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Predicting an economic “singularity” approaching, Kevin Carson from the Center for a Stateless Society writes in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution (2010) we can look forward to a vibrant “alternative economy” driven less and less by corporate and state leviathans.

According to Carson, “the more technical advances lower the capital outlays and overhead for production in the informal economy, the more the economic calculus is shifted” (p. 357). While this sums up the message of the book and its relevance to advocates of open existing and emerging technologies, the analysis Carson offers to reach his conclusions is extensive and sophisticated.

With the technology of individual creativity expanding constantly, the analysis goes, “increasing competition, easy diffusion of new technology and technique, and increasing transparency of cost structure will – between them – arbitrage the rate of profit to virtually zero and squeeze artificial scarcity rents” (p. 346).

An unrivalled champion of arguments against “intellectual property”, the author believes IP to be nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by talentless corporations to continue making profit at the expensive of true creators and scientists (p. 114–129). The view has significant merit.

“The worst nightmare of the corporate dinosaurs”, Carson writes of old-fashioned mass-production-based and propertied industries, is that “the imagination might take a walk” (p. 311). Skilled creators could find the courage to declare independence from big brands. If not now, in the near future, technology will be advanced and available enough that the creators and scientists don’t need to work as helpers for super-rich corporate executives. Nor will the future see such men and women kept at dystopian, centralized factories.

Pointing to the crises of overproduction and waste, together with seemingly inevitable technological unemployment, Carson believes corporate capitalism is at death’s door. Due to “terminal crisis”, not only are other worlds possible but “this world, increasingly, is becoming impossible” (p. 82). Corporations, the author persuades us, only survive because they live off the subsidies of the government. But “as the system approaches its limits of sustainability”, “libertarian and decentralist technologies and organizational forms” are destined to “break out of their state capitalist integument and become the building blocks of a fundamentally different society” (p. 111–112).

Giant corporations are no longer some kind of necessary evil needed to ensure wide-scale manufacture and distribution of goods in our globalized world. Increasingly, they are only latching on to the talents of individuals to extract rents. They may even be neutering technological modernity and the raising of living standards, to extract as much profit as possible by allowing only slow improvements.

And why should corporations milk anyone, if those creators are equipped and talented enough to work for themselves?

The notion of creators declaring independence is not solely a question of things to come. While Kevin Carson links the works of Karl Hess, Jane Jacobs and others (p. 192–194) to imagine alternative friendly, localized community industries of a high-tech nature that will decrease the waste and dependency bred by highly centralized production and trade, he also points to recent technologies and their social impact.

“Computers have promised to be a decentralizing force on the same scale as electrical power a century earlier” (p. 197), the author asserts, referring to theories of the growth of electricity as a utility and its economic potential. From the subsequent growth of the internet, blogging is replacing centralized and costly news networks and publications to be the source of everyone’s information (p. 199). The decentralization brought by computers has meant “the minimum capital outlay for entering most of the entertainment and information industry has fallen to a few thousand dollars at most, and the marginal cost of reproduction is zero” (p. 199).

The vision made possible by books like Kevin Carson’s might be that one day, not only information products but physical products – everything – will be free. The phrase “knowledge is free”, a slogan of Anonymous hackers and their sympathizers, is true in two senses. Not only does “information want to be free”, the origin of the phrase explained by Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly in What Technology Wants (2010), but one can acquire knowledge at zero cost.

If the “transferrability” of individual creativity and peer production “to the realm of physical production” from the “immaterial realm” is a valid observation (p. 204–227), then the economic singularity means one thing clear. “Knowledge is free” shall become “everything is free”.

“Newly emerging forms of manufacturing”, the author indicated, “require far less capital to undertake production. The desktop revolution has reduced the capital outlays required for music, publishing and software by two orders of magnitude; and the newest open-source designs for computerized machine tools are being produced by hardware hackers for a few hundred dollars” (p. 84).

Open source hardware is of course also central to the advocacy in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, especially as it relates to poorer peripheries of the world-economy. It is through open source hardware libraries of the kind advocated by Vinay Gupta that plans for alternative manufacture as the starting point in an alternative economy for the good of all become feasible.

As I argued in my 2013 Catalyst booklet, not only informational goods will face the scandals of being “leaked” or “pirated” in future. The right generation of 3D printers, robots, atomically-precise manufacturing devices, biotechnology-derived medicines and petrochemicals will all move “at the speed of light” as the father of synthetic biology J. Craig Venter predicted of his own synbio work.

The fuel of an economic singularity, those above creations should be of primary interest in the formation of an alternative economy. They would not only have zero cost and zero waiting times, but they would require zero effort. Simply shared, they must be allowed to raise the living standards of humanity and allow poor countries to leapfrog several stages of development, breaking free of the bonds of exploitation.

One area to be criticized in the book could be a portion in which it reflects negatively on the very creation of railways or other state-imposed infrastructure and standards as a wrong turn in history, because these created an artificial niche for corporations to thrive (p. 5–23). It seems to undermine the book’s remaining thesis that the right turn in history consists of “libertarian and decentralist technologies and organizational forms”. “Network” technologies and organizational forms only exist due to that wave of prior mass production and imposed infrastructure the author claimed to be unnecessary. Without the satellites and thousands of kilometers of cable made in factories and installed by states, any type of “network” organizational form would be a weak proposition and the internet would never have existed.

Arguably, now the standards are set, future technological endeavors that connect and bridge society won’t need new standards imposed from above or vast physical infrastructure subsidized by states. The formation of effective networks itself now produces new mechanisms for devising and imposing standards, ensuring interconnectivity and high living standards should continue to flourish under the type of alternative economy advocated in Carson’s book.

Abolish artificial scarcity, intellectual property, mandatory high overhead and other measures used by states to enforce the privileges of monopoly capitalism, the author tells us (p. 168–170). This way, a more humane world-economy can be engineered, oriented to benefit people and local communities foremost. Everyone in the world may get to work fewer hours while enjoying an improved quality of life, and we can prevent a bleak future in which millions of people are sacrificed to technological unemployment on the altar of profit.

How could global economic inequality survive the onslaught of synthetic organisms, micromanufacturing devices, additive manufacturing machines, nano-factories?

Narrated by Harry J. Bentham, author of Catalyst: A Techno-Liberation Thesis (2013), using the introduction from that book as a taster of the audio version of the book in production. (



Audio: coming soon!

Encapsulation Pictures

Fear of scientists “playing god” is at the centre of many a plot line in science fiction stories. Perhaps the latest popular iteration of the story we all love is Jurassic World (2015), a film I find interesting only for the tribute it paid to the original Michael Crichton novel and movie Jurassic Park.

