“… why should anyone want to participate in an infinite unending marketplace. What kind of human being sees that as the ultimate goal?” A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by AnonymousSquared — a fellow who had read somewhere that I was thinking about writing a book titled “Steal This Singularity.“ (I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.) He sent me a copy of his book-in-progress, which he calls “Transhumanism Against Scarcity.” And while the book needs some work, it had some interesting ideas. So I decided to have an email conversation with him. Here goes more-than-nothing…
RU SIRIUS: This discussion about ending human scarcity has a long and deep history. Technologically, we may be moving in the right direction… towards molecular machines, desktop manufacturing, the digitization of everything. But you say in your book that we’re headed in the wrong direction.
ANONYMOUSSQUARED: I see two problems. One is that environmental problems may intervene. I don’t know if I can do anything about that. The other problem that I see is a strain of libertarian absolutism that is fairly prevalent inside transhumanist circles and that is having way too much impact on politics in the real world. Maybe I can have some impact on that in a small way. I don’t really have a beef with libertarianism per se… as a soft concept, finding our way towards a world with a lot less government coercion seems like a good thing. I think the problem comes when ideals collide with the real world. And you’ll notice that much of what I’ve written is focused on the world today, not on the future. I thought of calling it Transhumanism Against Austerity, which is the way that global monetary policy is reintroducing scarcity into parts of the world where it had been all but eliminated. It should be obvious to futurists that this is the wrong direction, if for no other reason than to avoid massive riots and an uprising of neoluddism. We’re already very deep into a wildly technological time. People notice stuff like artificial biology, bulletproof skin, the stuff that kids take for granted on their cell phones… people running around talking about robots overachieving us. This is not lost on ordinary people. And they’re looking around unemployed and with their homes “underwater” and medical costs rising and bankers getting free money from the government while they’re being asked to tighten their belts and they’re saying to themselves, “So this is what the techno-world is!” Some of the people in this transhuman community have no idea what’s going to hit them.
RU: The argument, of course, goes that the best way to end scarcity is to unleash an unfettered market. AS: Sure, and you can’t argue with someone who is absolutely convinced that is the case. It could conceivably even make sense at some point in the future, where a sort of tipping point is reached with nanotechnology and even the garbage pickers will be rich. But it’s more likely that we need to think about how to get wealth to a majority of people who are economically superfluous… or we abandon them to penniless suffering. The two main forces that are making most people economically superfluous are roboticization and globalization. And of nearly equal importance is disintermediation of the intellectual creative classes. Certainly corporations and business still need workers and people still want services and apps, but there’s a limit to all that. The obvious one that everybody thinks about is that, with globalization, most types of work can be farmed out to places where there’s cheap labor, lower expectations and lower expenses. Less obvious is that — with a globalized market, individuals are also superfluous as consumers. So it’s the death of Keynsean economics, in the sense that global corporations and financing concerns feel no pain when Americans or Greeks stop spending. And that’s because the possible market is so large that even with economies in recession, they’ve got more consumers than they’ve ever had before.
RU: A few years ago, I was at a Singularity Conference and somebody whose name I forget gave a talk about robotization. And he suggested that when robots can do everything that humans do faster, better and more efficiently, then we’ll have to give people what they need gratis. And about a third of the audience booed him. It was the only time I’ve ever heard a speaker get booed at one of these conferences. AS: Those people are against the future. That’s the irony. They’re trying to force ideas from the past onto the future and they’re doing damage to the present in the process. I understand that in the 1970s, there was a lot of talk even among many libertarians that there was going to be this cybernetic age soon and people’s jobs would be replaced by machines… and how are we going to deal with that? And they talked about the least bureaucratic ways to let people enjoy their lives after the machines take over… ideas like a reverse income tax or running some large centralized enterprise and giving everybody free stock. It was just assumed that we wouldn’t leave people out in the cold when they were no longer necessary. After all, as a society we wouldn’t be any poorer because the machine rather than the human is producing. This seems so fundamentally human and obvious. I think there’s been a massive dehumanization since then.
RU: I lived through the seventies and they were pretty miserable. Alienation with the internet is definitely less isolating and boring than alienation with it. Anyway, the popular argument with the idea that you have to help people who were replaced by technology is that we’ve learned that new technologies create new economic opportunities and new jobs and so forth. I think it’s a partial truth that deteriorates as we go deeper into the postindustrial era, but it’s an argument that’s out there.
