The End of Anger
We are entering the age of the Super Empowered Angry Man. Individuals will have access to tools that give them dangerous abilities beyond anything we’ve seen so far. A frightening possibility, intelligent and focused individuals will be able to destroy cities if they choose to eventually. Biotech is of course one of the main danger areas here. And “do it yourself” bio-hackers have already engineered dangerous organisms.
This is why I feel it is so important that transhumanists not talk cavalierly about ideas such as “genocide” or ending the human race. This is why it isn’t smart or funny to discuss murder as a “metaphor”.
Someone out there might really be angry and disturbed enough to do this.
Once we are faced with an easy to produce but very dangerous thing we will have two choices. We can either restrict people’s power and knowledge attempting to make sure they can’t or simply don’t know how to make this thing, or we need to make sure they aren’t ever angry enough about anything to want to do use this idea to harm anyone. If we do nothing we can be essentially assured that eventually someone will be angry enough and powerful enough to do something terrible. This would be bad.
Based on our current experiences with the Internet, trying to restrict knowledge is arguably impossible. On the other hand, people are not commonly making nuclear weapons. But the situation remains a tense and dangerous balance between secrecy, access to materials, and free knowledge. Fundamentally we can not secure an easy to make yet dangerous thing. Information wants to be free. Dangerous ideas travel as fast as good ones.
Restricting knowledge of an easy to make thing would require an invasive police state of unprecedented proportions. Every person would need to be monitored at all times to make sure they were not secretly producing a dangerous thing. If we do not like this possible universe, and I don’t, we need to work on an alternative.
I don’t see any other way forward really besides making all people happier and better off. We need to end anger, erase fear, and engineer happiness. And we need to oppose people and organizations that are spreading anger and fear.
I suggest that in the distant future we will literally engineer out our anger because there really won’t be any other choice. This need not be a dull mindless world with no discrimination between qualities of experience. Buddhism teaches that anger can be transformed into discriminating intelligence and wisdom. We will re-engineer our bodies and minds to be more discriminating but less angry about things we don’t like. We will produce a better and happier world because there literally will be no other choice for survival.
There has been talk about a post human world where artificial intelligence or future bio engineered non-human beings would obsolete or even destroy humanity. I think instead we will create a world of universal benevolence. We will either prevent everyone from knowing about the dangerous thing through the rise of a global police state or create a world where anger is erased; a benevolent society where everyone knows about the dangerous thing but no one would ever use this knowledge for ill. I suggest we work diligently on this second and I think preferable outcome.
Is such a world possible? I don’t think we really know for sure but many people are able to control and manage their anger through meditation and other similar methods. Recent research into the genetics of murderers suggests that it might be possible to alter the human genome to end murder. This is of course still quite speculative. Eliminating pollutants from our environment might also help. We now know that atmospheric lead was a major cause of escalating violent crime in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Future pollutants might even cause a real zombie apocalypse.
Social media also is a factor here. We see that affective states can be shared via social media and as the technology advances this will intensify. As McLuhan predicted we live an “acoustic” and intense emotional environment which happens all around us in real time. He called this The Global Village and he forecast our present tribal reality. But he never said it was going to be a good thing, quite the opposite
Soon this technology will be extended with neural interfaces and the ability to measure, display and even share affective states directly. Being around angry people will become very unpleasant and anger will spread quickly when it occurs in this near future hyper social world. This might be dangerous in itself.
We need to stop. Take a deep breath. We need to turn our anger into discriminating intelligence and wisdom before it is too late.
We can do it now.
If you think anger is always counterproductive consider why this emotion/instinct evolved in the first place. People without anger would be all too easily enslaved or exterminated.
I don’t think so. The correct response to an act of aggression does not originate in anger but rather in analytical decision making and correct assessment of the situation. This does not preclude response to a threat with decisive force or requiring a determined and protracted effort. Don’t get angry about it, just do the right thing. And don’t confuse anger with aggression, you do not need to be angry to be aggressive although anger can be used to motivate aggression. Anger is an energy that you can use. It is inefficient compared to discriminating awareness, analysis, and (if necessary) direct aggressive response.
