Sunday, June 25, 2006

Extinctionism and Religion

AussieGirl at Ultima Thule writes about apocalyptic environmentalism, a very relevent topic here at the sanitarium where the gathering dangers of Extinctionism are an ongoing preoccupation. Her take is from the religious rather than the political angle, and if anything I think that makes Extinctionism even scarier. Religious fanatics are usually a crazy lot, whether they believe in the Book of Revelation, Xenu, or Global Climate Change. And crazy people are much more likely to do something, well, crazy. Like, say, try and wipe out the species with airborne ebola.

And lest you think she's just a crazy blogger like me, her post includes most of an article from the Economist - not a magazine noted for it's wild flights of fancy. Here's a taste:

Science treasures its own apocalypses. The modern environmental movement appears to have borrowed only half of the apocalyptic narrative. There is a Garden of Eden (unspoilt nature), a fall (economic development), the usual moral degeneracy (it's all man's fault) and the pressing sense that the world is enjoying its final days (time is running out: please donate now!). So far, however, the green lobby does not appear to have realised it is missing the standard happy ending. Perhaps, until it does, environmentalism is destined to remain in the political margins. Everyone needs redemption.

In the comments, Gormless Norman is the first to suggest that that redemption could be extinction.

Political Incorrectness and Compassion

Fjordman's PC post continues to makes waves in the 'sphere. For me, it sparked the desire to write the Sanitarium's inaugural post, on Extinctionism. Gagdad Bob, at One Cosmos, writes a lengthy essay on the religious aspects of Political Correctness, discussing PC ideology, religion, and evil. A very interesting take, and well worth your reading time.

Pretty in Pink

Anyone who isn't blind has noticed the epidemic of pink shirts that's currently sweeping the world of men's fashion. You see the benighted metros wearing them everywhere, on the street, in the office, and if you go into a menswear store, you're confronted with a sea of pink, leavened by the occasional pastel highlight.

Now, normally I don't care about men's fashion. "This is in this year? Whatever. Just ring it up so I can get out of this damn mall and back to doing something interesting." That in a nutshell is my usual attitude towards clothing.

But this is different. This is pink. And ever since the pink trend started to catch on (first observed in Toronto, but recently it's followed me to Tokyo) I've had a niggling suspicion that there's something, well, sinister about the whole thing.

Or maybe I'm just an unreconstructed homophobic backwoods redneck, and I'm over-reacting to the whole 'pink' thing because I Fear Change (then again, sports bore me, I've never been hunting, and I expect and hope for a technological singularity, Coming Soon to a Planet Near You. I do like beer, though. And whiskey. Sweet, sweet whiskey....) So I'm open to the possibility that I'm ranting about nothing here, but anyways.

Now, as is fairly well known, color has a very strong psychological aspect. Blue is calming and authoritative, red can mean aggression or sex. That kind of thing. And yes there's a cultural component to all this, but mostly I'm talking about this as relates to one culture (the West) so that's not really at issue, I think.

Most of the hits I got on a quick google gave the psychological components of pink as calm, warmth, and nurture, with the particular emphasis on calm. All of them of course generally feminine qualities (which would explain the color's historical association with femininity.) A little more digging revealed that "Sports teams sometimes paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy," a dirty trick inspired by the technique of using pink jail cells to calm inmates (using a very specific shade, call 'drunk tank pink', which was discovered by the U.S. Marine Corps.) Apparently drunk-tank pink must be used sparingly: exposure to the color for more than an hour pacifies the subject so effectively that he becomes suicidal.

So what does all this say about the latest fad for feminized menswear?

I see it all as a symptom. Here we have a generation of men raised in schools that treat them as deffective women, to the point of medicating them if they prove restless. They then go to work in office environments where overtly masculine displays are greatly frowned upon, and where traditionally feminine abilities - multitasking, consensus-building, that sort of thing - are prized. The surrounding culture tells them that women want soft, sensitive men (men who get sympathy pain, not men who shrug at pain) with soft, sensitive skin (waxed, not shaven.) They're not allowed to take part in any 'men-only' organizations, either in work or in play; it's instructive that the Boy Scouts' name now counts as false advertising, though the Girl Guides remain true to their title.

