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The Imperative of Technological Progress: Why Stagnation Will Necessarily Lead to Disaster and How Techno-Optimism Can Overcome It – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Imperative of Technological Progress: Why Stagnation Will Necessarily Lead to Disaster and How Techno-Optimism Can Overcome It – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
August 14, 2015
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“He who moves not forward, goes backward.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It is both practically desirable and morally imperative for individuals and institutions in the so-called “developed” world to strive for a major acceleration of technological progress within the proximate future. Such technological progress can produce radical abundance and unparalleled improvements in both length and quality of life – whose possibilities Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler outlined in their 2012 book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. Moreover, major technological progress is the only way to overcome a devastating step backward in human civilization, which will occur if the protectionist tendencies and pressures of existing elites are allowed to freeze the status quo in place.

If the approximate technological and economic status quo persists, massive societal disintegration looms on the horizon. A Greece-style crisis of national-government expenditures may occur as some have predicted, but would only be a symptom of a greater problem. The fundamental driver of crisis since at least September 11, 2001, and more acutely since the Great Recession and the national-government bailouts of legacy financial and manufacturing institutions, is an increasing disconnect between the powerful and everybody else. The powerful – i.e., the politically connected, including the special interests of the “private sector” – seek to protect their positions through political barriers, at the expense of individual rights, upward social mobility, and economic/technological progress. Individuals from a relatively tiny politically connected elite caused the 2008 financial crisis, lobbied for and received unprecedented bailouts and lifelines for the firms whose misbehavior exacerbated the crisis, and then have attempted to rig the political “rules of the game” to prevent themselves from being unseated from positions of wealth and influence by the dynamics of market competition. The system created by these elites has been characterized by various observers as crony capitalism, corporatism, corporate fascism, neo-mercantilism, and a neo-Medieval guild system.

The deleterious influence of the politically connected today is reflected in the still-massive rates of unemployment and underemployment for the millennial generation, while many established industries fail to make openings for young people to ascend and fail to accommodate the emerging technologies with which young people thrive. While the millennial generation had nothing to do with the Great Recession, it has suffered its greatest fallout. Many millennials now encounter tremendous diminution in economic opportunity and living standards (think of young people in New York City paying several thousand dollars a month to share a tiny, century-old apartment among three people – or the emerging trend of shipping containers being converted into the only type of affordable housing for young people in San Francisco). The “Occupy” movement was a reflection of the resulting discontentment – a reflexive and indiscriminate backlash by young people who knew that their circumstances were unjustly bad, but did not understand the root causes or the culprits.

The only way for a crisis to be averted is for the current elites to stop blocking people from the millennial generation from opportunities to achieve upward mobility. The elite must also stop bailing out obsolete and poorly managed legacy institutions, and cease erecting protectionist barriers to the existence of innovative businesses that young people can and have tried to start. If the millennial generation continues to be shut out of the kinds of opportunities available to the preceding generation, however, I can envision two crisis scenarios. Each of these characterizations is not a prediction (but rather a nightmare which I hope can be avoided), is somewhat broad and, of course, is tentative. However, these scenarios are rough outlines of how the West could falter in the absence of significant technological progress.

Crisis Scenario 1: “Occupy” Times Ten: Millions of unemployed thirty-somethings (millennials in five to ten years) riot in the streets, indiscriminately destroying storefronts and setting cars alight. Economic activity and sophisticated production are ground to a halt because of the turmoil. The continuity of knowledge transfer and intergenerational symbiosis involved in human civilization are completely interrupted. Clashes with police create martyrs who are then invoked by opportunistic thugs as an excuse to loot and burn. Without the opportunity for peaceful economic cooperation, society degenerates into armed gangs, some left-wing (e.g., “Black Bloc” violent anarchists), others right-wing (e.g., survivalist militia groups). Thoughtful and intellectual people, who want the violence to end and see an imperfect peace as better than a war of all against all, are universally despised by the new tribes and cannot find a safe environment in which to work and innovate. The infrastructure of everyday life is critically damaged, and nobody maintains or repairs it. Roads, bridges, pipes, and electrical grids are either destroyed or become unusable after years of decay. The West becomes Ukraine writ large, eventually regressing into premodernity.

Crisis Scenario 2: The Reaction: Current political and crony-capitalist elites crack down with extreme force, either in response to actual riots or, more likely, to the threat thereof. Civil liberties are obliterated and an economic underclass enforced through deliberate restrictions on entry into any remunerative occupations – much like the 17th-century mercantilists advocated for maximum wages and prohibitions on perceived luxuries for the working classes. Those who do get jobs are required to work 60 or more hours per week and so have no time for anything else in life. All established industries are maintained in their current form through legal protections and bailouts, and there is an official policy that the structure of the economy must not be allowed to change for any reason. (Think of Directive 10-289 from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.) Licensing requirements for professions become ubiquitous and burdensome, laden with Catch-22 provisions so that few or no new entrants can make it into the system. Only an elite cadre of Baby Boomers enjoys wealth and uses the force of legal entry barriers to prevent anyone else from having the opportunity to earn their own. They have ground technological progress to a halt, seeking to keep established business models in place and thwart all competition. The national government develops a massive spying capability and enforces social order through the ability to detect behaviors that might even be algorithmically correlated with dissent. All ordinary citizens are routinely humiliated in public under the pretense of thwarting crime or terrorism. TSA body searches have expanded beyond airports to highway checkpoints, shopping centers, and random stops by police on city streets. People’s homes are routinely raided by SWAT teams at the mildest pretext. This is done to make people meek and subservient to the established order. To keep young people from rioting (and get rid of the “excess” unemployed youths), the elites concoct jingoistic justifications to inflame endless foreign wars, and young people are conscripted and sent to die abroad. If any of these wars aggravate the regimes of either Russia or China, this scenario has the added risk of putting the world back on the verge of nuclear conflict. The fast-senescing crony-capitalist elites have cut off future biomedical progress and so will die eventually, but only the children of the elite will inherit any wealth. A neo-feudal oligarchy is established and becomes gradually ossified throughout the generations, while the industrial and technological base built over the past 200 years, as a legacy of the Enlightenment and individual rights, will deteriorate, eventually bringing the West back into premodernity.

I see an ossification of the status quo as leading to one or both of the above crisis scenarios. A return of premodernity is the logical conclusion of the dynamics of a fundamentally unaltered status quo. If humankind does not move technologically forward, it will go backward in a spiral of destruction and repression.

The only way for either crisis scenario to be averted is for technological progress to occur at no slower than the rates experienced during the twentieth century. Overt political revolution, even if it begins peacefully, is dangerous. To understand why this is so, one needs look no further than the recent Arab Spring uprisings – initially motivated by liberally minded dissidents and ordinary people who could no longer tolerate corrupt dictatorships, but ultimately hijacked by Islamist militants, military juntas, or both. A case even closer to the contemporary Western world is the recent Maidan revolution in Ukraine, which, while initially motivated by peaceful and well-intentioned pro-European activists, replaced a corrupt regime that occasionally persecuted dissidents with a fiercely militant, nationalistic regime that tolerates no dissent, engages in coercive historical revisionism, prohibits criticism of Nazi and neo-Nazi thugs, conscripts some of its citizens to die in civil war, and indiscriminately shells others of its citizens in the East. Revolutions always have the potential of replacing a lethargically bad regime with an aggressively destructive one.

This is why it is better for any societal transformation to be driven primarily by technological and economic development, rather than by political turmoil. The least turbulent transformations should be somewhat gradual and at least grudgingly accepted by the existing elites, who need to be willing to alter their own composition and accept bright minds from any background – not just their own progeny. A sufficient rate of technological advancement – especially due to the growth in 3D printing, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetic engineering, vertical farming, and renewable energy – can ensure near-universal abundance within a generation, untethered from permission-granting institutions to which most people today owe a living. Such prosperity would enable most people to experience what are today upper-middle-class living standards, therefore having no motivation to riot. Technological progress can also preserve individual liberty by continually creating new spheres where politicians and lobbyists are incapable of control and individuals can outmaneuver most political restrictions.

