Monthly Archives: May 2012

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Dead-Tree Luddites – Article by Genevieve LaGreca

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The New Renaissance Hat
Genevieve LaGreca
May 28, 2012
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Imagine you’re living in the 15th century. You’re witnessing a revolution that will profoundly change the world. This revolution doesn’t involve swords and cannons but rather words and books. The cause of this upheaval is the most important invention in more than a thousand years: the printing press, by Johannes Gutenberg.

Within a few decades of its launch, you see the printing press transform the field of bookmaking in ways previously unimaginable. Printed books are far easier, faster, and less costly to produce than the books that had preceded them, which had to be laboriously copied, one page at a time, by hand. In the time it takes to copy one page by hand, the printing press can turn out hundreds or thousands of copies of that same page, thereby making it possible for the first time in history for almost anyone to own books.

Within a century of its creation, the printing press will spread throughout western Europe, producing millions of books, spurring the economic development of industries related to it, such as papermaking, and spreading literacy and knowledge around the world. The printing press will make possible the rapid development of education, science, art, culture — and the rise of mankind from the medieval period to the early-modern age.

Let us further imagine that not everyone in the 15th century is happy about this innovation. Unable to match the benefits of the printing press, the producers of hand-copied books are outraged. The scribes are being put out of business. The penmanship schools that train the scribes, the quill makers that supply their pens, and the manufacturers of the stools and drafting tables that literally support them are seeing a drop in sales. The hand-copied books are now priced too high to compete with the Gutenberg press, so their publishers are experiencing no growth, with no new capital coming into their industry. The sales force for the hand-copied books is also in despair, with their customers now ordering the new printed books from the Gutenberg people, and their lost income being money they can no longer put into their communities. Alas, the monopolistic monster, the printing press, is taking over.

The hand-copied-book interests complain bitterly to the Great Sages at their Hallowed Council of Justice. “Sires,” they cry, “you must stop the predatory pricing and scorched-earth policies of the Gutenberg press. It’s wiping out the competition. How can this be in the public interest?”

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we see another revolution that is turning the book industry topsy-turvy — the transformation from printed books to electronic ones. This revolution is spearheaded by a modern-day Gutenberg, Amazon.com, the pioneer of the ebook, the Kindle device for reading it, and the online marketplace for publishing and selling it.

What Amazon has accomplished is truly amazing. With Kindle, it has eliminated the industry middlemen who come between the writer and reader of a book — from agents to publishers to distributors to wholesalers to brick-and-mortar bookstores. Kindle has also eliminated the need for a physical inventory of books, with its high printing, warehousing, and shipping costs. These innovations have resulted in far less expensive books now available to consumers. And the new marketplace of ebooks has been especially advantageous for self-publishers unable to get their books accepted through the traditional channels, who now have an avenue open to them for reaching customers directly.

The popularity of these ground-breaking innovations is enormous, with Kindle books now outselling the combined total of all paperback and hardcover books purchased from Amazon.

Without any middlemen or gatekeepers, with virtually no costs involved, and with self-marketing possible through social media and other Internet channels, electronic publishing is creating a robust market for new writers and books. For example, one novelist who was unable to find an agent or publisher has self-published two of her novels on Kindle. With her books priced at $2.99 and with a 70 percent royalty from Kindle, she earns approximately $2 per book. She is selling 55 books per day, or 20,000 books per year, which amounts to sales of $60,000 and royalties to her of $40,000. (As a simple comparison, without getting into the complexities of book contracts, this author might earn a royalty of approximately 10 percent from a traditional publisher, which would require her to achieve sales of $400,000 to earn as much money as she does self-publishing on Kindle.) Other authors are doing even better, including two self-published novelists who have become members of the Kindle Million Club in copies sold. These writers started with nothing — they were not among the favored few selected by agents and trade publishers, and they had no publicists or book tours — yet, thanks to electronic publishing, they are making a living, with some achieving stunning success.

The low pricing of ebooks, scorned by the traditional publishing interests, is the emerging writer’s new ticket of admission into the book industry. While readers may be highly reluctant to risk $25 in a bookstore to try a new writer’s hardcover work, they are buying the ebooks of new writers priced at or around $2.99 on Kindle. Writers are finding their fans and making money at these prices, and readers, judging by Amazon’s “customer reviews,” are happy with these low-cost books.

The writer-publisher in America dates back to our founding, promoting vigorous free speech and intellectual entrepreneurship. Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, both bestsellers in their day, were self-published. If the American dream is to start with nothing but one’s own talent, motivation, and hard work, and from that achieve success, then in recent times this dream was essentially closed to writers who failed to win the favor of the agents and trade publishers. Prior to the ebook revolution and online marketing spurred by Amazon, there was a stigma attached to self-publishing, despite its long and distinguished tradition in America. The major trade reviewers would not consider a self-published book, which meant that libraries and bookstores, which order based on the reviews, would not carry it. Now, ebooks are not only taking the stigma out of self-publishing but arguably making it the preferred route. Amazon has opened the avenue to pursuing the intellectual’s American dream once again.