It's only natural that many choose, consciously or not, to subdue their masculine side, and wearing pink is undoubtedly a part of that.

At the same time, instinct whispers to them, "Something is wrong." It's a persistent, niggling disquiet in the back of their minds, the notion that they've been cheated, somewhere, somehow, of something that every other man in the history of the species expected without even knowing they expected it. And so they need to be calmed ... and that nice pink polo shirt for the club, or the soft pink business shirt for that important Wednesday lunch, speak directly to that need.

But the calming power of pink is not forever. As the experience of the police shows, expose a man to pink for too long and he'll go suicidally insane.

Not that it will come to that.

Things will start to swing, soon I think, in the other direction. A lot of men don't buy the whole 'senstive modern man' thing and never did. A lot of women admit they don't even really want that. Both of those groups resent having masculinity squelched because it's inconvenient. And as for the large numbers wearing pink, to me they seem to be as a group desperately, silently pleading for help. They'd like to be men, and though they can't really remember how, instinct as always will prove stronger than social engineering. There will come a time when they demand to start learning.

From this perspective, the epidemic of pink might even be a hopeful sign. Short of mass vasectomies and mandatory estrogen injections, how much worse could it get?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Crying Wolf

America's like my Dad. No matter what it does, someone complains, and complains bitterly. Every once in a while, the criticism would get to him, and he'd be unpleasant company for a time; but though he'd bitch and yell, he'd still try and be the best Dad he could.

Let's hope the US has the same level of patience with the rest of the world.

It was this post from the New Sisyphus that got me thinking along these lines:

Another day, another dead American. We are expected to die. The world has long since past expected that Americans be treated with honor and respect or according to the basic rules of war.

In Korea, we were expected to take the lead in the fight. Our captured soldiers were horrifically tortured. In Vietnam, we were on our own. Our captured soldiers were horrifically tortured. In the Iraq War, we were expected to take the lead in the fight. Our captured soldiers were horrifically tortured and, since our captured then included, for the first time, women, raped.

None of which was or is thought by the world community as a weakening of the laws of war, of the Geneva Conventions. Those are what Americans fight by. You can't expect those oppressed people who America is unjustly fighting to respect those, can you?

Sisyphus holds out the possibility that the US will, in essence, walk out on the rest of the world: serve it divorce papers, get a restraining order, and let the wife keep the kids. Oh, and you can forget about child support.

I don't give this a very high probability, if only because America is so heavily invested - in every sense - in the global economy. The time is long since passed when the great Republic could slam the door and lock out the world.

I find it marginally more plausible that the U.S. - or at least the elements within it that happen to have guns - might finally stop caring about the opinions of other people. "Fine", they might say, "If we're scum, beasts, and war-criminals, no matter what we do, then that's what we'll be." There's no reason beyond their own sensibilities why they should go the extra mile to avoid civilian casualties: in terms of American blood and treasure, a far more cost-effective way of dealing with rogue regimes would be summary nuking. "Annoy us, and your capital city is a parking lot." The U.S. possesses an arsenal capable of annihilating the planet several times over. They could sow horror the likes of which the world has never dreamed, and barely scratch the surface of what they have at their fingertips.

Head-hacking? Suicide bombing? Nuclear terrorism? That's nothing to what America could do, if it stopped caring. And that's just with the capabilities they have now. The US just happens to possess the world's most dynamic, most creative economy. If they really put their minds to developing doomsday weapons, they could invent some nasty shit. Imagine, for instance, viruses which only activate in the presence of specific ethnic markers. Or smart-dust equipped with tiny packets of poison, enabling the U.S. military to establish blanket surveillance over an area and then execute anyone who stepped out of line. Pharamcological weapons which disable the psychological ability to fight, permanently. None of these ideas are original with me, but none of them exactly stretch credulity, now do they?

The same logic can be applied internally, as well. The US Army, and conservatives in general, are constantly under attack for being mouth-breathing monsters, regardless of either motivation or deportment. If, one day, they snapped, well ... it's the conservatives who have guns. Largely, conservatives who man the armed forces. And in this day and age, many people leave a long and detailed trail of their political opinions, all of it electronically archived.