Technological progress, particularly radical extension of the human lifespan through periodic rejuvenation that can restore the body to a more youthful condition, is also the only hope for remedying unsustainable expenditures of national governments, which are presently primarily intended to support people’s income and healthcare needs in old age. Rejuvenation biotechnology of the sort championed by Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s SENS Research Foundation could be developed with sufficient investment into the research, and could become disseminated by biotechnology entrepreneurs, ensuring that older people do not become decrepit or incapable of productive work as they age. The only way to sustainably extend average lifespans past about 85 years would be to turn back the clock of biological aging. It is not possible for most people (who do not have some degree of genetic luck) to live much longer beyond that without also becoming more youthful.

Many people who receive rejuvenation treatments will not want to retire – at least not from all work – if they still feel the vitality of youth. They will seek out activities to support human well-being and high living standards, even if they have saved enough money to consider it unnecessary to take a regular 8-to-5 job. With the vitality of youth combined with the experience of age, these people will be able to make sophisticated, persistent contributions to human civilization and will tend to plan for the longer term, as compared to most people today. If automation takes care of basic human needs, then human labor will be freed for more creative and fulfilling tasks.

Effective rejuvenation will not arrive right away, but immigration can keep the demographic disparity between the young and the old from being a severe problem in the meantime. This is another reason to reject protectionist policies and instead pursue approaches that allow more people to contribute to and benefit from the material prosperity of the “developed” world. Birth rates tend to fall anywhere there are major rises in standards of living after an industrial revolution, as children stop becoming productive helpers in an agricultural economy and instead become expensive to raise and educate so that they can participate in a knowledge-based economy. However, birth rates are still higher in many less-developed parts of the world, and people from those areas will readily seek opportunities for economic advancement in more developed countries, if given the option.

Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope that the path of gradual embrace of ever-accelerating progress will be the one taken in the early-21st-century Western world. The best outcome would be for an existing elite to facilitate mechanisms for its own evolution by offering people of merit but from humble backgrounds a place in real decision-making.

Some of that evolution can occur through market competition – new, upstart businesses displacing incumbents and gradually amassing significant resources themselves. The best instantiation of this in the United States today is the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial culture – which, incidentally, tends to finance the majority of longevity research. The most massive infusion of funds into longevity-related research has been from an offshoot of Google – Calico – founded in 2013 and currently partnering with a large pharmaceutical company, AbbVie. Calico has been somewhat secretive as to the details of its research, but there are other large businesses that are beginning to invest in similar endeavors – e.g., Craig Venter’s Human Longevity, Inc. Moreover, the famous libertarian venture capitalist Peter Thiel has given millions of dollars to Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s SENS Research Foundation – a smaller-scale organization but perhaps the most ambitious in its goals to bring about a reversal of human senescence through advances in rejuvenation treatments within the next quarter-century.

These developments are evidence that the United States today is characterized not by one elite, but by several – and the old “Paper Belt” elite is clearly in conflict with the new Silicon Valley elite. Politicians tend, surprisingly, not to be the most decisive players in this conflict, since they typically depend on harnessing pre-existing cultural currents in order to get elected and stay in office. Thus, they will tend to side with whatever issues and special interests they consider to be gaining ground at a given time. For this reason, many thinkers have characterized politics as a lagging indicator, responding to rather than triggering the defining events of an era. The politicians ride the currents to power, but something else creates those currents.

Differences in the breadth of vision among elites also matter. For instance, breakthroughs in human longevity could actually be a great boon for medical providers and the first pharmaceutical companies that offer effective products/treatments. Even the most ambitious proponents of life extension do not think it possible to develop a magic immortality pill. Rather, the treatments involved (which will be quite expensive at first) would require periodic regeneration of the cells and tissues within a person’s body – essentially resetting the biological clock every decade or so, while further innovation uncovers ways to reverse the damage more cheaply, safely, and effectively. This is a field ripe with opportunities for enterprising doctors, researchers, and engineers (while, at the same time, certainly endangering many extant business models). Some government officials, if they are sufficiently perceptive, could also be persuaded to support these changes – if only because they could prevent a catastrophic collapse of Social Security and Medicare. Approximately 30% of Medicare expenditures occur during the last year of patients’ lives, when the body is often fighting back multiple ailments in a losing battle. If this situation were simply prevented in the first place, and if most people became biologically young again and fully capable of working for a living or financing their own retirements, the expenses of both Social Security and Medicare could plummet until these programs became wholly unnecessary in the eyes of most voters.

The key to achieving a freer, more prosperous, and longer-lived future is to educate both elites and the general public to accurately weigh the opportunities and risks of emerging technologies. Too many individuals today, both elites and ordinary people, view technological progress with suspicion, conjuring in their minds every possible dystopian scenario and every possible malfunction, inconvenience, lost opportunity, moral reservation, or esthetic dislike they can muster against breakthroughs in life extension, artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and many other areas of advancement that could vastly benefit us all. This techno-skeptical mindset is the biggest obstacle for proponents of progress and a better future to overcome. Fortunately, we do not need to be elites to play important roles in overcoming it. By simply arguing the techno-optimist case and educating people from all walks of life about the tremendous beneficial potential of emerging technologies, we can each do our part to ensure that the 21st century will become known as an era of humankind’s great liberation from its age-old limitations, and not a lurch back into the bog of premodern barbarism.

If we have a modicum of technological progress, the West might be able to muddle through the next several decades. If we have an acceleration of technological progress, the West will leave its current problems in the dust. The outcome will be a question of whether people (both elites and ordinary citizens) are, on balance, held hostage to the fear of the new or, rather, willing to try out technological alternatives to the status quo in the hopes of achieving improvement in their lives.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.
Exemptions for Anti-Vaccination Activists Are Incompatible with Liberty: A Response to Robert P. Murphy – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Exemptions for Anti-Vaccination Activists Are Incompatible with Liberty: A Response to Robert P. Murphy – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
July 12, 2015
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The anti-vaccination movement today constitutes one of the most astounding rejections of scientific progress. Taking many steps beyond an aversion to emerging medical breakthroughs, this movement turns its back on modern medicine established as long ago as Edward Jenner’s famous experiments with vaccination in the 1790s. Largely fearing the completely discredited and fraudulent “connection” between vaccines and autism, opponents of vaccinations have no qualms about exposing masses of people to the infectious diseases that shortened typical lifespans by factors of two or three in the eras before vaccination was prevalent. The anti-vaccination movement’s scare tactics have already led to a resurgence of measles in the United States, bringing about the first death from the disease in 12 years within American borders. If vaccination rates continue to drop, we can expect more ancient killers to be resurrected, particularly endangering the lives and well-being of those who are unable to be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons.

Vaccination has been among the most successful medical techniques in history. We have it to thank for the eradication of smallpox and impressive reductions of the rates of polio, tetanus, typhoid, cholera, and many other maladies that routinely reached epidemic proportions in the premodern world. The evidence is overwhelming that opponents of vaccination are not just mistaken, but dangerously so. Their pseudo-scientific rhetoric does not merely affect personal lifestyle choices, but also exposes innocent individuals to harm. Yet the question has arisen as to how libertarians, who reject the initiation of aggression as a matter of principle, ought to respond to the anti-vaccination movement. Even if one considers the refusal to vaccinate to be misguided and scientifically unfounded, should it remain a legitimate personal choice from the standpoint of the law or of private institutions within a hypothetical libertarian-leaning society? Recently, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) hosted a debate between Robert P. Murphy, who argued that mandatory vaccinations are incompatible with liberty, and Randal John Meyer, who presented a case for the legitimacy of mandatory vaccination (in some circumstances) from the standpoint of the non-aggression principle.

As greatly as I respect Dr. Murphy’s work as an economist and a libertarian political theorist (despite some notable differences between us in the latter area), the strength of Dr. Meyer’s articulate arguments, as well as a recognition that opponents of vaccination do not only endanger themselves, lead me to wholly disagree with Dr. Murphy’s position in this debate. Dr. Murphy seems to agree with the medical science supporting the use of vaccines, but, out of libertarian considerations, writes that “Mandatory vaccinations are a gross violation of liberty.” Here I will argue that providing exemptions to mandatory vaccination on the mere basis of “philosophical” opposition to vaccination is the true violation of liberty.

