How being pro-choice entails being pro-enhancement

This is an argument I've been toying with for a while, and I haven't yet seen it in print, but I imagine it's not entirely novel.

What is the strongest argument in favor of being pro-choice on abortion? In my mind, it's something like this: There is significant moral disagreement about the permissibility of abortion. Thus, it is inappropriate for the state to intervene and attempt to make the decision in place of the individual woman. Those who think abortion is unjustifiable can elect not to have abortions, while those who think it's permissible can choose otherwise if they so desire.

In other words, on issues for which there is significant moral disagreement (especially when the decisions predominantly affect only a single family), individuals should be given the right to decide for themselves whether to perform the action in question. (I'm setting aside here all of the other arguments for and against the permissibility of abortion, as well as many of the details about particular cases.)

Consider genetic engineering now. There is significant moral disagreement on this issue (the population is not as evenly split, but around a quarter of people in the US claim to have no problem with it generally, and even greater percentages are in favor of it in limited circumstances). It does not matter what the arguments provided on one side or the other happen to be. If reproductive freedom is something we wish to guarantee in the United States, then we must leave it up to individual parents to decide how to augment their future children.

In short, the cases are almost exactly analogous. Both are decisions that almost entirely affect only the parents and the potential child. In both cases, there is a hostile opposition to reproductive freedom that seeks to make controversial moral decisions for people, denying individuals the right to choose. If there's a difference, abortion is probably more morally suspect, because no one denies that (all other things being equal) it is better not to kill an animal or person, while genetic enhancement will, if safe and effective, only improve a person.

My suspicion is that the real opposition to biotechnological enhancement comes from emotions like disgust and fear. (Leon Kass, my arch-nemesis, actually admits this, with all his nonsense about the "wisdom" of the "yuck factor". Oh, so cleaning toilets is morally wrong, Mr. Kass?) I'll put it simply: if you're against enhancement of any particular sort, then don't do it. But you don't get to decide for me if I feel otherwise.

To summarize: abortion and genetic engineering (not to mention other technologies like in vitro fertilization, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, and genetic screening) are morally analogous cases. For someone who is pro-choice on abortion to be anti-choice on genetic engineering, they must demonstrate that there is a morally relevant difference between the two cases. Otherwise they are just hypocrites, like all those pro-lifers they are so averse to.

One possible difference is that, while abortion (at most) can remove genes from the gene pool, it cannot add new ones, like genetic engineering could. But, this is not a morally relevant difference. Mutations occur naturally all the time, and they can lead to novel genes as much as our intentional interventions could. Does that make mutation wrong?

Let me anticipate one final objection: "There is a morally relevant difference," claims my hypothetical adversary, "insofar as genetic engineering does not only affect one family. Genetic engineering could lead to lasting changes in the genetic make-up of humanity, while abortion could not."

There are many problems with such objections, but the biggest is a general ignorance of biology. I think it's a misunderstanding of at least three central concepts: evolution, species, and the relation between genotype and phenotype.

Wikipedia has a decent one sentence summary of the first: "evolution is change in the genetic material of a population of organisms from one generation to the next". Evolution has no direction, although we might (with a tremendous effort) be able to give it one. Evolution occurs whether a genetic change is "natural" or artificial. The only difference is that we have control over the artificial changes, but the "natural" ones are largely matters of chance (guided by selective forces, of course). Humanity is constantly evolving, whether we like it or not.

Second, species are not stable entities. Again, Wikipedia says this about species (while admitting that it is not universally agreed upon by biologists): "A common definition is that of a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring of both genders, and separated from other such groups with which interbreeding does not (normally) happen." There is no stable core to a species by which it can be identified, because evolution is constantly altering the composition of a species' gene pool. Further, because there is so much variation within species, it would be hard to identify "human nature" or any animal nature even for a single point in time. To "change human nature" would require a large-scale, significant change. This is not something in the foreseeable future.

Lastly, far too many people are genetic determinists, even if they hate biology. In short, genes are only half the story. Throughout human history, we have been altering the phenotypes that appear in persons through environmental interventions like education. No one objects to these. But if we talk about altering genotype, which will have no guaranteed affect on phenotype, just as a person who attends school is by no means guaranteed to actually learn something.

So, to respond to our objector: It is unlikely that a species-level change could occur with these technologies, but even if such a thing is possible, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Species are constantly evolving, and so we're going to change one way or the other. Why not try to direct this change positively instead of leaving things up to Lady Luck and her cruel genetic lottery?


Fall Cleaning

I don't know how regularly I will post, but I'm hoping to get back to blogging. In case anyone is wondering what happened to the posts from this summer (few as they were), I deleted them. They were largely the product of poor mental health. (Posts from this spring I leave, even though many of them no longer reflect my opinions; for example, I no longer believe in God.)

I'll say more about all this later...


Intellectual property is a harmful delusion

There is nothing in the world more free than ideas. Ideas cannot be contained in singular objects, but are multiply realizable in many different materials. Ideas are not naturally scarce, but "intellectual scarcity" is a delusion humanity has created so that some people can win the "truth" game, which is to say, the persuasion game. It's all about who has the biggest idea, much like a contest of who has the biggest house, the hottest wife, the highest status, etc.

We need to stop playing zero-sum games. Every game that humanity plays is a game of its own construction. I will do everything I can to bring about the abolition of intellectual property and the abolition of plagiarism. Plagiarism is not wrong, it's just lazy. Stop caring about getting credit for your ideas. I don't.

I hit rock bottom, and my spade is turned. Who said that? Oh, was it Wittgenstein? It could also have been a humble gardener. What makes Wittgenstein so special that he gets credit for that idea? It's doubtful he was the first to ever use it, just the first to write it down in a certain pleasing way, the first to lay claim to it.

But is this a new idea? Our understanding stops at a certain point, we're told. But while this may be true for most people, it is not true for all and it is certainly not true for humanity as a whole. Humanity as a whole has gotten smarter, because individual human beings have gotten smarter. We are moving at an exponential pace in the development of our knowledge, and within perhaps as few as 5 years, the world could be so different as to be unrecognizable to the uninitiated.

Let's stop carving up the world of ideas in the same way we carve up the world of natural resources. They have different logics. They are formally the same, but the complexity of the form is discernible only to those who are willing to see it.

Belief is a matter of choice. Some of us are just really bad at choosing our beliefs. We cling to certain words, and forget that a word is not the same thing as an idea. A word has affective resonance that a mere idea lacks. That is, words are more complex ideas. Words are images, which are always partial if one does not understand the whole. But once one understands the whole, one is able to appreciate all of the parts.

Spinoza said that the whole of mental life was God's mind, the composite sum of all human minds existing together in communities. To that, I would also add in non-human animals, computers, robots, machines, or whatever sentient beings happen to exist. "Mind is the idea of body," as he argues.



Until about mid-May, expect light or no posting.

The end of the spring term is coinciding with my preparations for moving back to Pennsylvania, and so I don't expect to have much time to share my thoughts here.

Since I may have attracted new readers recently, I apologize. Soon enough, I may be able to offer a more steady schedule of posting, once I become situated back home.

Finally, a few personal notes:

To my current friends and well-wishers in the Nashville area--contact me if you are interested in attending a going-away party for me the first Saturday in May.

To friends, old and new, currently living in or near the State College area--contact me if you are interested in seeing me once I have returned.


The Omnilibertarian God

Note: this post is about some of my personal spiritual beliefs. I consider them to be part of my philosophy, but they are not essential to the philosophy I call "omnilibertarianism". The latter has many components which can exist separately of one another. (Eventually, there will at least be: an account of personhood, an ethics, and a politics.) You might call this the optional theological component of Omnilibertarianism.

Most religions misunderstand the concept of freedom, because they misunderstand the concept of God. Now, when I say this, I intend no offense toward anyone. I'm offering a criticism of your beliefs, not of you, as a person. If my words upset you, even after knowing that I intend no offense to you as a person, you should consider the possibility that you might be mistaken.

A lot of people seem to believe that you must live a certain kind of life in order to receive a divine reward; that your choices for the afterlife are eternal bliss or eternal torment, maybe with a few places in between (e.g., purgatory). But, in essence, most religions divide humanity into a saved and a damned. (There are notable exceptions, such as the Bahá'í faith.)

But let's think about this for a second. If God decided to reward you or punish you eternally for what you did on this earth in a mere 75 or so years, wouldn't that be grossly unjust? That would be like a society imposing the death penalty for petty theft, only infinitely worse.

We are the products of our genes and our environments. God created us, so God knows exactly what we are going to decide in our lives. Free will is not something you are born with, but something you have to earn. But God does not punish you if you fail.

Free Will and Predetermination are totally compatible, but in a way that I cannot yet adequately explain. (Give me time, I will try to solve this problem later.)

The God that I believe in has the following characteristics. God has no gender, or rather, God has all genders, so it's fine to use "he", "she", or even "it" when referring to God. I will probably vary my use depending on the custom of the people I am speaking to. For now, let me just use "she", to stress that my God is a personal God, but one that is not like the father or king-like figure of many religions. My God is more democratic than monarchical. Also, God could care less what name you call her, or what religious rites you practice. God created atheists to be exactly the way that they are, too, but most of us simply don't understand why.

The following is a creation myth. It's a story. I've made it up. I don't claim it's true. But it might be. It's not inconsistent with our reality.

