Abolition is Imperative in Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch Scenario

By Jønathan Lyons

Consider the Abolition Society, the Abolitionists Against Suffering group on facebook, and the philosophy of Dr. David Pearce, who is “a British utilitarian philosopher and transhumanist, who promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life.

His internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative details how he believes the abolition of suffering can be accomplished through ‘paradise engineering.’ He co-founded the World Transhumanist Association in 1998, and the Abolitionist Society in 2002.”

He discusses and takes questions on Abolition philosophy here:

When I first encountered Pearce’s Abolition philosophy, I was fascinated. But, as happens more often than I’d like with Big Ideas in philosophy, the sheer scope and audacity of Abolition philosophy was at first difficult for me to process credibly. I mean, really? Paradise engineering? Re-engineer all life to eliminate unnecessary suffering?!

As a fellow vegan, Pearce walks the walk on minimizing the suffering and costs his actions — and his diet — demand from the world. That gave me another reason to consider his positions, particularly as a transhumanist myself. If one wishes to pursue the abolition of unnecessary suffering, veganism is a powerful place to begin in the here and now.

(The IEET is currently conducting a poll on the dietary attitudes and practices of its readership. An earlier such poll found that a whopping 12.31% of respondents described themselves as vegan. Wikipedia cites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veganism) varying numbers from different sources, generally between about .5% and 3%.)

Consider the seventh point on the Transhumanist Declaration:

“We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.”

This was updated slightly in Transhumanity.net’s Transhumanist Declaration 2.0, penned by Dirk Bruere, to include Pearce’s Abolition specifically:

“We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise. This is to be seen as a consequence of the adoption of Abolitionism, defined by philosopher David Pearce, as our core ethic.”

Indeed, in the Singularity 1-on-1 interview with Zero State founder Amon Kalkin, he also advocate ending unwanted suffering as part of Zero State’s mission. Zero State is an online, grassroots community which advocates “the establishment of a trans-national, virtual state — the Zero State.”

The transhumanist community embraces the basic principle of eliminating unnecessary/unwanted suffering, however varying the degrees. (And whoever determines what “necessary” suffering is, at that.)

Then I began considering Ray Kurzweil’s Six Epochs.

If we are indeed on course toward his predicted Sixth Epoch, when What We Become could begin to appropriate and put to use all resources it encounters in the universe in a quest to bring about the waking up of said universe, then we had better have Abolitionist philosophy as one of our core guiding principles. Otherwise, What We Become would likely be no less heartless than, say, Star Trek‘s the Borg: A marauding technological maw, consuming all that it encounters that it deems useful, never sated, never pausing to consider the desires of individual beings.

The Sixth Epoch scenario seems to lack specifics on what becomes of Luddites, religious outliers who eschew technologies, and those who just plain don’t want to become part of that project. (But perhaps that has to do with the difficulties of seeing past a technological Singularity.)

In fact, in a Sixth Epoch scenario, that grisly bloodbath would most likely begin here, on an unthinkable scale, resulting in the slaughter, repurposing, or extinction of virtually every living creature on Earth.

But if we transhumanists cement Abolition as a core, foundational part of our overall philosophy, then What We Become will be much better prepared to avoid the whole gruesome affair. We will have installed part of the philosophy futuristic beings will require to avoid forcing all of humankind, and all life on the planet, to become a part of the overall project, willing or not; and should be able, as a core portion of What We Become’s mission, to leave the choice of whether to become part of it up to each individual. Individual choice could still become an important part of What We Become’s quest to fulfill the forecast of the Sixth Epoch — assuming such a scenario ever comes even partly true. It will give What We Become a shot at not simply ignoring the wills and wishes of other beings, and may just leave behind a paradise engineered for those who wish to be part of such a creation, as What We Become branches out into the universe.

I know that this essay, teleological in nature, leaves aside important questions, such as:

  • Is Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch vision a good thing? Is such a telos a worthy one?
  • Can paradise engineering — or any form of uplift of nonhuman animals — ever ascertain consent from nonhuman animals? Is paradise engineering a worthy telos?

I’m thinking about these questions, and I look forward to hearing and reading others’ thoughts on them.

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