Yet the same medieval attacks projected above against the printing press are now being launched against Amazon, with the attackers imploring the modern-day “sages” at the Justice Department to stop the new menace called Amazon.

Leading the charge back to the Middle Ages is the New York Times. Two articles appearing on the front page of its business section on April 16, 2012, illustrate what happens when the Luddites (i.e., those hostile to technological development) meet the statists (i.e., those who look to achieve their ends through government force).

“Daring to Cut Off Amazon” by David Streitfeld praises a publisher-distributor for pulling its printed books out of Amazon. (Amazon discounts not only ebooks but also the printed books it so successfully sells.) The company is Educational Development Corporation, whose CEO, Randall White, laments, “Amazon is squeezing everyone out of the business.… They’re a predator. We’re better off without them.”

One of Mr. White’s concerns was that his sales people were losing business because their customers were buying the company’s books cheaper from Amazon. Sales consultant Christy Reed comments about her local customers, “Yes they got the books for less [from Amazon]. But my earnings go back into our community. Amazon’s do not.” It apparently didn’t occur to her that by buying books cheaper on Amazon, her former customers have more money to spend in her community, and the Amazon staff who replaced her have more money to spend in their communities. But where spending does or doesn’t take place is not the main economic point. The real point is that for the same total spending in the economic system as a whole, people now obtain more books and have money left over to buy more of other things.

“Book Publishing’s Real Nemesis” by David Carr cites the recent antitrust suit brought by the Justice Department against five publishers and Apple, charging they engaged in the price-fixing of ebooks. Instead of condemning this police action against production and trade, Mr. Carr bemoans the fact that the strong arm of the law didn’t go far enough to grip the “monopolistic monolith” Amazon, which “has used its market power to bully and dictate.” Mr. Carr considers it bullying and dictating when a private company (Amazon) sets its terms, and other players (the publishers) are free to do business with it or not. But it’s not bullying and dictating when the compulsory power of the state intervenes to set economic terms and punish businesses arbitrarily?

Mr. Carr quotes Authors Guild president and best-selling author Scott Turow, who worries that the club of authors and publishers will shrink. (Really?) “It is breathtaking to stand back and look at this and believe that this is in the public interest,” complains Mr. Turow about Amazon’s success. He also wonders if Amazon will drive the price of books so low that there will be “no one left to compete with them.” Apparently the “public interest” doesn’t include the millions of customers who choose to buy the mother lode of affordable ebooks from Amazon and who may not welcome his solicitous concern over the low prices they’re paying. And apparently the “public interest” doesn’t include the fresh crop of new authors now sprouting through ebooks, without the benefit of the major publishers and lucky breaks that he had.

The Luddite tone of the attacks against Amazon rings like the following: The electric light will replace the candle. The car will replace the horse and buggy. The cure for tuberculosis will put the sanatoriums out of business. The computer will replace the typewriter.

The statist element lies in the attackers’ desire to enlist the police power of the state to stifle the competition and artificially prop up their businesses.

Granted, it may be disappointing and painful for those whose jobs are thinning out or becoming obsolete due to technological advancements, but that can’t justify government intrusion. Morality is on the side of the people engaged in voluntary trade and against those who urge the Justice Department’s encroachment into their industry. The charges levied against Amazon — as a predator, monopolist, bully, etc. — actually do not apply to a company engaged in voluntary trade, no matter how big its market share, but rather to those trying to preserve their interests through government action.

In the case of Amazon, the ones trying to restrain trade are the attackers themselves. Moreover, not only is morality on the side of Amazon, but so too are the long-run material self-interests of everyone in the economic system. Everyone working will earn money, but, thanks to Amazon and every other innovator of better products or more efficient methods of production, the buying power of the money he earns will be greater. The enemies of productive innovators are, by the same token, antisocial enemies of the general buying public.

The complaints lodged against Amazon would be harmless if the complainers could not use the government to advance their cause. But they can, through antitrust laws. These laws give the state the power to evaluate the price of a company’s product in relation to its competition and to punish companies — severely and arbitrarily — for prices deemed to be unacceptable. If a company’s price for its goods is deemed to be too low, it can be punished for being predatory and destructive of competition. If the price is deemed to be the same as its competitors, it can be punished for collusion and price-fixing. If the price is deemed to be too high, it can be punished for being monopolistic.