Just sayin'.

Now before you think I'm sitting here panting in anticipation of all this, you should note a few things. 1) I'm a Canadian, and thus unlikely to benefit if America goes rabid. 2) A few paragraphs up, where I say, 'marginally more plausible'. I don't rate this dark future as being overly likely, not because I have any great deal of evidence, but simply because I have faith in the basic decency of the American soul. I think that, like my Dad, they might bitch and moan and occasionally threaten but in the end, their skin is thick, their shoulders wide, and their back strong. They can take the criticism, and keep on doing what's right, whenever they can, do the best of their ability, because that's just the kind of people they are.

I don't see the scenario I've sketched all that likely. Nor do I find it at all desirable.

But some times, I do wish the critics would just shut the fuck up.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Pocket-Bike

Okay, so the first version of this contraption looks like it's top speed wouldn't be significantly different from a leisurely stroll, but it's still a very cool idea. The solution, I think, would be to design wheels that could fold, too, possibly using a memory metal of some kind. Fix that problem, and the pocket bike would be a brilliant little gadget.

Allocations vs. Markets, or, Neofeudalism vs., um, Neofeudalism

David Brin, the eminent science fiction author (well, eminent to those of us who pay attention to those things) has a thought-provoking new essay up on his blog: "Allocations vs. Markets" - an ancient struggle with strange modern implications:

I am talking about the struggle between those preaching “prudent sustainability” and those who claim that market forces will solve all looming crises of poverty, pollution, energy depletion and so on.

We’ve all grown familiar with these apparently rigid “sides”, and so let me avow something from the start. If I am forced to choose between them, you can bet that I will side with the New Puritans of the sustainability crowd! They, at least, want somemodernist attention paid to assertive problem-solving, instead of preaching an indolent, pollyanna faith that some grand and superior external force will come to our rescue, averting calamity in the nick of time.

(Did it, ever, in the past? I repeat that challenge. Did such a thing happen? Ever?)

But that’s the point. I will not choose sides between the extreme poles of yet another absurd "devil's dichotomy." As I say here: http://www.davidbrin.com/collapse.html and here: http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050911/news_lz1v11science.html
... we don’t have to pick between two perfectly opposite positions! In fact, that kind of inflexibility is the surest way to guarantee our failure as a civilization.

So let’s pull back from our immediate troubles, once again, and ponder how these two viewpoints may reflect assumptions that are far older and more similar than any of the adversaries think, reflecting habits of thought going back thousands of years.

In fact, there are certain ways in which doctrinaire leftists are taking up old-time feudalist positions while today’s neo-feudalists of the right seem, at first, to be standing up for the Enlightenment... only to show their truer, reactionary colors when we dig a little deeper.

....

Returning closer to the topic at hand, how does any of this apply to the cornucopian mythology of Huber and Mills? Of Julian Symon and Bjorn Lomberg? The supreme rationalization of those in the elite who do not want governments, legislatures, universities or other publicly accountable institutions to deliberate or plan strategies for dealing with onrushing change.

Let’s step back. Consider what these authors (and their benefactor/patrons) are preaching. The deliberately provocative title “Bottomless Well” forecasts a coming feast of both energy and human empowerment -- a predicted perfect storm of human problem-solving creativity -- arising from a combination of mass education, freedom and fecund market forces. It is, deep down, yet another expression of what’s recently been called the Copenhagen Doctrine or, more generally, the precept of Faith in Blind Markets (FIBM)

Now first let me put aside any notion that I’m an adherent of the opposite principle -- the general notion called Guided Allocation of Resources (GAR). As you will see below, I most definitely am not!

What I will show is that this dispute goes back a long way. It is an ancient dichotomy... and one that’s deeply misunderstood

As usual, his very unique point of view is independant of easy left/right pigeonholing. Brin is the ultimate centrist, so deep in the center that these days he might as well be a radical. Anyhow, I definately recommend that you hop on over and read the whole thing.

