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Shedding Light on The Dark Enlightenment
Rick Searle   Dec 2, 2013   Utopia or Dystopia  

There has been some ink spilt lately at the IEET over a new movement that goes by the Tolkienesque name, I kid you not, of the dark enlightenment, also called neo-reactionaries.  Khannea Suntzu has looked at the movement from the standpoint of American collapse and David Brin within the context of a rising oligarchic neo-feudalism.

I have my own take on the neo-reactionary movement somewhat distinct from that of either Suntzu or Brin, which I will get to below, but first a recap.  Neo-reactionaries are a relatively new group of thinkers on the right that in general want to abandon the modern state, built such as it is around the pursuit of the social welfare, for lean-and-mean governance by business types who know in their view how to make the trains run on time. They are sick of having to “go begging” to the political class in order to get what they want done. They hope to cut out the middle-man. It’s obvious that oligarchs run the country so why don’t we just be honest about it and give them the reins of power? We could even appoint a national CEO- if the country remains in existence- we could call him the king. Oh yeah, on top of that we should abandon all this racial and sexual equality nonsense. We need to get back to the good old days when the color of a man’s skin and having a penis really meant something- put the “super” back in superior.

At first blush the views of those hoping to turn the lights out on enlightenment (anyone else choking on an oxymoron) appear something like those of the kind of annoying cousin you try to avoid at family reunions. You know, the kind of well off white guy who thinks the Civil Rights Movement was a communist plot, calls your wife a “slut” (their words, not mine) and thinks the real problem with America is that we give too much to people who don’t have anything and don’t lock up or deport enough people with skin any darker than Dove Soap. Such people are the moral equivalent of flat-earthers with no real need to take them seriously, though they can make for some pretty uncomfortable table conversation and are best avoided like a potato salad that has been out too long in the sun.

What distinguishes neo-reactionaries from run of the mill ditto heads or military types with a taste for Dock Martins or short pants is that they tend to be latte drinking Silicon Valley nerds who have some connection to both the tech and trans-humanist communities.

That should get this audience’s attention.

To continue with the analogy from above:  it’s as if your cousin had a friend, let’s just call him totally at random here… Peter Thiel, who had a net worth of 1.5 billion and was into, among other things, working closely with organizations such as the NSA through a data mining firm he owned- we’ll call it Palantir (damned Frodo Baggins again!) and who serves as a deep pocket for groups like the Tea Party. Just to go all conspiracy on the thing let’s make your cousin’s “friend” a sitting member on something we’ll call The Bilderberg Group a secretive cabal of the world’s bigwigs who get together to talk about what they really would like done in the world. If that was the case the last thing you should do is leave your cousin ranting to himself while you made off for another plate of Mrs. T’s Pierogies.  You should take the maniac seriously because he might just be sitting on enough cash to make his atavistic dreams come true and put you at risk of sliding off a flattened earth.

All this might put me at risk of being accused of lobbing one too many ad hominem, so let me put some meat on the bones of the neo-reactionaries. The Super Friends or I guess it should be Legion of Doom of neo-reaction can be found on the website Radish where the heroes of the dark enlightenment are laid out in the format of Dungeons and Dragons or Pokémon cards (I can’t make this stuff up). Let’s just start out with the most unfunny and disturbing part of the movement- its open racism and obsession with the 19th century pseudo-science of dysgenics.

Here’s James Donald who from his card I take to be a dwarf or perhaps an elf, I’m not sure what the difference is, who likes to fly on a winged tauntaun like that from The Empire Strikes Back.

"To thrive, blacks need simpler, harsher laws, more vigorously enforced, than whites.  The average black cannot handle the freedom that the average white can handle. He is apt to destroy himself.  Most middle class blacks had fathers who were apt to frequently hit them hard with a fist or stick or a belt, because lesser discipline makes it hard for blacks to grow up middle class.  In the days of Jim Crow, it was a lot easier for blacks to grow up middle class."

Wow, and I thought a country where one quarter of African American children will have experienced at least one of their parents behind bars- thousands of whom will die in prison for nonviolent offenses- was already too harsh. I guess I’m a patsy.

Non-whites aren’t the only ones who come in for derision by the neo-reactionaries a fact that can be summed up by the post- title of one of their minions, Alfred W. Clark, who writes the blog Occam’s RazorAre Women Who Tan SlutsThere’s no need to say anything more to realize poor William of Occam is rolling in his grave.

Beyond this neo-Nazism for nerds quality neo-reactionaries can make one chuckle especially when it comes to “policy innovations” such as bringing back kings.

Here’s modern day Beowulf Mencius Moldbug:

What is England’s problem?  What is the West’s problem?  In my jaundiced, reactionary mind, the entire problem can be summed up in two words – chronic kinglessness.  The old machine is missing a part.  In fact, it’s a testament to the machine’s quality that it functioned so long, and so well, without that part.

Yeah, that’s the problem.

Speaking of atavists, one thing that has always confused me about the Tea Party is that I have never been sure which imaginary “golden age” they wanted us to return to. Is it before desegregation? Before FDR? Prior to the creation of the Federal Reserve (1913)? Or maybe it’s back to the antebellum south? Or maybe back to the Articles of Confederation? Well, at least the neo-reactionaries know where they want to go- back before the American Revolution. Obviously since this whole democracy thing hasn’t worked out we should bring back the kings, which makes me wonder if these guys have mourning parties on Bastille Day.

Okay, so the dark voices behind neo-reaction are a bunch of racist/sexist nerds who have a passion for kings and like to be presented as characters on D&D cards. They have some potentially deep pockets, but other than that troubling fact why should we give them more than a few seconds of serious thought?

Now I need to exchange my satirical cap for my serious one for the issues are indeed serious. I think understanding neo-reaction is important for two reasons: they are symptomatic of deeper challenges and changes occurring politically, and they have appeared as a response to and on the cusp of a change in our relationship to Silicon Valley a region that has been the fulcrum point for technological, economic and political transformation over the past generation.

Neo-reaction shouldn’t be viewed in a vacuum. It has appeared at a time when the political and economic order we have had since at least the end of the Second World War which combines representative democracy, capitalist economics and some form of state supported social welfare (social democracy) is showing signs of its age.

If this was just happening in the United States whose 224 year old political system emerged before almost everything we take to be modern such as this list at random: universal literacy, industrialization, railroads, telephones, human flight, the Theory of Evolution, Psychoanalysis, Quantum Mechanics, Genetics, “the Bomb”, television, computers, the Internet and mobile technology then we might be able, as some have, to blame our troubles on an antiquated political system, but the creaking is much more widespread.

We have the upsurge in popularity of the right in Europe such as that seen in France with its National Front. Secessionist movements are gaining traction in the UK. The right in the form of Hindu Nationalism under a particular obnoxious figure- Narendra Modi -is poised to win Indian elections. There is the implosion of states in the Middle East such as Syria and revolution and counter revolution in Egypt. There are rising nationalist tensions in East Asia.

All this is coming against the backdrop of rising inequality. The markets are soaring no doubt pushed up by the flood of money being provided by the Federal Reserve,  yet the economy is merely grinding along. Easy money is the de facto cure for our deflationary funk and pursued by all the world’s major central banks in the US, the European Union and now especially Japan.

The far left has long abandoned the idea that 21st century capitalism is a workable system with the differences being over what the alternative to it should be whether communism of the old school such as that of Slavoj Žižek  or the anarchism of some one like David Graeber. Leftists are one thing the Pope is another, and you know a system is in trouble when the most conservative institution in history wants to change the status quo as Pope Francis suggested when he recently railed against the inhumanity of capitalism and urged for its transformation.

What in the world is going on?

If your house starts leaning there’s something wrong with the foundation, so I think we need to look at the roots of our current problems by going back to the gestation of our system- that balance of representative democracy, capitalism and social democracy I mentioned earlier whose roots can be found not in the 20th century but in the century prior.

The historical period that is probably most relevant for getting a handle on today’s neo-reactionaries is the late 19th century when a rage for similar ideas infected Europe. There was Nietzsche in Germany and Dostoevsky in Russia (two reactionaries I still can’t get myself to dislike both being so brilliant and tragic). There was Maurras in France and Pareto in Italy. The left, of course, also got a shot of B-12 here as well with labor unions, socialist political parties and seriously left-wing intellectuals finally gaining traction. Marxism whose origins were earlier in the century was coming into its own as a political force.  You had writers of socialist fiction such as Edward Bellamy and Jack London surging in popularity. Anarchists were making their mark, though, unfortunately, largely through high profile assassinations and bomb throwing. A crisis was building even before the First World War whose centenary we will mark next year.