Using antitrust laws against the book industry poses an additional grave danger over and above their use against other industries. Because the book industry represents the dissemination of knowledge and ideas, an attempt to regulate the price of books abridges the free flow of ideas and violates our First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

Anyone interested in the survival of a robust book industry — or any other industry — with the free flow of products, the creativity of new business methods, and the preservation of economic freedom and property rights, must support the repeal of these oppressive laws.

The market — comprising the voluntary decisions of millions of free people — determines the pricing of books, the form a book will take, the device it will be read on, the winners and the losers of the competition. If the market chooses an innovative technology and a new direction, then so be it. Let the medieval bookmakers copying their books by hand and their contemporary counterparts using needless paper and ink, warehouses, delivery trucks, and bookstores, adopt the advances or quit!

Totally unlike competition in the animal kingdom, in which the losers are eaten or die of starvation, the losers of an economic competition do not die. At worst, they must relocate in the economic system at a lower level. But in an economic system free enough rapidly to progress, as ours has been for most of the last two and a half centuries, even the lowest-paid workers enjoy a standard of living that surpasses that of the kings and emperors of earlier ages. This is why the Gutenbergs of the world must be left free to dream, to create, and to trade without fear of punishment.

Gen LaGreca is the author of Noble Vision, a novel that won a ForeWord magazine Book of the Year Award and was a finalist in the Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards. After being rejected by dozens of agents and unable to find a trade publisher, it now enjoys steady ranking in the Top 100 Best Sellers in medical and political genre fiction on Kindle. Send her mail. See Genevieve LaGreca’s article archives.

Economist George Reisman contributed to this article.

You can subscribe to future articles by Genevieve LaGreca via this RSS feed.

Copyright © 2012 by Genevieve LaGreca. Permission to reproduce is granted with attribution.

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On Indefinite Detention: The Tyranny Continues – Article by Ron Paul

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Categories: Justice, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
May 28, 2012
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The bad news from the recent passage of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act is that Americans can still be arrested on US soil and detained indefinitely without trial. Some of my colleagues would like us to believe that they fixed last year’s infamous Sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA, which codified into law the unconstitutional notion that some Americans are not subject to the protections of the Constitution. However, nothing in this year’s bill or amendments to the bill restored those constitutional rights.

Supporters of the one amendment that passed on this matter were hoping no one would notice that it did absolutely nothing. The amendment essentially stated that those entitled to habeas corpus protections are hereby granted habeas corpus protections. Thanks for nothing!

As Steve Vladeck, of American University’s law school, wrote of this amendment:

“[T]he Gohmert Amendment does nothing whatsoever to address the central objections…. [I]t merely provides by statute a remedy that is already available to individuals detained within the United States; and says nothing about the circumstances in which individuals might actually be subject to military detention when arrested within the territory of United States…. Anyone within the United States who was subject to military detention before the FY2013 NDAA would be subject to it afterwards, as well…”

Actually, the amendment in question makes matters worse, as it states that anyone detained on US soil has the right to file a writ of habeas corpus “within 30 days” of arrest. In fact, persons detained on US soil already have the right to file a habeas petition immediately upon arrest!

I co-sponsored an amendment offered by Reps. Adam Smith and  Justin Amash that would have repealed the unconstitutional provisions of last year’s NDAA by eliminating Section 1022 on mandatory military detention and modifying Section 1021 to make it absolutely clear that no one can be apprehended on US soil and held indefinitely without trial or be held subject to a military tribunal. Our language was clear: “No person detained, captured, or arrested in the United States, or a territory or possession of the United States, may be transferred to the custody of the Armed Forces for detention under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, this Act, or the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.”

The term “person” is key in our amendment, as our Founders did not make a distinction between citizens and non-citizens when determining who was entitled to Constitutional protections. As the father of the Constitution James Madison wrote, “[I]t does not follow, because aliens are not parties to the Constitution, as citizens are parties to it, that whilst they actually conform to it, they have no right to its protection.”

We should not forget that our Article III court system is a strength not a weakness. The right to face our accuser, the protections against hearsay evidence, the right to a jury trial – these are designed to protect the innocent and to determine and then punish guilt. And they have been quite successful thus far. Currently there are more than 300 individuals who have been tried and convicted of terrorism-related charges serving lengthy terms in US federal prisons. Each of the six individuals tried in US civilian courts for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center are serving hundreds of years in prison, for example.

Last week was discouraging and disappointing to those of us who value our Constitution. That the US government asserts the legal authority to pick up Americans within the United States and hold them indefinitely and secretly without a trial should be incredibly disturbing to all of us. Americans should check how their representative voted. Politicians should not be allowed to get away with undermining our liberties in this manner.

Representative Ron Paul (R – TX), MD, is a Republican candidate for U. S. President. See his Congressional webpage and his official campaign website

This article has been released by Dr. Paul into the public domain and may be republished by anyone in any manner.

