X-Message-Number: 11991
Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 12:32:54 EDT
Subject: Betrayal and Abandonment

In message #11983, Mr Robin Hanson made a very insightful remark and a very 
depressing remark.  The depressing remark is familiar to us all.  It turns up 
every month or so, and consists of wailing the question, "Why Isn't Cryonics 
More Popular?"  Cryonics, as we all know, is full of smart folks, computer 
guys and the like, and when you put questions to these large-lobed products 
of academia, a cataract of theories and opinions surge up in a mighty flow.  
And we all sit there hypnotized by this daunting flux of reasons why we don't 
succeed, won't succeed, can't succeed, are hopelessly doomed, and can do 
nothing more than sit on our collective butts.  It's a litany that really 
inspires.  Rather like a high school swimming instructor throwing some 
forlorn Junior into the river and hollering, "OK, now give me every reason 
imaginable why you're going to drown like a rat!"  The flailing victim 
complies, gibbering between  gulps of brine, "Well I'm not a fish and, uh, 
and I'm made of meat, and meat is heavier than water and people drown all the 
time heck, better swimmers than me drown all the time  and (*glub*) and 
there's a *really* strong current and (*cough*, *spit*) and I think I'm 
getting a cramp and what if I panic? I think I *am* starting to 
panic! hellll(*gurgle*)ppp ".

Requiescat in pacem.  Fortunately we now know that cold water can stave off 
warm ischemia for as much as an hour or more, so our soggy friend may make 
it.  Mental difficulties among the dry are not so easily remedied.  We sit 
curled over our lengthy list of reasons, repeating the creaky formulae like 
an aged grandmother over a rosary, and mosey off stunned to narcoticize our 
dismay with another rerun of the X-Files.

Is there a solution?  Sure.  Just for laughs, instead of sitting down coming 
up with justifications for 'the failure of cryonics', to use Saul Kent's 
numbing mantra, sit down with a piece of paper sometimes and write down every 
reason that cryonics should succeed.   Then stick it somewhere prominent to 
spur your energy level - your bathroom door, say, or the forehead of your 
spouse.  'Why Will Cyonics Succeed?'  Just offhand I can think of several 
answers to a question like that.  Because top mainstream scientists and 
scholars like Eric Drexler, Marvin Minsky, Ralph Merkle, Gregory Fahy, Robert 
Freitas, say it can.  Because life is nicer than death.  Because detailed 
scenarios about vitrification and cell repair are gaining general acceptance. 
 Because placing your dead child in liquid nitrogen is more aesthetic than 
placing her in a hole in the ground filled with grubs.  Because people have 
donated millions to the cause.  Because there are, relatively, ten times as 
many doctors in cryonics as in the general population.  Because corporations 
are sinking billlions and billions and billions into nanotech research.  -- I 
could go on, but frankly I'd rather see the assembled readership do it at 
home.  It's not hard.  The fact is, we're able to come up with lots of 
reasons why cryonics is going to succeed.  Know why?  Because the reasons are 
actually there!  We're just not in the habit of thinking about them.

Alas, Mr Hanson, though otherwise seeming like an upbeat sort of guy, 
continues in this time-dishonored tradition of finding more reasons for 
paralysis.  He even seems to have come up with a new one:  roughly, he thinks 
that there's a hefty amount of social bonding going on between us 
ape-descendants.  As he says, "At present cryonics is something individuals 
buy for themselves, which if it works will transport them to an alien social 
world where they can do little to aid their current social allies.  That 
alien world seems unattractive and downright scarry to most current allies, 
and spending all that money on going there reduces one's ability to aid 
current allies.   Buying cryonics can then naturally be interpreted as 
symbolizing betrayal and abandonment."

Now this is wrong. (In fact some of the above is just flat error  -- 
'spending all that money on going there reduces one's ability to aid current 
allies'.  He must be with some group other than CI: membership in the Cryonic 
Institute comes to $120 a year, ie $10 a month, and life insurance for a 
suspension at CI can come to under $140, ie $10 a month plus change.   'All 
that money' works out to less than your monthly cable bill.  You can fund a 
suspension and not only take your 'current allies' out for pizza, but even 
your former ones.)

But his central point is much more beautifully wrong -- it's wrong in a 
wonderfully Karl Popper sort of way, an error that's full of power and 
insight!  Because it takes us a lot closer to a solution.

You see, Mr Hanson has put his finger on, not the reasons people haven't 
signed up for cryonics, but the reasons the typical cryonics approach repels.

