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Month: September 2013

Individualism, Objective Reality, and Open-Ended Knowledge – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Individualism, Objective Reality, and Open-Ended Knowledge – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 11, 2013
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I am an individualist, but not a relativist. While I have no dispute with individuals determining their own meaning and discovering their own significance (indeed, I embrace this), this self-determination needs to occur within an objective physical universe. This is not an optional condition for any of us. The very existence of the individual relies on absolute, immutable physical and biological laws that can be utilized to give shape to the individual’s desires, but that cannot be ignored or wished away. This is why we cannot simply choose to live indefinitely and have this outcome occur. We need to develop technologies that would use the laws of nature to bring indefinite longevity about.

In other words, I am an ontological absolutist who sees wisdom in Francis Bacon’s famous statement that “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” Individual choice, discovery, and often the construction of personal identity and meaning are projects that I embrace, but they rely on fundamental objective prerequisites of matter, space, time, and causality. Individuals who wish to shape their lives for the better would be wise to take these prerequisites into account (e.g., by developing technologies that overcome the limitations of unaided biology or un-transformed matter). My view is that a transhumanist ethics necessitates an objective metaphysics and a reason-and-evidence-driven epistemology.

This does not, however, preclude an open-endedness to human knowledge and scope of generalization about existence. Even though an absolute reality exists and truth can be objectively known, we humans are still so limited and ignorant that we scarcely know a small fraction of what there is to know. Moreover, each of us has a grasp of different aspects of truth, and therefore there is room for valid differences of perspective, as long as they do not explicitly contradict one another. In other words, it is not possible for both A and non-A to be true, but if there is a disagreement between a person who asserts A and a person who asserts B, it is possible for both A and B to be true, as long as A and B are logically reconcilable. A dogmatic paradigm would tend to erroneously classify too much of the realm of ideas as non-A, if A is true, and hence would falsely reject some valid insights.

These insights illustrate the compatibility of objective physical and biological laws (physicalism) with individual self-determination (volition or free will). There is a similar relationship between ontology and ethics. An objective ontology (based on immutable natural laws) is needed as a foundation for an individualistic ethics of open-ended self-improvement and ceaseless progress.

Paradoxes, Not Contradictions – Post by G. Stolyarov II

Paradoxes, Not Contradictions – Post by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 10, 2013
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I am personally fond of Ayn Rand’s identification of certain matters as “paradoxes, but not contradictions”. In my view, contradictions do not exist in reality, though there may be elements that are difficult to reconcile mentally because of incomplete information or preliminary errors in one’s perception of existence.

A paradox arises when a person’s initial intuitions do not appear to hold. This means that either the initial intuitions are wrong, or one’s information is incomplete. For instance, the famous “water-diamond paradox” of Classical economics was an inability to explain why the price of water, which is essential for life, was so much lower than the price of diamonds, which, at the time, only had uses in jewelry and decoration. The 1871 Marginalist Revolution (a development independently arrived at by Carl Menger, Leon Walras, and William Stanley Jevons) resolved the paradox by explaining a key fact about human valuation that the Classical economists had missed – namely, that a person does not evaluate the entire stock of a given good, but only considers particular quantities of goods at the margin. So the paradox was resolved in an entirely rational, non-contradictory manner, by demonstrating that the abundance of water has enabled its life-sustaining uses to be fulfilled for most individuals, while the relative scarcity of diamonds means that, for most consumers, any diamond they obtain would be put to the highest-valued purpose they would find for a diamond.
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I see the progress of human civilization as, in part, consisting of the increasing resolution of paradoxes. While, of course, it is possible that new paradoxes would arise as the old ones are resolved, these paradoxes arise on the boundaries of the new intellectual territory that is yet to be fathomed and incorporated into the domain of human mastery. Paradoxes, mysteries, and unresolved questions occur on the outermost edges of human advancement at any given time. As the edges expand, old mysteries and paradoxes are solved and new ones may arise in territory that was previously completely unexplored. In this sense, encountering a paradox can be seen as a challenge – a call to resolve the quandary and thereby score gains for human progress. As a meliorist who sees no limits to the potential of human reason and technology, I think that all questions are ultimately answerable and all paradoxes are solvable, given enough time, effort, and proper means. Sometimes the resolution of a paradox requires highly creative, unorthodox, and unprecedented thinking – which must transcend conventional dichotomies and posited antagonisms in order to arrive at a new understanding.

To Bee or Not to Bee? – Article by Paul Driessen

To Bee or Not to Bee? – Article by Paul Driessen

The New Renaissance Hat
Paul Driessen
September 9, 2013
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Activist groups continue to promote scary stories that honeybees are rapidly disappearing, dying off at “mysteriously high rates,” potentially affecting one-third of our food crops and causing global food shortages. Time Magazine says readers need to contemplate “a world without bees,” while other “mainstream media” articles have sported similar headlines.