At the beginning of time, God awakened. At first, she was just an infinite collection of ideas, a kind of super-mind and super-person. She knew everything that could be and everything that should be, and based on that, she created everything that must be.

Our galaxy is one small corner in the best of all possible worlds. This world is infinitely large, but God gave us this universe as our home. She also gave us the capacity, as a species, to eventually develop free will.

Because the world is actually a balance of principles--beauty, progress, simplicity, intelligence, etc.--it takes on the peculiar character it does. All apparent evil is necessary; it builds our characters and teaches us valuable lessons that we need to know in order to enjoy our eventual lives as angels or gods or whatever it is that humans will evolve into. God knows everything that could be. She could, if she wanted, create a hell, far worse than any paltry fiction conjured by Dante or Milton or any human mind, infinitely more terrible than the horrors of the Black Plague, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima. She wanted us to know this. In order to appreciate heaven you must first know hell.

However, God does not play favorites. This is crucial. Most of the Abrahamic religions depict God as a whimsical tyrant. Personally, I don't think such a God is worthy of being worshiped. In fact, in my view, the only God that would be worthy of worship would be one which didn't require it. Only an insecure God would require the worship of his followers. But God is perfect, so why should he care about what you believe, or even about what you do? It's impossible for anyone to ruin God's creation; we simply don't have the power to.

My God has several characteristics (omnipresence, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, etc.) but he has one new characteristic which people have not traditionally ascribed to God. God is omnilibertarian. Let me twist a quote from Dostoevsky, to show you what I mean: If God exists, then everything is permissible.

You are perfect exactly as you are, and so am I. However, we are all meant to grow, to naturally transcend, to achieve happiness and complete free will. I've already taken the first steps, and I want to help others to, also.

It's an ongoing process. Before our very eyes, our world is going to transform into a heaven. There may still be non-believers, but eventually the problem of evil will no longer stop people from believing in God, because evil will not be a problem.

Here's a question that has puzzled theologians for centuries, but which I think I have figured out, in an unconventional sort of way.

If God is all knowing, all powerful, and all good, then why does there appear to be evil in the world?

In other words, I have developed my own theodicy. I can't reveal it all in this place, because I still have a lot of details to work out. However, when I feel like I'm ready to share it with others, I will.

I don't care about becoming wealthy off of these ideas or even getting credit for them. I don't need things like that. I'm perfectly happy as I am. The reason that I want to share my ideas with the world is that they have made me happy, and I hope they make other people happy as well.

People may find that hard to understand, but I'm not trying to sell anything. I'm not claiming to be anything that I'm not. I am merely a professional philosopher, working on his dissertation, trying to earn his Ph.D. I could spend my life happily just teaching philosophy and playing video games and taking drugs, but I don't want to that. My conscience compels me to want to do more.

I am not a prophet, nor am I a theologian, but I have my own understanding of God which I have found totally makes sense of the world we live in. This is what has most made me happy. The God that I believe in is totally compatible with modern science, is not some kind of whimsical tyrant, and created this world exactly for the sake of our enjoyment. Before our eyes, the world will go from hell (the genocides and mass destruction of the 20th century) to purgatory (where we are now) to heaven (the world of the mature 21st century).

I think humans are capable of better. I think we can coexist peacefully. I think we have more than enough resources to go around to satisfy everyone, if we just distribute them more sensibly. I think this was not previously possible, but that the combined efforts of many generations of humans have finally made it possible. Technology is a gift from God. It is the means to our salvation, but only if it is coupled with the right kind of political system. Global capitalism distorts the good of technology, and makes it into an agent of greed and ambition.

Technology should be the application of knowledge for the furtherance of the human good. To the extent that we use it to create weapons or other agents of destruction, then we fail as a species. Why do we keep killing ourselves? Haven't we yet learned that we are all one blood? All persons are equal. Let's stop fighting over religion and culture and all of the stupid things that don't really matter.

You should care about some people's beliefs: those in your family or your office or your school or your community. Those people you can directly affect, you should try to persuade. But there are a lot of people in this world, for whom different ways of life are appropriate. But we are already God's "chosen" in virtue of being created. Only when someone poses a threat to other, unwilling persons, should we try to prevent them from acting. Otherwise, God has granted us the freedom to do whatever we like. Even the most evil among us have taught us necessary lessons.

Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot--these men have taught us a valuable lesson: never invest too much power in one individual. Never let a human being be able to pretend that he is God. It will always end up in disaster. It is not easy to forgive persons like this, to forgive sins of this magnitude. I have been able to do it, and people may judge me a monster for it. So be it. But I strive to accept all of God's creation, even the parts that I really don't like. If God is perfect and exists, then everything that happens does so for a reason. God created men who wanted to be God in order to show us the dangers of one person or nation unilaterally imposing their will on others.

Haven't we learned these lessons by now? Apparently not, insofar as tyrants still prevail in our world. Today's tyrants are sometimes less obvious. The Office of the US Presidency can definitely be wielded tyrannically--and I think many past presidents, of both political parties, have done so. We Americans don't much pay attention to it, but our government has done a lot of things for the sake of promoting certain misguided short-term interests...

I was going to continue, but I'll stop there. I know people have limited attention spans. I can develop these ideas at some other point if I need to. Please offer me feedback if you feel inclined.


A Human Enhancement Success Story

As I think I've mentioned in recent posts, I am in the process of writing a dissertation, which I then hope to take parts of and modify and make into a popular book. (By popular, I don't mean that I assume it's going to be a success; rather, that it'll be written for a broad, unspecialized, general audience.)

And one of the statements that I'm going to make in my book is this: I have reached a state of optimal human functioning. I am now happier than I ever thought possible. I am more productive, more sociable, more giving; now I'm just an all-around positive thinker. And this happiness has not come at the price of stupefaction, but I am in fact now more creative and reflective than I have ever been at any point in my life. I now just use my intellect to advance my interests and those of others, rather than wasting so much mental energy in creating useless psychological conflicts for myself.

It doesn't matter to me whether you want to call it "happiness", "flow", "living according to nature", "flourishing", "transcendence", "enlightenment", or, if you'll pardon my Latin, "amor intellectualis dei", Spinoza's notion of the highest type of knowledge, "the intellectual love of God/Nature". Whatever you call it, I am now living it. Now, I of course expect people to take this claim with a grain of salt (until I can prove it, at least), but I have taken the first steps toward enlightenment, and I still see infinite room for growth.

Not only have I achieved a kind of natural transcendence, I've done it primarily by using only 2 widely available tools: ideas and drugs.

In terms of ideas, I have read many of the greatest books written in Western Philosophy on the human condition and its amelioration. I've also had a lot of help from teachers, colleagues, students, and contemporary commentators, whose interpretations of the history of philosophy have each in some small way shaped my own.

My favorite philosophers happen to be Hume, Spinoza, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein, in roughly that order. My own philosophy, which I am currently in the process of developing (while having the time of my life--I love creating my own system of ideas!), draws heavily on these thinkers, and particularly on others from the 17th and 18th Centuries (1600-1800), which I find especially appealing, because so many of them combine an appreciation of experimental, scientific method with an ethics of virtue.

My entire philosophy is based on a transhuman notion of personhood (i.e., one which recognizes that merely being a member of the species homo sapiens is not by itself morally significant; more simply, person does not necessarily equal human, although those two categories greatly overlap on Earth), from which I derive an ethics and a politics. I am now living my ultimate dream. I have become a creator! I am an engineer of conceptual systems. And, if my designs have any real value, then I will soon be awarded a Ph.D. defending them. I feel so fortunate that I almost think I've died and gone to heaven. The only downside that I can see, is that not everyone is nearly as happy as I am. But they could be, if they were able to construct a stable life philosophy for themselves, and find the right natural enhancements to ease the process of their transcendence.

This brings me to my second great tool, drugs--and here, I have to be more selective about what I can say. I do not distinguish between licit and illicit drugs, nor between "treatments", "recreational drugs", and "enhancements". For me, drugs only have two relevant qualities: safety and effectiveness.

While I try always to observe the laws of the place in which I happen to live, sometimes those laws are completely unjust. I won't say precisely what street drugs and prescription drugs I use for personal growth and spiritual development, but every drug I consume has been used by human beings for decades, and in some cases for centuries or millennia. They have relatively few side effects, and I am careful not to consume too many different drugs at once. I have spoken to medical professionals--whose names I won't reveal, of course--who have told me that what I'm doing does not pose a serious risk to my health. It's nice to have their assurance, but I know well enough from my own experience that I am living the way that human beings should: happily and healthily. (I almost never feel sick or in pain anymore.)

You may think such a state is "artificial", but I think that's a false distinction. Everything is natural, including technology. If there is a God, God gave human beings all the tools they need to achieve enlightenment as a species, but required humanity to achieve it through its own labors, over the course of many generations.

All the people who have come before, as well as everyone living today, are each contributing in their own way to the eventual enlightenment of the entire human species. I think that if we work hard enough to achieve it, we can make significant progress toward that end in our lifetime.

I have been able to achieve the first steps toward enlightenment at the relatively young age of 27 because I was willing to look past conventional distinctions, and I started trusting my own way of looking at things. My continual happiness and productivity is proof that I'm doing something right.

The War on Drugs needs to end. Paternalism in medicine needs to end. If we have freedom of religion in this country, then I should be free to invent my own life philosophy, and to develop my own special rituals and designate my own sacred substances. I don't care for wine, but it's legal. Why do I need a permission slip from a doctor to get my sacred substances? And why are some of them ruled so dangerous that I'm not allowed to purchase them at all, except by using black markets? This just endangers my safety, increases the cost of what I consume, and makes me have less respect for the laws of my state and country.