Here’s historian JM Roberts from his Europe 1880-1945 on the state of politics in on the eve, not after, the outbreak of the First World War.

Liberalism had institutionalized the pursuit of happiness, yet its own institutions seemed to stand in the way of achieving the goal; liberal’s ideas could., it seemed, lead liberalism to turn on itself.

…the practical shortcomings of democracy contributed to a wave of anti-parliamentarianism. Representative institutions had for nearly a century been the shibboleth of liberalism. An Italian sociologist now stigmatized them ‘as the greatest superstition of modern times.’ There was violent criticism of them, both practical and theoretical. Not surprisingly, this went furthest in constitutional states where parliamentary institutions were the formal framework of power but did not represent social realities. Even where parliaments (as in France or Great Britain) had already shown they possessed real power, they were blamed for representing the wrong people and for being hypocritical shams covering self-interest. Professional politicians- a creation of the nineteenth century- were inevitably, it was said, out of touch with real needs.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Liberalism, by which Roberts means a combination of representative government and laissez faire capitalism- including free trade- was struggling. Capitalism had obviously brought wealth and innovation but also enormous instability and tensions. The economy had a tendency to rocket towards the stars only to careen earthward and crash leaving armies of the unemployed. The small scale capitalism of earlier periods was replaced by continent straddling bureaucratic corporations. The representative system which had been based on fleeting mobilization during elections or crises had yet to adjust to a situation where mass mobilization through the press, unions, or political groups was permanent and unrelenting.

The First World War almost killed liberalism. The Russian Revolution, Great Depression, rise of fascism and World War Two were busy putting nails in its coffin when the adoption of social democracy and Allied Victory in the war revived the corpse. Almost the entirety of the 20th century was a fight over whether the West’s hybrid system, which kept capitalism and representative democracy but tamed the former could outperform state communism- and it did.

In the latter half of the 20th century the left got down to the business of extending the rights revolution to marginalized groups while the right fought for the dismantling of many of the restrictions that had been put on the capitalist system during its time of crisis. This modus vivendi between left and right was all well and good while the economy was growing and while the extension of legal rights rather than social rights for marginalized groups was the primary issue, but by the early 21st century both of these thrusts were spent.

Not only was the right’s economic model challenged by the 2008 financial crisis it had nowhere left to go in terms of realizing its dreams of minimal government and dismantling of the welfare state without facing almost impossible electoral hurdles. The major government costs in the US and Europe were pensions and medical care for the elderly- programs that were virtually untouchable. The left too was realizing that abstract legal rights were not enough.  Did it matter that the US had an African American president when one quarter of black children had experienced a parent in prison, or when a heavily African American city such as Philadelphia has a child poverty rate of 40%? Addressing such inequities was not an easy matter for the left let alone the extreme changes that would be necessary to offset rising inequality.

Thus, ironically, the problem for both the right and the left is the same one- that governments today are too weak. The right needs an at least temporarily strong government to effect the dismantling of the state, whereas the left needs a strong government not merely to respond to the grinding conditions of the economic “recovery”, but to overturn previous policies, put in new protections and find some alternative to the current political and economic order. Dark enlightenment types and progressives are confronting the same frustration while having diametrically opposed goals. It is not so much that Washington is too powerful as it is that the power it has is embedded in a system, which, as Mark Leibovich portrays brilliantly, is feckless and corrupt.  

Neo-reactionaries tend to see this as a product of too much democracy, whereas progressives will counter that there is not enough. Here’s one of the princes of darkness himself, Nick Land:

Where the progressive enlightenment sees political ideals, the dark enlightenment sees appetites. It accepts that governments are made out of people, and that they will eat well. Setting its expectations as low as reasonably possible, it seeks only to spare civilization from frenzied, ruinous, gluttonous debauch.

Yet, as the experience in authoritarian societies such as Libya, Egypt and Syria shows (and even the authoritarian wonderchild of China is feeling the heat) democratic societies are not the only ones undergoing acute stresses. The universal nature of the crisis of governance is brought home in a recent book by Moisés Naím. In his The End of Power  Naím lays out how every large structure in society: armies, corporations, churches and unions are seeing their power decline and are being challenged by small and nimble upstarts.

States are left hobbled by smallish political parties and groups that act as spoilers preventing governments from getting things done. Armies with budgets in the hundreds of billions of dollars are hobbled by insurgents with IEDs made from garage door openers and cell phones. Long-lived religious institutions, most notably the Catholic Church, are losing parishioners to grassroots preachers while massive corporations are challenged by Davids that come out of nowhere to upend their business models with a simple stone.

Naím has a theory for why this is happening. We are in the midst of what he calls The More, The Mobility and The Mentality Revolutions. Only the last of those is important for my purposes. Ruling elites are faced today with the unprecedented reality that most of their lessers can read. Not only that, the communications revolution which has fed the wealth of some of these elites has significantly lowered the barriers to political organization and speech. Any Tom, Dick and now Harriet can throw up a website and start organizing for or against some cause. What this has resulted in is a sort of Cambrian explosion of political organization, and just as in any acceleration of evolution you’re likely to get some pretty strange mutants- and so here we are.

Some on the left are urging us to adjust our progressive politics to the new distributed nature of power.  The writer Steven Johnson in his recent Future Perfect: The case for progress in a networked age calls collaborative efforts by small groups “peer-to-peer networks”, and in them he sees a glimpse of our political past (the participatory politics of the ancient Greek polis and late medieval trading states) becoming our political future. Is this too “reactionary”?

Peer-to-peer networks tend to bring local information back into view. The fact that traditional centralized loci of power such as the federal government and national and international media are often found lacking when it comes to local knowledge is a problem of scale. As Jane Jacobs has pointed out , government policies are often best when crafted and implemented at the local level where differences and details can be seen.

Wikipedia is a good example of Johnson’s peer-to-peer model as is Kickstarter. In government we are seeing the spread of participatory budgeting where the local public is allowed to make budgetary decisions. There is also a relatively new concept known as “liquid democracy” that not only enables the creation of legislation through open-sourced platforms but allows people to “trade” their votes in the hopes that citizens can avoid information overload by targeting their vote to areas they care most about, and presumably for this reason, have the greatest knowledge of.

So far, peer-to-peer networks have been successful at revolt- The Tea Party is peer-to-peer as was Occupy Wall Street. Peer-to-peer politics was seen in the Move-ON movement and has dealt defeat to recent legislation such as SOPA. Authoritarian regimes in the Middle East were toppled by crowd sourced gatherings on the street.

More recently than Johnson’s book there is New York’s new progressive mayor-  Bill de Blasio’s experiment with participatory politics with his Talking Transition Tent on Canal Street. There, according to NPR, New Yorkers can:

….talk about what they want the next mayor to do. They can make videos, post videos and enter their concerns on 48 iPad terminals. There are concerts, panels on everything from parks to education. And they can even buy coffee and beer.

Democracy, coffee and beer- three of my favorite things!

On the one hand I love this stuff, but me being me I can’t help but have some suspicions and this relates, I think, to the second issue about neo-reactionaries I raised above; namely, that they are reflecting something going on with our relationship to Silicon Valley a change in public perception of the tech culture and its tools from hero and wonderworker to villain and illusionist.

As I have pointed out elsewhere the idea that technology offered an alternative to the lumbering bureaucracy of state and corporations is something embedded deep in the foundation myth of Silicon Valley. The use of Moore’s Law as a bridge to personalized communication technology was supposed to liberate us from the apparatchiks of the state and the corporation- remember Apple’s “1984” commercial?

It hasn’t quite turned out that way. Yes, we are in a condition of hyper economic and political competition largely engendered by technology, but it’s not quite clear that we as citizens have gained rather than “power centers” that use these tools against one another and even sometimes us. Can anyone spell NSA?

We also went from innovation, and thus potential wealth, being driven by guys in their garages to, on the American scene, five giants that largely own and control all of virtual space: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Micro-Soft with upstarts such as Instagram being slurped up like Jonah was by the whale the minute they show potential growth.