“Anger, fear and anxiety are natural human responses to stress. Fighting is stressful because the risks are significant and the outcome is unknown. As you build familiarity and skill in martial arts, unknowns become knowns, and you gain control over the outcome of conflict. As you clarify and shape the probable outcome of conflict, your stress decreases. As your stress is reduced, emotional extremes become superfluous and will subside.” ~ CW
Protracted levels of high activity increases levels of androgens particularly testosterone which are correlated with increased aggression and violent action. While this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case it is unrealistic to expect to be able fight a “noble war” devoid of anger and emotion.
I am in no way in disagreement with your concerns about the ease with which the growth and spread of certain knowledge may simplify the efforts of a few angry people to engineer some sort of pathogen that wipes out most or all of humanity. In fact, I think that it is hypothetically possible within 15-30 years.
What I am ‘adding’ is that such killers may also be used on purpose by governments who think they can make war with such weapons without destroying all of huamanity; that nations might intentionally or accidentally use existing weapons capable of destroying most of humanity; that certain non-angry people, like the researchers in Holland that you mentioned, or even some inquisitive biohacker of genetics, may unintentionally create a humanity killer; that a natural disaster like a massive asteroid hit or super solar flare; are very real risks that become riskier as the decades proceed.
Eliminating anger, as far as I can tell, could only realistically be forced on an unwitting public by a genetically enhanced virus or nano/femobot, that is capable of spreading to every human and able to specifically modify the part of the brain that could somehow eliminate anger. Maybe it could be done, but how long would it take? 30 years? 100 years?
While waiting, all of the possibilities that I mentioned could very well occur. Is it wiser to wait that long under these circumstances to wait for a possible extinction without purpose, or to go all out in a sort of global AGI development project or projects by investing hundreds of billions or more to make it happen sooner rather than later.
What I am saying is that we are in a race against time. Should we put our money on developing what may be the next stage of human evolution, or cross our fingers and hope the growing dangers as we wait might simply kill us all?
We really can’t control anger in everyone on the planet, we can’t avoid accident with global weapons forever, and we can’t avoid the unknowns that nature may throw our way. Every day could mean extinction without pupose, but with AGI, at least we have the ‘hope’ of evolution.
It is too risky and irresponsible ‘not’ to develop AGI as soon as we can, and then plug it in to the Internet. Massive global investments must be made, privately and publically. We simply cannot afford to wait..
Kevin, I make the distinction between discriminating intelligence and anger. Discriminating intelligence, the ability to accurately differentiate the qualities of things, is obviously necessary and useful. However in my view, uncontrolled anger is always harmful. Whenever we act out of anger, there is always a better way.
Regarding AGI, the argument here is about a hypothetical easy to make yet very dangerous thing. AGI is not easy to make or at least not yet. AGI is one example of a technology that we arguably must develop to survive but which also could be dangerous perhaps even an existential threat. Nuclear power and biotechnology are two other examples. All of these ideas may very well be required for humanity to reach the next level which in my view would be an interplanetary society within our solar system.
So far society has taken the path of controlling dangerous technology by restricting access to materials or knowledge. If that becomes infeasible, we will need another approach. I suggest that we work towards a benevolent free society. If we want a world where individuals have access to powerful technologies we will need to create a safe and prosperous world together.
While eliminating anger won’t eliminate all of our problems here, we do need to consider what happens if an angry person misuses an available technology. If the technology is widely available/easy to make as I describe here and also dangerous historically it has led to widespread warfare. I suggest that we avoid this scenario or at least try to do so.
