RE: Ben's "Extropian Creed"

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Mon Nov 13 2000 - 21:32:57 MST

-----Original Message-----
From: []On Behalf
Of Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Sent: Monday, November 13, 2000 7:09 PM
To: SL4
Subject: Ben's "Extropian Creed"

This article is in reference to Ben Goertzel's FAZ article about
"The Extropian Creed", which may be found online and in English at:

> This group [...] wants to push ahead with every kind of technology as
> fast as possible - the Internet, body modification, human-computer
> synthesis, nanotechnology, genetic modification, cryogenics, you
> name it. Along the way they want to get rid of governments, moral
> strictures, and eventually humanity itself, remaking the world as a
> hypereconomic virtual reality system in which money and
> technology control everything. Their utopian vision is sketchy but
> fabulous: a kind of Neuromancer-ish, Social-Darwinist
> Silicon-Valley-to-the-n'th-degree of the collective soul.

Egads! Silicon Valley is a stressed out junk version of some of our
beginnings. It is not at all definitive of where we plan to go imho.
Social Darwinism? Hardly. Technology will make it possible for anyone who
wishes (in theory) to be as smart and capable as they wish to be (given
rewiring and augmentation and time enough). Social Darwinism is
inapplicable. Neuromancer is too dark. We can do better.

> But there was a painful contradiction lurking here, not far beneath
> the surface. And this personal contradiction, I believe, cuts right at
> the heart of Extropian philosophy. The libertarian strain in Sasha's
> thinking was highly pronounced: Once he told me, tongue only
> halfway in cheek, that he thought air should be metered out for a
> price, and that those who didn't have the money to pay for their air
> should be left to suffocate! I later learned this was a variation on a
> standard libertarian argument, often repeated by Max More, to the
> effect that the reason the air was polluted was that nobody owned it
> - ergo, air, like everything else, should be private property.

Metering air for a price has nothing essential to do with libertarianism nor
do notions that everything should have a price and those who can't pay
should simply die. The notion that ownership equals or contributes to
cleanliness is extremely arguable.

Besides, who says we would need air?


> In the back of my mind is a
> vision of a far-future hyper-technological Holocaust, in which
> cyborg despots dispense air at fifty dollars per cubic meter, citing
> turn-of-the-millenium Extropian writings to the effect that humans
> are going to go obsolete anyway, so it doesn't make much
> difference whether we kill them off now or not. And so, I think
> Extropians should be read, because they've thought about some
> aspects of our future more thoroughly than just about anyone else.
> But I also think that the key idea that makes their group unique --
> the alliance of transhuman technology with simplistic,
> uncompassionate libertarian philosophy - must be opposed with
> great vigor.

This simplistic and uncompassionate philosophy is in the author's head
rather than in the minds of many people I know. The author seems to like to
associate everything bad with that great dirty word "libertarianism". This
is quite childish and transparently biased.

> Many of the freedoms the Extropians seek - the legal freedom to
> make and take smart drugs, to modify the body and the genome
> with advanced technology - will probably come soon (though not
> soon enough for me, or them). But I hope that these freedoms will
> not come along with a cavalier disregard for those living in less
> fortunate economic conditions, who may not be able to afford the
> latest in phosphorescent terabit cranial jacks or
> quantum-computing-powered virtual reality doodaddles, or even an
> adequately nutritional diet for their children.

There are fairly deep questions involved in what is and is not proper (and
actually leads to good results) concerning (relatively) poor. Far from
being cavalier many of us seem to have strong motivations towards long hours
and hard work toward a future where most of the idiocies and sufferings of
today can actually be resolved. The author seems to be caught in a static
model of the wealth and the universe.

>I believe that we
> humans, for all our greed and weakness, have a compassionate
> core, and I hope and expect that this aspect of our humanity will
> carry over into the digital age - even into the transhuman age,
> outliving the human body in its present form. I love the human
> warmth and teeming mental diversity of important thinkers like Max
> More, Hans Moravec, Eliezer Yudkowsky and Sasha Chislenko,
> and great thinkers like Nietzsche - and I hope and expect that these
> qualities will outlast the more simplistic, ambiguity-fearing aspects of
> their philosophies. Well aware of the typically human
> contradictoriness that this entails, I'm looking forward to the
> development of a cyberphilosophy beyond Extropianism -- a
> humanist transhumanism.

Here, here! So am I.

The fundamental argument of Libertarianism is not against charity; rather,
argument of Libertarianism is against government-compelled charity. There
nothing immoral about a privately owned charity; rather, the Libertarian
objection is to charity funded by compulsorily collected taxation. Some
Libertarians say that charity at gunpoint is immoral.

By most definitions of morals it *is* immoral.

 Others simply believe
that just about everything is less efficient when the government operates it
that the money that is taxed away for forced charity is spent inefficiently,
debilitates the economy, and often does so much direct damage that the poor
would be better off if the government simply set fire to the money. There
be Libertarians who don't give a damn about the poor, but not many, and
probably no higher a proportion than among the general populace.

Personally I believe that I do a lot more for the poor when developing
technology that increases human capabilities than I can ever do by being
taxed or even by devoting my life explicitly to the poor. Certainly we have
major suffering through human stupidity and cruelty. But human stupidity
and cruelty is only partially a moral problem and largely a problem of
relatively poor mentation, socialization and options within the current
context. Change the context!

I don't believe that, if you're poor, that makes ills that occur to you
desirable. I don't believe that being poor makes you "targetable" for
anything. I don't believe that it is morally better in any way if bad
happen to poor people instead of rich people. I don't believe that society
healthier when bad things happen to poor people. I don't believe that poor
people deserve poverty. I am not a Social Darwinist of any kind.

It really isn't about "deserving" in any case. Deserving would require some
agency that determines desserts and dispenses them. Reality is what it is,
not what you "deserve". But we can change what is within the bounds of what
is possible in reality.

I also don't believe that the poor will be left out of the Singularity. I
think that the successful seed AI will blaze straight to strong
and superintelligence and invent advanced nanotechnology, at which point the
cost of personal transcendence falls to zero. I think that who gets to
participate in the Singularity will be determined by the answer of each
individual human to the question: "Hi! Do you want to participate in the
Singularity?" You say "Yes", you get uploaded, you run on your
of the mass of the Solar System; whoever you were before the Singularity,
are now a Citizen of Terran Space, coequal with any other Citizen.

Actually I think only a relatively small percentage will say "yes". At
least for a while.

One of the major reasons I am *in* the Singularity biz is to wipe out
nonconsensual poverty.

Yes. Although poverty is partially a relative thing. I don't think
relative differences are necessarily bad in and of themselves. I think a
lot of the "problem" will simply start to dissolve when many of its
underlying assumptions (like zero-sum, static wealth, us vs. them, scarcity
and so on) get severely deleted or mutated going into Singularity. I do
feel that a lot of transhuman/extropian/singularitarian folks are carrying
too much baggage from the present and past that they, like everyone else,
need to let go of at some point in order to move forward more gracefully to
a future that truly fulfills their happiest dreams and more. Perhaps part
of the alarm is over the mix of godlike powers with old style thinking and

- samantha

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