Full op-ed from h+ Magazine on 7 October 2015

john hammond jurrasic parkIn Jurassic Park, a novel devoted to the scare of genetic engineering when biotech was new in the 1990s, the character of John Hammond says:

“Would you make products to help mankind, to fight illness and disease? Dear me, no. That’s a terrible idea. A very poor use of new technology. Personally, I would never help mankind.”

What the character is referring to is the lack of profit in actually curing diseases and solving human needs, and the controversy courted just by trying to get involved in such development. The goal to eradicate poverty or close the wealth gap between rich and poor nations offers no incentive for a commercial company.

Instead, businesses occupy themselves with creating entertainment, glamour products and perfume, new pets, and other superfluities that biotech can inevitably offer. This way, the companies escape not only moral chastisement for failing to share their technology adequately or make it freely available, but they can also attach whatever price tag they want without fear of controversy.

It is difficult for a well-meaning scientist or engineer to push society towards greater freedom and equality in a single country. It is even harder for such a professional to effect a great change over the whole world or improve the human condition the way transhumanists, for example, have intended.

Although discovery and invention continue to stun us all on an almost daily basis, such things do not happen as quickly or in as utilitarian a way as they should. And this lack of progress is deliberate. As the agenda is driven by businessmen who adhere to the times they live in, driven more by the desire for wealth and status than helping mankind, the goal of endless profit directly blocks the path to abolish scarcity, illness and death.

Today, J. Craig Venter’s great discoveries of how to sequence or synthesize entire genomes of living biological specimens in the field of synthetic biology (synthbio) represent a greater power than the hydrogen bomb. It is a power we must embrace. In my opinion, these discoveries are certainly more capable of transforming civilization and the globe for the better. In Life at the Speed of Light(2013), that is essentially Venter’s own thesis.

And contrary to science fiction films, the only threat from biotech is that humans will not adequately and quickly use it. Business leaders are far more interested in profiting from people’s desire for petty products, entertainment and glamour than curing cancer or creating unlimited resources to feed civilization. But who can blame them? It is far too risky for someone in their position to commit to philanthropy than to stay a step ahead of their competitors.

Even businessmen who later go into philanthropy do very little other than court attention in the press and polish the progressive image of the company. Of course, transitory deeds like giving food or clean water to Africans will never actually count as developing civilization and improving life on Earth, when there are far greater actions that can be taken instead.

It is conspicuous that so little has been done to develop the industrial might of poor countries, where schoolchildren must still live and study without even a roof over their heads. For all the unimaginable destruction that our governments and their corporate sponsors unleash on poor countries with bombs or sanctions when they are deemed to be threatening, we see almost no good being done with the same scientific muscle in poor countries. Philanthropists are friendly to the cause of handing out food or money to a few hungry people, but say nothing of giving the world’s poor the ability to possess their own natural resources and their own industries.

Like our bodies, our planet is no longer a sufficient vehicle for human dreams and aspirations. The biology of the planet is too inefficient to support the current growth of the human population. We face the prospect of eventually perishing as a species if we cannot repair our species’ oft-omitted disagreements with nature over issues of sustainability, congenital illness and our refusal to submit to the cruelties of natural selection from which we evolved.

Once we recognize that the current species are flawed, we will see that only by designing and introducing new species can suffering, poverty and the depletion of natural resources be stopped. Once we look at this option, we find already a perfect and ultimately moral solution to the threats of climate change, disease, overpopulation and the terrible scarcity giving rise to endless injustice and retaliatory terrorism.

The perfect solution could only be brought to the world by a heroic worker in the fields of biotech and synthetic biology. Indeed, this revolution may already be possible today, but fear is sadly holding back the one who could make it happen.

Someone who believes in changing the human animal with technology must believe in eradicating poverty, sickness and injustice with technology. For all our talk of equality and human rights in our rhetoric, the West seems determined to prevent poorer countries from possessing their own natural resources. A right guaranteed by the principles of modernization and industrialization, which appears to have been forgotten. Instead, we prefer to watch them being nursed by the richer countries’ monopolies, technology, and workers who are there cultivating, extracting, refining, or buying all their resources for them.

So, quite contrary to the promises of modernity, we have replaced the ideal of the industrialization of poor states with instead the vision of refugee camps, crude water wells, and food aid delivered by humanitarian workers to provide only temporary relief. In place of a model of development that was altruistic and morally correct, we instead glorify the image of non-Westerners as primitives who are impossible to help yet still we try.

The world’s poor have become not the focus of attention aimed at helping humanity, but props for philanthropists to make themselves look noble while doing nothing to truly help them. What we should turn to is not a return to the failed UN development agendas of the 1970s, which were flawed, but a new model entirely, and driven by people instead of governments and UN agencies.

It is high time that we act to help mankind altruistically, rather than a select few customers. The engineers and scientists of the world need to abandon the search for profit, if only for a moment. We should call on them to turn their extraordinary talent to the absolute good of abolishing poverty and scarcity. If they do not do this, we will talk about direct action to break free the scientific gifts they refused to share.

We live in courageous times. These are times of whistle-blowers, lone activists for the truth, and lone scientist-entrepreneurs who must be praised even if our profit-driven culture stifles their great works. And although we live in courageous times, we seem not yet brave enough to take real action to overcome the human disaster.


Synthetic biology image from

(A) Enclosure of three red-fluorescent 200-nm spheres inside a “giant” liposome labeled with DiO. A wideband ultraviolet excitation filter was used for the simultaneous observation of these two differently stained species. Images were digitally postprocessed to balance the colors and to adjust their brightness at an equal level. (B) Trajectories of the particles. They were free to move but did not pass through the membrane. © GFP entrapped by a “giant” liposome. To get rid of noncaptured proteins, the solution was filtered by dialysis in such a way that the fluorescence background level became negligible with respect to the liposome interior. (D) Fluorescence photographs of λ-DNA-loaded liposome. λ-DNA was stained with SYBR Green, while DiI (red emission) was incorporated to liposome membrane. Liposome was observed through a narrow-band blue excitation filter (suitable for SYBR Green). (E) Same as previously with a wideband green excitation filter (suitable for DiI). Because of a low fluorescence response, part D was digitally enhanced in terms of brightness and contrast. In comparison, part E was darkened to present a level similar to part D. These pictures were taken at an interval of ~1 s, just the time to switch the filters. (E) Fluorescence picture of λ-DNA-loaded liposomes. Green dots stand for λ-DNA molecules, and lipids are labeled in red. A wideband blue excitation filter was used for this bicolor imaging, and a high-sensitivity color CCD camera captured it. [Anal. Chem. 77 (2005) 2795]

The Mont Order Club hosted its first video conference in February 2015, as shown below.

