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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 destruction.

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.

There's a 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 called 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 idealistic 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, Ted Rall, 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 investment.

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 UN.

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 super-fast 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.


Philip Shropshire ran a consumer group,worked as a general assignment reporter and sold white box computers. He has written for Locus Online, American Times, Tech Central Station and more alternative weeklies than he can remember. He believes in the future. You can reach him at pshropshire@yahoo.com.

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