies is never undertaken by the community or society in question as a whole.  Delegation or usurpation of power are the commonly applied procedures to this end.

This is where propaganda is used in order to attain agreement with the proposed policies, in true but extremely rare democracies by itself, besides psychological factors such as trust and familiarity, in other systems such as most existing today in combination with physical coercion in varying proportion. 

Transhumanist Community

Of more specific interest to the readers of this medium will be the question of a “transhumanist community” which is also what motivates me to write about this.

Readers may remember last autumn’s controversy which was triggered by Hank Pelissier’s article in IEET at the end of September last year in which he publicly declared his dissatisfaction with and resignation from TPUS (the U.S. based Transhumanist Party run by Zoltan Istvan).   This article was about a week later on Oct. 4, after the controversy had begun, wisely deleted from this site, but republished on T-net where it still sits.    

But the controversy erupted after two “xtian transhumanists” (Cannon and Benek) used the opportunity to create and push the petition "Transhumanists Disavow Zoltan Istvan Candidacy for US Presidency" on or before 2015-09-30, with the initial aim of accumulating 1000 signatures, which was a couple weeks later reduced to 100, that is now, eight months later, still sitting out there at 95.  

This "petition to disavow", which was clearly a failed attempt to control or influence the movement by religious ideology, was then advertised on Cannon's own site on 2015-10-02 and in several facebook groups. 

Benek posted it too, of all places in "Rational Transhumanism", as early as 2015-10-01, so it appears to have been a coordinated action.  As far as I know only those two were pushing this divisive initiative.  To quote Benek: "Looks like the wheels are coming off the bus... In this case I think that that is a good thing. I have tried to warn folks of this tyranny for some time now. I am proud of the folks who are taking a stand. Please sign and demonstrate your desire for a better kind of transhumanism. A transhumanism that is for the betterment of ALL of humanity."  The "tyranny" consists in not accepting the old and tired xtian fairy tales poorly disguised as xtian or mormon "transhumanism".  

While the controversy played out over the next week or two I participated on three forums: the Rational Transhumanism group linked above, the Global Transhumanist Association and the Posthuman Network (as the latter pages have been recently removed from FB I reposted the content here).   Unsurprisingly in this context the idea of a “transhumanist community” was thrown around repeatedly.

A typical example is the following quote: “This is the H+ community protecting and defending itself from a johnny-come-lately who hijacked (the) H+ (community) and is using it to promote himself and serve his personal political ambitions and aspirations on the back of our community.”  The same writer added: “this is not infighting but a community defending itself, justified to fully undo a wrong that has been done to it.”  Another at least tried to define the “transhumanist community” albeit in a facile and invalid manner by equating it with, or at least making it conditional upon, an assumed consensus among certain individuals: “If Natasha Vita-More, Max More, Hank Pellissier and Peter Rothman and Adam Ford are opposed to an ostensibly transhumanist initiative, I'd have to say it hasn't got the support of the transhumanist community”.

I clearly take the opposite position, perceiving this as an attempt to diminish the reputation and influence of an explicit but in no way militant or intolerant atheist within the transhumanist movement by xtian “transhumanists” with the objective to further their own brands which are according to the latest (2012) data currently available to me representing less than 10% of self described transhumanists of whom over 80% declared themselves to be non religious. However I do not create the fiction of a “transhumanist community” of which one can be part or not in order to argue against what I perceive to be an agenda that runs counter to transhumanist principles.  As there is no official certification or qualification for being a “transhumanist” anyone can claim the description and it is the choice of the observer to take such claims serious or not. 

While I understand how easy and perhaps convenient it is for someone who dedicates his time and efforts to the pursuit of transhumanist causes and in collaboration with others equally dedicated, to assume and maintain the idea of a transhumanist community, which might indeed meet the criteria listed by Brint above (footnote i), there clearly is no such thing as the transhumanist community which is shown by the controversy itself as well as by the way it petered out and remained essentially unresolved.  As is the case for the initially mentioned black and gay communities there may be specific and functional transhumanist communities that may or may not be compatible, connected and even overlapping with each other to certain degrees, the idea of a global or overarching transhumanist community remains a fiction usually created and maintained for political reasons.

This raises the next questions: could and should there be such a thing as a global transhumanist community ?