Suggested topics included transhumanism, antistatism, world events, movements, collaboration, and alternative media. The Mont Order is an affiliation of dissident writers and groups who share similar views on transnationalism and transhumanism as positive and inevitable developments.


  • Harry Bentham (Beliefnet)
  • Mike Dodd (Wave Chronicle)
  • Dirk Bruere (Zero State)

For more information on Mont Order participants, see the Mont Order page at Beliefnet.

. @hjbentham. @TheVenusProject. @clubofinfo. #futurism. #LOrdre. #antistatism.
The creeping social inequality in Britain has become a source of growing concern to many. When strikes and despair over the income disparity within a single country or locale feature often in our politics, do we unjustly forget the scale of global wealth inequality?
I am not writing this article to belie the social calamity of income inequality in Britain, nor to argue for more urgency in remedial foreign policies such as development assistance. This is purely an analysis of the long-term crisis represented by global disparities of wealth, and the historical choices it will force on many actors in the world-system, from states to activists.
In a talk I heard in my studies at Lancaster University in 2012, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke gave his predictions on the greatest threats to global security in the short-term and long-term future. One of his predictions struck me as the most important: the ease with which modern media allows different strata of the world to see one another’s vastly different lifestyles, thus threatening to turn global inequality into an ever greater spectacle. This spectacle has the potential to inspire global rage, perhaps justifiable in the same sense as encountered in the years preceding the French Revolution. Indeed, the present world order resembles France’s Ancien Régime in many ways.
Interestingly, the term “Third World”, used to denote less “developed” states, comes from the term “Third Estate”, which referred to “commoners” in France’s Ancien Régime – the subjects who rose up and turned their kingdom into a republic. Famously, Alfred Sauvy coined the term when he presented an analogy between exploited colonial states under the European powers and exploited subjects living under absolute monarchy, in an article for L’Observateur in 1952.
Since Sauvy coined the term, decolonization has achieved its popular ends, but an exploitative structure remains in place. At least that is the view of dependency theorists, world-systems theorists and other structuralist critics of the international system. The most eminent of these analysts is Immanuel Wallerstein, possibly the greatest sociologist alive.
In Wallerstein’s analysis, the modern thesis of “development” supported by the United Nations and other intergovernmental institutions is as much to blame for world inequality as Europe’s colonial “civilizing” thesis that came before it. In his widely taught theory of the world-system, the world can be socially and geographically broken down into three strata based on the kind of production processes occurring in different states and geographic regions.
Immanuel Wallerstein sees world inequality not as something proceeding from countries lagging behind others as a result of historic oppression and debt, but as something proceeding from the existence of “countries” altogether. In his assessment, the division of the world into distinct nation-states is founded on arbitrary distinctions among the human race, and this gives rise to world inequality. Taking up such logic, it is hard for one to deny that the dissolution of the nation-state model itself would be a core part of any long-term political designs for remedying world inequality.
If the abandonment of the nation-state model seems too radical for you at this stage, it is not too radical for Wallerstein. In Utopistics (1998) he predicts that a crisis that could occur as early as the coming half-century will create real opportunities to seriously challenge the nation-state model. He does not say what alternative system this crisis entails, but argues that there will be a unique opportunity to construct something far more egalitarian than anything previously known. If a more equitable order is indeed gained, this would involve borders ceasing to be necessary or recognized, and authoritarian state norms becoming unsustainable.
We can already see antagonisms that are directly tied to the transnational wealth inequalities on which this article is focused. Often misleadingly framed as issues between two states, they are actually issues between opposing strata of the world-system itself. Such issues include crises on the land, like migration to the United States through its brutally enforced border with Mexico, and the inhumane occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli State. They include crises on the water, such as migration from North Africa to Spain and Italy.
The crises tied to the enforcement of borders are part of the larger crisis gripping what Wallerstein calls the “interstate system”. This interstate system is the “political superstructure” of a global division of labor predicated on the historic industrial inequality persisting between entire continents and so-called nations. Strong states possess advanced factories and skills, while weak states are left to mine arduously. Wallerstein describes this exploitative situation in terms of a “core-periphery” relationship, in which the industrialized powers represent the “core”.
Another side to this crisis of the state is the alarming spread of internecine conflict and the growing perception of law enforcers as illegitimate, arbitrary and cruel (the 2014 Ferguson Riots are a compelling example of this and demonstrate that the US is not exempt). Such trends point inexorably towards the view that the nation-state may eventually be fated to be abandoned – not just in a particular country, but everywhere.
In my view, Wallerstein’s analysis is compelling. However, it lacks emphasis on the dawn of digital life, which has added a whole new dimension to the crisis of the world-system by literally turning the world into a community of individuals interacting on an unprecedented supranational level. This is historically important and bound to change global politics for very profound and complex reasons.
Another key historian of the world-system, Benedict Anderson, says something insightful about our modern nation-states in his book, Imagined Communities (1982). His analysis differs from Wallerstein’s, mainly due to his greater emphasis on technology and language. He gives the example of Bismarck’s Germany as the first modern nation-state, which differs from Wallerstein’s preoccupation with revolutionary France. In Imagined Communities, Anderson explains that the telegraph and rail systems allowed Germany to become a unified nation, by developing a sense of national consciousness.
If telegraph led to the formation of national consciousness through an illusory sense of community enough to give rise to a nation, surely it follows that the internet – with its profound revolution in our lives – will give rise to something equally significant. The champion of today’s rebel “cypherpunk” elite, Julian Assange, has said something very approximate to this in his own rhetoric, arguing that a “new body politic” is rising to challenge government authority through the internet. He also describes digital life as borderless and free, in such a way that can only become more and more real as digital technology continues its exponential growth. It is no accident that this sounds like the egalitarian post-state future leaned towards by Wallerstein as humanity’s noblest alternative.
Modern political legitimacy is founded on the doctrine of popular sovereignty, as Immanuel Wallerstein repeatedly points out in his works. One may be the citizen of a “nation” by having certain arbitrary qualities or place of birth, and as such may be treated equally and defended by a given state. This is what we call being part of a nation, whether it is the United States or a highly contested “state” like Palestine or Abkhazia. However, the basis of such an institution is very much in question, and in the future it will become increasingly weakened by the growing transnational consciousness brought about by weakening borders and exponential digital communication.
Where does this lead us? Shall we reject popular sovereignty as obsolete? Impossible. It is the sacrosanct foundation of all modern democracy and civil rights, and the only reliable metric of social progress. Self-determination of nations has been part of the doctrine of popular sovereignty, as is the idea that regimes must be legitimately elected to power by their constituent nations. However, if the nation is to become obsolete, as predicted in Wallerstein’s analysis of the crisis of the world-system, self-determination still stands because human rights are sacrosanct. The self-recognition of transnational humanity as sovereign must follow, and global lines of transport and communication make that feasible. The hard part is educating people that their dear “nation” no longer exists, and that is why speech and writing to sustain a global social narrative are so vital.
Perhaps the end result of the self-determination of humanity is not necessarily “global citizenship” as predicted by some (redundant, since citizenship is designed to exclude others and serves no purpose if it lacks this proscriptive power). Nor is it necessarily “world government”. However, we can know that human rights like self-determination will outlive the existence of the nation-state, and the alternative regime will then be designed and elected by the whole of transnational humanity rather than a particular group.
A new form of network-centric governance, authoritative but not authoritarian, based on scientific methods of evaluation, and tolerating no disparities in wealth or information, is a model that could supersede all the nations and make world inequality obsolete. Such a revised politics would be intellectually consistent with and assist to usher in a Global Resource-Based Economy.

