[ExI] Lost innocence is mostly a myth/was Re: The Circle of Coercion

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Tue May 12 14:06:41 UTC 2009

--- On Tue, 5/12/09, Damien Sullivan <phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu> wrote:
> -0700, Lee Corbin wrote:
>> As is so often the case, there is no principle in
>> operation here. Only expediency. So far as I can
>> tell,
>> expediency has been uniformly increasing in the U.S.
>> at the expense of principle for about one hundred
>> and fifty years.
> Increasing, as opposed to having always been present? 
> What great
> stances of principle can you point to?  The 3/5
> compromise?  The Senate?
> Andrew Jackson's violation of the Cherokees?

I happen to agree with you here.  It seems a certain mythical view of history underlies this discussion.  It's sort of an anti-Whig view of history.  The Whig view is that history is basically progressive -- moving from worse to better, an upward curve.  There are some modifications, but this view of history is popular and still animates a lot of historical discussion.  Whenever someone thinks "we know better now," she might be tapping into this view.  (If anything, that our predecessors thought they knew better and that they corrected the mistakes of the past should give pause.)

The anti-Whig view is a little different: the past was better and we've somehow lost something.  Often this takes on tripartite form:

1) an idyllic or idealized past -- usually very long ago when giants walked,

2) the more recent past that corrupted this ideal, and

3) the present where we can decide to reclaim that idealized past or fall further into corruption -- typically with the choice being set in all or nothing terms: either we win or we'll be wiped out.

In terms of the US and America in general, my readings of history have led me to believe there was no idealized past.  Even the Founding and before were already corrupt and people and politics were much like today.  This doesn't mean nothing was better or that nothing was lost, but it shouldn't make us think nothing has improved and nothing has been gained.

I believe Extropians and transhumanists would do well to avoid simplistic views of history, especially to not pretend there's an easy, simple exit from real world problems.




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