Obsolete the Dilemma!

It's all very well to enunciate lovely-sounding values like Joy, Growth and Choice ... but in real life we're all faced with difficult decisions. We're faced with choosing one being's joy over another's, or choosing joy versus growth in a given situation, and so forth.

There's no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution to such dilemmas.

But Cosmism does provide one valuable principle, that is very frequently appropriate for beings in the phase of evolution that humans currently occupy.

This is the principle of obsoleting the dilemma.

Rather than trying to resolve the dilemma, use a change in technology or perspective to redefine the reality within which the dilemma exists.

This may of course lead to new and different dilemmas -- which is a natural aspect of the universe's growth process.

This approach has tremendous power and we'll revisit it frequently in the following pages.

To make the idea clear, first of all I'll explore it in the context of a couple simple, everyday issues that -- in the human world right now -- seem to have a tremendous power to divide thoughtful, compassionate people.

Cosmism doesn't solve these issues -- but it does advocate a systematic route to resolving them ... not by solving them but rather by obsoleting them.

The Dilemma of Abortion

Abortion is one of the most obvious cases of a divisive ethical dilemma, in modern society.

Even among individuals who reject traditional religious notions of the human soul and the special sacredness of human life, it poses a huge ethical challenge.

On the one hand, compassion dictates that killing babies is wrong ... and the fact is that we don't really know when a fetus develops enough "reflective awareness" that killing it becomes more like killing a person than like killing a sheep, or more like killing a sheep than like killing a fish, etc.

On the other hand, forcing an adult human woman to create an infant when they don't wish to, is a clearly uncompassionate violation of that woman's personal choice and happiness, of her ability to grow in the directions she chooses.

So, there is a balance to be struck, and different caring, thoughtful people want to strike it in different ways.

The Dilemma of Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism presents a similar dilemma to abortion, though one that the mainstream of modern society seems less concerned about (due to our habitual species-centrism).

Clearly, killing animals to eat them is uncompassionate and, in itself, "wrong" according to principles of joy, growth and choice. Cows, pigs and chickens may not be as smart as we humans are -- but they have their own experiences, emotions and wills, and we're pretty damn nasty to abort these so we can have a tastier dinner.

Yes, nature is bloody and violent ... animals kill each other ... but we have the capability to much more fully understand what we're doing and to make a more considered choice....

Yet there are plenty of borderline cases. It's not clear, for instance, whether fish experience pain in the same way that birds and mammals do. It's not clear in what sense a fish has a theater of reflective consciousness. Personally, I don't feel confident that killing a fish is cutting off a stream of tremendous joy and experience, any more so than cutting down a tree or picking a carrot out of the ground.

One argument against vegetarianism is that we're evolved to be omnivores and some level of meat consumption is necessary for us to feel "natural." I personally do feel that way: in the past when I've eaten a vegetarian diet for a while, I have felt a certain disturbing lack of energy and aggressive initiative. Eating fish cures that for me just as well as eating other meat ... but without some fish or other meat intake, I really don't feel like "myself." So the question becomes: how much cruelty to fish would I incur to gain a certain amount of personal energy?

After all, we're also evolved to kill each other when we get mad -- but we make a point of suppressing this evolutionary urge in the interest of our mutual growth, joy and choice, etc.

Obsoleting the Dilemmas

What does Cosmism have to contribute to these familiar dilemmas?

It doesn't provide any trick for drawing the line between right and wrong in these tricky situations. Joy, growth and choice and other Cosmist principles are all very well; but these dilemmas are cases where two or more different options exist, each bringing joy/growth/choice and other goodies to some minds at the cost of others ... and so there's a difficult judgment to be made.

What Cosmism suggests is an alternate path: obsolete the dilemma.

This is already happening, to some extent. We should try to make it happen far more as the future unfolds.

Birth control largely obsoletes the dilemma of abortion, though it doesn't quite work well enough yet. The ability to remove an embryo from the mother without pain or danger, and incubate it in a lab from a very early stage, would obsolete the abortion dilemma in a different way.

The capability to grow cloned steaks, fish cutlets and chicken breasts and such in the lab would obsolete the dilemma of vegetarianism ... as would advances in synthetic food technology; or pharmacology that conferred the recreational, physiological and neurochemical benefits of various forms of food without requiring actual food ingestion.

There is a powerful general principle here. Ethical dilemmas are never going to be completely avoidable, but the advance of technology can blunt them pretty thoroughly, if it's done with a specific eye toward obsoleting the dilemmas.

