4. Principles and priorities

This page contains the opening portion of Chapter 4 from
Sustainable Superabundance: A universal transhumanist invitation

tam graphic 4

4. Principles and priorities

It’s time to explore more deeply the set of values that underpin and motivate the Transhumanist Invitation.

This chapter sets out a number of fundamental principles, and reviews some high-level illustrations and implications. The seven chapters that follow apply and extend this set of values in each of seven spheres of human life where sustainable superabundance can bring profound transformation.

Statements of values are often viewed with suspicion. Words and deeds often diverge. There’s frequently a big discrepancy between a formal set of stated values, and the actual factors that seem to motivate people’s behaviour. But on other occasions, values that are powerfully felt can, indeed, change the conduct of individuals and communities. Values can inspire extraordinary courses of action. It depends in part on whether the values are embraced wholeheartedly, or merely given lip service.

The values and principles set out below are intended to meet a number of criteria. They are intended to be credible – fitting with everything we have determined to be the case about humanity and the universe. They are intended to be desirable – matching positive inclinations that we already find deep in our souls. They are intended to be universal – applicable to everyone, leaving no-one behind. And they are intended to be actionable: they should inspire practical real-world changes in how humanity cooperates to accelerate the advent of sustainable superabundance.

These values and principles are, moreover, intended to be liberating. Although they define constraints, and may appear to restrict our liberty, they can enable greater diversity, greater creativity, and greater all-round human flourishing. By helping us keep the bigger picture fully in mind, they can liberate us from domination by the short-term mundane concerns of daily life that often impinge on us and diminish us. And they will summon our best energies, empowering us to overcome the oppression from the vested interests and toxic belief systems that stand between us and our true potential.

Ten core principles

Society needs new top-level goals. Society should no longer prioritise above all else economics metrics such as the Gross Domestic Product or the Employment Rate.

After all, we humans cannot live by bread alone. Nor do we live just to work. These factors – the nourishment we consume, and the work we undertake – are means to an end, but are not ends in themselves.

Instead, here are a number of principles that merit being at the core of decision systems. To give them a name, they can be called “the ten core principles” or “the ten transhumanist principles”.

First, the recognition that the future can be radically better than the present: the present circumstances of humanity should by no means be regarded as the desirable pinnacle of evolution. A wonderfully improved future lies ahead of us, provided we recognise that possibility, and take appropriate actions.

Second, the prioritisation of human flourishing: prefer actions that lead to the increase of human flourishing. Flourishing involves happiness, but there is more to flourishing than happiness. Flourishing involves energy and nourishment, but there is more to flourishing than energy and nourishment. Flourishing likewise encompasses but extends beyond creativity, intelligence, health, collaboration, and awareness. Over time, our understanding of the conditions and possible expression of human flourishing will surely evolve and improve. That’s as it should be.

Third, the fundamental importance of human individuality: individual flourishing should not be sacrificed or subordinated to collectivist goals. Society should protect and elevate all members of society. Individuals should never become cannon-fodder in service of some tribal, national, ethnic, religious, or ideological quest.

Fourth, the principle of active neighbourliness: treat others in the way we would ourselves like to be treated, if we were in the same situation. Rather than keeping quiet about impending dangers about to befall someone, or major opportunities they are about to miss, we should find the way to speak up, just as we would ourselves like to be alerted to these dangers or opportunities in an equivalent circumstance.

Fifth, the generalisation of the previous principles beyond present-day humans: prefer actions that lead to the increase of flourishing of consciousness. To the extent that animal or artificial minds possess core attributes of consciousness, these minds deserve at least some of the same care and support as human minds. This care includes possibilities for growth and development, and the reduction in needless suffering.

Sixth, the generalisation to longer timescales, thereby highlighting sustainability: avoid actions that reduce the possibilities for future flourishing. Our plans need to enable, not only flourishing today, but also flourishing tomorrow (and the days and years that follow).

These six principles, as stated, leave many questions unanswered. They define a broad envelope that can accommodate a multiplicity of different viewpoints. That diversity is, itself, something to cherish. Hence a seventh core principle: nurture and tolerate diverse opinions within the overall transhumanist framework.

Here’s an eighth core principle: where different viewpoints within the overall envelope clash in terms of action to be taken, it is up to the community as a whole to deliberate and reach agreement. This is where the practice of superdemocracy comes to the fore.

Next, the principle of preferring objective data: to help resolve clashes between different ideas, priority should be placed on pursuing and publishing objective data relevant to decisions, rather than simply accepting the say-so of would-be authorities.

Finally, as a tenth core principle: in deliberations between conflicting insights, no book, thinker, or tradition should be given any absolute priority. Society needs to remain open to current favoured ideas and methods being superseded. Of course, respect can be shown to books, thinkers, or traditions with good track records as sources of insight. But that respect should be tempered with caution. Runs of success can come to an end – especially in new circumstances or new contexts.

