Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, March 14, 2008

Transhumanist Differences That Make A Difference

Uprgraded and adapted from the Moot:

A transhumanist cries out in pain: [C]an you at least make an effort and *acknowledge* that there are a few inside transhumanism that have different ideas[?]

Why should I?

Honestly. How different?

Can't we simply assume that everybody always already knows that there will be innumerable negligible differences of opinion and history and situation and aspiration to be found in any group of humans?

Nevertheless, generalities are discernible, tendencies are observable, logical entailments are describable, historical legacies are available for perusal.

True, not everybody is in the perfect lockstep of a clone army.

Do I also have to "acknowledge" the fact that transhumanists are prey to the same laws of physics as everybody else?

Yes, if you prick transhumanists they will bleed (that is, of course, until they get all barnacled up with their unprickable shiny robot shells, and replace their bloodstreams with nanoscale respirocytes and stuff).

But how much time would I have to devote to the dime thin differences among transhumanists while neglecting (and by the way burying away from general view) the damning generalities that actually concern me, before you would feel I have done justice to your own splendid quibblings with the viewpoint you are otherwise happy to affiliate with in general?

Yeah, I thought so.


Michael Anissimov said...

In before James Fehlinger posting something questionably relevant.

Dale Carrico said...

Dag, Jim, seems somebody's got a widdle crush.

Greg in Portland said...

Michael is trying to turn you into slashdot. Firt p0st. w00t. pw0ndd!!

jfehlinger said...

> . . .before J. F. post[s] something questionably relevant.

All right, here's my questionably relevant contribution. If
not to this thread then to the thread below from which it was

You know, there's something going on here that's really rather
pitiable in its sheer humanness, yet also more than a bit contemptible
and pernicious.

It's an exhibition, in a very raw form, of the drive to put
one's social status beyond question, or to justify an upgrade in
one's social status (or influence, or credibility), by validating
one's "worth" with respect to the rest of humanity. And also
(and more sadly), to establish and validate an **internal** sense
of worth -- in this case, by assigning it an indisputable,
"scientific" number. Feeling "worthy", after all, makes one
enthusiastic (not to say, even, aggressive), zestful, optimistic.
Feeling unworthy is painful, depressing, demotivating -- even,
in the long run, fatal.

It's not enough just to exist as a human being -- in order to
deserve the air you breathe, you have to be **better** than
90%, or 99%, or 99.999999% of the rest. In order for **me** to
be "sufficiently" worthy -- to exist, to look at myself in the mirror,
to hold my head up among the members of my family or among
my friends or my work associates -- the **rest**
of the human race, the other 90%, or 99%, or 99.99999%, must be
**unworthy** in comparison to me.

They say that William Shockley, the inventor of the transistor,
never got over the humiliation of being passed over for
inclusion in Lewis Terman's study of gifted kids.

Shockley seems to have done OK (at least in his technical work)
despite this burden. Other people are destroyed by it.
There's an article on p. 80 of the latest (April 2008) issue of
_Psychology Today_ (the rag in which our friend Michael had his
picture appear a year ago) entitled "The Making of a Perfectionist"
by Hara Estroff Marano -- an excerpt, apparently, from the
author's upcoming book _A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive
Parenting_. The article's first-page headline is "Perfectionism
may be the ultimate self-defeating behavior. It turns people into
slaves of success -- but keeps them focused on failure, dooming
them to a lifetime of doubt and depression. It also winds up
undermining achievement in the modern world."

clearly, this isn't true for **everybody** who is hot-housed in
this way (see, oh, Norbert Wiener's biography, _Ex-Prodigy_).
But it must be a delicate balance, depending on the precise
interaction between a child's personality and the treatment
received at the hands of parents, other adult authority figures,
and peers. And clearly, some kids are simply sacrificed
as a result. (Would it be indelicate here for me to mention
the case of the brother of a certain prominent transhumanist
who may well be reading this?)