The Pesticide Action Network and NRDC are leading campaigns that claim insecticides, especially neonicotinoids, are at least “one of the key factors,” if not the principle or sole reason for bee die-offs.

Thankfully, the facts tell a different story – two stories, actually. First, most bee populations and most managed hives are doing fine, despite periodic mass mortalities that date back over a thousand years. Second, where significant depopulations have occurred, many suspects have been identified, but none has yet been proven guilty, although researchers are closing in on several of them.

Major bee die-offs have been reported as far back as 950, 992 and 1443 AD in Ireland. 1869 brought the first recorded case of what we now call “colony collapse disorder,” in which hives full of honey are suddenly abandoned by their bees. More cases of CCD or “disappearing disease” have been reported in recent decades, and a study by bee researchers Robyn Underwood and Dennis vanEngelsdorp chronicles more than 25 significant bee die-offs between 1868 and 2003. However, contrary to activist campaigns and various news stories, both wild and managed bee populations are stable or growing worldwide.

Beekeeper-managed honeybees, of course, merit the most attention, since they pollinate many important food crops, including almonds, fruits and vegetables. (Wheat, rice and corn, on the other hand, do not depend at all on animal pollination.) The number of managed honeybee hives has increased some 45% globally since 1961, Marcelo Aizen and Lawrence Harder reported in Current Biology – even though pesticide overuse has decimated China’s bee populations.

Even in Western Europe, bee populations are gradually but steadily increasing. The trends are similar in other regions around the world, and much of the decline in overall European bee populations is due to a massive drop in managed honeybee hives in Eastern Europe, after subsidies ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, since neonicotinoid pesticides began enjoying widespread use in the 1990s, overall bee declines appear to be leveling off or have even diminished.

Nevertheless, in response to pressure campaigns, the EU banned neonics – an action that could well make matters worse, as farmers will be forced to use older, less effective, more bee-lethal insecticides like pyrethroids. Now environmentalists want a similar ban imposed by the EPA in the United States.

That’s a terrible idea. The fact is, bee populations tend to fluctuate, especially by region, and “it’s normal for a beekeeper to lose part of his hive over the winter months,” notes University of Montana bee scientist Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk. Of course, beekeepers want to minimize such losses, to avoid having to replace too many bees or hives before the next pollination season begins. It’s also true that the United States did experience a 31% loss in managed bee colonies during the 2012-2013 winter season, according to the US Agriculture Department.

Major losses in beehives year after year make it hard for beekeepers to turn a profit, and many have left the industry. “We can replace the bees, but we can’t replace beekeepers with 40 years of experience,” says Tim Tucker, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. But all these are different issues from whether bees are dying off in unprecedented numbers, and what is causing the losses.

Moreover, even 30% losses do not mean bees are on the verge of extinction. In fact, “the number of managed honeybee colonies in the United States has remained stable over the past 15 years, at about 1.5 million” – with 20,000 to 30,000 bees per hive – says Bryan Walsh, author of the Time article.

That’s far fewer than the 5.8 million managed US hives in 1946. But this largely reflects competition from cheap imported honey from China and South America and “the general rural depopulation of the US over the past half-century,” Walsh notes. Extensive truck transport of managed hives, across many states and regions, to increasingly larger orchards and farms, also played a role in reducing managed hive numbers over these decades.

CCD cases began spiking in the USA in 2006, and beekeepers reported losing 30-90% of the bees in many hives. Thankfully, incidents of CCD are declining, and the mysterious phenomenon was apparently not a major factor over the past winter. But researchers are anxious to figure out what has been going on.

Both Australia and Canada rely heavily on neonicotinoid pesticides. However, Australia’s honeybees are doing so well that farmers are exporting queen bees to start new colonies around the world; Canadian hives are also thriving. Those facts suggest that these chemicals are not a likely cause. Bees are also booming in Africa, Asia and South America.

However, there definitely are areas where mass mortalities have been or remain a problem. Scientists and beekeepers are trying hard to figure out why that happens, and how future die-offs can be prevented.

Walsh’s article suggests several probable culprits. Topping his list is the parasitic Varroa destructor mite that has ravaged U.S. bee colonies for three decades. Another is American foulbrood bacteria that kill developing bees. Other suspects include small hive beetles, viral diseases, fungal infections, overuse of miticides, failure of beekeepers to stay on top of colony health, or even the stress of colonies constantly being moved from state to state. Yet another might be the fact that millions of acres are planted in monocultures – like corn, with 40% of the crop used for ethanol, and soybeans, with 12% used for biodiesel – creating what Walsh calls “deserts” that are devoid of pollen and nectar for bees.

A final suspect is the parasitic phorid fly, which lays eggs in bee abdomens. As larvae grow inside the bees, literally eating them alive, they affect the bees’ ability to function and cause them to walk around in circles, disoriented and with no apparent sense of direction. Biology professor John Hafernik’s San Francisco University research team said the “zombie-like” bees leave their hives at night, fly blindly toward light sources, and eventually die. The fly larvae then emerge from the dead bees.