Like Dr. Meyer, I base my argument on the non-aggression principle and the recognition that people do not have the right to involuntarily expose others to deadly diseases that, with continued vaccination, could become eradicated or remain at minimal levels. Unlike anti-vaccination activists, somebody who decides to take recreational drugs or consistently overeat or reject the scientific evidence about evolution harms only himself – physically or intellectually or both. While counterarguments might be made regarding indirect harms of such behaviors to others, those indirect harms are not proximate and can be prevented by the individual himself or by the choices of those who refuse to be affected. Therefore, such mistaken choices of lifestyle or belief should only meet with voluntary persuasion and education. A libertarian respects the right of others to be wrong, as long as their wrong inflicts no involuntary harm upon others. But to infect unwitting others because one is “philosophically” opposed to vaccination is not a valid exercise of personal freedom and not a behavior that harms oneself only; it is, rather, a negligent infliction of harm in violation of others’ rights.

To be clear, my position does not recommend mandatory vaccination for everyone – since there can be legitimate medical reasons not to vaccinate some people who might be at greater risk of usually rare side effects or who might be too vulnerable for the vaccine to work properly (e.g., pregnant women, infants, or the elderly in the case of certain vaccines). But precisely because not everyone can be safely vaccinated, anyone who can be, should be – in order to prevent the spread of disease to those who cannot directly protect themselves. As my central position on this issue, I strongly support abolishing all “religious” or “philosophical” exemptions to vaccination, as well as any exemption based on the purportedly medical advice of a doctor who is a “vaccine skeptic”. Only medical doctors who recognize the benefits and efficacy of vaccination in the majority of instances, but consider the risk of adverse side effects to be too great for a particular patient, should be able to provide exemptions to vaccination. Furthermore, medical doctors who fabricate reasons for vaccine exemptions or who deny the efficacy of vaccines in fighting disease, where such denial affects their areas of practice, should be stripped of their licenses by the credentialing organizations that oversee them.

Nor does the elimination of belief-based vaccine exemptions imply the necessity of overwhelming enforcement of vaccination mandates. There should be enough enforcement, combined with education and social pressure, to bring herd immunity back to levels where a disease is kept at bay even if a few individuals slip through the cracks of the vaccination system for whatever reasons. The key is to avoid systematic allowances that lead to vaccination rates dropping below crucial thresholds.

Dr. Murphy writes that “Mandatory vaccinations involve a supreme violation of liberty, where agents of the state inject substances into someone’s body against his or her will.” However, nothing in my position requires the government to forcibly inject any person against that person’s will. Rather, the institutional mechanisms that have sufficed to maintain herd immunity prior to the rise of the anti-vaccination movement should simply be allowed to work without a belief-based exemption to get in their way. For instance, one can debate the legitimacy of public schools – but so long as they exist and remain a part of the lives of many families, they can justifiably be governed by rules designed to preserve the health of their students. Parents who refuse to vaccinate children (without a legitimate medical exemption) should simply be disallowed from sending those children to public schools, where they could serve as carriers of deadly diseases to other innocent children. Private schools could also choose to adopt similar criteria, requiring evidence of vaccination as a prerequisite for admitting a student (and, I hypothesize, in a libertarian society where legitimate science is able to triumph on a free market of ideas, almost all private schools would adopt such criteria). As a libertarian, I would consider the use of physical force against people’s bodies to achieve vaccination to be too disproportionate a remedy – but refusal of access to government facilities and services, along with a healthy dose of education, cultural pressure, and ostracism of the unvaccinated would be perfectly legitimate as ways to prevent the dangerous misconceptions of the anti-vaccination activists from resurrecting age-old killers. Anti-vaccination activists should face not a stick, but the removal of the carrots that almost everybody else would receive.

The remainder of this essay will cite each of Dr. Murphy’s main arguments, followed by my response.

Dr. Murphy writes: First, among those who hew strictly to a nonaggression principle and a stateless society, mandatory vaccinations are, of course, a nonstarter. Whether they identify themselves as ‘strict libertarians,’ ‘voluntaryists,’ or ‘anarchocapitalists,’ this group would obviously never condone the state’s forcing someone to be vaccinated, because most believe the state is illegitimate.”

I respond: While I am not an anarcho-capitalist and consider some government functions to be legitimate as long as they respect individual liberty, it is possible to be anarcho-capitalist and also support widespread vaccination with no belief-based exemptions. Virtually every anarcho-capitalist will support some form of private law, since the case for anarcho-capitalism relies on the possibility of social order without a central authority. Furthermore, this private law, to be legitimate, would need to be based on the theoretical foundations of libertarianism – which might be natural law or might be utilitarian or consequentialist considerations, or some combination thereof, depending on the philosophical persuasion of a given libertarian who would advocate for such a system. A private law based on natural law would recognize scientific truth, since scientific truth is part of natural law – and the efficacy of vaccination in protecting against disease, as well as the consequences of a widespread lack of vaccination, constitute some of the best-established scientific truths. A private law based on consequentialist considerations (for instance, minimizing the harm that people are able to inflict upon others) would also recognize that allowing anti-vaccination activists to run rampant while carrying highly contagious infections would not be in the interest of maximizing human well-being or ensuring that people are protected against unwanted harm. Therefore, it is entirely conceivable that a hypothetical anarcho-capitalist society, through networks of private courts or arbiters, would develop a theory of negligence that encompasses those who, in their refusal to vaccinate themselves or their children, recklessly and needlessly endanger the health and lives of others.

Dr. Murphy writes: Second, for minarchists, the proper role for the state is that of a ‘night watchman,’ a minimal government that only protects the individual from domestic criminals and foreign threats. In a minarchist framework, it is only legitimate for the state to take action against someone who is violating (or threatening to violate) the rights of another. A person’s failure to become vaccinated is hardly by itself a violation of someone else’s rights. Flipping it around, it would sound odd to say you have the right to live in a society where everyone else has had measles shots.”

I respond: An important implication of the non-aggression principle is that it is illegitimate to expose others to involuntary violation of their lives, liberty, or property. This principle applies even when the aggressor does not realize that he or she is engaging in aggression. (For instance, a thief who steals another’s property and genuinely believes himself to be doing good, because he intends to redistribute that property to the poor, is still a thief who is violating his victim’s rights.)

The intentional transmission of disease to others clearly impinges on those others’ lives and liberty. One might be killed by the disease, or one might be incapacitated or inconvenienced to the point of being unable to pursue opportunities one might otherwise have had. Technically, transmitting any disease to any unwilling person would constitute an act of negligence in a society guided by libertarian principles, and would require proportionate compensation. However, in many cases, it is practically difficult to determine who transmitted a disease to whom and how. Furthermore, medical science has not yet discovered consistently reliable ways to prevent the transmission of certain infections, such as the common cold. Therefore, while it is still infeasible to prevent the spread of all infectious diseases, a libertarian who supports the non-aggression principle ought to support the prevention of disease transmission where it is currently technically feasible. Vaccination is one of the major tools in the current arsenal for preventing disease transmission. Those who are vaccinated against a given disease gain the benefit of a greater likelihood of their own protection from the disease, but – more importantly from a libertarian perspective – they reduce their likelihood of becoming unwitting initiators of aggression against others. I agree fully with Dr. Meyer that, where it is cheap and practical to vaccinate, while the costs of not doing so can include a devastating, deadly epidemic, the decision to require vaccination as a condition of participation in public life is justified.

Dr. Murphy writes: Third, and most interesting, let’s consider a broader notion of liberty, which balances a presumption of individual autonomy against the public welfare. In this approach, there’s not a blanket prohibition on the state restricting the liberties of individuals — even when they haven’t yet hurt anybody else — so long as such restrictions impose little harm on the recipients and possibly prevent a vast amount of damage. This is the only conception of the state for which the mandatory vaccination debate is possible.”

I respond: I will interject here only to reiterate that this is not the only view of the three described by Dr. Murphy which could justify mandatory vaccination. As I discuss above, any libertarian school of thought can consistently embrace vaccination requirements, if the implications of the non-aggression principle are fully applied to the transmission of infectious disease.

