Immortalists Magazine interview
with David Pearce
Part ThreeIM: In 2015, Bill Gates gave a chilling warning on a TED Talk that the world was in danger due to global pandemics or bioterrorism. These predictions have raised conspiracy theories that Bill is responsible for creating the novel coronavirus and the reason for his interest in developing a vaccine treatment. There are also conspiracy theories circulating about 5G technology being connected to the spread of the novel coronavirus which has led to the recent burning of 5G towers in the UK. Conversations about the use of microchips and biometrics in order to prevent future epidemics are also fueling conspiracy paranoia. Are these fears reasonable? Do they serve an evolutionary purpose or detriment?
DP: “Only the paranoid survive”, said Intel boss Andy Grove. There’s a lot that medical science still doesn’t understand about the pandemic viral respiratory illness COVID-19. However, the new corona virus was not created by Bill Gates, nor is it spread by 5G towers. Nor is it a bioweapon. The truth is more sinister. COVID-19 is a by-product of humanity’s monstrous treatment of nonhuman animals. Zoonotic disease and consequent global pandemics are inevitable as long as humans practise meat-eating. Animal abuse is catastrophic for humans and our victims. Details of the spillover infection in a dirty Wuhan meat market in November 2019 are still murky; but this viral pandemic would not have happened if humans didn’t practise animal agriculture – and then butcher sentient beings to gratify a gruesome taste for their flesh. Rather than being the villain of the piece, Bill Gates is a sponsor of “clean” cultured meat. The cultured meat revolution promises to end zoonotic pandemics, save billions of nonhuman and human animal lives, and yield cost-savings of tens of trillions of dollars by preventing future pandemics. Yet human health and safety needn’t wait for the commercialisation of cruelty-free cultured meat and animal products. Wet markets, vivisection labs, factory-farms and slaughterhouses are crimes against sentience; they should be outlawed. Future civilisation will be vegan.
IM: Humanity’s self-sabotaging nature exists in many forms. One, in particular, a form of self-assertion by denying, ignoring, or attacking what others consider to be true - the fear of others - is as subtle and universal as it is destructive. This form of self-defense mechanism so prevalent in modern society prevents people from establishing effective communication channels that are all-encompassing, flexible, and effective, in particular towards problem-solving. Could humans ever turn mindfulness, gratitude, hope, and a sense of solidarity into sustainable practices?
DP: Evolution didn’t “design” humans to be nice to each other – except insofar as friendliness promoted the inclusive fitness of their genes. Some transhumanists worry about the spectre of unfriendly artificial general intelligence; but our biggest challenge is creating sentience-friendly biological intelligence. Maybe the shock of COVID-19 will help persuade killer apes to close the death factories and accelerate an anti-speciesist revolution. Maybe the shock of COVID-19 will help persuade free-market fundamentalists that all people have a fundamental right to basic income, homes and healthcare. I’d love to believe that humans will “turn mindfulness, gratitude, hope and a sense of solidarity into sustainable practices”, as you suggest. But unless we combine dietary, political and socio-economic reform with remediation of our sinister source code, the well-being of all sentience remains a utopian dream. Depravity is hardwired into our DNA – a lot of it, at any rate. The worst of “human nature” must be genetically cured.
IM:To establish a global pandemic immunity for the novel coronavirus, our priorities are: 1. to keep people safe from getting the coronavirus through social distancing, 2. to figure out a way to contact-trace and test millions of people a day to know who can resume working, 3. to come up with treatments and vaccinations that can prevent coronavirus flare-ups, in particular third world countries, 4. to continue travel restrictions and global collaboration, 5. to improve our supply chain and infrastructure. Do you think this plan is aligned with the transhumanist goal of improving the human condition?
DP: Becoming transhuman will entail overcoming deeply-rooted ethnocentric and anthropocentric bias. COVID-19 has already triggered an upsurge in racism and xenophobia. Coronaviruses and future pathogens could be readily tamed with the aid of ubiquitous testing and tracking apps. But many people are (rightly) afraid that tracking measures introduced to tackle catastrophes like COVID-19 – biometric scanning, phone location data, credit-card information, security footage and so forth – will be used by authoritarian regimes to control rather than protect us.
IM: The success of a global plan to turn the economy around towards the sustainable implementation of a universal health care system that can successfully handle crisis depends not only on improving our own neural architecture but on re-defining our value system. Professor Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, also a distinguished philosopher of posthuman studies from Cabo University, Italy, whom I'm also interviewing in this issue of Immoralists Magazine (See: “The Future Of Digital Surveillance and Healthcare - A Conversation with World Leading Philosopher Stefan Lorenz Sorgner” APR-MAY 2020), makes a bold argument stating that when it comes to health and privacy, the problem isn’t about giving up privacy, but our understanding of what privacy means to us. He argues that people aren’t afraid of giving up privacy, but being sanctioned by the government. We soon realize that the fear isn’t the loss of privacy but the inability to live as one pleases. Stefan believes that the collection of digital data by means of total surveillance is needed and can be established through mutually beneficial contracts where citizens give access to their biometrics to governments in exchange for a free health care system that keeps everyone safe and healthy. He adds, "in order to collect all the relevant data, the data needs to be sold in between the companies or the companies and the government." Do you think that a decentralized, non-commercial, peer-to-peer system would be more effective, or could we instead establish a hybrid system that restricts government and companies access to people's biometrics?