Rather than result in a telecommuting utopia with all of us working five hours a day from the comfort of our digitally connected home, technology has led to a world where we are always “at work”, wages have not moved since the 1970’s and the spectre of technological unemployment is on the wall. Mainstream journalists such as John Micklethwait of The Economist are starting to see a growing backlash against Silicon Valley as the public becomes increasingly estranged from digerati who have not merely failed to deliver on their Utopian promises, but are starving the government for revenue as they hide their cash in tax havens all the while cosying up to the national security state.

Neo-reactionaries are among the first of Silicon Valleians to see this backlash building hence their only half joking efforts to retreat to artificial islands or into outer space. Here’s one of the dark illuminati who goes by the moniker Nydwracu: 

The backlash is beginning. More jobs predicted for machines, not people; job automation is a future unemployment crisis looming. Imprisoned by innovation as tech wealth explodes, Silicon Valley, poverty spikes… they are basically going to try to blame the economy on Silicon Valley, and say that it is iPhone and Google that done did it, not the bailouts and the bankruptcies and the bombings, and this is something which we need to identify as false and we need to actively repudiate it.

Nydwracu would have at least some things to use in defense of Silicon Valley: elites there have certainly been socially conscious about global issues. Where I differ is on their proposed solutions. As I have written elsewhere, Valley bigwigs such as Peter Diamandis think the world’s problems can be solved by letting the technology train keep on rolling and for winners such as himself to devote their money and genius to philanthropy.  This is unarguably a good thing, what I doubt, however, is that such techno-philanthropy can actually carry the load now held up by governments while at the same time those made super rich by capitalism’s creative destruction flee the tax man leaving what’s left of government to be funded on the backs of a shrinking middle class.

As I have also written elsewhere the original generation of Silicon Valley innovators is acutely aware of our government’s incapacity to do what states have always done- to preserve the past, protect the the present and invest in the future. This is the whole spirit behind the saint of the digerati Stewart Brand’s Long Now Foundation in which I find very much to admire. The neo-reactionaries too have latched upon this short term horizon of ours, only where Brand saw our time paralysis in a host of contemporary phenomenon, neo-reactionaries think there is one culprit- democracy. Here again is dark prince Nick Land:

Civilization, as a process, is indistinguishable from diminishing time-preference (or declining concern for the present in comparison to the future). Democracy, which both in theory and evident historical fact accentuates time-preference to the point of convulsive feeding-frenzy, is thus as close to a precise negation of civilization as anything could be, short of instantaneous social collapse into murderous barbarism or zombie apocalypse (which it eventually leads to). As the democratic virus burns through society, painstakingly accumulated habits and attitudes of forward-thinking, prudential, human and industrial investment, are replaced by a sterile, orgiastic consumerism, financial incontinence, and a ‘reality television’ political circus. Tomorrow might belong to the other team, so it’s best to eat it all now.

The problem here is not that Land has drug this interpretation of the effect of democracy straight out of Plato’s Republic- which he has, or that it’s a kid who eats the marshmallow leads to zombie apocalypse reading of much more complex political relationships- which it is as well.  Rather, it’s that there is no real evidence that it is true and indeed the reason it’s not true might give those truly on the radical left who would like to abandon the US Constitution for something more modern and see nothing special in its antiquity reason for pause.

The study,of course, needs to be replicated, but a paper just out by Hal Hershfield, Min Bang, and Elke Weber at New York University seems to suggest that the way to get a country to pay serious attention to long term investments is not to give them a deep future but a deep past and not just any past- the continuity of their current political system.

As Hershfield states it:

Our thinking is that the countries who have a longer past are better able see further forward into the future and think about extending the time period that they’ve already been around into the distant future. And that might make them care a bit more about how environmental outcomes are going to play out down the line.

And from further commentary on that segment:

Hershfield is not using the historical age of the country, but when it got started in its present form, when its current form of government got started. So he’s saying the U.S. got started in the year 1776. He’s saying China started in the year 1949.

Now, China, of course, though, is thousands of years old in historical terms, but Hershfield is using the political birth of the country as the starting point for his analysis. Now, this is potentially problematic, because for some countries like China, there’s a very big disparity in the historical age and when the current form of government got started. But Hershfield finds even when you eliminate those countries from the equation, there’s still a strong connection between the age of the country and its willingness to invest in environmental issues.

​The very existence of strong environmental movements and regulation in democracies should be enough to disprove Land’s thesis about popular government’s “compulsive feeding frenzy”.  Democracies should have stripped their environments bare like a dog with a Thanksgiving turkey bone. Instead the opposite has happened. Neo-reactionaries might respond with something about large hunting preserves supported by the kings, but the idea that kings were better stewards of the environment and human beings (I refuse to call them “capital”)  because they own them as personal property can be countered with two words and a number King Leopold II.

Yet, we progressives need to be aware of the benefits of political continuity. The right with their Tea Party and their powdered wigs has seized American history. They are selling a revolutionary dismantling of the state and the deconstruction of hard fought for legacies in the name of returning to “purity”, but this history is ours as much as theirs even if our version of it tends to be as honest about the villains as the heroes. Neo-reactionaries are people who have woken up to the reality that the conservative return to “foundations” has no future. All that is left for them is to sit around daydreaming that the American Revolution and all it helped spark never happened, and that the kings still sat on their bedeckled thrones.

Rick Searle, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a writer and educator living the very non-technological Amish country of central Pennsylvania along with his two young daughters. He is an adjunct professor of political science and history for Delaware Valley College and works for the PA Distance Learning Project.



COMMENTS

I appreciate your analysis of neoreaction, especially its infatuation with nineteenth- and early twentieth-century racial science. It’s bizarre and at times hilarious how Moldbug, Anissimov, and company present white men - particularly white men who dare to challenge so-called political correctness and openly assert their racism - as the key oppressed group in the United States. Of course they anticipate this charge of racism, but that makes it no less accurate or pertinent. Whiteness as system of privilege has come under threat over the last half century or so, and defensiveness appears to be a growing response, even though whites as a class are obviously doing quite well in relative terms. As analyzed by Jodi Melamed, part of the privileges previously associated with whiteness now flow to the multicultural, cosmopolitan subject. While this subject is often also white, the terms of privileging and classification have shifted somewhat. Neoreaction seems to come significantly out of opposition to this global, multicultural elite - in their terms the Cathedral, the ideology of Harvard, Yale, the New York Times, etc. They’ve got a fine enemy, but for mostly the wrong reasons.

A comprehensive article..

So where are the solutions to be found, (rhetorical)?

“Democracy, coffee and beer”, (and other esteem building power plays, sweeteners/ free apps), and this hint of “small governance”, (Big Society), ethos and philosophy: is yet more distraction and ruse for central govt to shed responsibility, budget and accountability, and will not help solve “global” economic crises looming, (and certainly not cooperative dilemmas for Climate issues)?

So where some see NGO’s, I see merely fragmentation leading to further indirect feudalism?

As compared with David Brin’s article, you have provoked my sympathies for these Neo Neo-Liberals - almost. Reactionary to govt incompetence, intellectual stagnation, and application of 19th century status quo authoritarian mentality, it’s hardly surprising that these young(?) techno-Oligarchy seek to replace this sterile govt with their own flavour, only yet the flaw - more of the same?

There is usefulness in this reactionary movement however, in that it provokes further reaction to Neo reactionary politics further threatening democracy, from which a greater awareness of “real” direct “informed democracy” can rise and be promoted?

Mob rule democracy will certainly lead to a zombie flesh eating catastrophe, and swift decadence/ deconstruction of global society, and the destruction of all Humanity has achieved thus far. (reflect on your favorite disaster movies for confirmation)? Again I sympathize with this argument and fear of mob rule driven by disorganization and disorder.

And if these Neo Neo-Liberals wish to build their Lifeboats driven by their paranoia and melancholy, then this is certainly their “wager” and I wish them luck, just don’t fuck with my beliefs and democratic freedoms either - yer get me?

I also have an aversion to the more traditional Left, those species that wish to impose upon and punish “everyone” for the transgressions of the few, or the one. Although “progress” is a difficult measure, one man’s freedom is another mans oppression, etc.

So NGO’s can’t “handle it”, mob rule, (uninformed) democracy is a definite no go, and the status quo simply won’t do? - I have faith in “Transformation of global consciousness” still, aided by the tools provided by our disgruntled “prometheans”? Instead of fighting Google I would aim and inspire Anarcho’s to “utilize” to their advantage and promotion of “real” and “informed democracy”?

