11 July 2005

Libertarianism & Transhumanism

So after some friendly debate over on Tim's Occult Investigator site, I'm remembering just how easy it is for people to fear the unknown. In this case, it's transhumanism. And, sadly, it reminds me of when Tara and I went down to Calgary last and some friend of a friend harped down on me for supporting the ideas of libertarianism. She honest-to-god said, "That's the Devil's party, you know?"

This bitch was a political sciences major and she actually used the adjective "Devil" to describe an approach to a laissez faire world. I can understand not agreeing with it, but c'mon. When Iceland is one of the fundamental models of libertarian society, between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, I can't exactly commit to any sort of negative commentary. Iceland (I love it's actual name: Lýðveldið Ísland) openly accepts other religions, with a small but distinguished Ásatrú contingent, and their culture has shaped, in my opnion, an exemplary Western nation:—
Some famous Icelanders include pop singer Björk; avant-garde rock band Sigur Rós; and novelist Halldór Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. Also, the former world chess champion Bobby Fischer became an Icelandic citizen on March 21, 2005. Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a citizen since 1972.

Iceland's literacy rate is among the highest in the world, and the love of literature, chess, and other intellectual pursuits is widespread.


So onto transhumanism. In this article by Ronald Bailey, entitled "Transhumanism: The Most Dangerous Idea?", we explore how the U.S. government reflects many of the fears of the population about transhumanism (yes, it's very reminiscent of the stories of prejudice found in X-Men):—
Francis Fukuyama, professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, author of Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. His choice for the world's most dangerous idea? Transhumanism.

In his Foreign Policy article, Fukuyama identifies transhumanism as "a strange liberation movement" that wants "nothing less than to liberate the human race from its biological constraints." Sounds ominous, no? But wait a minute, isn't human history (and prehistory) all about liberating more and more people from their biological constraints? After all, it's not as though most of us still live in our species' "natural state" as Pleistocene hunter-gatherers. […]

Of course, humans have been deliberately changing their bodies through athletic training and their brains through schooling. Nevertheless, Fukuyama has a point. Can one be so transformed by technology as to be no longer human? "Our good characteristics are intimately connected to our bad ones: If we weren't violent and aggressive, we wouldn't be able to defend ourselves; if we didn't have feelings of exclusivity, we wouldn't be loyal to those close to us; if we never felt jealousy, we would also never feel love," asserts Fukuyama. He seems to be arguing that to be a human being one must possess all of the emotional capacities characteristic of our species. If biotechnological manipulations removed our ability to feel emotions like anger, hate, or violence, we would in some sense not be human beings any more.


But where Fukuyama is a bit coy, left-leaning bioethicists George Annas, Lori Andrews, and Rosario Isasi are brutally blunt:—
The new species, or "posthuman," will likely view the old "normal" humans as inferior, even savages, and fit for slavery or slaughter. The normals, on the other hand, may see the posthumans as a threat and if they can, may engage in a preemptive strike by killing the posthumans before they themselves are killed or enslaved by them. It is ultimately this predictable potential for genocide that makes species-altering experiments potential weapons of mass destruction, and makes the unaccountable genetic engineer a potential bioterrorist.


Why do I bring up both libertarianism and transhumanism. Becuase it seems that a cornerstone argument made by those against both are deathly afraid of freedom. Of course, this is just my opinion, but they're all arguing what-ifs. Also, and here's the kicker, is that it seems to be a projection of the insecurities that they hold of themselves. I can't prove this, obviously, but think about the inter-subjective way we involve ourselves in reality: We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.

The fundamental reason I think libertarianism would work — in time, after some probable bloodshed and much cheating of the system as the corrupt took to it — would be because of the amount of freedom it would afford everyone. It places all responsibility upon the individuals in society. There is no more coddling. As much as I think social programmes are wonderful in some regards, I force myself to look at the larger picture and what I see is a nation (especially in the U.S.) that makes more effort to dodge blame than they do in trying to get to the grassroots issues at hand. (I blame the legal trends in the States and the Church for this.) And not to sound too harsh, but look at the Canadian Liberals. The Sponsorship Scandal, the misallocaton of, I don't recall, millions or hopefully not billions of dollars, et cetera. I believe the majority of federal Liberals are from rich Ontario and Québécois families. And from the trouble they get into, there are a few that like to host a criminal element in government — essentially using it to their advantage, rather than that of the people they represent.

