From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 30 Nov 2003 - 17:15:40 GMT

  • Next message: "The Gnostic Revolution, Pt. II"

    I don't know if this well go anywhere, but it will certainly a subject for discussion here if it does.

    Keith Henson

    Message #22967 Date: Sun, 30 Nov 2003 01:57:46 -0700 From: Mike Perry <> Subject: Libertarianism, Cryonics, Religion

    Recent exchanges on libertarianism inspired the following, with an additional boost from some remarks on religion. I begin with some issues that seemed to call for further, brief comment, then move on to tie in libertarianism with cryonics and immortalism (albeit in a somewhat limited way). Finally I address the subject of religion, with some thoughts on why a scientific version may be both feasible and desirable at this point, and some tentative suggestions of how I intend to proceed with such a project.

    The point seems well-established that no libertarian system has been tried and shown itself able to stand on its own and out-compete alternatives. I argued that the failure of libertarianism to take firmer hold has deep roots in human nature, including the fact that people exist, in some measure, to perpetuate their genes rather than being motivated by more rational self-interest. (It's the genes, we could say, that motivate their hosts to do what is "rational" from the genes' point of view.) Some think of the system in place in the days of the Founding Fathers as much closer to a libertarian system than today's U.S. governmental apparatus and in certain important ways they are right, particularly as regards the federal government-though it was still not fully libertarian. They see the historical trend, though, if I understand it right, as being one of a steady erosion of individual freedoms and usurpation of authority, which may culminate in a complete totalitarian system. The federal government, it is true, has tremendously increased its powers and control over the past two centuries, and this may seem to reflect an unstoppable trend toward full totalitarianism. But I think that, if you consider the system as a whole, which means government on all its levels, there are strong countervailing tendencies. In 1790, for instance, women couldn't vote and blacks could be owned as property. These things were not mandated in the Constitution but were not forbidden either, and did exist as an accepted part of the total system.

    As our history unfolded, people demanded the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of women, and these reforms took place. In some other ways you can see progressive reforms, such as the elimination of "blue" laws against working on religious holidays, outlawing of racial segregation, and the recent Supreme Court decision banning laws against private sexual acts between consenting adults. Other reforms are possible too, of course, depending on what the people feel is right and proper and try to see enacted via their power to vote. (And we have seen reforms in some other countries too, most notably in the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Europe and its ongoing accommodations with capitalism elsewhere.) This brings us to the present.

    Today we have better opportunities for both good and bad than ever before. The bad possibilities should not be overlooked, but here I will focus on the good ones, from an immortalist perspective. Mainly, we could transform society into something that has never existed, and which bears comparison with some of the religious concepts of heaven. We could eliminate diseases and aging as well as poverty and even stupidity and the need for employment as we now understand it (working at a job you would not choose if independently wealthy).

    Reforms on this level, though, would require, among other things, modifying the basic human organism. Some fearful pessimists realize this could really happen and is perhaps even starting already. They would impose legislative measures to bring it to a stop before it goes very far. Their fear of the possible downsides exceeds any appreciation of the possible benefits. It seems that they would recognize the present human species as a kind of
    "person" in its own right, and an entity with a right to exist surpassing that of the individuals who now comprise that very species but who might voluntarily abandon it under foreseeable circumstances. So they would impose restrictions on an individual's right to choose, for instance, a treatment to eliminate aging, and the physical means to otherwise improve one's body and/or mind, were such to be developed. They fear that allowing this sort of thing would result in something other than homo sapiens populating the planet after a period of time. Cryonics has attracted some, if limited, notice from this group too. Predictably there has been some negative reaction, and we can expect more, since cryonics could serve as a stepping stone to an existence other than human, and in any case is offensive in its intended purpose of permitting an escape from the normal attrition of aging. (So far I think cryonics is mostly dismissed on grounds that it has no serious chance of working anyway, but that could change if there were more appreciation of the scientific case for cryonics, particularly with some new preservation protocols.)

    The fears of these people, I think, are well founded-the possibilities really do threaten the biological homo sapiens. The threat exists through the free, voluntary choices of individuals who could decide to opt out of what they would perceive as a biological strait-jacket. As immortalists, of course, we demand the right to choose, should the option present itself. Ultimately, that body of ours must be found wanting, if for no other reason, because it is running down and in time will run no more, unless something is done. We are not concerned about the "needs of the species" if said needs require our physical sacrifice. Some powerful guarantees of our freedom of choice would thus be in order. It is unfortunate that such libertarian thinking as Mill's principle was not firmly embedded in our legal framework; it would serve us well. All is not lost, though; as one ray of hope, the Declaration of Independence (not a part of U.S. law but still widely respected) recognizes the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You could use it to justify a person's right to choose to have his aging process reversed, with extension to other improvements. If such procedures were available there should be widespread support, which should be helped by this historic precedent. (I also think the respect for freedom to date in the U.S., even if it stops short of full libertarianism, has helped keep cryonics legal, given that the public is not particularly interested in it and is even somewhat repelled.) So the ayes would probably outshout the background noises of any holdout luddites. But now we have to confront the fact that the proven procedures are not in place, and the nay-sayers are making their bid to try to forestall the very possibility.

