Browsed by
Tag: civilization

The Rational Argumentator’s Sixteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The Rational Argumentator’s Sixteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 2, 2018
******************************

On August 31, 2018, The Rational Argumentator completed its sixteenth year of publication. TRA is older than Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit; it has outlasted Yahoo! Geocities, Associated Content, Helium, and most smaller online publications in philosophy, politics, and current events. Furthermore, the age of TRA now exceeds half of my lifetime to date. During this time, while the Internet and the external world shifted dramatically many times over, The Rational Argumentator strived to remain a bulwark of consistency – accepting growth in terms of improvement of infrastructure and accumulation of content, but not the tumultuous sweeping away of the old to ostensibly make room for the new. We do not look favorably upon tumultuous upheaval; the future may look radically different from the past and present, but ideally should be built in continuity with both, and with preservation of any beneficial aspects that can possibly be preserved.

The Rational Argumentator has experienced unprecedented visitation during its sixteenth year, receiving 1,501,473 total page views as compared to 1,087,149 total page views during its fifteenth year and 1,430,226 during its twelfth year, which had the highest visitation totals until now. Cumulative lifetime TRA visitation has reached 12,481,258 views. Even as TRA’s publication rate has slowed to 61 features during its sixteenth year – due to various time commitments, such as the work of the United States Transhumanist Party (which published 147 features on its website during the same timeframe) – the content of this magazine has drawn increasing interest. Readers, viewers, and listeners are gravitating toward both old and new features, as TRA generally aims to publish works of timeless relevance. The vaster our archive of content, the greater variety of works and perspectives it spans, the more issues it engages with and reflects upon – the more robust and diverse our audience becomes; the more insulated we become against the vicissitudes of the times and the fickle fluctuations of public sentiment and social-media fads.

None of the above is intended to deny or minimize the challenges faced by those seeking to articulate rational, nuanced, and sophisticated ideas on the contemporary Internet. Highly concerning changes to the consumption and availability of information have occurred over the course of this decade, including the following trends.

  • While social media have been beneficial in terms of rendering personal communication at a distance more viable, the fragmentation of social media and the movement away from the broader “open Internet” have seemingly accelerated. Instead of directly navigating and returning to websites of interest, most people now access content almost exclusively through social-media feeds. Even popular and appealing content may often become constrained within the walls of a particular social network or sub-group thereof, simply due to the “black-box” algorithms of that social network, which influence without explanation who sees what and when, and which may not be reflective of what those individuals would have preferred to see. The constantly changing nature of these algorithms renders it difficult for content creators to maintain steady connections with their audiences. If one adds to the mix the increasing and highly troubling tendency of social networks to actively police the content their members see, we may be returning to a situation where most people find their content inexplicably curated by “gatekeepers” who, in the name of objectivity and often with unconscious biases in play, often end up advancing ulterior agendas not in the users’ interests.
  • While the democratization of access to knowledge and information on the Internet has undoubtedly had numerous beneficial effects, we are also all faced with the problem of “information overload” and the need to prioritize essential bits information within an immense sea which we observe daily, hourly, and by the minute. The major drawback of this situation – in which everyone sees everything in a single feed, often curated by the aforementioned inexplicable algorithms – is the difficulty of even locating information that is more than a day old, as it typically becomes buried far down within the social-media feed. Potential counters exist to this tendency – namely, through the existence of old-fashioned, static websites which publish content that does not adjust and that is fixed to a particular URL, which could be bookmarked and visited time and again. But what proportion of the population has learned this technique of bookmarking and revisitation of older content – instead of simply focusing on the social-media feed of the moment? It is imperative to resist the short-termist tendencies that the design of contemporary social media seems to encourage, as indulging these tendencies has had deleterious impacts on attention spans in an entire epoch of human culture.
  • Undeniably, much interesting and creative content has proliferated on the Internet, with opportunities for both deliberate and serendipitous learning, discovery, and intellectual enrichment. Unfortunately, the emergence of such content has coincided with deleterious shifts in cultural norms away from the expectation of concerted, sequential focus (the only way that human minds can actually achieve at a high level) and toward incessant multi-tasking and the expectation of instantaneous response to any external stimulus, human or automated. The practice of dedicating a block of time to read an article, watch a video, or listen to an audio recording – once a commonplace behavior – has come to be a luxury for those who can wrest segments of time and space away from the whirlwind of external stimuli and impositions within which humans (irrespective of material resources or social position) are increasingly expected to spin. It is fine to engage with others and venture into digital common spaces occasionally or even frequently, but in order for such interactions to be productive, one has to have meaningful content to offer; the creation of such content necessarily requires time away from the commons and a reclamation of the concept of private, solitary focus to read, contemplate, apply, and create.
  • In an environment where the immediate, recent, and short-term-oriented content tends to attract the most attention, this amplifies the impulsive, range-of-the-moment, reactive emotional tendencies of individuals, rather than the thoughtful, long-term-oriented, constructive, rational tendencies. Accordingly, political and cultural discourse become reduced to bitter one-liners that exacerbate polarization, intentional misunderstanding of others, and toxicity of rhetoric. The social networks where this has been most salient have been those that limit the number of characters per post and prioritize quantity of posts over quality and the instantaneity of a response over its thoughtfulness. The infrastructures whose design presupposes that everyone’s expressions are of equal value have produced a reduction of discourse to the lowest common denominator, which is, indeed, quite low. Even major news outlets, where some quality selection is still practiced by the editors, have found that user comments often degenerate into a toxic morass. This is not intended to deny the value of user comments and interaction, in a properly civil and constructive context; nor is it intended to advocate any manner of censorship. Rather, this observation emphatically underscores the need for a return to long-form, static articles and longer written exchanges more generally as the desirable prevailing form of intellectual discourse. (More technologically intensive parallels to this long-form discourse would include long-form audio podcasts or video discussion panels where there is a single stream of conversation or narrative instead of a flurry of competing distractions.) Yes, this form of discourse takes more time and skill. Yes, this means that people have to form complex, coherent thoughts and express them in coherent, grammatically correct sentences. Yes, this means that fewer people will have the ability or inclination participate in that form of discourse. And yes, that may well be the point – because less of the toxicity will make its way completely through the structures which define long-form discourse – and because anyone who can competently learn the norms of long-form discourse, as they have existed throughout the centuries, will remain welcome to take part. Those who are not able or willing to participate can still benefit by spectating and, in the process, learning and developing their own skills.

