X-Message-Number: 22485
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2003 15:06:08 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Instability

Tim Freeman asks good questions as always, but this is a rare
occasion where I am reluctant to discuss specifics. Recently
I had the distressing experience of seeing excerpts from a
highly personal memo, which I had distributed among just 9
people, reproduced in a national-circulation magazine.
Naturally I prefer not to make a mistake twice, and this is
not a good time for public self-examination.

However I can make some general observations. Based on my
intermittent participation in cryonics, here's a list of
possible reasons for a high turnover in personnel. No doubt
others can add to this list or quibble with it.

1. Cryonics is stressful and unrewarding, and seldom pays
well. It's stressful because it is still a relatively new
endeavor in which there are countless traps for the unwary,
whether you are doing field work, giving news interviews,
negotiating with regulators, or trying to raise money. It's
unrewarding because you can't really tell whether you have
done a good job. The ultimate outcome of every case is
unknown and will remain unknown for decades.

2. Most people working in cryonics organizations would prefer
to be doing something else. Very few have chosen cryonics as
a job or a career, and the ones who did have tended to be
(how can I put this tactfully?) far from the center of the
bell curve. Cryonics appeals only to a tiny fraction of
humanity; cryonics activists are a subset of that tiny
fraction; and cryonics careerists are a subset of that

3. Because there has been a perpetual shortage of help,
people have been assigned tasks for which they lacked
experience or aptitude. Individualists who perform poorly in
groups have been asked to serve as managers. People with no
experience in book keeping have tried to handle corporate
finances. Others with no formal medical training have gone
out to rescue dying patients in hospitals. And so on. Really
it's remarkable that so many gifted amateurs have done so
well, but sometimes errors have occurred, or a person who is
inappropriate for a job has realized his inadequacies or has
been encouraged to quit. I had hoped that cryonics could
avoid this kind of problem by employing professional help,
but one of the most visible professional helpers turned out
to be untrustworthy.

4. Now we get to the psychological factors, which I
personally think are more important. Cryonicists obviously
are driven by a strong desire to avoid mortality. This is an
odd motivation for people to share in a business or even in a
nonprofit organization. It creates an emotional environment.
Moreover, since anger is a classic response to fear, people
who are apprehensive about death tend to become contentious.

5. Statistically cryonics has tended to attract libertarians,
contrarians, and others who rebel against the status-quo.
Such people are usually elitist, argumentative, and reluctant
to change their opinions on any topic. Also they have little
respect for authority, even within their own group. It's hard
to run an organization that consists of rule-breaking rebels.

6. Cryonics also tends to attract a minority who are deluded.
By this I mean that they have unrealistic expectations, wacky
ideas about science, impractical business plans, and personal
ambitions based on wishful thinking. Deluded people often
insist that there is a shortcut which everyone else is too
dumb to see. Olga Visser, who thought she could resuscitate
rat hearts and cure AIDS patients with the selfsame elixir,
seemed deluded. Unfortunately deluded people can sometimes
generate so much excitement, they tempt others to share the
delusion. When the bubble bursts, the deluded instigators may
be excommunicated.

7. Cryonics activists also tend to be narcissists, which is
natural when you consider that you have to believe strongly
in your own worth to feel that preserving yourself justifies
a significant amount of time and effort. Narcissists are not
team players.

8. Cryonics activists tend to be idealists. Only an idealist
could proclaim, "Death is an imposition on the human race,
and no longer acceptable." (Alan Harrington's first line in
his book, The Immortalist.) Unfortunately, cryonics is a bad
place for idealists because its aims are so ambitious and its
human and financial resources are so limited. Idealists
become unhappy when they are forced repeatedly to compromise,
and people tend to quit when they are unhappy in a job. Of
course in cryonics, quitting itself is stressful, because
*not* trying to make it work feels bad too. So, we have seen
people who vacillate and seem unable to make a lasting
decision. They disappear into obscurity and then return. I
can think of at least a dozen who fit this profile. This does
not please an organization's members, who just want a
reliable service in exchange for an annual fee; but if they
would recognize that cryonics is an experiment, not a
validated service, and if they would respond by getting more
involved, they might gain a better appreciation of the
problems that I am describing. (To some extent cryonics
organizations are at fault for having encouraged the idea
that cryonics is a validated service.)

9. There are situational factors specific to the current
phase of cryonics. The number of members has grown while the
number of hardcore activists has diminished. Consumers are
proliferating while an important class of service providers
is shrinking. The early-early-early adopters (those who
joined before 1980, say) joined when cryonics was even more
speculative than it is now, and consequently they had to be
very highly motivated. They would endure almost anything to
try to make it work. But they have human limits, and they
exhibited some or all of the traits I have listed above. So,
many of them either burned out or made errors or were driven
out by their socially maladjusted peers. We are thus in a
transitional period where volunteers are relatively scarce
but organizations cannot quite afford to pay market rates for
professional help (and may be afraid to do so after the Larry
Johnson fiasco). This again creates a stressful situation.

Now for the upside:

I have seen some highly productive people in cryonics who
shared few of the personality traits listed above. They came
into the field for very rational reasons, and have been
patient, amiable, consistent, and willing to make
compromises. As the concept of cryonics becomes more
socially acceptable, I see no reason why we shouldn't find
more people like this entering the field.

I must also add that some of the problematic traits in
cryonics activists have also been extremely valuable. The
field would never have developed reliable storage and
sophisticated standby procedures without selfless
contributions from narcissistic, contentious, rebellious
amateurs. One could also argue that most of the people who
have worked hardest in cryonics have been deluded to some
extent, because they believed that progress would be faster
and mainstream recognition was just around the corner. An
outsider would suggest that all cryonicists are deluded for
believing that they have a chance to be resuscitated.

Thus the same personality profile that leads to instability
also sustained the field in its most difficult early years.

--Charles Platt

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