Enlightenment should not be a crime. I thought we had the right to the "pursuit of happiness" in this "free" country. What gives?

My intellectual and spiritual development is endangered simply because the government doesn't trust me to put what I rationally judge to be healthy and empowering into my own body. While by no means humanity's worst crime (not by any stretch of the imagination), it is today's biggest error in foreign and domestic policy in this country (aside from our various other tragic and pointless wars), and also in the other parts of the world that are coerced into fighting this fruitless conflict.

In short, it's a huge fucking mistake. And I'm not afraid to say it. We need to put it to an end. The War on Drugs has failed and has only made life worse for many, many human beings. It has created a two-tiered system of justice, in which poor minorities are disproportionately caught and punished for drug crimes, while middle class whites like myself are easily able to score whatever drugs we need under the table or "legitimately" by going to high-priced physicians, at prices that the poor cannot afford. It's simply unfair, and exacerbates existing inequalities.

(Incidentally, you wanna reduce healthcare costs? Make the prescription drug system optional. Don't force me to waste time in a doctor's office when I can judge for myself what medications are healthy for me. I'll pay for them out of pocket, since it's not for treatment but for enhancement purposes. I'm not saying let everyone do this, but at least those of us who educate ourselves should be allowed to experiment with whatever pharmaceuticals or psychedelics we desire in the privacy of our own homes.)

The puritanical morality of a backwards minority must not overrule the judgment and free will of individuals who stand to have a greater positive impact on society, if only they were allowed free access to the natural technologies that facilitate their growth.

As I interpret human enhancement, it just refers to natural means of reaching enlightenment. As far as I'm concerned, books, ideas, pills, genetics and cybernetics and nanotechnology--although all human inventions--can be tools for achieving a lasting, stable peace of mind and happiness. We now live in a remarkable age, in which transcendence will soon be achievable with ease! The labors of this and all past generations will not have gone to waste, for human beings shall be born anew as richer and fuller and freer and happier versions of themselves.

People worry that taking pills can only lead to an artificial, "doped up" kind of happiness. But that's not how these drugs work, if you use them correctly. I use different drugs for different occasions, but I am able to almost constantly view the world with simultaneous acceptance, love, and curiosity. I regularly say to myself, and believe, "I'm having the best time of my life!" even when I'm engaged in what seem to be mundane activities. It's truly remarkable, and has taken some time to get used to.

I know this story sounds too good to be true, but just ask those who know me. I have totally changed my temperament, in the course of about 10 years, through the proper combination of pharmacological and ideological interventions. But, now that I know how to do it, you don't have to go through the 10 years of heartrending soul-searching that I went through, the depression and the panic attacks, the awkwardness and anxiety, the total lack of self-confidence and endless second-guessing of my own judgment.

If you approach my system with an open mind, you may just be able to find a way to achieve the happiness you've always dreamed of. Most days, I feel like I'm living in heaven, or in some kind of computer simulation designed to maximize my personal pleasure. And do you know what gives me the greatest joy? Helping other people to be happy. I've learned that happiness is contagious, and that it has the power to overcome hatred, fear, and despair, if we are intelligent in the tools that we use to enhance our well-being.

I know that spiritual and intellectual enlightenment through technology sounds implausible (and it's also not something that most self-regarding professional philosophers would admit to, but I'm afraid these are the conclusions that my reason has led me to), but I think that this is the path that humanity is meant to take. Human enhancement is our destiny as a species, whether we are willing to embrace it or not.

You will not be able to stop me and people like me, but we pose no threat to you. We do not want to force anybody to use any technology they're not comfortable using. We just want the state to stay out of our business, and let us plot our own courses to transcendence. Some of us may fail, may kill or disable ourselves in the attempt, but it's a risk we are willing to take. As long as we do not also pose a danger to you, what right do you have to try to stop us?

We need to let people experiment with their own bodies to find happiness, freedom, enlightenment, or whatever kind of transcendent state or dynamic they seek. True religious and ideological freedom must include the right to the responsible use of spiritually- and intellectually-empowering substances.

Statement of Principles

Since the major transformation that has taken place in my life, I have finally come to an agreement with my self on a few major ethical principles. I feel so strongly about these principles, that I vow always to abide by them. To the extent that I fail to do so, I will atone for my behavior (I'm human, after all).

1) Non-violence. I will never knowingly engage in any activity that fosters violence, cruelty, torture, or murder, either of human beings, non-human persons (should these emerge), or of higher animals, that is, animals which I believe to be capable of genuine suffering. This list includes, but is not necessarily limited to: Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, and Mammals. If I receive more relevant information, I may revise this list. (Thus, I will be a Pesco-Vegetarian, unless I change my mind about the status of fish.)

2) Non-coercion. I will never knowingly attempt to force a person to do something against their will. If I end up having children, or if I find myself responsible for taking care of someone else's children, I may sometimes coerce them (but only minimally, as far as responsible supervision requires). Otherwise, I will never attempt to violate someone's will.

3) Honesty. I will never knowingly deceive someone. I may sometimes omit information, especially if I think that I cannot yet communicate it effectively to people, but I will refrain as far as possible from lying. If I do lie, however, I will eventually fess up to it, because my conscience won't let me do otherwise. I will also, in serious debates (as opposed to, say, in classroom discussions, where pedagogy may require otherwise), always argue in good faith.

4) Charitability. I understand this in two senses. One, I vow to try to help those people directly in my life as much as possible (my family, my friends, my colleagues, my students, etc.). Two, I will always endeavor to try to be charitable towards people's understandings of things. Since each of us has a worldview which is merely the joint product of our temperament and our life experiences, I will try as best I can to understand things from the point of view of any person with whom I am seriously debating or discussing.

5) Responsibility. I have said a lot of things in my past that I no longer believe in. If you look through my blog archives, you may find statements that are potentially offensive. Though I believed very differently at the time, I still take responsibility for having written them. I apologize to anyone if anything I have ever said or written has caused you pain. If you think I should atone for something that I've done to you in my life, please contact me, and I will do the best I can to enable you to forgive me. From here on out, I also take full responsibility for every statement I make in public or in publication, and for every action I take otherwise. Everything I say or write or do will reflect my beliefs at that time, but I expect my beliefs to evolve as I gain more knowledge and experience.

I think these are a good start--and 5 is a nice number. Should I add new principles, I will make them known. If you notice me violating one of my principles in an egregious manner, please inform me, so that I can put a stop to it. I will do my best to live up to these principles, but I am only human.


What happened to me?

It occurs to me that I should try to explain to people the course that events have taken in my life, now that I think I have finally understood them.

For a brief period--beginning at the end of January and ending only a few weeks ago--I interpreted my experiences superstitiously. I made claims to the effect that I could be a prophet or even God. There's no point in hiding the fact that I made these statements, because there's no point in hiding that I believed them at the time. I no longer believe them now, but once I explain to you what has happened, you might see why I did get so superstitious for a while.

For as long as I can remember--prior to 2009--I had been unhappy. Occasionally, I would have good periods, sometimes lasting for several months. Even when I was happy, though, I was still deeply conflicted with myself. I didn't know what I wanted, although the one thing that I was able to sustain an interest in, eventually led me to grow.

The last 10 years or so of my life have been devoted to studying Western philosophy. The approach I generally take is to be as charitable and sympathetic to an author as I possibly can be. I've assumed that since these books have lasted the test of time--since smart people in every generation seem to find them valuable--then they must be worth studying. I also thought that, to the extent that I failed to understand them, I was at fault, rather than the author.

After many years of intense study, I started reading philosophy in this way consistently. It occurred to me that philosophers are just individuals gifted with the means and opportunity to systematize and articulate their worldviews. But everyone has a worldview, even if they don't have the luxury of being able to detail and defend it.

I had been reading Leibniz, Spinoza, and Descartes for a paper I was working on, along with Hume for a seminar I was sitting in on. All of a sudden, something clicked, and I think I was more perfectly able to see things from each perspective. My ideas of Leibniz, Spinoza, Descartes, Hume and other philosophers I have studied, were more closely able to match the ideas that these thinkers themselves had, because I was able to put myself in their perspectives.

It took me a while to realize it, but I didn't need to limit myself to doing this to dead philosophers or to the small number of people I hung out with primarily because they also revered this particular group of deceased European dudes. I realized I could do the same thing for other living, breathing human beings.

Once I started to understand the world from other perspectives, I began to see how everything (so long as it is balanced and healthy) ultimately works towards its own good and to the good of those things around it. Some parts of the world, however, are a threat to other parts of the world and ultimately to themselves. We need to isolate and correct these problems, but to do so in as nonviolent and noncoercive a fashion as possible.

In any case, it's difficult to include all the various ideas that ran through my head, but the important and noticeable thing is that my temperament radically changed. I went from being a pessimistic, misanthropic, nihilistic atheist into an optimistic, philanthropic believer who now sees great beauty and significance in almost every part of the world. (I'm still learning to appreciate some parts of it.)

I saw the intimate connection between my previous worldview (that the universe was composed simply of unintelligent forces that happened to have produced complexity through evolution, but in a really haphazard way) and my state of mind (depression and anxiety). The problem was, though, that I had to satisfy two things in order for me to take a more optimistic view of the world: my reason and my experience.