Essentially, Brin argues that the pyramid-shaped economy is the natural form for human societies to take on, and that the diamond of the past two centuries is so is a (highly desirable!) aberration, less a natural structure than a finely tuned machine. He goes on to argue that those in power are inherently hostile to this machine, as, by disabling it, they can - over the short-term - increase their own wealth and power. Furthermore, many essentially goodwilled people will be hostile towards it, as it's structure isnt' exactly intuitive. It works, but all our evolutionary programming tells us it shouldn't.

Now here's the kicker, and the reason why the article tickles me cortex. The 'right', sez Brin, is more dangerous to markets than the 'left', because while all those leftoid profs and politicians and culturejamming antiglobalization activists are openly hostile to capitalism, the libertarian think tanks and corporate lobbies and such claim to be for markets, while deep down acting to subvert them and put in place an old-style oligarchic system. In the final analysis, there's no real difference between the two, because they want to impose essentially the same system: the one dressed up as a socialist bureacracy, the other costumed in the vestements of corporate autonomy, but the basic end-result of either being that our socioeconomic structure slumps back into a pyramid.



Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cool New Webtool

I've been waiting for something like this for a while. Wikipedia is all very well and good - I'm a regular user, as anyone who clicks on my links can tell - but WetPaint lets you set up your own wiki, and brings all the ease of use of blogging to the experience. You can set up a wiki thats open to all, limitted to wetpaint users, or locked down to those who have password access. It takes seconds to set up a wiki, the interface is seemless, and the templates they offer are just gorgeous.

Why are you still here? Go play!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Extinctionism

And I thought I'd invented the word myself. A google search proved me wrong (though a lot of pages had a religious instead of environmental bent, but still.)

Bioterror Watch - Smallpox Synthesis

This is kind of scary. Via the Guardian:

In a front-page article in The Guardian on 14 June, the newspaper's science correspondent describes how he arranged for a tiny fragment of the smallpox genome to be synthesized by a mail-order biological-supplies company and delivered to his home address. The company involved, VH Bio, based in Gateshead, UK, did not screen the sequence using software that checks orders against the genomes of dangerous microorganisms.

The smallpox virus has been synthesized before, and while it was by university molecular biology professors, they claimed that doing so was pretty trivial. It will only get more so as time goes on: the technology necessary for genetic engineering continues to fall in price, and odds are there will be plenty of people who just teach themselves how do it. For that matter, it's not impossible that, say, a molecular biology grad student might get infected by extinctionism memesets, and decide to synthesize smallpox or some other virus in his free time.

There's a lot of debate about whether such information should be suppressed. Apparently there's an ammendment banning it's synthesis, and when the virus was first synthesized (a feat the researchers performed as a warning) a lot of people said they'd gone too far by actually publishing the genome. The argument is that it's sort of like nuclear secrets: the recipes and techniques should be held secret, to keep bad guys from making them. The other side of the debate says suppressing information is never the way to go.

Of course widely distributed biotech expertise could be a blessing as well. Hundreds of thousands of basement biolabs run by hobbyists might be able to find vaccines, antiviral agents etc within days or even hours, thus providing the world with a kind of technological immune system. I figure this is the world's best bet for avoiding some kind of biological apocalypse, which is why I actually support letting that information roam free. The more people are working on defenses, the better, and unlike with nukes, they need all the information they can get to build effective defenses.

Monday Sci-Tech Links

Researchers have developed a new “liquid armor” that “flows normally under low-energy conditions, but when agitated or hit with an impact it stiffens and behaves like a solid”. Now that's just cool.

Apparently, green tea might explain why Asians - who generally smoke like freakin' chimneys - have lower cancer rates than all those healthy-livin' po-faced westerners.

Hopefully this anti-aging molecule won't prove to be another faked-up boondoggle for Korean researchers.

Speaking of stem cells, a recent paper in Nature suggests biologists are close to being able to reprogram adult cells to go embryonic ... that should nicely sidestep the embryo wars.

Japanese researchers at MTT use quantum dots to measure individual electrons, creating a precursor of the world's most sensitive ammeter.

