|Thursday, January 26, 2006
17:28 - It Came from Planet Earth
Wow. The things SomethingAwful finds. Here's a quiz to find out if you're a Transhumanist.
Doesn't this read like something a college freshman would come up with some late night, the moment he realizes that his financial aid is secure and he doesn't have to bother with getting along with his parents anymore?
It's mildly fascinating, from a sociological point of view. This stuff isn't your typical Leftist utopianism, though it certainly shares some of the same hooks for appealing to young "intellectuals"; it's more like a big rationalization for the kind of people who read too much sci-fi as kids and now would like to see nothing more fervently than a robot-driven future planet where people stroll around matte-painting-like city squares clothed in tunics. It appeals to people who have discovered that it's cool to be cynically misanthropic, and are convinced that "morals" are stupid, hedonism and drugs are awesome, religion is revolting, eugenics is great, Hitler deserves to be quoted (and referred to as "a famous German statesman"), and "loved ones" is a term that should be put in quote marks. It's like a weird kind of Zen that applies to society as a whole: salvation of the species through extinction of the soul.
This page takes the form of a "quiz" that's really just a list of statements of purpose, and you're invited to submit whether you agree with them or not. There's no mixing-up of answers or anything—the more you agree, the more of a Transhumanist you are (and, of course, the more "Enlightened"). For consensus with statements that can barely conceal their rage at concepts like "wage slavery" and "the masses" is a crucial part of human evolution, you see.
I. Reason (rational thinking) is good because it leads to practical, useful results. If applied systematically, it can significantly improve the quality of one's life. Irrationality is (potentially) dangerous and inefficient, and should therefore be avoided as much as possible.
I dunno, man, you lost me there! Geez. They start it out with such a patronizing softball, you feel like a moron for not agreeing with every word of the thing. I'm sure that's by design.
II. Most "traditional" morals and ethics should be rejected as they, instead of being useful tools for personal growth and empowerment, only make life more difficult than it already is. From a rational individual's perspective, the "good" is that which serves his enlightened self-interest (open-ended existence under the best possible conditions), and the "bad" that which is detrimental to this goal.
Typical boilerplate for capturing the libertine college-student demographic, full of kids on state education grants lining up for prepaid dinners between mind-expansion sessions in the carven-oak library. Quick! The kid reading this is probably newly horrified at his religious family back in Iowa. He's weak! Hit him again!
III. Religion is a crutch for the weak & ignorant, and a handy tool for the manipulative. Or, in the words of Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger: "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful."
Ooooo! A Roman philosopher quote! Now the reader thinks he's part of an elite club of intellectuals as well as being smarter than the average dope in flyover country. You've got him eating out of the palm of your hand! One more dig and you'll have him for sure:
IV. There is absolutely nothing wrong with hedonism, as long as it doesn't get you killed or into serious trouble. Indeed, one could say that pleasure and happiness are the most logical (interim?) "meaning of life" -- the only things in this universe that are intrinsically good and valuable.
"Don't harsh me, maaan! I'll have sex with who I want to and take whatever drugs I want to!" He's all yours! Now start laying on the thick stuff....
V. The human condition (the way our bodies and minds currently work) needs to be improved, if only to eliminate the terminal degenerative process called "aging". But why stop there -- we should strive for nothing less than "godhood", or to become "persons of unprecedented physical, intellectual, and psychological capacity. Self-programming, self-constituting, potentially immortal, unlimited individuals'' -- Posthumans. This philosophy is called Transhumanism, by the way.
Yeah, it's also called things like Naziism and Marxism. One thing that's common to just about all dictators—whether you're talking about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, or whoever, from whichever side of the spectrum—is that they all believe that humanity needs to be "perfected". Hitler thought he could do it by weeding out the inferior specimens; the Marxists thought they could do it by engineering the hell out of human interactions. Which way does Transhumanism plan to do it?
A reader with some perspective should be seeing this as a big red flag, but after all that stroking leading up to this point, it's unlikely that anyone will see any of this coming, or want to look for any holes in it. But just in case: better shore up the sympathetic ear with another one of those inarguable axioms he'd be a fool to doubt:
VI. Reason, science, and technology are the best tools for improving the human condition.
Well, duh, says the college student. All's right with the world. Okay, what's next? Maybe something that puts this "reason" thing to the test?
VII. Survival should always be a major point on one's agenda, as being alive is a basic prerequisite for everything else [that you want to do or experience]. Death means the definitive end of freedom of choice; it is the ultimate oppressor. Consequently, nothing is worth dying for. Any ideal, no matter how lofty it may seem, which requires your death -or involves extreme and unnecessary risk taking- is by definition irrational. Only your subjective experience (consciousness) matters; what happens after you die (real, permanent death, not cryopreservation, for example) is of no importance to you.