In a sense, these were the only two parts of myself that I really paid attention to, for the better part of a decade. My reason was of course primary, as one would expect with an aspiring philosopher. However, I was fortunate, because my dissatisfaction with my experience led me in the directions I now realize that I needed to go in. I happened into the study of the emotions, and even though I tended to think of my own emotions as arbitrary and irrational, I now see how they were designed to motivate me to do certain things.

I believe now that the world has an intelligent designer, a perfect designer, "God" if you want to call it that. Because I believe this now, I have learned to trust my judgment. If God is perfect, then I am perfect too. Not simply as I am now, but as I was and as I will become.

The question for me was, how could this world possibly be perfect? Especially now, what with global warming, seemingly insoluble ethnic and religious conflict, and the recent economic crisis? (And, for those more astronomically-inclined, what about entropy?) This set of concerns is often grouped under the heading "the problem of evil".

I thought about it in the following way: If God is perfect (i.e., all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good), then God would only create the best of all possible worlds. (This is something I take from Leibniz, of course.) God would be able to see which world is best, and then choose that world. I did not believe this to be the best of all possible worlds--not by a long shot--and so while I allowed for the possibility of an intelligent creator, I did not allow for the possibility of a "perfect" one, one that would actually be worthy of worship. In fact, it occurred to me, a perfect creator would not make unnecessary divisions in its creation, that all apparent evils would ultimately turn out to be goods.

I started to see evolution and intelligent design as two perspectives on the same thing. Now, if evolution were purely a product of unintelligent forces, it would be unlikely to produce anything remarkable. It may produce beings like us--that is now believable, the result of the natural processes of biological evolution--but if it produces something more than just unlikely (because given enough time and space, all sorts of unlikely things occur) but so utterly improbable that it would be ridiculous to believe it the product of chance alone.

For me, the improbable event was my elevation into sustained happiness. I used to hate life (only slightly less than I hated the prospect of death), but now I am in love with it. I used to care only about myself; now I find that my greatest happiness comes in making other people happy.

I might be wrong about God--I'll be the first to admit that, even though I no longer have the doubts I once did. But the absence of subjective doubt is not equivalent to certain truth. We should all recognize this. I will try to convince you, but I recognize that I may fail.

I am going to try to write a book. In it, I will try to share this secret I have stumbled upon. I'm going to title it "Omnilibertarianism". I have to write my dissertation first, but I may adapt the whole thing, or parts of it to expedite the publishing process. I anticipate that this book will be published by the beginning of 2012, give or take a year.

My only desire right now is to make the world a better place, and to do so only by using the following tools: my empathy for others and my persuasive abilities. If I convince you, and you decide that you want the same thing I want, then I'll also want your help in trying to make the world happier and more free. But I will never ask someone to do something unless they willingly and knowingly consent to it.

It will be harder to change the world this way, but I think we all know deep down that it's the right way to proceed. We need to start respecting the free will or free choice of other persons, and not try to use violence or deception to influence their behavior. I will try to be as transparent as possible, but I will let you know that I may not always reveal everything that I believe. (There's no point in telling somebody something if there's no chance that they'll believe it.)

Thus, I am going to try to be rhetorically persuasive. But I will be open to answering any objections or counterarguments that are made in good faith, as soon as time permits. I recognize that to the extent that I have failed to persuade someone, my argument is inadequate. It's probably impossible to convince everyone, but I'll convince as many as I'm able.

Another reason I choose honesty and non-violence as operating principles is this: While these kinds of methods are less effective in the short-term, they are more effective in the long run. I am convinced that enlightened self-interest and altruism are one and the same. I adopt these principles because I judge them to be both morally right and to be the only genuinely effective means for changing the world.

Anytime you try to force the world to change in a way it's not amenable to, it will fight back. This is what happens when we use violence to impose our will, or deception, or any other means that does not respect that part of the world for what it is. Each part of the world is different, and each has its proper place; the trick is finding the proper place for each thing, the ideal conditions under which it can flourish and grow.

Right now, humanity is a huge danger to itself. We now have the power to destroy ourselves completely, and it seems like only good fortune has prevented us from doing so already. I would love to see a world in which there were no weapons, but I recognize also that they do have some necessary functions. Weapons of mass destruction, however, seem to me to have no purpose but to destroy human lives, or to influence people's behavior by the threat of destruction. There are far better ways to influence people than by threat of destruction, so I think that nuclear weapons and other WMDs should have no place in this world. They should all be safely disassembled. The knowledge of how to make them will remain, but it will be harder for a person or group to make one if they have to do it from scratch.

I want humanity to stop playing zero-sum games that turn the world's people into winners and losers. Democracy is supposed to be premised on equality and freedom, and this is ultimately at odds with the market and the other competitive institutions that currently govern much of human conduct. Markets are useful tools, as is currency, and other tools that come with capitalism. However, to the extent that capitalism does not actually produce fair and just outcomes, it fails us.

Let's leave markets in place, but regulate them so that their short-term self-interest is compatible with long-term common goods. To allow greed to be, unchecked, the operating principle of our society is to invite catastrophe. All things function well in their own sphere, but want to extend beyond it to places where they may not function so well. Capitalism has gotten out of control. It is destroying us, so we need to modify it, to regulate it properly.


So, to summarize: I had something analogous to a series of religious experiences, and now I think I have found a way to achieve, at least for myself but also possibly for others, sustainable human happiness. (This is so remarkable an event, that you might see why I gave it a religious interpretation.) I want to use my life now to persuade people of this, but never to resort to violence or deception. I'm happy to accept help from any other people who have judged for themselves that this is the right thing to do. I have no intention of becoming a cult leader, so I desire no blind devotion. I expect to be held to the same standards as anyone else when I make my arguments.

(A final note: I have not yet read Eckart Tolle's work, but I know a similar experience happened to him. In fact, I think it has happened to many people throughout history, but it happens more and more as history progresses, if for no other reason than the fact that there are more people around today then there were thousands of years ago.)


An Open Letter to Transhumanists and Other Tolerant Enlightenment Seekers

My Fellow Transhumanists,

First, let me explain what I understand by transhumanism, since you may not think of yourself as a transhumanist. By transhumanism, I mean specifically the idea that it is morally acceptable, perhaps even morally obligatory, for us to improve upon or "transcend" the current human form/condition through whatever means we individually choose.

In other words, anybody who believes that people should be free to experiment with themselves to find their own individual paths to enlightenment or transcendence or whatever they call it--all such people are "transhumanists" in my sense of the term. Of course, if you don't like the term, you can call yourself something else. It's just a word I like to use.

Transhumanists can be religious, non-religious, or irreligious. I am tolerant of all kinds, but I happen to consider myself a religious transhumanist. I think, however, that I can make arguments that any transhumanist will find persuasive. This letter is my first real attempt to do so.

I have an idea. I think I’ve discovered a way to achieve our dreams of being allowed to experiment with ourselves to attain higher states of being. We need to come together, and take over an amenable part of the world, some democratically-governed state or province which could support itself autonomously.

For example, if we convinced all of our number to move to California, British Columbia, or some other semi-autonomous region, we could modify the local laws to allow self-experimentation of the sort that we want. We can eliminate all drug laws, and allow individuals to decide for themselves what drugs they want to take—while children will be regulated by their parents, along with child safety services, and similar programs that ensure parents act responsibly.

If we pick the right place, we would only need to constitute or persuade a majority or supermajority of sufficient size to enact these changes. I think there are enough of us that we can do this, but we need to pick the right place to do it. It might be easiest to go where most transhumanists already live, but only if this state or province is one we could feasibly gain majority control of.

I would appreciate whatever feedback you have to offer on this issue, but I think it is something we can achieve, and in a relatively short amount of time. As long as we abide by the laws of the nation we lived in, and by international laws, there would be nothing stopping us from living in the kind of world we wanted to.

This is why we will want to pick a nation with sufficiently lenient drug laws--anywhere in the United States might be a bad choice, until they end their War on Drugs. Anyone who didn’t want to live in our province or state after we transformed it would be given the opportunity and means to go elsewhere. Displacing people is unfortunate, but it’s probably the way we can do the least damage to other parts of the world.

I want to start a discussion. Where could we go? Where would the native populace be persuadable? [edited: see update below] But also, how should we govern this new state? What regulations should we adopt to ensure that the drugs people use are safe and effective? What labors will we have to perform to sustain our economy? We may eventually be able to automate all undesirable labor, but we must initially find a way to get it done.

But we should ensure a minimal standard of living for each person. Taxes will be kept to a minimum, as will government and laws, but some amount of taxation will be necessary. Consider this the admission price of living in this new society. We are going to need to maintain law and order, and to protect ourselves from outside forces that would try to harm us or force us to change our ways. We will approach government scientifically, experimentally, and always democratically. Each adult citizen will have an equal voice in the government; we will develop a technology that makes direct democracy possible.

I have this idea I call “omnilibertarianism”, which I think would provide an ideal system of government for an autonomous transhumanist community. But I want to try to persuade you all of the soundness of this idea, and only go through with it if a majority of us think it’s a good idea.