No and yes.

The no is quite obvious: given that transhumanism is not a clearly defined or protected term and the many forms it can take among its adherents as shown by the above quoted terasem survey, and the IEET’s Technoprogressives survey from 2013, as well as by a series of attempts to categorise its variants, beginning with James Hughes’ “Politics of Transhumanism” and continuing to a more recent one by Brendan Foht, people with such diverse philosophies, attitudes and practices can obviously not agree with each other to the degree required by any of the above definitions to constitute an undivided “community”. 

As for the yes: when Zoltan Istvan almost two years ago triggered the in my view long overdue emergence of global political transhumanism this situation changed.  Political parties are the currently required vehicles for direct participation in electoral politics in most countries and by their nature require a high degree of internal coherence maintained by party discipline.  This coherence tends to meet many of the above listed criteria for constituting communities.  And despite the fact that supranational organisations have sprung up that claim to represent a common party line of values and goals, such as the Transhumanist Party Virtual, and the Transhumanist Party (Global) which states its mission: “To facilitate cooperation between national-level Transhumanist Parties and continental TP organisations, and to enable party members worldwide to interact directly regardless of which national parties they support”, I foresee a time when transhumanism  will have become such an inescapable proposition that several variants of transhumanist parties will compete with each other, probably without the need to include the TH label in their names at all, assuming that the political process will even still be based on electoral and party politics at that time.

Terrestrial Community

The most statistically significant split affecting the transhumanist movement is clearly the one between the various “democratic”, which apparently constitute a majority, versus “libertarian”, which constitute the largest minority, variants of transhumanism.  The “Overview of Biopolitics” lists a number of specific issues and indicates the relative positions taken by the libertarian and the technoprogressive camps. 

While there are probably a number of dimensions underlying this picture it seems likely that one spanning the polarity of individual-communal beneficiality is an important one.  Five years ago Yochai Benckler wrote in a piece called “The Unselfish Gene”:

“Dozens of field studies have identified cooperative systems, many of which are more stable and effective than incentive-based ones. Evolutionary biologists and psychologists have found neural and possibly genetic evidence of a human predisposition to cooperate, which I shall describe below. After years of arguments to the contrary, there is growing evidence that evolution may favor people who cooperate and societies that include such individuals.”

While the salient term here is “may”, and while the examples he cites as manifestations of this unselfish gene are extremely questionable – there are many different motivations ranging from exhibitionism through aggression release and longing for belonging to true helpfulness underlying models such as Facebook, Trip Advisor and even Wikipedia – history and biology show clearly that both poles are operative.  Cooperation among humans takes place before a background of a system which looks like nothing more than institutionalised greed, and macaque mothers drop their babies during periods of food shortage in order to preserve nutrition needed for their own survival.  The idea that genetic constitution predetermines actual behaviour is questionable, and that it can serve to justify it is unconvincing, even without taking into consideration that it is increasingly subject to modification.

If one accepts as given that the current status of human evolution does neither predetermine an inclination toward communal or individualistic social models nor is unalterable anyway, it becomes clear that finding a desirable point on this polarity axis remains a matter of choice.  How then is this choice being made ?

I learned early, in fact in childhood, that exposure to society and especially its human representatives is not always beneficial and consequently embarked on a way of life that allowed me to limit this exposure as much as possible within the necessities of physical survival.  In practice that means that I divide humans into three categories: one with whom I try to avoid contact, another with whom I maintain contact for reasons of expediency and a third with whom I maintain contact because I enjoy doing so; the latter I call friends, a group which may or may not include family relations.  The naiveté of my early years led me to cherish the belief that with the right attitude it might be possible to establish friendly relations with everybody, something that I still consider theoretically possible, but which soon proved to be futile in practice.  These considerations and practices have led me to a situation in which the choice I make, again theoretically, is a twofold one: I accept and desire communal relations, which include the sharing of time and space, physical and mental domains, goods and services, and all the compromises this entails, while I reject and try to avoid any relations with people and institutions whom I do not like and whose values I do not share.