The team found evidence of the parasitic fly in 77% of the hives they sampled in the San Francisco Bay area, and in some South Dakota and Central Valley, California, hives. In addition, many of the bees, phorid flies and larvae contained genetic traces from another parasite, as well as a virus that causes deformed wings. All these observations have been linked to colony collapse disorder.

But because this evidence doesn’t fit their anti-insecticide fund-raising appeals, radical environmentalists have largely ignored it. They have likewise ignored strong evidence that innovative neonicotinoid pest control products do not harm bees when they are used properly. Sadly, activist noise has deflected public and regulator attention away from Varroa mites, phorid flies, and other serious global threats to bees.

The good news is that the decline in CCD occurrence has some researchers thinking it’s a cyclical malady that is entering a downswing – or that colonies are developing resistance. The bottom line is that worldwide trends show bees are flourishing. “A world without bees” is not likely.

So now, as I said in a previous article on this topic, we need to let science do its job, and not jump to conclusions or short-circuit the process. We need answers, not scapegoats – or the recurring bee mortality problem is likely to spread, go untreated or even get worse.

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Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.

From http://www.daff.gov.au/animal-plant-health/pests-diseases-weeds/bee/honeybees-FAQs — What effect has Varroa had on the number of managed bee hives in other countries?

Bee_Figure_1

Figure 1. The number of managed honey bee hives in the world from 1961-2008 (FAO Stat, 2011).

Varroa had no perceptible effect on the number of hives reported in Europe. The number of honey-bee hives in Europe declined sharply in the early 1990s, coinciding with the end of communism, and the end of state support for beekeepers, in the previously communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe. The number of hives reported Western European countries remained unchanged over the same period of time.

Bee_Figure_2Figure 2. The number of managed hives in the whole of Europe, former Warsaw Pact countries and former EU 15 member countries from 1961-2008 (Food and Agricultural Organization Stat, 2011).

In the United States the number of managed hives declined steadily since the late 1940s, around 40 years before Varroa became established there. This decline reflects declining terms of trade for United States beekeepers as the result of competition with lower-cost honey-producing countries in South America. In contrast, due to their competitive advantage, the number of hives in South America has grown steadily since the mid-1970s, despite Varroa already being established there. However, the J strain of V. destructor in South America is less damaging than the K strain of V. destructor in the United States.

Bee_Figure_3

Figure 3. The number of managed honey bee hives in the Unites States and South American countries from 1961-2008 (FAO Stat, 2011).

The Homeschooling Revolution – Article by Ron Paul

The Homeschooling Revolution – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
September 9, 2013
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Opposing infringement on parental control of education and promoting alternatives to government-run schools is a vital task for the liberty movement. When government usurps parents’ right to control their child’s education, it is inevitable that the child will be taught the values of government officials, rather than of the parents. The result is an education system with a built-in bias toward statism. Over time, government-controlled education can erode the people’s knowledge of, and appreciation for, the benefits of a free society.

This is why throughout my congressional career I fought against any legislation that infringed on a parent’s right to control their child’s education, especially any legislation that limited a parent’s right to homeschool. Many so-called education experts claim that parents who are not “government-certified” educators cannot provide their children with a quality education. However, the numerous studies showing that homeschooled children out-perform their publicly educated peers in every academic category shows that most parents are more than capable of providing their children with an excellent education.

The Internet has made it easier than ever for parents to homeschool.  Because of my interest in promoting alternatives to government-controlled education, this month I am launching my own homeschool curriculum. The Ron Paul Curriculum consists of a rigorous program of study in history, economics, mathematics, and the physical and natural sciences.

Older students will also have the opportunity to gain experience creating and running their own on-line business.  Frequent written assignments will ensure that students have the maximum opportunity to develop strong communication skills.

Students and parents are invited to participate in on-line interactive forums. The goal of the forums is to maximize participation so the student is not a passive recipient of information conveyed by the teachers.  Instead, the students are encouraged to actively engage with their fellow students so the students can learn from each other as well as from the program’s instructors.

Of course, many of the offerings, particularly in history and economics, reflect my belief and interest in the freedom philosophy.  However, unlike the pro-statist curriculum used in government-run schools, the curriculum does not place promoting an ideological agenda ahead of ensuring that students receive a quality education. The economic curriculum will cover all significant schools of economic thought, but will emphasize the free-market “Austrian” school.

Parents interested in providing their children with a quality education that incorporates knowledge of the principles of liberty will find this program a good investment. The curriculum also does not shy away from addressing the crucial role religion played in the development of western civilization. However, the materials are drafted in way that any Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or atheist parent who wants their children to receive a top-notch education incorporating the history, philosophy, and economics of liberty, can feel comfortable using the curriculum.

I expected interest in my curriculum to grow over the years, as the young people who have recently become interested in the ideas of liberty marry and start their own families. These men and women will want to make sure their children’s education includes instruction in the ideas of liberty that was lacking in their government-provided-and-controlled education.