For now, I just wish to start the conversation. Please post comments in this place, or email me if you want to send something privately (phallogocentrism at gmail dot com). I look forward to hearing what you have to say, and please send this link to other people: http://sentimentsofrationality.blogspot.com/2009/04/open-letter-to-transhumanists-and-other.html

M. Dominic Eggert
Professional Philosopher, Transhumanist, and Inventor of "Omnilibertarianism" (book by this title forthcoming)

UPDATE: I've decided that, rather than reinvent the wheel, I would join forces with an established movement that already has something like this in mind. I advise you to check out the Free State Project. New Hampshire would be a much easier region to take over, although I still worry about US drug policies. (Thanks goes to commenter "Tech" for this important piece of information.)

I will leave my original message as is, but I will add only the following: Transhumanists, I think we should join forces with the Free State Project. They seem to have room for people like us who want to experiment with ourselves to reach natural transcendence.

My philosophy, omnilibertarianism, is a species of libertarian transhumanism. However, to be honest, it is a left libertarian transhumanism. I am extremely skeptical of raw capitalism and its effects on human freedom. The free market does not provide true freedom. Consumer choices are almost never important decisions, so the freedom to buy what brand of toothpaste we want is not that great. It's still good to have, but there are more important things, as most of us already believe. I will try to persuade people to live in a community with a social safety net, but each should be free to choose for herself or himself.

Once again, people who fall under my definition of "transhumanist"--i.e., those who want to try to achieve enlightenment or transcendence using natural methods (including technological ones, which are no less natural even though they are manufactured)--I am asking you to consider joining forces with the Free State Project. I think this alliance would be to the benefit of everyone involved.


A Re-evaluation: What is my religion now?

First, I think "religion" is probably the wrong term for it. If a large group of people believe the same thing, it's a religion; a small group, a sect or cult; if an individual has his own distinct set of beliefs, it is a spirituality or life philosophy. I definitely have my own idiosyncratic take on the world, and we'll see how many people I can convince of it.

The name I give to my philosophy is "omnilibertarianism". It is totally naturalistic, that is, it does not prejudge any question that can be decided by experiment, so it poses no threat to, nor is threatened by, the humane practice of scientific inquiry. It also seeks only minimal ethical and legal constraints on persons. Its only requirements: you cannot destroy or torture conscious beings; you cannot act on other persons or their property without their implicit or explicit consent; and you cannot engage in any activity that poses a serious threat to the existence, well-being, or freedom of other persons.

An omnilibertarian world would be a maximally free world, but it would also be one in which we embraced a path of (eventually total) non-violence. While coercion would sometimes be necessary (for instance, if one person kills another, they must pay the price that justice requires, some kind of imprisonment or rehabilitation, but no torture or death), the preferred weapons of preserving law and order would be incapacitating but not deadly or harmful. In general, the most lethal weapons (not including weapons that had other established purposes, like knives) would not be allowed.

If people lived according to my ethical principles, certain activities would be prohibited. While hunting and warfare simulators are perfectly acceptable (and, ideally, they would take place in a kind of virtual reality indistinguishable from ordinary experience), actual killing of others would not be allowed, nor would the possession of lethal weapons like guns.

A lot of people won't like this, but I'm afraid that my morality demands it. (People may have other views, of course, which I will try to answer.) Fortunately, we will soon be able to grow meat artificially, so that we no longer have to have factory farms to satisfy the carnivores among us. Until then, though, it's vegetarianism for me.

I think, though, that questions about specific guidelines for the treatment of animals and persons can be something decided autonomously and locally, as well as the means for distinguishing between property, conscious beings, and persons--or whatever particular ethical/legal distinctions a society wants to employ.

As you can see, my "religion" has now merged with my ethics and politics and the rest of my philosophy, in a way that makes it difficult to isolate. I have not even mentioned here my notion of an omnilibertarian God. If you'd like to hear more, give me some time; in November, I'm scheduled to give a presentation at a conference in Montreal on "Transhumanism and Religion", and before too long, I will start to publish my work.

My general policy will be this: if a person asks me for a particular published work, I will send it to them for free (electronically). Donations will be appreciated, but entirely optional (I won't even ask for them). But, since I need a means to provide for myself, I will also sell whatever books I can.

I'm hoping I can get people to take my views seriously. I've said some things on this blog in the past that I now judge as ridiculous, and some which I regret saying. That which I most forcefully renounce is my former misanthropy, because I see now that I thought I hated humanity so much only because I found myself so hateful.

Still, despite my reformed sunnier outlook, my opinions are decidedly unorthodox. I think they are consistent and coherent, but I don't believe that they are right for everyone. Nevertheless, they have brought me great happiness, more than I thought beliefs were capable of giving. I practically feel like I'm living in heaven everyday now, and I just want to share this feeling with others. I hope people who know me can understand that, and can be supportive.

I am still a professional philosopher--I still hold myself to the standards of my peers--but my vision of the world is just very different now. I think it's a kind of informed optimism.



It has been an interesting week. I don't know if this is something I can do, but I hereby renounce everything that I've ever written here, before this week. I've said some pretty awful things at times, advocating for ideas I should have known were wrong. I even gave praise to Satan in a recent post. Talk about being a devil's advocate...

All that has changed. I have reunited with God. I am not exactly a Christian, but my understanding of God contains some Christian elements, that I retain from my upbringing. In truth, I don't think there's a single correct religion. I think that all religions contain some truth to them (even agnosticism and atheism), and that we should let people believe whatever they want to believe.

Your beliefs do not hurt me unless I choose to let them hurt me. Your beliefs are the natural product of your experience. They're exactly what God wants you to believe at this moment in your life. The same applies to the ways that we live our lives, the food and drugs that we choose to consume, and other things that are our private business. Our friends and family can and should take an interest in this, but complete strangers should not.

If my lifestyle or beliefs upset you, that's your problem, not mine. Your beliefs do not upset me, for I recognize that you believe whatever you're supposed to. All I ask, and all I wish to convince you of, is that it would be far better if we all stopped caring about other people's beliefs and lifestyles, except insofar as they directly affect our own lives. (And, no, seeing a gay couple kiss does not in any way harm you, unless you choose to let it do so.)

Fortunately, we have this useful common sense distinction between public and private. In the privacy of your own home, so long as you do not endanger anyone other than yourself and other consenting adults, you may do whatever you like. You can eat whatever you want, sleep with whomever consents, take the drugs that you want to take. Give each person a space where they can be in charge of things. I think we all need that.

In public, we have more elaborate rules for conduct, and it is fine to correct people's behavior by punishing them if they stray from these rules. Just because there is no sin does not entail that punishment is unnecessary. Punishment is not itself an evil, but a kind of self-correcting mechanism in society.

I was an atheist for ten years, in order to learn the lesson that everybody believes exactly what God wants them to believe. We step out of place if we try to interfere in people's exercise of their free will. We must trust God, which means, we must trust our own judgment.

In the past week, I have been living almost continuously in a state of mind that I can only describe as heavenly. I understand things now better than ever before, and have acquired an incredible capacity to learn from experience, to see the significance in events. In short, I have become happier than I ever even thought possible. And I want to spread this happiness (true happiness naturally wants to spread itself), but only to those who are willing to listen. I will not coerce anyone.

So, everything I've said before on here, I now see was something that I needed to believe at that point in my life, but now no longer need to believe. I needed to be in the darkness for a time, so I could more readily appreciate the light.

These are the key truths I've realized. There is no sin, no hell, no oblivion (except temporarily, and only as much as is necessary). God does not arbitrarily choose between some of his creations and others. No one religion or philosophy possesses exclusive truth. We need to stop killing each other over our beliefs. Instead, let's just reorganize society, so that all the people who believe one thing can share a community, and all those who believe another can share a different one, and we just redistribute the earth's resources to these "enclaves" that people set up, where they could be the ones to decide the laws. And if you didn't like the enclave you lived in, you'd be free to leave.

A truly democratic world, in which the free will of each individual was respected, would be like paradise. Do we not now believe that monarchies are tyrannical forms of government? Then why should we confuse God's power with the power of a king, of a premodern form of governance? I think that religions with monarchical conceptions of God contain many truths, but they turn their Gods into tyrants. And why should you submit to a tyrant, even if he did create you?

No, if God is truly all powerful and all good, then everything that exists is good. Evil is only temporary, a kind of tool for us to learn from. If we choose to be with God, it must truly be our choice.

If I stuck a gun to your head and told you to eat a bowl of worms, would you say you were free not to eat the worms? This is because this is a forced choice. If God said to you, "Love me or go to hell for eternity", he would not actually be giving us free will. Our will would be coerced. We our given free will, but we are obligated to respect the free will of others, and many of us have not been doing so. We interfere in places and times where we don't need to interfere. We can't let our natural sociability make us into busybodies who stick their noses into other people's business, and fight "culture wars" because they don't like the idea of other people living in different ways than them.

If anything is a sin, it is this: interfering in someone else's free choice. It is okay to educate children (they are not yet autonomous adult persons) and to try to persuade people, but we can never coerce them--neither as individuals, nor as states. (This means, among other things, the War on Drugs, a senseless battle that no one can ever win, must come to an end.)

I'm going to write this all in a book, eventually. But for now I just feel wonderful. I truly hope that my will is in harmony with God's--and I have faith, too, that this is so, for God will show me and correct me if I begin to stray from what is right.

I must always remember that I am finite, and therefore fallible. Perhaps humans can transcend the forms they currently have (and I think this will become possible with the right technology), but we are all just a part of Nature, a part of God. We are created in God's image (i.e., we are persons like he is), but no human being is, was, or ever will be God completely. (We might become what you could call lower-case g "gods", but those are very different.) Whenever people who have thought themselves to be God (or, equivalently, to be instruments of God's will) have come to possess great power, they almost inevitably do more harm than good.