What do we normally see cryonics organizations say to people to convince them 
to support cryonics?  They chant, in essence, "Give us $100,000-plus and sign 
these fifty legal papers or you're going to DIE DIE DIE and ROT ROT ROT!!!"  
This suave monologue overlooks a number of facts - to recall merely one, the 
fact that only 0.4 % of the population (yes, that is an accurate statistic) 
are avowed atheists; the other 99.6% are either believe in some sort of 
postmortem survival or consider it at least possible (nor are they the 
stereotypical Oral Roberts yokel that cryonicists, suicidally, like to 
lampoon;  in the pro-resurrection camp,  Moravec and Polkinghorne and Tipler 
loom quite as forcefully as Rev. Ike).  Do we approach these people on there 
own terms, and try to make a case for extending life here even if there's an 
afterlife?  No Methodist I know of turns down CPR, nor has Tipler swan-dived 
off the Eiffel Tower of late.  But no.  Instead of presenting cryonics to 
them in their own terms, we present it to them in ours.  We don't ask them 
what they want; we don't try to speak to their language or show some respect 
for their views; we don't try to find out what moves them.  We don't listen.  
We base our entire appeal on the level of personal survival.  And when - as 
Mr Hanson shows in example after example - we find the great majority of 
mankind engaged in spurning personal benefit in favor of the more roundabout 
benefits of helping others, well, we mutter 'deathoid memes" or something 
similarly incomprehensible and creep off to read Cryonet.

Robin Hanson's message nails that cryonics approach right on the noggin.  
That's exactly what we say:  save yourself, and abandon everybody else.  Of 
course, it hasn't seemed to work too well these past thirty years.  So - we 
keep doing it.  It's what we've always done, after all, and why bother trying 
to see if any other sorts of appeals work?  Indeed why even ask what *does* 
work?  Mr Hanson nails that one on the head too:  people do things, spend 
money, make sacrifices, take risks, in order to help others.  Why then don't 
we say to them that cryonics too - helps others?  Well, because many of us 
are in it for ourselves, and so we tend to completely overlook the fact our 
motivation is not the only motivation possible.  Again:  we don't listen.

But this casual assumption that the appeal to ego is the only appeal, that 
personal survival is the only motivation  -- that assumption floors me.   Is 
there no good to come for society if cryonics were to be achieved?  Is there 
no sympathy, no service, no compassion for others in working for cryonics?

Personally, I've risked my life on more than one occasion, and expect I shall 
again.  I don't think the possibility of death will ever be eradicated, and 
I'm reconciled to my own.  Nonetheless, I'm a CI member, and I would be even 
if I had no expectation of personal survival whatsoever.  Because though I 
can live with the possibility of my own annihilation, it galls me, it 
irritates me, to see death hurt others -- to see it hurt everyone.  The death 
of a Jonas Salk, a Feynmann, a Sakharov, a Rabin - are these 'personal' 
losses?  Or social tragedies?  A dead child, a murdered woman, a sick ward, a 
bombed city - these sights disgust me.  I'm sick of watching people bleed.  I 
want to see these sickening afflictions taken off, not my back, but 
mankind's.  'Mankind'?  Yes, mankind.  I know; 'working for the good of 
mankind' is such a saccharine phrase.  Well, so what if it's saccharine?  
It's the truth. 

So why don't we ever *say* it?  Cryonics promises to save the lives of people 
- billions of people, potentially -- who would otherwise be dead.  It offers 
to extend their lives for centuries - and so presumably to increase not just 
their personal maturity but their contributions to science and art and 
society a hundredfold.  It promises a painless alternative to the misery and 
agony of terminal illness and chronic suffering and disease.  Research in 
cryonics-related field helps with organ preservation, emergency room 
life-saving,  hypothermic surgical technique.  It provides the dying with 
hope rather than fear, and the survivors with hope rather than grief.  It is 
potentially the greatest life-saving and life-enhancing technique ever 
bestowed upon a humanity crippled and limited and tortured by disease and 
death.  And - by a happy coincidence! - it promises some of the above 
benefits to us as well.  Well, that's great too:  preserving our own skinny 
butts is not an unworthy endeavor.  Who knows what we might make of ourselves 
with a few centuries?

But -- much as we love our little selves -- in moments of sobriety, *how* can 
we not look around and realize that the potential benefits of this thing 
called cryonics is infinitely greater for mankind than for just us.  Charming 
though we are.

But we never say it.  We never say, "Cryonics is good for others.  It's good, 
it's right, for society, for mankind, for the world."  We never say:  
"Cryonics is compassion."  We never say:  "We're fighting for others.  Why 
don't you?"  And guess what?  Because we never say it - no one ever hears us 
say it!   How very surprising.  Ah, well, maybe it'll pop into their heads 
spontaneously one day...  

The only group I have seen even begin to try to reach people in these terms - 
to talk to people in English rather than Unix and use the language of 
humanism rather than the arcane buzz words of extropy -- is the Cryonics 
Institute at its web site at www.cryonics.org .  Is it a complete coincidence 
that they're the fastest growing organization in cryonics, that their 
membership has jumped over a sixth in the past year, while other 
organizations' growth rate has slowed or even (dare I say) frozen?  Maybe we 
should take a look at what works, not what doesn't.

Mr Hanson is right on the mark.  People care about others.  They want to help 
and care for others, and others like it when they see someone thinking like 
that.  And the surprise is that cryonics is one of the most helpful, most 
caring, most charitable and socially rewarding activities imaginable.  But 
not the way we present it, or ourselves.  Saving lives is not 'betrayal and 
abandonment'.  Standing there doing nothing while people die - that's 
betrayal; that's abandonment.

But we have to come out and say it.

David Pascal

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