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Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Heartlander Article on Toll-Free Internet Access to Major Sites

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 28, 2012
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I am quoted extensively in the article “Verizon: Toll-Free Internet Access on Horizon” by Kenneth Artz of Heartlander magazine. I explain the benefits of a new proposed pricing structure whereby websites such as Google and Netflix would be able to pay ISPs for better access by their users – instead of the users paying more.

When providers experiment in order to make a service more lucrative to consumers, we all win.

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Score and Finale Source File for Mr. Stolyarov’s Baroque Composition for Piano and Organ, Op. 69

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 28, 2012
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For the first time, I am publicly releasing both the complete musical notation and the computer source file for one of my compositions. All of my compositions are completely free to listen to and download, and are distributed under a Creative Commons license.

Baroque Composition for Piano and Organ, Op. 69 (Neo-Baroque, really) is composed for three pianos and one organ. Anyone is welcome to play it, compose variations upon it, compose new works inspired by it, and tinker with the source file to develop alternative versions.

You can find the PDF score here.

You can find the source file (.mus format) for Finale 2011 here.

You can download and listen to an MP3 file here.

You can find the YouTube version of the composition below. Be sure to like, favorite, and share this work to spread rational high culture to others.

 

If you enjoyed this piece and my other compositions, please also consider supporting my Kickstarter project to bring a new rational classical composition into existence.

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Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Two Heartlander Articles on The Pirate Bay and Retransmission Fees

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 27, 2012
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I am pleased to have again been quoted in Heartlander Magazine. Two articles by Kenneth Artz – “Pirate Bay Encourages VPNs for Illegal File Sharing” and “Retransmission Dispute Results in ND, MN Blackouts”– include comments from me, providing a rational, liberty-oriented perspective. I encourage you to read and share both articles.

Regarding The Pirate Bay, I go a step further to agree with Stephan Kinsella’s argument that “intellectual property” is not a legitimate application of private-property rights. Property arises out of scarcity. The reason that tangible goods are legitimate property is that one person’s use of a particular good necessarily diminishes another’s ability to use it. The same is not true for files that can be reproduced indefinitely. One person’s copying of a file does not diminish another’s ability to use or enjoy it. Therefore, enforcement of intellectual-property laws constitutes a punishment of victimless crimes. The practical effect of such punishment is a more tyrannical and less technological society.

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SpaceX, Neil deGrasse Tyson, & Private vs. Government Technological Breakthroughs – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Mr. Stolyarov celebrates the May 22, 2012, launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule and responds to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s claims that private enterprise cannot make the biggest breakthroughs in science and exploration. On the contrary, Mr. Stolyarov identifies historical examples of just such privately driven breakthroughs and explains why private enterprise is more suited than a political structure for making radical improvements to human life.

References

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 – Video from NASA
Beautiful picture of SpaceX Falcon 9 flight
– “Neil deGrasse Tyson: Bringing Commercial Space Fantasies Back to Earth” – Video
– “SpaceX rocket on its way to outer space” – Marcia Dunn – The Associated Press – May 22, 2012
– “SpaceX rocket launch hailed as ‘a new era in space exploration‘” – W. J. Hennigan – Los Angeles Times – May 22, 2012
– “Neil deGrasse Tyson” – Wikipedia
– “SpaceX” – Wikipedia

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Update to Resources on Indefinite Life Extension – May 19, 2012

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Categories: Announcements, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TRA’s Resources on Indefinite Life Extension page has been enhanced over the past month with links to numerous fascinating articles and videos.

Articles

– “New Laser For Neurosurgery Allows Greater Precision And Efficiency For Removal Of Complex Turmors” – ScienceDaily – January 28, 2009

– “Tiny Particles May Help Surgeons by Marking Brain Tumors” – ScienceDaily – April 29, 2010

– “Tagging Tumors With Gold: Scientists Use Gold Nanorods to Flag Brain Tumors” – ScienceDaily – October 12, 2011

– “Immortal worms defy aging” – KurzweilAI – February 29, 2012

– “Earth 2512: humans embrace their technologies; reach for the stars” – Dick Pelletier – Positive Futurist – April 2012

– “Teenager Invents Anti-Aging, Disease-Fighting Compound Using Tree Nanoparticles” – Science 2.0 – May 8, 2012

– “A Libertarian Transhumanist Critique of Jeffrey Tucker’s ‘A Lesson in Mortality’” – G. Stolyarov II – May 13, 2012

– “Gene therapy for aging-associated decline” – KurzweilAI – May 16, 2012

– “Breakthrough in Gene Therapy Holds Great Promise” – Joshua Lipana – The Objective Standard – May 16, 2012

Videos

Aubrey de Grey – Debate with Colin Blakemore: “This house wants to defeat ageing entirely”

Part 1 – Main Debate 

Part 2 – Audience Q&A

The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford University – April 28, 2012

Aziz Aboobaker

Neverending DNA and Immortal Worms – February 27, 2012

G. Stolyarov II

The Real War – and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction – March 15, 2012

A Libertarian Transhumanist Critique of Jeffrey Tucker’s “A Lesson in Mortality” – May 15, 2012

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Be a Patron of a New Classical Composition: Melody, Harmony, and Dignity Guaranteed!