The Dilemma of Poverty and Charity

The issue of poverty and charity can be perceived in much the same way as abortion and vegetarianism.. The ethical dilemma of whether to send 80% of my income to help starving children in Africa (I never do so, but feel some guilt over this), will be neatly obsoleted by advanced technology that eliminates material scarcity.

Why don't I send 80% of my income to help starving children in Africa (nor even 10%, for that matter)? Due to the usual mixed motivations. Part of it is surely plain old selfishness; I don't claim to be a wholly altruistic individual. And part of it is a sense that the world as a whole would not be better off if those of us fortunate enough to live in wealthy nations (or the upper classes of poorer nations) were to revert to the economic mean.

If I sent most of my income to help starving children I would be less happy on a day by day basis -- but also, I would also be in much less of a mental and practical position to create new technologies, Cosmist Manifestos, and so forth ... things that I value a great deal. My own children would be in a much worse position to create such things as well, if I were to deprive them of books, computers and education so as to feed the starving kids in Africa. And yet, I'm never quite sure it's right to value these creations over peoples' lives.

What I'm quite sure of, is that it's right to obsolete the dilemma.

Dialectics Redux?

If you've had some contact with Marxist or Hegelian philosophy you may find something familiar in the "obsolete the dilemma" notion.

Hegel, as a key point of his philosophy, described how thesis and antithesis lead to synthesis via the "dialectical" process. The synthesis obsoletes the dilemma between the thesis and antithesis. The dilemma between Being and Nothingness is resolved to yield Becoming. The dilemma between lords and vassals is resolved to yield new social classes emerging due to the advance of industrial technology. Marx saw the advance of society as a result of a series of dialectical dilemma-resolutions.

In Hegelian dialectics, dilemmas are obsoleted by redefining realities so that previously oppositional realities become unified in a new set of structures and dynamics. This is indeed closely related to the Cosmist notion of obsoleting the dilemma (and arguing the precise relationship would be an onerous task of technical philosophy that I won't undertake here!).

However, one big difference between the Hegelian/Marxist perspective and the Cosmist perspective is the amount of determinism that the former perceived to exist in the world. The notion of a precise, orderly series of dilemmas, getting obsoleted and then leading to new dilemmas in a predictable fashion -- this is anathema to the Cosmist perspective, which is all about embracing the unknown and growing oneself so as to understand and become new things that would have been wholly incomprehensible to one's prior self. Often, once a previous dilemma has become obsoleted, the world looks like a totally new place ... and the path forward is one that you never could have imagined to exist before.

Society has not evolved according to anything like the particular path that Marx and Hegel foresaw. It has evolved according to a "quasi-dialectical" process of iterative dilemma-obsoletion, though ... and will continue to do so ... so those guys did get some things fundamentally right.

Figuring out how to obsolete the dilemmas facing us is an ongoing intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual challenge -- not at all a matter of following some predetermined and inevitable path.


  1. Hmmm. Konkin gives Marx some credit as well, for figuring out that Federal Reserve supporters are a separate "class". I've come to the conclusion, like James Halperin, that some sort of libertarianism will either become the new way of doing things, by default, or we'll slide toward a very well-enforced totalitarianism (and democide).

    I wish I could have a big roundtable discussion with all of you supergeniuses to reveal what I've learned about how to make that possible. I suppose whether you'd agree with me or not enough to collude is a separate question. (I've been putting the Libertarian Party and libertarian causes on the ballot for the past 8 years, and the Libertarians are mostly hide-bound Republicans who have no strategic vision, and won't listen to a thing I say because I have no degree and I've made a lot of enemies sticking up for my principles. In that regard, Democrats are more willing to question what they think they know, so I've been lately hanging out with libertarians who used to be leftists: the trouble with them is they have no money to get anything done. ...LOL.)

  2. I believe in solving all the above mentioned dilemmas with freedom of choice. You do as you wish and I will do as I wish and we can all be happy. It is a simple matter really. I see no reason that we should have to come to a consensus on any of these issues.

    @Jake, I would love to see Libertarians become more strategic. The problem (if you can really call it a problem) as I see it is that all the Libertarian great minds and leader types are too busy running successful business ventures and creating wealth to bother with running for office. They have no real desire to hold power over others so getting those types to get involved with politics is difficult at best. Without strong leadership, it is hard to form a winning strategy.