I am excited to be able to help provide the increasing number of parents interested in homeschooling with a quality curriculum that emphasizes the history and philosophy of liberty and free-market economics of the Austrian school. For more information on my homeschool curriculum, please see here.  And to order a copy of my new book The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System, see here.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

War in the Middle East is Inherently Collectivist – Article by G. Stolyarov II

War in the Middle East is Inherently Collectivist – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 8, 2013
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Especially in light of the looming threat of a wasteful, counterproductive US military intervention in Syria, it is necessary to offer a resounding refutation to the recommendations of those who consider themselves individualists to engage in any sort of mass military action – commonly known as war, declared or not – against large numbers of people in the Middle East. Some such persons, especially those affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), advocate a foreign policy more aggressive and, in its consequences, far more destructive than even the actual interventionist measures undertaken by the United States federal government during the Bush and Obama administrations. In a recent speech at the 2013 Steamboat Institute Freedom Conference, Yaron Brook, ARI’s executive director, put forth his recommendation for solving the persistent threat of politicized Islamist regimes and the terrorism that stems therefrom: completely destroy either Iran or Saudi Arabia and threaten the surviving country into submission. Brook also reaffirmed his consideration of General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the first practitioners of modern “total war” and an instigator of untold damage to the lives and property of innocent civilians during the American Civil War, as his personal hero.  As an advocate of reason, a person of conscience, and a staunch individualist, I strongly, emphatically object to this course of action. As foreign policy goes, I cannot think of one less productive, other than perhaps indiscriminately launching nuclear weapons everywhere.

In March 2012 I made a video, “Refuting Ayn Rand on War”, where I specifically described my objections to Rand’s and Brook’s advocacy of warfare. I refer there to some of Brook’s previously stated views, including his admiration of William T. Sherman, which he again articulated during his Steamboat Institute speech. While most of Brook’s speech is sympathetic in its emphasis on individual freedom and a rolling-back of the economic burdens imposed by the federal government domestically, his foreign policy would clearly undermine this path. Indeed, if one wishes to reduce the scope of the federal government and its intrusiveness into individuals’ lives, deep cuts on both the domestic and foreign fronts are needed. US government debt is already spiraling out of control, and it would not be practically feasible to balance the budget (avoiding increased taxation, inflation, or borrowing) without cutting military spending and eliminating numerous wasteful and deleterious foreign occupations. As long as self-proclaimed individualists, libertarians, and fiscal conservatives resist an enormous reduction in US military budgets and overseas intervention, at least one, and probably all, of the three consequences of continued budget deficits will inevitably occur.

But there is a deeper, moral case to be made against war in general. Some might allege that this time it is different. But when was it ever not different? The regime of the Soviet Union posed a far greater danger to liberty in the 20th century than rag-tag groups of fundamentalist Islamist terrorists and the regimes backing them ever could. Yet war between the United States and the Soviet Union was fortunately averted, aside from some admittedly destructive proxy wars, and billions of innocent people can live in relative peace and comfort today due to the avoidance of nuclear Armageddon through a more restrained foreign policy than the “hawks” of the Cold War era advocated.  I do not oppose targeted strikes that specifically eliminate violent terrorists and only such individuals. A good example of this was the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. However, a state of war is completely unnecessary to carry out such limited actions.

War attacks not just an armed band of terrorists, not just a regime, but an entire country and its people. This is especially true since the shift in the 19th century away from limited battlefield engagements involving professional armed servants (and mercenaries) of powerful interests competing for natural resources and prestige, and toward “total war” fueled by nationalistic and ideological animosities – where all of a country’s population is considered “the enemy” or at least an asset to “the enemy”. Such warfare is inherently collectivistic in its premise. It fails to recognize that individuals ruled by hostile regimes or terrorized by armed criminals still have minds of their own, that they may disagree with and indeed be oppressed by those regimes and criminals. Targeted assassinations of dictators and terrorist leaders are one matter, but indiscriminate “collateral damage” against peaceful civilians is morally unacceptable for an individualist. Anyone claiming to follow the philosophy of Ayn Rand, including Ayn Rand herself, should know (or, in Rand’s case, should have known) better.