The Internet was intended, by its early adopters and adherents of open Internet culture – including myself – to catalyze a new Age of Enlightenment through the free availability of information that would break down old prejudices and enable massively expanded awareness of reality and possibilities for improvement. Such a possibility remains, but humans thus far have fallen massively short of realizing it – because the will must be present to utilize constructively the abundance of available resources. Cultivating this will is no easy task; The Rational Argumentator has been pursuing it for sixteen years and will continue to do so. The effects are often subtle, indirect, long-term – more akin to the gradual drift of continents than the upward ascent of a rocket. And yet progress in technology, science, and medicine continues to occur. New art continues to be created; new treatises continue to be written. Some people do learn, and some people’s thinking does improve. There is no alternative except to continue to act in pursuit of a brighter future, and in the hope that others will pursue it as well – that, cumulatively, our efforts will be sufficient to avert the direst crises, make life incrementally safer, healthier, longer, and more comfortable, and, as a civilization, persist beyond the recent troubled times. The Rational Argumentator is a bulwark against the chaos – hopefully one among many – and hopefully many are at work constructing more bulwarks. Within the bulwarks, great creations may have room to develop and flourish – waiting for the right time, once the chaos subsides or is pacified by Reason, to emerge and beautify the world. In the meantime, enjoy all that can be found within our small bulwark, and visit it frequently to help it expand.

Gennady Stolyarov II,
Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator

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.

Symphony No. 1, Op. 86 – “The Contemporary World” (2017-2018) – G. Stolyarov II

Symphony No. 1, Op. 86 – “The Contemporary World” (2017-2018) – G. Stolyarov II

 G. Stolyarov II
January 7, 2018

******************************

Symphony No. 1, Op. 86, was composed by Gennady Stolyarov II between June 2017 and January 2018 and is subtitled “The Contemporary World”. Mr. Stolyarov intended this symphony to be a commentary on the world and U.S. events of 2016-2017, during which civilization was severely tested. Each of the first three movements depicts the epistemic, political, and material crises which befell much of the world during this time period and threatened to undo much of the progress that civilization achieved up to that time. The choice to have the fourth movement be about preserving the good aspects of historical and contemporary life was motivated by the observation that, although severely strained and beset by setbacks from both nature and society, our civilization did not ultimately collapse during 2017, and we have made it thus far. Watch a video version of the entire symphony on YouTube here.

Movement 1 – Uncertainty – Length: 6:51

The main melody is at once ominous and much more restrained than it could be – evoking an individual seeking to focus and chart a path through an environment where little is predictable and previous understandings of the terrain he navigated have shown to be faulty. What can he hope to achieve, what can he rely upon, and whom can he trust? Various other themes in this movement show elements of longing for a bygone (though relatively recent) time, determination, and hope (though will it be disappointed hope?) – although in the background there is a certain din of uncertainty that leads each melody to be a bit less free-flowing or expressive than it would be if composed during a calmer era. This movement poses the question, “What will become of our world, and what will this era do to each of our lives?”

Download the MP3 file for Movement 1 here: http://rationalargumentator.com/music_stolyarov/Stolyarov_Symphony_1_Movt_1.mp3

Movement 2 – Politics – Length: 10:31

This movement displays the cyclical and protracted struggle between two colossal forces, neither of them benign. Both of them actually resemble one another in substance (although they are in different keys – A minor and C minor – but which of these represents the Right and which represents the Left, and does it make any difference?). There are segments in which the keys are mixed – representing one force seeking to wrest power from the other – with the ultimate outcome being the same melody in a different key. This pattern continues over the course of multiple variations and orchestrations.

Download the MP3 file for Movement 2 here: http://rationalargumentator.com/music_stolyarov/Stolyarov_Symphony_1_Movt_2.mp3

Movement 3 – The Fragility of Civilization – Length: 5:19

Composed in 3/4 meter and following a “theme and variations” format, this movement actually encompasses all of the minor keys. The underlying structure and the systematic progression of the keys from one variation to the next represent the fabric of human civilization, which, in recent years, has been continually challenged by the forces of ruin – including violent conflict, irrationality, natural disasters, political folly, institutional breakdown, and disintegrating standards of behavior – along with the still-present age-old perils of disease and death. This piece can be perceived as a grimly determined waltz, danced on the edge of calamity – but as long as the forward motion within the structure continues, no matter what content the contemporary world throws at it, civilization has a fighting chance. For those who listen through to the ending, there is a glimmer of hope – perhaps appended in a “deus ex machina” fashion, but there is a purpose to it, especially when considered in light of what it leads to in Movement 4.