In a libertarian state there'd be no need for any of them. The small amount of tax dollars we'd be paying out would be for simple necessities, such as road maintenance. And I can assure you that the punishment for ripping off the community (the community being all of Canada, in this case) would be a little more than this slap on the wrist.

Remember Brian Mulroney?

I can't say I am as educated in all this libertarian stuff as I am in other matters, but I now tend to agree with the points made by Rebecca and the articles I am reading online. The essence of it all is freedom. And responsibility. Like these two obese chicks suing McDonald's. For god's sake, is it McDonald's fault or a shared fault between you and your fucking parents? I place a tub of lard and a vat of salad in front of you, I'm gonna point and laugh if you snort down on the lard and put on 200 lbs. Argh.

And as far as commercialised health care goes, of which I am on the fence about all of that, I believe we could probably develop better systems à la Blue Cross. That's what the Blue Cross is there for, isn't it? Committees would form, and just as there is competition in the commercial sector, these committees would form the best and most efficient regulations. Wanna eat in a restaurant for $3 a plate, sure, give'r… but don't expect the same quality as eating at an establishment that proudly displays its committee regulations on their menus and charge $18 an entrée.

I also remember reading that the failure of R. Buckminster Fuller's economically- and environmentall-designed housing was due to the complications of housing regulations and power/sewage issues. It was near-impossible for them to get the proper paperwork in place. In the end, his Dymaxion housing was shelved and we've never seen it made commercially viable.

So back to transhumanism. People associate this with robots and abandoning the body and all this and that. I never even thought of that until the debate started huffing online. From a design perspective, I think of freedoms and in the context of hierarchies. Right now, people have been raised and the majority are okay with the amount of freedom that they're allowed. For the most part, I believe this is because it's what they grew up knowing. (There are stats online for this on the Americans, not sure about the Canadian stats.)

From an occult point of view, spiritual "freedom" is the the consequence of informational freedom. And from a design point of view, hierarchy and focus is necessary to create these new groups and social interactions (from IDFuel):—
Today Apple has 3 directions: professional "work horse" computers, friendly personal computers, and media distribution. Four years from now, I'm not so sure Apple will be making iPods, and iMacs. iTunes is already getting ported into cell phones, and the newest iMac is really more of an entertainment center component than a computer. Of course they will always make desktops, educational computers, and servers but I have a feeling that the PC will dissolve away into other hardware. Already people are ditching laptops in favor of Blackberry phones with detachable keyboards for most of their traditional "computing" needs. The definition of a phone is getting a little crazy with land lines, cell, instant messaging, VOIP, pervasive Wi-Fi, cameras, streaming video, and games. Televisions are going to be stationary computers, and cell phones will be the portable equivalent, with the same abilities. The only difference will be the physical interface and context of use.

In the end, we have all information available at any time and can sort through it intelligently, which is a good thing.


In Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, he brings up the number of social interactions that are allowable in groups. There is an equation developed by Robin Dunbar ("Neocortex size as a contraint on group size in primates," Journal of Human Evolution (1992), vol. 20, pp. 469–493) that states that the maximum number of social relations that humans are capable of handling, on average, is 147.8… roughly 150.

Dunbar looked at 21 different hunter-gatherer societies for which we have solid historical evidence and found that the average number of people in their villages was 148.4. The same pattern holds true for military organisations. Hutterites split their colonies into two once they reach the threshold of 150 people. The company Gore, which designed and developed the well-known Gore-Tex® used in everything from firefighting materials to camping equipment, has had 35 years of constant growth and profitibility because they, too, adhere to this 150 rule. No Gore plant ever exceeds 150 persons. On top of that, there are no titles or job descriptions at Gore. Everyone has the word "Associate" on their business card, similarly sized offices, salary is voted on, and everyone within each particular plant works off of one another, aiding one another, and inspiring one another via peer pressure, honour, and friendship. Very libertarian. And better than having a "boss" telling you what to do. This is inspired learning.

