This page contains Chapter 11 from
Sustainable Superabundance: A universal transhumanist manifesto for the 2020s and beyond
Note: The text of this chapter of the Manifesto is draft and is presently undergoing regular revision.
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[ This chapter is significantly incomplete ]
11. Abundant democracy
The impact of technology on politics
Just as technology can have either a bad or good influence on society, so also it can have either a bad or a good influence on politics.
The determining factor in both cases is the level of wisdom, strength, and agility brought to managing the technology. The more powerful technology becomes, the greater the need for wisdom, strength, and agility: the greater the need for clear thinking, and the greater the need to be ready to set aside previously long-cherished “instincts” or “identities”.
Some examples of bad influence:
Technology enables greater surveillance and greater manipulation of members of society by forces seeking extra influence. Technology powers subtle psychological techniques to frighten or incite people to choices that are different from their actual best interests.
Pressures to increase eyeball and click-through attention on social media result in posts that push people into emotional reactions rather than careful deliberation. Online interactions frequently propel participants to champion tribal instincts, cheering on pro-group “blue lies” rather than respecting objective analysis. With hearts on fire, smoke gets in the eyes.
Potential enormous impacts from cyber-sabotage, nerve agents, and various weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, and nuclear) – whether wielded by enemy states or by terrorist groups – raise tensions further, and risk driving politicians towards decisions that are more extreme and less considered.
Some examples of good influence:
In an extension to current technology that highlights misspellings or incorrect grammar in a document, technology can highlight which factual claims have been assessed as false or misleading.
Technology can highlight logical flaws in arguments. It can also draw attention to cases where the provenance of data is suspect – such as when photographs have been edited, or videos synthesised, to give a false impression.
Technology can facilitate the systematic collection and analysis of information relevant to decisions, in ways that build on the successes of Wikipedia.
By analysing arguments, technology can in due course suggest new proposals that integrate different perspectives in compelling ways, and thereby help build bridges between the opposing sides in a debate.
Technology can power simulated environments in which the potential outcomes of policy changes can be investigated in advance.
Finally, technology can assist politicians to deliberate more calmly on decisions, rather than being panicked into flawed decisions in tired or emotive circumstances.
Free speech without the panic
Let’s be honest about the flaws in how humans form and hold viewpoints. With a better understanding of the psychological and sociological factors at work, we can liberate ourselves – and our fellow citizens – from the tyranny of distorted worldviews and unnecessary panics.
False information often changes outlooks in deep ways, so that opinions remain different from before, even after people have learned that the initial information was incorrect.
It’s similar to how the best advertisements not only change viewers’ preferences, but leave those viewers convinced that the changes arose from their own volition. The viewers may even forget they ever saw the advert – or deny that it had any impact on them.
Recognising these issues, society already applies financial penalties in cases when advertising or financial information is misleading. Advertisers are penalised if they make claims that are demonstrably false. Companies are penalised if the branding or packaging of their products misleadingly imitate those of higher quality products from more reputable companies. Financial bodies are penalised if they prematurely release price-sensitive information to only a subset of investors – or if they manipulate their accounts to give a misleading impression of their trading position.
Let’s be ready to apply similar sanctions and penalties in cases when the political discussion is deliberately distorted by false information, when participants fail to declare vested interests, and when inflammatory publicity risks the impartiality of ongoing jury reviews.
In this way, we can improve the calibre of the overall discussion, reducing the elements of emotional subversion, and maintaining open minds to ideas that, although initially disturbing, can lead to a better understanding.
At the same time, let’s watch the regulators very carefully. In the wrong hands, sanctions against the free expression of opinion can silence voices that ought to be heard. For this reason, satire must be protected – but only where it is made clear that the statement was not intended to be taken literally.
The result will be to preserve the vital benefits of free speech, whilst avoiding social chaos from remarks that are irresponsible or incendiary. We can, and should, have free speech without the panic.
No rights to no offence
It should never be a crime to criticise an idea. Ideas should be able to stand on their own feet, without needing the protection via censorship of opposing ideas.
