[ExI] Is Transhumanism Coercive?

Kelly Anderson kellycoinguy at gmail.com
Tue Oct 25 17:25:18 UTC 2011

On Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 2:56 AM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
> On 2011-10-24 00:47, Kelly Anderson wrote:
>> So, in the competitive sense, we're already coerced into being fyborgs
>> today... how is being transhuman going to be any different than what's
>> already happening?

First off, let me say that I really enjoyed reading your post
Anders... very well thought out. Makes me proud to be an Anderson...

> Please, let's be careful with the loaded word 'coerce'. It is important,
> because typically (but not always) we think coercion is wrong or a violation
> of rights - in any case, the coerced person is regarded as having diminished
> responsibility for their actions.

Absolutely... the only reason I used the word was because the prior
author had. Being impelled by market forces to make a decision that
one would not otherwise make isn't EXACTLY coercion. Though there are
people who feel coerced into shopping at Walmart... so I use the word
in that very limited sense.

> Looking at the philosophy of coercion, like e.g.
> http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/coercion/
> one can note that typically coercion is defined in such a way that there has
> to be somebody intending to get somebody else to do or not do something. In
> this regard technology change (or even transhumanism as an idea) cannot be
> coercive, since there is nobody intending anything.

Instead, there are a lot of folks intending a lot of things... so the
question can be rephrased like this, "Is the marketplace coercive?"
And in some ways it does force you to certain behaviors. It would be
very difficult in today's world to revert to a hunter-gatherer or
nomadic lifestyle because of property rights. That lifestyle is no
longer supportable in our world. Governments are coercive and they
have eliminated certain lifestyle choices. Governments respond to
technological and market place advancement.

It is conceivable, in fact predictable, that with the coming changes,
that governments around the world will pass laws that will have
profound impact on people's lives in ways that we cannot currently
fully predict.

> In the case of coercion
> as social pressure, the moral importance is much more in question - we might
> like or dislike the process or results, but it is much harder to claim it is
> morally wrong.

So we have two kinds of "coercion", the soft coercion of the
marketplace, the Darwinian survival pressures, and the hard coercion
of government. So how governments respond to transhumanism is likely
to be where most of the hard coercion comes from... and the
marketplace will place it's own subtle pressures on people to conform
to the new zeitgeist of tomorrow's technology.

>> Will those who don't chose enhancement be Amish?
> There is a cost to chose to stay outside the social mainstream. Some groups
> willingly pay the cost. Amish are a fine example, especially since they
> partially reduce the cost by forming their own mini-society and by reduced
> expectations.

In their eyes, they have increased expectations out of life... but
that is an aside. The real question in my mind is whether the Amish
will be able to continue their lifestyle... or will they be perceived
at some future point as not worth the bother... so much primordial
slime covering valuable real estate and taking up resources that could
be more profitably employed by a much higher intelligence... or grey

I, for one, hope that the Amish will be granted their independence
indefinitely. That they will be left alone, much as we set aside
National Parks today. I think this bodes well for other groups that at
some point along the curve to the Singularity opt out... and there
will be many other such groups as the changes start to affect what we
view as being human. Many will want to stay human. Many will accept
the evolution to the myriad future forms... I think that what is
coming will make the Cambrian Explosion look pretty meek in
comparison... and it's going to be a bumpy ride in all likelihood. We
have enjoyed our place as the sole rulers of the earth... but that
ride is going to quickly come to an end... we will no longer be the
dominant intelligence... we will not be alone... and hopefully
whatever comes next will not see us as inconvenient...

> The problem is when people both want to stay outside the
> mainstream but do not want to pay the cost: they must then convince enough
> of the rest that they have a moral claim to get repaid by the mainstream to
> cover the cost of what they perceive as exclusion.

Enter socialism. I agree that this is a major problem, and this is a
really great point Anders... One question that clearly enters in here
is how the political future will work... will it continue to be one
person, one vote? Will you get a vote proportional to your
intelligence? How will government work in a future of continued
limited resources? Sure, going off world will relieve pressures to
some extent... if we can figure out FTL travel, or somehow put
ourselves into stasis for long long trips... but for the local
environment, it's resource limited, no matter how many resources we
perceive are out there, exponential growth will soon gobble them all
up... and the Darwinian competition begins at that new level.

So if somehow people maintain their exclusive hold on political power,
one human one vote, then perhaps socialism will win to the extent that
the machines will care for the humans... but how long can that last?

> If I refuse enhancements that make me competitive on grounds of profound
> philosophical or religious unease, I might have a plausible sounding claim -
> at least at first.

Yes... most claims on socialism sound reasonable on the surface... and
only when you dig deeper into the "unintended consequences" of
servicing those claims do the real dark aspects of socialist solutions
come out of the wood work.

> Note that this claim does not work if enhancement is a
> fringe activity (then the enhancer users might in fact make the claim on the
> mainstream that *they* ought to be supported - they are exploring
> potentially useful territory!)

Yet whatever liberty remains will hopefully be enough for them to be
allowed to explore this territory. I'm uninterested in the government
footing the bill. Whoever writes the checks makes the rules...

> Once enhancement is the mainstream the
> non-enhanced will start to be at a disadvantage they could try to claim a
> moral compensation for. This might still just be that they benefit from the
> effects of a more effective society - enhanced people invent useful things,
> do better jobs, pay more taxes - not necessarily that they get a pension.
> But one could imagine laws protecting the rights of non-enhanced to remain
> non-enhanced, running all the way from sensible negative rights to absurd
> privileges.

And with the socialist zeitgeist around the world gaining a foot hold,
I tend to think we'll see at least pockets of absurd privileges.
They'll say, "but the machines are all millionaires and billionaires,
surely they can pay their fair share"... sounds familiar, doesn't it?

> However, in the long run refusal tends to be worn down (socially and
> morally). Nobody accepts the "right to remain illiterate" today - children
> are forced to learn how to read and write, at least partially because
> otherwise they will be unable to interact with society well as autonomous
> individuals. Sufficiently good enhancements might be similar: not taking
> cognition enhancers might make your ability to be autonomous so much lower
> than everybody elses' that they see it as morally imperative to make sure
> you get the autonomy. Not giving children the biological resources they
> might need in order to participate in wider society if they so chose unduly
> impairs their freedom, so it would be parental neglect not to give them the
> vaccinations or enhancements they need.

One interesting historical precedent here is the American Indian...
the reservation system might become a model for how to handle the
unenhanced. It's not a spectacularly inspirational thought... but
perhaps better than wiping them out.

> So maybe there is coercion here, but it might very well be the legitimate
> kind of coercion that is used to protect rights.

I think the most interesting thoughts along these lines come from
clearly separating the influences of the marketplace from the coercion
of the government. Both of these forces are going to be influenced by
the future march of technology. But the responses will be different.
And don't forget that there are multiple governments (at least today)
that complicate the situation, and make it nearly certain that many
parallel experiments will go forward to different ends.

Yummy food for thought Anders!


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