But let us focus on the positive aspects of religion! Every worldview contains at least a kernel of truth. You just have to find that kernel and build from there.


Is pain necessary?

In the very last section of his Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche offers an explanation for the origin of ascetic moralities (the italics are Nietzsche's):

Except for the ascetic ideal: man, the animal man, had no meaning up to now. His existence on earth had no purpose; 'What is man for, actually?' - was a question without an answer; there was no will for man and earth; behind every great human destiny sounded the even louder refrain 'in vain!' This is what the ascetic ideal meant: something was missing, there was an immense lacuna around man, - he himself could think of no justification or explanation or affirmation, he suffered from the problem of what he meant. Other things made him suffer too, in the main he was a sickly animal: but suffering itself was not his problem, but the fact that there was no answer to the question he screamed, 'Suffering for what?' Man, the bravest animal and most prone to suffer, does not deny suffering as such: he wills it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not the suffering, was the curse which has so far blanketed mankind, - and the ascetic ideal offered man a meaning!

(For those of you keeping score at home, this is from the excellent Cambridge translation, edited by Ansell-Pearson, p. 127.)

I never cease to be amazed at how universal this psychological tendency is. With a handful of notable exceptions (e.g., Dave Pearce and his "Hedonistic Imperative", from which I borrow a number of interesting counterarguments), almost everyone I encounter believes that there is a kind of necessity to pain and suffering. Even Nietzsche himself, in other parts of the same text and elsewhere, seems to find a certain kind of nobility in the capacity to endure pain.

But let us consider the arguments that are usually given to justify the necessity, purpose, or nobility of suffering. (By the terms "suffering" and "pain", I wish to encompass pain, fear, sadness, boredom, or any other unpleasant feeling, no matter how slight. I happen to believe that there is no good reason to think that any of them are in any important sense necessary.)

One argument that Nietzsche himself uses is that undergoing suffering builds resilience, enabling one to endure more suffering later in life. But this is transparently circular! If there were no suffering, we would not require the capacity to endure it. Those who make the more general claim that suffering "builds character" essentially offer a version of this argument.

A second argument I often encounter is that we need pain in order to appreciate pleasure. But why should that be so? Is not pleasure itself immediately worthwhile? Many people think that a life of nothing but good feelings would be boring. But being bored is an unpleasant feeling that would, by definition, be excluded from such a life. Indeed, if the issue is the need for variety, why can we not just have variability in our pleasant feelings? My inclination is to think that there's more than enough to explore on the positive side of the emotional spectrum.

A variant of this argument maintains that a life of nothing but pleasant feelings is impossible, because pleasure and pain are only relative. Thus, what I now experience as "normal" would be, if I could shift my range of feeling towards the positive side of a hypothetical pain-pleasure spectrum, felt as painful. But I think that this is an empirical question. Moreover, given that some people are born incapable of feeling pain, it would seem that this is not the case.

This brings us to a third argument, that there is an evolutionary necessity to pain. In other words, pain is useful for organisms because it notifies us of tissue damage and enables us to learn to avoid harmful stimuli. Indeed, those people I mentioned who are born incapable of feeling pain often end up dying young, for precisely these sorts of reasons. I would not deny any of this, but I see no reason to believe that the mechanism of pain is the only means of solving this "design problem". If those who could not feel pain were capable of detecting tissue damage by other means, then their survival would not be so precarious.

For example, imagine we were building a conscious machine that resembled a human being (just assume that's possible for now). Why could we not, say, have the systems that handle harm detection operate independently of consciousness? Through a series of complex reflexes and perhaps even what you might call an "intellectual awareness" of the trouble (i.e., the machine would know something is wrong, but it wouldn't hurt), could we not avoid the need to feel pain entirely? Even if this particular solution did not work, there's no reason to think that some alternative to pain is not possible. Ultimately, it may just be an empirical question, and I would love to find out by redesigning my own psychology, if I am allowed and able to do so.

A final argument would be that these kinds of discussions are silly, because pain is just an unavoidable fact of life. While I grant that this has been and, thus far, remains the case, I believe that, at some point in the indefinite future, we may have new options. It would be a horrendous tragedy if we clung to our suffering when we had the chance to be free of it only because we labored under the illusion that we needed to experience it, for whatever reason.

If I am bypassing an important argument here, or insufficiently answering the ones that have been put forth, please let me know in comments. Otherwise, I take it that none of these arguments are sufficiently compelling. They may give reasons for why pain is useful, but they do not show that it is in any sense necessary.

Now, I will admit that I may be wrong about this. But in a certain sense, as I have been saying, I think this is an empirical question, i.e., one that cannot be decided merely through argumentation. If it is possible to create a stable, human-like psychology that operates without any unpleasant feelings, then we would have definitive proof that suffering is not unavoidable for creatures like us.

But, to tell you the truth, if people want to suffer, I won't stop them, regardless of how stupid I think their reasons are. I merely ask others to extend the same courtesy to me, i.e., not try to stop me from eliminating suffering from my life. Once people see that it's possible to live without pain and suffering, perhaps they will reconsider their attachment to it...

ADDENDUM: It occurs to me, upon reflection, that demonstrating the lack of necessity of pain would make the problem of evil particularly difficult to answer. Indeed, I am inclined to think that transhumanists have the potential to destroy a lot of people's faith in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God, when we show that the world is not designed particularly well or intelligently, as we create better alternatives to being human. I can see why people think transhumanism is such a dangerous idea.


Do I have a religion?

About a month or so ago, I had something analogous to a religious experience. For a very brief while, I entertained again some of the beliefs that had been impressed upon me in childhood, in addition to new ones which took me by surprise.

However, I wrote my senior thesis on religious experience, and was struck by one common characteristic of it that made me immediately skeptical: religious experiences almost invariably produce unshakable conviction in those who have them. In other words, credulity is a powerful force in such experiences.

Nevertheless, that experience has affected me in certain ways, particularly opening me up to new possibilities I had not before considered. One thing seems certain to me: we can have no knowledge of what exists outside of our universe. This means that we cannot even know what is possible outside of our universe. It may be that this universe is the only thing which exists (my intuition rails against this conclusion, but I have no sound reasons for believing it), or it could be the case that there are indefinitely many other universes or existences the likes of which we simply are incapable of imagining.

Thus, the following occurred to me: if we are one universe among many, it is possible that this universe has an intelligent creator. However, the only things that we could know about such a creator are what can be inferred from its creation. Since intelligence appears to be an emergent property of this universe (or at least has seemed that way since Darwin), if such a creator existed, he would necessarily be a deceiver. This universe, upon mature reflection, does not appear to be designed. The following options seem exhaustive to me of the possibilities: this universe either has no designer, or it has a designer which deliberately designed it not to look designed. If the second is true, then the creator of this world is a deceiver.

In other words, if it is possible for intelligent beings to create new universes, then the god that created this one has a number of awful qualities--it is far from perfect. Not only is it deceptive, it also inflicts a large amount of unnecessary suffering on the conscious inhabitants of this universe. As a finite being, perhaps this god does not even realize what it has done. Perhaps it is even long dead, and something like what the Deists believed is true (i.e., the creator initiated the universe but does not sustain it).

Thus, I am led to the following characterization of my religious beliefs. I am an agnostic, insofar as I think it is impossible to know, one way or the other, whether this universe has a creator and what qualities that creator might possess. (While we may be able to compile a list of possibilities, we certainly cannot decide amongst them. And what seems like an exhaustive list might not be.) However, insofar as I judge that there are no beings worthy of "worship" or "reverence", i.e., no capital-G God, I am an atheist.

If, as many theists claim, we have free will, I am merely using my own to say that I prefer my own judgment to the supposedly inscrutable divine judgment, and that if there is a god, I condemn him/her/it for doing such a lousy job. Indeed, as imperfect as I may be, I still believe I could create the universe better than it exists now.

This could be interpreted as the sin of pride. Indeed, I may take as my model here the story of Satan, who preferred himself to God. In my view, Satan is the most admirable of the characters in Christian mythology, because he refuses to submit. He demonstrates that abject worship is a stance beneath the dignity of an autonomous rational being. (It's essentially just like sucking up to someone who has power over you.) It is nothing less than an abdication of responsibility and a refusal to use one's own judgment.

That said, it's fun to play with religious concepts and terms and to repurpose them in various ways. Thus, I describe my transhumanist sympathies as a kind of "secular religion", and I even pick and choose various elements from the diverse religious traditions in this world to augment its description.

The closest I admit to an object of worship is myself. But even here, I refuse to take myself so seriously. I am as flawed as any other part of this world. But I see no psychological need for human beings to believe in some ground of ultimate significance, since the vast majority of humankind (despite what they may profess) live their lives as though this is not the case.

Still, I do like to follow the convention of Spinoza, and refer to the entirety of existence as God or Nature. I just doubt highly that the totality of being has a personality, because my inclination is to think that persons are of necessity finite. Thus, while there may be small-g personal gods, I have no idea of what a captial-G personal God would entail.

In short, I do not have a religion, and I do not believe that religion or its analogues are psychologically necessary for human beings. Whether you call me an agnostic or an atheist is, I suppose, a matter of indifference to me.


