Political headwinds, undercurrents, and spheres of influence

by Steve M Cardon
(Mayaguez, PR)

The political battles over which areas of research the various governments of planet Earth will allow its citizenry to freely pursue, and the degrees of oversight to which they must submit, are destined to get much hotter and contentious. Many of us yearn for some form of technocracy to supplant the current pay-to-play system where short-sighted politicians hypocritically make crucial decisions based on paths of least resistance vis-à-vis their relatively uneducated, highly manipulated constituencies…others holding influence over the same…and of course contributing private interests.

In the 21st century, spheres of influence both religious and secular are still guarded jealously with Machiavellian practicality. Anyone who has invested large amounts of their personal resources (time, money, creativity) into gaining and maintaining power, is likely to be wary of any new philosophical undercurrents which have the potential to threaten the status quo… upset their supporters, and erode their hard won positions of influence and power.

The dynamic tension between religious and secular influencers/powerbrokers is still very much alive, well, and continues to throw up road-blocks to the ongoing efforts towards the liberation and advancement of the human race. At the same time our militaries continue to be the steady beneficiaries of cutting edge tech, and in the future are likely to receive enhancements denied to the population at large. Our leaders will be happy to portion out/limit various augmentations and other technologies to those to whom it is to their advantage to do so, but will it necessarily extend beyond that?

Whether the average civilian is allowed easy access to the full range of coming breakthroughs is still very much in question. It is important to bear in mind that while capitalism was responsible for raising the average standard of living through increased efficiencies, it still left the governments of the various states holding the biggest guns. I am of the opinion that every government is and will be about as “generous” with its citizens as it feels it can afford to be. Please do not misunderstand… I am not an anarchist by any stretch. Governments, at least at this stage of our social evolution, appear to be entirely necessary evils, that being said…

Two questions one might ask oneself are: what technologies would governments not want the average citizen to be in possession of, and what means do they have at their disposal to restrict it?

One obvious answer is that governments do not want the average citizen to possess technology that would unduly restrict them (the government) from maintaining control, or from being able to easily intercede / apprehend wherever and whenever they feel it necessary to do so. In the case of information technologies, governments are actively finding ways to turn them to their advantage…use them to detect, isolate, and track potential problems. In the case of physical weapons, however, the government will likely take a different tack.

Every country limits the amount of firepower legally accessible to its citizens. In the US, automatic weapons, artillery, various explosives (except in specially regulated circumstances), are all illegal for the average citizen to be in possession of. There will soon be, however, a whole slew of new technologies that will come within the price range of millions. Some of them are very likely be perceived as posing an undue threat to the state.

Take for example the exoskeleton systems that we are starting to see in DARPA videos and elsewhere. This is very cool future technology that is starting to arrive now, and which holds great possibilities for all of us. These wearable robots will ease many tasks, help those who are functionally challenged, and be quite a bit of fun as well. They also obviously have great potential for militaries and police.

However, do the police or National Guard want to contend with protesters in possession of high tech body protection and strength enhancing exoskeletons if, for example, politicians have just made a particularly controversial decision? And that is only the beginning. Any number of augmentations will give huge advantages in either confrontations, or evasions. On the other hand, how does a government rationalize denying citizens access to exosuits, bionics, or other elective modifications that are not necessarily of an overtly offensive nature, but could certainly be used as such? It is a political dilemma that could use some outside help…

…and so into the breach steps the still very robust conservative/religious sector of our population. Their respective and greatly respected leaders/influencers still hold great sway…great sway as in votes; great sway as in keeping their flocks relatively mollified and happy so long as the politicians they support do nothing to offend god. Here perhaps lies opportunity for cooperation to achieve respective goals.

Religious leaders are faced with great philosophical quandaries. If you start replacing body parts… which one is the SOUL affixed to? Does a human bioengineered from the ground up even get a soul? If humans can engineer themselves to live for indefinite periods of time, heaven and hell become increasingly remote concerns. It would be best to not even go there… best to try and nip the whole thing in the bud if possible.

So here comes the deal. Conservative religious groups will agree that elective augmentations, bionics, even exoskeletons, are part of a slippery slope towards the bioengineering of human beings which is an offence to god. They will support the government bans of Exosuits beyond a certain minimal power level with some specially licensed exceptions. Elective surgeries will be highly monitored, with “radical” modifications again being banned for the civilian populace. The government in turn will cite broad bio-ethical reasons for stymieing all manner of research the religious groups don’t like.

This will all work out just fine of course until the next major world conflict at which time enhanced soldiers will be unveiled, and all bets as well as illusions will end. Now the government can use the technology for defense, but it will be illegal for the civilian populace to do the same. I see this as one highly possible scenario. How can this or other scenarios where the government seizes exclusive control over such scientific advances be prevented?

Transhumanists would like to see technology advance as quickly, and ethically, as possible. Just as importantly, we want to see these advances directly benefit everyone, not just an elite...government, military, or otherwise. How then do we go about trying to head off the various groups heaven-bent on throwing mud into the gears of evolution? The amount of disinformation and fear being spread via internet is already astounding.

Transhumanists are being vilified, demonized, and dismissed at every turn, which should tell you how wide spread the fear is amongst many entrenched interest groups (largely religious). It should tell you that traditional shepherds will not give up their flocks easily. I should mention that a few religious groups have wisely been more flexible on the whole issue.

I firmly believe that we are in a race against time. Humanity needs to increase its collective knowledge and political savvy if we are to survive the next few decades, and be able to fully avail ourselves of the transformative technologies that are certain to come.

Politicians need to perceive that the path of least resistance is in supporting a free and futurist viewpoint. This is achieved by a constituency who has had the facts presented honestly, and is responsibly on board philosophically. The paranoid right is busily trying to spread fear and hate and so we need to counter it with optimism, realism, and enthusiasm. We must fight the information war with even more vigor.

In my view it is incumbent upon every Futurist/Transhumanist to get the message out loudly and repeatedly. “The future belongs to everyone who possesses the courage to embrace it.”

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