Prometheus

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Volume 30, Number 1, Fall 2011

Sarah Hoyt: Prometheus Award Acceptance Remarks

I wrote Darkship Thieves because I was furious. Right about the time that cloning started being talked about, I expected and wasn’t disappointed, to see the spate of books coming out, about how cloning was a bad thing, because it was going to lead to people being cloned for sexual objects, or people being cloned for spare parts. In fact there was a movie about that recently. And all that stuff, that I expected, I expected the dystopian view. What I also expected but didn’t like was the fact that the tone of all these novels was, “there ought to be a law.” And the fact that all these corruptions of the technology were envisioned as happening as if society were “free,” and people were able to do this. And that made me furious.

A free society is better for preventing that kind of abuse. For one, cloning an entire person, to have your brain placed in them, is incredibly inefficient. The same way that slavery is inefficient. Raising humans is very expensive. And it’s not worth it. It would be much easier to clone body parts, which in a free society is more likely to be enforced by public opinion. While if we make it illegal, it will go underground and then all sorts of abuses happen. And this connects to the fact that people tend to react to new technology, particularly technology that can enhance human life, which cloning can by allowing people to live longer and thereby lowering our risks of failing. And extending human life and extending our possibilities in a thousand ways.

People tend to react to this with fear, and by saying there should be a law. Anything that’s enforced by law will get corrupted. Look at the French Revolution. Liberty, equality, fraternity. There is no way to enforce the last two, except by becoming a tyranny. And that’s why we had the guillotine. And that’s what will happen. Every time you enforce something, no matter how high your virtue, by the force of law, which ties in to Animal Farm. Animal Farm by the way, had the force of a completely subversive work to me, when I read it in Portugal shortly after the revolution, because, again, in the Portuguese revolution they were trying to enforce equality by law. And that always goes wrong. So reading Animal Farm was a profoundly freeing experience, because I went, “Yes, I’m not alone in seeing the problem with this!” So, that was why I wrote the book. Because I wanted to contrast a society where bioengineering—cloning, all sorts of bio advances—were illegal, and therefore went underground and became profoundly corrupt. To a society where they were allowable, and therefore public opinion could police them, and make it inadvisable for individuals to go to the extremes. Humans aren’t angels, and laws aren’t going to make them angels. We’re more likely to get there in our own self-interest, and by being watched, and having things in the open.

My son, when I told him about having to speak about the novel, said I should say two things, and I’m going to say them because he couldn’t be here—he’s driving his younger brother to school. My son said to tell you that the future is free, but the past is extremely expensive. That is, technology can free us, and can allow for more individual scope, but if we insist on trying to narrow technology and doing things the way that it’s always been done, and flattering up to the past, it’s going to cost us a lot, not just in money, but in lives and in opportunities.

We see this right now. A lot of professions, including mine, are changing very rapidly with technology. And people are trying to legislate us back into the past. Or to use tricks to bring us back into the way things were done. That’s never going to work, and it’s just going to cost opportunities. It’s going to cost money. It’s going to cost lives. In the same way, my son said to say, that it’s possible, in fact the future is a boot stomping on the human face forever. However, when a boot is stomping on your face you’re in an ideal position to kick the person in the nuts.

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