Posted: Sun, April 14, 2013 | By: Politics
by Gennady Stolyarov II
It is commonly recognized among libertarians (and some others) that the freedom of individuals to innovate will result in a more rapid rate of technological progress. In “Six Libertarian Reforms to Accelerate Life Extension” I described six liberty-enhancing political changes that would more swiftly bring about the arrival of indefinite human longevity. But, as is less often understood, the converse of this truth also holds. Technological progress in general improves the prospects for liberty and its actual exercise in everyday life. One of the most promising keys to achieving liberty in our lifetimes is to live longer so that we can personally witness and benefit from accelerating technological progress.
Consider, for example, what the Internet has achieved with respect to expanding the practical exercise of individual freedom of speech. It has become virtually impossible for regimes, including their nominally private “gatekeepers” of information in the mass media and established publishing houses, to control the dissemination of information and the expression of individual opinion. In prior eras, even in countries where freedom of speech was the law of the land, affiliations of the media, by which speech was disseminated, with the ruling elite would serve as a practical barrier for the discussion of views that were deemed particularly threatening to the status quo. In the United States, effective dissent from the established two-party political system was difficult to maintain in the era of the “big three” television channels and a print and broadcast media industry tightly controlled by a few politically connected conglomerates. Now expressing an unpopular opinion is easier and less expensive than ever – as is voting with one’s money for an ever-expanding array of products and services online. The ability of individuals to videotape public events and the behavior of law-enforcement officers has similarly served as a check on abusive behavior by those in power. Emerging online education and credentialing options, such as massive open online courses and Mozilla’s Open Badges, have the power to motivate a widespread self-driven enlightenment which would bring about an increased appreciation for rational thinking and individual autonomy.
Many other technological advances are on the horizon. The private space race is in full swing, with companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Deep Space Industries, and Planetary Resources embarking on ever more ambitious projects. Eventually, these pioneering efforts may enable humans to colonize new planets and build permanent habitats in space, expanding jurisdictional competition and opening new frontiers where free societies could be established. Seasteading, an idea only five years in development, is a concept for building modular ocean platforms where political experimentation could occur and, through competitive pressure, catalyze liberty-friendly innovations on land. (I outlined the potential and the challenges of this approach in an earlier essay.) The coming decades could see the emergence of actual seasteads of increasing sophistication, safety, and political autonomy. Another great potential for increasing liberty comes from the emerging digital-currency movement, of which Bitcoin has been the most prominent exemplar to date. While Bitcoin has been plagued with recent extreme exchange-rate volatility and vulnerability to manipulation and theft by criminal hackers, it can still provide some refuge from the damaging effects of inflationary and redistributive central-bank monetary policy. With enough time and enough development of the appropriate technological infrastructure, either Bitcoin or one of its successor currencies might be able to obtain sufficient stability and reliability to become a widespread apolitical medium of exchange.
But there is a common requirement for one to enjoy all of these potential breakthroughs, along with many others that may be wholly impossible to anticipate: one has to remain alive for a long time. The longer one remains alive, the greater the probability that one’s personal sphere of liberty would be expanded by these innovations. Living longer can also buy one time for libertarian arguments to gain clout in the political sphere and in broader public opinion. Technological progress and pro-liberty activism can reinforce one another in a virtuous cycle.
To maximize their hopes of personally experiencing an amount of personal freedom even approaching that of the libertarian ideal, all libertarians should support radical life extension. This sought-after goal of some ancient philosophers, medieval alchemists, Enlightenment thinkers (notably Franklin, Diderot, and Condorcet), and medical researchers from the past two centuries, is finally within reach of many alive today. Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation gives humankind a 50 percent likelihood of reaching “longevity escape velocity” – a condition where increases in life expectancy outpace the rate of human senescence – within 25 years. Inventor, futurist, and artificial-intelligence researcher Ray Kurzweil predicts a radical increase in life expectancy in the 2020s, made possible by advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology, aided by exponentially growing computing power. But, like de Grey and perhaps somewhat unlike Kurzweil, I hold the view that these advances are not inevitable; they rely on deliberate, sustained, and well-funded efforts to achieve them. They rely on support by the general public to facilitate donations, positive publicity, and a lack of political obstacles placed in their way. All libertarians should become familiar with both the technical feasibility and the philosophical desirability of a dramatic, hopefully indefinite, extension of human life expectancies. My compilation of Resources on Indefinite Life Extension (RILE) is a good starting point for studying this subject by engaging with a wide variety of sources, perspectives, and ongoing developments in science, technology, and activism.
We have only this one life to live. If we fail to accomplish our most cherished goals and our irreplaceable individual universes disappear into oblivion, then, to us, it will be as if those goals were never accomplished. If we want liberty, we should strive to attain it in our lifetimes. We should therefore want those lifetimes to be lengthened beyond any set limit, not just for the sake of experiencing a far more complete liberty, but also for the sake of life itself and all of the opportunities it opens before us.