Ahh, here we go. How logical! What an unassailable thesis! Only your subjective experience (consciousness) matters. Well, sure! Who wants to die? And because the universe revolves around me, why should I care about anything that happens outside my own frame of observation?
By this point, the sympathetic reader is far too eagerly gobbling this up to care about such concepts as "dying so that others might live", or "dying so that others might be free", or any of those other reasons why hopeless dupes have kept throwing themselves before the train wheels of history in the interest of defending some concept larger than themselves, or people they love more than they love safety and comfort. But such things as the pillboxes of Normandy and the village greens of Massachusetts are far away from the mind of a college kid on his own away from home for the first time. But just in case:
VIII. Some might mistakenly interpret the above as a glorification -or at least tacit approval- of cowardice and "spinelessness". Nothing could be further from the truth. One should never actively seek martyrdom, but when an enemy threatens one's possessions, "loved ones", freedom, way of life, or very existence, he should be fought with courage and tenacity -- "to the last bullet and beyond", if necessary. Caution is good, but cowardice is rather uncool and ultimately counter-productive. To quote a famous German statesman: "Whoever wishes to live, he will fight. And whoever, in this world of eternal strife, refuses to defend himself is not deserving of life."
A one-two punch. First it reassures the kid that hey, if your so-called "loved ones" are important enough to you that you find it worth your while to defend them, the Transhumanists won't judge you poorly for it. Just as we don't judge poorly a quotable "German statesman" just because he killed a bunch of people. See how enlightened we are? See how free from the intellectual shackles of your "traditional" history?
It goes on and on from here; the author really goes to town. Let's find a few of the juicier bits:
XI. The true (and arguably only practical) purpose of philosophy is to ensure that reason, science, and technology get the respect and support they deserve. Everything else is essentially mental masturbation, for only science and technology can give us the means to fundamentally understand and improve ourselves and the world around us.
Where was it I kept reading about a social system wherein any activity that wasn't directly beneficial to the State, or the Revolution, or whatever, was to be avoided as a criminal waste of resources and effort? I keep forgetting whether these things happened in 1984 or in one of the socialist nightmare states that it so accurately predicted. This statement, with just a few words altered, could have come straight from the pen of O'Brien.
XV. There is no reason to remain forever stuck on Earth; space exploration and colonization are the wave of the future. In fact, off-planet colonies could be our only hope if some future (nano-)accident or conflict makes the Earth uninhabitable, or if the global socio-political climate becomes too oppressive.
You mean if society doesn't appreciate the efforts of well-meaning tall pasty guys with wild eyes who go around to nursing homes trying to saw off people's heads so they can freeze them? To do otherwise is "barbaric", says Point XII.
Besides, off-world colonization is the only way to achieve those matte-painting cities, isn't it? Too much ugliness here on Earth. Too many poor people. Too much religion. Too many people who'd never score high enough on this enlightenment quiz to come along on the colony ships. Right?
XVII. Unless we destroy ourselves first (or get wiped out by a natural disaster), the pace of technological progress is likely to accelerate enormously during (the first half of) this century, culminating in the birth of superhuman intelligence, which in turn will trigger a period of even faster and more profound social and technological change, after which nothing can be reliably conceived; the Singularity. It will effectively mean the end of life as we know it, and perhaps of (biological) life period.
XVIII. The best way to survive and benefit from the Singularity is by personally becoming (part of) the (group of) Superintelligence(s) that will trigger it. One should realize the original Transhumanist ideal by pro-actively bootstrapping oneself towards ascension rather than placing one's fate in the hands of "Friendly" AIs or "benevolent" uploads.
So, wait, hang on—you're saying Microsoft will bring about the downfall of humanity?
XX. The state (society) shouldn't outlaw activities like drug use/sale, prostitution, pornography, gambling, euthanasia, and abortion (the traditional "victimless crimes") -- or indeed even old-skool duelling, killer game shows, and consensual cannibalism. No matter how stupid, dangerous, "shocking", or "perverted", as long as it doesn't actually harm anyone against his will, it shouldn't be illegal, period. One has every (moral) right to ignore any law that violates the above-mentioned principle (at one's own risk, of course). Or, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: "Lex malla, lex nulla"; a bad law is no law.