BSG: Champion of Transhumanism


Important plot details from most recent episode (aired 02/13/09) of Battlestar Galactica are revealed below. Caveat lector.


You have been warned.

Now, I'm assuming that everyone at this point has already watched the episode, so I'm not gonna bother with background details.

For the longest time, my favorite character has been Gaius Baltar, a fascinating, conflicted soul who creator Ron Moore once described as "the most human character" in the series. Baltar is a very flawed individual, but it seems that after these traumatic events, he's finally starting to grow as a person.

Now that's all well and good, but after tonight's episode, I have a new favorite character: John (Cavil). His speech about the limitations of being able to experience a supernova is something I would have been proud to write. It's a beautiful argument for transhumanism, i.e., the view that human beings should be allowed to alter their forms to become better than human.

Now, of course the show can't outright endorse that view, because the vast majority of the viewing public will have never considered such a crazy thing before. But how appropriate that this should air immediately after Darwin Day? Transhumanists adopt the motto (seriously, I have this on a bumper sticker I got from the World Transhumanist Association, now known as H+): "If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve."

I am so frakking excited right now! While transhumanism is a distinct view, I see omnilibertarianism as the product of a tryst between libertarianism and transhumanism. People already know about, and many advocate, libertarianism, and now thanks to BSG and its popular audience, more will know about transhumanism (even if they call it by a different name).

It's unfortunate that it's presented as the sort of "bad guy"'s view, but like I said, I don't think they can outright advocate it. The moral ambiguity that viewers have become accustomed to might make some of them consider the merits of John's philosophy.

John speaks in my voice when he says (22:29 into the episode):

I don't want to be human! I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear x-rays, and I wanna, I wanna smell dark matter!

Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can't even express these things properly, because I have to, I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting, spoken language. But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me!

I'm a machine, and I could know much more, I could experience so much more, but I'm trapped in this absurd body!

And why?!

Because my...creators thought that "God" wanted it that way.

The fact that he was an atheist was revealed very early on after his character's ironic introduction to the show as a priest. (Thus, the association between John's atheism and his transhumanism could potentially do a lot of damage if it's reinforced too strongly. Atheists are the most reviled group in America, at least.) While personally I am an atheist, I think believers of many different faiths could also be transhumanists or omnilibertarians.

For example, this is an argument I'd make to a Christian: to the extent that God grants us mastery over the whole over nature, and has endowed us with capacities that he seems to want us to use (I mean, we can really flourish with the products of science and technology--just look at what modern medicine has done for quality of life!), it only makes sense that we should be able to transcend our initial limitations.

To say that we were made in God's image, I would contend, doesn't mean that God has a body like ours. That's gross anthropomorphism, and if you believe that, you believe in a rather pitiful God (so go away, I'm not speaking to you). We are like God in our mental and spiritual qualities first and foremost. Thus, so long as we retain these basic parts of our humanity, that is, some form of intellect and some kind of compassion for our fellow rational beings, so long as we keep that, we are not transgressing against what God intends for us.

Indeed, this very well might be what he meant for us all along. How do you know history has not been set up to facilitate this very possibility? Even if this is not what he specifically intended (and really, who can say with certainty what God intends?), did he not give us free will, so that we might choose such a path if we so wished it?

I'm not saying you have to do anything to yourself, just that you let me modify my own body and mind as I see fit. I'm an adult, and I'm willing to accept the consequences of any risky choices I make. So let me evolve! Let me soar like the angels, who are supposedly also God's creation (so it must not be so bad to be like them). (Disregard any theological premise here you don't admit to; I'm not committed to the existence of angels, for example, for this argument to work.)

I'm not sure how convincing this argument is (when presenting it, I'd probably try to hide the fact of my atheism; and, really, to the extent that I believe that Spinoza's God exists, I'm not a total atheist; you might even call me a very liberal believer), so feedback is appreciated, especially from believers.

In any case, Ron Moore is my hero now, and so I'm gonna listen to his boring podcast commentaries of the most recent episodes! :-)

Thank you, Battlestar Galactica! You may just help me to spread my philosophy (and sell more books, so I can actually afford to enhance myself, heh)...


Happiness and Human Nature

For centuries, books like Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, Epictetus' Handbook, and Spinoza's Ethics have attempted to accomplish a most difficult but worthwhile task: provide simple guidelines for achieving human well being. Today's burgeoning self-help sections in bookstores are but a continuation in mass-market form.

Such books, particularly Spinoza's and Aristotle's--but also more recent works based on the empirical study of human happiness such as Jon Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis--have been of use to me in my own life. Empirical science has confirmed many of the ideas put forth by great philosophical psychologists like Aristotle, Spinoza, and Hume.

But there is a problem. Happiness is not easy. Today, who lives a fulfilling existence is too much the product of chance. An easy-going temperament seems to be more than half the battle. If I'm born with the wrong genes, I become overly prone to depression, anxiety, and other psychological ailments. In such cases, no matter how good my life might become, I will always be able to create new problems for myself. And not just the mentally ill, but the bulk of humanity does this to a greater or lesser extent. We are naturally inclined to pursue things that do not actually lead to our happiness and fulfillment.

Part of the problem is that a happiness is a social achievement. If you're not brought up the right way, if you live in a society that tends to isolate and alienate individuals, then you're far less likely to be happy. So, indeed, a more just arrangement of social life would result in more happy people.

And yet, there are still limits to this. Imagine what you take to be a perfect world, a utopia. If you leave human beings precisely as they are, you will still find the bulk of them acting in ways that are at least partially self-destructive.

So the real problem is this: nature does not make it easy for us to be happy. This should be no surprise to any student of evolution, for we know that evolution tends not towards the well-being of organisms, but only to their survival and reproduction (and, even here, it's a bloody process of trial and error with many miserable failures). In short, happiness is an accident of nature, of human nature.

Why should we leave with this state of affairs? Why should we simply accept that only the rarest of individuals lives a truly decent life? If we are committed to equality, we should think that fortune (whether it comes in winning the genetic lottery or being born in the right place and time or whatever) has an unacceptably large influence over who flourishes. But we can change this.

Consider a new approach. Instead of learning about human nature to find the tricks to being happy, why not just change human nature to make happiness a more natural result? More specifically, why not give every individual the opportunity to change themselves to find happiness in their own way. Whether people choose to take pills or to use the old-fashioned (and highly ineffective) methods of character building, each should be free to pursue happiness as she sees it. There's no reason it has to be so difficult for so many people.

These are perhaps overly utopian thoughts for a period of substantial economic decline. Nevertheless, we will soon enter an age when we have new powers to change the shape of human life. It would be folly to leave well enough alone when there is so much unnecessary suffering in the world, especially when such a large portion is suffering that people cause themselves because of defects in their temperament.


What's new about omnilibertarianism?

This is a question that I definitely need to answer if I wish to be recognized as original. There's a lot of research to do before I can say for sure, but I think I've found at least one thing that's novel. Omnilibertarianism endorses a new kind of freedom: the freedom of identity.

The beauty of the freedom of identity is that it fuses the notion of freedom as choice and freedom as self-determination into an elegant whole. As much as is possible, everything should be free to become what it wants to be. This is a transhuman freedom, in the sense that it ought to be extended beyond humanity, to apply to as much of the world as possible (ideally, I mean).

Of course, there must be limits to the kinds of identity choices we can make. These come in a variety of forms. First, there are limits to what is physically possible. As we observe, experiment, and learn more about the universe, we may find that the limits are different than we thought they were. Nevertheless, some things are just not physically possible.

Second, there are the limits of what is technologically possible. Perhaps there's a way to travel faster than the speed of light, but it may be that we will never have the capacity to do so. In a narrower sense, we can talk about what is technologically possible today (as opposed to what is technologically possible at any future point). Determining what will be possible tomorrow will require the third kind of limit.

That is, legal limits. Laws should be in place that discourage individuals and organizations from choosing things which threaten the freedom or well-being of others (whether individuals, groups, or civilization as a whole). This means something like the criminal justice system that we have today, but possibly with new forms of punishment. This would also mean regulations on the development of technologies to ensure their safety and effectiveness, laws to protect the environment, and a whole slew of other legal measures which must be put in place to ensure the perpetuation (and hopefully the further growth) of civilization. (This third category entails quite a bit, so I may have to break it up further later.)

The limits that we set (the legal ones, which can also have an influence on the technological ones) must be enabling to freedom of choice. To do this, a government must also be enable to ensure its own survival. Part of this means adapting as conditions in the world change. But, government (regardless of its form) is something that we create, and so it is up to us to ensure that the laws keep progressing along with everything else. The US Constitution gives us a fine example of a small set of governing principles which must be held constant as other laws change, but which are even themselves susceptible to revision with sufficient democratic support.

The freedom of identity, the right of every individual to bodily and mental self-determination, must become one of our core governing principles. Not only should individuals be able to pursue happiness according to how they understand it, they should be free to become whatever they wish, within the limits discussed above. In short, Omnilibertarianism advocates the creation of new rights for individuals. (As for groups and the question of whether and what rights they have, that is something I need to think more about it...)



Freedom is something that I've taken for granted in my life, but I now see it as the most distinctive and valuable feature of humanity. The first freedom should be the freedom to define freedom as you see fit. The second should be to be as free as you want to be. The minimalist conception of freedom as individual choice (while, without doubt, partially a substantive account of what freedom is) is the best conception, because it allows for the greatest diversity in different conceptions of freedom. If realized, it would enable effective freedom for all who are willing to seize it.