By Harry J. BenthamMore articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published in Issue 13 of The Venus Project Magazine

Julian Assange’s 2014 book When Google Met WikiLeaks consists of essays authored by Assange and, more significantly, the transcript of a discussion between Assange and Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen.
As should be of greatest interest to technology enthusiasts, we revisit some of the uplifting ideas from Assange’s philosophy that I picked out from among the otherwise dystopian high-tech future predicted in Cypherpunks (2012). Assange sees the Internet as “transitioning from an apathetic communications medium into a demos – a people” defined by shared culture, values and aspirations (p. 10). This idea, in particular, I can identify with.
Assange’s description of how digital communication is “non-linear” and compromises traditional power relations is excellent. He notes that relations defined by physical resources and technology (unlike information), however, continue to be static (p. 67). I highlight this as important for the following reason. It profoundly strengthens the hypothesis that state power will also eventually recede and collapse in the physical world, with the spread of personal factories and personal enhancement technologies (analogous to personal computers) like 3-d printers and synthetic life-forms, as explained in my own techno-liberation thesis and in the work of theorists like Yannick Rumpala.
When Google Met Wikileaks tells, better than any other text, the story of the clash of philosophies between Google and WikiLeaks – despite Google’s Eric Schmidt assuring Assange that he is “sympathetic to you, obviously”. Specifically, Assange draws our attention to the worryingly close relationship between Google and the militarized US police state in the post-9/11 era. Fittingly, large portions of the book (p. 10–16, 205–220) are devoted to giving Assange’s account of the now exposed world-molesting US regime’s war on WikiLeaks and its cowardly attempts to stifle transparency and accountability.
The publication of When Google Met WikiLeaks is really a reaction to Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s 2013 book The New Digital Age (2013), co-authored with Google Ideas director Jared Cohen. Unfortunately, I have not studied that book, although I intend to pen a fitting enough review for it in due course to follow on from this review. It is safe to say that Assange’s own review in the New York Times in 2013 was quite crushing enough. However, nothing could be more devastating to its pro-US thesis than the revelations of widespread illegal domestic spying exposed by Edward Snowden, which shook the US and the entire world shortly after The New Digital Age’s very release.
Assange’s review of The New Digital Age is reprinted in his book (p. 53–60). In it, he describes how Schmidt and Cohen are in fact little better than State Department cronies (p. 22–25, 32, 37–42), who first met in Iraq and were “excited that consumer technology was transforming a society flattened by United States military occupation”. In turn, Assange’s review flattens both of these apologists and their feeble pretense to be liberating the world, tearing their book apart as a “love song” to a regime, which deliberately ignores the regime’s own disgraceful record of human rights abuses and tries to conflate US aggression with free market forces (p. 201–203).
Cohen and Schmidt, Assange tells us, are hypocrites, feigning concerns about authoritarian abuses that they secretly knew to be happening in their own country with Google’s full knowledge and collaboration, yet did nothing about (p. 58, 203). Assange describes the book, authored by Google’s best, as a shoddily researched, sycophantic dance of affection for US foreign policy, mocking the parade of praise it received from some of the greatest villains and war criminals still at large today, from Madeleine Albright to Tony Blair. The authors, Assange claims, are hardly sympathetic to the democratic internet, as they “insinuate that politically motivated direct action on the internet lies on the terrorist spectrum” (p. 200).
As with Cypherpunks, most of Assange’s book consists of a transcript based on a recording that can be found at WikiLeaks, and in drafting this review I listened to the recording rather than reading the transcript in the book. The conversation moves in what I thought to be three stages, the first addressing how WikiLeaks operates and the kind of politically beneficial journalism promoted by WikiLeaks. The second stage of the conversation addresses the good that WikiLeaks believes it has achieved politically, with Assange claiming credit for a series of events that led to the Arab Spring and key government resignations.
When we get to the third stage of the conversation, something of a clash becomes evident between the Google chairman and WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, as Schmidt and Cohen begin to posit hypothetical scenarios in which WikiLeaks could potentially cause harm. The disagreement evident in this part of the discussion is apparently shown in Schmidt and Cohen’s book: they alleged that “Assange, specifically” (or any other editor) lacks sufficient moral authority to decide what to publish. Instead, we find special pleading from Schmidt and Cohen for the state: while regime control over information in other countries is bad, US regime control over information is good (p. 196).
According to the special pleading of Google’s top executives, only one regime – the US government and its secret military courts – has sufficient moral authority to make decisions about whether a disclosure is harmful or not. Assange points out that Google’s brightest seem eager to avoid explaining why this one regime should have such privilege, and others should not. He writes that Schmidt and Cohen “will tell you that open-mindedness is a virtue, but all perspectives that challenge the exceptionalist drive at the heart of American foreign policy will remain invisible to them” (p. 35).
Assange makes a compelling argument that Google is not immune to the coercive power of the state in which it operates. We need to stop mindlessly chanting “Google is different. Google is visionary. Google is the future. Google is more than just a company. Google gives back to the community. Google is a force for good” (p. 36). It’s time to tell it how it is, and Assange knows just how to say it.
Google is becoming a force for bad, and is little different from any other massive corporation led by ageing cronies of the narrow-minded state that has perpetrated the worst outrages against the open and democratic internet. Google “Ideas” are myopic, close-minded, and nationalist (p. 26), and the corporate-state cronies who think them up have no intention to reduce the number of murdered journalists, torture chambers and rape rooms in the world or criticize the regime under which they live. Google’s politics are about keeping things exactly as they are, and there is nothing progressive about that vision.
To conclude with what was perhaps the strongest point in the book, Assange quotes NYT columnist Tom Friedman. We are warned by Friedman as early as 1999 that Silicon Valley is led less now by the mercurial “hidden hand” of the market than the “hidden fist” of the US state. Assange argues, further, that the close relations between Silicon Valley and the regime in Washington indicate Silicon Valley is now like a “velvet glove” on the “hidden fist” of the regime (p. 43). Similarly, Assange warns those of us of a libertarian persuasion that the danger posed by the state has two horns – one government, the other corporate – and that limiting our attacks to one of them means getting gored on the other. Despite its positive public image, Google’s (and possibly also Facebook’s) ties with the US state for the purpose of monitoring the US pubic deserve a strong public backlash.
If the controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) tells us something indisputable, it is this: GMO food products from corporations like Monsanto are suspected to endanger health. On the other hand, an individual’s right to genetically modify and even synthesize entire organisms as part of his dietary or medical regimen could someday be a human right.
The suspicion that agri-giant companies do harm by designing crops is legitimate, even if evidence of harmful GMOs is scant to absent. Based on their own priorities and actions, we should have no doubt that self-interested corporations disregard the rights and wellbeing of local producers and consumers. This makes agri-giants producing GMOs harmful and untrustworthy, regardless of whether individual GMO products are actually harmful.
Corporate interference in government of the sort opposed by the Occupy Movement is also connected with the GMO controversy, as the US government is accused of going to great lengths to protect “stakeholders” like Monsanto via the law. This makes the GMO controversy more of a business and political issue rather than a scientific one, as I argued in an essay published at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET). Attacks on science and scientists themselves over the GMO controversy are not justified, as the problem lies solely with a tiny handful of businessmen and corrupt politicians.
An emerging area that threatens to become as controversial as GMOs, if the American corporate stranglehold on innovation is allowed to shape its future, is synthetic biology. In his 2014 book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, top synthetic biologist J. Craig Venter offers powerful words supporting a future shaped by ubiquitous synthetic biology in our lives:

