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Attitudes to life extension via genetic engineering

Philip Rhoades okx at extro
Fri Mar 3 23:34:35 EST 1995

Peter Merel (pete at extro.su.oz.au) wrote:
: okx at extro (Philip Rhoades) writes:
: >pete at extro (Peter Merel) writes:

: >: the other way is up into a world of peace and riches, control of resources
: >: all over the solar system, boundless innovation and experience beyond
: >: our wildest imagination. Star Trek seems a dull and stagnant fantasy
: >: beside this prospect.

: >This is over-optimistic - it assumes that the form of human behaviour that
: >has come to dominate the earth (basically greed and fear) will not
: >continue. 

: I think that it is unfair to suggest that greed and fear dominate all human
: activities, but I grant that they are very popular motivations and won't go
: away soon. However they are not incommensurable with peace and riches.

Maybe not - and I'm not unsympathetic to your ideas but they seem more
like naive hopes from the view of thousands of years of human history
which has been continuous wars of aggression, oppression, slavery,
genocide etc etc. Of course there are many examples of great
constructions, science & art but these quite frequently have been: built
by slave labour, used for mass murder & the province of the rich. 

: >Even if what you say is correct wrt future technologies, what
: >gives you the idea that it will be shared amongst all the world's
: >population? 

: When houses can be built from the equivalent of Jack's magic beans, when
: food can be constructed out of thin air, when living space, clean water,
: medicine and plentiful energy are available in abundance, the only real 
: poor will be the politically disenfranchised.

I distinctly remember the nuclear industry deliberately lying to the
public (with the aim of developing the nuclear weapons industry) by saying
things like: "nuclear power will be too cheap to meter", "nuclear energy
will create a heaven on earth" etc etc - when people start telling me how
good things are _going_ to be, I immediately think: evangelism - for
reasons that have probably nothing to do with the general health and 
well-being of most people.

: I don't imagine that all people will be enfranchised, nor that people will 
: not hoard. Nanotech won't solve our political problems; it can greatly
: alleviate their effects.

I hope so.

: >If history is any indication (that's all we have) then there
: >will be a continuing amassing of resources, wealth and power by the few
: >and continuing impoverishment of the many. 

: That's true, but if the technology means that the poor will still be better
: off, then the technology is still of benefit to them. Nanotech is a cornucopia
: because it permits digital replication of molecular arrangements; we are used
: to the benefits of digital replication of information, and we are all familiar
: with the nature of the information economy that this has produced; although
: it allows developers to limit the use of the products they create, it has also
: allowed them to distribute a great many useful products for free.

: In other words, and not to be facetious, let them eat GNU.

To continue the analogy a bit: it will be interesting to see how long the 
(good) anarchicly (dis)organised Internet lasts when Bill Gates gets his 
way with his own variety of it.

: >: There is no third path that I can see.  

: >The third path is: reduction of world population (in the developed world 
: >because it consumes most of the resources and produces the most pollution 
: >and in the developing world so it doesn't exacerbate the problem as it 
: >develops); 

: I think that this is a desirable course in the short-term; the only
: ethical way to do it, I think, is to modify human fertility. Not to
: sterilize humanity as some have suggested here, but to reduce its
: fertility to manageable levels.  We could perhaps modify Patrick
: O'Neils' genocide virus to only alter human hormone levels so that no
: one would be fertile until the age of 30, and so that no one would be
: fertile after the age of 40. Of course the real problem with this is 
: not how to engineer it, but how to introduce it without getting lynched
: by religious fundamentalists ...

I think it will have to be a course for the long term but I like your idea
- mine was a minute, mechanical (maybe one of your nanotech robots)
devices that allows easily reversible vasectomies applied to all males -
the flak would also come from people/organisations that regard procreation
as a god-given, inalienable right. 

: >minimise consumption of scarce, non-renewable resources; 
: >re-cycle everything. 

: If nanotech is as readily feasible as it seems, very soon we will have no
: scarce non-renewable resources.

Hmm . . . I will be convinced when it happens.

: >Admittedly, this is a fairly unlikely scenario as 
: >well (I am pessimistic about our ability to survive on the planet for to 
: >much longer). 

: Why?

Most biologists know that human species survival (in any reasonable
quality) depends on a vast array of other species and their inter-
relationships - these other species are currently being elliminated (by
humans) at a ferocious rate - they CAN'T be restored by any amount of
nanotech. Human survival depends on relative simple measures (as I've 
prevously outlined) NOT hitech patches.

: >They are not engineering problems but sociological/behavioural problems. 
: >New, spacey technology is not going to cure the fundamental problems of 
: >equity, distribution etc.

: Look at the information economy that exists now, and imagine what the world
: will be like when the material economy takes the same form. That doesn't solve
: all our problems of course, but it can solve any problem that is based on
: resource scarcity - which is one hell of a lot of problems, imho.

Maybe it will happen like that but my experience has been that you can't 
go far wrong by being a sceptical pessimist - bit sad really - but that 
doesn't mean that I have given up the good fight.

Philip Rhoades
Pricom Pty Limited
E-mail:	okx at extro.ucc.su.OZ.AU  Phone: +61-2-963-2246  Fax: +61-2-569-5329
S-mail:	GPO Box 3411 Sydney NSW 2001 Australia
Names of known ancestors (mostly from the UK):

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