Dr. Murphy writes: Let’s be charitable and assume this more expansive definition, under which, for example, even self-described libertarians might not object to stiff penalties for drunk driving or prohibitions on citizens building atomic bombs in their basements. How does mandatory vaccination fare in this framework, where we’re not arguing in terms of qualitative principles but instead performing a quantitative cost-benefit test? Even here, the case for mandatory vaccinations is weak. First of all, the only realistic scenario where the issue would even be relevant is where the vast majority of the public thinks it would be a good idea if everyone got vaccinated, but (for whatever reason) a small minority strongly disagreed. This is obvious: if the medical case for a vaccine were so dubious that, say, half the public didn’t think it made sense to administer it, then there would hardly be an issue of the government clamoring to inject half the population against their will.”

I respond: Scientific truth is true no matter what proportion of the population believes it to be. If, in a hypothetical society, 1% of the population was enlightened and recognized the role of vaccination in preventing epidemics, while the other 99% believed that only bleeding and magic rituals could cure disease, it would still be justified to require vaccination – since the objective mechanisms of disease transmission are not affected by the prevailing beliefs in a society. I bring up this point not merely for hypothetical purposes, but to highlight the dangers of the anti-vaccination activists’ pseudo-scientific and anti-scientific propaganda. Like many Neo-Luddite and “back to nature” movements, the anti-vaccination movement is dangerous precisely because it does have the potential to persuade a critical mass of people who lack the training to distinguish between scientific truth and deception, and who find the siren song of a romanticized primordial Eden alluring. Anti-vaccination activists exploit widespread primal fears of the technological, the modern, the “artificial”, and exhort people to return to a mythical age of bliss that never was. In fact, if enough people embrace anti-vaccination propaganda, we will indeed revert to an earlier paradigm – the Hobbesian primitive world in which life was nasty, brutish, and short. Anybody who supports reason and science and endorses technological progress as a pathway toward individual flourishing should recognize anti-vaccination activists to be great foes of human well-being and civilization.

Dr. Murphy writes: We’re dealing with a scenario in which the vast majority of the public thinks it would be a good idea for all of the public to become vaccinated. In that environment, if vaccines are voluntary, then we can be confident that just about all of these enthusiasts would go ahead and become vaccinated. In other words, any ‘free riding’ would only take place at the margin, if most of the population had gotten the vaccine and thus an outbreak of the relevant disease was unlikely.”

I respond: The flaw with this argument is that effective herd immunity often requires not just a majority or even a substantial majority of people to be vaccinated – but rather an overwhelming majority. For some diseases, such as measles and pertussis, herd-immunity thresholds are significantly above 90%. Because vaccines are not always 100% effective on those who do get vaccinated, this means that the entire population is at risk of the disease if the anti-vaccination activists persuade even 5 to 10 percent of the public to refuse to get vaccinated out of fear. To minimize our individual chances of becoming victims of a preventable disease, we need as many people to be vaccinated as is safely possible. While it is true that effective herd immunity can coexist with tiny pockets of the unvaccinated, the danger of the anti-vaccination movement is that it will not confine itself to such tiny pockets of the most zealous believers, but rather seeks to spread its damaging influence to as many people as possible. The real danger arises when this pseudo-scientific movement ceases to be the purview of lone cranks and becomes a trend in upscale areas such as Orange County, California, now known for miserably low vaccination rates.

Dr. Murphy writes: When a person gets vaccinated, the primary beneficiary is himself. And this benefit is all the greater the lower the rate of vaccination in the population at large. In other words, among a population of people who all believe that a vaccine is effective, the individual cost-benefit analysis of taking the vaccine will only yield a temptation of ‘free riding’ once a sufficient fraction of the population has become vaccinated, thus ensuring ‘herd immunity.’”

I respond: While I agree that individuals are indeed often beneficiaries of their own vaccinations, the primary benefit from a libertarian standpoint is the reduction in the probability of their unintentional aggression toward others. From a libertarian political standpoint, the case for mandatory vaccination rests precisely on the fact that lack of vaccination poses negative external harms. Additionally, in the case of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children (which is the type of situation to which most of the controversies regarding vaccination pertain), the case can be made that those parents are negligently exposing their children to harm, in situations where the children do not have sufficient information or autonomy to override their parents’ fear-based judgments.

Furthermore, I disagree regarding herd immunity being a necessary precondition for the “free riding” of the anti-vaccination movement to arise. Such a state of affairs would presuppose that the “free riders” actually agree with the scientific case for vaccination, but consider it too inconvenient or burdensome to be personally vaccinated. If only this were the case with the opponents of vaccination today! The very reason why the anti-vaccination movement is so dangerous is because it is, like all “back to nature” movements, rooted in an anti-technological, Neo-Luddite ideology of fear. The anti-vaccination activists refuse to get vaccinated not because of a pragmatic (if sloppy) cost-benefit analysis, but rather because of a burning hatred of vaccination due largely to the mantra that “vaccines cause autism!” No amount of evidence or demonstration of the fraud involved in the alleged vaccine-autism connection suffices to dissuade those for whom this view has become an article of faith. No matter how low the vaccination rates are driven, or how many people are felled by the resurgent epidemics, the anti-vaccination activists will continue to hew to their irrational dogmas. For this reason, it is the task of the remainder of Western civilization to protect itself against the harms the anti-vaccination activists perpetrate.

Dr. Murphy writes: Unlike other examples of huge (alleged) trade-offs between individual and public benefits, with vaccinations there is no threat of a mass outbreak in a free society. With vaccines, we have the happy outcome that when someone chooses to vaccinate him or herself, so long as the vaccine is effective, then that person is largely shielded from the consequences of others’ decisions regarding vaccination.

I respond: The key phrase in the above argument is “so long as the vaccine is effective”. It turns out that most vaccines are quite effective, but not always 100% effective. The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services states that “most childhood vaccines produce immunity about 90 – 100% of the time” but some vaccines, such as the seasonal flu vaccine, achieve effectiveness rates in the ranges of 40% to 60% during good years. This is still nothing to scoff at, but it reinforces the point that some people might remain vulnerable to the diseases they got vaccinated against, in spite of their best intentions. This is another reason why maintaining herd immunity is crucial; it protects those individuals whose specific vaccinations failed to work. This also implies that getting individually vaccinated is not a guarantee of protection against the depredation of the anti-vaccination activists. In the short run, mandatory vaccination as a precondition for participation in governmentally run institutions can provide some added protection. In the longer run, the anti-vaccination movement needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history through persuasion, education, and social ostracism.

Dr. Murphy writes: Notice the irony and how weak the mandatory vaccination case has become. We are no longer being told that vaccines are ‘safe,’ and that anyone who fears medical complications is a conspiracy theorist trusting Jenny McCarthy over guys in white lab coats. On the contrary, the CDC warns certain groups not to take popular vaccines because of the health risks. This is no longer a matter of principle — of the people on the side of science being pro-vaccine, while the tinfoil-hatters are anti-vaccine. Instead it’s a disagreement over which people should be taking the vaccine and which people should not take it because the dangers are too great.

I respond: The above argument regarding the implications of the non-universal safety of vaccines is far too simplistic. The key element missed by this argument is the existence of objective, scientific truth regarding which segments of population vaccines are safe for, and which segments of the population are vulnerable. The scientific truth is that individual vaccination remains safe for the vast majority of the population, whereas the anti-vaccination activists assert that vaccines are unsafe for everybody. There is an insurmountable qualitative gulf between a risk-based scientific assessment regarding vaccine safety by population segments and a reflexive, ideologically motivated condemnation of all vaccination efforts just because adverse side effects might occur somewhere for somebody. The disagreement is still one of principle – whether objective, scientific evidence should guide the administration of vaccinations, or whether the fears of the “back to nature” types should be allowed to override the health and safety of everyone else.

Dr. Murphy writes: Regarding children, social conflict can be resolved through the fuller application of private property rights. If all schools, hospitals, and daycare centers were privately operated and had the legal right to exclude whichever clients they wished, then the owners could decide on vaccination policies. Any parents who were horrified at the idea of little Jimmy playing with an unvaccinated kid could choose Jimmy’s school accordingly.”

