My reluctant moderation in pursuit of extremism

A brief word on "transhumanism." Earlier Justin reminded me that this subject is hotly debated, and as it really isn't "my" issue, I'll leave the details to him. I've already expressed skepticism about things like life extension, because (as I tried to explain in my mega post about Andrew Keen) I was left embittered by seeing my life-extension-advocating loved ones die. Little good it did them.

But would I oppose such technologies? God forbid. Anything that might add years to the lifespan of man, or which might improve his mental or physical capacities, I am one hundred percent for.

Who wouldn't be? Well, for starters, Luddites. Control freaks. Communitarians. People who want to retard human progress or even roll back the clock. People like Leon Kass and Andrew Keen (and, of course, their less "civilized" friends like John Zerzan and Ted Kaczynski.)

Keen accuses Glenn Reynolds of being a transhumanist (a word he claims is so "devoid of meaning" as to be Orwellian), yet he simultaneously declares the philosophy "extremist" (a word he does not define but doubtless thinks has more meaning than "transhumanist"). Expressions of sympathy with the idea of "singularity" are seen as a form of mental illness by people in Keen's circles, who liken it to religious belief in the Rapture. (Wishful thinking, perhaps?)

Is one man's transhumanism another man's extremism? For now, I'll leave the definability of "transhumanism" and extremism to others. (But I do think it's worth noting that extremism typically involves the use of violence to achieve one's ends -- something I have not seen the "transhumanists" doing yet....)

I think there are two debates going on.

One is whether this technology will be available in the future, and the other is whether it should be stopped. Debating the former strikes me as a little silly, because of the nature of technology. Either a given technological advance is possible or it is not. If it is not possible, why worry about it other than in a purely theoretical sense? To dismiss an idea as crazy because "it will never happen" doesn't really go anywhere. Opposing life extension because it will never happen makes as much sense as opposing, say, cold fusion because it will never happen. No sane person would waste his time fighting something which he really didn't believe would happen.

Therefore, the fact that the enemies of these technological advances devote so much time to attacking them must mean that they believe they are possible, and want to stop them.

In my view, opposition to technology is backward, because technology is what man is all about. Ever since Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers invented tools and weapons, man has been improving upon what he started with, and himself. Ultimately, even if man ends up creating a newer, superior form of life, that will be part of this continuum. While I don't see it happening in my lifetime, I would never do anything to thwart it, because I think that long term, man is as doomed as the dinosaur as long as remains permanently stuck on this planet. There are too many things that can go wrong, and the odds are increasing that sooner or later they will. If not a massive nuclear holocaust reducing us to another Stone Age (or temporary Dark Age if man is lucky), then sooner or later another catastrophic asteroid impact (or shower) triggering massive extinction (including man). Given enough time, a catastrophic end for earth-limited mankind strikes me as inevitable.

Once, however, man becomes self-perpetuating and is able to live independently in other places, then all bets on his extinction are off. Limiting ourselves to this planet is a poor strategy for man's continued survival. That's why I strongly disagree with the people who think retarding progress will "save" mankind. I think if these fools had their way, precisely the opposite would occur.

If that makes me a "transhumanist" or a "singularitarian," fine. In light of my gloomy outlook, I think I'm rather a poor one.

But, to reiterate -- the fact that I experienced problems and failures, and watched so many people die, that makes me less inclined to place roadblocks in the way of others. I cannot think of anything more small-minded than opposing human progress because of embittering life experiences, and I think those who would do that ought to be a bit ashamed of themselves.

(I'll leave it to Justin to shame them properly, because I'm supposed to be the nice guy around here....)

PARADOXICAL FUTURE UPDATE: It turns out that Andrew Keen is enough of a futurist to predict the future of human wisdom:

....I will guarantee that no blogger will ever provide lasting wisdom to later generations. Thatís a promise. And a warning.
Assuming the above is serious, I'm sure Keen realizes that he is just one blogger among 30 million. He may be right in his assessment of his own abilities, but can he really be so sure about every last one of the others?

What assumptions are being made by Keen? If a man with wisdom becomes a blogger, does that make his wisdom disappear? Or would the fact that he started a blog mean that by definition he could not have been a wise man?

In logic, of course, Keen's statement -- no blogger will ever provide lasting wisdom -- cannot possibly be true. Because if we assume it is true, then a blogger (Keen) will have provided lasting wisdom.


I guess some things aren't meant to be taken seriously.

Is that it?

Am I misconstruing Keen's attempt at humor?

UPDATE: Thanks to Pajamas Media for the link!

posted by Eric on 03.27.06 at 06:04 PM


Keen creates a paradox. If he is right that no blogger will ever provide lasting wisdom, then he himself, a blogger, has provided some lasting wisdom.

Logically then, his statement must be false.

Beck   ·  March 28, 2006 10:47 AM

Yes, except you left out the fact that all New Jersey bloggers are liars!

Eric Scheie   ·  March 28, 2006 11:56 AM

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