Download the MP3 file for Movement 3 here: http://rationalargumentator.com/music_stolyarov/Stolyarov_Symphony_1_Movt_3.mp3

Movement 4 – Preservation – Length: 9:51

The first melody in this movement is the “preservation” theme, which is repeated under many different arrangements and frames the significantly re-orchestrated versions of segments from six of Mr. Stolyarov’s marches – Marches #1, 2, 8, 9, 11, and 12 – composed between 2000 and 2014. This is intended to communicate several insights: (i) at a time of great macro-scale uncertainty, only the efforts of the individual – each in their own way – can preserve what is good about civilization; (ii) one should cherish the accomplishments of one’s past and build upon them, integrating them with the present and future – because, no matter what happens, past achievements are irreversible gains; (iii) in building a brighter future, we should hearken back to the good aspects of life and human creation that were achieved prior to 2016. It is not possible for humankind to begin anew; one cannot rebuild the world, or any subset thereof, from scratch – but it is possible to undo the damage of the recent chaos by reasserting and re-instantiating the values, ideas, objects, and infrastructures that make life decent and progress possible.

A better future can only be achieved by holding onto and building upon the best aspects of the past – both personally and for humankind as a whole.

Download the MP3 file for Movement 4 here:

http://rationalargumentator.com/music_stolyarov/Stolyarov_Symphony_1_Movt_4.mp3

Symphony No. 1, Op. 86, is made available pursuant to the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author, Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II). Learn more about Mr. Stolyarov here  

 

The Rational Argumentator’s Fifteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The Rational Argumentator’s Fifteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
August 31, 2017
******************************

As of today The Rational Argumentator has been in publication continuously for fifteen years – half of my lifetime to date. The more time passes, the more the value of continuity is reinforced for me, and so I hope that these fifteen years have only been an auspicious beginning for The Rational Argumentator. TRA shall continually endeavor to improve and expand in new directions, but always by building upon the old and by remaining rooted in a core identity – the championing of the principles of Reason, Rights, and Progress – the ideas that made Western civilization great. These ideals will hopefully be applied to forge a new global, universal human (and transhuman) civilization which we – all reasonable and decent people who wish to join this effort – can assemble by picking up the pieces of the wreckage of our unfortunate, downward-spiraling moment in history.

We live today in what Robert Heinlein prognosticated in his science fiction as the “Crazy Years”, which he described as exhibiting “Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions” – gradual deterioration that became quite sudden and cataclysmic in 2016 and 2017. The climate of contemporary societies and political systems, particularly that of the United States, evokes William Butler Yeats’s famous lines:

  Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The deterioration cannot be attributed to any particular individual or even faction (these are, at most, symptoms), but rather to the fraying general fabric of contemporary Western, particularly American, life. Those who have regularly read the pages of The Rational Argumentator will not be surprised at my view that the deterioration is primarily due to the abandonment of upward aspiration both within mainstream culture and among various subcultures – a rejection of 18th-century Enlightenment meliorism and an embrace of postmodern aimlessness. To reverse this tendency, now, more than ever, it is essential to emphasize the importance of rational inquiry, civil discourse, and the mindset of building a civilization – as opposed to militant subjectivism (where a person considers his or her feelings to be unquestioned dogma – and woe to those who challenge them!), coarse crudity in manners, riotousness, and the mindset of “tearing down the system” in a futile attempt to start from scratch. We cannot and must not start over – for the primitive state of humankind is far worse than our admittedly deeply imperfect morass of institutions and norms. But we can – and we must – repair and build upon the achievements of the past, combining them with new technologies and insights to forge the next great era of our civilization, a project I outline briefly in a two-party video series, “The Great Transhumanist Game”.

Amid the turmoil, I was pleased to see that The Rational Argumentator has gained notice and achieved significant increases in its visitation, receiving 1,087,149 total page views during its fifteenth year, as compared to 823,968 page views the year prior. Cumulative lifetime TRA visitation stands at 10,979,785 page views, and I am confident that the 11-million mark will be exceeded in September 2017. Perhaps more readers are seeking an antidote to the Crazy Years. Reason is that antidote, and these pages provide it in abundance.

During its fifteenth year, TRA published 140 features. While this was a lower rate of publication than the 208 to 314 features published per year in the preceding five years, TRA has at the same time become allied with the United States Transhumanist Party, of which I became Chairman in November 2016. The U.S. Transhumanist Party website has been brimming with new content, contributed by a wide variety of forward-thinking minds, and I am proud that this young but steadily growing organization has published 105 features during my tenure as Chairman thus far. I am also proud of the cadre of volunteer Officers that the U.S. Transhumanist Party has assembled – a team of dedicated advocates for the future, which will hopefully greatly expand with time and become the core of a movement that will transform and redirect society and culture back toward the ideals of reason and amelioration.

