An essay by Dale Carrico on “The Unbearable Stasis of ‘Accelerating Change’” has been praised by two of my favorite science fiction writers, Bruce Sterling and Charlie Stross. This does not change my opinion of Carrico’s “critique of Transhumanism” (more correctly, his critique of his own fictional straw-man portrait of transhumanists), which I find more and more static, tired, and boring.
Also Greg Egan, another of my favorite science fiction writers, does not seem to have a very high opinion of transhumanists. In Zendegi, he introduces Nate Caplan, an extropian entrepreneur, health freak, Ayn Rand ultra-libertarian, borderline sociopath, cryonics and mind uploading enthusiast, and caricatural transhumanist cliché. When he first meets neuroscientist Nasim (one of the two main characters), Caplan introduces himself by saying: “My IQ is one hundred and sixty. I’m in perfect physical and mental health. And I can pay you half a million dollars right now.” Then he adds: “I have no lipid deficiencies that would lead to neurohistological abnormalities” and informs Nasim that he runs “Overpowering Falsehood dot com, [sounds familiar?], the number one site for rational thinking about the future.”
Nasim is a researcher working at the Human Connectome project, described by Egan at more or less the current development stage, perhaps a bit more advanced, and Caplan hopes that she can upload him to cyberspace in a short ten years. Nasim points out, correctly, that this is a totally unrealistic hope.
Now: Nate Caplan is a fictional caricature: he doesn’t exist, and he is not even meant as a realistic character. I have met some monomaniac transhumanists with an inflated opinion of their intelligence and worth, but Caplan is far too extreme for a believable character. He is just a caricature of two or three persons who used to post to the Extropians mailing list in the 90s. Bruce Sterling, Charlie Stross, and Greg Egan used to read the Extropian list in the 90s, and their impression is frozen at that time. Too bad, but they are still among my favorite science fiction writers, they don’t make fools of themselves by saying that the technologies they describe in their novels are impossible, and I will continue to avidly read their books. They don’t like us transhumanists, but we love them in return.
Dale Carrico, he should know better. He was a frequent participant and contributor to transhumanist mailing lists until only a few years ago, and many transhumanists including me have
spent wasted a lot of time discussing with him.
Carrico is a Grand Master of straw man arguments, and a consummate liar who always distorts what his “targets” really say. A typical discussion with him goes like this:
DC: Everyone knows that roses are pink, but Robot Cultist X says that roses are green.
X: I am sorry, but I never said that roses are green.
DC: Yes you did, you moron, you and your Robot Cultist friends.
X: I never said that roses are green and I challenge you to find an actual quote, even just one. I have said that most roses are pink or red, but many roses are white or yellow, and some roses have other colors.
DC: Fuck you, asshole. Perhaps you never said that roses are green, but you Robot Cultists want to genetically engineer green and blue roses, and this goes against the finitude and interconnectedness of Nature, and your discourse reinforces the industrial-military-libertropian complex, and… (pages and pages of logorrhea).
Of course, after a few exchanges like this, X stops paying attention and moves on. Please see this article for answers to Dale’s questions to his readers about his arguments and style.
Even when a transhumanist publicly agrees with him on social or political issues unrelated to transhumanism, Dale replies with mockery and insults (take a look at this exchange). When I remind him that I consider long term speculative visions and here-and-now real-world actions as separate, not overlapping spheres of life, he replies: “Yeah, yeah, mild mannered advocate for healthy drinking water in overexploited regions of the world by day, radical techno-immortalist by night! How could anyone imagine one’s attitudes in the one sphere could possibly impact one’s arguments, interests, priorities in the other? Separate, but no doubt equal, eh, your worldly concerns as against your superlative ones? Like most people of fundamentalist faith, your superlative aspirations are the stained-window coloring your everyday inhabitation of the world.”
This is true: my superlative aspirations are the stained-window coloring my everyday inhabitation of the world. So what? I am happy to see the world in beautiful colors instead of black and white, and the superlative colors have nothing to do with my actual positions on actual, proximate social or political issues. In fact, I often agree with Dale on real issues, which seems to upset him a lot (see the example above). Like most people of fundamentalist faith, he is protective of “his” ideological territory against persons he disapproves of, even when they agree with him on real, specific points.
This is typical of the dullest, totalitarian, thought-policing left. For example, homosexuals were often denied membership or expelled from communist parties. This sounds odd, because it is difficult to see what sexual preferences have to do with political preferences and skills (answer: nothing), but homosexuals were consistently thrown out of the American Communist Party when their orientation was discovered.
Similarly, Carrico’s “arguments” boil down to “You are a filthy Robot Cultist, so you are not qualified to have opinions on serious political issues.” These are the same “arguments” often used by those homophobes who say “You are a filthy gay, so you are not qualified to have opinions on serious political issues,” so they are quite surreal when they come from a gay rights activist like Carrico.
Of course Dale considers this last observation as “idiotic, deceptive, and weird” but I would like to know what (he thinks) the difference is. Because I cannot see any. @Dale, that was a question. Insult me as much as you like, but please don’t evade my question: why is my analogy idiotic, deceptive, and weird?
To conclude with a more positive note, Dale recently said in an occasional moment of sanity: ” I am perfectly content to affirm, for example, that there are technoscientifically literate people of faith who embrace the secular separation of church and state and who struggle for social justice and who are perfectly lovely, reasonable people. Probably that includes at least some Robot Cultists in their transhumanoid, singularitarian, and techno-immortalist faiths as well, although I wonder if they really can have thought about their position very clearly,” which is a reasonable and constructive attitude.