David Brin: Tis the season… to save the world?

  • Published on December 3rd, 2012

By David Brin

You don’t have to be reminded. Forward looking folks know this time of year is when we re-assess our annual donations and find ways to help tilt the scales toward a more favorable tomorrow. But is there an aspect of ultimate self-interest?
Consider. What criteria will future generations use, when they decide which people from our era to up/down/in-load or simulate or whatever tech-apotheosis you yearn for them to provide? Won’t they factor in not only how interesting you would be to have around, but also how hard you tried to be – in the words of Jonas Salk – a good ancestor?

tpslogoOf course what I’m describing is eerily similar to the deal offered to our grandparents and their grandparents… redemption through good thoughts and good works. Only now we’re talking about a process that will be both palpable and propelled by physical law.
(Ironic, huh? Still, whether you are placating a judgmental deity, or earning cred with our future, godlike descendants, it does boil down to the same thing. Help make things better. And maybe there’ll be a prize to go along with the satisfaction.)
I’ve long promoted what I think is the most effective means for a modern, busy person to invest in improving the world… a method that makes efficient use of your time and money, and in ways that those future folk may notice. That method is called Proxy Power. It consists of buying subscriptions to groups and orgs and NGOs who pool their members’ dues and influence to support full time activists, who then take action to make a better world on your behalf!

Organizations like the Sierra ClubOxfam, the Red Cross or the ACLU are the great equalizers of our new civilization. They are how millions of smalltimers or average folk can together hire lawyers on a par with oligarchs, or fill a ship with food and schoolbooks, or stop whalers, or preserve an aquifer, or free a whistleblower, or replenish the blood supply, or lobby for a simpler tax code, or help poor girls in Pakistan go to school or…
EFF-logoDo read my old appeal on this matter. Not only in a spirit of philanthropy – perhaps inspired by the season – or to help your children or save your nation and world, but also out of enlightened self-interest and desire to help convince those who hold the keys of heaven — or a future heavenly simulation — to smile and admit that you were one of the okay ones.  (Also, at year end you can assess your tax situation and still squeeze a few deductions into 2012.)

Quirky choices

Mix and match organizations who cover the bases you want covered! Say for example: one for hunger (Oxfam? or the Heifer Project?) and two for freedom(ACLU and/or Electronic Frontier Foundation and/or Project Witness)  Followed by one agitator environmental organization (Greenpeace) and one eco-negotiator (the Sierra Club). One that goes directly to helping real people, one or two at a time (e.g. Doctors Without Borders or Habitat for Humanity). Throw in your local library or PBS station, Planned Parenthood and the Libertarian Party or The Planetary Society and The Skeptic Society…. you get the drift. (BTW: I don’t send money to all of these, every year.)
skepticOkay, okay. I figure a couple of your choices may differ, or even cancel some of mine! So? We’re all winners through lively and informed debate.  And the passionate geeks and attorneys we hire with our proxy dues will be passionately, geekily informed debaters on our behalf!
Oh, and let me admit that some of my own choices may seem quirky. Every year since 1979, for example, I’ve sent a small check to a little Treasury Dept. office in Parkersburg West Virginia, to be applied against the U.S. national debt. That’s beyond my regular taxes. Sometimes (in lean years) the donation is very small, sometimes larger. Call it a statement in my own mind of how grateful I am, not to live in the 99% of human cultures that would have burned or garroted or skewered or drowned a guy like me before I was sixteen. A society that instead pays and honors me to be like this. So no, I won’t commit the churlish, vile sin of ingratitude. No, not that sin.  Others, but not that one.

And more reasons to believe…

Of course, all of this bears upon the notion that cynicism is getting tiresome. Below, I will show evidence that folks are fighting back, ranging from several famous billionaires to a quoted passage from Charles Stross to recent endeavors by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge, Bruce Sterling and myself, persuading science fiction authors to return to the great old can-do spirit.  But first…

A cute “Tree Lobsters” cartoon lays down that same fundamental problem mentioned above… faced by all of those who have bought expensive cryonics contracts, in hope of being revived in some future age.  Why would future folk want you?  By now you know how to answer that. Make a pact with tomorrow.

Or, for a much deeper immersion into the concepts behind all this, watch Jaan Tallin (founder of Skype and venture capitalist) give an amazing Singularity talk about your hope of being a featured simulation.
Speaking of folks worthy of uploading/reviving/whatever? Did any of you see Jon Stewart interview Warren Buffett and his biographer?  The Oracle of Omaha, indeed.  Got rich by being smart. Smart and trustwortthy. Even smart enough to know what it all is really about, and why solipsism is for dopes. Go Warren! (More on good billionaires below.)
Will it work? Mind Meld asks authors, including Brenda Cooper and Charles Stross — and yours truly — about optimistic scenarios for our future world. Why they are rare amid waves of dystopias. And how hope really matters.
Of course, at the opposite extreme are the scrooges. See this older posting of mine that lays down the conflict before us. The Relevance of an Old Nemesis – as Even Older Ones Return.
Ponder doing your gift shopping at Costco – where workers earn 45% above industry standard and get profit sharing – versus Walmart, whose employees desperately take in an average of $500,000 in food stamps and other public support, per store.

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