Thus, for the upcoming year, I pose an ambitious task for The Rational Argumentator and its readers. Let us make sure that Yeats’s words remain a warning rather than the ever-present reality. The center must hold, and we must ensure that it holds. Each of us can participate in this project. We must become the center upon which human civilization depends for its survival, continuity, and growth. Through both great endeavors and small, routine maintenance tasks; through creation of elevated and noble works, as well as everyday kindnesses to the people in our lives; through the rhetoric that inspires great aspirations and the decorum that conveys respect and uplifts our sentiments into the realm of good will – we must be the agents of cultural transformation – a New Renaissance, a Re-Enlightenment, indeed, a Recivilization to follow the Crazy Years. One of my most inspired moments of the past year has been seeing the finished painting of the City of New Antideath, which I commissioned from artist Ekaterinya Vladinakova. I invite you to gaze upon this colossal cityscape to gain glimpses at an era where all of our major aims – the return of reason as the paradigm for life, the attainment of indefinite longevity, the liberation of humankind from privation and conflict – have been attained. May it inspire you to go forth and take the many necessary incremental steps toward such a world.

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.

The Rational Argumentator’s Fourteenth Anniversary Manifesto: Who Is the Western Man?

The Rational Argumentator’s Fourteenth Anniversary Manifesto: Who Is the Western Man?

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
August 31, 2016
******************************

Who Is the Western Man?

On the fourteenth anniversary of The Rational Argumentator, it is fitting to consider the tagline that has been featured on TRA since its founding: “A Journal for Western Man”. But who is this Western Man for whom The Rational Argumentator is intended? In 2002, the answer to that question seemed rather apparent for at least a substantial segment of then-prevalent libertarian, conservative, and Objectivist thinkers who, each in their own way, understood the Western Man to stand for the general cultural ideals and noblest aspirations of Western civilization.

Unfortunately, the decade of the 2010s and the past two years especially have seen the rise of a noxious and fundamentally anti-Western, anti-modern, and anti-civilization movement known as the “alt-right”, which has attempted to appropriate the rhetoric of Western culture and even of the Renaissance for itself. The Rational Argumentator will not allow this appropriation to remain unchallenged. TRA stands resolutely in opposition to all forms of bigotry, racism, nativism, misogyny, and any other circumstantially rooted intolerance – all of which are contrary to the ideals of high Western civilization. But at the same time, The Rational Argumentator also cannot cave to the “social justice” campus activism of the far Left, which would have even the very identification of Western culture and civilization banished, lest it offend the ever-more-delicate sensibilities of firebrand youths who resolutely refuse to let knowledge of the external world get in the way of their “feelings” and subjective experiences. TRA will not abandon the Western Man, but will continue to explain what it is that the Western Man represents and why these principles are more important and enduring than any tumultuous, ephemeral, and most likely futile and self-defeating activist movements of our era.

So who is the Western Man? It is a not a particular man from the West. It is not a descriptor limited to a particular subset of individuals based on their birth, skin color, national origin, or even gender. Indeed, my original intent behind the “Western Man” descriptor was specifically to salvage the generic term “man” – meaning an archetypical representative of humankind – from any suggestions that it must necessarily be gender-specific. This subtitle was meant transparently to imply, “Of course, ‘Western Man’ includes women, too!”  Some of the greatest and most courageous Western Men – from Hypatia of Alexandria to Mary Wollstonecraft to Ayn Rand to Ayaan Hirsi Ali – have been women.

A Western Man can have been born anywhere, have any physical features, any age, any gender (or lack of gender identity), any sexual preferences (or lack thereof), any religion (or lack thereof) – as long as he/she/it is a thinking being who accepts the valuable contributions of Western culture and civilization and seeks to build upon them. If self-aware, rational artificial intelligences are developed in the future, or if an intelligent alien species comes into contact with us, these beings could potentially be Western Men as well.

A Western Man will respect and seek to learn from the great philosophy, literature, art, music, natural and social sciences, mathematics, and political theory that flourished in Western societies throughout the past three millennia – although by no means is a Western man required to focus exclusively on ideas that originated in the West. Indeed, Western culture itself has unceasingly interacted with and absorbed the intellectual contributions of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Arabic, Persian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese thinkers and creators – to provide just a few examples. Likewise, a great deal of hope for the future of Western civilization can be found among entrepreneurs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America who have endeavored, with notable success, to spread the technologies of the digital age, construct great buildings, and lift billions of people out of abject poverty and into humane and respectable living standards accompanied by ever-increasing longevity.

A Western Man is someone who embraces the ideal of cosmopolitan universalism – a rejection of circumstantially defined tribalism, of the casting of people as “one of us” or “the other” based on attributes that they did not choose. This cosmopolitan universalism is the product of both a long-evolving philosophical framework and the material abundance that enabled the broadening of what Adam Smith termed our circles of sympathy to encompass ever more people.

The edifice of Western philosophical thought has been built upon by thinkers since the times of Thales, Socrates, and Aristotle – but its greatest intellectual breakthroughs were made during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment. The Western Men who embraced these ideals were often personally flawed; they were men of their time and constrained by the practical realities and social mores that surrounded them. Some Western Men throughout history have, unfortunately, owned slaves, respected individual liberty only in some instances, or been improperly prejudiced against broad groups of people due to ignorance or gaps in the consistent application of their principles. Nonetheless, the legacy of their work – the notions of universal, inalienable individual rights and the preciousness of each person’s liberty and humanity – has been indispensable for later accomplishments, such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and liberation, civil and privacy rights, cultural and legal acceptance of homosexuality, and recognition of individual rights for members of religious minorities, atheists, and children. If we are able to see farther and know better than to repeat some of the moral errors of the past, it is because, to paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, we stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants who paved the way for our embrace of the aforementioned great cultural achievements.