“I can imagine designing simple animal forms that provide novel sources of nutrients and pharmaceuticals, customizing human stem cells to regenerate a damaged, old, or sick body. There will also be new ways to enhance the human body as well, such as boosting intelligence, adapting it to new environments such as radiation levels encountered in space, rejuvenating worn-out muscles, and so on”

In his own words, Venter’s vision is no less than “a new phase of evolution” for humanity. It offers what Venter calls the “real prize”: a family of designer bacteria “tailored to deal with pollution or to absorb excess carbon dioxide or even meet future fuel needs”. Greater than this, the existing tools of synthetic biology are transhumanist in nature because they create limitless means for humans to enhance themselves to deal with harsher environments and extend their lifespans.
While there should be little public harm in the eventual ubiquity of the technologies and information required to construct synthetic life, the problems of corporate oligopoly and political lobbying are threatening synthetic biology’s future as much as they threaten other facets of human progress. The best chance for an outcome that will be maximally beneficial for the world relies on synthetic biology taking a radically different direction to GM. That alternative direction, of course, is an open source future for synthetic biology, as called for by Canadian futurist Andrew Hessel and others.
Calling himself a “catalyst for open-source synthetic biology”, Hessel is one of the growing number of experts who reject biotechnology’s excessive use of patents. Nature notes that his Pink Army Cooperative venture relies instead on “freely available software and biological parts that could be combined in innovative ways to create individualized cancer treatments — without the need for massive upfront investments or a thicket of protective patents”.
While offering some support to the necessity of patents, J. Craig Venter more importantly praises the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in his book as a means of encouraging innovation. He specifically names the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, an open source library from which to obtain BioBricks, and describes this as instrumental for synthetic biology innovation. Likened to bricks of Lego that can be snapped together with ease by the builder, BioBricks are prepared standard pieces of genetic code, with which living cells can be newly equipped and operated as microscopic chemical factories. This has enabled students and small companies to reprogram life itself, taking part in new discoveries and innovations that would have otherwise been impossible without the direct supervision of the world’s best-trained teams of biologists.
There is a similar movement towards popular synthetic biology by the name of biohacking, promoted by such experts as Ellen Jorgensen. This compellingly matches the calls for greater autonomy for individuals and small companies in medicine and human enhancement. Unfortunately, despite their potential to greatly empower consumers and farmers, such developments have not yet found resonance with anti-GMO campaigners, whose outright rejection of biotechnology has been described as anti-science and “bio-luddite” by techno-progressives. It is for this reason that emphasizing the excellent potential of biotechnology for feeding and fuelling a world plagued by dwindling resources is important, and a focus on the ills of big business rather than imagined spectres emerging from science itself is vital.
The concerns of anti-GMO activists would be addressed better by offering support to an alternative in the form of “do-it-yourself” biotechnology, rather than rejecting sciences and industries that are already destined to be a fundamental part of humanity’s future. What needs to be made is a case for popular technology, in hope that we can reject the portrayal of all advanced technology as an ally of powerful states and corporations and instead unlock its future as a means of liberation from global exploitation and scarcity.
While there are strong arguments that current leading biotechnology companies feel more secure and perform better when they retain rigidly enforced intellectual property rights, Andrew Hessel rightly points out that the open source future is less about economic facts and figures than about culture. The truth is that there is a massive cultural transition taking place. We can see a growing hostility to patents, and an increasing popular enthusiasm for open source innovation, most promisingly among today’s internet-borne youth.
In describing a cultural transition, Hessel is acknowledging the importance of the emerging body of transnational youth whose only ideology is the claim that information wants to be free, and we find the same culture reflected in the values of organizations like WikiLeaks. Affecting every facet of science and technology, the elite of today’s youth are crying out for a more open, democratic, transparent and consumer-led future at every level.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published at h+ Magazine on 21 August 2014