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Categories: Announcements, Business, Music, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am initiating an ambitious new experiment for funding new rational classical composition via Kickstarter. Please see the Kickstarter page for this project here.

For a combined pledge of $150, I will create a new classical composition of at least 3 minutes in length. The person contributing the plurality of funds will be able to have the composition bear his/her name. (For instance, if your name is Smith, and I compose a rondo, it would be called the Smith Rondo, Op. 70 – or you could choose a different name of appropriate dignity.) Any donor would be able to recommend whether the composition be predominantly in a major or a minor key – as well as the key itself (e.g., C major, A minor, etc.). (Note: Secondary themes or variations on the main theme may depart from the main key if this would reinforce the integrity and develop the intricacy of the composition.) If a majority of donors favors a particular key, I will write the piece in that key.

Once composed, the work would be released online for free download and streaming and would be licensed as Creative Commons. The creation of art and music through distributed patronage, as well as the subsequent free availability of such work, can liberate both creators and the consuming public and unleash a new era of high culture for vast numbers of people. No matter who you are, you can be a patron of classical music in this electronic age.

The composition will be created electronically using Finale 2011 software – probably using several pianos, but other instruments may be incorporated as well. Finale 2011 can create sound quality closely resembling a human performance on a traditional instrument. At the same time, electronic playback can enable the composition to possess speed and virtuosity beyond the abilities of a human performer.

I am asking for combined donations of $150 as compensation for the time in composing this work. I anticipate that the process will take about 5 hours of complete focus, and so I would be compensated at $30 per hour. I can create the composition within at most one week after the funding goal has been reached.

If you have any questions or recommendations about this project, please feel free to e-mail me at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

Background

I have composed 69 works to date and have developed a distinctive style that respects centuries of Western musical tradition while taking advantage of the new possibilities of electronic composition. My philosophy of composition holds that music must be (i) orderly and rational, (ii) pleasant to the ear, and (iii) elevating in its content and in the motivation it confer upon the listener.

I can promise the following:

– A directed, rational, thought-provoking, and pleasant melody.

– Sophisticated accompaniment and variation.

– Harmonies that please: No unresolved dissonance, “shock value,” expressionism, debasement, or noise.

You can find some of my freely available compositions on this YouTube playlist.

I particularly recommend my most recent works:

Rondo #2, Op. 65

Progress Amidst a Crisis, Op. 66

Rondo #3, Op. 67

Rondo #4, Op. 68

Baroque Composition for Piano and Organ, Op. 69

All of my compositions are available for free download as MP3 files on this page.

Thank you for your consideration and, hopefully, your patronage.

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A Libertarian Transhumanist Critique of Jeffrey Tucker’s “A Lesson in Mortality” – Audio Essay by G. Stolyarov II, Read by Wendy Stolyarov

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Categories: Economics, Philosophy, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mr. Stolyarov, a libertarian transhumanist, offers a rebuttal to the arguments in Jeffrey Tucker’s 2005 essay, “A Lesson in Mortality“.

This essay is read by Wendy Stolyarov.

As a libertarian transhumanist, Mr. Stolyarov sees the defeat of “inevitable” human mortality as the logical outcome of the intertwined forces of free markets and technological progress – the very forces about which Mr. Tucker writes at length.

Read the text of Mr. Stolyarov’s essay here.
Download the MP3 file of this essay here.
Download a vast compendium of audio essays by Mr. Stolyarov and others at TRA Audio.

References

It’s a Jetsons World – Book by Jeffrey Tucker
– “Without Rejecting IP, Progress is Impossible” – Essay by Jeffrey Tucker – July 18, 2010
– “The Quest for Indefinite Life II: The Seven Deadly Things and Why There Are Only Seven” – Essay by Dr. Aubrey de Grey – July 30, 2004
Resources on Indefinite Life Extension (RILE)
– “How Can I Live Forever?: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

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A Libertarian Transhumanist Critique of Jeffrey Tucker’s “A Lesson in Mortality” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Economics, Philosophy, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 13, 2012
Recommend this page.
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Jeffrey Tucker is one of my favorite pro-technology libertarian thinkers of our time. In his essays and books (see, for instance, It’s a Jetsons World), Mr. Tucker eloquently draws the connection between free markets and technological progress – and how the power of human creativity within a spontaneous order can overcome the obstructions posed by stagnant political and attitudinal paradigms. Mr. Tucker embraces the innovations of the Internet age and has written on their connection with philosophical debates – such as whether the idea of intellectual property is even practically tenable anymore, now that electronic technology renders certain human creations indefinitely reproducible.