I respond: I concur that, if all of the institutions described by Dr. Murphy were privately operated, their owners could set vaccination policies. I would suggest that most such owners – if acting in their genuine, long-term, rational self-interest – would recognize the scientific evidence and require some evidence or vaccination or at least refuse access to overt anti-vaccination activists. I expect that Dr. Murphy would agree with me that this would be consistent with libertarianism and the non-aggression principle.

The disagreement arises in a world where governmentally run institutions do exist and are not going away anytime soon. The vast majority of people attend and use these institutions because the incentives of the current “mixed economy” leave them with no better options. Given that these institutions exist, it is still desirable for them to operate in such a manner that maximizes genuine individual liberty and reduces the involuntary infliction of harm upon others. Therefore, rules for the operation of governmental institutions, designed to prevent those institutions from being hotbeds of disease transmission, are entirely reasonable and justifiable within the imperfect world which we inhabit. Just like the administrators of a public school airport can legitimately implement prohibitions on littering or visitors who carry the Ebola virus, so can they legitimately require evidence of vaccination as a prerequisite for admission. Ideally, of course, we should strive toward a society where such presentation of positive evidence would not be necessary, because everybody who is medically eligible would get vaccinated out of a recognition of vaccination’s overwhelming benefits. However, as long as the anti-vaccination movement remains a prominent force in public discourse, one cannot fault administrators for taking precautions to protect those who use their facilities.

Dr. Murphy writes: We have seen that even assuming the best of government officials, it is difficult to state an argument in favor of mandatory vaccinations. Yet, the debate tilts even more when we recall that throughout history, government officials have made horrible decisions in the name of public welfare, either through incompetence or ulterior motives. It should be obvious that no fan of liberty can support injecting substances into an innocent person’s body against his or her will.”

I respond: This may be a valid concern to raise in response to a forced-injection program, but not in response to a mere denial of positive benefits (like access to certain government services) for those who refuse to be vaccinated. Furthermore, I am not arguing for any extraordinary level of coercion – just a return to the system of vaccination requirements that existed before religious or “philosophical” exemptions to vaccination came into vogue. The empirical evidence suggests that those requirements did not result in any horrible abuses of power – perhaps because those requirements were compatible with the non-aggression principles and the legitimate functions of law (be it public or private law) in the first place.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the best of all worlds would be one in which everybody who could safely be vaccinated, would be, without the need for any mandates – just because people would be sufficiently enlightened to recognize vaccination’s scientifically established benefits and reject the fear-mongering of those who would return us to the age of blood-letting, witch-fearing, and “medicine” based on the “four humours”. It is likely that Dr. Murphy would agree with me that universal, voluntary vaccination would be the most desirable outcome. Where we differ, however, is in our assessment of how much involuntary harm the anti-vaccination movement is able to inflict upon the rest of us. By weakening herd immunity in the Western world, the anti-vaccination movement is perhaps the most dangerous of the “back to nature” strains. It is a cultural infection to which we should develop an immunity using as many tools as we can effectively deploy.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Mandatory Vaccinations Can Be Compatible with Liberty – Article by Randal John Meyer

Mandatory Vaccinations Can Be Compatible with Liberty – Article by Randal John Meyer

The New Renaissance HatRandal John Meyer
July 7, 2015
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We can take comfort that modern science can handle infectious diseases. Questionable studies such as reports linking vaccinations to autism have been debunked. Despite the empirically demonstrable efficacy of vaccines, some people have decided to forego vaccinations for themselves or for children under their custody. Accordingly, libertarians have been forced to examine their own tenets to evaluate whether compulsory vaccinations are compatible with the principles of individual freedom.

I believe they are.

A major pitfall for libertarians examining this question is the consideration of whether mandatory vaccinations are too paternalistic. But because vaccinations prevent harm to others with incidental paternalistic effects, I argue that they are justified. Because certain deadly diseases are communicable from human-to-human contact, transmission can be prevented by using medically safe vaccines.

Vaccines do not always and in every case protect individuals who receive them. Bacteria and viruses can mutate, preventing vaccines from conquering them. And, over time, a particular vaccine can become less effective. But when given to a large enough population and updated periodically to counter mutations, vaccines act like a computer firewall, protecting the entire population. And if a significant enough portion of the population chooses not to be vaccinated, then the whole population becomes more susceptible to an outbreak. Immunization of a critical proportion of the population in this manner is called “herd immunity.” Though it may seem paradoxical, it becomes important to ensure that the vast majority of people get immunized to prevent harm.

Libertarian philosophy holds that it is justifiable to prevent unauthorized harm of one individual against another. Accordingly, even libertarians who have adopted principles such as the nonaggression axiom or the harm principle can see that vaccination is a means of preventing harm. Moreover, even libertarians who follow a strict Rothbardian nonaggression principle consider the prospect of aggression to be indistinguishable from actual aggression. And this is reasonable: preventing imminent harm is as good as stopping present harm.

University of Arizona professor Joel Feinberg has argued that “it is always a good reason in support of legislation that it would probably be effective in preventing (eliminating or reducing) harm to persons other than the actor and there is probably no other means that is equally effective at no greater cost to other values.”

John Stuart Mill famously notes in On Liberty that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

The questions of whether the nonimmunized members of a population pose a risk to others — as well as the effectiveness of vaccinations in preventing that harm — turn on facts. To address such questions, let’s take a look at the disease that has lead to most of this recent controversy: measles.

If one imagines a community with an immunity rate of 96–99 percent for measles due to vaccination (and most states fall below this rate), it is statistically unlikely that there will be an outbreak of measles in this population due to herd immunity. When only 95 percent of the population is vaccinated, an outbreak is possible. When the percentage vaccinated falls below 90 percent, the rate of infection per 10,000 children more than doubles. If the rate falls low enough, we can expect pandemics. “Before mass vaccination was introduced, measles used to follow a cyclic pattern, with [epidemics occurring each] period of about 2 years in Europe and North America,” according to research by V.A.A. Jansen and N. Stollenwerk.

From 1840 through 1990, measles killed nearly 200 million people globally. But from 2000 through 2012, measles deaths decreased by 78 percent after the UN sponsored immunization. During this period, 68 percent of the populations of member countries were immunized to herd immunity levels. In the United States, the vaccination rate among infants was 91 percent, considerably below the 96–99 percent needed for herd immunity to be maintained. In fact, in some enclaves, such as the Orange County school district, the immunization rate dropped to 50–60 percent among kindergarteners. This failure to vaccinate, at least in part due to the existence of the state philosophical exemption from vaccination, allowed the measles outbreak to occur in 2015 in more than a dozen states.

No individual has the right to expose other individuals to that risk.

Alternatively, there is parallel argument from the libertarian principles regarding common defense. According to David Boaz in his updated book, The Libertarian Mind, “most libertarians” believe that “governments should exist … [to provide] national defense against external threats.” The entire human race is at war with microbes, such as viruses, and has undergone massive assaults. Examples include the bubonic plague, smallpox, and polio. Each day, an individual’s immune system destroys numerous potential pathogens. Liberty-restraint principles allow for collectivization of defense efforts against equally deadly foes: our immune systems are not alone in this. Vaccines are instruments of that ongoing war.

People should not be compelled to be vaccinated for noncommunicable diseases, of course, but we don’t want any of these serious pathogens to reemerge. Measles, mumps, rubella, and pertussis cases are all on the rise in the United States. Polio has returned in more than 10 countries; the World Health Organization believes it constitutes a global health emergency. Childhood vaccines save nearly $40 billion in direct and indirect costs, in addition to numerous lives.

It is important to note, as well, that compulsory vaccination can accomplish herd immunity by means short of forced procedures. On one level, the civil law could be used to hold nonvaccinated adults and the parents of nonvaccinated children financially liable with punitive damages for their role in any public health emergency. Exclusion from various types of public space or activities could be justified, yet enforcement would be difficult, if not impossible, particularly in urban areas. On a more restrictive level, the state could use the criminal law to impose fines on parents or declare that such action constitutes child neglect. Regardless, more extreme measures for noncompliant adults would only be appropriate if more restrictive means could not achieve herd immunity thresholds.

