Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Our Superiors

     Do you have any? I ask because there are quite a lot of folks who claim to be them. Moreover, they claim to be so superior to us that it entitles them to rule us...whether we like it or not.

     This isn’t a new topic for me. I’ve written before about the “assumption of differential rectitude” that characterizes the Left. But what brings it to mind this fine Wednesday morning is a quirk in the history of socialist thought: the approach-avoidance dance it’s conducted with the idea of the superior man.

     Most of us have pondered, at some point in our lives, what we would need to be “better” than we are. I don’t mean individual by individual, but as a species. What characteristics of Mankind would need to be augmented or diminished to improve us overall? What alterations would our common nature require for our posterity, some generations hence, to be able to look backward at us and say, “We’re better than they were” and be confident about it?

     Robert A. Heinlein explored the question in his novella “Gulf:”

     “Now – what is man? What is the one thing he can do better than animals which is so strong a survival factor that it outweighs all the things that animals of one sort or another can do much better than he can?”
     “He can think.”
     “I fed you that answer; no prize for it. Okay, you pass yourself off a man; let’s see you do something. What is the one possible conceivable factor – or factors, if you prefer – which the hypothetical superman could have, by mutation or magic or any means, and which could be added to this advantage which man already has and which has enabled him to dominate this planet against the unceasing opposition of a million other species of fauna? Some factor that would make the domination of man by his successor, as inevitable as your domination over a hound dog? Think, Joe. What is the necessary direction of evolution to the next dominant species?”
     Gilead engaged in contemplation for what was for him a long time. There were so many lovely attributes that a man might have: to be able to see both like a telescope and microscope, to see the insides of things, to see throughout the spectrum, to have hearing of the same order, to be immune to disease, to grow a new arm or leg, to fly through the air without bothering with silly gadgets like helicopters or jets, to walk unharmed the ocean bottom, to work without tiring –      Yet the eagle could fly and he was nearly extinct, even though his eyesight was better than man’s. A dog has better smell and hearing; seals swim better, balance better, and furthermore can store oxygen. Bats can survive where men would starve or die of hardship; they are smart and pesky hard to kill. Rats could –      Wait! Could tougher, smarter rats displace man? No, it Just wasn’t in them; too small a brain.
     “To be able to think better,” Gilead answered almost instantly.
     “Hand the man a cigar! Supermen are superthinkers; anything else is a side issue. I’ll allow the possibility of supersomethings which might exterminate or dominate mankind other than by outsmarting him in his own racket – thought. But I deny that it is possible for a man to conceive in discrete terms what such a super-something would be or how this something would win out. New Man will beat out homo sap in homo sap's own specialty – rational thought, the ability to recognize data, store them, integrate them, evaluate correctly the result, and arrive at a correct decision.”

     [“Gulf,” found in Assignment in Eternity]

     What it means “to be able to think better” is subject to interpretation. Some possible meanings:

  • To make fewer mistakes;
  • To think faster (with fewer mistakes, or at least no greater number);
  • To deduce a larger percentage of the consequences of a proposition;
  • To make use of a larger amount of information in the thinking process;
  • To think with wider scope: i.e., to reach conclusions beyond those of immediate interest.

     Take Heinlein’s “to be able to think better” as your standard for judging superiority – this time, not of one species over another, but of one individual over another. Now take any one of the above interpretations and apply it to persons you know. What sort of results do you get? How about when you apply it to persons in the public eye?

     But that “assumption of differential rectitude” also covers moral considerations, right? “Our Superiors” deem themselves both smarter and more moral than are we. This is a thornier subject, as morals and ethics are subjects on which there is no general consensus beyond a very few points.

     In the Decalogue, we find the propositions that for many centuries constituted the definition of moral / ethical law for Western man:

  • Thou shalt not murder.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  • Thou shalt not covet.