Because I see Mr. Tucker as such an insightful advocate of technological progress in a free-market context, I was particularly surprised to read his 2005 article, “A Lesson in Mortality” – where Mr. Tucker contends that death is an inescapable aspect of the human condition. His central argument is best expressed in his own words: “Death impresses upon us the limits of technology and ideology. It comes in time no matter what we do. Prosperity has lengthened life spans and science and entrepreneurship has made available amazing technologies that have forestalled and delayed it. Yet, it must come.” Mr. Tucker further argues that “Modernity has a problem intellectually processing the reality of death because we are so unwilling to defer to the implacable constraints imposed on us within the material world… To recognize the inevitability of death means confessing that there are limits to our power to manufacture a reality for ourselves.

Seven years is a long time, and I am not aware of whether Mr. Tucker’s views on this subject have evolved since this article was published. Here, I offer a rebuttal to his main arguments and invite a response.

To set the context for his article, Mr. Tucker discusses the deaths of short-lived pets within his family – and how his children learned the lesson to grieve for and remember those whom they lost, but then to move on relatively quickly and to proceed with the business of life – “to think about death only when they must, but otherwise to live and love every breath.” While I appreciate the life-embracing sentiment here, I think it concedes too much to death and decay.

As a libertarian transhumanist, I see the defeat of “inevitable” human mortality as the logical outcome of the intertwined forces of free markets and technological progress. While we will not, at any single instant in time, be completely indestructible and invulnerable to all possible causes of death, technological progress – if not thwarted by political interference and reactionary attitudes – will sequentially eliminate causes of death that would have previously killed millions. This has already happened in many parts of the world with regard to killers like smallpox, typhus, cholera, malaria – and many others. It is not a stretch to extrapolate this progression and apply it to perils such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and ALS. Since human life expectancy has already increased roughly five-fold since the Paleolithic era, it is not inconceivable that – with continued progress – another five-fold or greater increase can be achieved.

As biogerontologist and famous life-extension advocate Dr. Aubrey de Grey points out, the seven basic types of damage involved in human senescence are already known – each for at least thirty years. With advances in computing capacity, as well as accelerating medical discoveries that have already achieved life extension in mice, rats, and other small organisms, there is hope that medical progress will arrive at similar breakthroughs for us within our lifetimes. Once life expectancy begins to increase by more than one year for every year of time that passes, we will have reached longevity escape velocity – a condition where the more we live, the more probability we will have of surviving even longer. In February 2012 I began an online compendium of Resources on Indefinite Life Extension, which tracks ongoing developments in this field and provides access to a wide array of media to show that life extension is not just science fiction, but an ongoing enterprise.

To Mr. Tucker, I pose the question of why he appears to think that despite the technological progress and economic freedom whose benefits he clearly recognizes, there would always be some upper limit on human longevity that these incredibly powerful forces would be unable to breach. What evidence exists for such a limit – and, even if such evidence exists, why does Mr. Tucker appear to assume that our currently finite lifespans are not just a result of our ignorance, which could be remedied in a more advanced and enlightened future? In the 15th century, for instance, humans were limited in their technical knowledge from achieving powered flight, even though visionaries such as Leonardo da Vinci correctly anticipated the advent of flying machines. Imagine if a Renaissance scholar made the argument to da Vinci that, while the advances of the Renaissance have surely produced improvements in art, architecture, music, and commerce, nature still imposes insurmountable limits on humans taking to the skies! “Sure,” this scholar might say, “we can now construct taller and sturdier buildings, but the realm of the birds will be forever beyond our reach.” He might say, paraphrasing Mr. Tucker, “[Early] modernity has a problem intellectually processing the reality of eternally grounded humans because we are so unwilling to defer to the implacable constraints imposed on us within the material world. To recognize the inevitability of human grounding means confessing that there are limits to our power to manufacture a reality for ourselves.” What would have happened to a society that fully accepted such arguments? Perhaps the greatest danger we can visit upon ourselves is to consider a problem so “inevitable” that nothing can be done about it. By accepting this inevitability as a foregone conclusion, we foreclose on the inherently unpredictable possibilities that human creativity and innovation can offer. In other words, we foreclose on a better future.