The latter attitude is a purely defensive one:  I am simply not willing to live by values and standards with which I disagree.  When I used to live in California over thirty years ago friends and I used to indulge in the stoned fantasy that the next big earthquake might separate us physically from the mainland and enable us to establish a sovereign entity out of reach of the established powers.  This fantasy was developed by some into more realistic models of seasteading which is also the foundation of Transhumania in Istvan’s novel.  And barring evolutionary setbacks and derailings (post)humans will soon be able to swarm and establish alternative social models in relative independence from each other outside the solar system, a situation that I look forward to considering that there may be more than one and in fact a multitude of such systems viable under and suitable for different conditions.    

This might strike some as a purely libertarian attitude but by current definitions of that term it is not.  Libertarians tend to believe that it is “inherent” in human nature to be more interested in and motivated by one’s own survival and then conclude that because of this, unproven and even often contradicted, assumption this may also be desirable and the optimal social model.  Likewise “progressive” or “social democratic” transhumanists, and others, tend to make the opposite assumptions that the tendency toward cooperation is a “naturally” determined trait which eo ipso makes it optimal and desirable.  The above quoted “Unselfish Gene” is a typical example of this thinking.

In reality there are currently more than seven billion human genomes in circulation and no two are alike.  There is no genetic imperative - and no historically observable society can be located at one or the other end of the spectrum but they are found to be occupying areas along it, perhaps following the function of a normal distribution - for preferring an individuality centered social model over a communality centered one, and if there was, any true transhumanist would immediately see it as subject to modification and “improvement”.  What would actually constitute improvement is of course an issue of constant discussion among transhumanists.  

But social entities, from societies to communities, do not exist in isolation, and the ever changing historic environmental and social conditions are what has been shaping current human genetics and memetics.  Transhumanists are aware of the fact that technology is enabling (post)humans to expand these historic conditions towards creating interstellar laboratories in which completely new forms of “social” interaction or its absence or restriction can be developed, explored and researched.  And change can be approached from both ends:  by modifying behaviour (including thought and emotion, morphology and physiology, and ”biology” itself, or by changing the environmental conditions of a habitat to match any given mode of existence.

Evolution of Community

Having observed transhumanist discourse over the decades I identify a fairly common belief in directional evolution towards greater communality.  Human biology, defining procreation as sexual and thus demanding at least some kind of partnership, however fleeting, for continuance, and human history, manifesting a tendency to growth in numbers with resulting ever tighter integration, both seem to point toward an ever increasing importance of communal activity and in turn of communal benefit.

“Networking” is currently a favourite concept among and beyond transhumanists, and it involves giving up part of one’s independence in exchange for the benefits derived from the power of the many, and in combination with the popular redefinition of what exactly it is that is and should be promoted, enhanced and extended, namely a notion of “intelligence” which is assumed to be much more robust than fragile life, leads to ideas like those of cosmists (who identify intelligence with traditional concepts of “spirit”), like Jupiter Brains and like Tipler’s Omega Point.  But even among less extravagant transhumanists there seem to prevail utopian ideas of some kind of ultimate arrangement along the lines of Rodney King’s demand: “Why can’t we all just get along ?”.  

Human history seems to confirm the trend towards ever greater cooperation and communality.  A large part of the success of the human species is doubtless due to its language capacities which in turn makes large scale cooperation possible, and resulting ever more complex technologies push further towards integration.   But on Terra this trend predates “civilisation” by at least three billion years when the first pluri- and multicellular organism resulted from single cells joining together in colonies, giving up independence and even longevity in turn for the complexity that allows (post)humans to venture beyond this planet.  This advance however has by no means diminished the viability of unicellular life on Terra.  According to Gould:

Not only does the Earth contain more bacterial organisms than all others combined (scarcely surprising, given their minimal size and mass); not only do bacteria live in more places and work in a greater variety of metabolic ways; not only did bacteria alone constitute the first half of life's history, with no slackening in diversity thereafter; but also, and most surprisingly, total bacterial biomass (even at such minimal weight per cell) may exceed all the rest of life combined, even forest trees, once we include the subterranean populations as well.  Need any more be said in making a case for the modal bacteria as life's constant center of maximal influence and importance?

And despite the obvious reasons, which I shall discuss shortly below, for driving forward integration among humans and of humans with the rest of the planet, they are still divided, presumably genetically and certainly memetically, into individuals, families, tribes, “communities”, nations, classes, religions, “races”, ideologies etc (incidentally I am writing this as the results of the U.K. referendum on EU membership are coming in).

