[Exi-la] Re: Authenticity, extropy, libertarianism, and history

Perry E. Metzger perry at piermont.com
Wed Jul 13 04:42:43 UTC 2005

Max More <max at maxmore.com> writes:
> Before I address the specifics I want to say that your statements perturb
> me because I hold authenticity as a core value. I have always strived to
> act and speak authentically, even when it made me very unpopular. To be
> accused of pretending to be other than who I am, to be called coy,
> deceptive, disingenuous, and so on, is shocking to me. It is certainly
> not something I take lightly, especially when the accusation comes not
> from some random ignoramus, but from someone such as yourself.

Actually, I didn't refer to you in such terms -- you never replied to
any of this until now, so obviously I couldn't be making any claims
about what you said. I was referring entirely to _Natasha's_ comments,
which I think were, if anything, astonishingly indirect. If she had
come out and said something like "Max intends to argue against
government regulation of nanotechnology at this conference" or what
have you, I wouldn't make any such statement -- but instead she
avoided saying any such thing in reply after reply. I note that your
own reply is, if not absolutely clear, certainly not evasive in the
same way.

In any case, I'll state my main issue pretty briefly and clearly.

At the time I started using the term "Extropian", it was pretty
clearly linked in the minds of almost everyone else I knew who used
the term, including (I believe) you, with anarchocapitalist ideals. In
the interim, the term, as promoted by ExI, has very strongly ceased to
mean that, and appears to have come to mean (as promoted by ExI)
"Transhumanist" in some much more generic way. For a lot of us, this
is a substantial disappointment.

The "Extropian Principles" were drafted substantially after the term
came to be widely used by a significant sized group of people. So far
as I can tell, that group had a pretty clear idea that what
distinguished the "Extropian" subset from the "Transhumanist" superset
was a strong commitment to libertarianism. (Indeed, otherwise, why did
one need a new term? FM-2030 had already pushed "Transhuman" as the
word for the superset idea.) I think many of us would have been rather
disappointed if we had thought "Spontaneous Order" was chosen for any
reason other than the fact that "Best Do It So" was a neat mnemonic,
and we would have been surprised to learn that it implied anything
other than a strong libertarian commitment.

Here it is, many years later, and as it stands, I note that the word
"libertarian" only appears once on ExI's web site, in a denial, to whit:

[pardon the light editing...]


   1. Does ExI support democracy?

   1. Does ExI support democracy?

   1.    Yes. [...]

   2. Is ExI a libertarian organization?

   2. No. Extropy Institute has always been transpolitical in its
   search for the best means for dealing with the structure and
   affairs of governments worldwide. ExI has never promoted any
   political party or position.  Issues concerning the future must
   be addressed outside the box of political positioning and
   political dogma.

Note the "ExI has *never*..." ...that seems like a fairly clear
repudiation of the ideas that many of us started in this whole
business with, and a denial that they were ever part of the mix. If it
isn't, I'm not sure how. I've seen lots of other statements in other
places to the same effect.

Much of the mail I exchanged with Natasha a few days ago (most of
which was *not* public -- that stopped early on, after Simon's
comments) indicated that she very clearly believed that calling ones
self a libertarian was somehow a bad thing, and she claimed to be
"transpolitical", a term that ExI seems to claim as well (see
above). In the email I exchanged with her, I quoted you as saying that
you no longer considered yourself to be a libertarian, either.

So, what's the general issue here? Disappointment covers it.

> My specific responses to these statements:
>  "You and Max happily hang out with folks who favor coercive means."
> How do you know whether -- if those folks *do* coercive means --
> that we hang out with them *happily*? Rather than with, say,
> discomfort, reluctance, out of a sense of responsibility for
> blunting their effect, etc?

You are right, I have no idea -- I only know you seem to voluntarily
associate yourself with them and seem to promote their conferences and
such without terribly much in the way of public disclaimer as to your
take on such conferences and the role you play at them.

In any case, however, in the half dozen odd email exchanges Natasha
and I had, she never bothered to use terms like the ones you just did,
such as "discomfort" or "reluctance". Perhaps your views and hers are
not the same, but again, ExI clearly seems to distance itself from
libertarian ideals and calls itself "transpolitical" these days, so
how is one to know?

> On the specific matter of the Geoethics seminar: You don't know what I'm
> going to say about the "global regulatory framework". (Nor do I know what
> the organizer means by that.)

