[ExI] Call To Libertarians

F. C. Moulton moulton at moulton.com
Sun Feb 20 10:16:07 UTC 2011

Darren Greer wrote:
> So does that mean Extropianism has a built-in political philosophy? I'm
> assuming it's not libertarianism, from the discussion here today. :) My
> original question was about the relation between libertarianism and
> technological progress in the transhumanist sense. I did the reading you all
> suggested. But is there a political and economic philosophy that
> transhumanists are more likely to champion because it furthers technological
> goals?

Let me provide a little more context and emphasize some points which
should hopefully clarify the matter.

The libertarian philosophy covers much more that just economics. 
Libertarianism at its core derives from a couple of high level
principles which I list here in greatly oversimplified form:
1. The principle that a person has personal rights.  This is sometimes
expressed as self-ownership or as right to life, liberty and property.
2. Human societies (as we know them today) work best when individuals
can make their own choices.
These are the "moralistic" and "consequentialist" principles that I
mentioned in a previous message.  Most libertarians start with one or
the other of these positions or some amalgamation. Now I would be the
first to point out that as presented both of the above need a lot of
fleshing out.  Remember that we are discussing political philosophy and
we are attempting to cover in a few emails what is normally covered in
dense books.  So at best we can give a broad picture  and highlight a
few common misunderstandings.  Of course we face the similar issues with
any other political philosophy; for example if we were discussing
socialism we would likely be in the same position.  The issues are too
complex to cover in a few emails.  And like all philosophies the
libertarian philosophy undergoes refinement over time.

In the first couple of years of the Exi email list virtually everyone
was either a libertarian or understood libertarian philosophy
sufficiently so as to avoid common mistakes.  So although many of the
early list participants were libertarian that does not mean they all
were; I think I remember at least one who self identified as a
socialist.   My memory of those days is that we all got along and we did
not deliberately misrepresent anyone else's position.  And whatever the
topic - be it economics, space travel, cryonics or music - people
generally did not frequently post on topics about which they were
clueless.  This led to a very high quality list.

The early list and the current list typically have the same socially
liberal atmosphere.  For example I would expect everyone on the list not
have a problem with same sex marriage.  And the libertarian would say
that the government should stay out marriage altogether.  Let a marriage
contract involve a man and a woman or a man and a man or a woman and a
women or two men and a women and so on.  Similarly there was  view that
the War on Drugs was a terrible thing and should be stopped
immediately.  Of course this was also the libertarian view.  And similar
on the view that the government has no business censoring speech and
press.  And of course that is in line with the libertarian position.

Thus the attitudes (sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit) of both
the early list and the current list shared much in common with the
libertarian philosophy.  And consider that "spontaneous order" was
specifically part of the principles. And lest us not forget the
discussions of Polycentric Law;
http://www.tomwbell.com/writings/JurisPoly.html    Plus many of the
early members of the list were recruited by other libertarians.  For
example I first heard that list was being formed by an email sent to a
libertarian email list and so I signed up at the beginning.  Perhaps
things would have been different if a bunch of socialists had started
the list, who knows?

Also to provide a historical background I think it is important to list
a few of the books which influenced many of the early members of the
list.  The first is Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler which is I am
sure well known to all so I will not dwell on it here.   Here is where I
think much of the answer to your question about technology and the early
list can be found.  It is not just a brilliant book about technology in
general and nano-technology in particular but it also discusses the
implications of the technology.  And that book seems to resonate well
with libertarians interested in science and technology; at least the
ones here in Silicon Valley.

The second book is The Retreat to Commitment by W. W. Bartley.  I know
that here in the Silicon Valley area this book and the idea of
Pan-Critical Rationalism were important in the ideas of many early list
participants.  Personally it is one of the most important books I have
read.  Also Max wrote a very good essay on the topic and I highly
recommend Max's essay.   There is a third book that should be mentioned
and that is The Fatal Conceit by F. A. Hayek.   I know this book was
read by several of the early list participants here in the Silicon
Valley and the ideas did percolate in some of the early list discussions.

What I have written above is from memory so keep that in mind.  Anyone
who was on the list during the first few years might want to jump in and
add their recollections.

And just for old time's sake:   BEST DO IT SO.


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