Thus neither history nor biology – or chemistry, which shows vastly greater abundance and stability of lighter elements versus more complex ones – make compelling cases for an assumed inevitability of cooperation, communality or complexity, which leaves the (post)human complex entity, and currently the transhumanist in particular, with nothing but the freedom of choice.

This choice however is final, in its temporal effects in that once made it and they can not be reversed, but also ever changing, in that the external and internal factors continuously shaping it are always in flux.  Most people are familiar with both, the desire for extreme, even complete, solitude and that for company to the point of losing oneself (one’s self) in it, and anything in between.  This simple fact in itself points to the conclusion that the pursuit of one presumably optimal model of social organisation is futile.   

On one end of the range of possible or for now just thinkable social models is solitude, but because the idea of a closed system is merely a mental concept without existence in physical reality, solitude can only be approximated, and not even “dead” systems stop exchanging energy with their environments.  On the other end of the range the aggregations and associations of individuals tend towards “communified” networks to the point of their constituents losing the possibility of individual survival, as is the case for most specialised cells within a body, and perhaps their “awareness” of their individual existence if there is such a thing to begin with.   As this whole area is only just beginning to be opened up for objective investigation there is still much room for speculation.  Does a bee as part of a hive mind still retain an awareness of its individual existence and of the suicide being committed, of a sacrifice performed, for the greater good of the swarm, when it stings an attacker ?  Does a leukocyte retain even an echo of the motivation for its behaviour or just blindly follow a genetic program ?

Over the last three decades it has become increasingly popular to deny the existence of “free will”.  This of course is based on a (disingenuous?) reinterpretation of free will as meaning to imply independence from environmental factors such as the laws of nature, which is an absurd notion of course.  However free will in common language usage refers merely to the notion of choice.  One can choose to drink a beer or a tea, assuming that both are in, or can easily be brought into, reach.  Of course from a deterministic viewpoint this choice can also be declared to be just a delusion as with the collapse of the wave function the choice becomes inescapable.  But if free will is an illusion so is identity, in fact the two are inseparable.  Identity does not need to be “true” in order to be useful.  What is important is that acting as if it was true has turned out to be successful survival behaviour and thus the trait of operating under its assumption has been favoured by selection.  If one has the choice of reacting to a vital threat chances of individual survival are higher than otherwise and without choice there is no need for identity.

In a recent piece with the (unfortunate) title “Why the Good Guys Will Generally Win” Ben Goertzel is starting from “three values that I have identified as core to the Cosmist value system (the variety of human value system that appeals to me most, and that I think has the greatest growth and survival path for the future): Joy, Growth and Choice” and goes on to conclude in his own words:

  1. Joyful systems will tend to grow better than non-joyful systems, because joy fosters generosity which fosters collective intelligence driving superrationality
  2. Choiceful systems will tend to grow better than non-choiceful systems, because choice fosters diverse pattern generations
  3. Growing systems will tend to prevail over non-growing ones, because they will tend to grab up the universe's finite resources more rapidly

In my view the first two of these values are merely functions of attraction, objects of desirability which again varies among individuals and over time.  About Joy Ben says: “That is basic goodness.  Who can argue with joy?” – but he might be surprised.  There could well be entities capable of experiencing joy yet uninterested in pursuing it, and there are probably those not capable of experiencing it, depending on one’s definition of joy.  On Growth he argues that without it a non-complex universe defined merely by Joy would amount to no more than “one big fuzzy orgasm” and that: “from my point of view as a complex cognitive system, I'm not satisfied with that, and I want to see new patterns keep getting created.  Growth is creativity, it's evolution, it's life.”  While I share his experience of being attracted to both, others may not.  But whatever it may be one is attracted to, it may turn into a source of frustration unless the choice to pursue it actually exists or at least appears to exist.  Choice thus becomes a metavalue at least for entities with the capacity for conceptualising ego.

From Delusion to Illusion ?

So far I have here looked at how the term community is, at times falsely and often in the service of political agendas, commonly used, at the continuum between the theoretical poles of total separation and complete unity and how reality takes place between, not at, these poles, and at how and why choice and flexibility remain operative principles when it comes to social model preferences.  These considerations took place within a fairly unrestrained thought space.