Q: Would these Neo-Reactionaries be willing to “wager” their freedoms and promotions of techno-autocratic rule on the development of a machine singleton/CEV? Would “they” be willing to relinquish their powers to such a king? I fear not, such is the measure of every “mans” hypocrisy?

I guess I’m just wondering how scared of these “neo-reactionaries” we need to be. How much chance is there really of this kind of thinking catching on to a degree that poses a serious threat? From what I’ve read so far they don’t seem to be saying anything very interesting or inspiring so they do not appear to be particularly dangerous. I may have got this completely wrong, but that’s the way it appears to me now.

By contrast, the current within transhumanism that, à la Jethro Knights, is unwilling to allow itself to be held back any more, and is willing to sacrifice democracy, civil liberties and so on - at least temporarily - in order to avoid floundering in deathist mediocrity, rather as one might declare martial law or instigate a coup d’état in the face of a genuine emergency, strikes me as both more interesting and (precisely because of this) more dangerous.

In fact, I think I probably speak for many “transhumanists” and similarly-minded people when I say we are torn between a desire to tear down obstacles and fear of being complicit in creating some kind of totalitarian dystopia. Perhaps the question we really need to be asking is: is it possible to do one without the other?

CygnusX1 and Peter:

I think this responds to both of you: I don’t think neo-reactionaries are anything to be afraid of- they are merely a sign of the right’s desperation. Not that the left isn’t suffering desperation as well, but that would be a whole different post.

I think the TW too evidences a kind of desperation: political revolution wasn’t supposed to be necessary, technology was leading us inevitably to Utopia, to the Singularity. It was supposed to have taken great effort of reactionary forces to STOP it. And believers knew resistance would ultimately prove futile.

The early 21st century has not turned out as predicted- it is much more, messy, complicated. It is so much harder now to mobilize the whole of society towards any kind of Utopia- there are no cities on the moon- the tragedies of the last century of “utopias” may have exhausted us.

Rick,

On the other thread you wrote, “Impatience is the vice that leads all revolutions to violence”. I disagree. Not all revolutions do become violent, and when they do it is not only because people are impatient.

I’m also not convinced that “the tragedies of the last century of “utopias”...have exhausted us”, or at least not wholly, and not irrevocably. I certainly think they have made some of us more cautious, and that may well be a good thing, but I also think it is possible to go too far in this direction and end up in a condition of learned helplessness.

I suppose I do agree that TW or more precisely its popularity amongst some transhumanists - reflects a degree of disillusionment. What I’m wondering, though, is what kind of conclusions we should be drawing from this. Your suggestion seems to be that we should put aside our naïve pipedreams and just get on with being good citizens. But what if it were the case that by being “good citizens” we were merely colluding in our civilisation’s failure to enjoy the fruits of technology and move to the next level? Yes, I know we’re not actually playing a video game, and it’s way more complicated and “messy” than that, but then again I think it’s also more complicated than “you’re all just pissed off because your adolescent fantasies haven’t happened”.

I guess the question I have is: do you see any merit at all in pursuing transhumanist goals, and if so, what kind of balance do you think we should strike between total passivity and Jethro-like belligerence?

What is this continued obsession with fear? If you wish to fear something, then fear apathy - this will certainly destroy us all?

The reasons why folks are screaming for socioeconomic and political reform is precisely because Human politics cannot keep up with Moore’s Law - this is the real danger, the real tension between technological utopia, progress and conservative luddites attempting to protect the status quo, (and drag us “back to the future” DeLorean’s, seized church clocks and all).

There will always be Neo-Liberals or Neo-Reactionaries, or Neo whatever movements rising and falling. But you are absolutely correct about revisiting history, we may just learn something?

New Enlightenment or New renaissance - it matters not what you call it. What is required is socioeconomic reform. The redistribution of monies, (legitimately and intelligently), will be the drive to overcome world poverty and all of the political unrest, hardship, suffering, crime and inequality modern Capitalism is responsible for to date.. and since the dawn of kings, (actually even kings could be compassionate and human, when it suited)?
yet the world machine?

#Apathy kills

#Occupy

 

“The early 21st century has not turned out as predicted- it is much more, messy, complicated. It is so much harder now to mobilize the whole of society towards any kind of Utopia- there are no cities on the moon- the tragedies of the last century of “utopias” may have exhausted us.”


Quite right; on target. The above was not inevitable, though, but was entirely predictable. I remember it, the success of Gemini inspired grandiose scenarios. Still, the inspiration was needed; the inspiration of 2001 A Space Odyssey for instance. However if we’d thought about it back when, we would have thought of the price of fuel, the price to launch a pound into orbit; etc.
We ought to tell Wesley Strong how socialism is outmoded; and summerspeaker ought to know anarchism is also obsolete. Cygnus should know there are no solutions- only the pursuit of solutions—IMO damage control: something worse is prevented. (Say for a random example, the Republiscums elect a halfway decent president rather than a Warren G. Harding)

We are all scared, CygnusX1; some of us are just more aware of / honest about it than others.

So no, it’s not that I *wish* to fear something, but given that I will anyway, it’s worth thinking about how to channel that fear.

So…should we make apathy the Chief Bogeyman? In my view, no. Nobody is entirely apathetic, any more than we are entirely fearless. Rather than apathy, I would rather identify poorly channelled emotion as the chief threat. Everything else flows from that, in my view.

“We are all scared, CygnusX1; some of us are just more aware of / honest about it than others.”

Really? Pray tell, what you are afraid of then?

Just because you have decided to make fear this months topic of discussion does not necessarily follow that the entire Human race is afraid.. and again, I would say the percentages are more in favour of apathy as the more relevant/destructive force?

Capitalism, consumerism and political misdirection especially, using individualism as a “lever” to maintain the status quo. The whole of the entertainment industry, games and all, directed to keep minds distracted and apathetic towards global suffering and inequality, socioeconomic reform, and the conquest of Carbon fuels through propaganda wars.. etc etc

Poorly channelled emotion? So you are looking to inspire rationality.. yet we all understand that rationality alone will not serve the Human condition. For sure we need to be “sober” yet not without compassion and the emotions that move us? Capitalism is a cold hearted mistress, do you not have enough evidence of such?

Fear of change - is that what you are getting at?

Using fear as a broad brush to describe the Human condition is hardly sufficient. You need to be more specific?

I haven’t decided to make fear this month’s topic of discussion, CygnusX1…but I do believe that the entire human race is afraid. Don’t you?

Not that fear is the only emotion, so channelling our emotions more effectively is not just about channelling fear. Nor is it just about being rational. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “serve the Human condition”, but if you mean “make our lives better” then I agree that rationality alone is not enough. Emotions are also needed. “Channelling” is not a synonym of “getting rid of”. Basically we need to make our emotions work for us, and too often we don’t.

Is that clearer?

“I haven’t decided to make fear this month’s topic of discussion, CygnusX1…but I do believe that the entire human race is afraid. Don’t you?”

“Is that clearer?”

No.. it’s more unclear - “the entire human race is afraid” of what?

Are Humans more afraid than apes and monkeys?
Where is all this psychological fear you hint at?

Channelling emotions also sounds rather unclear. Channelling emotions is rather different from being “mindful” of emotional states. How do you channel emotions, such like fear.. towards something positive like say joy?

All you can hope to do is understand that your fears are irrational and dispense with them? How do you channel emotions towards rationalism without repressing emotions altogether?

We’re afraid of all sorts of things, CygnusX1. It’s our inheritance from our stone age ancestors. It’s what kept them alive long enough to reproduce. No, I’m not saying we are *more* afraid than apes and monkeys, just that we’re afraid.

I’m not sure exactly what you mean by asking *where* all this “psychological fear” is (is there such a thing as non-psychological fear?); obviously the limbic system is involved, the amygdala, the adrenal glands; it’s a whole physiological process. Or did you mean where is the evidence of this fear? I would say, “All around us,” but I can give more specific examples if you like.

I agree that channelling emotions is different from being “mindful” (let’s just say aware, shall we?) of them, but mindfulness (i.e. non-judging awareness of the present moment, including our emotional states) certainly helps. I don’t think the aim should be to try to turn fear into something else (e.g. joy), but rather to modify the way we express it, i.e. the way we allow it to influence our behaviour, so that it serves us better. Too often, fear and other emotions motivate us to behave in ways that are counterproductive in terms of our life goals. By “channelling” I mean modifying the way they influence our behaviour in ways that are more conducive to our life goals. This is why I am such a strong advocate of mindfulness: because I believe it helps us to do this.