Thus, it can be argued that vaccination policy approaching infringement on individual and parental choice does not pose an issue per se with mainstream libertarian thought, given the narrowness of the means of vaccination (how little it imposes on the recipient’s liberty) and the degree of relatively certain harm to others that is thereby prevented.

The harm of nonvaccination for serious communicable diseases poses a significant enough risk for others to become infected that it justifies such small impositions on personal liberty. A policy of voluntary vaccination, or the granting of philosophical exceptions to the general vaccination requirement, causes much more potential harm than requiring people to get a vaccination does.

Randal John Meyer is a Research Fellow at Brooklyn Law School. Randal was born in Rochester, New York. He has a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, where he was an articles editor on the Brooklyn Law Review, and he has a B.A. in General Philosophy and in Philosophy, Politics, and Law from SUNY Binghamton. He has been cited for his published work on constitutional law, terrorism, and civil liberties, which has appeared in the Brooklyn Law Review, New York Journal of Law and Liberty Blog, and Brooklyn Law Review Practicum.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

G. Stolyarov II Interviews Kyrel Zantonavitch, Author of “Pure Liberal Fire”

G. Stolyarov II Interviews Kyrel Zantonavitch, Author of “Pure Liberal Fire”

On March 7, 2015, Mr. Stolyarov invited Kyrel Zantonavitch, the author of Pure Liberal Fire: Brief Essays on the New, General, and Perfected Philosophy of Western Liberalism and founder of The Liberal Institute, to discuss his original philosophical framework and its relationship to Objectivism, Classical Liberalism, Austrian Economics, Libertarianism, and Transhumanism. Mr. Zantonavitch was asked challenging questions regarding his ideas and provocative approach, as well as the objectives of his philosophical system. The intense discussion – which, in some places, became a debate – highlighted both areas of agreement and areas of disagreement between Mr. Stolyarov and Mr. Zantonavitch.

Pure Liberal Fire is available on Amazon here.

The website of The Liberal Institute is here.

Mr. Stolyarov’s review of Pure Liberal Fire  describes Mr. Zantonavitch’s thinking thus: “There is perhaps not a single thinker in the world more fearless than Kyrel Zantonavitch. Pure Liberal Fire is the direct, provocative distillation of his thoughts on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, economics, culture, religion, and the history of philosophy – including Objectivism and Classical Liberalism. Zantonavitch seeks to evoke a pure, true liberalism, and he shows no mercy for ideologies and attitudes that constitute its antithesis. He certainly leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about where he stands on the issues addressed – and each article within the book employs an abundance of superlative expressions – be they positive or negative. When Zantonavitch praises, he really praises – and the same goes for when he condemns.”

Mr. Stolyarov’s response to Mr. Zantonavitch’s approach is characterized by the following comment: “Zantonavitch’s approach and style would entail achieving a fiery, dramatic, immediate deposition of everything (every person, every policy, every idea) he considers evil, dangerous, or damaging. My view of reform is more surgical, focused on getting the sequence of steps right so as to minimize the damage inflicted during the transition while ridding the world of the disease of bad policies (and, in a more long-term fashion, through persuasion and free-market education, also ridding it of bad thinking of the sort that motivates bad policies).”

Achieving a Bright Future: Opportunities and Obstacles – G. Stolyarov II Interviews Demian Zivkovic

Achieving a Bright Future: Opportunities and Obstacles – G. Stolyarov II Interviews Demian Zivkovic

 The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Demian Zivkovic
January 19, 2015
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Mr. Stolyarov invites Demian Zivkovic to discuss visions of the future and humankind’s prospects for achieving a bright future in time for us to experience and enjoy it. The discussion focuses on the following questions:

(1) What do you consider to be humankind’s best opportunities for achieving a bright future within the next several decades?
(2) What do you consider to be the greatest obstacles to the realization of such a bright future?
(3) How could such obstacles be overcome?

About Demian Zivkovic

Demian Zivkovic, 23 years old, is a student of artificial intelligence and philosophy, and founder and president of the Arma’thwynn Society – an international transhumanist think tank comprised of a group of transhumanism-oriented professionals, students, and entrepreneurs interested in the interdisciplinary approach to advancing transhumanist technologies. Demian has been involved in several endeavors, including interviewing Professor Aubrey de Grey, organizing a transhumanism lecture in The Netherlands now, and spreading Death is Wrong – Mr. Stolyarov’s illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension – in The Netherlands.

Freedom Encourages Goodwill to All – Article by Bradley Doucet

Freedom Encourages Goodwill to All – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
December 18, 2014
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“Christopher Hitchens on libertarians: ‘I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement in the U.S. that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.'”

A friend posted the above statement on Facebook a few weeks ago, along with a photo of the late Christopher Hitchens, and added the following comment of his own: “He was often a complete idiot (being a contrarian was his fatal, childish flaw), but in this case, he’s right on target.” I couldn’t help myself; I responded, no doubt unhelpfully, that although Hitchens was always an entertaining writer, he was as childishly wrong about this as he could possibly be.

In the spirit of the season, let me take a few moments here to try to be a bit more helpful. First of all, to clarify, far from thinking that Americans are not yet selfish enough, libertarians think that human beings are not yet free enough, whether they live in Bangor, Maine or Bangladesh. Whether you use the greater liberty libertarians want you to have to help your fellow man or to go off and live in the woods by yourself is strictly speaking immaterial. Freedom makes you free; what you do with that freedom is up to you, and has nothing really to do with libertarianism.

To be fair to Hitchens, though, there are some libertarians who explicitly endorse a form of selfishness, and these are probably the people to whom he was referring. They are fans and followers of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Provocatively enough, Rand wrote a book entitled The Virtue of Selfishness, so part of the blame falls on her shoulders for preferring provocation over clarity. Because the selfishness to which this title alludes is more properly called rational or enlightened self-interest.

As anyone who has actually read Rand’s work will confirm, the selfishness that she advocated amounts to saying: Your life belongs to you. It does not belong to your parents, or your neighbour, or your honourable representatives in government. It is yours to live as you see fit. But as a direct and explicit corollary, neither does your neighbour’s life belong to you. Neither a slave nor a master be.

The alternative to dealing with other human beings through the use of force, as masters and slaves, is to deal with each other voluntarily, as traders, offering value for value. If your self-interested end is to become rich, the only way to do so while respecting the code of honour promulgated by Ayn Rand is to offer other people something they want and are willing to pay you for. What a rotten, selfish bitch, eh?

In fact, liberating people to enrich themselves through trade and innovation, and assigning dignity to this pursuit of material plenty, is precisely what has made large swaths of the world so fabulously wealthy by historical standards. Criticizing the “selfishness” of honest, hard-working, creative people who just want to improve their lot—as did a feature on the rise of China in this weekend’s Globe and Mail—therefore risks undoing the great material progress of modern civilization.

The notion that forcing people to be less self-interested would promote anything but resentment is really difficult for me to wrap my head around, Hitch’s wisecracks notwithstanding. If we want to promote a feeling of goodwill to all, we need to let people be free to enrich themselves by providing value to others. Only to the extent that we come to see each other primarily as sources of value rather than as threats to our security, as traders rather than as masters and slaves, will we approach that other Christmas ideal: peace on Earth.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.
Transhuman Libertarianism – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

Transhuman Libertarianism – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

Editor’s Note and Announcement: The Rational Argumentator is hosting a series of articles on the relationship between libertarianism and transhumanism and the question of whether, and – if so – in what manner and to what extent, advocates of indefinite life extension should ever pursue government funding or programs with the aim of lengthening human lifespans.

This article below presents a perspective from Kyrel Zantonavitch, who strongly argues against government support for life-extension research and instead sees solely private research as being the most capable of achieving indefinite lifespans in our lifetimes.

Mr. Stolyarov’s own views are detailed in his articles “Six Libertarian Reforms to Accelerate Life Extension” and “Liberty Through Long Life” and “Liberty or Death: Why Libertarians Should Proclaim That Death is Wrong“.