I've seen some of this at first hand (I'm glad I'm not a parent).
I mentioned earlier the married couple with two boys with
whom I have dinner from time to time. The oldest boy is probably
spectrum, but he's also pretty smart. Well, there was a time
about 6 or 7 years ago when the mom was worried about her
older son's prospects for school -- she had decided that he
was clearly "gifted", and needed some kind of special accommodation.
Mom, who was very much caught up in the whole culture surrounding
the "gifted child" -- she has friends who are "geniuses"
(or think they are), knows people whose children have been
declared "geniuses", etc. -- went to a lecture by Linda Kreger
Silverman, spoke to the woman in person after the talk, and
on the basis of mom's description of the son's behavior, the
psychologist ventured a guess that he might have an IQ
somewhere in the vicinity of 200. After that, mom was bound
and determined to get that IQ documented. One of the problems,
apparently, in getting an IQ of 200 documented is that most
of the IQ tests in current use among psychometricians simply don't go up
that high. You have to get somebody who's willing to administer
the Stanford-Binet L-M to have a chance at a number like
that (and forget the L-M these days, after the Justin Chapman
thing). Unfortunately, all mom ever managed to get for
her trouble was a diagnosis of Asperger's -- she came home from
one gifted-program screening in a fury over the intake
psychologist's evaluation result -- "That bitch! Do you
know what she said to me? 'I'm sorry, we don't admit Asperger's
children to our program.'" The upshot of this story is positive,
so far -- the son did get into some decent private schools, and
he seems to be doing pretty well both academically and socially these
days (of course, puberty hasn't hit yet :-/ ).

It's even clear to me, in retrospect (again, I hope nobody
I know is reading this!) that mom "collects" people she
thinks (or has heard) are "smart" for her little salon.
Some of this is explicitly for the boys' sake -- they are
deliberately included in the adult conversation, in (sometimes
painfully obviously) managed ways. I don't (usually) mind
the knowledge that I was "collected" for this purpose
(although I'm afraid I've been a bit of a bust; I don't
think I've lived up to the advance billing I got [through
a mutual acquaintance] ;-> ).

I do not blame any parent for wanting the best possible life
for a child. The desperation, though -- the sheer frantic
scrambling for advantage -- is often painful to watch.
The power wielded by such judgments of human worth is
appalling and ridiculous simultaneously. Ayn Rand maintained
control over her "collective" by dispensing judgments about
the fundamental worth of her friends and admirers -- who
was "rational", who was "irrational", who might be a
"genius" (a Howard Roark or Dagny Taggart clone). If you
don't happen to know "the greatest mind the human race has
ever produced" personally, then you need a "scientific"
standard that'll accomplish the same thing. You need an IQ
score, or an SAT score. And God help anybody who suggests
that the "figure of merit" might be bogus, once you've got
your own certificate of worth. Them's fightin' words!

jfehlinger said...

Greg in Portland wrote:

> Michael is trying to turn you into slashdot. Firt p0st. w00t. pw0ndd!!

I had to look these up:



(I already knew what pr0n and n00b mean.)

I turn up my nose at all these digit-containing
"typo coinages"!

I can type already, you f*ckers! I pwn you!

jfehlinger said...

Obligatory Joni Mitchell:

"Win or lose, win or lose.
To the loser go the heartsick blues.
To the victor goes the spoiler.
Honey, did you win or lose?"

(Boy, have the cigarettes taken their toll.)

jfehlinger said...

Is it really true, BTW, that Real Men don't like Joni Mitchell?

"It was the sound of guys hanging around the Animal House
living room -— where put-downs are high-fived; gadgets are cool;
rock stars, sports heroes, and cyborg battles are awesome;
jobs and Joni Mitchell suck; and babes are simply hot -— or not."

Here's something rather incredible -- a **guy** who sounds
like Joni Mitchell. Doing a not bad (better than some of
Joni's own!) performance of "Amelia" from _Hejira_.

(He doesn't change the pronouns, either --

"...and looking down on everything,
I crashed into his arms. . ."

"I wish that he was here tonight; it's so hard
to obey his sad request of me to kindly stay away.")

Joni's own 1976 performance, from the _Shadows and Light_

Dale Carrico said...

Is it really true, BTW, that Real Men don't like Joni Mitchell?

Well, I adore her, so it must be true.

Boy, have the cigarettes taken their toll.

It's funny, I really think her voice doesn't do real justice to the stature of her amazing poetry in its pre-ravaged state. I think she should redo Blue entirely now. I wish I had a river I could skate away on. I made my baby say good-bye. I think I'd just crumble.

jfehlinger said...

> I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
> I made my baby say good-bye.

You know, apparently that song actually counts in some
quarters as Christmas music. I do seem to hear it on
the radio more often around Christmastime.