What is the Zero State ideology? What do we work toward, and why?
There are a couple of different concerns buried here… both the practical question of what we’re working toward, and whether that work and what we stand for are one and the same thing. These are important issues because they affect our planning, morale, expectations, and (not least) our ability to effectively communicate our ideas to others. Since there is no obvious reason to separate the ‘idea of ZS’ from the work we do, I’m inclined to consider these things two sides of the same coin. The next step is to deeply consider what our ideas and work are, exactly.
Of course, we’ve already been saying – loud and clear for the better part of two years now – that our aim is the creation of a virtual State, where we can foster total renewal or a “reset” (hence the ‘Zero’ in ‘Zero State’) – the beginning of a new era for science & technology, politics & economics, art & spirituality, exploring exciting new innovations while rejecting a range of historical trends that we oppose (such as Corporatism, Authoritarianism, and Fundamentalism). All of this is summarised in our motto, “Positive Social Change Through Technology”. In case you’re new to ZS, I should point out that by “virtual” I don’t mean online only, but eventually also including physical enclaves around the world. The key thing to understand is that this is a distributed, decentralised community, defined by the values expressed in the ZS Principles.
So far, so good. The problem, though, is that this isn’t quite a complete message. We’re effectively saying that we’re building a new kind of community, and that we want our community to embody the ideals and possibilities being developed as we speak by the best of humanity. That’s the first step, and of course many groups have said as much before. Some of them even achieved some progress. Only a small proportion of those groups manage to take the next step, however, which is to understand the place of their point of view in the great scheme of things. To understand that history is ruled by paradigms, like giants walking the earth, and that their point of view is almost certainly not a paradigm on that scale. Many groups may say they are specifically against Capitalism (or Communism, or whatever) for example, but few stop to consider how many of these giants might be reasonably said to exist, and what the group’s ideological relationship is to all of them.
The many and varied political and religious points of view that people profess are merely points within the space of those paradigms, or the areas where the different paradigms overlap. In essence, the second step is about not mistaking your limited point of view for an entire major paradigm, but instead getting at least a rough sense of where your point of view sits amid these abstract ideological structures. We – ZS – have actually already begun to take that second step, over the course of the last year. Although we could argue pointlessly over the details, it seems to me that the modern world is ruled by no more than 3-4 major paradigms. The first two are the secular giants of the Twentieth Century: Capitalism and Socialism. Of course Soviet “Communism” collapsed, but the Socialist impulse is still alive and well around the world, taking many forms in different contexts.
The third (and maybe fourth) “giant” is represented by the world’s two largest religions: Christianity (dominated by Catholicism), and Islam. One might be inclined to conflate these two and call it “Monotheism”, and I could see the argument. These two do in many ways have more in common with each other than with the two big secular paradigms. But Capitalism and Socialism are arguably no more different to each other than Christianity and Islam are, especially now that Christianity doesn’t have official access to coercive State power any more (unlike Islam), so I tend to think of them separately. This is not to mention the fact that while Christianity is the larger of these two religions (for now), Islam is expanding faster, and more aggressively.
One might identify democracy as another major paradigm of our age, but I’m not convinced that it qualifies in the sense I’ve used here, because it’s hard to imagine “democracy” providing a complete worldview and life-context in the complete absence of all the other major paradigms. I mean, what would it mean to be passionate about democracy if Capitalism, Socialism, and Monotheism (and all other major paradigms) didn’t exist? What would be left to express democratically?
Anyway, the point here is that ZS has already begun to define its position in relation to all of these, initially by way of the ZS Principles, and increasingly with additional commentaries and initiatives. We’ve stated opposition to uncontrolled and unethical Capitalism, but also to the abuses of Socialist and Fundamentalist authoritarianism. We’ve had the least to say about Christianity, but even there we’ve noted its historical crimes and authoritarianism, not to mention irrational eschatology.
So we’re developing an idealistic community which has identified key points of difference (and some similarities) with the major paradigms which rule our age. Furthermore, we have come to see that our emerging worldview may have points of contact with others, but that it cannot be meaningfully categorised under any of the major paradigms. That’s helpful, but as I said at the beginning, it’s not quite enough. Something is still missing.
That “something” is an extremely ambitious third and final step, which has only been successfully carried out perhaps a handful of times in human history. Once any movement or community has started to build momentum toward utopian ideals, and worked out where its ideas sit in relation to all of the major paradigms of the day, an ambitious few may feel that their aspirations are sufficiently different to all of those major paradigms (and all of the minor ones, too) that there is really nothing to do but to develop a new paradigm. So in our modern world, this would involve declaring difference from any worldview that is intrinsically or predominantly Capitalist, Socialist, or Monotheist, and additionally rejecting relatively minor or outdated alternative paradigms (e.g. Polytheism, or “Third Position” political ideologies), and then going the extra mile to create something entirely new.
Even if we ignore the fact that most entirely new ideas are probably doomed to be eaten alive by predators like baby turtles on the beach, I hope it is obvious that simply coming up with an entirely new idea is nigh impossible. By simple virtue of the way humans tend to think, almost all ideas will end up bearing some resemblance to an extant paradigm. We tend to derive new ideas from combinations of variations upon old ones, which of course feeds the growth of existing paradigms. “Christian Socialism”, for example, works to expand upon both Christianity and Socialism, building bridges between the two, but it does not add anything new to the pool of human knowledge, and therefore cannot be considered a paradigm in and of itself (in the sense that I’m using ‘paradigm’ here).
I think we are alive at a remarkable time – a time when a new paradigm may be on the verge of appearing amidst the dinosaurs.