The current case of violent crime fueled by fundamentalist Islamist ideology is no exception. The world has over a billion Muslims, who are overwhelmingly peaceful (like most adherents of all major religious and ideological systems), even if one legitimately considers them mistaken in their theological beliefs. Many prominent Muslims have condemned the attacks of September 11, 2001, and other attacks on peaceful civilians in the West. Some Muslims are secular in their political outlook and, indeed, have made efforts to maintain secular governments in the face of threats by Islamist political parties to implement sharia law and religiously motivated restrictions on personal freedom. The revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, despite their sub-optimal outcomes and the eventual emergence of dominant factions advocating the politicization of religion, were initially driven by freedom-respecting, secular, yet largely Muslim individuals. These people set the spark for the overthrow of the long-standing authoritarian tyrannies of Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Gaddafi. They now contend against political Islam in their troubled countries, but it is essential for any individualist to respect them and their plight, and for any government that even pretends to respect freedom to leave them alive to have any positive influence of which they are capable. Often, the infighting within the turmoil-ridden Middle East results in tragedy on all sides; surely, this ought to be the glaring lesson of the current Syrian situation. However, American bombs, missiles, and drones are surely not the answer. These weapons kill indiscriminately. Even drone attacks allegedly “targeted” toward terror suspects (still often without due process or convincing evidence of their criminal intent) end up killing far more innocent bystanders, including children, than actual would-be terrorists. Are the relatives, friends, and acquaintances of the victims going to acknowledge the “moral legitimacy” of their deaths by the brutal calculus of Yaron Brook and those who think like him? Or, more realistically, are they going to experience a justified outrage and forever despise the government – and, if they are themselves collectivists in mindset – the entire country and people whom they blame for these terrible killings?

There is no quick, easy solution to the turmoil in the Middle East, nor to the violent threats that such turmoil sometimes poses to the lives of people in the Western world. However, there are some clear changes of direction that can gradually curtail the major risks.  First, it is essential for governments in the Western world to refrain from actions that curtail the liberties of their own citizens, allegedly to respond to this threat. In fact, the terrorists and political Islamist regimes have won a greater victory than they could ever have achieved by force of arms, as a result of the pervasive civil-liberties violations instigated by Western governments since September 11, 2001. The omnipresent surveillance, the bodily violations at airports, the increasing militarization of the police force surely have more in common with a totalitarian regime than with the freedom that the fundamentalist terrorists allegedly hate. The more aggressive American military interventions become, the more animosity and blowback they generate, the more inclined Western governments will be to crack down on their own citizens’ freedoms further. Thus, militarism abroad directly causes unfreedom at home – as it has during every major war in American History, from Lincoln’s imprisonment of dissident newspaper editors during the Civil War, to Woodrow Wilson’s World War I propaganda machine and imprisonment of opponents of the military draft, to Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. The present period of the never-ending “War on Terror” is no exception. There is no way for a government to respect individualism and the rights of its own citizens while it turns civilians abroad into fodder for bombs and drone strikes.

Second, it is essential to treat “acts of terror” no differently from “ordinary” crimes – attacks on human lives and property. The criminal-justice system has various ways of dealing with gangsters, murderers, street muggers, arsonists, and common vandals. Domestically, the same standards should apply toward the same acts, no matter whether or not they were motivated by Islamist ideology. A person who bombs a building or a public event is a criminal murderer and should be dealt with accordingly. It is time to dismantle the exceptional category of “terrorist acts” as distinct from ordinary crime. That category is the linchpin by which all of our Constitutional freedoms have been rendered moot. As regards armed military-style groups operating abroad, it is acceptable to use truly targeted strikes limited to neutralizing members of those groups (and not “signature strikes” that attack an entire area, irrespective of the known presence of militants). But this is not war against an entire people or even a government; it is more akin to a targeted action. As former Representative Ron Paul has recommended since the September 11 attacks, issuing Letters of Marque and Reprisal specifically against such militants is a desirable, Constitutionally authorized remedy quite distinct from war.

Finally, to end the threat of militant attacks on Westerners, it is essential for the Middle East itself to become transformed over time, both economically and culturally, into a place where individual rights and intellectual progress are fundamentally respected and appreciated. Bombs could never effectuate such transformation; they only breed hatred and backlash. Instead, individuals and companies in the West should entice the Middle East to join them on a more enlightened trajectory. Commerce and cultural diffusion can bring economic opportunity and prosperity to millions who are currently in dire poverty. Ayn Rand recognized and appreciated the power of free-market capitalism to bring not just peace and prosperity, but moral elevation, to vast numbers of people. This should be the path embraced by decision-makers in the West, echoing the sage advice of Thomas Jefferson: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none”. Over the coming decades, a steady application of this approach will diminish the militant threat, though not overnight. Still, it is a far preferable alternative to the recommendations of those whose policy of mass destruction would only fuel the fires of militant attacks and reduce Western governments, militaries, and their supporters to the same level of inhuman barbarism against which they are allegedly defending us.  True individualism – indeed, true humanism – would demand no less than a complete rejection of the killing of innocent civilians as a solution to any problem.

Aubrey de Grey Comments on the “Hallmarks of Aging” Paper – Article by Reason

Aubrey de Grey Comments on the “Hallmarks of Aging” Paper – Article by Reason

The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
September 8, 2013
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The Hallmarks of Aging paper was published earlier this year. It is an outline by a group of noted researchers that divides up degenerative aging into what they believe are its fundamental causes, with extensive references to support their conclusions, and proposes research strategies aimed at building the means to address each of these causes. This is exactly what we want to see more of in the aging research community: deliberate, useful plans that follow the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) model of approaching aging.