The ideals of peaceful commerce and cultural exchange – indeed, cultural appropriation (in an educated, informed, and deliberate manner) of the best elements of every time, place, and way of life – have resulted in a dramatic reduction in warfare, a general decline in nationalistic and tribal hatreds, and a widespread understanding of the essential humanity of our fellows in all parts of the world. Were it not for the intellectual achievements of Western civilization and the global commercial and industrial networks to which it gave rise, humankind would still be embroiled in a bitter, Hobbesian war of all against all. A Western Man is anyone who gives the essential achievements of modernity their well-deserved recognition and admiration, and who studies and offers justified respect to the forebears and authors of these achievements. A Western Man is also anyone who seeks to build upon these accomplishments and add his, her, or its distinctive bricks to the edifice of human progress.

A Western Man is not a fanatic or a bully, and sees fanatics and bullies as the threats to civilization that they are. A Western Man does not use ideology to stifle peaceful expression or compel others to dutifully “know their place” within some would-be totalitarian static social order. A Western Man knows that some people will disagree with him, her, or it, and they have the right to disagree peacefully. However, they do not have the right to be protected from attempts at persuasion or the presentation of diverse and possibly contrary views.

A Western Man embraces reason as the way to discover more about the external world and about human beings. Reason is not the exclusive province of any subset of people; anyone is capable of it, but it takes training and effort – and great respect for the intellect – to utilize consistently and properly. From reason stem the empirical scientific method, the deductive processes of formal logic and mathematics, and the application of empirical and logical truths to the development of technology which improves the human condition. A Western Man does not vilify technology, but rather sees it as a key driver of human progress and an enabler of moral growth by giving people the time and space which prosperity affords, making possible contemplation of better ways of living and relating to others – a prerogative only available to those liberated from hand-to-mouth subsistence.

The ideal of the Western Man is to maintain the great things which have already been brought into this world, and to create new achievements that further improve human life. There is thus both a conservative and a progressive motive within the Western Man, and they must combine to sustain a rich and vital civilization. A Western Man can go by labels such as “liberal”, “conservative”, “libertarian”, “progressive”, or “apolitical” – as long as they are accompanied by careful thought, study, discernment, work ethic, and an earnest desire to build what is good instead of, out of rage or spite, tearing down whatever exists. Conservation of great achievements and progress in creating new achievements are not antagonists, but rather part of the same essential mode of functioning of the Western Man – transcending petty and often false political antagonisms which needlessly create acrimony among people who should all be working to take civilization to the next level.

The next level of civilization – the unceasing expansion of human potential – is the preoccupation of the Western Man. This – not descending into contrived identitarian antagonisms – is the great project of our era. Building on the philosophical groundwork laid by Enlightenment humanism and its derivatives, a Western Man can explore the next stage of intellectual evolution – that of transhumanism, which promises to liberate humankind from its age-old shackles of death, disease, severe scarcity, Earth-boundedness, and internecine conflict.

Who is the Western Man? If you accept the challenge and the honor of supporting and building upon the great civilization which offers us unparalleled opportunities to create a glorious future for all – then the Western Man can be you.

TRA Statistics and Achievements During Its Fourteenth Year

TRA published 211 regular features during its fourteenth year, a rate of publication comparable to that of the eleventh and thirteenth years, while remaining below the extremely active tenth and twelfth years, as shown in the table below:

TRA Year Regular Features Published Page Views in Year
10th 306 1,302,774
11th 208 1,077,192
12th 314 1,430,226
13th 228 892,082
14th 211 823,968

With slightly less content published during the fourteenth year, and a similar average number of page views per published feature (3,905.06 in the fourteenth year versus 3,912.64 in the thirteenth year), it could be expected that total page views would decline slightly. While TRA did not reach the milestone of 10,000,000 cumulative page views during its fourteenth year, it did come the overwhelming majority of the way toward it. Total lifetime TRA visitation currently stands at 9,892,636 page views. However, I am confident that the 10-million page-view threshold will be exceeded within the next two months.

I have reason to expect that publication activity will again accelerate during TRA’s fifteenth year, although this may not occur immediately. Over the past year, I have been occupied with satisfying some of the last remaining requirements of my actuarial studies, and their successful completion is in sight. In the meantime, I collaborated with ACTEX Publications to produce a major 400-page commercial study guide, Practice Problems in Advanced Topics in General Insurance, for SOA Exam GIADV.

Several large-scale endeavors within the transhumanist and life-extensionist movements were pursued over the past year. TRA’s anniversary (August 31) coincides with the date of formation of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, a non-election-oriented, non-donation-accepting, policy-oriented party that advocates for the widespread adoption of emerging technologies, individual liberty, and the pursuit of indefinite life extension. The Nevada Transhumanist Party has grown to 107 members during its first year and has been a forum for numerous thought-provoking discussions. Nevada Transhumanist Party activities have occurred online via its Facebook page and its hosted video panels, such as the Panel Discussion on Hereditary Religion, a conversation among Transhumanist Libertarians and Socialists, and the panel for International Longevity Day, in collaboration with MILE – the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension – entitled “How Can Life Extension Become as Popular as the War on Cancer?” In-person activities of the Nevada Transhumanist Party included attendance at a university political lecture, a local Libertarian candidate’s campaign event, and RAAD Fest, the largest in-person gathering of life-extension supporters to date, where I personally met and spoke with such luminaries of the life-extension movement as Aubrey de Grey, Bill Andrews, and Zoltan Istvan.