Mr. Tucker writes that “Whole ideologies have been concocted on the supposition that such constraints [on the material world] do not have to exist. That is the essence of socialism. It is the foundation of US imperialism too, with its cocky supposition that there is nothing force cannot accomplish, that there are no limits to the uses of power.” It is a significant misunderstanding of transhumanism to compare it to either socialism or imperialism. Both socialism and imperialism rely on government force to achieve an outcome deemed to be just or expedient. Transhumanism does not depend on force. While governments can and do fund scientific research, this is not an optimal implementation of transhuman aspirations, since government funding of research is notoriously conservative and reluctant to risk taxpayer funds on projects without short-term, visible payoffs about which politicians can boast. Furthermore, government funding of research renders it easier for the research to be thwarted by taxpayers – such as fundamentalist evangelical Christians – who disagree with the aims of such research. The most rapid technological advances can be achieved on a pure free market, where research is neither subsidized nor restricted by any government.

Moreover, force is an exceedingly blunt instrument. While it can be used to some effect to dispose of criminals and tyrants, even there it is tremendously imperfect and imposes numerous unintended negative consequences. Transhumanism is not about attempting to overcome material constraints by using coercion. It is, rather, about improving our understanding of natural laws and our ability to harness mind and matter by giving free rein to human experimentation in applying these laws.

Transhumanism fully embraces Francis Bacon’s dictum that “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” This means working within material constraints – including the laws of economics – and making the most of what is possible. But this also means using human ingenuity to push out our material limits. As genetic modification of crops has resulted in vastly greater volumes of food production, so can genetic engineering, rejuvenation therapies, and personalized medicine eventually result in vastly longer human lifespans. Transhumanism is the logical extrapolation of a free-market economy. The closer we get to an unfettered free market, the faster we could achieve the transhuman goals of indefinite life extension, universal wealth, space colonization, ubiquitous erudition and high culture, and the conquest of natural and manmade existential risks.

Mr. Tucker writes that recognizing the inevitability of death “is akin to admitting that certain fundamental facts of the world, like the ubiquity of scarcity, cannot be changed. Instead of attempting to change it, we must imagine social systems that come to terms with it. This is the core claim of economic science, and it is also the very reason so many refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy or intellectual binding power.” It is undeniable that scarcity exists, and that scarcity of some sort will always exist. However, there are degrees of scarcity. Food, for instance, is much less scarce today than in the Paleolithic era, when the earth could support barely more than a million humans. Furthermore, in some realms, such as digital media, Mr. Tucker himself has acknowledged that scarcity is no longer a significant limitation – because of the capacity to indefinitely reproduce works of art, music, and writing. With the proximate advent of technologies such as three-dimensional printing and tabletop nano-manufacturing, more and more goods will begin to assume qualities that more closely resemble digital goods. Then, as now, some physical resources will be required to produce anything – and these physical resources would continue to be subject to the constraints of scarcity. But it is not inconceivable that we would eventually end up in a Star Trek world of replicators that can manufacture most small-scale goods out of extremely cheap basic substances, which would render those goods nearly free to reproduce. Even in such a world, more traditional techniques may be required to construct larger structures, but subsequent advances may make even those endeavors faster, cheaper, and more accessible.

At no point in time would human lifespans be infinite (in the sense of complete indestructibility or invulnerability). A world of scarcity is, however, compatible with indefinite lifespans that do not have an upper bound. A person’s life expectancy at any point in time would be finite, but that finite amount might increase faster than the person’s age. Even in the era of longevity escape velocity, some people would still die of accidents, unforeseen illnesses, or human conflicts. But the motivation to conquer these perils will be greatly increased once the upper limit on human lifespans is lifted. Thus, I expect actual human mortality to asymptotically approach zero, though perhaps without ever reaching zero entirely. Still, for a given individual, death would no longer be an inevitability, particularly if that individual behaves in a risk-averse fashion and takes advantage of cutting-edge advancements. Even if death is always a danger on some level, is it not better to act to delay or prevent it – and therefore to get as much time as possible to live, create, and enjoy?

Mr. Tucker writes: “To discover the fountain of youth is a perpetual obsession, one that finds its fulfillment in the vitamin cults that promise immortality. We create government programs to pay for people to be kept alive forever on the assumption that death is always and everywhere unwarranted and ought to be stopped. There is no such thing as ‘natural death’ anymore; the very notion strikes us as a cop out.” It is true that there are and have always been many dubious remedies, promising longevity-enhancing benefits without any evidence. However, even if false remedies are considered, we have come a long way from the Middle Ages, where, in various parts of the world, powders of gold, silver, or lead – or even poisons such as arsenic – were considered to have life-extending powers. More generally, the existence of charlatans, frauds, snake-oil salesmen, and gullible consumers does not discredit genuine, methodical, scientific approaches toward life extension or any other human benefit. Skepticism and discernment are always called for, and we should always be vigilant regarding “cures” that sound too good to be true. Nobody credible has said that conquering our present predicament of mortality would be easy or quick. There is no pill one can swallow, and there is little in terms of lifestyle that one can do today – other than exercising regularly and avoiding obviously harmful behaviors – to materially lengthen one’s lifespan. However, if some of the best minds in the world are able to utilize some of the best technology we have – and to receive the philosophical support of the public and the material support of private donors for doing so – then this situation may change within our lifetimes. It is far better to live with this hope, and to work toward this outcome, than to resign oneself to the inevitability of death.

