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Belmont Club

Masters of the Universe

February 27th, 2010 - 7:22 pm

According to recent academic studies liberals are smarter than conservatives.  Conservatives can take some consolation in studies which show they are physically stronger, prone to anger and fond of aggression. That means they were useful once, when dinosaurs ruled the earth. But their time has passed.  Time’s John Cloud quotes a London School of Economics paper which says there’s evidence that “very liberal” adolescents have an average IQ of 106 and “very conservative” kids come in at only 95.  That’s a major difference. Cloud’s main doubt about the LSE study is that while there are ways to measure intelligence, there’s no way to accurately measure “liberalism” and “conservativism” except by self-identification. So it might just be cool for some people to call themselves liberals because it’s “in”, which might explain some curious things. Andrew Sullivan, for example, says he’s a conservative, but then again he might just be slumming.

The implicit assumption that liberals are more intelligent probably explains efforts to pre-clear SETI messages through an international advisory panel involving biologists, historians and ethicists who will ensure the right people are “waving on the beach” when the starships arrive. After all, we want the people sending messages to be as much like the aliens as possible. And if liberals are more intelligent than conservatives, then it follows that super-intelligences are super-liberal. So the best showing mankind can put up is to gather up the sum total of our liberalism and say, “Peace be unto you. Greetings from the persons and womyn of Gaia!” But science fiction author David Brin notes not everyone is believes this approach is valid. What if aliens are not like that? What if it isn’t true that the politically correct will inherit the universe.

The message zealots label as paranoid anybody who wants open discussion. With their peremptory broadcasts, they bet our future on the assumption that all technological alien species will be altruistic. In doing so they ignore all the indications from human or biological history that suggest this is highly unlikely to be the case.

J. Storrs Hall believes that the opposite is likely to be true. Any intelligence mankind is likely to encounter will probably be aggressive and show no compunctions about harnessing the full energy sources of nature to suit their ends. The first indication they have arrived will probably be the dismantling of the outer planets. Our international elites won’t understand why they’re doing it and there’s your problem right there. He writes:

Star travel is expensive; it costs on the order of a ship’s own mass in equivalent energy to get it up to relativistic speeds. Any culture capable of that will be at least a Kardashev Type I civilization, and most likely a Type II. And the reason they’ll be doing star travel is to work their way up towards Type III. Any sentient creatures that actually get here will be nanotech-based robots, not water-based organisms. They won’t have spacecraft, they’ll be spacecraft. They will be unlikely interested in the carbon-poor mudballs of the inner solar system, but reap abundant carbon from the outer planets and carbonaceous asteroids to build Dyson-sphere-like structures around the orbit of Mercury.

Storrs Hall thinks there is a real danger in assuming that certain political attitudes necessarily correspond to the highest levels of intelligence. What could a world that has decided to go back to windmills and sandal-wearing have in common with a civilization that could truly cross interstellar space?

in a universe where the ultimate meaning of “carbon footprint” is the total mass of the superintelligent diamondoid robots you’ve built, spaceships burning cellulosic ethanol simply aren’t going to be anywhere near the fittest. Indeed, cultures that aren’t inherently aggressive and ambitious aren’t going to put the effort into sending out starships at all. The question is, what are they going to think of us, the thin layer of green slime coating an insignificant rock?

If I were an aggressive superintelligent nanotech robot, I would tend to place the boundary between “people” and “raw material” at the boundary of aggressive superintelligent nanotech robots and everything else. I might — just might — make a sentimental exception for intelligent organic species such as my ancestors. “Such as” in this case means intelligent organic species which are on a clear track to building aggressive superintelligent nanotech robots.

Or, of course, has already done so. If you really want them to show up as friendly neighbors, start working on that Dyson Sphere yourself.

If, on the other hand, you’re a culture that has elevated cowardice (“Precautionary Principle”) to be its highest virtue … you’re just dirt.

We probably have no idea how an advanced alien intelligence would think, if it existed. But there seems no reason to assume, a priori that they think like a stock liberal other than the circular claim that liberals are more intelligent and therefore intelligence is going to be liberal. If would be possible of course, to dismiss the objections of Brin and Storrs Hall on the grounds that they shows every symptom of low intelligence: Anyone who truly fears that it is possible aliens to use strength, manifest anger and exhibit aggressiveness is blasphemously claiming some paths to evolution might not have liberal outcomes  And everyone knows that’s impossible.

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