    Ironically, they could win, and the consequence could be the destruction of the very species they are trying to save--or perhaps the lesser calamity of a new and lengthy, technophobic dark age. Such could be the outcome if we don't achieve liberation from our present human form, as a consequence of the resulting stagnation and frustration. Imagine a steady-state homo sapiens culture, with individuals dying as usual and new ones being born who would have to relearn everything from square zero to keep the system going. Life would become more or less a zero-sum game (as it was until relatively recent times), with a constant struggle between haves and have-nots. It could, among other things, make a good breeding ground for terrorists of many different stripes and gripes, some of them, it may be presumed, having considerable brilliance along with the traditional fanatical hatred. Sooner or later, one misguided group or lone individual could wreak horrible damage, if some rogue nation didn't do it first. But along with that would surely be a scientific, constructivist underground which would be trying to topple the system in a very different and more hopeful way, that is to say, provide the means for individuals to escape the dreary birth-death cycle and become something more than human.

    I doubt if matters will come to the point of a worldwide ban on good science, however. If it did come to that in the West, national rivalries in other parts of the world, Asia, and yes, the Middle East too, would kick in, and you'd see more of the good progress happening there. Our backward bailiwick might then sense it was being left in the dust, undo its repressive policies, and get moving again. In any case, the prospects for the biological homo sapiens don't look good, and we aren't likely to see the steady state for very long, if at all. We should be grateful that at least one of the alternatives, the path to something higher, is both possible and gaining support.

    We wonder what we can and should be doing to further the good alternative, and particularly, make it happen for us. Cryonics is an obvious choice-the life-extending technologies are not here yet, and this offers our best chance of persisting physically until they will be. Beyond that, we can talk and otherwise communicate about our choice of cryonics, and try to support the important work with our resources allocated as seems fit. I will not deal with this difficult subject in any generality here. But I will mention one approach that is sometimes suggested and other times cautioned against: religion. Religion has been a powerful force in human society up to now, and in particular has served to legitimize and honor the deep wish felt by humans through the ages to be something more than human. True, traditional religions have proposed and promised means of achieving this that are not exactly the scientific and technological approach we transhumanists are now advocating. But we can make the point that here the end really is more important than the means, then try for something more: to meet the religionists on something approaching their own turf.

    To do this, we have to think of religion in a different way from those who dismiss it as "fantasies about spirits" or insist it must involve belief in the supernatural. If you think instead of religion as a process of attempting to meaningfully engage with what is of transcendent or ultimate significance, the possibility of a rational, scientific religion gains plausibility, at least if we can center our attention on what is, in fact, of truly deep, beyond-human-level significance. But of course this is just what we immortalists are doing with our attempts to overcome death scientifically, something we know must become a never-ending quest and take us to rather distant reaches of knowable reality if it is to continue. Something along the lines of an immortalist religion has been attempted with Venturism, but I sense the need for something deeper. This I think would fit within the Venturist umbrella--and that's what Venturism is, an umbrella movement within which other cryonics-endorsing movements could find shelter without being in total agreement. What I am proposing, though, would not be an umbrella movement, but a religious enterprise with more specific content--it would, of course, not be acceptable to everyone who may find the "umbrella" congenial, an inevitable tradeoff.

    Tentatively, I propose to name the new movement Aionism after the Greek
    _aion_, "eternal." It is to be based on my book, _Forever for All_, but to more directly address the special concerns of religion, and itself be called and considered a religion. Aionism would posit no supernatural entity or presence, but would recognize an Ordering Principle or Way of things, which is manifest in everything from mathematics to the world of our experience. A kind of Dao, then--and Aionism would be a scientific Daoism. It would provide a rather generous eschatology for humans--and other sentient beings too--eventual resurrection in some meaningful form, and eternal happiness, but no guarantee that the path thereto will be smooth or swift--which means that one's choices and behavior will definitely make a difference. (In particular, choosing cryonics will arguably "smooth the path," a subject explored in the book. More generally, though, Aionism would advocate the highest moral standards and consideration for all that is right and good, insofar as these things can be ascertained.) The path of one's existence, though, has special significance, progress and growth in an appropriate sense being important, with no final state ever being reached.

    Well, I said this will not be for everyone, but we can ask if such a project would help our cause overall more than hurt. I think it would, even though it could inspire a backlash from traditional religionists who might be especially offended by it. But they in turn have to live with each other who have different persuasions. And a movement that truly advocates what is right and good, as Aionism is to be, must inspire some favorable response from the many in traditional religions who also favor these things. So my guess would be that with proper presentation Aionism would be accepted at least as another kind of religion, again, a variant of Daoism, with special emphasis on science on one hand, and individual salvation and immortality on the other, which implies that each individual is something rather special. I think it could, in particular, serve as a means of clarifying and legitimizing in some skeptical minds what it is we really want with our
    "tampering with nature." For we are seeking the loftiest and noblest goals imaginable, and yet they are things humans have long dreamed of and sought after. It's just that we think we've found a new and better way to approach these goals, one that is more rooted in the reality that scientific evidence reveals.

    Looked at from the Aionist perspective, then, the human race is a great start but not an end-in-itself or final goal. It must be nurtured carefully, like a growing child, not stunted, to find a proper destiny beyond its present level.

    Mike Perry


    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Mon 01 Dec 2003 - 00:03:44 GMT