Gradual but fundamental shifts are occurring that will contribute to more frequent and impactful activity on The Rational Argumentator’s pages during its fifteenth year. As the overview of the Western Man in this manifesto indicates, the importance of TRA’s work and ideals remains paramount. TRA will remain a bulwark of thoughtful consistency in an era where it seems entire societies have become unmoored from core principles that are integral to a successful civilization. We will steadfastly champion the virtues of reason and deliberation, discussion and civil debate, individualism and classical liberal tolerance, creation and maintenance. Even when the tumult of current events calls into question the foundations of civilized life, TRA will be here to reaffirm and uphold them.

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.

A Monument to French and Western Civilization – Art by G. Stolyarov II

A Monument to French and Western Civilization – Art by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
November 21, 2015

******************************

This monument was constructed using the computer game Minecraft to celebrate the cultural achievements of the French civilization and its contributions to Western civilization more generally, as well as to express solidarity with the people of France as they confront the savage menace of militant Islamist fundamentalism terrorism, and to commemorate the hundreds of innocent victims of militant ISIS barbarism. The culture of France has been integral in giving rise to the Age of Enlightenment and innumerable advances in science, art, architecture, music, and literature. This monument calls for a more assertive expression of the values that elevated mankind out of barbarism – an unapologetic embrace and defense of the distinctive ethos of Western civilization, which should become a global civilization with the collaboration of all decent people everywhere.

The monument’s stone and glass are colored with the blue, white, and red of the French flag. The structure is open to the air through three tiers of golden arches. On the inside there is only one floor and a vast chamber rising toward the sky. The viewer’s attention is directed upward, much like in a cathedral, except there is only one focal point – representing the upward aspiration of a worldview that embraces progress and meteoric improvement in the human condition.

This structure was created within the Imperial City map in Minecraft, a collaborative project coordinated by user Rigolo and freely downloadable here.

Left-click for a full-image view of each screenshot. Right-click to download the image.

Stolyarov_French_Monument_11Stolyarov_French_Monument_12Stolyarov_French_Monument_10Stolyarov_French_Monument_9Stolyarov_French_Monument_5Stolyarov_French_Monument_7Stolyarov_French_Monument_6Stolyarov_French_Monument_8Stolyarov_French_Monument_4Stolyarov_French_Monument_2Stolyarov_French_Monument_3Stolyarov_French_Monument_1The images on this page 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.

War as a Crime Against Civilization – Article by Butler Shaffer

War as a Crime Against Civilization – Article by Butler Shaffer

The New Renaissance Hat
Butler Shaffer
March 12, 2015
******************************

“The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization.”
– Judge Dan Haywood, Judgment at Nuremberg

In her current article at Antiwar.com, Lucy Steigerwald reminds us that, while the deaths of tens of millions of innocent men, women, and children provide the strongest indictment of war, there are other costs that need to be accounted for; costs that can only be calculated in terms of the adverse consequences to peaceful, productive, and decent society — i.e., to civilization itself. Among the earliest casualties of the American attack on Iraq were the destruction and looting of archeological sites, museums, libraries, and other cultural locations that help a nation to define itself. The United States did not invent such ruinous forms of barbarism, nor has the practice abated in such cities as Mosul, where ISIS forces have eagerly and intentionally looted the local museum of its important collections. The fourth-century burning of the library at Alexandria — then considered to be the greatest collection of the world’s literature – reveals the depths of insanity that inhere in the war system.

Historical records and artifacts, art, literature, music, architecture, and belief systems, help to provide people with a sense of what their culture has been about, what it has produced, and what its people envision as the worthwhile foundations of their society. As modern psychopaths look for any pretext to paint a desired enemy in the colors of savage vulgarity, evidence — and, thus, understanding — of its more cultivated and productive character must be destroyed. Those who insist on other people’s children being sacrificed to a new crusade against Arab nations, for instance, would do well to discover just how much of the substance of Western Civilization — in the sciences, mathematics, medicine, art, and other expressions of the best of what it means to be civilized — is directly traceable to Arab culture.

In a world dominated by the pursuit of material values, we tend to overlook the importance of what is unseen or only glimpsed through hazy lenses that can be found in libraries, museums, art, and other attributes of what it means to be civilized. The poet, William Carlos Williams, reminds us of the costs associated with ignoring the unseen values: “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

Butler Shaffer is Professor of Law at the Southwestern Law School. Read his biography here.

Reprinted with permission from LewRockwell.com. Published under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Humanity Doomed, Says Chicken Little – Article by Bradley Doucet

Humanity Doomed, Says Chicken Little – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
January 5, 2015
******************************

A study by a team of NASA-funded researchers has been getting a lot of play in recent months. Headlines scream about the “irreversible collapse” of civilization if we don’t smarten up. In order to stave off disaster, the study says, we need to a) reduce economic inequality, and b) reduce resource consumption, both by using less and by reducing population growth. But a closer look suggests that reports of humanity’s future demise may have been greatly exaggerated.

There are many contentious ideas in the snippets of the forthcoming study excerpted in the various articles I read, but one of them trumps the rest: the time frame. Though some articles fail to get specific, others report the study’s predictions of when we can expect the sky to fall. The best-case scenarios apparently give us 1,000 years before it all comes crumbling down, whereas the worst-case ones give us just 350.

Are you kidding me? Your mathematical models predict collapse in three to ten centuries, and I’m supposed to take you seriously? To quote Michael Crichton, if people in the year 1900 had been worried about their descendants just one hundred years in the future, they probably would have wondered, “Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horse [manure]?” Today, of course, horse manure in city streets is not a very big problem, thanks to the widespread use of motorized vehicles. A hundred years from now, today’s specific problems will have been replaced by other as yet undreamt of challenges. Three hundred years from now? Please.

