A peer-reviewed electronic journal published by the Institute for Ethics and
Emerging Technologies

ISSN 1541-0099


call for papers

editorial board

how to submit to JET

support JET & IEET

search JET



What follows is a fragment from James J. Hughes' Citizen Cyborg, pp. 169-171


The extropians have also cultivated important allies in libertarian politics such as Virginia Postrel and Ron Bailey, sympathizers with their militant defense of personal liberty and hostility to regulation and environmentalism. In 1999, Postrel, author of the technolibertarian manifesto The Future and Its Enemies and the editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, assigned Reason's science correspondent Ron bailey to focus on the defense of genetics against the Luddites. Bailey had written ECOSCAM: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse in 1993, which argued that whatever ecological problems might have existed in the past were all being repaired now. Since focusing on biopolitics Bailey's weekly columns for Reason have been some of the best and most insightful critiques of the emerging Kass-Rifkin bioLuddite axis. Bailey is publishing his own technolibertarian manifesto this year, Liberation Biology. Postrel has now organized Bailey and other technolibertarians, such as Tech Central Station's editor James Glassman and prolific InstaPundit.com writer Glenn Reynolds, into The Franklin Society. The first project of the Society has been to campaign against attempts to ban embryonic stem cell research.

Universal Immiseration Extropian-Style

In 2003 one member of the new Franklin Society, extropian economist Robin Hanson, a professor at George Mason University, achieved his full fifteen minutes of fame. Hanson was the author of the abortive experiment by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in aggregating intelligence information in a Middle East futures trading market, the so-called "TerrorDAQ." The political brouhaha around TerrorDAQ led to the cancellation of the program and the resignation of DARPA director John Poindexter.

Reporters were incredulous at Hanson and his colleagues' inability to predict how their experiment would be perceived and demagogued. While I think the experiment had merit and would not have encouraged terrorism, the episode does illustrate some of the moral and political blindness that the unreformed extropian anarcho-capitalist perspective lends itself to.

Ten years before the media lambasted Hanson for TerrorDAQ he published a now often cited essay "If uploads come first - The crack of a future dawn" in Extropy magazine. The article attempts to extrapolate the economic consequences of a breakthrough in the technology of copying human personalities into machines. He argues that the capabilities of machine-based persons would be so much greater than organic humans that most non-uploaded people would become unemployed. Among the uploads there would be rapid population growth, and severe job competition. Eventually the enormous population of uploads would be forced to work at very low subsistence wages - the cost of their electricity and disk space - ruled over by a very few of the most successful of the uploads.

Hanson basically recapitulates Marx's vision of universal immiseration, but this time in the Matrix. In the section of the essay titled "upload politics" Hanson dismisses the idea that governments could impose redistribution on uploads since there would be large economic benefits of an unfettered transition to Matrix life. The average quality of life of the subsistence upload and the unemployed human would allegedly be higher than before. So the best we future residents of an uploaded society can do is become as versatile as possible to maximize our chances of ending up as one of the lucky ruling or employed classes. Hanson dismisses the idea that people will fight the division of society into a mass of well-fed plebes and a super-powerful elite since the growth the GDP is the sole measure of his utopia, and the elimination of the weak will select for "capable people willing to work for low wages, who value life even when life is hard."

With a dismal, elitist utopia like this who needs a Luddite's dystopia? Russell Jacoby says of Hanson-style libertopianism "The most imaginative futurists foresee a utopia with war, money, violence and inequality. Their future looks very much like the affluent enclaves of today, only more pleasant and commodious. They paint a picture not very different from contemporary luxury suburbs, grassy subdivisions with homes and computer and work stations set off from a larger terrain of violence and injustice. The futurists are utopians in an anti-utopian age."


2005 Journal of Evolution and Technology.  All Rights Reserved.

Published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Mailing Address: James Hughes Ph.D., Williams 229B, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford CT 06106 USA

ISSN: 1541-0099  Reprint and Permissions