One specific aspect of mindfulness that may be important here is the ability to distinguish between the actual emotion (be it fear, joy, anger, surprise, disgust, or whatever) and whatever thoughts we might be having. For example, over lunch yesterday I was cheerfully discussing with friends the possibility of a specs debris chain reaction of the type portrayed in Gravity, so you could say we were discussing our fears, but we weren’t actually (at the time) particularly afraid. Other times I might be walking down a dark straight and feel fear, but without actually having thoughts about the future. So when you talk about fears being “irrational” it’s the emotion that is irrational, not necessarily the thoughts. And by “irrational” I don’t mean “wrong”, I just mean “not rational”.

In any case, if we want to live well the last thing we should be doing is to dispense with our fears. Not only do they help keep us safe; our attempts to get rid of (“dispense with”) or avoid uncomfortable emotions such as fear tend to get us into a lot of trouble. Once again, it’s not about channelling emotions towards “rationalism”, nor about repressing them. It’s about modifying the way they influence our behaviour.

Let me know if this is still unclear or if you disagree with any of it.

“Too often, fear and other emotions motivate us to behave in ways that are counterproductive in terms of our life goals. By “channelling” I mean modifying the way they influence our behaviour in ways that are more conducive to our life goals. This is why I am such a strong advocate of mindfulness: because I believe it helps us to do this.”

You are just stating the same without clarifying what you mean. So here you are saying that “mindfulness” is the method to help understand and control emotions, (which is what I said). Yet you still seem adamant to use this word “channelling” - how?

“In any case, if we want to live well the last thing we should be doing is to dispense with our fears. Not only do they help keep us safe; our attempts to get rid of (“dispense with”) or avoid uncomfortable emotions such as fear tend to get us into a lot of trouble.”

But isn’t fear what you are criticizing as debilitating for well being, now you are saying that dispensing with fear gets us into trouble? At the same time you declare that “the entire Human race is afraid” - is this “psychological fear” not then conducive to well being for your hypothesis?

“So when you talk about fears being “irrational” it’s the emotion that is irrational, not necessarily the thoughts. And by “irrational” I don’t mean “wrong”, I just mean “not rational”.”

Is it really the “emotion” that is irrational? In what context?

“Emotion” can also be described as the biological reaction and stimuli from thoughts, in the case of fear the effects may be anything from panic, high blood pressure to sweating, anxiety etc. Joy, peace and happiness, contentedness the antithesis.
In which case it is the “thought” that is always the prime mover, the emotion is the result of the thought?

Rationality is a discipline that Humans can use to dispense with irrational “psychological” fears, using mindfulness or even genetic tweaking, on this we can agree - yet pursuit of Rationalism alone is a hazardous path. A machine may be described as non-Human yet rational. What makes us “Human” is our emotions Captain?

 

 

 

Specifically afraid of other people. Merely for starters, we possess WMDs because we’re afraid of people in other nations.

@Peter:

I have to remember to be precise in my language when “speaking” with you. Yes, not all revolutions are violent, but impatience seems to me a strong root of political violence generally and violence in the course of revolution more specifically.

“Your suggestion seems to be that we should put aside our naïve pipedreams and just get on with being good citizens. But what if it were the case that by being “good citizens” we were merely colluding in our civilisation’s failure to enjoy the fruits of technology and move to the next level? “

You should recall that much of the TW has nothing to do with trans-humanism at all. What reason is there to dismantle the welfare state? In a very unlikely but at least imaginable scenario one could imagine a right- wing movement using the kind of trasn-humanism found there as a means to a kind of wealth grab. 

Without a working society trans-humanism does not function for either of us- unless I am unaware that you are posting from your private jet. We need to get first things first and fix society -if not for us then for the generations of human beings who will come after us. I have often posted here on what I think the trans-humanist/techno-progressive community should do.

I agree with Cygnus that “What is required is socioeconomic reform” and think this entails reform of political structures as well. Like anything we do in life much of what we can accomplish isn’t a permanent fix to our problems but as Intomorrow says:” there are no solutions- only the pursuit of solutions—IMO damage control.” I don’t take that to be a total disaster- if you can perform permanent fixes push for it- but where you can’t- patch.

“That’s the way it’s always been..”

OK there’s a lot to comment on here.

Let’s start with “much of the TW has nothing to do with trans-humanism at all”. Obviously this is going to depend somewhat on how you define transhumanism (with or without hyphen), but to answer you more specific question, Rick: “What reason is there to dismantle the welfare state?”, you know Jethro’s answer to this, and it’s the classical liberal (I mean in the European sense) critique of welfare: it disincentivises wealth creation and encourages slackers. One does not have to be a died-in-the-wool neoliberal/libertarian or be blind to the evils of capitalism to agree that this is a real problem, especially if you live in certain parts of Europe (and not on a private jet). I’m not saying I agree that it should be dismantled, but to say it has “nothing to do with transhumanism” seems to betray a misunderstanding of Jethro’s/Zoltan’s thinking.

Perhaps for the rest, at least for the time being, I prefer to focus on CygnusX1’s latest, at least to clarify a few points as follows.

1. I have never criticised people for being afraid. What I criticise (including in my Fear of Knowledge article) is failure to acknowledge and channel that fear (and other emotions).

2. It’s not primarily about understanding emotions (though obviously that helps) and certainly not about “controlling” them if by that you mean trying to change the emotional state itself (panic, high blood pressure, the rush of blood to the hands when angry, all of that). It’s about modifying the way you let them influence your behaviour (ultimately: what signals your motor neurons send to your voluntary muscles, for example you can deliberately slow down your breathing and make sure you breathe out properly before you breathe in).

Beyond that there are clearly some semantic issues here, for example what precisely we mean by “rational”, “irrational”, and “thought”, but if “thought” means verbal thought rather than just something like “mental state” then I would not agree that thought causes the emotion. Sometimes it’s the other way round. More often an interplay between the two (and other factors, such as toothache or an angry boss).

So just to be crystal crystal crystal clear: I am not against emotions, I am against failure to acknowledge them. Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment *without* judging it. Apply this to one’s emotional state, and it becomes clear the goal cannot be to try to “control” or change them. Or even understand them. Just be aware.

@Summerspeaker:

>It’s bizarre and at times hilarious how Moldbug, Anissimov, and company present white men - particularly white men who dare to challenge so-called political correctness and openly assert their racism - as the key oppressed group in the United States.

American progressives can’t get their story straight about white people. On the one hand they portray America’s whites, especially white Southerners, as obsolete holdovers from the past whom history has showed the door.

Yet on the other hand they praise other overwhelmingly white countries as social-democratic utopias. For three recent examples:

Denmark:
http://www.alternet.org/world/denmark-happiest-country-earth-youll-never-guess-why

Australia:
http://www.alternet.org/world/eat-your-heart-out-americans-10-remarkable-facts-you-didnt-know-about-australia

Canada:
http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/21-ways-canadas-single-payer-system-beats-obamacare

It looks as if progressives’ real problem with America’s white population - and especially white Southerners - doesn’t involve race, but rather resistance to progressive social engineering.

“but rather resistance to progressive social engineering”

And merely the fact that Scandic prisons are not the hellholes that Dixie prisons are.

“So just to be crystal crystal crystal clear: I am not against emotions, I am against failure to acknowledge them. Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment *without* judging it. Apply this to one’s emotional state, and it becomes clear the goal cannot be to try to “control” or change them. Or even understand them. Just be aware.”

Mindfulness also extends to understanding emotions, positive and negative, and the roots of our own sufferings, (judgment required), with the goal and mind to transcend emotional suffering. meditation is the practice that involves rejecting judgment of present states of mind.

Should we try to “control” negative emotions or change them? In your own words, I think we can do better than “just be aware” of them?

btw. above is some pretty strong comments, (and Libertarian stance), against welfare and “free loaders” in general. Nothing wrong with this point of view, as long as you stick with it?

However, in the land of plenty and abundance where a Universal Basic Income is instituted to support market ethos in light of growing technological unemployment, it kinda sounds redundant already.. don’t you think?

In the “positive” Star Trek, technocratic future, the use for money may disappear altogether in providing for Human basic needs, and especially where these basic needs become cheap enough that “Capitalism” no longer can acquire any profit from these, and thus has no interest, (although I will always see the necessity for some transactions involving hard cash/Gold pressed Latinum).

