On War and Transhumanism
There's one sure way to preempt
self-evolution: Let battles waged by undemocratic countries send us
back to prehistory
Sunday, March 23, 2003, 8:20:22 PM CT
As I write these words, fiery American bombs
of "liberation" are being dropped on Baghdad. I know this because
CNN says so, and because we already have
victims of our liberation.
As an American I can tell you that I'm deeply
ashamed of my country. This war is entirely the result of a now
corrupt, bought-off "process" of democracy that has failed to
deliver any democracy or even to count the majority of votes against
our Idiot Prince of a President.
This war represents a complete failure of
imagination of our so-called "leaders," the worst I've seen in my
pre-posthuman lifetime of two score.
And the invasion of Iraq is symptomatic of a
larger war that
Transhumanists can probably
appreciate. It is a war between two realities: A race between what
we're betting will be a transcendent technological
singularity versus a planet-wide
catastrophe when Christian fundie fanatics with nukes finally meet
up with Islamic fundie fanatics with nukes and subsequently move
toward their Final Conversation.
It will be a very bad conversation that will
probably end us all, at least if you're on Earth before a
singularity comes. These aren't good times if you believe that you
should control your own evolution, and be able to avoid your own
If we survive them, we must take steps to
prevent war's threat to the future by expanding democracy and taking
power from corrupt elites.
This war isn't necessary
Let's start with why this war is ridiculous,
and why it isn't in the public's best interest.
must-read story about hydrogen over at Wired this month.
The writers make the argument that, if we wanted to (that's a big if
in these oil administration days), we could fully move toward a
hydrogen economy in 10 years.
This isn't necessarily a new idea. In fact,
Transhumanist pariah Jeremy Rifkin wrote a recent and ambitious book
The Hydrogen Age, which I kind of liked, that made a similar
argument. (I've actually seen Rifkin speak several times and he's
not an altogether bad guy. There needs to be a Ralph Nader for
biotech. I just think he needs a more persuasive motto than, "Stop
Because I'm Nostalgic.")
The key theme in Rifkin's book is that
conversion to a hydrogen economy will happen not because a bunch of
Green Party members want it to but because the heads of the
automotive industry and other central players of our country's Power
Elite want it to. He's probably right.
That's probably what vexes me so much about
the war in Iraq, which I've always thought was about oil -- a
minority position held by me,
Mike Kinsley and the vast majority of the Earth, so discount it
at your leisure.
It's clear that you don't need to fight a war
about oil if it looks like there will be significant breakthroughs
in other areas. And it's not just the Wired guys and Rifkin
saying that we can move to hydrogen, it's Harry Braun saying that
we could rely on wind power alone if we just made the right
While I haven't done all the research
necessary, I'm of the belief that if we invested serious money -- at
least as much as went to
bribe Turkey, estimated at between $15 billion and $28 billion
dollars -- we wouldn't have to invade anybody over oil. The Wired
guys put their cost at about $100 billion, just about a fraction of
the projected size of
Bush's wrongheaded tax cut.
It's like fighting a war over floppy discs or
pre-1988 television sets. It's just plain absurd. Unless, of course,
you happen to
make your living in the fossil fuel industry.
I'm trying to think what would be more
horrific for the current oligarchic crowd running Washington, a
future where they don't control the oil or a future where oil isn't
really needed. I'm sure this war is about avoiding both futures.
Keep in mind that this is an administration that
gives SUV owners a tax break and
cuts investment in alternative fuels. This is an administration
almost breathtaking in its continuous evil.
Why would this war be any different?
But I have no doubt that we could move away
from fossil fuels. We could invest in
biofuels, solar cells enhanced with both
smarter nan and
full-spectrum capacities, wind,
smarter engines and smarter energy distribution systems. And if
HighLift ever gets off the ground with its space elevator then
we could seriously think about solar satellites.
Then there's good old fashioned conservation.
The state of California managed to
reduce its energy consumption by up to 10% during its crisis.
What could it have done with strategic tax breaks, long-term loans
and leadership from the top? What could the country do? It would be
nice to find out.
You never know, maybe there's something to
zero point or
cold fusion. Doubtful, but I can guarantee you there's one
administration that's rooting against all of these technologies --
be they rational or silly -- to fail.
Building a democratic assembler paradise
It's hard to get that
nanotechnology assembler paradise if
we're all living under a radioactive, genetically modified smallpox
cloud. And this is where it gets really, really scary.
We have a president who takes the
advice of Leon Kass, a guy who is on
record as wanting desperately to stop the future. You have to ask
yourself what future Kass would be more comfortable with, a future
in which people manipulate the drivers of life or a future that
resembles the past -- where people grope around in the dark without
the scientific method and need symbolic bliss stations composed of
imaginary beings to make it through the day-to-day.
As a matter of logic, you should support
rules, laws and themes that see conflicts resolved without force.
Right now, President Bush is betting that Iraq doesn't have weapons
of mass destruction or that his opponent won't use them even if his
death is a certainty. Bush might have bet right, but I would no more
assume his brilliance than the drunk who had lived through a round
or two of Russian Roulette.
So what kinds of actions should nation states
exhibit if we want to make it 20 or 30 years down the timestream
when the technological singularity starts and everything else ends?
Generally, and this is just my humble
opinion, you should be in favor of a kind of world federalism.
Federalism has worked rather well in the US. There hasn't been a war
between Florida and Iowa as of late and there probably never will
be. Thus, you should support the
Transhumanists should also support open-ended
intellectual exploration and strong free speech rules anywhere and
everywhere. And at the very least, you should encourage your leaders
or your parties to engage in long, protracted discussions whenever a
dispute comes up. Your country should be a member of the UN and the
World Court. And it should agree to UN sanctions against any
country that deserves it, even if it is Israel.
Now, if it's on the Transhumanist agenda to
have a stable civil society in which every nation state abides by
the Rule of Law, and in which transformative technology can quietly
brew and mature, you might have noticed that the Bush administration
trends against every single prescription.
No working democracies, no affordable or
available Transhumanist therapies for the masses, I say. Instead,
you'll get to watch the spectacle of Leon and
Francis getting younger and more vigorous while using some
Internet2 feed that you can't buy, while you rot away unable to
afford thousand-dollar-a-gram Transhumanist therapies, brought about
no doubt by the completely respectable
Virginia Postrel-approved market forces and the unassailable
Instapundit-praised legal opinions of the
Scalia Supreme Court.
So, no matter what you think about the newly
"liberated" Iraq -- liberated in the same fashion that mafia dons
attain the ownership of bars and union bosses -- you should never be
happy about wars between nation states.
There is one sure way to stop the
Transhumanist dream and that's to return all of us to the Stone Age.