September 14, 2006

Conservative Life Extension

Charles N.W. Keckler on TCS Daily makes a Conservative Case for Immortality. I'm reminded of Eric K. Drexler's keynote speech at Extro 3, where he argued that cryonic suspension of recently dead was the 'cautious and conservative thing to do'.

It is a nice essay, but will hardly convince any conservatives. Because preserving the greats of the past, stabilising society and maybe slowing down progress isn't all that conservatism is about. Conservatives try to protect a particular way of living, a pattern of life. The fear is that life extension would change the way we live or see ourselves, not that it would lead to a world of little old ladies.

The mistake here, made by both conservatives and transhumanists, is of course the assumption that life extension really changes things. Some institutions would have to be adjusted, but it is not immediately obvious that much longer lives radically changes what it means to be a human. Even a doubling of lifespan in many areas of the world over a mere century did not cause people to cease to be people. Maybe we are too obsessed about the periphery of human existence to notice that it is the core, the everyday life, that really makes up human beingness. Of course, I want to change that too.

Maybe the conservative thing to do is to figure out how to preserve life patterns more efficiently. Stopping progress and change never works, and while tempering the worst stupidities of the new is always worthwhile it will not preserve life patterns very well. Maybe we should aim at cultural cryonics: finding ways of setting up communities that can opt out of the mainstream and keep their particular patterns alive. A bit like the culture reservations in Transmetropolitan. This is in many ways similar to having seed banks of varieties of crops and other plants. If something happens, there is always a backup. So instead of wringing hands at the folly of the neophiles, the conservatives should look at space colonisation, applied sociology and virtual community building and start constructing a cultural cryonics toolbox. That would be the cautious and conservative thing to do.

Posted by Anders3 at September 14, 2006 03:53 PM