And yet you folks promoted the conference, without the least comment
about its possible spin. I might have felt a wee bit more
uncomfortable promoting a conference that mentions a suspicious term
right off the bat, especially when I don't know the organizer's

> Why assume I will favor lots of government regulation?

Natasha never bothered to state your position when I asked her
directly and indirectly, and you guys were promoting a conference that
itself states it promotes a "global regulatory regime", so what was I
to think? It would have been simple enough to be direct in correcting
any misapprehensions I had, which you have (generally) done in your
own message.

As I indicated in a private mail message to her, being indirect, coy
and non-responsive to questions tends to make someone believe you are
trying to hide an answer you don't think the interlocutor would like
to hear.

> "Perhaps you and Max pretend, even to yourselves, that he never wrote
> lovingly of anarchism"
>    I do not pretend that, and never have, neither to others nor
> to myself. On what basis do you suggest otherwise?

Well, Natasha said things in private mail with enormous ambiguity
associated with them -- it would probably be unseemly for me to quote
all of them because the mail was private, but I'll include a few
paragraphs here. She concluded, after I pointed out that you had
written some pretty spectacular anarchist essays, with this:

   How old was he when he was an anarchocapitalist?  Was he a "college"
   student?  Would he not have grown since his early days like most
   college students? Why not trust that Max has made the right decision
   for the benefit and purpose of extropy?  Why not learn from what he
   has learned?  Do you think he has sat in a box for the past 15+ years
   not growing and experiencing life?

which would seem to be some sort of plea that we ignore your "youthful
folly" in the matter, though I will agree that she no longer seemed by
the end of the exchanges to have been denying/avoiding the fact
that you were an anarchist at one time, and substituted instead a sort
of (apparent) embarrassment about it.

> The only thing I can think of that might give you that impression was
> part of what I said in the NeoFiles interview last year. I said: "Even
> the earliest version of the Principles did not, in fact, enclose a
> strong belief in a libertarian pro-free enterprise politics." I stand by
> what I said there. You may be mixing up the views that appeared in
> Extropy magazine (including my own views) with the essential ideas that
> were expressed in the Extropian Principles.

...not to mention the editorial viewpoint explanation in issue #1,
which I quoted to Natasha and which explicitly lists libertarianism as
the political viewpoint of the magazine.

You have to remember that to most of us, "Extropian" was a label for a
community, which came significantly before the formally stated
"Principles", and "Extropy" was first and most prominently a magazine
that had brought that community together, and only many years later
was it principally part of the name of ExI -- indeed, it was years
before there *was* an ExI.

> The Principles never did require a strong belief in libertarianism as a
> particular political philosophy.

That's not how the rest of us interpreted the whole thing...

> Part of the disagreement may be that, in your mind, "extropy"
> *essentially* implied libertarianism, even anarchocapitalism, whereas in
> my mind it essentially embodied the freedom and ability to change, to
> improve, and to work freely with others for these goals. It implied
> libertarianism only *contingently*.

I read that as a sort of retroactive re-reading of what the whole
thing was about.

In the beginning, there was, of course, a magazine.

Extropy, "Vaccine for Future Shock", "Introductory Issue", No. 1, Fall
1988. In this context, I read "Extropy" to mean "the editorial view of
the magazine":

    _Extropy_ [emphasis in original] takes the point of view that
    [...] the most efficient economic and political systems are those
    that maximize human liberty. Thus the best economic systems are
    free market, and the best political systems libertarian.

That's hardly the only quote I can use, but I'm trying to be brief
here. Virtually every issue at the start touched on it though,
and one early anarchism issue was particularly devoted to it.

Then there was, of course, a mailing list. This was the announcement
for that mailing list, sent August 19, 1991, which as I recall I ran
by you before sending (and which you didn't seem to have occasion to
disagree with at the start):

   Extropians is devoted to the discussion and development of Extropian
   ideas. The term "Extropian" was coined by the journal "Extropy", a
   publication devoted to Extropian philosophy, and this list is a
   spinoff of the journal. Extropians may be roughly described as those
   simultaneously interested in anarchocapitalist politics, cryonics (and
   other life extension techniques), the technological extension of human
   intelligence and perception, nanotechnology, spontaneous orders, and a
   number of other related ideas. If you are an Extropian, the concept
   that these are all related topics will seem natural.