Google is building a ginourmous data center ... so big it requires to four-story cooling towers. I figure they'll be the first to develop strong AI (but that they won't tell anybody until the beast is mature.)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

More on Extinctionism

And it begins. The following is taken from the Church of Euthanasia's Gaia Liberation Front 'Statement of Purpose':

Fortunately, we now have the specific technology for doing the job right--and it's something that could be done by just one person with the necessary expertise and access to the necessary equipment. Genetically engineered viruses are already being custom-designed for use in "pest" control. These viruses have the advantage of attacking only the target species. To complicate the search for a cure or a vaccine, and as insurance against the possibility that some Humans might be immune to a particular virus, several different viruses could be released (with provision being made for the release of a second round after the generals and the politicians had come out of their shelters). Of course, natural viruses, such as the smallpox virus, that attack only Humans could be used as well.9 (but don't, for goodness' sake, go around saying that you're actually advocating any of this. We can get our message across just as effectively by, for example, campaigning to make it legal to exterminate the Humans.)

These people really are dangerous, but of course, until they do something actually illegal (like, say, trying to make one of those viruses.) I hope to hell that the various intelligence agencies aren't so busy trying to keep track of Islamists and their dinky bomb threats to keep a close watch on people who want to exterminate the entire human species.

Links to Random (mostly science-related) Stuff That Caught My Fancy

A journalism grad student posts about his thesis research into scientology. The youtube video is pretty lame, but the flash animation is pretty cool. It didn't teach me much I didn't already know, but the more people who tell the truth about this abonimable cult the better.

It seems Broca's area is important, not just for language processing, but also for the general executive functions involved in planning.

Graham's Number makes my head hurt.

Chimps and humans made booty calls on each other during their long evolutionary breakup.

Novamente (who I've never heard of before) has a plan to build human level AI within six years. Possible? Maybe. Likely? I'd bet no.

It seems the Milky Way is actually a barred spiral.

Did Native Americans record a supernova? Certainly technology is no prerequisite for fascination with weird goings-on in the night sky.

Planemos - basically superjovians that float freely through space, with no parent star - might spawn their own planetary systems.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Third Wave

Fjordman, over at the Gates of Vienna, has a long post up concerning political correctness (and though the title doesn't mention it, multiculturalism), which is, as he puts it, the revenge of marxism:

Not only has Marxism survived, it is thriving and has in some ways grown stronger. Leftist ideas about Multiculturalism and de-facto open borders have achieved a virtual hegemony in public discourse, their critics vilified and demonized. By hiding their intentions under labels such as “anti-racism” and “tolerance,” Leftists have achieved a degree of censorship of public discourse they could never have dreamt of had they openly stated that their intention was to radically transform Western civilization and destroy its foundations.

That's pretty much my view of it. I've been reading a bit lately about the theories of Antonio Gramsci, an early twencen Marxist. His contribution to the endless Marxist discussion is essentially the idea that the way to win the war against capitalism, and create the necessary preconditions for a revolution, was with subversion of it's educational, political, media, religious, and commercial institutions. His name is fairly obscure, but his influence is not: anyone who's spent any time on a modern university campus, sat through 'sensitivity training', or had to carefully police their own language in front of colleagues in order to avoid breaking the ever-tightening strictures of political correctness has encountered it.

This has all been in the works for a long time. There's some evidence that, even fifty years ago, Stalin was using fellow travellers and useful idiots inside American communist parties to subvert the U.S. at a cultural level. Evidence only came to light after the fall of the Soviet Union, with the release of the Venona transcripts, which document KGB contact with agents inside the U.S. ESR at Armed and Dangerous has a post in which he discusses this in more detail.

At any rate, it's occurred to me that at the moment we're at the crest of a second marxist attack on the West. The first one, universally known as the Cold War, was motivated - on the surface at least - primarily by economics. I'll call this strain anticapitalism. The Marxist argument was that communism, or socialism, was a better method of generating and distributing wealth than capitalism. This proved false, as was obvious to all but the most intellectually dishonest by the 1970s.