In reality however I find myself under some quite severe restraints.  Behavioural traits encoded during and fit for the long palaeolithic dawn of civilisation are still practiced, promoted and celebrated under the guise of various “thought” traditions such as nationalism, capitalism, religion, patriarchism etc, and their effects amplified by galloping technology.  This has led civilisation towards a state of precarity characterised by a lack of forces or instruments ready to deal with largely human made threats such as rising inequalities and already occurring responses (upheavals and wars), environmental changes further exacerbating those inequalities, and the real and imagined threats deriving from technology (rogue AI, Grey Goo) or lack thereof (disease, extraterrestrial impact).

Any of these possible events have the potential to set back the current state of evolution on Terra as measured by the prevalence of active intelligence by centuries or more, and those who like me are interested in avoiding such a possibility must understand the reasons for the current predicament and find ways to resolve it.

None of these issues can be successfully addressed by individuals, private or public organisations or businesses, or even nation states, in anything less than a sustained and globally coordinated effort;  what is needed, at least for the near future until intelligence will have left the planetary confinement, is a common (communal) understanding of the current problems and agreement on attempts to resolve them.  While I still cherish the idea of choice above all others, and keep looking forward to being able to choose any kind of lifestyle with or without any likeminded other individuals within relatively stable environments and for any length of time, reason dictates that if evolutionary setback is to be avoided this choice has to be temporarily suspended.  Of course this desire to avoid a major conflagration is also subject to modifiable choice.

Many years ago when my Spanish was even much poorer than now I was surprised to hear a friend talk about his dream (in a MLK sense) as his “ilusión”.  Unlike in English where the meaning of illusion is close to that of delusion (mistaking a fantasy for reality) the term literally merely denotes “playing in”, and the many meanings of the German term “einspielen” indicate that it refers to a process initiated consciously and intentionally.  While deluding oneself is by definition an activity that lessens the probability of success of any agent’s interaction with the rest of the world because it delivers unreliable data as the basis for action, it is possible and at times desirable to intentionally create an illusion, here that of community, which can serve as a device facilitating successful action.

Conclusion

“We”, the most overused and underdefined personal pronoun in public discourse, do not exist except in the most temporary configurations.  It can refer to members of a nation, a religion, subculture, social class or group, institution, race, species etc, but none of these are coherent or particularly stable.  Even within communities where there is no evidence of the retention of an awareness of individual identity, such as multicellular organisms, individual members can revert to apparently earlier and more basic programming when they become cancerous and neglect the communal purpose of survival.

But purpose oriented communities can be intentionally created as shared mental concepts and made operationally effective, and those who value the continuation of evolution of intelligence on and from this planet are advised to create these communities on a global level and avoid indulging in currently unrealistic dreams of libertarian independence.  But then again perhaps alternative ways to create and distribute intelligence not involving humans or even this planet will turn out to be more promising.

Notes: 

[1] In his 2001 paper “Gemeinschaft Revisited: A Critique and Reconstruction” Steven Brint distinguishes two lines of development in the ‘community’ concept, the second and more relevant one deriving from Durkheim as laid out in “Suicide” (1897) and in “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” (1911):

Durkheim’s “disaggregated approach” of four structural variables and two cultural variables

structural

  • dense and demanding social ties
  • social attachments to and involvements in institutions
  • ritual occasions
  • small group size

cultural

  • perceptions of similarity with the physical characteristics, expressive style, way of life, or historical experience of others
  • common beliefs in an idea system, a moral order, an institution, or a group

It is noteworthy that neither by this nor by Brint’s own definition the above mentioned examples qualify.

René Milan is a sociologist, clinical psychologist, transpersonal psychotherapist and a software consultant. He has lived and worked in a dozen countries across the globe and currently resides in Jerez de la Frontera with his wife. He has studied and practiced occultism and in particular Thelema for 50 years and has been a (psychedelic) transhumanist since the 70s and a member of WTA (humanity+) since 2002. He is an affiliate scholar of IEET (Institute for Emerging Technologies). His motto: “Abrogate are all rituals”.



COMMENTS

Hi Rene. Here are a couple thoughts regarding the portion of your article in which you mention me.