By all means, let’s do what we can to reduce economic inequality and use resources wisely instead of wastefully. I suggest greater reliance on markets for both objectives. Population growth is already slowing as people around the world get wealthier, and last I checked, was set to top out at nine or ten billion in the second half of the 21st century. But nobody has any idea what technologies will have been developed in a hundred years, much less three hundred. I don’t, you don’t, and those NASA-backed researchers don’t—whatever their models may say.

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.

Reasons for the Evolution of Language in Humans (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Reasons for the Evolution of Language in Humans (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 27, 2014
******************************
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2004 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay earned over 3,000 page views on Associated Content/Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
***
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 27, 2014

**

The emergence of human language was one of the most important developments in the rise of human civilization and culture. An understanding of evolution can explain why natural selection in favor of language took place and how the use of language presents numerous advantages to humans.

Modern man exhibits a unique “wiring” pattern in his brain, a specific pattern of neurological connections that supports intelligence and volition. It was perhaps caused by an extremely recent mutation lacking in all other hominid species. Our species also has the largest brain-to-body ratio of all other hominids.

Modern man was first to realize that peaceful cooperation rather than domination by force can be an efficient means of social organization. Whereas other hominids and primates must resolve any clash within their groups by means of bodily force, our species has evolved the use of language and refined it into a powerful tool of peaceful persuasion that often removes unnecessary coercion and antagonism, therefore increasing the general standard of living and degree of cooperation within a society.

Possible evolutionary reasons for the development of human language include the transmission of technical skills; complex methods such as that required for the creation of a throwing spear, need more than visual demonstration to be transmitted accurately; they require the individual communication between a mentor and a student of the given skill.

Moreover, language served the role of coordinating actions between various members of a society, rendering tasks such as hunting or trade more efficient. Human beings could now communicate with one another without needing to resort to physical gestures or inferences of the other person’s intentions. As a result, there emerged a far more complex pattern of interaction that has been steadily improving as new means of quicker, more efficient, more sensible communication arose.

Newer theories concerning the origins of language also see it as a mechanism for communicating information about people within a given society. According to the scientists holding such a view, it is of evolutionary advantage for an individual to be among the first to access a given piece of information so as to be able to act on it prior to any of his competitors within the society. Thus, a widespread affinity for gossip may have prompted humans to devise a systematic means of communicating it.

After the emergence of language, and especially of written communication, technological progress could take off, thereby supplanting biological evolution as the dominant influence on the development of the human species. Because of language and technology, the human species in our time changes profoundly every year, despite experiencing minuscule biological evolution.

The Importance and Evolutionary Significance of the Opposable Thumb (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Importance and Evolutionary Significance of the Opposable Thumb (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 26, 2014
******************************
Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2004 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay earned over 9,700 page views on Associated Content/Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
***
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 26, 2014
***

It is often said that the defining trait which separates man from the animals is an opposable thumb. While many may take that remark in jest, there is in fact much truth in it. Without the opposable thumb, human beings might never have attained the highly civilized, sophisticated, and technological lifestyles that many of them enjoy today.

Opposable thumbs are required for efficient gripping of objects as well as performing fine manipulations upon them. As soon as man’s tools evolved from crude blocks of stone into more refined objects, the skill of refining objects with his hands on a tiny scale became indispensable to him. After all, virtually all of the early accomplishments of human civilization were built through sheer manual labor!

It is interesting to note what happens to a species that is similar to humans in brain capacity but lacks an opposable thumb. The chimpanzees, though possessing a high degree of intelligence, have advanced only to the level of rudimentary tools for food procurement, most of which (like sticks and blades of grass) are already pre-furnished in the environment and need only be used at the chimps’ discretion. Due to the lack of an opposable thumb, chimpanzees have extremely scant means of creating anything more complex than what they already find in their natural surroundings.

This would probably be man’s fate as well if an opposable thumb were not present – though, owing to man’s rational consciousness, he might have advanced slightly further, perhaps devising some of the larger, cruder tools of early Neolithic society by using more primitive versions of hands (and maybe even the toes of his feet) to put together certain basic implements of farming or hunting.

But it is doubtful that man would have developed writing (as a thumb is indispensable in the act). Thus, he would not have devised a means of storing and passing on information in the long term, implying that he would still lead a largely primitive lifestyle not characterized by noticeable technological progress. The emergence of painting, sculpture, and music would have been unthinkable; people require thumbs to hold paintbrushes, chisels, and musical instruments.

Thus, the importance of the opposable thumb to man’s uniqueness and development is not a laughing matter. Though it is not the sole aspect differentiating man from the animals, it is certainly a significant one. This essay would certainly not have been possible without one!

Eden is an Illusion (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Eden is an Illusion (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published April 2, 2009
as Part of Issue CXCI of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 23, 2014
******************************
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CXCI of The Rational Argumentator on April 2, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 23, 2014
***

Many Western and non-Western cultures alike are contaminated by a highly dangerous idea with destructive consequences – the idea of man’s “fall” from some “higher” state – an Eden, if you will. Different groups holding this idea give it different incarnations – but the implications are the same. The myth of the Fall is detrimental to human ambition, flourishing, and improvement; it stifles attempts to find creative solutions to the dreadful problems that have been plaguing humankind since its very beginnings. But beyond being destructive, the Eden myth is simply false. There never was a “better” state from which human beings have “descended.” We shall explore why the Fall is an illusion that ought to be abandoned.