One could call this new paradigm “Transhumanism” I suppose, but I personally see the modern Transhumanist movement as only one very narrow aspect of the bigger idea, which is simply of explosive change through technology. Such explosive change would remove or at least deeply challenge all ancient assumptions about politics, economics, the self, humanity, community, law, ethics and metaphysics (and therefore Capitalism, Socialism, and Monotheism along with them). A full-blown emergence of this idea as a new major paradigm in a short space of time would presumably match the expectations of the Singularitarians, more or less: Total transformation of everything the new technologies touch, either in terms of literal, physical transformation, or of radically rewiring our entire political-economic-cultural context. All bets are off. This idea – of transcending humanity’s limits and radically changing the entire world more-or-less overnight – is as old as humanity, but I consider it a new contender for the status of major paradigm, since it has never been possible before. Now, that may be about to change.
We must ask ourselves if this is really a potential paradigm in the sense that Capitalism, Socialism, and Monotheism are, or if it’s more like a context for such paradigms, as we might consider democracy to be. After all, some people like to imagine a radically transformed future that maintains the features of one or more of the current paradigms. If you take the idea of Singularity-level change seriously, though, I think all such ideas fall apart. The Soviet Union couldn’t handle a combination of extreme economic pressure and emerging communications technologies over a few decades – it wouldn’t have had a hope against the level of rapid change expected of a Singularity. No human system would. Can you imagine an authoritarian Imam or Bishop easily controlling a posthuman flock? Well, if you can, then it’s probably a pretty scary Bad Singularity you’re imagining – with a posthuman authoritarian employing the latest methods of control – but even then I sincerely doubt that the underlying belief systems would survive such radical change unscathed.
Once a period of Singularity-scale change had passed, then the new worldview would dictate using any opportunity created to remake society in as progressive form as possible (e.g. using the new technologies for our benefit even if they had caused destruction during the change, and sweeping away dangerous and outdated institutions weakened during the same period). In other words, we would work to complete the transformation started by events, maximising positive change according to our Principles. This point is important, as it elevates the concept of radical epoch-ending change from a political context, to a political ideal.
I personally don’t believe that a Technological Singularity is inevitable (like some others, I am an activist, stridently opposed to “Inevitablism” or “Invisible Handism”), or that it would have some of the more magical qualities ascribed to the idea by some people. Like Ray Kurzweil, I tend to define a Singularity conservatively, as a brief period in which enough radical change takes place that a new era is generally considered to have begun. This change represents the culmination of a long process, and comes to pass for better or worse – it won’t respect human desires unless it is forced to.
I would go so far as to partially subscribe to the Vingean notion of an “Event Horizon”, meaning that such radical change would represent a veil through which forecasters can no longer predict the future with any reliability whatsoever. I don’t see this as anything mysterious or mystical, but rather a simple extrapolation of the fact that right now we seem essentially incapable of responding effectively to important predictions. For example, although some argue that certain economists predicted the economic crisis of 2008, government and society as a whole was unable to pre-empt the crash. If we can’t act effectively on information about a simple economic failure, how can we speak meaningfully about being able to foresee and respond intelligently to rapid, massive, interrelated changes across pretty much every aspect of our lives?
Putting aside the limited concept of Technological Singularity for a moment; my own, working concept of potential “Singularity” is considerably broader than that intended by most Transhumanists. Usually “Technological Singularity” refers to explosively rapid development of new technologies, with emphasis upon Artificial Intelligence of one type or another. The thing is, however, that in addition to computational explosion and converging cognitive-bio-nano technologies there are several other major trends currently on the verge of potentially transforming our lives. All are at least indirectly related to technology, and for the most part they look fairly negative: Population explosion. Environmental damage. Economic collapse. Nuclear proliferation. The rise of Fundamentalism. Oil reserves running out (and appropriate replacements not being developed fast enough). These trends are not entirely unrelated, and while we could argue about their relative likelihoods or consequences until the cows come home, it seems highly unlikely that all of them will prove insignificant. Their combined effects are more or less impossible to predict already… for example, what happens if three or more of these factors come to fruition at roughly the same time? The word you are searching for is “chaos”… but unless that chaos kills us, then it also represents an opportunity.
In short, good or bad, The Times They Are a-Changin’. The very acknowledgement of change on this scale – including admission that we can’t know with surety what comes after it – seems tantamount to a potential new Major Paradigm. The idea at its very essence is that everything old will be wiped clean, inaugurating a new phase for humanity. I do not think it would be wise to assume that such a change must be positive, and I think it would be doubly unwise to imagine that such change has any real chance of being positive unless we take significant steps to actively guide ourselves to a good outcome. Finally, I think it would be foolish to mistake the coming change with any Monotheistic eschatological myths – an End Of The World where all the good people get to go to heaven – simply because that would encourage exactly the kind of passive assumptions that will most likely get us all killed.
To summarise, I believe that the era of Capitalism, Socialism, and Monotheism will soon be at an end. I believe that these paradigms will all have to acknowledge an increasingly obvious understanding that things cannot and will not continue as they have up until now. Whether the tremendous torrent of change we are unleashing ends well will depend upon our motivation, organization, ingenuity, and a good helping of dumb luck. The only thing we can be sure of is that when the wave of converging trends has crashed and receded, our societal landscape will have been changed entirely and irrevocably.
You could call this worldview anything you like, but I tend to see it in terms of the image of a great wave. Exhilarating, inescapable, and potentially deadly. If it is coming – and it looks like it is – then no amount of argument will change that fact. You might call this worldview “Wavism”, I suppose. If you did, then I guess I am a Wavist, and ZS is Wavist too. We see the wave coming, and we know it isn’t anybody’s friend, but that it will herald an entirely new era one way or another. We seek to actively prepare, and work toward the highest likelihood of the best possible outcome.