First, it’s not clear to me that the petition failed by the measurement you propose, which is the number of signatories. Do you know of any evidence that more than one hundred explicitly self-identified Transhumanists support Zoltan’s candidacy? I don’t. If such comes to my attention, I’ll agree with you that the petition failed by that measurement.

By another measurement, which is personally more important, the petition is a success in that it provides me (and others who care) with a clear way of demonstrating the claim that Zoltan’s candidacy is controversial among Transhumanists, to the contrary of how it has often been presented in mainstream press.

Would I have liked to get 1000 signatories? Yes! But 95, including several prominent names, seems sufficient for my claim. It may even be sufficient for a stronger claim, but no one seems to be able to quantify explicit Transhumanist support for Zoltan’s candidacy. Some suggested that the 400-something Facebook likes on a post disagreeing with the petition should suffice. That measurement fails in light of the 400-something Facebook likes on my related blog post. So it seems to me that explicitly self-identifying Transhumanists are quite divided on this issue, which is precisely what I set out to show via the petition.

Why? Because I want to promote a religious agenda, as you claim? In part, yes, although hardly as diabolical as you make it sound. I want more religious persons to recognize that Transhumanism is compatible with their religions. Zoltan, as characterized to me by persons advising him and as reflected in several articles he published, wants to grow Transhumanism by appealing to anti-religious sentiment (which, importantly, is not the same as atheism). I believe his interest would be a major strategic mistake for Transhumanism, which leads me to my second thought about your article.

Second, your characterization of religion (“old and tired ... fairy tales”) is sophomoric. There’s a long list of things I don’t like about religion and religious institutions. So I sympathize with the emotions that inform your characterization. However, even granting the controversial notion that religion is mere fantasy, it would be a practical mistake to operate under the implied assumption that religious adherents are becoming irrelevant.

The latest studies of world trends in religion show that it’s alive and well. And the religiously unaffiliated are projected to decrease as a share of world population. According to Pew, the unaffiliated are presently 16% and on track to 13% by 2050. In the meantime, Islam is projected to catch up with Christianity in share of global population.

Although some Transhumanists may live in bubbles of pure non-religiosity, most of humanity lives with varying degrees of religiosity affecting many aspects of their lives. And apparently that’s going to become increasingly the case, unless Transhumanism relegates itself to the marginal bubbles.

So should we do anything about that? No? Hmm. Well, enjoy that. Yes? Okay. I’m there with you. What should we do? Should we write about how irrelevant religion is becoming, hoping that shifts the trajectory of religious affiliation? Well, that seems dishonest to start with. And it seems relatively ineffective. Relative to what? How about helping people understand how Transhumanism works with their religions? But their religions are fantasies!?!

One of the interesting things about Transhumanism is that it implies the line between fantasy and reality is harder to identify than many have supposed. And that’s because we’re learning how to engineer reality to increasing extents. And it’s not only the non-religious that will be engineering reality. It will be the religious, too, and apparently in far greater numbers. And beyond numbers, they will be engineering with religious zeal that the non-religious, by definition, can never match.

What kind of world do you want to live in? What are you doing, given the actual context in which we find ourselves (as opposed to non-religious fantasies), to contribute toward making such a world? As for me, I’m trying to help religious persons see how the best aspects of our religions, such as calls for compassion and creativity, can and should be channeled into using technology to reshape our world beyond present notions of ignorance, suffering, poverty, and death. That’s a form of Transhumanism, and I hope to make more of the world more religious about it.

Of course you’re not alone among Transhumanists that think I’m working with old and tired fairy tales. Honestly, I see irony and foolishness in that, which explains our disagreement.

“They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” -Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987

I think to properly understand the concept of community, there ought to be an acknowledgement that it is more than just a binary 1 or 0, a brilliant line between community and noncommunity members.

Community is a population whose members;

“Consciously identify with each other
May occupy common territory
Engage in common activities
Have some form of organization that provides for differentiation of functions, which allows the community to adapt to its environment, thereby meeting the needs of its components.
Components include the persons, groups, families and organizations within its population and the institutions it forms to meet its needs”

I believe that many so-called communities are ones where the members just share a common interest, but don’t consciously identify with one another.

Tribalism divides people who otherwise would be fairly classed part of different communities.

