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Waking Up to the Nightmare and the Absurdity of Immortalism June 22, 2012

Posted by Summerspeaker in Despair, The Singularity, Transhumanism.

This morning I read that the cops have beaten up and arrested three of my comrades in LA. Hardly anyone cares about these routine horrors; they’ve been naturalized as features of modernity. Those of us overflowing with sentiment lack the ability to do more than rage impotently on Facebook and intensify our commitment to the revolutionary cause in the hopes that we might someday gain the material power to turn our threats credible. Dreams remain dreams.

I personally exist on the margins of these spaces and connect with people only via stereotypical – if genuine – expressions of anarchist ideology. I’ve never been included in the bonds of affection of any radical community, regardless of professions to the contrary from informal leaders and my endless toil for the movement. Interactions are icy and awkward, devoid of spirit. Nobody comforts or consoles me. I’m excluded from mutual aid projects of emotional support. Neither grievous bodily injury nor imprisonment nor street harassment means anything or inspires any sympathy. I’m always an outsider, always alien and alone wherever I walk in this gray world.

My reliable prospects for the future involve perpetual social frustration and agony at the apparently adamant edifice of oppression while desperately jumping through the hoops of the Imperial Academy in order to pay rent. The ideal career path – requiring a solar mass of luck to complete – terminates at a position of privilege and comfort within the scholarly hierarchy that simultaneously allows me to struggle against state and capital. More likely I’ll continue to scrape by on the edges. The most attractive plausible trajectory includes martyrdom by way of arrest at a big direct action and suicide behind bars. Or maybe just getting hit by a bus.

Such experiential reality explains why I have a hard time relating to the folks I’m debating over at IEET. While I refuse to renounce the aspiration for indefinite lifespans and perpetual bliss, these goals seem laughably fantastic on days like today. From a negative-utilitarian perspective, engineering suicide booths strikes me as more effective and achievable than shooting for paradise. People who want to live forever must be a lot happier than I am. Under present circumstances, death looks like as positive of a singularity as I can expect. Hell, it fulfills a majority of the important promises: everything changes and there’s no more suffering.

I pray one of Giulio’s future gods doesn’t use its future magic to copy me to the future for prolonged torment. Immortality presents the genuinely chilling scenario – gleefully wielded by Christians – of torture without end. On the other hand, the possibility of enduring eons encourages determination to make life worth living. But right now I find discarding the easy escape of oblivion too terrifying to contemplate.

Transhumanists: The death worshipers may be wiser than you know.


1. rechelon - June 26, 2012

I refuse to believe that there aren’t a host of other folks in my shoes who have to force themselves not to comment “jesus fuck yes! exactly! you’re the best!” after almost everything you post because that would quickly end up looking awkward and tacky. 😉 The movement sucks and leaves a lot of folk feeling cut off from any meaningful promise of mutual aid and solidarity, but in all seriousness, I really do suspect there’s some awesomeness-bubble effect going on in your community where people on some level are like “oh shit that person’s so objectively awesome they’re kinda un-approachable.”

Summerspeaker - June 29, 2012

I appreciate the words of support. ♥ On the other hand, I doubt your thesis. Remember that most radicals consider transhumanism bizarre at best. Many of my friends and comrades – not even counting the primitivists – insist on the necessity of aging and death. In any case, human social interactions need considerable improvement. Amusingly enough, the primitivists do recognize that, though they imagine a return to ideal primal community. Layla AbdelRahim’s visions include bonobo-inspired orgies by the campfire. Alongside with the uncompromising critique of the present-day psychological status quo, such dreams endear me to primitivism as much as I don’t want to go back to the forest.

shagggz - June 29, 2012

I fail to see the appeal of wallowing in beasthood until the universe inevitably wipes the sitting duck that is humanity out. Posthumanity is the only way out of this dead end.

2. shagggz - June 29, 2012

You are a profoundly despondent human being, and I find your terror at the prospect of unlimited life unsurprising. But your entire reading of the immortalist project is completely wrongheaded. Biological immortality (that is, the absence of the inevitable accumulation of age-related defects sending us into a wretched grave) is not the same thing as literal immortality (that is, the absolute incapability to cease living). Such shallowness of thought is what I would expect from Joe Sixpack and I am dismayed and perplexed to find someone as supposedly immersed in the subculture as you displaying it. So your argument is that your current state of miserable wretchedness that includes the guaranteed exacerbation that the ravages of senescence bring is preferable to an existence without such a guarantee?

Summerspeaker - June 29, 2012

I’m well aware of the distinction you draw. It only takes a dash of dystopian thinking to imagine that rejuvenation therapy or other forms of life extension could turn compulsory, but my point here was to question the goal of living indefinitely in relation to my experience of the horror of daily existence. I remain perplexed by mainstream position that exalts the so-called natural death while abhorring suicide. However, exit via aging-related illness stands out as the only reliable and socially acceptable option for many under present conditions.

3. shagggz - June 29, 2012

Dystopian thinking? Sure. Thinking based on any reasonable extrapolation from our current reality? Umm.. not so much. Although I’m open to hearing your justification(s) for this bizarre proposition.

Your questioning why you would want to live indefinitely given that your current life sucks assumes that your life between now and then will remain substantially unchanged. This strikes me as quite unlikely, considering the problem of aging is orders of magnitude harder than the problem of tweaking our hedonic base state to a point of our lives being but gradations of bliss. Of course, you could always just choose to remain in your unenhanced, miserable state, but that is irrelevant to your attempt at a criticism of the immortalist project.