“The period from 1500 B.C. to A.D. 100 was a time during which there occurred a genuine revolution in most aspects of people’s existence and organization. It was a period also characterized by a revolution in the manner of conducting warfare. This Iron Age was marked by almost constant war, a time in which states of all sizes came into existence only to be extinguished by the rise of still larger empires, which, in their turn, were destroyed by military force. During this time humankind refined the social structures that were essential to the functioning of genuinely large and complex social orders and, in doing so, brought into existence a new and more destructive form of warfare. The Iron Age also saw the practice of war firmly rooted in man’s societies and experience and, perhaps more importantly, in his psychology. War, warriors, and weapons were now a normal part of human existence. Also at this time armies produced the prototype of every weapon that was developed for the next three thousand years. Only with the introduction of gunpowder would a new age of weaponry and warfare begin. A military revolution that eventually produced the age of modern warfare had begun.”
You’re right, Peter, about the dangers of human anger that are genetically built into us, and the possibility that humans may, in that anger, or even accidentally, create a weapon that will destroy humanity.
It’s been pointed out here that, and unfortunately it seems to be true, that when honestly observed, human progress has been advanced by some form of anger at other humans, or any number of things in nature. I count frustration as a form of anger.
This is why I think mankind’s only real hope at survival in the long run, and possibly the short run, is to invest as heavily as possible in the development of AGI to speed along to the Singularity.
Yes, this may also cause the elimination of humanity, but it is also, again and conversely, humanity’s only hope of not going extinct. In fact, it is our best hope of actually evolving and becoming truely superior, and not simply another species that has disappeared in the sands of time.
I will continue to advocate strongly for the development of AGI as soon as possible.
I think that trying to place a prohibition on anger my only attract people to it in even more perverse ways. Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol and people may feel that they’re missing out on some significant part of the human experience when they encounter art and culture from past, un-enhanced human civilizations. Perhaps anger is a sort of a self-limiting mood due to the irrationality and exhaustion that accompanies it. Are emotions or even serene killers that feel morally superior really an improvement?
Another problem I see is more general. Why should we go about replacing the human race with the first or second wave of human enhancement technologies? Maybe the options will be better in 100 or a 1000 years? Also, we seem to be attempting to overcome the unintended consequences of our own evolution, but who’s to say that other, perhaps more threatening, unintended consequences won’t appear due to our “enhancements”?
I propose an age of consent, say 18, after which natural born humans are allowed to make fully informed decisions about their own enhancement. That should preserve the human phenomena indefinitely, along with the somewhat mysterious qualities imbued to it by nature. It also makes caring for the human phenomena more of a fixed target that our social welfare systems can converge on. Perhaps, someday we can care for all the needs of natural born humans and individuals will be personally responsible for the complications they introduce into their own life should they choose to enhance.
I’d much prefer educating the masses rather then changing them genetically. To change us genetically just to make us into the perfect human is to deny what we are. Wisdom, understanding and intelligence will lead to much less violence.
I strive to control my emotions and would like to see other humans do the same. Of course that causes the problem of leaving everything up to the individual. Maybe at some point humanity will evolve to a stage where we all have the will power to control emotions.
Also Eray, loved your last paragraph. Society doesn’t allow intellectual advancement without abuse and ridicule. It’s an incredible shame and I share your lack of faith in humanity.
What it is, is up to us.
I agree about the utility of meditation but I also believe even better approaches are possible. I don’t mean to suggest any specific approach here, rather to catalog a few possibilities that we know about from current and recent research.
i can understand that when we have the technology for a smarter generation (or a species) we can produce the babies %100 smart. and they’ll lead their lives being 100% smart. OK. But what are we to do with people before the technology?
let’s say this technology will be available in 2055 and so babies born in 2055 are smart and wise. What are we supposed to do with people born before 2055? How can we change them?
also, i have to confess that “a perfect mind” is almost impossible to conceptualize to begin with. Because we will have to limit the mind then, and we may not even be aware of the fact that we are limiting it.