The Rational Argumentator invites all advocates of indefinite life extension to share their views regarding these questions, and many perspectives will be considered and published – so long as the authors genuinely support the goal of lengthening human lifespans through science and technology. All articles submitted in response to this request will be linked alongside one another once a critical mass has accumulated, so that readers would be able to analyze the viewpoints presented and formulate their own conclusions.

~ G. Stolyarov II, Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator, December 4, 2014

The New Renaissance Hat
Kyrel Zantonavitch
December 4, 2014
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All transhumanists are libertarians. They are all believers in, and future practitioners of, laissez-faire capitalism. They’re advocates of 100% liberty in politics, economics, and sociology. Transhumanists never initiate force against their fellow man; they never aggress upon or attack them. Transhumanists think people and property are sacred and untouchable. All transhumanists are political and socio-economic freedom-fighters and libertarians to the point of infinity.

Or at least they should be.

Because nothing advances human biological/physical development, and intellectual/spiritual ascent, faster than political and socio-economic freedom. Nothing improves quality and quantity of life more deftly or more powerfully. For immortality to have even a remote chance of being achievable within the next generation or two, government-protected justice and liberty must be pure and limitless.

Nothing generates more opportunity for general and particular success and triumph than freedom. Nothing germinates more innovation and genius — more radical and revolutionary brilliance. And make no mistake: immortality within the next 20-40 years will require a lot of innovation and genius.

For this and reasons of fundamental morality, massive government subsidies of science and medicine, via the evil and tyrannical welfare state, are emphatically not the way to go. It would be like suddenly, militarily seizing the powers of world government, and then trying to physically coerce almost everyone on Earth into studying technology and healthcare. Whips and guns (and chains and cattle-prods) are not the path to longevity. As the philosopher Ayn Rand noted: “You cannot force a mind.”

Firstly, such government funding is a type of slavery. Coercive taxation, especially for non-freedom purposes, is evil at its foundation. And no good thing can ever flower from such bad roots. The ends never justify the means. Tyranny and depravity are never practical or workable.

Those who are talented and slick at obtaining government grants, and those who willingly, passively submit to government edicts, are virtually never good scientists or doctors. Meanwhile, the good and great scientists and doctors — mankind’s innovators, creators, geniuses, saints, and heroes — will be hugely misled. With minimalist political knowledge, they’ll massively tend to follow the money and prestige trail; these brainiacs will massively tend to go work for the Big Brother bozos and frauds. At the least, the Good Guys will solidly incline toward reading the Dumb Guys’ (mountains of worthless) papers, and following them and their organizations intellectually. Thus the only real hopes of mankind will overwhelmingly tend to be side-tracked down a dead end.

The purpose of government is to protect individual rights — not expand the human life span. The state has no ability whatsoever to accomplish the later. It can only get in the way. It can only hurt the cause. Anyone who hijacks the government for longevity purposes is sure to massively damage both liberty and transhumanism.

However ironic, the more state funds are spent on transhumanism, and the more people are forced by government to engage in transhumanist research, the slower progress will be. It’ll be a repeat of the U.S. government’s buffoonish 1970s’ “war on cancer.” We’ll go backward. The effort will be counter-productive. It’ll be like throwing money down a bottomless rat hole — only worse.

The reality of today’s welfare state world is that if we finally get around to terminating all government funding of education, science, and technology, then these three fields will have to turn to private industry and free enterprise. This, in turn, will cause human knowledge in general, and transhumanism in particular, to rise like a rocket.

If, say, a very plausible 10% of the world’s G.D.P. is voluntarily dedicated to transhumanist education, investigation, and experimentation via capitalism, this will generate far more progress than if a wildly unlikely 75% of the world’s G.D.P. is coercively dedicated to transhumanist research via welfare statism.

The paramount and stunning reality is one social system will create new versions of Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs. The other will create new, mindless bureaucrats and lifeless, soulless, hack, quack, bozo drones.

And pray note that the above discussion isn’t trivial or merely theoretical; nor is it some ideologue’s and freak’s dubious mere political opinion. It’s the way reality is. It’s the way government and science really interact and work. Misunderstand this, transhumanists, and we’re all gonna die.

Kyrel Zantonavitch is the founder of The Liberal Institute  (http://www.liberalinstitute.com/) and a writer for Rebirth of Reason (http://www.rebirthofreason.com). He can be contacted at zantonavitch@gmail.com.
G. Stolyarov II and xpallodoc Discuss the Future – Video Interview

G. Stolyarov II and xpallodoc Discuss the Future – Video Interview

On November 30, 2014, Mr. Stolyarov was interviewed by YouTube user xpallodoc, and the wide-ranging discussion encompassed subjects from visions of the future, indefinite life extension and the concept of I-ness, the future of money and economies, technological progress, virtual worlds, political barriers to progress, artificial intelligence, marriage and family, and being part of the push toward radical abundance and technological breakthroughs within our lifetimes.

References
– “Individual Empowerment through Emerging Technologies: Virtual Tools for a Better Physical World” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “How Can I Live Forever?: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Individual Empowerment through Emerging Technologies: Virtual Tools for a Better Physical World – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Individual Empowerment through Emerging Technologies: Virtual Tools for a Better Physical World – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
November 23, 2014
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No realm of human activity in the past century has empowered and liberated the individual as efficaciously as technological advancement. Our personal, political, and economic freedoms – though limited in many respects – today allow us to achieve quality-of-life improvements and other objectives that were inconceivable even a few decades ago. Much libertarian, classical liberal, and Objectivist theory supports this insight, but in our era of increasing salience of advanced technology, this support needs to be made far more explicit and applied toward vocal advocacy of emerging, life-transforming breakthroughs that further raise the capacities of the individual. Gamification, augmented reality, and virtual worlds can play a significant role in enhancing and preserving our physical lives.

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This video is based on Mr. Stolyarov’s essay “Individual Empowerment through Emerging Technologies: Virtual Tools for a Better Physical World“.

References

Playlist: The Musical Compositions of G. Stolyarov II
– “Ayn Rand, Individualism, and the Dangers of Communitarianism” (2012) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Carl Menger, Individualism, Marginal Utility, and the Revival of Economics” (2006) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Ludwig von Mises on Profit, Loss, the Entrepreneur, and Consumer Sovereignty” (2007) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Open Badges and Proficiency-Based Education: A Path to a New Age of Enlightenment” (2013) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
Runkeeper
Fitocracy
Fitbit
– “Minecraft” – Wikipedia
– “Oculus Rift” – Wikipedia –
– YouTube Videos of Minecraft Computers (here and here)

Individual Empowerment through Emerging Technologies: Virtual Tools for a Better Physical World – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Individual Empowerment through Emerging Technologies: Virtual Tools for a Better Physical World – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
November 9, 2014
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No realm of human activity in the past century has empowered and liberated the individual as efficaciously as technological advancement. Our personal, political, and economic freedoms – though limited in many respects – today allow us to achieve quality-of-life improvements and other objectives that were inconceivable even a few decades ago. Much libertarian, classical liberal, and Objectivist theory supports this insight, but in our era of increasing salience of advanced technology, this support needs to be made far more explicit and applied toward vocal advocacy of emerging, life-transforming breakthroughs that further raise the capacities of the individual. Gamification, augmented reality, and virtual worlds can play a significant role in enhancing and preserving our physical lives.

I find a lot of support for technological progress, self-determination, and the triumph of the individual over the impositions of the collective in the works of Ayn Rand (as an example, see this 2012 essay of mine for a brief analysis of Randian individualism). The Austrian economists Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises were also great exponents of individualism, and their innovations in value-theory emphasized the importance of subjective preference in the determination of prices, the work of entrepreneurs, and the effects of policy. They grounded their economic work in a deep understanding of philosophy and offered a countervailing view of the world during a time when postmodernism was gaining popularity. They explained that universal laws of economics, derived from the basic fact of human action itself, are at the root of explaining whether societies facilitate flourishing and progress, or misery and stagnation.

