[Exi-la] Extropy Institute "Exponent" Newsletter

Extropy Institute exi-info at extropy.org
Sun Nov 16 15:19:18 UTC 2003

Extropy Institute Newsletter
Bigger than democracy? (11.15.03)


We transhumanists have been accused of many things -
 outlandish, selfish, wealthy, brainy, dreamers, radical - 
you name it. Some transhumanists may have 
responded to this by looking for an idea that's almost 
universally popular and then trying to attach 
transhumanism to it. In this issue, Max More - 
philosopher of transhumanism, and now frequent author 
of business innovations - takes a sharp look at the 
what's wrong with the term "democratic 
transhumanism" in his essay, "Democracy and 

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Gregory Stock, 
biotechnology's spokesperson, to our Council of 
Advisors. Greg has been a long-time friend of ExI and 
now a welcomed advisor. We are also very excited 
about the addition of Pamela Lifton-Zoline, science 
fiction writer, painter, and co-founder of the Telluride 
Institute, a far-reaching organization whose 
conferences have featured such fascinating figures as 
John Cage, John Naisbitt, and Laurie Anderson.

In this issue: "Democracy and Transhumanism"; New Council of Advisors Members; Thought Leader Futurist Summit; Brian Alexander's New book - RAPTURE
* Transhumanist Thought Leader Virtual Summit
* Democracy and Transhumanism, by Max More
* What Does Democracy Mean and Why Value It?
* New Council of Advisors Members:
* RAPTURE: How Biotech Became the New Religion

Transhumanist Thought Leader Virtual Summit
ExI's Summit is scheduled for January, 2004.  The 
virtual meeting will include some of the global futurist 
organizations and groups to discuss transhumanist 
ideas. Our goal is to develop a fluid communication with 
other organizations to show and tell what we are 
doing, when we are doing it, and how we can better 
communicate with each other on similar projects. Some 
suggested organizations to attend:

Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Betterhumans, 
De:Trans, Foresight Institute, CRN, The Long Now 
Institute, ExtroBritannia, Singularity Institute,
Santa Fe Institute, Telluride Institute, Transhumanist 
Arts & Culture, Kurzweil AI.net, Adaptive AI, Inc., 
World Future Society, World Transhumanist 
Association, Immortalist Institute, TransVio, NEXUS,  
and others.

A formal invitation is schedule to go out in late 
November.  If you are an organization or a group and 
you do not receive one, PLEASE contact us and give 
your contact information.

ExI's Summit is an inclusive event and all futurist 
organizations, businesses and groups that have a 
transhumanist perspective on life are welcome!

Democracy and Transhumanism, by Max More
Are transhumanists democrats? Should they be 
committed to and defined by democracy? Let's go back 
to the seventeenth century. Monarchy is the prevailing 
system in the Western world. Suppose a group of 
progressive early humanists wanted to associate their 
views about the status of human beings - views radical 
for the time - with the best political orders of the time. 
They might declare that "modern 17th Century 
humanism is a constitutional monarchist philosophy". 
Such a statement would show that they reject 
outdated forms of unlimited monarchy or theocracy.

We would find such a quickly-dated commitment 
amusing today. "What does humanism have to do, in 
essence, with constitutional monarchy?" we might ask. 
Humanism asserts the value of progress. Tying it to the 
political system of the time - even though the system 
was the best of the time - would confuse ends (human 
dignity, personal sovereignty, and so on) with a means.

Transhumanist organizations that declare themselves 
to be "democratic transhumanists" make an even 
bigger mistake. Transhumanist perspectives look 
further ahead, into much more drastic change to the 
human condition. To identify transhumanism with any 
current political system must appear short-sighted and 
blinkered to some. To others it may simply appear to 
be a transparent attempt at posturing - like telling 
Americans that transhumanism is all about "motherhood 
and apple pie" or telling Europeans that transhumanism 
is committed to universal, government-provided health 

A transhumanist organization should no more describe 
its core commitments as "democratic" than it should 
describe itself as an "Internet organization" when in 
practice and in aspiration the organization interacts by 
means of any effective medium of communication.