Perfection is probably impossible. But cognitive and emotional enhancement isn’t. We know of various techniques already including things like meditation, drugs, etc. In this article I am envisioning a distant future where such alterations and interventions might become much more pervasive and powerful. This is a possible world not a prediction about what will happen. I generally avoid predictions of that sort.
There are several problems I have with this analysis. First, the removal of anger as a means of making everything better is not only unrealistic, but undesirable and already a overwhelming trend especially in the States. A great video going over some of the issues related to this is from the RSA Animate set of lectures:
Second, I find the criticism of ‘biohackers’ unfounded and intuitively counter to my conception of the h+ movement. One particular biological enhancement that has been gaining popularity is the implanting of magnets into one’s fingers, popularized by Todd Huffman:
Although reading through some criticisms of this do-it-yourself bio-hacking has been rather negative with most of the focus as to the possible negative uses (i.e. sensing security devices) and not enough focus on the positive uses, such as those offered by Hameed, J., Harrison, I., Gasson, M. N., Warwick, K. (2010) A novel human-machine interface using subdermal magnetic implants. As for being counter to the h+ movement, I should think such an organization would advocate the betterment of humanity through thoughtful and careful advancement of our biological capabilities. The argument for the suppression and control of people given here is a continued extension of the propagation of fear such as that seen in the States now, or other totalitarian states through history. I think that there is a small grain of truth in that we should be careful with what particular advancements we might pursue, but to instigate such a level of control is fundamentally counter to the advancement of our society. We should instead be focusing on constructive advances, such as those which might come from such introspective activities as meditation which were hinted at in this article.
James, I appreciate the comments and thanks for taking the time to reply.. Just to clarify…the point of the article is to outline a thought experiment about an easy to produce but dangerous thing. The first paragraph is intentionally provocative and perhaps I went a bit to far. I did put “do it yourself” in quotation marks to indicate that really this is not about the DIY and grinder scene. My reference here is to the guys in Holland that were experimenting with modifying bird flu to be transmitted via air rather than only by contact. There is a link to that story provided.
Some of these types of things are going to become much easier to do. That is the point of the article to consider the implications of an easy to produce and dangerous thing. It might not be biological (e.g. a computer virus) and it might not originate from a DIY inventor.
No critique of the current grinders or DIY bio hacker scene is meant here and I apologize for that misunderstanding. I am aware of the work with magnetic sensor implantation, but this is of course not the only possible bio-hack.
I am saying it is possible that an easy to make yet dangerous thing could be invented and used by a lone individual in the future. Now what?
I think much of this anger comes from the gravity well. We live in a pressurized environment. In a pressurized system all states are a balance between counter pressures. Hunting instinct and blood lust comes from being alive. Ive heard astro biologists talking about single celled creatures saying that all life is omnivorous when push comes to shove. This does pose a problem with new empowering tech. Perhaps the answer is colonizing the asteroid belt or expansion into space so that if some one turns the home fusion power source into an improvised nuke weapon, it has limited effect.
The inclination of homo sapiens towards violent crime is very intriguing. Almost every “bad” thing can be traced back to human error. Not just crime, but oppression, exploitation, abuse and so forth. Can we replace homo sapiens with homo sapiens superior to eliminate human error? If there were only smart people like Stephen Hawking, there would be little need for conflict. Increasing the intelligence of homo sapiens seems like a great bet. But once you have 10 billion of these people, you get all sorts of anomalies as well given the infinite variability of human mind. This still seems to be the best path, but even better would be to start a real civilization on a remote star system, as far from earth as possible. 🙂
What is the social cause of violent crime? That is the thing that should be focused on. Could it be the bottomless pit of human misery and the unmistakable hollowness of human culture, the reeking carcass of human civilization and morality, the false ideals and faux philosophy imposed on puny humans, the bitter realization that this is a rotten society that wastes lives and inhibits personal growth for maintaining the privileges of a few? Maybe.
It’s your call how to fix it. I have no faith in humans.