AS: Well, we could go into the conventional arguments about actual income stagnation and insecurity but it’s all been said before and everybody has their arguments ready. But I think anybody would have to admit that it’s already a weird economy. A big chunk of the market economy exist solely on the basis of the eventual expectation of advertising. How perverse is that… when you actually examine it? Where it really falls apart is when you have a billion busy little small entrepreneurs hustling some product. Who has the attention and the need for what they have to offer… assuming it hasn’t already been hacked and distributed free anyway? And why should anyone want to participate in an infinite unending marketplace. What kind of human being sees that as the ultimate goal?
RU: Is there any reason to be optimistic?
AS: Sure. There are plenty of people with all types of ideological influences including libertarianism who are truly humanistic and want only to solve big problems ranging from scarcity to death. I want to ask them to be against austerity policies now. When you’re inviting people to be bold and excited and transhuman about the very extreme technological changes that are taking place, maybe it would be smart not to yank the floor out from underneath them at the same time.
*** Commentator responses : By Rick, August 31, 2011 @ 5:46 pm Objectivism+Tranhumism= A huge fucking problem. A lot of the people interested in this stuff genuinely believe altruism is immoral. Creating scarcity in a time of near infinite wealth is a logical byproduct of this notion, a notion based on an evolutionary imperative that will soon be superfluous. Sure, enhance your intelligence, but enhance your heart as well. By Valkyrie Ice, September 1, 2011 @ 6:06 pm
I’ll write more on this later, but for now let me simply repost what I wrote in a thread on similar topics: I recommend reading my article on 3dprinters http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/02/14/adding-our-way-to-abundance/ which shows exactly how the companies are already in the process of putting 3d printers to work, and how that will lead to home printers in short order as the companies, in the name of squeezing out ever more profit from a shrinking consumer base, will keep eliminating paying jobs in the supply chain and push all manufacturing costs off on the customer. It’s NOT good news to those hoping that the job market will return, it’s not good news in the short run for the economy, and it’s not good news in the short term for anyone with dreams of becoming wealthy. It IS good news for the rise of the economy of abundance, and the elimination of material needs as a “commodity” in the market. It’s not going to happen because we voluntarily created one, it’s going to happen because it’s going to be our last resort. (basically, even if austerity measures reintroduce “scarcity” into abundant economies, it’s insufficient to counter the levels of abundance that will soon be realized by full automation) For the Randians, GET THIS THROUGH YOUR HEADS. Starve too many people and they revolt, kill the rich guys and redistribute the wealth. (This is how Communism and Marxism or Bolshevism came about.) Never, at any time in history, has this failed to be true. Feel free to justify treating your fellow humans as cattle for you to feed on, just remember, the species as a whole has a nasty habit of killing off parasites and predators when they get too threatening. In all our centuries of existence, no ruling class that maximizes the divide between top and bottom has ever survived. Keep saying “let them eat cake” and we all know where that leads. Think about that, seriously. I happen to value your lives, because I rather selfishly enjoy talking about things with others. But if you value yours so little as to seek self termination, I suppose I have little choice but to let you. Rational self interest means I look out for myself, and my knowledge of history tells me that any choice but compassion is a quick way to get yourself dead. It’s a simple matter of self preservation. Look out for everyone, so that everyone will look out for you. If I don’t care about you, how the hell am I going to expect you to care about me? Horde the wealth, treat others as disposable, maximize the disparity, and the inevitable end result is revolt, massacres of the upper classes, and attempts to once again make a less polarized society. This leads to a significant loss of life, on both sides, and as such numbers are highly variable, and I have no desire to be a death statistic, I would rather avoid open warfare. So YES, TAX THE RICH. No justification you can try and use overcomes the reality that you are using the services provided to you and are thus subject to a fee for use. In order to prevent mass suffering of the 90% leading to the murder of the 10% you would think the rich would be screaming “TAX US ALREADY” (a few already are) but shortsightedness seems to be the order of the day. HUNGRY STARVING PEOPLE ARE NOT RATIONAL PEOPLE! You aren’t going to convince them that they should starve to death while you are eating lobster and caviar by telling them that you “earned” it, and they didn’t.