For instance, what more relevant community could a person be said to belong to than as a member of the Earth’s biosphere?  Yet, how many of those so-called members wouldn’t consciously identify with that community membership?

hi Rene - Some of your essay is a rehash of your conspiracy theory that religious transhumanists (Benek and Cannon) led the anti-Zoltan movement. That is decidedly untrue.

Do you seriously think a healthy transhumanist “community” is best formed by selecting an enemy and agreeing to ostracize them? Bonding together via mutual hatred? Your insistence that religious people don’t belong at your party, indicates this attitude.

A healthy transhumanist community (if there ever is one, IMO) would be bound together by sincere friendships. I am an atheist transhumanist with sincere friendships with religious transhumanists.

Your insistence, and Zoltan’s insistence, that religionists be excluded from TP ...

Better to build a bridge / establish our commonalities—
Than burn bridges—inflame our differences.

Hi Rene’, interesting article, though I disagree with some points. Here’s what I wrote in 2011 about the “transhumanist community”:

http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/02/08/technological-transcendence-an-interview-with-giulio-prisco/

“[There] is no such a thing as a transhumanist community.

There are self-identified transhumanists all over the political spectrum from the far right to the far left, there are libertarian and authoritarian transhumanists, there are all sorts of positions on important social and political issues, and there are all kinds of attitudes toward the spiritual dimensions that we have discussed, from religious believers to intolerant “New Atheists”.

The common denominator, that using advanced technologies to substantially modify humans is feasible and desirable, does not hold transhumanists together any stronger than, say, members of a science fiction salon. Then, I think it is time to stop pretending that there is a “transhumanist community” and openly acknowledge that there are many separate groups, with similarities but also important differences. Once we acknowledge this, we may be able to work together on specific projects, openly or behind the scenes.

Based on this perspective, I’ve personally decided that I will dedicate less time to promoting a generic concept of transhumanism, and more time to more specific projects and groups.”

You dislike “the old and tired xtian fairy tales poorly disguised as xtian or mormon ‘transhumanism’.” I say: fair enough. On the contrary, Lincoln and I appreciate Christian and Mormon transhumanism. I hope you will also say: fair enough. So we have identified two subgroups, atheist transhumanists and religious transhumanists. You are in the first, and I am in the second. Again, fair enough, and I hope we are still friends.

These days I think life is far too short to spend time arguing on religion vs. atheism. So - apart from occasional bursts of Facebook comments that I usually regret as a waste of time - I am happy enough to leave atheists alone and use the saved time to discuss with others in the fast growing religious transhumanist groups and refine our ideas.

So here’s my proposal: I won’t try to convert you, please don’t try to convert me, and let’s try to get along. In particular, let’s try to collaborate and do something good for the many issues, unrelated to religion, where we agree.

My views on the Zoltan Istvan thing:
http://turingchurch.com/2015/10/18/zoltan-and-the-anti-istvan-petition-jethro-or-zoe/

Second part of my dialogue with Ben:
http://hplusmagazine.com/2014/12/22/turing-church-open-source-religion-ben-goertzel-interviews-giulio-prisco/

@instamatic,

Oddly, I want to agree with your comment, but that would be “circle jerking” (or Primate Grooming as you put it).  And if I disagree with aspects of it, I’d be putting myself into a different “circle”.  Thus what is one to do?  It seems like a sort of double bind in my mind, but I tend to see that a lot in circumstances.  Therefore what is one to do?  Preen, and all one can do is preen if they want to have “their point of view/World”.  To have a “community” in which they feel like they belong, and yet still have to pander.

Thus dissembling to everyone else.  Only to realize that they’ve set themselves upon their own pedestal.  To know that the only world that one can fully enjoy is their own world, and to maybe share that world with others.  To try and convince others through whatever means.  Only to slowly realize that one “dies alone” no matter what.

Anyways, for a shameful self plug; I’ve recently revitalized my blog after two years of dormancy, and am trying to get “views”.  You know “preen”, and self-promote (circle jerk & Primate Groom)...., so I guess if anyone’s curious about what a hobbyist game designer sees the world “as”...it’s here; https://wolframgand.wordpress.com/ .

Note:  I chose “game design” conscientiously because of some of these notions.  A sort of irony/satire about the notion of serious topics being presented in a silly format of Tabletop RPG games.

