Re: poly: Re:Are enhancements really at risk?

From: GBurch1 <>
Date: Tue Mar 03 1998 - 16:19:32 PST

In a message dated 98-03-02 02:41:56 EST, David Brin wrote:

> Greg B. said the following>> [snip] I FEEL that the
> possibility is very real that all we have achieved in the last 500 years
> stands threatened to be inundated by the ocean of irrational superstition
> and
> primitive values governing the minds of the billions of humans who make up
> the
> vast majority of the human race.
> Alas Greg, this seems a little contemptuous. The glass may not be half
> full, but it's more full than we had any right to expect, given human
> history. Today literally millions of alphas... and a whole lotta betas, and
> even many gammas, think for themselves and seek their own areas of splendid
> personal expertise, cherishing not only their own independence but others'
> as well..

There's no doubt that there's much "half-full/half-empty glass" in this and
the irony is that most of my friends consider me to be a wild-eyed optimist.
And I agree that there must be more bright people alive today than at any time
in history. But the original question posed by Damien was whether real
technological enhancements to human nature are at RISK, and I think one must
be realistic and admit that they are at least at risk.

> The so-called 'ban' on cloning... a symbolic and largely impotent policy
> move... will be seen as a mere blip, just like the ban on recombinant
> research that Jeremy Rifkind engineered more than a decade ago. Scientists
> declared the sky had fallen when the ban went into effect. Then August
> committees went to work, established prudent protocols, and gradually
> concluded that the controls could be relaxed without much danger to the
> public. Within five years the remaining protocols were having negligible
> deleterious effects on genetic researchers, who simply absorbed the safety
> checks into their normal scientific practices. Likewise, both sides
> decried their horrible opponents when Cold Fusion was the rage and then was
> fiercely attacked -- but science itself came out of that episode smelling
> like a rose... and the media didn't do too badly, all-considered.

Actually, I don't think the odious Rifkin's proposal was ever enacted into law
anywhere -- the committees you recall (the Asilimar Conference?) did their
work BEFORE any legislation was enacted, if memory serves (but I'm by no means
sure of this recollection); just as the U.S. and EU governments waited for the
word from "August committees" before enacting the present bans on human
cloning. In fact, I see the difference between the two cases as indicative
that my thesis was correct, i.e. that opposition to real enhancements will
stiffen as they become a more realistic possibility. As to cold fusion, I
agree that it is an example of the triumph of the scientific method, but don't
believe that case sheds any useful light on the subject. No one was calling
for a legal ban on cold fusion research; quite the contrary.

> The second half of this (above) para is right on. It shows how bloody
> awful most human cultures have been vs eccentricity and unconventional
> thought. But the first half is less credible. It underrates how this
> particular society has re-tuned itself to reward -- and base much of its
> economy on -- the rambunctiousness of individual creativity and
> entertaining outrageousness. Elsewhere I talk about a coming 'century of
> amateurs' that may come about if this goes on. This is not pollyanna
> extropianism, but just a mild extrapolation of current social trends.

I, too, hope that we will see a return of the kind of polymath amateurs of the
Enlightenment like Franklin and Jefferson, and see signs of it in things like
"The Edge" ( and its proposal for development of a "Third
Culture" made up of scientists and humanists not alienated from each others'
disciplines (and this forum, BTW). I also agree that one of the hallmarks of
the modern West has been an accommodation and harnessing of the power of "the
rambunctiousness of individual creativity and entertaining outrageousness".
BUT (and it's a big "but") there is at least the POSSIBILITY that the prospect
of real technological enhancements to human nature could run into the limits
of this accommodation. In fact, there has always been a tension between
liberality and intolerance, ever since the beginning of the liberal
experiments of the 18th century. Look at how the French Revolution so quickly
began to eat its own children in the name of liberty for only the most
notorious example.
> Where is the sense of proportion? A few bombs go off at a couple of
> abortion clinics, and that means a majority of our peers are religious
> fanatics? On a massive continent with 300 million people, in which every
> bizarre event gets swarmed over by hand-wringing reporters, this impression
> ain't surprising. But it is wrong. Despite having trained 100,000 men a
> year in high explosives, selling all the materials for nitrate truck bombs
> openly, and propagandizing every young mind in America with relentless
> indignant suspicion-of-authority messages for generations, Tim McVeigh has
> only happened once so far.

Extremely good point, David, and an excellent example of how common sense
prevails in the vast majority of cases. But again, the ideology that
motivated McVeigh was a radical caricature of the common U.S. sense of
independence and suspicion of authority. Acceptance of an immutable "human
nature", on the other hand, is the very ideological air that almost every
human being today breathes.
> I agree with much you said, Greg, and the panic you describe may happen,
> especially if history is a guids. Yet, may I suggest you consider the
> possibility that people are smarter and better than you think?

Here, as we must, we enter into the realm of hope. But we can give hope a leg
up with a little "agitprop" for the cause of pushing the outside of the human
envelope. The more often reasonable people are seen to stand up against
intolerance for exceeding "natural human limits", the less likely a bad
reaction is.

        Greg Burch <>----<>
           Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                  "Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
                     be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
                              -- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover
Received on Wed Mar 4 00:21:40 1998

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