Democracy and Transhumanism Essay >> http://www.extropy.org/politicaltheory.htm

What Does Democracy Mean and Why Value It?
In the broad sense, democracy means "rule of the 
people, by the people, for the people".

In a second sense, democracy is used to mean an 
(almost) universal right to vote on issues and/or 
representatives. Sometimes direct democracy is seen 
as "more democratic" than representative democracy.

In a third, very common sense, democracy is taken to 
refer to some combination of the voting procedures (as 
in the second sense) and the particular political and 
legal procedures of the speaker's country. In the case 
of the USA, those procedures are mainly constitutional 
protections of individual freedoms embodied in the Bill of 
Rights and the Constitution. In the case of Great 
Britain, arguably such a constitutionally-limited republic 
exists in a largely unwritten form (the Magna Carta 
being the main written document).

How well do any of these meanings relate to the 
philosophies of transhumanism? The first and broadest 
sense of "democracy" is intended to eliminate in 
principle the rule of "the people" by an oligarch. In 
practice, many of the actual people do not get to vote 
(prisoners, tax-paying permanent residents who are not 
citizens). Those that do may not possess sufficient 
knowledge or motivation to vote. Those who do vote 
may not enjoy any choices of candidate, position, or 
package of policies that represents their preferences. 
The complicated working of real democracies - and the 
vast involvement of government in commercial 
activities - means that a small percentage of the 
people actually wields most of the influence.

The second sense has only a tenuous connection to 
transhumanist values of self-determination, self-
transformation, and progress. An unlimited democracy 
can be tyrannize large segments of the population. It 
should be remembered that Adolph Hitler was 
democratically elected. Universal suffrage has little to 
do with freedom or other values dear to 
transhumanists, especially when voting costs nothing 
to the voter and requires no knowledge. As the great 
English jurist, Lord Acton said:

"It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse 
to be oppressed by a majority.  For there is a reserve 
of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into 
play, the minority can seldom resist.  But from the 
absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no 
redemption, no refuge [ ]"

Only in some instances of the third sense of the term 
do we find a firmer relation to transhumanism. A 
constitutionally-limited republic that succeeds in 
protecting liberty and responsibility upholds a legal 
order with two essential features: 

First, its public officials are responsible in that their 
official actions are open to public scrutiny and 
unrestricted criticism, and their official tenure may be 
terminated by those governed by manageable 
procedures such as popular election or the vote of a 
legislative majority. 

Second, its criminal law is limited to prohibiting matters 
of fraud, theft, and assault. The law and public policy 
enhances rather than reduces the freedom of the 

The value of democracy in its constitutionally-limited 
sense lies in its attempt to recognize the sovereignty of 
the individual - legitimate government requires the 
consent of the governed - and in its intent to limit the 
opportunities for abuse of centralized authority. 
Democracy is or should be a method for running 
government with the aim of creating and enforcing a 
system of laws that protect the liberty of citizens. 
Democratic arrangements are purely a means to 
achieving the end of protecting individual liberty. A 
benevolent despot might achieve the same end - 
perhaps even more effectively and at less 
inconvenience - without democratic procedures. It 
would be dogmatic to insist that democracy is the only 
way or the best way for all societies in all places at all 
times to protect their individual sovereignty. [Continue 
to the link -]

CONTINUE: To read more of Max More's essay: >> http://www.extropy.org/politicaltheory.htm

New Council of Advisors Members:
Gregory Stock 
and Pamela Lifton-Zoline

Council of Advisors >> http://www.extropy.org/directors.htm

RAPTURE: How Biotech Became the New Religion
___Brian, how did you become so interested in biotech?

___BA:   Hmmm... Well, I've always been interested in 
biology -- it was the only science subject I ever did 
well in high school or college. I was an English 
literature major and political science major in college 
and it may seem as though writing about biotech is an 
odd area for me to work in. But my overarching interest 
has always been the culture, and to me biotech is 
most certainly a real cultural phenomenon. It is literally 
changing the way we regard our futures, our religions, 
the natural world, and ourselves. So for me, this is a 
perfectly natural realm to work in.  Professionally, I 
first became interested in biotech in 1994, just as the 
book opens with the second A4M conference in Las 
Vegas. It really started with a question, which was, 
what is the real science behind any of this?  And if 
there was any real science, wow. 