Very well put.  I guess it’s all too easy to become upset about things.  Things like working at McDonalds, and being underemployed after spending so long on a college degree.  Simply because one doesn’t quite have the requisite work experience.  To live in a rural environment, and feel ineffective sometimes because you know one would have to move to get into their field (if they find a job in it).

To want to contribute to the world in a meaningful way, but realize most of the roads that are available are presently closed.  Either by oneself, or by unforeseen factors.  To think that the future is passing one by, and that one isn’t quite “needed” anywhere.  I offer my thoughts on this site in the hopes that someone finds meaning from them (and to offer challenge to those credentialed from a layman).  I don’t know if I’m at all successful, or not.  Guess it doesn’t matter to some extent.  I just have to remember the remark from The Catcher in the Rye;

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

...and be satisfied that at some date all my “works” (when finished…if finished).  Provided they aren’t “obsolete” by that time.  At least will help someone, somewhere.  I guess even though the world may be built, and ruled by egoists.  It is saved by idealists, time and time again.  Those who reach out and build community.  Simply because they feel the need to Trust, and keep things “going”.

Not quite sure how to comment about the morality aspect for a couple of reasons.  First it’s a somewhat broad generalization, so I don’t know if it entirely works.  I mean I know a pair of physics profs from College that seem to care about morality in the sense they are willing to talk/worry about, “What will their Grandchildren’s future be like?” for one, and the other is the one who actually helped me hone my critical reasoning/stances (it’s a story).  Although in that stance physicists may a little different because of the “Bomb” development in the 40’s (nothing beats that realization for a field). 

Second, it depends upon morality’s definition, but that would imply several things about morality if it’s up to definition (is it absolute black vs. white, or is it Grey vs Gray?).  I would say I see it as Grey vs. Gray which bothers me, but it also doesn’t(?).

I can agree with the sentiment of a Bachelor’s degree being par to high school diploma, but that’s where one starts to get “savvy”.  Resourceful in the sense that one doesn’t pursue “conventional paths”.  Ex;  Last night I was gaming with a machinist who’s about to layout/publish his first comic book (didn’t get too into discussion of where he’s at, cause gaming).

It’s a gamble, sure, but if you went for Ethnic studies & Lesbian Lit.  You weren’t aiming for quite the conventional track either.  The track being college -> high paying employment, or more college (Doctorates).  And in that case, if one did go “conventional track” they’d probably have a mid-life crisis.  In essence how many people actually find their “true calling”, and go into that field when they’re twenty-something?

Me, I quickly realized that, and started “sniffing roses” in college.  I dabbled in Engineering, English Lit, Creative Writing, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Philosophy, a little Women’s studies (Gender in Literature), and Communications Studies….  I hit the 180 credit limit for attempted courses which is when I said “hell with the Bio-Chem degree” after 7 years of college, and went with a B.E.S (a general degree that says I did my “own program”).  Was also due to general disposition, and other factors at the time (chemistry program was a little too politicized amogst some of the faculty…or at least seemed that way).

The main thing that caused me to go that route through college was a realization that the Chemistry field is over-saturated with candidates, because really, how many chemists are needed?

I suppose you’re right again about doing medical research on the Internet.  I guess to some extent I just don’t know what I really want out of life, and I’m still slightly doubting myself about what I’m capable of to some extent.  Although that’s probably somewhat usual for my age bracket.  At least I’m not consciously making fatuous predictions for my future, as you say (unless I am unconsciously?).  I just tend to wonder how did I get here a lot (in the existential, and in an academic/intellectual sense…although that may not matter).

I do know that small efforts over a long time can build up.  That’s what happened with my 3d modeling which I started back in 07’ and just kept toying with it.  Now with that I have the potential to develop that even further to a “talented professional level” according to some.  And by working so long with 3d visualization, I apparently also have a talent for “spatial logic” which in turn may lead me to being a decent/competent Mathematician…, and so many other possible routes of competency/development.

I guess having to discuss this voluntarily with you makes me think about this in a different light.  A sort of, “Life is truly what you make of it.” (emphasis on the make).  I just don’t know entirely what to make.  Maybe I just need to feed on my own words for a bit.  To remember in other comments that I made that life is about living oneself as an expression of oneself.

....And also noticing a distinction between jobs, and careers.  See what happens I guess.

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