   All Extropians (and those who suspect that they are Extropians) are
   invited to join. 

Then there was a community, and it built up surprisingly quickly once
we had the mailing list, thanks to the viral spread of memes in the
internet, and that community was about as solidly anarchocapitalist as
these things get, and what remained was tiny minority of libertarians
who leaned very strongly that way but weren't 100% sure.

As I recall, a big attraction at the 5th anniversary "Extropaganza"
party was Robin Hanson (then without fame in the outside world but now
a pretty well known economist) discussing anarchocapitalist criminal
justice systems in an overpacked room on Mark's lower floor. (The rest
of the house, many joked, was a Temporary Autonomous Zone, after the
name of the book by Hakkim Bey, and everyone of course remembers
Romana and Jeff as The State and The Taxpayer.)

Anyway, somewhere between the time that I bailed out of close contact
with everyone because I had too much to do, and now, we've gotten to
the point where the President of the organization that has the name
"Extropy" branded on it calls herself "transpolitical" and chides me
for being a libertarian thusly:

   . . . why would you hang your future so tightly to any one political
   theory when no one political theory is substantially adequate to
   intelligently address the rate of change and the effects of change
   and how the world can function in order to protect individuality and


   What is truly sad is that anyone, including yourself, would stay
   pigeonholed in thinking.

So, something, clearly, has changed about the community in question,
given that we used to kick people off the mailing list for saying
things like that because we didn't want to bother people with flame
wars about such a basic assumption as libertarianism (let alone

Indeed, in response to my assertion that the group had been very
strongly and foundationally anarchocapitalist at one time, she said:

   I do not think you are correct about extropian.  Perhaps there were a
   lot of you who believed that and made it so for yourselves, but I see
   no evidence of it being true.  If so, I would never have joined
   ExI. Why?  Because such a tact would positions its members and I do
   not like positioning or labeling.  I find both counter productive to
   individuality, and on this I speak strongly and directly and
   completely.  Labeling is contrary to individuality.  It is like
   censoring freedom of thought and freedom of action.

Perhaps you yourself have been completely above board about all of
this. I apologize if, in my shock at your wife's messages, I
overstepped and made some excessively broad remarks of my own. My
intent was never to cause anyone any pain or spread enmity.

However, the fact remains that you (apparently) now disown the term

   I am not a libertarian, unless you take a generously broad view of the

and that the organization as a whole now denies that it has any sort
of libertarian bent or focus, and claims to support democracy
(something I don't myself support, although I'll grudgingly
participate in things like voting regardless of the possible sanction
for the system that implies.)

> Perry, what are your intentions in making the claims that you've made?
> Are you trying to damage my reputation? Simply set the facts straight?
> Express your feelings? Something else?

I suppose I'd like my label back.  I have a bunch of friends who used
to enjoy using the label and would like to use it again -- we're very
tired of having labels taken out from under us (we liked "Liberal"
before the Fabians corrupted it, for example). I know Natasha doesn't
like labels -- labeling being, in her opinion (expressed above)
contrary to individuality -- and so perhaps you folks aren't
sufficiently attached to it to want to make further use of it.  I'm
sure we won't mind if the label arrives somewhat soiled -- we can have
it cleaned and repainted ourselves.

> Does my account make sense to you?

Well, so far as it goes, I think it is fine. I have no particular urge
to alter your reputation, though it would appear that your spouse does
and perhaps you should have a talk with her about it. I also have no
particular urge to be in a fight with you or to be your enemy --
indeed I imagine I'd rather enjoy having dinner with you again someday.
However, it does appear that we've really gone in separate directions

> Does anything seem to be missing?

Only things that are largely of personal interest.

> If so, what would it take to convince you that I am not deceptive or
> inauthentic?

Again, let me emphasize that I was responding entirely to Natasha's
comments and not to yours, you having made none up to now. I stand by
my comment that I found her email coy and unresponsive for the most
part, which was rather frustrating since I kept calling (I thought)
for clarity and kept being replied to with unenlightening things like:

   Just to close and respect Simon's wishes let me say that you are
   wrong, wrong and wrong.

I will state, unequivocally, that your own message on this has not
been ambiguous and uninformative in the same way, and perhaps reflects
a genuine viewpoint about the history of the term "Extropian", albeit
one which I and many others do not share.

Perry E. Metzger		perry at piermont.com

More information about the exi-la mailing list