DP: Let’s step back for a moment. Why exactly does privacy matter? The Borg has no concept of privacy. Many Christians believe that a benevolent and omniscient God is privy to their innermost thoughts and feelings. But we needn’t invoke science-fiction or theology. If mutually “loved up” on oxytocin-releasing euphoriant empathogens like MDMA (Ecstasy), people can forget about privacy and be honest with each other: oxytocin has been dubbed the “trust hormone”. More radically, the conjoined craniopagus twins Krista and Tatiana Hogan share a thalamic bridge. In a sense, they are distinct persons. But Krista and Tatiana can partially see though each other’s eyes and taste and feel what the other is experiencing. So in another sense, the twins can share a mind as well as a body. Maybe our transhuman successors will be able to “mind meld” via reversible thalamic bridges. If so, mind-melding technologies will inaugurate a revolution of true honesty – and (lack of) personal privacy – as understood by archaic Darwinian lifeforms. Science, morality and decision-theoretic rationality will be revolutionised too. By contrast, “normal” humans today are profoundly ignorant of each other. Moreover, most prefer to stay ignorant – and prefer others stay ignorant of them. For sure, humans want to feel loved, appreciated and respected. But we also want to prevent others from truly understanding us – as distinct from acknowledging our idealised public personae. Some of the reasons why contemporary humans want to preserve their privacy may be irrational – for example, embarrassment over bodies and their functions or a taste in porn. But the problem goes deeper. Social, personal and business life depends on a web of deceptions. If our dark, Darwinian minds practised “radical honesty”, then human society and personal relationships would collapse. Today, we have the justified suspicion that if other humans learned our secrets, they might exploit such knowledge to harm us.
Anyhow, to answer your question more directly: if adequate safeguards can be established, then everyone’s mental and physical health would be best served by allowing medical authorities to have full genetic and biometric data for all citizens, ideally from birth if not conception. Later this century, universal access to preimplantation genetic screening and counselling and CRISPR genome-editing should be available for all prospective parents. Centralised genetic knowledge-banks available to medical researchers would promote public health and benefit individuals and society alike.
However, the risks to personal freedom from sharing such knowledge are far-reaching. I will need to study Stefan Sorgner’s proposals properly before offering comment. But in my view, universal access to free healthcare, basic income and adequate housing shouldn’t depend on surrendering genetic privacy and other biometric details. Universal and unconditional access to healthcare, basic income and adequate housing is a precondition of any civilised society. One possible solution to the privacy dilemma may involve artificial intelligence. If implemented wisely, the practice of sharing intimate personal and biometric details with smart digital zombies won’t involve embarrassment or scope for human-style abuse. We’re already heading for a world of robo-carers, robo-nurses, robo-doctors and robo-surgeons: insentient robo-epidemiologists aren’t so different – not a Nanny State, but “Nanny AI”. But I believe this kind of AI option would need rolling out over decades. The devil is in the details.
IM: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan are planning to partner up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to begin exploring possible COVID-19 treatments. It is known that the Zuckerberg-Chan Initiative is also on a mission to “eliminate all diseases within our children’s lifetime”. How are super longevity initiatives relevant to our quest to establish a universal health care system and happiness?
DP: Humanity needs a more ambitious conception of health – the kind of conception laid out in the founding constitution of the World Health Organization. I hope that we can indeed “eliminate all diseases within our children’s lifetime”. Yet even if all recognised genetic disorders and infections were eradicated, horrific suffering would persist in the world – all sorts of physical and mental pain. Under a regime of natural selection, a predisposition to suffering and discontent is genetically adaptive. So we wouldn’t really be healthy, just not sick. Our genomes need fixing. Hence the need for a biohappiness revolution – a civilised information-signalling system underpinned by gradients of intelligent bliss. Superlongevity? Only revolutionary medical breakthroughs can abolish death and aging. We don’t yet have the knowledge. Organs and bodies can be replaced, repaired and/or enhanced indefinitely with recognisable extensions of existing technologies; but the central nervous system is more challenging to re-engineer: I’m more pessimistic than some of my transhumanist colleagues about credible time-scales for eternally youthful mind-brains. Therefore we need a twin-track approach: SENS and Calico should work together with Alcor. Universal access to cryonics and cryothanasia could potentially make a transhumanist civilization available to all sentient beings – even the elderly and infirm for whom talk of posthuman paradise is apt to sound personally irrelevant. Hormonally, I’m one of Nature’s pessimists; but I think we are destined for a glorious “triple S” civilisation of superlongevity, superintelligence and superhappiness.
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Social Media (2020)
The End of Suffering
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
Quora Answers (2015-20)
The Reproductive Revolution
MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World
Interview of Nick Bostrom and David Pearce
Interview of DP by Sentience Research (2019)
Interview of DP by Immortalists Magazine (part one)