More nihilistic hedonism, justified by quotes from more Latin-speaking philosophers. Does it completely fail to occur to these people that sometimes certain practices are made illegal by society not because of some vile and deliberately counterproductive medieval superstition, but because it makes society work better that way? I'm not saying things like porn and euthanasia should be abolished, but to suggest that prostitution and gambling and drugs aren't things you want to bother trying to keep out of a pleasant civil society—or that abortion is a "victimless crime"—strikes me as an effort by the author to shoehorn a lot of personal grudges into a philosophical framework that works only if you don't question it, and then only tenuously.
And what's this "old-skool" spelling all about? Is this like saying cowardice is "uncool" up in Point VIII?
XXI. Enlightened, individualistic people choose to remain childfree as they don't (strongly) feel the selfish gene-driven urge to procreate, don't bow to pressure from family/friends/society, and don't see the point of taking on this additional socio-biological burden. Especially for women, the refusal to have children is a very empowering act, as society's pressures to start a family are usually greater on women than on men, and the (negative) impact of procreation on their health and personal lives is generally greater as well.
If this guy were writing this in the Seventies, he'd be talking about Population Bomb, wouldn't he? Too bad the consensus that the Earth is hopelessly overpopulated seems to be coming under fire, and the declining birth rates all over Europe and first-world countries all over the world (and their negative impact on those countries' economies and standards of living) tells us something about how "enlightened" someone is who decides, because he's just such an evolved Transhuman, not to bother having any kids. These days, choosing to have a baby is looking like a downright empowering decision, at least in the First World, where it goes without saying that readers of a quiz like this are coming from.
XXII. Love really is (just) a (highly addictive) drug, sex a rather cumbersome way of getting off, and marriage an archaic pseudo-religious bonding ritual. They tend to cause (a lot) more trouble than they're worth, which is why smart people will generally (try to) avoid them. Better use your imagination and lend yourself a hand.
Cute. This is apparently way better than the "mental" version of the same thing (Point XI).
And does anyone else hear "I'm a loser who can't get laid" squeaking from behind the author's keys here?
XXIV. Work, (aka wage slavery), can and should be reduced to a bare minimum -and ultimately even abolished altogether- by means of thorough streamlining and advanced automation of both the public and private sectors. Indeed, if we take the USA as an example, "merely" getting rid of all superfluous government employees (i.e. up to 90% or so), cutting the absolutely monstrous military budget down to size, and ending the immoral, insanely expensive War on Drugs would free up more than enough funding to lay down the foundations for a sustainable "work-free paradise" (as opposed to the Socialists' "workers' paradise") where everyone who genuinely can't or doesn't want to work is entitled to a decent basic income and essentials like quality healthcare, housing, and broadband internet access. Of course, in order to prevent "systemic overload", foreign freeloaders would have to be kept out, and the domestic ones actively discouraged from (over)breeding. Incidentally, the guaranteed basic income / freeloader management combo would also take a big, and probably permanent, bite out of crime and other poverty and low IQ-related unpleasantness. In other words, a win-win solution!
XXV. Since the above-mentioned model probably won't be put into practice anytime soon (at least not in any "major" country), one must fight against wage slavery on a personal level by looking for relatively easy, preferably automated sources of income, and by protecting one's earnings by means of offshore accounts, multiple citizenships, and/or (other) legal loopholes. In most "civilized" countries, taxes have become absurdly high and complex anyway, so avoiding them whenever possible is almost something of a "moral" (not to mention rational) imperative.
I hardly know where to begin with this stuff; it really just fisks itself. This is presumably the core of the philosophy: the idea that if we just kill off the government and the military, we'll suddenly have enough wealth that everyone can put on those tunics and swish around the spotless concrete squares like in Romance paintings of Plato and Aristotle. Sustainably, somehow. I'd love to know how that works.
Marx had his "labor theory of value"; it's laughable on its face, not that it doesn't have its adherent nations. But that's not what this guy has in mind, apparently. He's got some vision of wealth that just sort of comes from magic-land; presumably he's one of those who wonders why the government can't just print cash and fly to Mars. Otherwise I don't get how he thinks cutting expenses will somehow free up all of humanity to enjoy free health care and broadband Internet access, forever. Unless... unless he only means for the Enlightened. Yyyyyeah. That would have to be it. Keep out those "freeloading foreigners", first of all, see. And keep the "low-IQ" contingent hidden away underground, presumably turning a giant vertical shaft that powers a generator, grunting and yelling under the whips of the overseers. Hey, as long as life on the offworld colonies is idyllic, who cares about the people doing actual work and creating actual value for society, right?
