Embrace the Future

I’m quite new to the whole blogosphere, particularly the realm of NRx and the Altright (and boy, do they love to blog). But I have latched on to a number of thinkers: Ran Prieur, Scott Alexander, Nick Land, Sister Y and, probably the most interesting, Robin Hanson. Now, they all have different opinions and methods, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are constantly thinking about the future. Whether that is exit or evolution, they share a variety of views that may or may not come to pass. Robin is most interesting because he’s now written a whole damn book backed up by Science.

To me, there is one thing that binds us all, Left and Right and everything in between. That one thing is both simultaneously mass delusion and a lack of hope. On the one hand you have doomers who predict a catastrophic end to humanity. Often these folks will be more libertarian, pro-gun and emphasise liberty. On the other hand you have a lot of Regressives on the Left who hand-wring about technology and the future (or as one particular heretic calls it, ‘moralism and modernism’), and call for a reversion to pastoral living. At the end of the day they believe the same thing, lying to themselves en-masse that there is no future. The Right cling to their guns and force everyone out; the Left want to bring everyone into the fold and sing about Niceness. The differing means to the same end can be argued over, but at the end of the day most people are simply scared of the future.

And that’s it, simple fear. The thinkers and writers I mentioned above are beyond that primal state of fear. They embrace it or encourage it, whatever form it takes: accelerationism or transhumanism or any other future one can envision. It’s time to face up to it and try to deal with it, not pine over a utopian reversion or some power-fantasy. Both the Left and the Right fail when they lie to themselves.

Black vs Green

“But deceleration is for pansies. We’re headed for the stars.”
Peter Watts

There are two types of people in the world: blacks and greens. Well, maybe three if you count people who don’t care, but if you press someone they will come down on one side or the other. This is a much more important distinction that Republican vs Democrat (or insert own country version), Left vs Right, SJW vs MRA, or any other political division. This is about the very future of humanity.

Essentially, blacks are future-facing and greens want to go back in time. Blacks are not necessarily about growth for growth’s sake, but always want to progress, whereas greens figure life is plenty fine on Earth so are content to leave things as they are. Some examples of blacks include Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos (all hail), venture capitalists seeking to privately fund a new space race. Examples of greens include… a lot of progressives, actually. For all their vision of progressive ideals, futurism is detestable to them, probably because future growth depends quite heavily on a neoliberal, libertarian mechanism. There’s something amiss when you decry the waste of worrying about an AI disaster while at the same time insisting that governments act on climate change.

Let’s get something straight: the people who are prominent futurists are very smart people. Very smart people who are almost always right are also putting their money on Trump, but do you think progressives listen to them? Their response is purely emotional: ‘I would feel awful if he won, therefore he can’t.’ Similarly, there is a weird blind spot for greens who refuse to see change. Humanity manages to change itself pretty much every generation or so, and given a Moore’s Law type potential for exponential growth, things are going to change very rapidly this century. You can easily arrive at this conclusion by doing what Bryan Caplan does: look at long term averages and spurn the latest hyperbole. What’s the long term average? Growth. What’s hyperbole? That world peace is possible (ha). It’s quite easy to see that living in a simulation is hyperbole, but is it? Long term averages point to rapid growth in computing power, therefore, eventually, a perfectly realised simulation is feasibly possible. I mean, if we are in a simulation, it could be running in the year 3000 for all we know, and if you think the year 3000 will share any resemblance to today you need serious medical attention. Saying that Trump will start World War 3 and literally build a wall along the border is hyperbole – there is no precedent for that beyond his words. Ah, but what about the black swan! Black swans are events that occur from nowhere, without notice. We’ve all noticed Trump, and therefore him starting World War 3 would not be a black swan event. Basically, the more likely you think something is to happen, the less likely it is to occur. Bryan’s thinking is called the ‘outside view’ not because it has an outside chance, but because the most likely thing is the one thing that no one else thinks of.

I can point out two people on Twitter who are avowed greens, @annegalloway and @Elmo_Keep. The former studies the ethics of killing animals. That is to say, the ethics around murdering animals for food, not whether the actual act of killing is ethical in and of itself. A foregone conclusion for her. She’s done pretty well for herself: an academic who espouses the return to pastoral ways and living off the land who… has managed to land a ‘research’ role living on a farm with animals. The life of an academic, eh? Who said researchers were impartial. She is vehemently in favour of eating eggs, milk and meat, but is against anything modernist or futurist. The idea that we are congregating towards cities (and that cities can support a vegan lifestyle) is basically her worst nightmare because we will lose our connection to nature. This is inherently green. We must remain as close to our ancestors as possible, no matter the benefits of technology. Elmo wrote a fantastic piece about going to Mars, but her fear of technology does go quite deep. I think its mostly grounded in a Leftist ideology of being anti-patriarchy and anti-capitalist, which would make sense, given how male and rich Silicon Valley is. She knows a lot about tech, but the satire is a bit too full of fear. As with everything, life will go down the middle, and the hyperbole of her writing is grating to say the least. I think she is much less of a green than Anne, but they are both interesting studies in the green ideology.

The battle between black and green is what will shape our immediate political future. How do I know? Because, looking at history, there has always been backlash against technology, the Luddites being a famous example. People fear change, no matter how much they talk about wanting it. Don’t get too excited about the future, and don’t be too fearful. If you see someone in either camp, they’re probably trying to make a buck.