As regards government programs, I find no evidence for Mr. Tucker’s assertion that these programs are the reason that people are being kept alive longer. Implicit in that assertion is the premise that, on a fully free market (where the cost of high-quality healthcare would ultimately be cheaper), people would not voluntarily pay to extend the lives of elderly or seriously ill patients to the same extent that they expect such life extension to occur when funded by Medicare or by the national health-care systems in Canada and Europe. Indeed, Mr. Tucker’s assertion here poses a serious danger to defenders of the free market. It renders them vulnerable to the allegation that an unfettered free market would shorten life expectancies and invite the early termination of elderly or seriously ill patients – in short, the classic nightmare scenario of eliminating the weak, sickly, or otherwise “undesirable” elements. This is precisely what a free market would not result in, because the desire to live is extremely strong for most individuals, and free individuals using their own money would be much more likely to put it toward keeping themselves alive than would a government-based system which must ultimately ration care in one way or another.

Mr. Tucker writes: “Thus do we insist on always knowing the ‘cause’ of death, as if it only comes about through an exogenous intervention, like hurricanes, traffic accidents, shootings, and bombs. But even when a person dies of his own accord, we always want to know so that we have something to blame. Heart failure? Well, he or she might have done a bit more exercise. Let this be a lesson. Cancer? It’s probably due to smoking, or perhaps second-hand smoke. Or maybe it was the carcinogens introduced by food manufacturers or factories. We don’t want to admit that it was just time for a person to die.” Particularly as Austrian Economics, of which Mr. Tucker is a proponent, champions a rigorous causal analysis of phenomena, the above excerpt strikes me as incongruous with how rational thinkers ought to approach any event. Clearly, there are no uncaused events; there is nothing inexplicable in nature. Sometimes the explanations may be difficult or complex to arrive at; sometimes our minds are too limited to grasp the explanations at our present stage of knowledge and technological advancement. However, all valid questions are ultimately answerable, and all problems are ultimately solvable – even if not by us. The desire to know the cause of a death is a desire to know the answers to important questions, and to derive value from such answers by perhaps gathering information that would help oneself and others avoid a similar fate. To say that “it was just time for a person to die” explains nothing; it only attempts to fill in the gaps in our knowledge with an authoritative assertion that forecloses on further inquiry and discovery. While this may, to some, be comforting as a way of “moving on” – to me and other transhumanists it is an eminently frustrating way of burying the substance of the matter with a one-liner.

Mr. Tucker also compares death to sleep: “The denial of death’s inevitability is especially strange since life itself serves up constant reminders of our physical limits. Sleep serves as a kind of metaphor for death. We can stay awake working and having fun up to 18 hours, even 24 or 36, but eventually we must bow to our natures and collapse and sleep. We must fall unconscious so that we can be revived to continue on with our life.” While sleep is a suspension of some activities, death and sleep could not be more different. Sleep is temporary, while death is permanent. Sleep preserves significant aspects of consciousness, as well as a continuity of operations for the brain and the rest of the body. While one sleeps, one’s brain is hard at work “repackaging” the contents of one’s memory to prepare one for processing fresh experiences the next day. Death, on the other hand, is not a preparation for anything. It is the cessation of the individual, not a buildup to something greater or more active. In “How Can I Live Forever: What Does or Does Not Preserve the Self”, I describe the fundamental difference between processes, such as sleep, which preserve the basic continuity of bodily functions (and thus one’s unique vantage point or “I-ness”) and processes that breach this continuity and result in the cessation of one’s being. Continuity-preserving processes are fundamentally incomparable to continuity-breaching processes, and thus the ubiquity and necessity of sleep can tell us nothing regarding death.

Mr. Tucker validly notes that the human desire to live forever can manifest itself in the desire to leave a legacy and to create works that outlive the individual. This is an admirable sentiment, and it is one that has fueled the progress of human civilization even in eras when mortality was truly inevitable. I am glad that our ancestors had this motivation to overcome the sense of futility and despair that their individual mortality would surely have engendered otherwise. But we, standing on their shoulders and benefiting from their accomplishments, can do better. The wonders of technological progress within the near term, about which Mr. Tucker writes eloquently and at length, can be extrapolated to the medium and long term in order for us to see that the transhumanist ideal of indefinite life extension is both feasible and desirable. Free markets, entrepreneurship, and human creativity will help pave the way to the advances that could save us from the greatest peril of them all. I hope that, in time, Mr. Tucker will embrace this prospect as the incarnation, not the enemy, of libertarian philosophy and rational, free-market economics.
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