4/04/2009

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

Cheers,
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.

8 comments:

Tech said...

This is almost exactly the paradigm behind the Free State Project. I suggest you look into it. I'm sure they'd welcome you and your views...

M. Dominic Eggert said...

Thank you for the tip. I will look into it. This is one thing I love about the internet, if you write something down, sometimes an answer will just come to you. :-)

I will definitely investigate this project! I'm glad I don't have to start it myself.

sbh said...

"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."

A couple of comments:

1. It is unclear what the referent of 'us' is here. If it refers to transhumanists, then your definition is circular.

2. If 'us' and 'we' have different referents, where 'us' refers to humans(?) and 'we' refers to transhumanists, then the account is still circular *and* puts the transhumanists in the position of controlling the means by which the population at large is to be "improved upon." Worse yet, the transhumanists apparently decide this individually, so, by this account, it is morally permissible (forget morally obligatory) for each of them to act so as to bring about a condition he deems as an improvement. I reject this outright since it would countenance a transhumanist's stomping puppy heads if that is what the transhumanist decided was the appropriate means for improving the human condition.

3. If 'us' and 'we' are meant to refer to the same thing, say humans, we have the same problem. Why ought an individual be able to carry out an act that has consequences for "the human condition"? Might not there be conflicts between what transhumanist A and transhumanist B believe to be most beneficial for the human condition? It is not inconceivable that neither action is particularly beneficial, and that were they both to act, everyone would be worse off.

4. Of course, if this account is non-reductive, you may help yourself to the term 'transhumanist' but this renders your account unilluminating, and still there is the ambiguity problem with us/we.

5. The subsequent paragraph does not give a logically equivalent account of what a transhumanist is, despite the 'In other words.'

6. I've only attend to one horn of the disjunction 'improve upon or 'transcend'', but the other horn does not seem entirely unproblematic either. You still have the ambiguity/scope problem, but you have the further problem of cashing out what transcendence is.

Other comments:

7. How is labor going to be distributed in your drug commune out in California? What if the individual choices of 5 transhumanists to spend the day in a K-hole negatively impact the welfare of 2 other transhumanists who are simply spending the weekend quietly tripping in their respective living rooms? This might be the case if the fans of Special K work for the transhumanist drug commune utility company and the electricity goes out or the nuclear power facility begins to melt down. So long as they believed that they were improving the human condition by taking special K instead of paying attention to the temperature of reactor 2, it is morally permissible (or obligatory) for them to neglect their civic duties in favor of spending the day in a K-hole

8. Does it not occur to you that running a government "scientifically" may conflict with running it democratically? Will evolution be in your science texts? Will pi be fixed at some arbitrary approximation (see Indiana House Bill No. 246, 1897)? Will this be decided by a vote? What if creationist transhumanists win the vote and in addition to including creationism in transhumanist biology texts, they in accordance with I Kings 7:23, set pi=3? Why have a vote at all if science is allowed to dictate? But if science is allowed to dictate, how is this democratic?

9. "But we should ensure a minimal standard of living for each person."

This does not sound very fun. First of all, what if the citizens vote not to do so? Then you have to respect the will of the masses and not make such an assurance; hence, you have the population acting immorally. (I read 'should' in the normal normative sense.)

Also, why *should* "we" do this? Do you have an argument for this claim?

How do I even read the quote? Again more ambiguity. For example, do you mean to say that for each individual, it will be the case that his standard of living is guaranteed to be minimal? No one wants to have it mandated that his standard of living is minimal. Some of us may enjoy a non-minimal standard of living, complete with nintendo wii's and late-night Showtime movies.

10. Why is this position not susceptible to the standard objections to (social) libertarianism?

M. Dominic Eggert said...

SBH, since I'm not stupid, I recognize you as one of my friends--I hope the rest of you will excuse the familiarity with which I respond to his statements.

Since you clearly took pains to read this letter in the least charitable way possible, I'm not sure that your concerns are worthy of being answered. Since I doubt I could satisfy you even if I did answer them, I see no point in bothering.

Interpret this is as a victory if you like. But you're not in my target audience. So to answer your first question, at least, "us" clearly does not include you.

I wish you luck in whatever life projects you undertake, but I know you well enough to know that it would take a far greater effort to convince you than is worthwhile. I apologize if this response dissatisfies you.

SBH said...

I confess to having a bit of fun at your expense. I do suspect that the nonsense trickles up, however, from the semantic issue to the conceptual level.

You said you wanted a conversation. Now you don't? Are you just preaching to the choir?

While I suspect you could, were you more careful, address the semantic objections, and those are likely not to be of interest to your audience anyway.

Nevertheless, I take 10, 8, and 7 to be concerns that even a charitable reader might have. So you might consider addressing those and humoring me. Who knows, may be I'll even drink the kool aid.

M. Dominic Eggert said...

SBH,

Thanks for taking a more charitable approach. I responded to you because you're a friend, but if some random troll had written something like you did, I might have just ignored it entirely. Of course, I reacted a bit more angrily than I probably should have, so I apologize for that.

I'm busy at the moment, but I'll take a second look at your list of objections and try to deal with the most reasonable ones. When I have a response, I will post it.

If you're willing to argue with me in good faith, then I'm happy to include anyone in the conversation, even if they're openly antagonistic.

Maggie said...

Who's SBH? We should write an open letter, to start a support group for Dom's friends who will be sad when he leaves us for his experience machine. And who wish that he would just accept us for our most righteous natural potentialities.

And pardon the silliness Dom, but I believe I've conversed with you in good faith enough to deserve a friendly but not entirely supportive comment. ;)

M. Dominic Eggert said...

SBH,

I haven't forgotten about your concerns, but I'm very busy right now, so I can't answer them for at least a few days, possibly a few weeks. I need to finish my dissertation prospectus before the end of April.

***

Maggie,

I am glad you are reading my blog. I am busy now, like you are, but I am sure we will find time to hang out soon.

Cheers,
-Dom