Read through the Hallmarks of Aging and you’ll see that it is essentially a more mild-mannered and conservative restatement of the SENS approach to aging – written after more than ten years of advocacy and publication and persuasion within the scientific community by SENS supporters. To my eyes, the appearance of such things shows that SENS is winning the battle of ideas within the scientific community, and it is only a matter of time before it and similar repair-based efforts aimed at human rejuvenation dominate the field. Rightly so, too, and it can’t happen soon enough for my liking. SENS and SENS-like research is the only way we’re likely to see meaningful life extension technologies emerge before those of us in middle age now die, so the more of it taking place the better.

Aubrey de Grey, author of the original SENS proposals and now Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation that funds and guides rejuvenation research programs, is justifiably pleased by the existence of the Hallmarks of Aging. See this editorial in the latest Rejuvenation Research, for example:

A Divide-and-Conquer Assault on Aging: Mainstream at Last

Quote:

On June 6th, a review appeared concerning the state of aging research and the promising ways forward for the field. So far, so good. But this was not any old review. Here’s why: (a) it appeared in Cell, one of the most influential journals in biology; (b) it is huge by Cell’s standards – 24 pages, with well over 300 references; (c) all its five authors are exceptionally powerful opinion-formers – senior, hugely accomplished and respected scientists; (d) above all, it presents a dissection of aging into distinct (though inter-connected) processes and recommends a correspondingly multi-pronged (“divide and conquer”) approach to intervention.

It will not escape those familiar with SENS that this last feature is not precisely original, and it may arouse some consternation that no reference is made in the paper to that prior work. But do I care? Well, maybe a little – but really, hardly at all. SENS is not about me, nor even about SENS as currently formulated (though a depressing number of commentators in the field persist in presuming that it is). Rather, it is about challenging a profound, entrenched, and insidious dogma that has consumed biogerontology for the past 20 years, and which this new review finally – finally! – challenges (albeit somewhat diplomatically) with far more authority than I could ever muster.

Aging has been shown, over several decades, to consist of a multiplicity of loosely linked processes, implying that robust postponement of age-related ill-health requires a divide-and-conquer approach consisting of a panel of interventions. Because such an approach is really difficult to implement, gerontologists initially adopted a position of such extreme pessimism that all talk of intervention became unfashionable. The discovery of genetic and pharmacological ways to mimic [calorie restriction], after a brief period of confused disbelief, was so seductive as a way to raise the field’s profile that it was uncritically embraced as the fulcrum of translational gerontology for 20 years, but finally that particular emperor has been decisively shown to have no biomedically relevant clothes.

The publication of so authoritative a commentary adopting the “paleogerontological” position, that aging is indeed chaotic and complex and intervention will indeed require a panel of therapies, but now combined with evidence-based optimism as to the prospects for implementing such a panel, is a key step in the elevation of translational gerontology to a truly mature field.

In essence, as de Grey points out, work on aging has been following the wrong, slow, expensive, low-yield path for a couple of decades: the path of deciphering the mechanisms of calorie restriction and altering genes and metabolism to slightly slow down aging. This path cannot result in large gains in life expectancy and long-term health, and it cannot result in therapies that will greatly help people who are already old. What use is slowing down the accumulation of the damage of aging if you are already just a little more damage removed from death, and frail and suffering because of it, and the treatment will meaningfully alter none of that? If we want to add decades or more to our healthy life spans before we die, then rejuvenation and repair of damage are what is needed: ways to reverse frailty, remove suffering, and restore youthful function.

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries.  

This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license.  It was originally published on FightAging.org.

Longevitize!: The Master Compendium for the Life-Extension Movement – Post by G. Stolyarov II

Longevitize!: The Master Compendium for the Life-Extension Movement – Post by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 7, 2013
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longevitize2013_med

Longevitize!: Essays on the Science, Philosophy & Politics of Longevity is a new and (literally) vital compilation, edited by Franco Cortese, which assembles perhaps the widest array of resources on radical life extension in one location. You can read a detailed description of the book here. Cortese’s ambitious projects have breathed new life into the transhumanist and immortalist movements, and Longevitize promises to be perhaps his most influential contribution to date, illustrating a thorough grasp of the current state of the efforts to defeat senescence and enable humankind to transcend its primordial limitations.

In addition to 164 articles representing diverse perspectives about the scientific, philosophical, and political aspects and implications of indefinite life extension, this compendium includes an immensity of links to external resources, including books, articles, and videos. I am proud that my Resources on Indefinite Life Extension (RILE) page formed the crux of the book’s Appendix II. Longevitize permits the reader to delve as deeply as can be desired into studying the feasibility, desirability, and possibilities for implementation of the defeat of senescence and involuntary death.

I am proud to have contributed 27 essays to this anthology, spanning 9 years of my thinking and writing on the prospect of indefinite longevity. In addition, the excellent cover was designed by my wife Wendy Stolyarov, incorporating Maxim Vorobiev’s 1842 painting, “Oak fractured by a lightning bolt. Allegory on wife’s death.” Death destroys our irreplaceable individual universes much like that lightning destroyed the tree. It is time to put an end to this travesty, and Longevitize offers an amazing toolkit and intellectual foundation for doing so. Buy this book, read it, and use it in your further intellectual explorations – including your writing, research, argumentation, and activism.