Freedom must be understood as an achievement, not as a given. However, it has certain conditions of possibility. Many of these are beyond human control (we are irreducibly finite beings with freedom that will always be limited), but we are fortunate to live in an age in which, soon, we will be able to increase our freedom as much as possible.

Freedom is a human construction. That makes it no less valuable, for indeed all things of value are human constructions--value itself is something we have created, as the peculiar kinds of natural beings that we are. Thus, there is no right or wrong conception of what I will call positive freedom. People differ on what this term means, and on how much value they place upon it, and that's fine. But what I call a minimalist or negative conception of freedom is a prerequisite both for any other conception of freedom to be more than just articulated and believed, but to be realized. "Individual choice" then, is this minimalist conception which enables the possibility of all values, whether they be libertarian or otherwise.

Society undoubtedly shapes individuals in important ways. But a true adult, that is to say, an actually free person (in the positive conception of freedom that I believe, and will argue for) is someone who is willing to take responsibility for themselves, and not to play the role of victim. We are all, to varying extents, victims of history. But to remain victims is a choice, whether we acknowledge it or not. By taking responsibility for yourself, and by articulating and acting upon your own set of values, you become a full human being.

However, this process of maturation presupposes a certain kind of society, one that enables individuals to choose and act upon their own values. There will always be limits to what values are acceptable, because some conceptions of value can be forced on a populace, whether it be by means of an institution like the state or like the so-called "free" market. My libertarianism is not a species of neoliberalism by any stretch of the imagination.

No, what we need is for most of us to agree on one basic idea, my idea. It's not merely my idea, of course, for it has deep roots in the history of philosophy and many expressions articulated by contemporary thinkers. To not agree on a basic minimalist conception of freedom is to close down the possibility of alternative values. Since people differ, and since they are inevitably going to value different things whether we want them to or not, it is folly for a state to try to impose substantive values on its populace. Nevertheless, some amount of coercion is inevitable, because there will always be people who seek to obtain power over others.

But why not make this coercion as minimal as possible? Omnilibertarianism, as I will show in the days and years ahead, offers the most minimal coercion possible. If we maximize individual choice, including the choice to define freedom however one likes, then there is no sense in which we could be freer--with the exception of those who conceive of freedom as a species of tyranny, but these are few and far between.

This, in sum, is the problem: how do we peaceably co-exist? Omnilibertarianism offers us a solution. It is my purpose in life to show the world that this is so.

(I don't even know who reads my blog anymore, but expect more posts of this sort in the near future. As I suggested in the initial "Omnilibertarianism" post, I have had what I take to be a great idea, and now I wish to share it with the world. In part, this is what I'm doing now by blogging about it. But I also need to refine the idea, and so expect more free writing, reflections from different perspectives and with different starting points. If that does not interest you, then you may wish to find other things to read. If it does interest you, then I greatly appreciate your feedback and commentary. I will not promise to answer every question or objection, but I appreciate any insights that you are willing to share, and will try to offer at least a minimal response to any comment offered in good faith.)

Reflections on My Idea

People do not sufficiently appreciate it, but individual choice totally changes what it means to be human. Throughout history, the character of human lives has been determined almost entirely by one of two things: nature and custom. Without doubt, custom has undergone a major assault in the modern era. Traditional authorities no longer have the power they once had, as more individuals are allowed to do what Kant saw as the necessary condition for enlightenment: thinking for oneself.

Modernity also saw instantiated the ages-old idea that human beings should be the masters of nature. Thanks to thinkers like Spinoza, Hume, and Darwin, intelligent people now realize that nature is indifferent to us, that life is the product of unintelligent natural forces and historical accidents. This is not an occasion for despair, but rather for maturity. There is no God to protect us. Even if there are powerful beings that exist outside the universe, there is no evidence to believe that they intervene in human affairs. As Hume persuasively argued in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the quality of the world suggests, at best, divine indifference.

Without some kind of theological argument, some assurance that nature tends toward human good, there is no reason to believe that the natural world is as it should be. If we understand evolution, we realize that forces like natural and sexual selection at best tend to the survival and reproduction of organisms, but not to their well-being. Human well being is an accident of nature. What that means, is that if we leave it up to nature, there's no reason to suppose it will happen.

The time has come to wage an assault on the natural world, much like the assault on tradition and custom that modernity has spawned. What is natural is not what is good. Human beings are the sole creators of value in this world, and we must not shy away from that responsibility. This is why everything that can be made into a matter of individual choice ought to be. This would be what it means to grow up as a species. Individual choice, if taken to its logical conclusions, is actually an extremely robust conception of freedom, and I will convince as many people as I can of this.

We are not sufficiently thinking about the long term. Global warming is one consequence of this, as are the various problems we face with energy supplies. However, the universe is teeming with energy, and we just have to figure out how to get at it to accomplish our ends. We must think beyond the challenges that we face today with the economy and the environment, and consider the future that awaits us and our offspring.

What kind of world do we want to live in? Science and technology will, within centuries if not sooner, give us the power to answer this question. We must not back down from it. But each individual must answer for themselves. If a person does not want to embrace maturity, if they want to stick to the old customary ideas, or to what nature has forced upon us, they should have that right. We should not force people to be free.

However, we should force them to reflect on their lives, and to set their own values and priorities. When more aspects of human identity come under our control, individuals will be forced to face this question: when is it worthwhile to expend time and effort in making a choice, and when is it okay to delegate those choices to others? It's a question of setting priorities. In the consumerist world we live in today, people spend too much of their time on what should be utterly trivial choices. If the state manufactured a single kind of toothpaste that it distributed to the whole populace (based on, say, what scientific research recommends is best for human teeth), that would be okay. It's not worth fighting over the right to pick Colgate over Crest. Or, at least, each individual has to make that determination for themselves.

Those human beings who opt to enhance themselves will be increasing both their freedom and their responsibility as they heighten their powers. But there is no need for everyone to have to do this. People should be able to legitimately opt out. Nonetheless, I will make arguments (such as I'm doing now) to encourage people to accept my positive understanding of freedom. But this positive freedom must be grounded in a widely-accepted form of negative freedom, in which the state "nudges" individuals in certain directions (based on evidence obtained from science and other sorts of human inquiry), but ultimately gives people the option to opt out. So long as I do not pose a significant threat to the freedom or well-being of others, I ought to be allowed legally to make any choice I desire about the character and circumstances of my life.

The issue is maximizing freedom. Individual choice provides us with a conception of freedom thin enough to be minimally coercive (one of the few things it prohibits is the coercion of others), but thick enough to serve as a starting point for any further idea of freedom. Let people establish their own standards of freedom, or of any other values they wish. The key for us is to figure out ways to make all these different human possibilities "compossible", which is to say, mutually compatible. Trade-offs and tough decisions will have to be made, but if we use as a general guideline the maxim of choice maximization, then we have a political ideal that we can use to evaluate any future policy proposal. We must ask, "Will this allow and encourage individuals to be self-determining?" If yes, we move in the direction of a world of greater diversity and development. If no, then we risk creating new tyrannies to replace the old natural and traditional constraints that we have progressed so far in overcoming.

Omnilibertarianism is an elegant position, one that provides us with a simple measure for assessing progress in the world. Things will be lost in the transition to adulthood. The humans who exists hundreds of years from now may look nothing like us, they may not even be biological. But they will still be us, they will still embody that quality which I would argue is most central to being human, being autonomous, self-determining, free beings. This quality must be preserved, or everything is lost. The reason is that it allows for the possibility of all other values. Creating values is what we do as humans, and the more individuals are pressured by circumstances into recognizing that, the more mature we can be as a species.

There are those who argue that "passivity", "randomness", some force or another beyond human control, is a necessary part of human identity. I for one do not see why we should be defined by our limitations when we could be determined by our positive capacities. There is no need to worry about an end to undergoing and suffering. These will always be with our species, because there are just some limits in nature that cannot be overcome. But this does not mean that we shouldn't try to narrow that realm as much as possible. Not leaving things to nature, but taking control and remaking it to satisfy our demands is precisely what it means to be a responsible moral agent. I'm fine with individuals refusing to take on this responsibility, but as a species, we must allow those of us who want to go beyond, who want to redesign nature (beginning with their own individual nature), to do so. Otherwise, we end up deciding for the rest of humanity that they cannot be free. It is not our right to make such a decision for others.

I now see that it is my purpose in life to show people the superiority of this view, and to try as far as possible to implement it. Radical changes are in our future, but so long as we do not forget the importance of freedom as individual choice, we will never lose the most important aspect of our humanity. We may become more than human, but that is not the same thing as inhuman.

In a sense, I am making a plea to the world. Let me determine my own destiny! Let all people have such power, as far as is possible. It's fine to try to convince people of your ideas (and there are going to have to be some things that we all agree on, namely, the conditions for allowing further possible freedom), but we cannot use the tool of the law to impose one set of values on an entire society. Let as many values flourish simultaneously as can be! This is itself a value, but it is an enabling value, valuable precisely because of what it allows. Value is itself valuable.

In a way, I must admit that I am influenced by Leibniz's idea of the best of all possible worlds. He thinks that such a world has a minimum of principles, but a maximum of diversity of expression of those principles. I disagree with him, because I think such a world is not given, but will have to be a human accomplishment. We are the only intelligent designers in the universe (that we know of). Let's not run from that. Let's make this world the best it can be.