If someone says they have been offended by criticism of an idea they personally hold dear, that is no reason to elevate that criticism into a crime. Instead, it’s a reason to marshall good arguments in support of the original idea – or (if such arguments prove to be insufficient) to be ready to accept a new idea in its place.
Specifically, technoprogressives allow no special legal protection for ideas declared to be religious, or foundational, or sacrosanct in some other way. Ideas matching these descriptions have proven in past times to become major obstacles to the progress of human flourishing – even if, in earlier times, they had been forces (on balance) for the collective good.
To enable a richer dialogue, laws on blasphemy should be removed from the statute book.
At the same time, let’s avoid any implication that huge numbers of people – such as people who nominally identify with the same religious faith – all hold rigidly to the same set of beliefs. Whilst being critical of particular ideas, let’s be ready to build constructive bridges with people who may assert some appreciation of these ideas. The best insights often arise from a synthesis of viewpoints that initially appear to be polar opposites. Significant contributions to the establishment of sustainable superabundance will surely be made by people from religious communities of all hues.
The role of improved creative scepticism
To prevent ourselves being misled by clever arguments, let’s spread far and wide a better understanding of the flaws in reasoning to which we can fall victim – the numerous cognitive biases arising from the limitations of our biology and psychology.
This is no mere academic exercise. The vital skill of creative scepticism is something that can be strengthened via regular real-world practice.
Importantly, the practice of creative scepticism should transcend individual minds by embracing a collective dialogue. Participants can point out to each other – sensitively and constructively – ways in which we as individuals remain enthralled by particular flawed ideas. With the benefit of multiple streams of feedback, we can gain the strength to overcome our individual cognitive flaws.
This is similar to how the institution of science can make collective progress, despite biases and prejudices afflicting individual scientists. Provided a sufficiently wide set of opinions is included, peer group review can allow the community as a whole to withstand distortive pressures.
Turning down the volume, to increase the comprehension
At the same time as we encourage wider practice of improved creative scepticism, let’s take steps to lower the volume of the misleading information that circulates within the public debate.
In part, this reduction can take place via the sanctions, mentioned above, against communications that are deliberately misleading.
Additionally, limits should be placed on the amount of money that political organisations can spend. In principle, this will cut down on the influence of any one organisation. To prevent organisations working around these limits, strong measures of enforcement will be needed.
Nevertheless, in an age of growing abundance, clever political operators will find innovative ways to have their messages spread further and wider, at little cost. This involves mechanisms such as bot armies. In order to increase the prospects of a balanced debate, steps will be needed to identify, patrol, and curtail bot armies and the like – and to impose sweeping financial penalties on those found responsible for deliberately distorting the debate.
Beyond party politics
For politics to become a positive force, it must shed the impression that its protagonists frequently speak contrary to their actual opinions. Politicians need to become regarded as authentic communicators, rather than being two-faced.
Whilst there are benefits (such as economies of scale) from like-minded politicians banding together into political parties, the current system of political parties has its own drawbacks – including the imposition of the “party whip” on matters of high contention.
Let’s encourage politicians to speak their own minds, rather than having to follow party lines in cases where their own assessment differs from that of the party hierarchy.
Proportional Representation (PR)
Political systems with first-past-the-post elections pose unnecessarily high barriers of entry to newer ideas. Systems with proportional representation allow more fluid introduction of innovative political forces.
Political systems with proportional representation often lead to the need for parties to form coalition governments. The skill of forming coalitions is a positive asset which should be nurtured.
Political systems with large constituencies in which more than one politician is selected, can combine the positive aspects of proportional representation with the advantage of links between constituencies and elected representatives.
Towards political renewal
Should a political party be formed around the ideas in the Technoprogressive Plan?
Ahead of the formation and development of a party that seeks to win elections (locally, nationally, or supranationally), the first practical steps are to influence people in existing parties to adopt specific technoprogressive policies.
[ More material to be added here ]