Summerspeaker - June 29, 2012

I have a feeling David Pearce’s really-good-drugs approach ignores fundamental aspects of consciousness as well as social relations. As any junkie knows, getting high comes with its drawbacks. And any mental transformation entails the peril of loss of self. We don’t know nearly enough about the brain to assess the ease or difficulty of engineered bliss.

While I tend to agree with the notion that life should be less horrible by the time rejuvenation therapy becomes available, that also elides politics.

shagggz - June 29, 2012

Your junkie analogy does not apply as it extrapolates from our current, primitive narcosphere. Of course the fleeting high followed by crushing lows, along with tolerance curves and eventual dependence just to feel “normal” again is not what is being aimed for. Reverse-engineering the neurological makeup of that tiny subset of humanity that is relentlessly perseverant in the face of adversity while remaining upbeat and full of joie de vivre and letting the rest of humanity know this bliss is. And that’s just for the conservatives who would rather limit themselves to what is experiencable by baseline humanity.

As for the loss of self, disabusing yourself of this reified, fictional construct of the self would do you good. Do the legions of clinically depressed not benefit from pharmacologically-assisted rejiggering of their neurochemistry? What is today considered neurotypical may very well be so clinically depressed compared to the possibilities of engineered mental states. As for us not yet knowing how to achieve this: No shit; I’ve never said otherwise. Considering this is a blog about such misty-eyed futurological topics such as singularity and transhumanism, why do you even bring this up?

Summerspeaker - June 29, 2012

I emphasize the speculative nature of transhumanism whenever possible. In this case, it’s particularly pertinent. Given our level of understanding about consciousness and subjective experience, for all we know the project of infinite bliss might strictly impossible or at least irreconcilable with valued cognitive processes (critical self-reflection, for example). Aesthetically, the idea of suffering as intrinsic to consciousness and intelligence appeals to me. I dream of sprawling AI gods who suck down the heat of stars only to conclude in the meaningless of all things.

As you would expect, I’m deeply suspicious of depression medication and the whole therapy industry. Historically it has served to pathologize dissent from the heteropatriarchal authoritarian norm.

4. shagggz - June 29, 2012

It’s conceivable that infinite bliss might have those obstacles, but the argument I’m making doesn’t depend on otherwise. The already existent subset of humans I mentioned is proof of the attainability of neurotypes that are highly superior to most peoples’, and they do not exhibit this deficit of critical self-reflection. Even reaching that end of the baseline humanity spectrum for most people (and I do think most would choose it) would vastly improve civilization. As a matter of personal taste, you may find that your current state of misery is a non-negotiable foundation to your identity, but I suspect that even you would likely eventually come to feel otherwise.

Yes, I find your suspicion of medication/therapy to be unsurprising. Your historical point is no more valid than saying that the capability to choose our children’s genotype is tantamount to Naziesque forced sterilization and other historical eugenics practices.

Summerspeaker - June 29, 2012

How can some neurotypes be strictly superior to others? Superior at what? Who’s judging?

On therapy, I should have stressed that history remains with us. Anti-authoritarians like myself routinely get medicalized and doped into complacency by the mental health establishment. (Link comes highly recommended.) I already know I’m badwrongqueer in the head by their standards and I intend to keep it that way.

5. shagggz - June 29, 2012

By being able to better achieve a wider range of objectives we want to achieve, as judged by the droves of people who willingly adopt such types.

Great read in the link. Your intransigence in sticking to the little anhedonic niche you’ve carved out for yourself and uncompromisingly claiming it as your own seems to have a lot to do with defining yourself as opposing the justly-reviled excesses of a bigoted and oppressive system. Which brings me to the question: should the system improve, would your stance soften?

6. Summerspeaker - June 30, 2012

I question the willingness of folks who get medicated. Choice always depends on options. Of course I support full mental modification, I just suspect the the folks currently running the show hold values antithetical to my own and want to stay out of their clutches.

Don’t take this pro-death post as my sole position on rejuvenation therapy. I remain interested in indefinite lifespans and continuous bliss. I put the bulk of the limited hope I’ve got into organizing and insurrection rather than technofixes, but still dream variations on the stereotypical transhumanist fantasies.

7. shagggz - June 30, 2012

Sure, there are those that get medicated against their will, although more historically than currently. And there are increasingly people who choose to proactively enhance their neurology through nootropics, nutraceuticals, etc. which I only see growing in the future.

I think there is far more reason for hope in technologically-mediated organizing/insurrection than purely insurrection or technofixes alone. This article sums up a significant reason for hope: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/5966

8. Khannea Suntzu (@KhanneaSuntzu) - July 3, 2012

Well, in the above dilemma we’ll simply see a new survival of the fittest. Those who can mentally/emotionally handle immortality survive and pass on their mindset. The trick might be wisdom. Or hedonism. Or fear. Or curiosity. Or plain apathy.

Whatever the challenge, I am looking forward to experience it first hand. And it is no one’s bloody business to disallow me to try, judge me for trying or pass laws against it.

Summerspeaker - July 3, 2012

Has anyone written an article on indefinite lifespans as a form of selection? If not, you should. It sounds like something transhumanists would eat up. The appeal would mainly come at my expense, but I’m okay with that.

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