Jacque Fresco’s futurist book, Designing the Future which serves as something of an introduction the revolutionary Venus Project, is a manifesto for redesigning civilization itself.
Jacque makes a call for a renewed modernism: “The application of scientific principles, for better or worse, accounts for every single advance that has improved people’s lives.” However, the real aim of the Venus Project is the abolition of money, which is described by Jacque as nothing but a source of debt, servitude and other injustice.
The book elaborates an anti-war and one-world vision that is very difficult to oppose. Indeed, its statements reflect some of the most enlightened views in the world today, with its staunch opposition to nationalism. Conflict, Fresco states, “is now totally unacceptable and dangerous because of war’s extreme human and environmental costs.” Even more appealing is Fresco’s encouragement that we treat the world as an “interrelated system with all its people as one family.” This amounts to an open-borders and anti-militarist position that I think reflects the aspirations of some of the most desperate and mistreated people on Earth and could lead to a profound reduction of hostility for all (p. 4–5).
Jacque writes that we need “new outlooks and approaches” and we should “direct the future”. This is a call for everyone to get involved – not just the elite. He challenges us to think how we might organize the world, if it were up to us. Personally, I do not feel qualified to organize the world, although I do think we can all say what we don’t think should happen. The solution, Jacque writes, must be “free of bias and nationalism”, which translates to an acknowledgment that Nineteenth Century nation-states are well beyond their best-before date.
In recognizing that nation-states are obsolete, Jacque warns we should still avoid generating “bad feelings” (p. 6–7). Jacque forewarns that what he is advocating is a “difficult project requiring input from many disciplines”. This recognition of the academic side of what he is advocating makes me bring in another respected theorist, Immanuel Wallerstein, whose work has focused on “reconceptualizing” the world to understand things like nation-states and vast global inequalities as production relations.
In a way, I am fully onboard with what Jacque is advocating already. If we could reconceptualize global society at a more popular level, rather than purely at an academic level, our task would be somewhat similar to the popularization of science attempted by such people as Carl Sagan. Nations, within the global social system, are only fleeting entities. If we could get people to accept that interpretation of society, we would accomplish what Jacque Fresco is talking about, but it is hard. I consider my own anti-statist essays as a contribution in that direction, and I would encourage other commentators to do their part, using whatever rhetoric or teaching methods they think best.
Jacque puts forward the idea that the scientific method should be rigorously applied to avert some of the biggest killers in modern life, e.g. car crashes (p. 15–17). This is a fairly convincing case, and one that I think has not been advocated yet by any other theorist, so Jacque deserves a lot of credit for it. The way to achieve it would probably involve integrating the local authorities with scientific advisory boards and ethics committees. This would have the added benefit of creating nice jobs for a lot of the students who tend to be thrown into positions that do not let them fulfil their true potential. One could argue that there are already plenty of science committees influencing governments, but it is not unreasonable to advocate there should be more, and at more local levels.
Matching what many intellectuals have pointed out, Jacque says “technology is moving forward but our societies are still based on concepts and methods devised centuries ago”, calling out the “obsolete values” that still shape many countries (the US not least of all) (p. 9). Another grievance mentioned is the corporate takeover of government, as protested against by the #Occupy movements. There are, today, “common threats that transcend national boundaries”, e.g. hunger, natural disasters of the kind that UN agencies are already attempting to combat (p. 10).
One of Jacque’s ideas resembles extropy, as articulated by Kevin Kelly. He states, “The history of civilization is the story of change from the simple to the more complex” (p. 13–14). Change is the “only constant”, the biggest enemy of which is the people in power who have trade advantages over others and strong reasons to maintain the status quo.
The best side of Jacque’s book is found in the compelling images of future architecture and design solutions that would reflect an economy geared towards human needs rather than profit. At least some of these principles will almost certainly become a reality in the future (p. 29–44, 48–52). However, Jacque’s ideas can be attacked from many angles, and these make it hard to accept the abolition of money that is really the core of his thesis:

“A much higher standard of living for everyone all over the world can be achieved when the entire Earth’s resources are connected, organized, monitored, and used efficiently for everyone’s benefit as a total global system – not just for a relatively small number of people.”