___: . In your opinion, does transhumanity have a 
particular political line of thinking that is evident in the 
underlying values of transhumanists? 
___BA: I do recognize that within transhumanism, and 
even   within extropy, there may be a wide variety of 
views on political philosophy. Just have a look at the 
past year on the extrope discussion group!  This is a 
very important question for transhumanists. (More on 
this in answer to later questions.) 
___? If you could separate out one element that keeps 
people from rushing  to support transhumanity and 
donating money to Extropy Institute to further its 
goals, what would that be?

___BA: Just one? That's tough. Everything from people 
just not having the money to thinking that the money 
is better used for other causes, but if I had to pick just 
one, I would say that it is a lack of the overarching
vision of what transhumanity means in the near term, 
as opposed to the far future vision. Getting people to 
support a cause aiming to do something they can take 
part in the next five years is much easier than getting 
them to support a cause that looks ahead 100 years. 
Aubrey's Methuselah mouse is a good example. other 
institutions are trying to do the same thing, but they 
place the work in a framework of understanding the 
diseases of aging. That's something more concrete 
that everybody can relate to as opposed to saying you 
want to engineer a super-long-lived mouse for the sake 
of making a super long-lived mouse.

___? How did writing _Rapture_ change your mind 
about transhumanists? 
___BA:   well, it didn't really. I've always liked 
transhumanists, and enjoy spending time with them, 
though I am not a "transhumanist" per se and I 
disagree with a fair number of the predictions and 
with some -- not all by any means -- of the attitudes 
expressed by some transhumanists. A TV interviewer 
asked me the other day if I didn't "feel sorry" for life 
  extensionists. I said no, that life extensionists -- and 
I would say the same about transhumanism in general -
- are actually being more honest than many of us 
about that they want. I admire people who can be 
  unabashed about their desires. Nobody, at least not 
anybody in good physical and psychological health, 
wants to die.  But saying so, or saying you'd like to be 
smarter, or improve your body in some fundamental 
way, is considered strange by many people because it 
seems so impossible, and so wanting the impossible can 
be seen as something odd or even pathetic. Well, I 
don't think it is impossible in the very long term, and I 
think these are some of the most basic of human 
desires, expressed for thousands of years. 
Improvement is the driving force behind much of 
human  culture.  It's who were are.   now, one 
person's "improvement" is another person's
danger, but the point is, we all want "better."  Now, I 
will say that I always thought the 
transhumanist vision works better as a concept or an 
idea (hence the subtitle of the book) than as a 
practical path.  That did not change with the book.  
My research only confirmed my view. Transhumanism 
seems to me to be about propagating the idea that it's 
okay to favor change.  The idea of transhumanism 
being "about" cryonics, or the singularity or merger 
with computers, or space colonization or germline 
engineering is, in my view, a mistake. I've always 
thought that man himself is "transhumanist" and has 
been throughout history, as I try to show in "rapture." 
we all want to rise above our current station, whether 
that is in a spiritual, cultural, physical, mental sense 
doesn't matter.  We've always evolved. We've always 
been "trans."

___?  What do you think is the most urgent issue to 
contend with regarding Leon Kass and the anti-
biotechnology swarm? 

___ BA: Leon Kass is only one incarnation of anti-
biotech, which is really 
  about anti human improvement. My reading of 
the "bio-Luddite'" (as I call 
  it in "Rapture") philosophy is that they believe 
that "human" cannot be 
  improved upon. 
  I say that humans have always tried to improve upon 
themselves and 
  that this is, in fact, human nature. Dr. Kass is 
expressing a view that 
  has always been expressed about science and man's 
place in the natural 
  world. Most famously, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is 
just such a warning, 
  but there have been such warnings about defying the 
natural order 
  forever. I think the most important thing to contend 
with is the idea 
  that enhancement technology will, by its very nature, 
be de-humanizing. 
  Sometimes it might be, sometimes not. Personally, I 
think it is important 
  to keep an open mind. I might add that this is why 
Kass and others 
  use transhumanism, and the longing for some to have 
a "post-human" 
  future, against biotech as a whole. Rhetoric 
about "post-humanity" 
  doesn't really do anybody any good. First, I think it's 
incorrect. We 
  will always be human. Second, it makes people think 
that, say tomorrow, alien-like augmented species who 
used to be people 
will walk the earth. That won't happen but it makes for 
a great sound 
bite, a good headline, a scary scenario.

