Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Freedom, Religous Faith, and The Singularity

In one of his essays C.S. Lewis talked about how religion affects people’s perceptions of political issues. (BTW, I don’t have the reference because I loaned my C.S. Lewis collection out. If anyone can send me the citation I’d appreciate it. If wish sometimes that I had thought to buy two copies of all my books, or at least the ones by great authors like C.S. Lewis and Alan Moore, so that I could have one to loan and one jealously guard.) For atheists, like commies or watermelons, the length of a human life is short relative to the potentially centuries long existence of The State. It makes sense then that human life (as long as it is someone else) should be considered to be of small value compared to the value of a long-lived and continent-spanning State. So atheists have little problem sacrificing lots of people to build their dream government. Presumably you could say the same thing about pagans (real greens) and “Mother Earth.” They don’t mind if a few million brown people die sooner as long as Gaia isn’t desecrated by evil chemicals like DDT. Christians, on the other hand, view the human soul as potentially eternal and people as being not just smart animals but special creations of God made in His image. Compared to even one human soul, Earthly governments are short lived and inconsequential things. He thought that it made sense for Christians to value individual people in general (and their religious freedom especially*) over the value of a mere government program or agency, and that therefore Christians would prefer governments that would not intrude on the liberty of the individual citizen. Atheists would gravitate toward powerful and ‘impressive’ governments where their personal ideology might live for centuries even if they can’t. I apologize if I have butchered Lewis’s arguments, but as I mentioned I have to write this from memory alone.

With the radical advances in medicine and biology going on right now and the tremendous amount of resources (both their own and whatever they can steal from anyone else) that the self-absorbed “me generation” will no doubt pour into life extension research to postpone their inevitable demise we may be on the verge of seeing a huge increase in the average lifespan. There are serious efforts underway to understand and “cure” the causes of aging, and if we can ever get to the point where we extend the human lifespan at least one more year every year then we will have achieved practical near-immortality (though accidents would still kill people). Once the human lifespan becomes measured in centuries, then the life expectancy of governments and empires** will not only seem short relative to our immortal soul but also relative to our physical bodies. No longer would one have to believe in an afterlife to think that governments lived and died in the blink of an eye compared with human beings. Any atheist could look at the marvel of future medicine and realize that he could easily live longer than the 5 centuries allotted to the Roman Republic. It would not be an unreasonable assumption therefore that he might also outlive our own Republic (which is already over 2 centuries old) and perhaps even whatever comes after. Does this mean that radical life extension would lead to less statist philosophies in the developed world and renewed emphasis on each individual's liberties? Maybe. I hope so.

Or perhaps the pendulum of political philosophy will swing the other way. It is not unreasonable to assume that these life extending medical technologies will be developed in the United States where the private medical businesses could make a lot of money selling them to the aforementioned terrified aging baby-boomers. It is also reasonable to expect that initial life extension technology will be expensive. Market forces could make it cheaper (though that would require market forces to be operating effectively, which would assume that they are elective procedures like plastic or vision correction surgery) but for old people who are afraid of death that may seem too long of a wait. There would be a great temptation to use socialism to make the life extending treatments available to all politically powerful groups (like retirees) regardless of the cost to anyone else. Trotsky supposedly said of communism that:

"In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: Who does not work does not eat, has been replaced by a new one: Who does not obey shall not eat."

In a state with both socialized medicine and potentially unlimited life-extension medical technology that principle could change to “Who obeys shall live forever.” The politically powerful in all nations would want this technology for themselves; intellectually property rights be damned, we’re talking virtual immortality here. No doubt they would use the promise of near eternal life here on Earth as a tremendous incentive to ensure loyalty in their subjects. Once disease and old age are conquered, accidents and crime would become the main fears and even a historically democratic society could be strongly tempted to give up liberties if they think that a more regulated society would also be safer. And who would risk losing their Earthly medical immortality by angering the government that runs the hospitals? In the past people might have the courage to rebel against their government since their life was probably going to be difficult and short anyway, but if you could live a few thousand years as long as you did not anger the government then there would be a very, very strong temptation to respond to injustices by just keeping quiet and hoping that they will go away in a century or two. Who could bring themselves to rebel against tyranny or injustice if it meant throwing away millennia of Earthly pleasures and luxury? Devout Christians, Muslims, and Jews… that’s who. What do they care that the government can deny them perhaps thousands of years of physical life if they believe both that their soul will live eternally anyway in a much better place than even the most decadent Las Vegas junket and that doing the right thing (id est that which pleases God) is infinitely more important than doing what merely pleases a government agency or politician.

Perhaps the trend for future societies will also be for freedom to be most likely in countries with largely devout*** populations. As a result of the threat to both tyrants and meddlesome bureaucrats of people who take their religion seriously there would, of course, be a considerable campaign by “reasonable people” to try to dilute, moderate, or emasculate any religious groups that considered principles of right and wrong to be more important than safety, security, and “getting along”… not unlike we are already trying to do to “domesticate” the radical Islam meme and leftists have been doing to modernist or progressive Christian denominations for decades.

* C.S. Lewis wasn’t much for the idea of using gov’t to compel people to not sin, since taking away people’s ability to choose also takes away the virtue of voluntarily turning your back on sin.
** Of course some governments are already too short lived to compare with even current Earthly human lifespans. Surely there were some long-lived people who were born before the Soviet Empire and lived to see its downfall. What is France on their 5th or 6th republic now?
*** Which is not to say that all devout populations would be free, since not all believers share the philosophy that when good acts are compulsory they cease to be moral. One only has to look at much of the Islamic world to see a ready counter-example. Some religious groups might also prefer to retreat from worldly concerns so much that Earthly injustices are viewed as being at least as inconsequential as Earthly mortality.

Update: Yes, I realize I misspelled "religious" in the title, but if I change the spelling now then it will break the permalink.
Update 2: Welcome Carnival goers. I encourage everyone to look around the blog at other posts. Some that you might find especially interesting are "The Future of Candy", "Educational Films...", and "The Japanese/French Son of Concorde...".

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