The problem with the above is that it is advocating globalization as it already exists, but neglecting a very fundamental element of that globalization: financial globalization. It is harder to believe that we can connect the entire world together solely in terms of resources than that we can connect it together financially. It is likely that going back to resource-based disparity rather than money disparity would lead to a more localized and therefore tribal existence with states becoming more possessive over natural resources. This would not be consistent with globalization as we have seen it thus far.
Jacque expresses the view that rather than laws and ethical people (as envisaged since as far back as Aristotle), we only need “a way of intelligently managing the Earth’s resources for everyone’s wellbeing” (p. 18–21). He is of the school of thought that “when we look at things scientifically, there is more than enough food and material goods on Earth to take care of all people’s needs – if managed correctly” (p. 19). This is also a view articulated by Ramez Naam in The Infinite Resource (2013), and that I have responded to in the past. The only problem is, it isn’t true. There are almost no distinguished scientists and scientific bodies who have stated that there are enough resources as we currently understand them to support the expanding population. There are even some prominent scientific bodies like the Club of Rome and various committees warning about our dwindling resources, constantly stating the exact opposite of what Jacque and Ramez have stated.
As much as I agree with what Jacque is trying to accomplish, it is patently false to say that looking “at things scientifically” is the same as using the scientific method, or that the scientific methods leads to redistributing resources to support everyone. Most scientists would disagree with what Jacque is saying. However, I am not arguing that they are right. I am arguing that we need to learn to tolerate how radical the idea of supporting everyone on the planet through the intelligent application of emerging technologies is, and how hazardous it could actually be. If we take the leap, we must wholeheartedly take any burdens and possible hazards into account as we do so. Humanity must know the risks, and not be persuaded to walk blithely towards something that still has so many unknowns.
Jacque lays out his case for abolishing all money. He gives 14 succinct grievances against the monetary economy that has been the norm for quite a few centuries. Most of these 14 points reiterate the same basic grievance that money enables people to be super-rich and others laden with debt, because… the rich people control it. However, in repeating these grievances against money and giving each of them more credit than they deserve, Jacque neglects the good points about money. It is still the only thing a lot of poor people have, and is the only way they can get their next meal.
It is not the unfair distribution of money, but the unfair distribution of resources, which keeps people and states poor or powerless. The rich are not rich because they have more money in their pockets, but because they physically control the resources that make money. They own keys to the factories and stockpiles. Rich states physically possess and control the world’s mineral wealth, and the labs where high-tech products are designed and tested. They use money merely as a way of throwing scraps to poor people where it would have been too inconvenient to give shares of their resources. So, if anything, money exists as a tool of remuneration to poor people, and would actually be a necessary component in any scheme to create more equality.
I, unlike Jacque, am what most people would call poor. If my money became worthless tomorrow, I would not be grateful. In fact, I would have few means of survival, and would wander the world begging for actual food and other resources from people and providers who are fortunate to possess a stockpile of resources. These providers in turn would wander the world begging for supplies, and other essentials they require to stay active. Therefore, the vacuum left by abolishing money would be more oppressive than any amount of debt, and it would also consume a lot more time and energy for everyone.
Not only would the abolition advocated by Jacque make life a lot more difficult for most poor people and businesses, but it would lead to the loss of a very basic source of dignity for the poor – the only medium with which they could actually buy and share resources. No matter how detrimental monetary greed can be, a poor man or business will always be grateful he can carry a wad of money around. He can’t pick up and carry a resource. One would hope that Jacque would at least try to overcome this terrible paradox of what is going to take the place of that money in a poor person’s hand, but he doesn’t. What is advocated instead is idealistic at best, and leaves one feeling hungry for the pizza that is probably never going to be delivered to your door by a drone if we really do get rid of money.
In fact, the form of remuneration posited by Jacque relies on “distribution centers” from which anyone can order an unlimited quantity of anything to their very door due to the unlimited capacity of the technology of the future (p. 76–78). If such a thing is inevitable from existing engineering trends, then we should be in awe of that technology, and not the Venus Project.
Something similar to the above occurs when Jacque states “Machines of the future are capable of self-replication and improvement, and can repair themselves and update their own circuitry.” Once again, this makes me ask, why then advocate Resource-Based Economy, if in the end we are always going to stand in awe of the machines and get unlimited free pizzas delivered to our doors anyway?
In a Resource-Based Economy, it is established there is no money, no credits, no debt, and no servitude. Here, “all of the world’s resources are held as the common heritage of all of Earth’s people” (p. 21). Unfortunately, the thing getting in the way of declaring our resources as a common heritage isn’t money, but the resources themselves. Just look how some states and firms have better resources than others, be it in the form of more high-tech facilities or more qualified personnel. One can’t just declare these people and things to be equally owned by all, or change their status in any significant way, by abolishing money, because they are still physically located in certain more advanced states (usually the US).
When it comes to how the RBE would manifest in practice, Jacque argues that all wealth and wellbeing should be based on immediate resources, such as water and fertile land. Unfortunately, this means areas with more resources would be better-off than those without, which takes us back to the problem already highlighted above.
Jacque says that increasing automation and peak oil are signs of “collapse” (p. 22), and that this collapse will provoke people to “lose confidence” in monetary economics. People will then turn to a global Resource-Based Economy as the solution. Unfortunately, this is not what usually happens in a collapse. In a collapse, people do not actually grasp at the most ideal solutions, never mind solutions prematurely based on future technologies. Just look at Iraq and Syria, where the failures of the state did not lead to a utopia but to a vacuum filled by pseudo-religious terrorist authorities.
The prediction that removing capitalistic competition by getting rid of money would result in the hippie-like outcome of peace and harmony (p. 69–76) is not convincing. If Christianity got one thing right, it is that humans are prone to sin. Even in a system with unlimited resources, there would be factionalism, security concerns, hoarding, vanity, greed, jealousy, power-mania, sex offenses, plain insanity and a plethora of other reasons for people to do evil. In sum, law enforcement and compliance would still be necessary.
Rethinking society is important, but the catalyst should be technology itself and the results spontaneous, rather than someone’s grand design. People should be in awe of the amazing things being made possible by nanotechnology and biotechnology, but they should be advocating that people invest in these technologies. Abundance is almost certainly going to rely on biotechnology, but there are many grievances against this field and promoting it might involve tolerating the directions taken by some large and rather controversial corporations.
Transhumanism differs from social design in that transhumanism is advocating the redesign of the human individual; a departure from our biological limits themselves as a way of escaping scarcity. Transhumanism is about maximizing the available choices and chances of survival of every human individual. We could go even further, and biologically re-engineer the world to access more resources, as I argued in my outlandish “terra-enhancement” article.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published at h+ Magazine on 19 August 2014

. @IEET. @HJBentham. @ClubOfINFO. #nature. #philosophy. #ebook.

There is often imagined to be a struggle between humans and nature. How does this struggle originate, and what is its resolution? Such a question is central to some religious traditions, and has much room to be explored in literature.
Nature is used to describe everything that lies outside of human agency. Disasters and disease often fall under this description, although there is usually some element of human blame in such problems. Some people try to live or eat according to preferences that they call “natural”. In my view, this is a fallacy. When we use the word natural with its only workable definition, to represent something distinct from human agency, it means that anything resulting from human agency is unnatural and so it cannot be natural (even if it imitates nature). When it applies to human choices, natural is only an arbitrary label used by people to refer to anything they approve of.
Why would humans battle against nature? Perhaps suffering can be described as the most imposing and constantly surfacing part of nature in our lives, because it is ultimately caused by the laws of biology rather than human wills. We humans have vulnerable bodies and we rely on vulnerable, easily destroyed brains to exist, although it is very apparent that we would prefer not to be exposed in this way. Because this is so, the struggle to overcome humanity’s physical and medical vulnerabilities can be depicted as a battle against natureour nature.
The assertion that seeking invulnerability against suffering is an escape from cruel inevitabilities biology is certainly reflected in some philosophers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Despite seeing the transformation of humanity into a higher creature as a noble task, Nietzsche saw this as necessarily involving suffering. As for the desire to end suffering, he deplored this as a product of weakness and the inability to accept the forces outside human control.
Nietzsche addressed the way in which religious traditions give moral assurances against suffering. Religions offer promises of justice that run contrary to the natural order in which the strong are favored over the weak. The Christian doctrines of the fall of man and eternal Heaven are alike in their view that the world we know is flawed and polluted, and humans are instead meant to endure in paradise. Such myths have been easy for people to buy into, because it is often easier to tolerate suffering in the world and move on if one believes in a supernatural alternativea cosmic safety net for the weak and the deadafter it.
The other manifestation of our weak human refusal to accept suffering, but which actually works, is the desire to use science and technology to thwart suffering. Once we remove the supernatural, the only remaining assurances against suffering can necessarily come from the modernity of technology. In this sense, the idea of a technological singularity, after which the very best technology permitted by the laws of physics will get within reach, represents the only “true” paradise that could ever be inherited.
But what if a paradise, an all-encompassing solution to suffering, is impossible? A universe with high suffering is inherently more likely than a universe without it, because the “anthropic principle” does not contain any guarantees against mortality and suffering. The anthropic principle says human life exists only because this is a requisite for us to notice our own existence. Therefore, the anthropic principle leads to a universe that merely tolerates conscious life for a limited time, rather than enriches it or sustains it. Contrary to religious claims, the universe in which we reside is not “designed” for us to inhabit, and we know this because it is mostly uninhabitable. The vacuum of space cannot be inhabited, and most locations in the universe have the wrong temperature or lack the elements needed for life to exist. What is conspicuous is that the universal constants allow us to exist, not in any kind of ideal state but just enough.
One can relate “extropy” (Kevin Kelly’s usage of the term) to the anthropic principle. Where the anthropic principle explains the human-friendly properties of the universe as existing simply because a human observer exists, extropy the guarantee of something even more complex and intelligent in the future. More than simply tolerating human life, then, a universe where humans exist includes the inevitability that human intelligence will evolve into or produce something far more enduring and glorious. After all, we are no pinnacle, and we are still witnessing an ongoing explosion of intelligence through such creations as the internet and the race to develop powerful AI.
Take a look at history and current cosmology, and we will see that extropy looks very valid. Humans have undeniably been improving their existence, and this is arguably due to the universe being filled with resources that are very friendly to our needs. There are seemingly infinite resources and tools in the universe for humans to exploit to improve their civilization, and the anthropic principle alone did not necessary contain any guarantee that such useful “equipment” would exist. Conceivably, there could be worlds where intelligent life exists but there can be no fire. There might also have been no sufficient quantities of ores or effective tools to build an advanced civilization. Certainly, humans have a lot more at their fingertips than the minimal equipment promised to them by the anthropic principle. Although there is not necessarily a God to thank for it, there is a lot to be thankful for.
What if there was a world where conditions were less favorable? Perhaps, if humans were too vulnerable, there would be less potential to develop civilization, and instead all thought would be dedicated to staying alive. A work of fiction I have dedicated to exploring this theme, The Traveller and Pandemonium, takes place in a more hostile universe than ours (as permitted in the “many-worlds hypothesis”), where a traveler is not convinced by the idea that humanity could have arisen in such unfavorable conditions. Determining that humanity belongs in another world, he searches vainly for the solution.
The traveler keeps his quest secret, aware that most people will condemn him as a religious nut searching for Heaven if he talks about it, but there is actually a rational basis for his view that humans belong elsewhere. The world in which he resides is genuinely toxic and inhospitable to humanity, humans are vulnerable to every creature in the world around them, and they are rapidly going extinct. It looks like a human colonization gone awry on a hostile alien world, although no-one knows how it got that way.
The two strategies against suffering in the world can be described as surgical and spiritual. Those who advocate “spiritual” solutions are only offering window-dressing to humanity while they greedily seek power. Those who advocate “surgical” solutions might not seem beautiful or perfect in what they promise, but they are the only ones promising something real, offering something tangible that could really fight away the uglier characteristics of the universe and save what can be saved.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies on 17 July 2014