Were these great thinkers alive today, it would have been fascinating to observe their insights regarding the power of technology to enable the personal creation of art which was not technically feasible for an individual in prior eras to create. They would surely recognize the amazing influence of the latest generation of technological entrepreneurs on our lives and well-being – not just in the emergence of computers, the Internet, and mobile devices – but also in less-emphasized applications, such as digital art, electronic music, increasingly sophisticated and graphically immersive computer games, and tools for the “quantified self” – an increasing array of metrics for vital bodily attributes and activities. The convergence of these tools is ushering in an era of augmented reality, which rational and determined creators can harness to achieve their goals more effectively and more enjoyably.

I have seen this vast technological improvement affect my ability, for example, to compose music. In a few hours I can create a composition and hear it played back flawlessly by an electronic orchestra, whereas even a decade ago I would have needed to spend weeks internalizing melodies and variations. In order to play my compositions, I would have had to spend months practicing, even then being quite vulnerable to human error. One of my current ongoing projects is to remaster as many of my older compositions (all preserved, thankfully) as I can using the tools now available to me – enabling their flawless playback via synthetic instruments. Today, they can sound exactly as I intended them to sound when I composed them years ago. Many works have already been remastered in this way (available within this video playlist), which has enabled me to hear and to share with the world pieces which have not been in my “finger memory” for over a decade.

Numerous life-improving applications of augmented reality are emerging now and can be expected to expand during the proximate future. Many of these technologies can have strong, immediate, practical benefits in enhancing human survival and functionality within the physical world. Already, mobile applications such as Runkeeper, scoring systems like that of Fitocracy, or devices like the Fitbit allow individuals to track physical activity in a granular but convenient manner and set measurable targets for improvement. Significant additional innovation in these areas would be welcome. For instance, it would be excellent to have access to live readings of one’s vital statistics, both as a way of catching diseases early and measuring progress toward health goals. This vision is familiar to those who have encountered such functionality in virtual worlds. Players track and improve these statistics for their characters in computer games, where it proves both interesting and addictive – so why not bring this feature to our own bodies and other aspects of our lives?

Computer games – one type of virtual world – expand the esthetic and experiential possibilities of millions of people. While not fully immersive, they are far more so than their predecessors of 20 years ago. They can extend the range of human experience by enabling people to engage in actions inaccessible during the course of their daily lives – such as making major strategic decisions in business, politics, or world-building, exploring outer space, or designing and interacting with a skyscraper without the hazards of being a construction worker. (Minecraft comes to mind here as an especially versatile virtual world, which can be shaped in unique ways by the creativity of the individual. I can readily imagine a future virtual-reality game which is a more immersive successor of Minecraft, and where people could create virtual abodes, meeting places, and even technological experiments. Minecraft already has mods that allow the creation of railroads, industrial facilities, and other interesting contraptions.)

One common and highly gratifying feature of computer games that has long fascinated me is the ability to make steady, immediately rewarding progress. Any rational, principled economic or societal arrangement that promotes human flourishing should do the same. Emerging efforts at the “gamification” of reality are precisely a project of imparting these rational, principled characteristics – hopefully remedying many of the wasteful, internally contradictory, corrupt, and fallacy-ridden practices that have pervaded the pre-electronic world.

Tremendous technological, cultural, and moral progress could be achieved if this addictive quality of games were translated into the communication of sophisticated technical concepts or philosophical ideas, such as those underpinning transhumanism and indefinite life extension. If there were a way to reliably impart the appeal of games to knowledge acquisition, it would be possible to trigger a new Age of Enlightenment and a phenomenon never seen before in history: that of the masses becoming intellectuals, or at least a marked rise in intellectualism among the more technologically inclined. This aspiration relates to my article from early 2013, “Open Badges and Proficiency-Based Education: A Path to a New Age of Enlightenment” – a discussion of an open-source standard for recognizing and displaying individual achievement, which could parlay the abundance of educational resources available online into justified reward and opportunities for those who pursue them.

While some critics have expressed concern about a future where immersion in virtual worlds might distract many from the pressing problems of the physical world, I do not see this as a major threat to any but a tiny minority of people. No matter how empowering, interesting, addictive, and broadening a virtual experience might be (and, indeed, it could someday be higher-resolution and more immersive than our experience of the physical world), it is ultimately dependent on a physical infrastructure. Whoever controls the physical infrastructure, controls all of the virtual worlds on which it depends. This has been the lesson, in another context, of the recent revelations regarding sweeping surveillance of individuals by the National Security Agency in the United States and its counterparts in other Western countries. This inextricable physical grounding is a key explanation for the unfortunate fact that the Internet has not yet succeeded as a tool for widespread individual liberation. Unfortunately, its technical “backbone” is controlled by national governments and the politically connected and dependent corporations whom they can easily co-opt, resulting in an infrastructure that can be easily deployed against its users.

A future in which a majority would choose to flee entirely into a virtual existence instead of attempting to fix the many problems with our current physical existence would certainly be a dystopia. Virtual reality could be great – for learning, entertainment, communication (especially as a substitute for dangerous and hassle-ridden physical travel), and experimentation. Some aspects of virtuality – such as the reception of live statistics about the external world – could also be maintained continually, as long as they do not substitute for the signals we get through our senses but instead merely add more to those signals. However, the ideal use of virtual reality should always involve frequent returns to the physical world in order to take care of the needs of the human body and the external physical environment on which it relies. To surrender that physicality would be to surrender control to whichever entity remains involved in it – and there is no guarantee that this remaining entity (whether a human organization or an artificial intelligence) would be benevolent or respectful of the rights of the people who decide to spend virtually all of their existences in a virtual realm (pun intended).

Fortunately, the pressures and constraints of physicality, so long as they affect human well-being, are not easily wished away. We live in an objective, material reality, and it is only by systematically following objective, external laws of nature that we can reliably improve our well-being. Many of us who play computer games, spend time on online social networks, or even put on virtual-reality headsets in the coming years, will not forget these elementary facts. We will still seek food, shelter, bodily comfort, physical health, longevity, and the freedom to act according to our preferences. The more prudent and foresighted among us will use virtual tools to aid us in these goals, or to draw additional refreshment and inspiration within a broad framework of lives where these goals remain dominant.

In a certain sense, virtual worlds can illustrate some imaginative possibilities that cannot be experienced within the non-electronic tangible world – as in the possibility of constructing “castles in the air” in a game such as Minecraft, where the force of gravity often does not apply (or applies in a modified fashion). There is a limit to this, though, in the sense that any virtual world must run on physical hardware (unless there is a virtual machine inside a virtual world – but this would only place one or more layers of virtuality until one reaches the physical hardware and its limitations). A virtual world can reveal essential insights which are obscured by the complexity of everyday life, but one would still remain limited by the raw computing power of the hardware that instantiates the virtual world. In a sense, the underlying physical hardware will always remain more powerful than anything possible within the virtual world, because part of the physical hardware’s resources are expended on creating the virtual world and maintaining it; only some fraction remains for experimentation. People have, for instance, even built functioning computers inside Minecraft (see examples here and here). However, these computers are nowhere close to as powerful or flexible as the computers on which they were designed. Still, they are interesting in other ways and may employ designs that would not work in the external physical world for various reasons.

Most importantly, the fruits of electronic technologies and virtual worlds can be harnessed to reduce the physical dangers to our lives. From telecommuting (which can reduce in frequency the risks involved with physical business travel) to autonomous vehicles (which can render any such travel devoid of the accidents caused by human error), the fruits of augmented reality can be deployed to fix the previously intractable perils of more “traditional” infrastructure and modes of interaction. Millions of lives can be saved in the coming decades because a few generations of bright minds have devoted themselves to tinkering with virtuality and its applications.

The great task in the coming years for libertarians, individualists, technoprogressives, transhumanists, and others who seek a brighter future will be to find increasingly creative and sophisticated applications for the emerging array of tools and possibilities that electronic technologies and virtual worlds make available. This new world of augmented reality is still very much a Mengerian and a Misesian one: human action is still at the core of all meaningful undertakings and accomplishments. Human will and human choice still need to be exerted – perhaps now more so than ever before – while being guided by human reason and intellect toward furthering longer, happier lives characterized by abundance, justice, peace, and progress.