     That handful of proscriptions, which are also known as the Noachide Commandments, was the basis of Western Civilization. Yes, we’ve added a few things along the way – no sex with animals, no crossing a double-yellow line, no wearing white after Labor Day or mixing primary colors during daylight hours, and so forth – but those had more to do with what’s seemly or tasteful than with what must be forbidden. You might not be willing to have dinner with someone who wears white after Labor Day, but you wouldn’t want to see him imprisoned or executed. (Would you?)

     “Our Superiors” have discarded all of those proscriptions – on the basis of their claim of superior morality! They hold that our inferiority entitles them to do all those forbidden things to us...again, in the name of what they call “morality.”

     You don’t think so? Have you listened to any of the Left’s media figures defend AntiFa? Have you heard them justify deliberate lying if it helps them to win power, or to put over some proposition about race, gender, or “climate change?” Have you totted up the number that have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar...or in the panties of some lissome young thing other than their wives?

     This “superior morality” the Left claims bears no relation to the moral precepts on which our society is founded. That makes it difficult to evaluate...unless, that is, you consider American society to be largely good and worthy of defense.

     The denunciations and vilifications are getting to be so noxious that sooner or later they’ll culminate in large-scale violence. I don’t want to see that day. I especially don’t want to be caught up in it. But that’s the logic of the “assumption of differential rectitude.” By completely discarding the Noachide proscriptions, “Our Superiors” have justified a kind of low-intensity warfare against us. It’s not primarily violent...yet. But the implications of their posture make bloodshed ever more likely as time passes.

     The implications also suggest that they haven’t thought matters through. They’re overwhelmingly likely to lose any open confrontation; that’s one of the conclusions they should have drawn from the election of Donald Trump. But if they were to win, they’d be even worse off: they’d reign over a society whose foundation had been cut out from under it. Such a society cannot be sustained. More, it would have no defenders, and therefore would be a juicy target for plunderers more able than they.

     So “Our Superiors” are neither better thinkers nor more moral than are we whom they despise...we whom they frequently wish were dead. Indeed, they appear considerably lower on both scales than the typical Middle American to whom the Decalogue is the foundation of all life. There’s more to the subject, of course, but I’ll leave it here to germinate some thoughts.

     An Addendum: Two recent novels, Nick Cole’s Ctrl-Alt-Revolt and E. William Brown’s Perilous Waif, touch upon the possibility that transhuman intelligence might be inherently hostile to Mankind. That, too, is worth some thought – and both novels are immensely entertaining. Highly recommended.


Linda Fox said...

Some of us (myself included) aren't a whole lot higher on the evolutionary scale. I don't count myself among the highly intelligent - just enough to see stuff a smidge over capabilities of the average person.

Where I excel is that - unlike the average person - I'm kinda bi-capable. More emotionally aware than the average man, much more logical than the average woman. That does give me an edge in certain circumstances.

Having said that, I'm keenly aware that the ultra-smart are NOT necessarily the best people to rule/guide the proles. That IQ-smarts is not always allied with street-smarts leads to situations not unlike those encountered by the guys in the Big Bang Theory.

For governmental leaders, smarter than average is good, ultra-smart is NOT. Heck, the not-that-smart (in terms of IQ) Trump made fools out of the ultra-smart candidates - especially Cruz, whose dependence on his brain led him to ignore the emotional basis of voting choices.

Amy Bowersox said...

Ctrl-Alt-Revolt! is also important because it was banned by the publisher.

Cole suggested, in the first chapter of the book that was only intended to set the scene for what follows, that AIs would decide, based on an episode of a reality TV series where the star terminates a pregnancy so as not to ruin her upcoming wedding, that (a) humanity routinely destroys any threats to its expectations, (b) they will eventually see AIs as a threat, and therefore (c) humanity must be destroyed before they destroy the AIs.

Apparently, this was doubleplusungood crimethink to Harper Collins, which pulled the book without even conveying a demand that he rewrite the first chapter. So he went indie with it. It worked out just fine.