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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, January 09, 2011

James Hughes: "Liberal Democracy vs. Technocratic Absolutism" (IEET countdown # 26)

Leading transhumanist thinker James Hughes ventures into political philosophy in a deep and thorough discussion of democracy and its discontents. Although a bit inconclusive, this is an important piece.


A faith in the possibility of progress through liberal democracy is certainly difficult to sustain in the wake of the failure of a Democratic super-majority to pass health care reform in the United States, the collapse of meaningful climate change negotiations, the hand-wringing impotence of international institutions to intervene against genocide and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the persistence of myriad forms of popular ignorance and superstition. If I could convince myself that turning our fate over to the enlightened despotism of HAL or Khan Noonien Singh was the only way forward I also would be tempted. I am certainly looking forward to new forms of governance that satisfy my Enlightenment values better than do the existing forms of imperfect liberal democracy. For now, however, I think transhumanists need to focus on achieving our better world through liberal democracy.


Charles Sullivan said...

What is an unborn human being, Fiona A?

And why should they matter?

BenSix said...

Thanks for that, Russell, it's just the kind of thing that I was looking for! It strikes me that Bostrom claims that a "singleton" might arise to deal with international crises. Yudkowsky and others seem to think this will be dandy as the authorities will be friendly artificial intelligences. Yet it seems to me that crises - ie. resource depletion or unstable nuclear states - are likely to erupt long before such intelligences have been made (if, indeed, they can be) and therefore these world orders would be constructed from the self-serving and callous powermongers that we've known and loathed for centuries. Do these guys have a blueprint somewhere that I've just not come across?

GTChristie said...

Why wouldn't it matter?

Lorenzo said...

The notion of an enlightened elite which "knows" the correct answers is one that history has given the same answer to many times: it is a disastrous delusion.

Information flows and incentives matter for government, as does a sense of common restraints. The notion of the "correct ideas" denigrates restraints, blocks information flows and sets up disastrous incentives. In terms of decent politics, it gets almost everything wrong in, indeed due to, its conviction of its own rectitude.