 

 

The strong language is mainly Jethro Knights’. In practice, much of the problem with existing welfare is that it creates perverse incentives and dependency traps. Personally I think there’s a lot to be said for the Universal Basic Income idea, and yes, I agree that money could disappear altogether eventually. I think you can make a very solid case that doing away with welfare systems would be disastrous even from a “transhumanist dreamer” perspective, and not only with regard to equality in the here and now. What I was taking issue with was Rick’s claim that this has “nothing to do with transhumanism”.

Anyway, back to mindfulness: I agree that “just being aware” of our emotions cannot be the end goal. Apart from anything else, many of us would rather *not* be aware of our emotions (though I maintain that this is part or the problem). Frankly, I wouldn’t be interested in mindfulness at all if I didn’t think it was going to make me happier. It’s just, not necessarily happier *right now*. Again, being aware of one’s emotions can be very unconfortable! And not only our emotions: there can be all sorts of things we’d rather not be aware of (Fear of Knowledge again), but are likely to become aware of if we practise mindfulness. So for me, an essential part of mindfulness is precisely to learn *not* to change our emotions, but rather to accept them.

Which, I guess, brings me back to your point about apathy. In a sense, the goal of mindfulness is precisely to become more apathetic: to be aware, including of whatever emotional state we happen to be in, and just accept whatever is happening (including our emotional state).

By the way, when I was younger I used to be really troubled by the idea that there was no objective morality, no absolute reason even why one should pursue one’s own happiness, let alone anyone else’s. In a sense, I was addicted to a belief in objective morality. Then, some years later, I was staring at a painting in an art gallery and suddenly realised that nothing bad would happen if I just stopped believing that there was anything I “should” (or should not) be doing. Some new motivation would eventually arise, and there was no need to control it in advance. Then I went and looked at some of the other paintings.

@advancedatheist: This may be a case of mistaken identity. I don’t consider myself a progressive, even if some of my views align. More to the point, critiquing whiteness as an ideological system and system of political economy doesn’t translate to saying that folks currently constructed as white are bad, worthless, etc. Nor did I write anything about white Southerners. Note that the neoreactionaries don’t conform to that stereotype. As consigning people to the past goes, I’m deeply skeptical of any such progressive temporal narratives. The analysis mentioned in my earlier post suggests that cosmopolitan white liberalism - a discourse that historically used the racist white-trash Southerner as its opposite - can be plenty oppressive as well.

“Which, I guess, brings me back to your point about apathy. In a sense, the goal of mindfulness is precisely to become more apathetic: to be aware, including of whatever emotional state we happen to be in, and just accept whatever is happening (including our emotional state).”

Hmm.. yes. To become unmoved, dispassionate and indifferent towards both Joys and pain is a form of apathy. Which is most likely why Buddhist/Buddhism is not necessarily affiliated with technological progress? Hinduism may be more sympathetic towards aspiring to technological progress however, and especially in aspiring towards Godly ideals, (although some philosophical schools promote dispassion as strongly as Buddhism).

Strangely, although I subscribe to this expression of dispassion, I am certainly not apathetic towards worldly problems and injustice - this is my inner tension, (ying/yang).

which gives me opportunity to reflect and now ask myself, “what do I want?” The answer will always be the same however, a future society/world order that’s envisioned inside my head, filled with dispassionate Humans who are passionate about injustice - go figure?

The more I read about this Jethro character, the more I want to head butt him?


“By the way, when I was younger I used to be really troubled by the idea that there was no objective morality, no absolute reason even why one should pursue one’s own happiness, let alone anyone else’s. In a sense, I was addicted to a belief in objective morality. “

I do not subscribe to objective morality, yet there may be opportunity to move closer. And moreover, you may need to reflect on dispassion and rationality and theism to get there, (worth revisiting the Kant article/arguments for this?)

“Then, some years later, I was staring at a painting in an art gallery and suddenly realised that nothing bad would happen if I just stopped believing that there was anything I “should” (or should not) be doing. Some new motivation would eventually arise, and there was no need to control it in advance. Then I went and looked at some of the other paintings.”

And can you not apply the same philosophy towards dealing with irrational “fears” of dark alleys?

You also sound like a “worrier”, perhaps you had a previous obsession with perfection? If so, can you reflect why this may be? Letting go of Perfection is both emancipating and invigorating?

 

@ Rick

“You should recall that much of the TW has nothing to do with trans-humanism at all. What reason is there to dismantle the welfare state? In a very unlikely but at least imaginable scenario one could imagine a right- wing movement using the kind of trasn-humanism found there as a means to a kind of wealth
grab.”


I think there is a very real danger of this, especially where Technologists/Techno-Oligarchy, (not sure these types are really Trans-humanists at all), have mind to build sea faring tax havens, utilizing most likely all the most advanced protections money can afford to protect these Galt island dreams - which may say volumes about what “they” really think about the rest of Humanity?

However, I think Peter Diamondis is a genuine optimist about the future, he appears too naively hopeful to be purposefully misleading anyone?

 

/bows to the king

@CygnusX1:

I agree on Diamondis he is optimistic and well meaning. I just think he puts too much faith in what techno-philanthropy can do minus government action. I think he is genuinely well meaning and has recently distanced himself somewhat from libertarianism to the point of supporting Universal Basic Income.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXdA1lP7DKY

@Peter:

I’m not saying I agree that it should be dismantled, but to say it has “nothing to do with transhumanism” seems to betray a misunderstanding of Jethro’s/Zoltan’s thinking.”

I think the problem here is that the two ideologies- libertarian capitalism and trans-humanism have little real relationship to one another other than the historical accident that contemporary trans-humanism emerged during a time of libertarian ascendance.

There are very real consequences when one takes this relationship to be somehow essential as the TW does; namely,
that the benefits of emerging technology are only for those who can pay for them. The society in the TW bans government funded health care which means that a large number- perhaps the majority of human beings- are locked out of the benefits of trans-humanist technologies or even just run of the mill medical interventions. Unless you think you will be a member of the new ruling elite or are sitting on a pretty large bank account- this means you.

I half agree with you, Rick. The half of me that doesn’t says that Jethro’s character is in part the result of a real and in some ways legitimate disgust of muddled thinking, superstition, unthinking technophobia, governmental corruption and so on…which I suppose may be a way of saying that the coincidence of the emergence of transhumanism and libertarian ascendency may be less of a historical accident than you suggest?

In any case, perhaps we can also agree (as Zoltan himself apparently does) that Jethro goes too far. Perhaps the difference is whether we are inspired-with-caveats or need-to-headbutt-this-guy, or somewhere in between?

@CygnusX1
Might respond in more detail later, but briefly:

1. Yes I’m a worrier, that’s why I find mindfulness so helpful, and why I’m so good at this kind of discussion.

2. Your yin-yang sounds a lot like the acceptance-commitment dichotomy of acceptance and commitment therapy. This is why I see mindfulness (yin) as a tool, not an end in itself. There is a time to be mindful (dispassionate), and a time to engage.

“And can you not apply the same philosophy towards dealing with irrational “fears” of dark alleys?”

Theoretically, yes, but of course there is a difference between asking existential questions while looking at a painting in a gallery (does a safer environment exist?) and being scared in a dark alley. Besides, why would I want to? What I would want to do is to use mindfulness to remain alert and ensure that my fear keeps me safe, rather than increasing any danger that might exist.

@Rick re “I think the problem here is that the two ideologies- libertarian capitalism and trans-humanism have little real relationship to one another other than the historical accident that contemporary trans-humanism emerged during a time of libertarian ascendance.”

There are no such things as “historic accidents.”

Libertarians don’t blindly and meekly do what they are told, by the government, the church, or any power. They also don’t blindly and meekly do what they are told by god or nature. The emergence of transhumanism from libertarianism is hardly surprising.

“The emergence of transhumanism from libertarianism”??? That’s going way further than I did, Giulio. When I said that the coincendtal emergence of transhumanism and “libertarian ascendency” may be less of a historical accident than Rick suggested I meant something more like a common cause than one emerging from the other.

For me, libertarianism is an example of a good idea taken too far. When you say “Libertarians don’t blindly and meekly do what they are told, by the government, the church, or any power. They also don’t blindly and meekly do what they are told by god or nature.” you could as well replace “libertarians” with “free thinkers”. Or New Atheists, for that matter. It’s the libertarians who have got stuck in stale, nonsensical thinking.