With the increase in informational structuring and order we'll be able to accomplish with the advent of new neurotechnology, humanity shall be able to slough off this evolutionary restraint and we'll be able to build and maintain more than just one group of 150. But just as alternate reality games work, I each person will build up networks of 150-groups. One maybe be specialised in one manner, and through that you'll be able to pursue accomplishments similar in nature to Gore — governed naturally, by persons you know and work well with. One for culinary delights, one for cycling, one for virtual suicide experiences, one for chess, one for the appreciation of Egon Schiele's paintings, et al. We shall all become designers, architects of our own souls.

I wish I could find the report on it, but I can't. Essentially, people shift and re-order memories to associate with other memories and characteristics that they find more in-sync with their thinking behaviour. Tests were given out of geometric patters, and the viewers were asked to come back in in intervals to re-describe the original patterns. Sometimes the reported number of circles, when there were initally eight or so could turn into seven times as many circles, or patterns changed in their memories. Essentially, they the viewers re-wrote their own memories in correspondence to patterns they were comfortable with over time in order to make them easier to store to long-term memory. They alter "reality" in order for storage ease.

We don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.

So with the birth of a virtual world where we'll be able to upload and download memories à la Strange Days, and be able to take the essence of who we are and bombard ourselves with any experience we want to try out, a greater wisdom will account for the limitless information available to us, as well as the oncoming near-limitless sets of experiences that we'll be able to interact with.

This is not unlike the proposed usage of lucid dreaming, that one can enter into the myth cycle and come out wiser and stronger if one can learn to integrate fully with the dreamtime. However, most do not, so this becomes the next best thing. We, as a race, are bringing the dreamtime to us rather than going to it.

The wiser we become due to exchanges of experience and as many ways as approaching an idea as possible, the more damage we do to the semiotic rules of engagement and the more reality crumbles.

Designers will increasingly have to approach this new virtual world as more and more users prefer to interact in both worlds.

Design in Virtuality

Take a look at SphereXP

So as users increasingly spend more time online, and the capacities of the internet and technology create a mirror world with more interactivity, mirroring the real world, our perceptions of the real world are going to increasingly break down and be based on similar information structures as presented online.

As groups, we'll pick and choose our tribes of 150, whether it be musically, artistically, professionally, whatever. I've been suffering from information overload lately and have been dedicating myself to studying design, and in which I've come to terms with how very ignorant I've been of many aspects of design. In doing so, I attempt to become wiser through my increased awareness/ knowledge of design and the subsequent implementation/ experience of utilising what I've learned.

A transhumanistic world will allow for people to explore experiences previously unavailable to them. The information will allow them to continue to explore any of these experiences, albeit virtual but yet maintaining the emotional trigger and impact of going through them as if they were "real," and with any incurred interest, the more information one would like to apply to any given experience will garner an intuitive and spiritual wisdom of such event. I believe the more experiences had, in conjunction with varieties of symbolism, will place the responsibility of truly gauging and making a personal sense/ truth out of every event the sovereign task of the individual. This is in contrast to the current state in which social means, peer groups, family, and propaganda tend to have more of an impact shaping our interpretation of experiences and information as it's taken in.

In essence, I believe just one aspect being brought forth to the forefront of Western civilisation is just as William S. Burroughs put it: "Smash the control images. Smash the contol machine."

This is going nowhere… I just need to sort through some ideas and get them down.

1 comment:

Jason Bradfield said...

This is right on. Libertarianism, transhumanism, and the occult are all linked to the idea of human freedom.

I have not encountered too many others who recognize the linkage between these ideas/concepts. I think this is in large part because the popular imagination is only interested with these ideas on a purely speculative level.

Also, at least in the US, libertarianism has degenerated into a force for conservatism - the radical libertarian tradition has been forgotten. It as purged from the Left in the 1930s and of course, the right-wing libertarians chose to deliberately ignore the radical roots of libertarianism.