Not that this empirical truth stopped the marxists: they simply switched the target of their hostility, from capitalist economics to Western culture. Call this strain anti-occidentalism. The anti-occidentalists invented postmodernism, radical feminism, deconstructionism, political correctness, and any number of [insert oppressed group here] studies. And, of course, after 9/11, they largely sided with the Islamists who wish to drag our civilization back into the medieval mud, taking the side of barbarians that violently repudiate every principle they claim to cherish.

This too shall pass. Already, the resistance towards the cultural assault gathers, stronger every year. The wilfully blind media; the dissembling politicians; the academics gone off the deep end; all these groups hemorrhage credibility with every lie, every mistake, every rejection of obvious truths for increasingly empty ideals.

Boys raised in schools that treat their gender as a disease. University students who go deep in debt to endure four years of stalinism and learn nothing save that which they teach themselves. Women made to feel subhuman if they elect to make their career the raising of their children. Christians whose faith is spat upon at every opportunity, while they watch those who spit with the most enthusiasm bow and scrape before muslims.

The anger grows. Anti-occidentalism will not survive it. One day we will wake up, and nothing will be more disrespectable than hating the West merely because it is the West. We will have realized their only power comes from us listening, and we will simply ignore them.

Not that that will be the end of it. What we're dealing with isn't a series of unrelated mass psychoses, or simple human error: it's an evolving memetic virus, more virulent than anything ever seen before. Religions are as nothing before it. It will mutate again, and come back as something even nastier.

The generations aren't self-contained; there's considerable overlap. Even today, you'll find those who refuse to admit that economic marxism doesn't work. "Communism just hasn't been really tried," they insist, though their plaints fall on deaf ears. Communism is out on the long tail of the intellectual market. Thirty years ago, at the height of economic marxism's power, was when cultural marxism was incubated; the more farsighted amongst the fellow travellers saw the writing on the wall, acquired a different target, and began their long march through the institutions of the West.

And now? If you look closely, inside the lunatic fringe that the marxists themselves refuse to give much in the way of credibility or attention, you'll find the next generation: embryonic, largely ignored, and for now, essentially dormant. But it's there nonetheless, and when anti-occidentalism implodes it will move into the niche it leaves.

I call it extinctionism.

The Church of Euthanasia. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. EarthFirst!. Deep Ecology. These various groups and movements have been around for years. Their position is simple: civilization is an existential risk to the biosphere, and thus the population should either be severely curtailed or even eliminated entirely (after all, even if 99% of the population died, and only a few scattered hunter-gatherers were left, they might well expand and start the whole nightmare of civilization all over again.)

How many times have you heard humanity compared to a virus? A malignant cancer? A dangerous pathogen, that must be removed. Expect such rhetoric to increase as time goes on.

The progression is simple. Generation 1 targeted capitalism. Generation 2 targets western civilization, And generation 3 will target the human species itself.

Note that the first two generations tended towards methods appropriate to their focus. The first used labor unions, general strikes, nationalization of industries, and welfare; the second, speech codes, behavioural restrictions, textual 'analysis', guilt, and shame.

Nothing so elaborate will be required for the next generation. Their weapons will be simple: infectious disease. After all, if humanity is dangerous to the biosphere, then they must be eliminated. Today, most sympathizers claim that the viral pandemics will arise naturally, out of crowded urban conditions and natural happenstance. The problem is, as we've seen with SARS and bird flu, modern medicine has the capability to contain outbreaks when they occur, and even track them before they do. Some will grow impatient, and opt to help nature along.

And this is the really dangerous thing. The previous generations required the participation, or at least acquiescence, of a massive segment of the population to be effective: revolutions don't happen unless the people actually rise up and revolt, and speech codes are useless if ignored. But viral weapons can be developed by tiny cadres; all extinctionism need do is attain sufficient intellectual credibility that a fraction of a percentage of supporters are willing to help nature along.

Ray Kurzweil, amongst others, has called for a 'Manhatten Project' against biological warfare. I think it's doable, but not easily and not quickly, and one of the things that keeps me awake at night is the thought that a lot of people will die before such a project can be completed. Extinctionism might not kill off the species, but it might well kill billions.