Transhumanism emerged from rebellion against many of the same things that libertarians rebel against, but unlike libertarianism it is not by definition rebellious. Transhumanists have an idea of where they want to go, and not only what they want to get away from.

Peter, what I mean is that 1) libertarianism and transhumanism emerge from similar mindsets, 2) the vast majority of the first contemporary transhumanists were libertarian (this is a fact that cannot be denied).

Transhumanists ARE rebellious—we rebel to nature and want to steal the fire from the gods, you don’t get more rebellious than that. Read Max More’s Letter to Mother Nature. Note also that, while most transhumanists agree on what we want to get away from (aging, mortality, confinement to Earth etc.), there is much less agreement on where we want to go.

“the vast majority of the first contemporary transhumanists were libertarian”

OK that’s interesting, I wasn’t aware of that. Can you give some names? Is Max More libertarian?

I agree that transhumanists need to be rebellious. Only that rebellion doesn’t (and mustn’t) define us. In fact, pace Max More (haven’t read his Letter to Mother Nature), we are NOT rebelling against nature. On the contrary, not to be a transhumanist is a rebellion against nature. Imagining that we can ever be satisfied while consciously scorning our true potential (yes I know I’m sounding like Jethro again, this is the bit I like about him) is a (futile) rebellion against nature.

And libertarians rebel against “being told what do “, by governments or anyone else. But Giulio, that’s adolescent. A step-up from the childlike obedience that characterise so much of our society’s behaviour (what you call “sheeple”) but you are still defining yourself in relation to (even if against) what you are being told. You haven’t crafted an independent view of what you want as long as you remain in a libertarian mindset.

Against this background, I suppose it would indeed not be surprising if the early transhumanists were libertarian, since they were indeed breaking us out of childlike obedience to outdated concepts of what is “natural”. But transhumanism has moved past that.

Max doesn’t call himself a libertarian these days, but he certainly was one when he started the Extropy Institute. I joined the Extropy mailing list in the late 90s, and at least 80% of the frequent posters were declared radical libertarians (most still are). Denying that transhumanism has libertarian roots is like denying that communism has Marxist roots.

re “we are NOT rebelling against nature. On the contrary, not to be a transhumanist is a rebellion against nature.”

I totally agree. What we are rebelling against is the bovine acceptance of “natural limits” that we are not allowed to question. We are part of Nature, and our struggle to overcome all limits is part of Nature.

re “And libertarians rebel against “being told what do “, by governments or anyone else. But Giulio, that’s adolescent. A step-up from the childlike obedience that characterise so much of our society’s behaviour (what you call “sheeple”)”

To me, adolescent is a compliment. Adolescents reject childlike obedience (as you say), and they feel that they are omnipotent. Life will show them that they aren’t, but those who do great things are powered by a residual adolescent feeling of omnipotence that life hasn’t crashed. It is the eternal adolescents who push us forward.

re “You haven’t crafted an independent view of what you want as long as you remain in a libertarian mindset.”

A pure libertarian mindset is one thing, a mindset that includes many aspects of libertarianism is another thing. I am for things like basic income and against the power of big corporation, so I can hardly be described as a libertarian, and I would not be accepted as one by pure libertarians. But I affirm the core spirit of libertarianism and these days I use to emphasize the libertarian part of my mindset, because I hear far too many anti-libertarian, authoritarian voices around me.

“Life will show them that they aren’t, but those who do great things are powered by a residual adolescent feeling of omnipotence that life hasn’t crashed. It is the eternal adolescents who push us forward.”

Well now that I like. Indeed we need to retain something of the adolescent rebel in us. Fully agreed. Yet, we also need to do so *as adults*. In fact, we sometimes need to play the role of obedient child (for example when we stop at a red light, or respect Buddhist Right Speech, in spirit if not always to the letter, on this blog). And it’s the adult in us that tells us when to obey, and when to rebel.

The neoreactionaries are also rebels. (So were the first fascists.)

@Giulio Prisco

Let me explain my “historical accident” characterization: Trans-humanism and libertarianism have no necessary correlation. You can be a trans-humanist without being a libertarian or even being the opposite of a libertarian say a communist and vice versa.
Where the “beginning” of trans-humanism is (rather than its latest incarnation) is not a settled matter but one for historical debate.

Here’s Trotsky:

“The human race will not have ceased to crawl on all fours before God, kings and capital, in order later to submit humbly before the dark laws of heredity and a blind sexual selection! Emancipated man will want to attain a greater equilibrium in the work of his organs and a more proportional developing and wearing out of his tissues, in order to reduce the fear of death to a rational reaction of the organism towards danger. There can be no doubt that man’s extreme anatomical and physiological disharmony, that is, the extreme disproportion in the growth and wearing out of organs and tissues, give the life instinct the form of a pinched, morbid and hysterical fear of death, which darkens reason and which feeds the stupid and humiliating fantasies about life after death.

Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.”

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/lit_revo/ch08.htm

 

@Rick - thanks for the Trotsky’s quote. Many other Marxist writers have written very transhumanist essays, for example Haldane and Bernal, and I often think that Marx himself would have considered transhumanist ideas with interest. But these were larger-than-life Marxists of heroic, epic persuasion, not the petty nanny-state “liberal” bureaucrats of philosophy of today.

As things stand in today’s world, the strong correlation between the twin spirits of libertarianism and transhumanism is undeniable. Of course there are non-libertarian transhumanists, but I don’t think there are many anti-libertarian transhumanists, for they would have to struggle with severe cognitive dissonances.

From my post above:
A pure libertarian mindset is one thing, a mindset that includes many aspects of libertarianism is another thing. I am for things like basic income and against the power of big corporation, so I can hardly be described as a libertarian, and I would not be accepted as one by pure libertarians. But I affirm the core spirit of libertarianism and these days I use to emphasize the libertarian part of my mindset, because I hear far too many anti-libertarian, authoritarian voices around me.

@Giulio:

The way I see it you can find trans-humanists in any school of politics that has appeared since the Enlightenment. There are libertarian trans-humanists, and fascist-trans-humanists and progressive trans-humanists, now even “monarchist” trans-humanist (the defense of absolutism is a modern affair- you don’t need to justify what is taken as given)

It is very important to establish that while the goals of all trans-humanists are much the same the question of what kind of political world those goals come to fruition (or fail to) in is very important indeed- perhaps even more so.

Will we be seeing a counter article about the dangers of the current regime of rule by life-long politicos (a neo-aristocracy if ever there was one), the inhibiting effect of the permission society, and the problems of centralizing everything to be handled by Top Men, or can Concern only be mustered for the fever dream of the ever-encroaching Right Terror?

Gamer,
first things first. Let’s start with America (if you’re in Europe or somewhere else besides N. America you’d have to tell us): how disingenuous it is. Americans say they want peace, yet they want the income from ‘Defense’, from military bases, and all the rest, including DARPA.
They say they want *small* govt; but they want big govt. for their own people—multiply that times tens of millions and what do you have? Go into the above first.. afterwards comes politico neo- aristocracy and the permission society. First things first.

Into,

As long as we’re guessing origins, I’m guessing Europeon for you. No one sneers quite like ‘em. Except those who wish they were.

Honestly, if you can’t muster up better objections than “But…defense!” and the sort of cronyism and rent-seeking that anyone who isn’t a beneficiary thereof opposes, then I really have no time for you.

When I refer to the permission society, I’m talking about the ever-expanding kudzu of laws that make it impossible to actually do anything. For example, in the recent “shutdown”, some people couldn’t do their normal work because while the particular minions of Leviathan they have to plead to weren’t operating, the laws that necessitated such pleading were still there. Thus the safe course was inaction. I know which side likes it that way. Which side creates speech codes. Which side has as its most basic tenet that that which is not permitted is forbidden. Who still refers to “Ted Kennedy’s seat” like it’s a heritable position. And its disingenuous to claim otherwise.

It’s kind of interesting to be in China at this time. Makes me wish I’d double-majored in Sociology. Here we have a society that’s the most curious hybrid of autocracy and freedom of operation. People who simultaneously want to get out there and show the world what they can do and look around for permission to do so. Having been to both Hong Kong and Mainland China, I rather hope the further helps drive the development of the latter.

I find it interesting that you mention DARPA. If anything, their greatest successes are driven by the fact that they are a government organization that acts like a private one. There is an ability to fail that, because there’s no mortal terror of being tossed on your ear, means that the successes are quite remarkable. If the EU had existed in the 60s-70s, they’d probably still have regulators who had never even seen a computer, much less developed an understanding of TCP/IP, would probably still be arguing over the regulation concerning the thickness of CAT 5 cables.

