Monday, May 12, 2008

Neither Left nor Right -- just Up

I needed a pick-me-up after a kinda funky weekend. So to realign my attitude, I dipped into a few books by my old friend, the futurist F.M. Esfandiary (aka FM-2030).

I first became acquainted with FM through a book review by Jerome Tuccille in Libertarian Forum in 1971. I read everything I could find by FM over the next few years. His stuff was exhilarating. I finally met him in 1989, when I took one of his UCLA extension courses. Soon after, I interviewed FM for the corporate magazine I was editing at the time and we became friends. FM used to hold monthly “salons” for idea-sharing at his apartment in Westwood; after four or five late-night hours of discussion, I usually couldn’t sleep for days.

FM died from pancreatic cancer in 2000 at the age of 70. He now lies in cryogenic suspension at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona. I really miss him. But FM lives on for me through his books, all of which are now out of print. I treasure my tattered copies.

Here’s something from Up-Wingers, his futurist manifesto, first published in 1973:

“[T]he Up-Winger proceeds from the premise that we are now flowing to a higher evolution and that therefore it is no longer enough to resolve age-old social economic political problems. We must urgently overcome the more basic tyrannies of nature the arbitrariness of evolution the limitations of the human body the confinements of Time and Space.

“It is the human situation that is basically tragic. Right/Left revolutions cannot alter this basic dilemma. For instance the most revolutionary Left-wing group has no program to overcome death. The entire Right/Left establishment is still death-oriented.

“Space programs and biological advances in capitalist and socialist countries are outgrowths of modern science and technology not of Right/Left ideologies. We are extending ourselves in Space and in Time not because of capitalism or socialism but in spite of them.

“The Right/Left Capitalist/Socialist establishments have used their Space programs chiefly to advance their nationalistic militaristic hang-ups. They still do not comprehend the evolutionary impact of the Space dimension.

“The Right/Left establishment is psychologically and ideologically unprepared for our emerging situation in Time and Space. It is not surprising that much of the Right/Left is vehemently opposed to this new cosmic dimension.

“The Right/Left establishment wants to maintain an evolutionary status quo. It is resigned to humanity's basic predicament. It simply strives to make life better within this predicament.

“Up-Wingers are resigned to nothing. We accept no human predicament as permanent no tragedy as irreversible no goals as unattainable.

“To be Up you must sever all ideological ties with the Right/Left establishment. You must make a break with the traditional concept of linear historical progress. That is now too slow and limited.

"You must be prepared to quantum-leap forward. This means starting with a new set of premises new visionary aims.”

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At 10:27 AM, Blogger Joel Schlosberg said...

Interesting post. FM is an intriguing guy, although I'm a bit surprised you're into FM's idea of transcending left and right; didn't Karl Hess get the left-right spectrum right? And I'm particularly leery of the idea that technology is a means of evading traditional political distinctions.

Can you be more specific about which Libertarian Forum article had the review you're talking about? My quick search of the LF archives on didn't find anything. (And didn't Rothbard, not Tuccille, do most of the book reviews?)

What do you think of the current political battles over transhumanism? I've got to say that libertarianism has really taken a beating within the transhumanist movement in the last few years, due to the decline in influence of the Extropy Institute (which closed down two years ago) and the relentless attacks on libertarianism led by social democrat (probably the least nasty thing I could call him) James Hughes and his buddies in the WTA (which is the biggest transhumanist org now that Extropy is out of the competition).

Technically, the WTA is a big tent org, but has a vocal anti-libertarian contingent which is constantly maneuvering to minimize the influence of libertarians). Samantha Atkins:

"WTA is not and never has been politically neutral except in its brochures. It is highly 'left-leaning' and its Director, as you mentioned, is an avowed socialist. He and others of like mind pretty well control the range and flavor of WTA activities and positions. For this and other reasons I am not comfortable with the WTA. No neutral organization would have explicitly run off so many basically libertarian transhumanists."

You can get a sense of Hughes's politics in the articles "The Politics of Transhumanism" and "Democratic Transhumanism" (which would more accurately be called "Social Democratic Transhumanism"). The former has a brief section on FM, with Hughes considering FM a forebear of his social democratic form of transhumanism, saying that FM's ideas "have been mostly ignored by the extropians" evidently because they're not compatible with extropian libertarianism, and claiming in particular that FM supported world government (!) And check out how many inanities are packed into this quote:

"While the progressives and New Dealers had built the welfare state to be a tool of reason and social justice, the New Left joined cultural conservatives and free-market libertarians in attacking it as a stultifying tool of oppression, contributing to the general decline in faith in democratic governments."

Or see Cory Doctorow's review of a book by Hughes, in which he specifically cites the anti-libertarian politics of the book as an advantage (there's a libertarian side to Boing Boing and a social democratic side, and this is an example of the latter):

"The idea of cognitive liberty is very tempting, but I have an instinct that there's an approach to it that is grounded not in libertarianism, but in Canadian/European-style social democracy. "Citizen Cyborg" takes the social democratic approach not just to cognitive liberty, but to the parcel of questions that follow on from it as technology allows us to charge our minds and bodies.... Surely the ability to determine your own genome, the ability to choose to modify your physical self and to make the choices for your children are as fundamental civil liberties as the right to speak and assemble and otherwise author your own destiny. But the traditional "transhumanist" movement has come out of the libertarian right, advocates of an unbridled market without government intervention.... Hughes's remarkable achievement in "Citizen Cyborg" is the fusion of social democratic ideals of tempered, reasoned state intervention to promote equality of opportunity with the ideal of self-determination inherent in transhumanism.... Like a lot of basically lefty geeks, I've often felt like many of my ideals were at odds with both the traditional left and the largely right-wing libertarians. "Citizen Cyborg" squares the circle, suggest a middle-path between them that stands foursquare for the improvement of the human condition through technology but is likewise not squeamish about advocating for rules, laws and systems that extend a fair opportunity to those less fortunate (say, by offering special patent rules to the developing world allowing poor nations' scientists to freely reuse the patented pharmaceutical inventions of the rich north to solve local needs.)"

And some prominent transhumanist thinkers have moved away from libertarianism, for instance Max More has moved from a contributor to The Freeman and the Libertarian Alliance to rejecting the libertarian label almost entirely — "I am not a libertarian, unless you take a generously broad view of the term." (2006).

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

Thanks so much for this informative post, Joel. Just a few notes:

1. Just because I like FM's idea of "Up" doesn't mean I don't subscribe to Hess's Left-Right spectrum analysis. What I like most about FM's viewpoint is that he eschewed politics altogether; he was thoroughly antipolitics.

2. Tuccille's review of FM's Optimism One appeared in his "Bits & Pieces" column in the November 15-December 1, 1970 issue of Libertarian Forum.

3. Honestly, I haven't followed the transhumanist movement. I will take a closer look now, though.

4. Hughes' notion that FM supported world government is, to put it as kindly as I can, bullshit. I spoke several times with FM about government in the time I knew him. He believed government, and big institutions in general, were outmoded, old world, cumbersome. He did talk about replacing "leadership government" with "cybernated" and "teledemocratic" systems. But these ideas of his were always in flux, never fully nailed down.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

If transhumanists can't even open their mind big enough to understand libertarianism, then they are worthless as human beings- and show very clearly what our future would be under transhumanism: slaves of the State.


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