It's always interested me to see how at every point in history, no matter how "wealthy" a nation was, whether measured in terms of gold or beaver pelts or fishing waters or tributary lands, there was always enough daily drudgery to go around. Sure, a "wealthy" country could afford to make technological advances, and Rome and England and America and Japan have all had their part in that. But in those countries even the most indolent of the independently wealthy upper class depended on wealth to get where they were, and they were still constrained by the realities of daily life. There's never been enough of a surplus of wealth just lying around for a country's king to just decree, "All right, everybody—free vacation for a year!" Funny, that. You'd think it might have happened once or twice in history, wouldn't you?
XXVI. Generally speaking, people get the kind of society and government they deserve. As Havelock Ellis once put it: "It is the masses; the ignorant, emotional, volatile, superstitious masses; who rule the world. It is they who choose the few supreme persons who manage or mismanage the world's affairs." If truly rational people were a majority rather than a (small) minority, many of today's problems, such as those caused by warped political and religious ideologies, simply wouldn't exist. This is direct proof that the masses are indeed "stupid" (incapable of effectively pursuing their enlightened self-interest).
Yeah, the abject failure of democracy in America, Canada, England, and most of the rest of the Western world is direct proof that people are too stupid to rule themselves. As everyone knows, the entropy of society increases way faster in democratic countries than in totalitarian ones, and democracies invariably fall apart, while only countries with a strong centralized government dictating all aspects of life have shown any hope of spurring human advancement.
XXIX. Both lefty PC, postmodernist, tax-happy, minority-worshipping, tree-hugging, 1st and 2nd Amendment-hating, envious Liberalism and right-wing, gung-ho-patriotic, bible-thumpin', environment-destroying, blindly xeno and homophobic, sexist Conservatism are ridiculous extremes, and basically just two sides of the same old rotten coin called "primitivism". These undead, walking fossils are an affront to 21st century civilization, and the sooner we bury them, the better. May the Singularity cast them into Hades, where they belong!
Not Hell, of course, because that would be superstitious and backwards.
XXX. The war on Iraq was the diversionary tactic / personal vendetta of a cowboy president urged on by self-serving, manipulative (foreign and domestic) pressure groups, executed by cynical mercenaries and gullible youths, and supported by knee-jerk "patriotic" simpletons. Incidentally, this latest conflict has once more made it painfully clear that the only true (international) "right" is the right of force, and the only true (international) "law" the law of the jungle.
Color me surprised. <yawn>
XXXII. There is nothing wrong with the idea of eugenics if it means making people stronger, healthier, smarter, better looking, and longer-lived by means of selective breeding, genetic screening, and abortion/postnatal termination of seriously defective specimens. Indeed, had common sense-based selective human breeding been practiced systematically in the past, as has been done with many domesticated animal and plant species, humanity could have been spared a lot of misery, and would now probably be significantly more advanced. Eugenics isn't merely an "acceptable" choice; it is in effect a logical and moral imperative for any (truly) responsible parent and "civilized" society.
XXXIII. The -unfortunately- rather widespread PC belief that just about any mental and/or physical degenerate has a ("God-given" or otherwise) right to breed freely is, if not outright sanctimonious, at least naive in the extreme, and ultimately harms everyone; not just the children who are born into misery, and their idiot parents who are unable (and sometimes outright unwilling) to support them, but society as a whole through overpopulation, crime, poverty & financial parasitism, and a general devaluation of human life. In most countries you need a license to drive a car, shoot a gun, fly a plane, or -even- catch a fish, but any fool can have truckloads of children (who will have their inevitable, often negative impact on society) without taking any test whatsoever. What is wrong with this picture?
Oh, nothing. Just our primitive ideas of basic human freedoms. Nothing. Never mind.
XXXV. Cooperation with like-minded people is highly advisable, especially for someone who agrees with most of the above. To quote Benjamin Franklin: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
This is the only remotely sociable thing the author has said; naturally, it applies only to those people who have filled up the "Y" column on the quiz from top to bottom. It's good old tribalism, just with a new definition of the tribe: those people who loathe their fellow humans so much that they'll try any alternative before making the best of our human world under the rules it has built up for itself over thousands of years. Just when we've got it better than ever in the past, it's now apparently time to concede defeat in the game of natural evolution, and it's time to bring out the winnowing tools. Otherwise the Vulcans will never pick up our warp signature in time and we'll be condemned to life in a primitive meaty backwater forever.
What's that? You say you like certain things about life in a meaty backwater?
Well, phooey on you, then. Go have your phony "sex" and enjoy your sham "love" and eat your pathetic Earth "pizza". When the spaceships descend, you'll be sorry!