When I look over my shoulder for the ones who will attempt to crush any transhuman progress aborning, I’m not looking for the Bilderbergs or any of the other progressive betes noir; I’m looking for the Leviathan State.

@GamerFromJump
How about an article expanding on your reflections regarding China? I think this would fill a major current gap in the debates we have here at IEET, and having had some (limited) experience with China myself I would be especially interested on reading such an article.

Honestly, if you can’t muster up better objections than “But…defense!” and the sort of cronyism and rent-seeking that anyone who isn’t a beneficiary thereof opposes, then I really have no time for you.

If you say so. However is the article on China being written, or do you really have no time for such a suggestion?

 

That is something I might be interested in doing, but between teaching and my own graduate studies, it may be a while before I can get to it.

@GamerFromJump:

It would be appreciated by all here.

“between teaching and my own graduate studies, it may be a while before I can get to it.”

Perhaps you wont ever get to it.

Think of it as a mindfulness training: before going to bed one evening, open a new Word document with the intention of making a start on it, and see what happens.

At any rate, it wasn’t to begin a thesis on economics/politics. Nonetheless, you did write some challenging statements, Gamer:

When I refer to the permission society, I’m talking about the ever-expanding kudzu of laws that make it impossible to actually do anything. For example, in the recent ‘shutdown’, some people couldn’t do their normal work because while the particular minions of Leviathan they have to plead to weren’t operating, the laws that necessitated such pleading were still there. Thus the safe course was inaction. I know which side likes it that way. Which side creates speech codes. Which side has as its most basic tenet that that which is not permitted is forbidden. Who still refers to ‘Ted Kennedy’s seat’ like it’s a heritable position. And its disingenuous to claim otherwise.
It’s kind of interesting to be in China at this time. Makes me wish I’d double-majored in Sociology. Here we have a society that’s the most curious hybrid of autocracy and freedom of operation. People who simultaneously want to get out there and show the world what they can do and look around for permission to do so. Having been to both Hong Kong and Mainland China, I rather hope the further helps drive the development of the latter.
I find it interesting that you mention DARPA. If anything, their greatest successes are driven by the fact that they are a government organization that acts like a private one. There is an ability to fail that, because there’s no mortal terror of being tossed on your ear, means that the successes are quite remarkable. If the EU had existed in the 60s-70s, they’d probably still have regulators who had never even seen a computer
...”

What are DARPA’s greatest successes?: developing weapons to kill and maim. Being IEET is a technoprogressive site, no one reading or writing here has to accept that DARPA is ethical—merely undeniably productive/expedient.
Your last sentence quoted above is specious: if you think, quite correctly, that bureaucrats pull every string possible in furtherance of their aims, then why would they—all of ‘em—not have done everything possible to gain access to computers if the EU had existed in the old days?
I don’t doubt your motives, nor Giulio’s. You’ve both got a great deal going so you don’t have time (as you write above) to fully think about, or write about, these matters. My points were and are:
*the majority of men want power even more than freedom.
*The majority of people in general are conflicted (as virtually everyone is); they want smaller govt. yet want the State to aid their own people- largely at the expense of others.
*Though the majority want peace, they also want the benefits of Defense contracts; military bases in their environs; DARPA and all the rest.
When I first heard of libertarianism (will utilise libertarianism as the set for the subsets of minarchism, rightwing anarchism, etc.) it was exciting. In the four decades since that time, have learnt to take it in stride: the motives of libertarians may not be suspect, however libertarians might be too conflicted for their judgments to be trusted. Such isn’t fatal to freedom, but it is crippling.
Personally, will have to chalk it up for the time being (possibly until after mid-century) to productivity-expediency; leaving ethics and freedom as secondary/tertiary.

“Personally, will have to chalk it up for the time being (possibly until after mid-century) to productivity-expediency; leaving ethics and freedom as secondary/tertiary.”

Don’t. What we need (now) is a system of ethics that is sufficiently “productive-expedient” to have a chance of being adopted by people of real influence, while still nudging things in a more “progressive” direction. Otherwise we are just spinning our wheels here: debating various forms of “progressive morality” (be it altruism-utilitarianism, libertarianism, or non-harm) while the world pays precisely *zero* attention.

Of the three, I still think that utilitarianism does the best job at being workable, but as I wrote in response to Jonathan Lyons’ latest we also need to draw a distinction between absolute moral worth (from a utilitarian perspective) and what we should do, and can reasonably expect others to do, in practice. Your three *ed points above are spot on; the question is how those realities can be nudged in the direction of ethics/freedom. At a time of accelerating change, when we seem to be on the brink of either utopia or dystopia, this is not without a degree of urgency.

@ Peter..

“Otherwise we are just spinning our wheels here: debating various forms of “progressive morality” (be it altruism-utilitarianism, libertarianism, or non-harm) while the world pays precisely *zero* attention.”

Whilst I understand and sympathize with your “desperation” to change the world, how many people do you really think are using IEET as a spring board to change Humanity and global morality? Let’s now be realistic and practicable, and as you so often promote here?


“Of the three, I still think that utilitarianism does the best job at being workable”

Then why don’t “you” write an article regarding “Utilitarian Calculus” and rule Utilitarianism that we can all discuss and participate in? This article will need to include the “math” however, to be convincing? And by math, I don’t simply mean arithmetic such as forsaking the life of one child to save two - as this is not sufficient either, for theologians nor Humanists - no, we need “better” and more “sustainable” solutions to guide “progressive” > future morality for Humanity, and/or including any transhumanists who would wish to participate?

Analogies regarding sports coaches and competition, (taken from the other article), are not sufficient, (hint: your entire hypothesis is built on competition/Darwinism and the “selfish” gene). Without going into further detail here, (and Jønathan replied succinctly anyhow), the Universe is impartial, nor is energy/matter in competition. Stars are in constant struggle for equilibrium until “death”, (yes even stars die!), yet this should not be confused with competition either. If the cells of your own body competed as you rationalize, then you would be dead also - no, cooperation and collaboration is just as important/even more important than competition.

This leads nicely to reflecting once again on ethical philosophy - the Buddha professed that “change comes from within”. Only “you” can change “you”, this is enlightenment. Choose whatever faith/belief/philosophy you deem worthy, it matters not. This is in reality how Human morality will progress into the future - “one mind at a time”. Not by “rule” or “law” or with “force”, (although laws are important to prevent Humans from harming, killing and eating each other - and we should not dispel with laws for those that cannot come to terms with ethics such as “non-harm”)?

Christian philosophy is just as pertinent for pursuing “progressive morality” and non-harm as any other - it’s just the doctrines and rules that require validation/reevaluation? By all means try your best to influence other Human minds, this is what we are all attempting in writing here. Yet be realistic also - the same reflection you charge others with?

Altruism should not be confused with Buddhism, nor Samaritans with Christians.
Kindness/charity should not be confused with weakness.


Perhaps the reason why you fail to see Buddhism non-harm as practicable, reasonable and workable is because you “fear” for your own philosophy also?

If you wish to take any of this as some personal insult, then so be it - it is out of my power to control your thoughts or emotions.

OK I might accept your challenge, CygnusX1: “In defence of utilitarianism”, or something like that.

Re “Perhaps the reason why you fail to see Buddhism non-harm as practicable, reasonable and workable is because you “fear” for your own philosophy also?”...yes, that is of course possible. Just as we try to maintain physiological homeostasis, so we tend to try to maintain a kind of psychological “homeostasis”, and defend our pre-existing beliefs. Note, however, that I do not claim utilitarianism as true in an absolute, objective sense: it is just the ethical framework that most appeals to me, with certain caveats. When I say “utilitarianism does the best job at being workable” that is basically an empirical claim, but I do not make the leap from that to, “Therefore we should adopt it.” This is a choice that each an every one of us has to make.

Re “it is out of my power to control your thoughts or emotions” you are of course right, but you can influence them, and to some extent you can predict the influence you will have, by noticing patterns.

Re “how many people do you really think are using IEET as a spring board to change Humanity and global morality?”, a better question in my view would be, “How can we maximise IEET’s influence, and more generally that of those of us who contribute, as vehicles for changing humanity and enhancing global morality?” I see nothing unrealistic or impractical about that. Do you?

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