The myth of the Fall is held by often mutually antagonistic groups, all of which pose considerable obstacles to the progress and flourishing of many individuals. On the one hand, fundamentalist religious conservatives see man as literally fallen from the Garden of Eden, where God had designed for him a “perfect” existence. I fail, of course, to see anything perfect about an existence where man had no technology, no love of learning, and no knowledge of good and evil. But this very existence is also embraced by people who claim to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum – radical left-wing environmentalists, who have their own vision of Eden.

Like the Eden of the religious conservatives, the Eden of the environmentalists involves no technology and no active, systematic progress of human knowledge and capacity. Rather, man’s “unity” with “Nature” is celebrated in this vision. According to the environmentalists, there was once a time – probably the pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer days – when man existed in “harmony” with this strange entity called Nature, which seems to encompass everything other than man. Allegedly, humans did not disturb the “balance” of ecosystems and took good care of the Earth in those days – whatever that means. Alas, there was never such a balance to begin with. We shall see that both the religious and environmentalist visions of Eden are plainly wrong.

Life for early man – far from being blissful or even remotely enjoyable – was, in Thomas Hobbes’s words, “nasty, brutish, and short.” Life expectancy in the Paleolithic period was anywhere from the mid-teens to the mid-twenties. Food was continually in short supply, as there was no guarantee of plentiful game to hunt or berries to forage. And if a plentiful catch did occur, there were scant safeguards to prevent the food from spoiling. Predators and disease were rampant; sanitation and health care were non-existent. Without a scientific method, a person with even the best of intentions often ended up hurting one’s fellow human beings while intending to help them.

Every conceivable vice, social problem, weakness, and fallibility of human beings today has always existed throughout human history; the only difference is the magnitude of such problems, which were most certainly greater in prior eras. Without the benefits of technology, education, and the relative safety and comfort of our times, people were far more prone to engage in violent conflicts over resources and to allow emotional clashes to escalate into bloodshed. Rape, slavery, female subjugation, ceaseless wars, adultery, substance abuse, murder, theft, and other detestable conduct were more common then than now – as there were fewer alternatives to such conduct, and fewer disincentives from it. Every problem facing mankind has always existed in some form – due to hostile natural forces or the irrationality and stupidity of many humans. But the solutions to many of these problems could only come in the form of technological and societal progress – a departure from the non-Eden of the past.

The Eden myth in all of its incarnations originates from the rather strange notion that there is something written in the cosmic laws of nature that the default state of human beings is to be happy, comfortable, justly treated, and in “harmony” with their surroundings. There is no natural law which guarantees this or even tends toward it. The term “comfort” did not even acquire its present usage until the 17th century, and what the ancients meant by “happiness” differs dramatically from prevailing modern views. To suggest that human beings are guaranteed anything good by God, Nature, or what have you, has no evidential support; indeed, all the evidence speaks to the contrary. Humans are faced with millions of perils, injustices, and vulnerabilities. Survival is far from guaranteed, and people of merit and virtue rarely get the rewards they deserve. When natural disasters, political oppression, and disease strike, they rarely discriminate between the good and the evil. There is no natural justice, goodness, or equilibrium, and 99.9% of all species ever existing are now extinct. There is no special protection given to humans from the forces that wiped out many of their distant relatives.

The Eden myth suggests that there is natural guarantee of happiness and justice given to humans, but humans have chosen to stray from the origins of that guarantee – God, Nature, or an analogous reified entity. Therefore, humans suffer – but not because suffering is the default state, but rather because humans did something wrong in rejecting the bliss of the default state. The Eden myth might state that humans deserve lifelong suffering for the sins of Adam and Eve or their ancestors or post-Renaissance Western civilization – but it is in some ways much less grim than reality. The appeal of the Eden myth to many people is that it suggests the existence of an underlying balance and goodness about the world as such – implying that somehow, beneath all that nastiness, everything is fundamentally all right. It is not.

There is nothing to suggest any guarantees given human beings with regard to anything pertaining to their survival, happiness, or fulfillment. There is no cosmic justice and no cosmic “balance.” Rather, whatever justice people wish to obtain, they must create the conditions for. Human technologies, social systems, and esthetic and intellectual accomplishments erect a fortress of civilization which enables us to somewhat resist the onslaught of the elements. The fortress is currently quite shabbily built – with numerous gaping holes and inadequate structural support. Moreover, it is far from complete; indeed, even its foundations have not yet been completely laid. Humanity is still in a state of general barbarism – unable to even figure out ways to prevent individual humans from dying and to prevent human social and political systems from degenerating into either tyranny or chaos. But for all of our massive problems, our ancestors had it worse.

If we are to overcome the extremely genuine and massive threats to our existence coming from virtually all directions, it is essential not to take comfort in the demotivating illusions of a cosmic balance. The longing for a fictitious past bliss leads many to stifle the ambitions of some humans to create a better future. The advocates of the Eden myth seek to thwart the advocates of technological and societal progress – seeing them as taking humankind even further away from its original bliss. But only progress can help us avoid the gruesome destruction and oblivion that are currently in store for every single living individual, unless human ingenuity can enable us to pursue a better path – one which we must follow to push back the hostile aspects of nature and humankind alike and create a safer, happier, more prosperous existence.

Read more articles in Issue CXCI of The Rational Argumentator.