.@hjbentham . @clubofinfo. @dissidentvoice_ . @ieet. #scifi. #philosophy. #ethics.
Literature has served an indispensable purpose in exploring ethical and political themes. This remains true of sci-fi and fantasy, even if there is such a thing as reading too much politics into fictional work or over-analyzing.

Since Maquis Books published The Traveller and Pandemonium, a novel authored by me from 2011–2014, I have been responding as insightfully as possible to reviews and also discussing the book’s political and philosophical themes wherever I can. Set in a fictional alien world, much of this book’s 24 chapters are politically themed on the all too real human weakness of infighting and resorting to hardline, extremist and even messianic plans when faced with a desperate situation.

The story tells about human cultures battling to survive in a deadly alien ecosystem. There the human race, rather than keeping animals in cages, must keep their own habitats in cages as protection from the world outside. The human characters of the story live out a primitive existence not typical of science-fiction, mainly aiming at their own survival. Technological progress is nonexistent, as all human efforts have been redirected to self-defense against the threat of the alien predators.

Even though The Traveller and Pandemonium depicts humanity facing a common alien foe, the various struggling human factions still fail to cooperate. In fact, they turn ever more hostilely on each other even as the alien planet’s predators continue to close in on the last remaining human states. At the time the story is set, the human civilization on the planet is facing imminent extinction from its own infighting and extremism, as well as the aggressive native plant and animal life of the planet.

The more sinister of the factions, known as the Cult, preaches the pseudo-religious doctrine that survival on the alien world will only be possible through infusions of alien hormones and the rehabilitation of humanity to coexist with the creatures of the planet at a biological level. However, there are censored side effects of the infusions that factor into the plot, and the Cult is known for its murderous opposition to anyone who opposes its vision.

The only alternative seems to be a second faction, but it is equally violent, and comes under the leadership of an organization who call themselves the Inquisitors. In their doctrine, humans must continue to isolate themselves from the alien life of the planet, but this should extend to exterminating the alien life and the aforementioned Cult that advocates humans transmuting themselves to live safely on the planet.

I believe that this aspect of the story, a battle between two militant philosophies, serves well to capture the kind of tension and violent irrationality that can engulf humanity in the face of existential risks. There is no reason to believe that hypothetical existential risks to humanity such as a deadly asteroid impact, an extraterrestrial threat, runaway global warming, alien contact or a devastating virus would unite the planet, and there is every reason to believe that it would divide the planet. It is often the case that the more argument there is for authority and submission to a grand plan in order to survive, the greater the differences of opinion and the greater the potential for divergence and conflict.

Social habits, politics, beliefs and even the cultural trappings of the different human cultures clinging to the alien planet are fully represented in the book. In all, the story has had significant time and care put into refining it to create a compelling and believable depiction of life in an inhospitable parallel world, and readers remarked in reviews that it is a “masterclass in world-building”.

The central character of the story, nicknamed the Traveler, together with his companion, do not really subscribe to either of the extremist philosophies battling over humanity’s fate on the alien planet, but their ideas may be equally strange. Instead, they reject the alien world in which they live. With an almost religious naïveté, they are searching for a “better place”. It is through this part of the plot that the concepts of religious faith and hope are visited. Of course, at all times the reader knows they are right – there is a “better place” only not the religious kind. Ultimately, the quest is for Earth, although the characters have never heard of such a place and have only inferred that it might somehow exist and represent an escape from the hostile planet where they were born.

Reviewers have acknowledged that by inverting the relationship of humanity and nature so that nature is on the advance and humans are receding and diminishing in the setting of this science-fiction novel, a unique and compelling setting is created. I believe the story offers my best exploration of a number of political and ethical themes, such as how people feel pressured to choose between hardline factions in times of extreme desperation and in the face of existential threats. Science fiction is a worthy medium in which to express and explore not only the future, but some of the most troubling political and philosophical scenarios that have plagued humanity’s past.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published at Dissident Voice on 9 July 2014