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Transhumanist/Singularitian Political Food Fight

Transhumanist/Singularitian Political Food FightIt starts, apparently, with an essay by Peter Thiel — PayPal founder and generous fund provider to many transhumanist projects including the Singularity Institute for Advanced Intelligence (SIAI) — published in CATO Unbound, the periodical of the powerful Washington D.C.-based libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute.

In the essay, "The Education of a Libertarian," Thiel wrote some things that Mike Treder, Managing Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology (IEET) (and former h+ Nano columnist,) found disturbing and reprehensible.

Among them, this:
"The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron."

and this:
“I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

and this:
"In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms—from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called “social democracy.”

Transhumanist/Singularitian Political Food Fight Treder responded in his IEET journal with a piece titled "No More Libertarians." Responding to Thiel’s favorable attitude towards the 1920s, he wrote, "By this reasoning, then, rolling back the clock a hundred years or more is the best prescription for what ails us. If only we could go back to that glorious Gilded Age in American history, when capitalism stood unquestioned as a force for good, when millionaires openly wielded their political power without compunction, when white males occupied all the positions of power and influence, then maybe all our other problems would go away."

After ReadWriteWeb ran an item on Thiel’s association with Facebook… and incidentally, with SIAI (sans any mention of his political thinking), Michael Anissimov — Media Director of SIAI and h+ contributor — was moved to write on his Accelerating Future blog that he is a liberal democrat who lives in San Francisco (emphasis his) and — calling Thiel "our friend" — he commented further that "SIAI is catching some flak from others in the transhumanist community from a perceived connection between our organization and political libertarianism," and protested that "SIAI is non-political… SIAI gets donations from Thiel because of what we’re about, trying to engineer AI that helps humans rather than hurts them… Politics is not the central issue. Helping people is. Surviving the future is."

Treder then commented on Anissimov’s post, quoting Dante Aligheiri, :The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality" and then adding, "Professing neutrality when faced with the moral repugnance of views like Peter Thiel’s is a sure ticket to a warmer climate."

Phil Browermaster, who blogs at The Speculist and hosts the FastForward Radio podcast, then responded in the same discussion to Treder’s comment, writing:

Transhumanist/Singularitian Political Food Fight "Sheesh, if I wanted to see people get condemned to a lake of fire for all eternity for honestly trying to work out their position on complex issues, I wouldn’t typically come to this site. Maybe I’d go back to the Southern Baptist church camp in Alabama that I attended as a teenager."

He also wrote: "One area where transhumanists consistently disappointment me is politics. We can talk about accelerating change and singularities and human enhancement and the possibilities are endless, but when the subject comes to politics, everyone seems to revert to one of a very small number of philosophical templates, most of them created in the 19th century or earlier. And for some reason those are inviolate."

Anissimov appreciated his comments enough to make  them the center of another blog post on the issue.

My suggestion? Kegger at the White House!