Right now, Longevitize! is available as an e-book for $9.99, both in PDF and MOBI formats, from Amazon. A hard-copy version is currently being prepared.

Life Expectancy is Growing at the Upper End, Too – Post by G. Stolyarov II

Life Expectancy is Growing at the Upper End, Too – Post by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 7, 2013
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I was recently asked whether my advocacy of indefinite life extension may be undermined by considering the growth rate in life expectancy at the upper end – for instance, for the oldest 10,000 people alive at any given time, rather than for the general population. Mortality for infants and younger adults has surely declined over the centuries, due to safer environments and considerable reductions in infectious diseases, but what about expansion of the upper bound of lifespans?

It turns out that there, too, considerable progress is being made. In July 2009, the New York Daily News reported, on the basis of a study from the National Institute on Aging, that “The number of centenarians already has jumped from an estimated few thousand in 1950 to more than 340,000 worldwide today, with the highest concentrations in the U.S. and Japan”. In addition to being further evidence that the US is not such a bad place for longevity (if one manages to avoid bad health habits and death from car accidents, both of which are more prevalent in the US than in Europe), this is evidence that a dramatic expansion in lifespans is underway for all age groups. Indeed, centenarians are the fastest-growing segment of all. The 2010 US Census found that the number of centenarians in the US grew by 5.8% from 2000 to 2010.  In Japan, the number of centenarians rose by 3,300 between 2010 and 2011. This trend shows no sign of abating. While Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997, still holds the greatest longevity record (122 years, 164 days), she was clearly a lucky outlier, and a recent one at that, when one considers a broader historical scale.  Statistically, the chances of living longer rise with each passing year. And among human males, the longest-living verified individual, Jiroemon Kimura, died at age 116 years, 54 days, this year (June 12, 2013). I have great hope that his record will be surpassed in the coming years.

Thus, the promise of indefinite life extension is not undermined when considering trends in the upper end of lifespans. There, as with average life expectancy and life expectancy for adults, the growth is apparent.

Transhumanism as the Logical Extrapolation of Humanism – Post by G. Stolyarov II

Transhumanism as the Logical Extrapolation of Humanism – Post by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 6, 2013
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When discussing the relationship between transhumanism and humanism, some would claim that transhumanism rejects humanism due to the latter’s limiting aspects, while others hold that transhumanism is the logical extrapolation of humanism. I firmly adhere to the latter view.

The Wikipedia definition of humanism is rather broad: “Humanism is a group of philosophies and ethical perspectives which emphasize the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers individual thought and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism).” Historically, the advocacy of human agency and value has often led to humanists resisting static definitions of “human nature” (for instance, as advocated by various premodern religions) in favor of a melioristic view of progress and human potential. My own essay, “Human Nature is Tautological” (also available in video form) is an example of this position.

Indeed, I have often thought that humanism and transhumanism are separated only by the degree of emphasis on human improvability. Transhumanism takes the melioristic aspirations of humanism to a new level by emphasizing the power of technology to radically transform human lives by lifting age-old limitations. But nothing in humanism per se would resist such a radical transformation. Transhumanism, in my view, accepts the core values of humanism and takes them further in light of the recognition of technological possibilities, particularly as regards radical life extension and extension of human reach to both the mega-scale (space colonization and giant construction projects) and to the nano-scale (nanotechnology and its applications to manufacturing and medicine).

Responses to an Inquiry on Ethics, Human Purpose, and the Future of Humanity – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Responses to an Inquiry on Ethics, Human Purpose, and the Future of Humanity – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 5, 2013
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A recent philosophical exchange with reader Elu Sive on TRA’s “About Mr. Stolyarov” page was sufficiently interesting and constructive that I have decided to post it here for a general audience. Elu Sive raised ten points of view and requested my feedback, which I subsequently provided. Here, I will cite each of the points and my response.

Elu Sive Point 1: “There is an objective reality.”

My Response: I agree in full.

Elu Sive Point 2: “The purpose of democracy is mainly a means of fighting corruption and promoting the interests of the people as opposed to those in power. It is not a valid method to select the correct answer among alternatives and should never be used as such.”

My Response: I agree. The will of the majority does not determine truth, nor does it necessarily coincide with good policy. Moreover, most decisions should be left up to individuals to implement, so long as such implementation can be done non-coercively. Democracy is only useful in the highly limited context where conflicts of preference are unavoidable and necessarily involve some people’s preferences being overridden. For instance, if only one person can be the neighborhood sheriff, then it makes sense to put the issue to a majority vote. However, even then, the powers of the neighborhood sheriff should be highly limited to the protection of individual rights, and not their violation.

Elu Sive Point 3: “Science is the best method we have for evaluating what is true and not.”

