This post is part of the Social Futurism archive, copied from the “Wavism” blog (dedicated to Social Futurism, the WAVE movement, and the Zero State idea) which existed prior to the founding of the Transhumanist Party. As an archive document originally published in May 2011, this post may contain statements which are no longer accurate.
It has been said that the Zero State Principles suggest a decentralized direct democracy with a cashless, non-market or technocratic system for the distribution of goods internally, and use of markets externally – by inference implying an opposition to national and transnational democracy.
This point of view came from a prominent TechnoProgressive, who also asked what I see as the differences between TechnoProgressivism (as outlined in the links below) and the Zero State worldview. This post is a copy of the answer I gave.
The ZS Principles can be found via http://zerostate.net
The TechnoProgressive stance is expressed via the following links:
In a nutshell, the above provides a clearer description of the ZS stance than we ourselves have yet managed to distill. Which is to say, the ZS Principles imply an opposition to the current mode of national and transnational representative democracy, in which institutions develop in ways which block real (direct, or at least functioning representative) democracy, and we see the development of what might be considered crypto-oligarchies.
I would make clear though, that while ZS addresses global political & economic issues, our emphasis is on creating our own space, where our own rules apply, if such a thing is possible. Therefore, we’re not advocating that everyone should follow our model, but that we should be free to follow it ourselves.
Broadly speaking, there are fundamental similarities between the ZS ‘worldview’ (for want of a better word) and the TechnoProgressive stance. We’re certainly not bioconservatives of any stripe, and prefer not to get bogged down in traditional left-versus-right political categories where possible. As mentioned above, we believe in democracy up to a point, but with an emphasis upon direct (and heavily curtailed representative) democracy. Beyond these commonalities, there are three points where I can see potential differences between the politics of ZS and those of TechnoProgressivism & the IEET. There do appear to be other social or cultural differences, but in this post I will focus on political/economic points of view.
1) Animal rights & personhood
This is an interesting point, which I wouldn’t personally have picked up on, but which was repeatedly raised by ZS members I asked about this. Briefly, some of our people feel that IEET over-emphasizes the case for sentient personhood, especially as it relates to animal rights. I wouldn’t call this an outright difference, as the ZS Principles clearly state that we seek to abolish suffering, and the capacity for suffering will be considered in all judgments of sapience. What this doesn’t say, however, is that minimal sentience will automatically grant full personhood, which I gather is a strong point of view within IEET.
Another grey area here, of course, is the fact that ZS Principles state that all sentient entities within our sphere of influence will be offered the opportunity to accept ZS rights & privileges of citizenship. There’s an implicit line in the sand drawn there, in that non-communicating animals could not explicitly or meaningfully respond to such an offer, which means that they could not be recognized as full persons or citizens within ZS. That emphatically does not, however, give ZS citizens or anyone else license to cause them suffering of any sort.
2) Authoritarianism and the limits of democratic oversight
I understand that the IEET believes in democratic oversight of technological development. This presumably means democratic oversight of pretty much everything, as technological development accelerates to the point where kids can do things in garages that would have been DARPA projects 40 years ago.
We’ve already established that ZS values democracy, and therefore democratic oversight, but not full-blown representative democracy, which as you say rules out national and trans-national democratic structures. Although it slightly complicates our stance, you must also bear in mind that our focus is on the society within the Zero State. Others are free, and indeed encouraged, to choose whatever forms of political, economic or social system work for them.
That said, I must point out that ZS is not envisaged as an entirely grassroots, anarchic society. There will be institutions which work to facilitate implementation of Principle and direct-democratic decisions. These institutions are meritocratic (rather than democratic), and are not allowed any executive freedoms beyond their strictly stipulated function.
Hopefully the above gives some sense of where we’re headed when I say that ZS already has a fledgling Central Planning Committee (CPC). The function of the CPC is to lead and coordinate the democratic activities of ZS, but is not itself democratic. The CPC is not a form of central government, in that it may not interfere in direct democratic process unless that process has somehow broken or stalled, the integrity of ZS is threatened in some way, or the ZS Principles are in opposition to a decision that has been made.
3) Libertarianism and personal or collective freedoms
Point 2, above, details ways in which there is a kind of “upper bound” on democratic process within ZS, which ensures that the community does not lose sight of its initial founding Principles. I hope it is clear that this upper bound should not ‘creep downward’ due to the strict policy of meritocratic non-interference in democratic process except under very specific circumstances.
Similarly, I would like to outline a “lower bound” on ZS democratic process, which brings us to what is almost certainly our biggest difference with IEET & TechnoProgressivism. As I understand it, the IEET is opposed to the kind of libertarianism which flourishes (or flourished?) in corners of the transhumanist world such as Extropy Institute. ZS is emphatically not an attempt at some form of libertarian utopia, but there is one aspect in which ZS and libertarianism may coincide.
Just as the functions of the CPC and other meritocratic institutions are only allowed to intrude on direct democratic process under very specific circumstances, so individual citizens must be protected from a potential creep of democratic oversight mechanisms into their daily lives. Where citizens are living in accord with ZS Principle and a minimum of reasonable, local democratic laws, then they must be free to go about their business unhindered.
When we speak about individual citizens, few would object to the principle of guaranteed freedom from overly-intrusive societal control mechanisms (democratic or otherwise). The bigger problem is when we’re talking about collectives, such as companies (presumably part of the external trade economy), enjoying similar freedoms from control, and using those freedoms to cause societal damage and suffering of various types.
The ZS solution to this quandary is as follows: Citizen collectives, such as companies, are subject to no more or less democratic oversight than are individual citizens. On that level at least, such companies enjoy a remarkable level of freedom within the ZS sphere of influence. If it were left at that, we just might be talking about some kind of libertarian playground where profit and innovation were paramount. The thing is, that the kind of behaviours which companies are usually most maligned for are direct transgressions of ZS Principle. Any such transgression falls under the purview of the CPC and other meritocratic institutions within ZS, which would put a stop to it immediately, outside of democratic process.
So, I hope that readers can see that the IEET & ZS stances are in some ways very similar, but some of these other aspects will be, I’m sure, the cause of some difference. As I mentioned, ZS is in its earliest infancy, and so can still be significantly influenced in its development. If you have any comments or advice, or even loud opposition to voice, we would very much like to hear your point of view.
Last but not least, looking at the quadrant-graph of political schools of thought on the IEET site, I can’t help but feel that the worldview described above does not fit in any of the four regions. ZS is emphatically anti-biocon (i.e. pro-transhumanist), contains far too much democracy and meritocratic authoritarianism for the libertarians, too little democracy (especially representative democracy) for other tastes. It even complicates the question of animal/sentient rights, by drawing a distinction between personhood and capacity for suffering where others might conflate the two.
Here’s to the blooming of a hundred flowers!