In summary, the ten recommended core principles are: radical progress, human flourishing, individuality, neighbourliness, consciousness, sustainability, diversity, superdemocracy, objective data, and openness. These principles complement and support each other. Together, they set the framework for humanity to advance into the era of sustainable superabundance.

The limits of technocracy

To illustrate a number of the core principles just mentioned, consider the notion of technocracy – respect for decisions by domain experts.

Other things being equal, it’s sensible to pay attention to viewpoints from reputed domain experts. For example, in a sailing boat blown into unfamiliar turbulent waters by a storm, the recommendations of seasoned navigators deserve more attention than the opinions of a first-time sailor. For matters of an individual patient’s health, expert doctors are more trustworthy than lifestyle advice found in mass distribution horoscope columns.

However, all viewpoints should be subject to query and analysis. Experts are often wrong.

Moreover, the fact that someone is an expert in one domain does not entail any special priority applies to their viewpoints in other domains. An expert sailing navigator gains no authority in a different field, such as medical treatments, just by virtue of their sailing expertise.

As it happens, decisions frequently involve the intersection of several different domains. A decision that appears sound from one perspective may be recognised as inadequate when other perspectives are introduced. If we listen only to experts from the first perspective, we risk reaching a bad decision.

Even when someone is an undoubted technical expert in a given domain, it’s worth investing time and effort in explaining to the general public the reasoning behind their recommendations. Key decisions should be communicated openly and collectively understood, rather than being forced onto uncomprehending recipients.

Accordingly, there are major limitations to the concept of delegating hard decisions to domain experts. The ideal of technocracy needs to be subordinated to the ideal of superdemocracy – the involvement of the entire community in the process to reach decisions.

To be clear, in a superdemocracy, domain experts are respected and valued. Any society that ignores or denigrates the best insights of, for example, scientists, engineers, project managers, or change management experts, risks major failures in the initiatives it pursues. But whilst these experts should influence the decisions, they shouldn’t dictate any outcomes. The outcomes should be decided collaboratively, respecting the principles of openness and diversity.

The limits of science

As another important example of the interplay between the core principles proposed above, consider science.

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A reliability index for politicians?

Reliability calcuator

Imagine there’s a reliability index (R) for what a politician says.

An R value of 100 would mean that a politician has an excellent track record: there is no evidence of them having said anything false.

An R value of 0 would mean that nothing they said can be trusted.

Imagine that R values are updated regularly, and are published in real-time by a process that is transparent, pulling together diverse sets of data from multiple spheres of discourse, using criteria agreed by people from all sides of politics.

Then, next time we hear a politician passing on some claim – some statistic about past spending, about economic performance, about homelessness, about their voting record, or about what they have previously said – we could use their current R value as a guide to whether to take the claim seriously.

Ideally, R values would also be calculated for political commentators too.

My view is that truth matters. A world where lies win, and where politicians are expected to bend the truth on regular occasions, is a world in which we are all worse off. Much worse off.

Far better is a world where politicians no longer manufacture or pass on claims, just because these claims cause consternation to their opponents, sow confusion, and distract attention. Far better if any time a politician did such a thing, their R value would visibly drop. Far better if politicians cared much more than at present about always telling the truth.

Some comparisons

R values would play roles broadly similar to what already happens with credit scores. If someone is known to be a bad credit risk, there should be more barriers for them to receive financial loans.

Another comparison is with the “page rank” idea at the heart of online searches. The pages that have incoming links from other pages that are already believed to be important, grow in importance in turn.

Consider also the Klout score, which is (sometimes) used as the measure of influence of social media users or brands.

Some questions

Evidently, many questions arise. Would a reliability index be possible? Is the reliability of a politician’s statements a single quantity, or should it vary from subject to subject? How should the influence of older statements decline over time? How could the index avoid being gamed? How should satire be accommodated?

Then there are questions not just over practicality but also over desirability. Will the reliability index result in better politics, or a worse politics? Would it impede honest conversation, or usher in new types of implicit censorship? Would the “cure” be worse than the “disease”?

Next steps

My view is that a good reliability index will be hard to achieve, but it’s by no means impossible. It will require clarity of thinking, an amalgamation of insights from multiple perspectives, and a great deal of focus and diligence. It will presumably need to evolve over time, from simpler beginnings into a more rounded calculation. That’s a project we should all be willing to get behind.

The reliability index will need to be created outside of any commercial framework. It deserves to be funded by public funds in a non-political way, akin to the operation of judges and juries. It will need to be resistant to howls of outrage from those politicians (and journalists) whose R values plummet on account of exposure of their untruths and distortions.

If done well, I believe the reliability index would soon have a positive impact upon political discourse. It will help ensure discussions are objective and open-minded, rather than being dominated by loud, powerful voices. It’s part of what I see as the better politics that is possible in the not-so-distant future.

There’s a lot more to say about the topic, but for now, I’ll finish with just one more question. Has such a proposal been pursued before?

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