My Response: I agree, especially when science is defined broadly to include logic and mathematics. More generally, rational inquiry based on real-world observation and logical deduction therefrom is the best method we have for evaluating what is true and not.

Elu Sive Point 4: “Our human existence is only meaningful in our social contexts, to our selves and to future generations (our existence is not meaningful in universal or spiritual fashion).”

My Response: Here I disagree. Our existence is meaningful per se and as the antecedent to all meaning and value. My video series “Life as the Basis of Morality” (see Part 1 and Part 2) explains my reasoning. I agree with Ayn Rand’s statement: “I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.”

Elu Sive Point 5: “We should place a greater emphasis on our social context and future generations than on our selves. We should favor altruism over self-reliance.”

My Response: Here I also disagree. While I advocate considering the future and taking a longer-term view of one’s actions, as well as considering one’s impact on the world and on others, all of this should be done to promote one’s own enlightened, rational self-interest, particularly in the continuation of one’s own life and flourishing. Each individual is, by nature, best suited to promote his own well-being. In promoting his own well-being, the individual should be concerned about the well-being of others and should seek ways to exchange values with others to promote mutual flourishing. Complete autarky is impossible and undesirable; we can gain great values and improve our lives tremendously by interacting with others. However, each individual’s moral self-reliance – in the sense of thinking for oneself, acting out of one’s own initiative, and valuing one’s own productive work and independence from subjugation to the arbitrary dictates of others – is paramount for creating a world where human flourishing is maximized to the extent possible.

Elu Sive Point 6: “What classifies as common good depends on circumstances and must be continuously re-evaluated.”

My Response: What is good for people does depend on the specific context, but it is still rooted in objective requirements of human survival and flourishing. As a simple example, there are some items that can give our bodies energy if we consume them, while there are others that would poison us. The objective requirements of human survival and flourishing depend on the laws of nature, which are universally valid, though their applicability will differ based on the context. The correct answer in a given situation is like the correct choice of tool for constructing a building; it depends on what part you are working on, with what materials, in what setting, and for what goal (in terms of the values you are trying to realize). Multiple answers will be good enough for a particular problem, but some answers are clearly superior to others in achieving human survival and flourishing. That being said, it is important to continually use one’s rational faculty to evaluate the soundness of possible approaches on a case-by-case basis.

Elu Sive Point 7: “Our social context is only meaningful in the long-term context of supporting and improving human civilization, or a possible post-human civilization.”

My Response: I agree with the goal of improving human and possibly post-human civilization (though I prefer the term “transhuman”, since I think that technological transformations will amplify and supplement our humanity, enabling us to transcend existing limitations, rather than take our humanity away). I think that human societal interactions can serve multiple valuable purposes both in the immediate term and in the long term. In the immediate term, it is certainly good that grocery stores exist in one’s vicinity to enable one to obtain food and other conveniences. The shorter-term interactions, as long as they are compatible with long-term perspectives and values, can certainly be of value as well.

Elu Sive Point 8: “The defining character of our age as judged by future civilization will be: short-shortsightedness and extreme individualism.”

My Response: I agree that there is considerable short-sightedness in our era, though it is probably less than in previous eras, when the average human lifespan was several times shorter than today. The extreme individualism, though, is not a phenomenon that I observe. I see all too many people bound by thoughtless traditions and norms, while refusing to think about matters on principle (instead of being attached to the concrete institutions and thought patterns that are fed to them by “opinion leaders” and the surrounding culture). The true individualist, who takes charge of his own life and is willing to engage in innovative thinking which transforms the world, is quite rare still. If asked to characterize our era, I would describe it as a time when the knowledge to solve many of the world’s problems is already available and accessible, but the willpower to solve these problems and overcome the constraints of obsolete institutions is lacking. I also see our era as characterized by a race between accelerating technological progress and increasingly outrageous authoritarian intervention.

Elu Sive Point 9: “We should practice future-oriented altruism: just as we care for others in our immediate vicinity in order to create a better life for everyone, we should care for our [descendants] as predecessors have, or we wish them to have had.”

My Response: I agree that we should look forward into the future and consider how life would be then, and how our current actions would affect future living conditions. I do not think that our focus should solely be on future beings, though. I hope to personally see a better future, and to structure my actions to maximize my chances. I am, though, happy to have been born into a world where the many generations of humans before me have already created an infrastructure of knowledge and capital to enable a relatively comfortable way of life. The great challenge of our time is to secure our lives against the still-omnipresent forces of ruin, death, and decay.

Elu Sive Point 10: “We should aim to replace humanity with post-human beings, remedied from most of the flaws that plague the human psyche and physiology today and in the past.”

My Response: I agree with remedying existing human flaws and transcending human limitations, with the important caveat that I consider such actions to be consistent with and to amplify humanity. Importantly, I think that we ourselves should be the beneficiaries of these improvements, through new medical treatments and augmentations (especially radical life extension), as well as the eventual integration of biological and non-biological components.