Envisioning a Post-Scarcity Economy

Mount Olympus, the Borg or Something Else?

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The People Database blog provides a transcript of Ronald Bailey's presentation at the annual conference of the World Transhumanist Association, "Envisioning a Post-Scarcity Economy: Mount Olympus, the Borg or Something Else?"

Click here to read the transcript

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  1. Mr. Bailey’s writing first got me “into” transhumanist thought – which became the topic of many college term papers, some biological in their nature, some primarily theoretical.

    Well done, Ron. I enjoyed the transcript.

  2. Ron Bailey,

    I’d say a lot of scholars of “classical” Greek religion would find your remarks on Greek religion problematic.

    Also, I’m not quite sure whether you are doing this or not, but one shouldn’t treat the work of Homer, Hesiod, etc. as some sort of “Greek Bible.” Greek religion was not a “religion of a book” after all. In other words, it is fair to say that Homer’s works are probably not reflective of how people live their daily religious lives.

  3. Bring on the jack. I can’t wait.

  4. mediageek, I know you’re being facetious, but seriously…isn’t there something (messianic?) about Alex Jones that reminds you of a cult leader? Is it because he has ‘all the answers’?

  5. Ron Bailey,

    As for what Kass had to say, well, he’s right. There is language in the Iliad which supports his thesis.

    You can find what you want to find in Homer’s epic; it is a fairly elastic text. However, it isn’t ethnography, history, political science, a religious text along the lines of the Bible or the Qu’ran or anything like that.

  6. No mention of the long-lived Spacers? I’m appalled.

    As for the Olympians, I think we can do better. S of S is right, though–the mythology is not the religion. I think the bizarre behavior of the gods in Greek mythology was more a general comment on the inexplicability of the divine. Similar to sentiments of the Book of Job.

    Zeus sure was a slut.

  7. Zeus sure was a slut

    He prefers the term “man-whore.”

  8. Pro Libertate,

    The way one approaches Homer’s epics is first as simply good stories amongst a constellation of stories that people told each other. Aristotle argued that one of the reasons that were so popular was that unlike history they chose to focus on particular dramatic periods in time (keeping in mind that the the bulk of the Iliad deals with just a few days and ends long before the fall of Troy).

  9. If transhumanism is a conspiracy, and these are the kinds of speeches delivered at their conferences, then I think their collective goal is to bore the crap out of everyone. Seriously, it may be thought provoking stuff but my only thought was “When will it (the speech) all end?”

  10. dbust1,

    Well, I’m not quite sure what Bailey’s point was.

  11. S of S,

    The Iliad and The Odyssey were just two works in the greater Epic Cycle, so they weren’t quite as limited in time; however, the point is largely accurate, since the Epic Cycle itself centered on the Trojan War.

  12. mediageek, I know you’re being facetious, but seriously…isn’t there something (messianic?) about Alex Jones that reminds you of a cult leader? Is it because he has ‘all the answers’?

    Jones has certainly found his audience, that’s for sure. I don’t think he’s really a cult leader so much as some sort of new creature that could only exist in a world with cheap computing horsepower and a phat pipe.

  13. Pro Libertate,

    Actually, they are limited. Basically the majority of the war itself is told rather quickly in the Iliad as background material or is alluded to in short phrases. The majority of the text is devoted to a very short period in time (a couple of days). The same is true of the odyssey, where the majority of the text concerns just a few brief periods of Odysseus’ journey. That’s what, as Aristotle rightly notes, makes it compelling.

  14. But the Greeks–unlike us–had the rest of the Epic Cycle. So there was a complete treatment of the Trojan War, from the Judgment of Paris to the adventures of Odysseus after the events of The Odyssey. The rest of the Epic Cycle was written by lesser lights than Homer (ignoring Homer’s existential issues for the moment) and may not have used techniques like in medias res, etc. In other words, much more of the story was likely covered.

  15. Pro Libertate,

    Yes, as Aristotle points out, they didn’t use that technique, which explains in part why they were less popular. As Aristotle notes they treated stories as if they were history, and were thus far too detail oriented. You find something similar in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, which while it contains some good stories (see his discussion of King Lear) is chocker block full of rather boring details. Anyway, you don’t really appear to be disagreeing with what I am writing.

  16. No, I’m not. I’m just overwhelmed by the pedantic urge this afternoon.

  17. One of the rules of logic is that you can’t prove a negative. For humankind to become immortal literally requires a guarantee (i.e., proof) that individuals will not die, except maybe for accidents and murders. That can’t be done. So we will never know that we’re immortal. That state of not having a scarcity of time will never be achieved. We’ll always be struggling to acquire, achieve, and reproduce, perhaps diminished to some degree as it appears that statistically we’re living longer. The Greeks did an end run around logical comnstraints by postulating that their gods were immortal. We can’t do that. No matter how long we live, there will never be proof that something won’t get us, in the end.

    CrackerBarrel

  18. Cracker:

    True as far as a logical point. But practically, people feel sharply limited in their length of life (that’s the main driver for religion – fear of death), and any reasonable perceived lengthening of expected lifespan will have serious effects on people’s behavior. A thousand years is nowhere near immortality, but practically, what if you knew that, except for accidents, you would live that long in a young and healthy body? Are you telling me that wouldn’t affect your attitudes and goals?

    By the way, if we didn’t age (that is, if the human mortality rate stayed at its lifespan minimum) we’d on average live to be about 6,000 years old, if I recall my actuarial statistics correctly. This minimum occurs at about age 13, at the end of childhood, just before our bodies and behaviors retool to put reproduction ahead of mere survival. Annual life insurance premiums are priced accordingly. Biologically, this means that if we understood how to halt our development at the stage just prior to puberty, we’d live for thouosands of years, absent things like war and accidents.

  19. The problem with immortality, of course, is that there can be only one.

  20. An interesting notion I’ve had is that any problem of lassitude in a society composed of ‘immortals’ would be compensated by the fact that a much lower percentage of the society’s effort would be spent on teaching the same old stuff to new generations, and on preparing for death and infirmity.

    People would have many lifespans to develop their minds and potentials, even if they did so somewhat more slowly that current humans do. However, I would think that manual labor in such a society would have be almost entirely mechanized, as even the dullest folks would eventually acquire the knowledge and money not to have to do those tasks.

  21. Ennui. And robot love slaves.

  22. An interesting notion I’ve had is that any problem of lassitude in a society composed of ‘immortals’ would be compensated by the fact that a much lower percentage of the society’s effort would be spent on teaching the same old stuff to new generations, and on preparing for death and infirmity.

    You’re wrong. That’s not interesting at all. ;D

  23. Right now, we have a serious form of scarcity in China and India, due to the abortion and infanticide of females. There are 20-30 million men for whom there are no potential mates.

    Also, with water tables drying up, and grain reserves plummenting, doesn’t seem like scarcity will end anytime soon.

  24. You’re wrong. That’s not interesting at all. ;D

    Fair enough. Here’s your refund.

  25. I don’t think that if people ever gain uploadign technology and do upload themselves onto a digital substrate, that they would necessarily form a hivemind. They might choose to do that but I don’t think it would just happen. They’d be like programs on a computer. I mean, just because I have Microsoft Word and Halo on the same computer doesn’t mean the two will merge.

  26. He didn’t talk about a post-scarcity economy at all.

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