___? Do you think that transhumanism is more 
than it is 
 cultural? In other words, do you think that we should 
emphasize science or culture in 
 order to prosper and elicit positive memes about 

___ BA: I think you ought to give MORE emphasis on 
the cultural than the 
  science. I know transhumanists will disagree 
  with me here, but much of the science upon which 
the movements seem based 
  is not only not yet ready for prime time, it may never 
be ready. Let the 
  science takes care of itself. The minds of people are 
what really count. I 
  think transhumanists have done a generally poor job 
of addressing fears, 
  concerns, apprehensions of the general public about 
how biotech will 
  affect people. There's a tendency to look down on 
such fears with disdain. 
  But when Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama and 
appeal to fears, 
  they talk about culture, society, religion, art, and 
human relations. People 
  understand these things. This is what "Rapture" is 
about, really, the 
  culture. The science places it in context but it is not, 
at heart, a 
  science book. It's about hope. 
  So if I were a transhumanist who wanted to make a 
difference, I'd 
  research issues like population, resources, 
environment, social justice, 
  human rights, art and the ways these will or will not 
be affected. When I 
  give talks, these are the questions people are most 
interested in. 

___ ?  Do you think Extropy Institute has succeeded in 
memetic engineering of "transhumanism? " 

___ BA: Yes, but I do think transhumanism is now 
becoming bigger than Extropy 
  or any one organization. I think this is a measure of 
Extropy's success, 
  but also may mean that in the future extropy comes 
to be less and less 
  important as the spawn swim on their own. As 
science catches up to Extropy's ideas, the ideas will 
spread outward 
  into the general public, as "rapture" shows they 
already have, and the 
  need for an organization like extropy will pass 
  And by the way, let me say that I have always 
admired the very grown 
  up way Natasha and Max and a few others have dealt 
with some of the snarkier 
  writing about extropy and transhumanism, including 
some by me about 
  certain elements of transhumanism. (In a wired story 
referred to 
  extropians as "enthusiastic amateurs" and that pissed 
some people off so 
  much that they couldn't see that the story was 
how some of the 
  ideas were being accepted by mainstream science 
and that extropes were 
  not as kooky as some might think.) That can be 
to do. but by 
  putting yourselves out there, by taking the good with 
the bad, you do get 
  some of the message through.

___? Looking back, is there anything you feel you left 
out of your book that 
 you would now expand upon? 

___BA: If I thought anybody would read it, I would 
have liked to make the 
  book about another 100 pages! essentially I would 
have gone into more 
  detail about some of the things that are already in 
the book. I would 
  have liked to have done more with how biotech 
actually works. I mean how 
  drugs are made by engineering cells to produce 
proteins. I would 
  have liked to have spent more time with Wally 
Steinberg, a truly 
  fascinating character, or Deeda Blair. I would have 
liked to gone into 
  much more detail about regeneration science (but 
look for that appearing 
  somewhere soon).

To purchase Brian Alexander's book >> http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0738207616/qid=1068592900/sr=1-3/ref=sr_1_3/103-1194620-0696645?v=glance&s=books

Quick Links...
Join Now! >> http://www.extropy.org/membership.htm
Directors, Council of Advisors, and Executive Advisory Team >> http://www.extropy.org/directors.htm
Max More's "Liberty and Responsibility" >> http://www.maxmore.com/libresp.htm
Best Business Analysis on the Web! >> http://www.manyworlds.com://
Brian Alexander's New Book!  Rapture - How Biotech Became The New Religion >> http://www.amazon.com
More About Us >> http://www.extropy.org
email: natasha at natasha.cc
voice: Natasha Vita-More, President (512.263.2749)
web: http://www.extropy.org

This email was sent to natasha at natasha.cc,
by Extropy Institute.

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