In Defense of Wasted Energy

Over at Overcoming Bias, a commenter writes in response to my latest and lamest musings on antinatalism and transhumanism:

I was disappointed by that
Chip Smith piece. He seems to live in a reality where thinkers like
Aubrey de Gray, Nick Bostrom, and Anders Sandberg don’t exist. I
suppose a good case could be made that all this clever writing
(particularly by the non-anonymous) is sexual signalling. If so, I’d
like it to be better harnessed towards pragmatic problem-solving (like
the problem of our appparent mortality!), rooted in empiricism, than
this fluffy "let me show you how clever I am in arguing this
counteruntuitive thing" sort of stuff.

A lot of the uncritical aspirations of transhumanism, Fukuyama’s
criticisms of transhumanism, and Chip’s criticisms of Fukuyama seem
like so much wasted energy to me. I’d rather they all be tearing apart
the weak points of Aubrey, Nick, Anders’, etc. ideas regarding solving
aging and minimizing existential risk. Sexually signal that way folks
-I think it does more for us, and we’re on an unforgiving deadline.

Later in the thread, the same commenter advises:

Drop this libertarian, etc. bullsh*t and focus on using empiricism to
try to solve aging in the next few decades. That would be my general
advice to all those white collar guys sold libertarianism, etc. as a
belief-as-attire counterhierarchy for second rung elites.

Sexual signaling?  Yikes.

The better argument, which I neither resist nor deny, is that I am masturbating.  Worse, that I am masturbating in the face of  a grave and looming crisis.  That Sartrean bad faith should now trace to scientific apathy is at least encouraging.  But still.  Drape me in shame.  I do not apologize.

My first order of defense is impotence.  Seeing as I never mastered high school algebra, I think it’s fair to say that the transhumanist mission will succeed or fail without whatever insubstantial cognitive grist I might add, or subtract. The best I refuse to hope for is to be a downmarket beneficiary of some biotech windfall.  For now, the antidepressants seem to be working. And that will have to be good enough, even if it isn’t. Those guys are nerds, anyway.

There should be a word for the bitter sense of awestruck humility that feels like the opposite of inspiration. The stunting afterburn that comes every time I read Nabokov.  It can be crushingly emphatic, the unalloyed weight of difference and distance. If you’re not careful, it can dash every shard of ambition. I tune into Gene Expression every day to clutch at the cadence of a discourse that will remain forever beyond my depth.  But masturbation feels nice.  And there is some consolation in knowing.  Even as the mermaids sing.

My second order of defense is laziness.  The psychic rut of low rung elitism turns out to be a cozy redoubt. Being untethered by the solipsistic biases that pollute better minds, I feel free to wallow in the vagaries of amateurish moral philosophy with no illusion, and no real satisfaction save for the occasional dimly liberating frisson of convinced hopelessness.  Immortalism is a preference; in substance and urgency, a rational counterpart to antinatalist ethics. It is also a philosophical ditch and a practical improbability. Alan Harrington is dead, and Aubrey de Gray isn’t looking so good. Despite my practiced outrage and incomprehension, I do not expect to escape death. Nor do I expect people to stop breeding.

The iterations are necessary, I insist, and the inflection is tuned the only way I know.  But there is absolutely nothing I can do.  From the shadows, existential rebellion is summoned by the first snow and the next drink.  Good luck with the project.  I’ll be waiting with the door locked.