Hello everyone

Postby Earendil » Sat Aug 08, 2009 12:01 am

Hello, everyone! My name is Laura Miller, and I'm an eighteen-year-old student at an East Coast university. I'm an unabashed techno-geek, and would like to start off by introducing one of the more esoteric technologies I'm fond of: cryonics, which is the practice of freezing people in liquid nitrogen shortly after they "die", keeping their brain cells intact, so that they can be revived in the future when technology is more advanced. An introduction from the Cryonics Institute:

What is cryonics?

Cryonics is the preservation of legally dead humans or pets at very low temperature (below −200ºF, −130ºC) in the hope that future science can restore them to life, youth and health. Cryonicists are people who use or advocate cryonics to greatly extending life and youth.

Most diseases, including the progressive deterioration known as "getting old", are the result of damage to organs, tissues, cells and cellular components. With enough progress of medicine and molecular repair capability, all diseases should eventually be curable, including aging. Medicine in the future should be able to restore and maintain people in a condition of youth and health. Cryonics could be a lifeboat (or "first aid") to future medicine.

Because it is based on speculation about the capabilities of future science cryonics is not a science. Few scientists are qualified to say whether future science can or cannot realize the dream that motivates cryonics because scientists are only trained in current science. Many outstanding scientists have made false predictions about future technology. In 1885 Lord Kelvin declared that "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." A couple of decades ago nearly all scientists believed that cloning was impossible. Conversely, cryonicists cannot guarantee that cryonics will work. Only the future will tell whether the predictions of cryonicists are correct.

If cryonics works and a person has not been cryopreserved, that person has no chance of ever being restored to an enduring youthful and healthy condition. If cryonics does not work at any moment in time, it may be made to work in the future. Those who have been cryopreserved will simply wait.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Jennifer Diane Reitz » Sat Aug 08, 2009 12:27 am

I wish I could be frozen after I kark it, in the hope of being uploaded to a post-human existence some day.

Alas, I do not have the 20,000 dollars that determines one's worth for a slim chance to see the future.

In the future, the only resurrected people will be rich people. Of course.

Or, more likely, 'Soylent Popsicle' will be the barely legal meat of the TRULY rich. Mark my words.

Not that I will be around to enjoy being right...
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Tearlach » Sat Aug 08, 2009 5:06 am

Aren't those cryonic companies basically shams? As I remember it, the freezing causes the liquid in your body to expand destroying any chance of revival.

Besides, even if it was possible to revive you, who would pay for it? Furthermore, it is probable that the company that tends to your body will tank long before any such miracle is possible, forcing them to toss your stiff into a dumpster or something. Besides, since it costs alot to keep your corpse frozen both in storage and electrical bills the companies will probably have to throw out the older corpses sooner or later for the sake of profits.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Earendil » Sat Aug 08, 2009 1:52 pm

Alas, I do not have the 20,000 dollars that determines one's worth for a slim chance to see the future.


The high sticker price scares a lot of people off, unfortunately. Cryonics is usually much, much cheaper than that, though, because most people fund it through life insurance (heck, I have a policy, and I'm a broke college student :) ). For a middle-aged person in reasonably decent health, you can get a $100,000 term life insurance policy for around $20 a month and a lifetime policy for around $50 a month, and that covers all of the suspension costs.

As I remember it, the freezing causes the liquid in your body to expand destroying any chance of revival.


This might have been true during the 1960's, but it's not anymore. All the major cryonics organizations make use of vitrification- basically, they replace most of the water in your body with a cryoprotectant solution, so that, when the tissue in your body freezes, it hardens into a glass-like substance instead of forming ice crystals that expand and destroy cells.

Furthermore, it is probable that the company that tends to your body will tank long before any such miracle is possible, forcing them to toss your stiff into a dumpster or something.


Alas, this has happened once before (during the 1970's), which is why all of the cryonics organizations today are paranoid about financial stability (which is, in turn, why the sticker price is so high). However, we've gotten through three decades so far without anything like that happening. James Bedford has been in cryostasis for over forty years now, and has been maintained at subzero temperatures for the duration.

Besides, since it costs alot to keep your corpse frozen both in storage and electrical bills the companies will probably have to throw out the older corpses sooner or later for the sake of profits.


Cryonics patients are kept frozen using liquid nitrogen, which is really, really cheap (nitrogen is the main component of air). The money to keep everyone in suspension is drawn from the interest on the suspension fee, not the principal; hence, the money can never "run out", because it actually grows every year (to adjust for inflation) rather than shrinking. All of the major cryonics organizations (Cryonics Institute, Alcor, American Cryonics Society) are legally established as not-for-profit corporations (Alcor and ACS are actually charitable organizations, so that any money given to them is tax-deductible).
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Shivers » Sat Aug 08, 2009 10:25 pm

I wanna take out a loan so I can be frozen. :mrgreen:
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Jennifer Diane Reitz » Sat Aug 08, 2009 11:19 pm

Here's the big question about cryonics, I think:

Let's say cryonics works. Fifty or a hundred, or a thousand years in the future, they can thaw out anyone who has been cryogenically preserved, fix whatever is wrong with them - be it cancer, old age, or decapitation (some people just get their heads frozen, saves on cost) - and bring such people back to life.

Why would they bother? After the first guy they revive, to talk about the past, about our time I mean. After his novelty wears off. After cold, old people from the past aren't interesting anymore, and can't sell life-story books, and aren't bookable on the hyper-wave 5D subspace chat-shows of the far future?

Think about it. Hundreds, perhaps thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands - of people frozen in the past. Unskilled labor, don't know crap about the world, have no idea how superteledildonicnanotechnobabbletronics works, have to be trained like children just to operate even a simple technobabblizer without disintegrating themselves... a drain on resources, useless, bothersome old people from the past. People with really unpopular ideas and ancient narrowmindedness and ancient bigotries - or a lack of the proper, current, future-time bigotries that are considered right and true.

Whatever the case, popsicle people are going to be completely, utterly useless to the future. Once that lucky lottery-winner has had his fun talking about the past, I mean. One guy will definitely clean up as a novelty act. His book will keep him in future-stuff for life.

But for everyone else, you will be, at best, an institutionalized burden. Why bring you back at all? Who wants to pay for that, plus all the rehabilitation, medical treatment, and life-long care, if needed?

Consider this problem in modern terms: we find a man from (pick your time period) in the past, frozen in whatever, and we bring him back. Great, the first one is a novelty. Mr. 1400's is hilarious, scary and interesting. He writes a book, everyone loves him despite his narrow views and scary religion and terrible personal habits.

Now, what if we could bring back 100,000 people from The Year Of Our Lord 1433? Think about it.

Or even 100,000 people from every year starting at 1400, all the way to 1800? Who would pay for that? Who would want that?

Who takes care of them? Who tries to train them how to live in 2009? Who explains to them that their religion is stupid, and that microwave ovens are not satanic magic? Who trains them not to beat animals with boards for fun because it is now somehow 'wrong'? Where do you put these people when they refuse -or simply fail- to adapt to our modern morals, ethics and worldview?

Who wants to pony up extra taxes for that? Again, why bring them back en masse? It would be stupid. It would make no sense.

We already have nearly seven billion people, most of them poor and ignorant already. Why bring back to life a huge number of ignorant cusses from ancient history? I mean, after the novelty has worn off (the first guy from a given era?)

At best, the reason would likely have to be something like slavery, or for spare parts. As part of a scheme to get around the law - maybe because popsicles are considered not to be people anymore by reason of having died already. Or somesuch.

One thing is NOT going to change in a thousand years, and that is the selfishness and self-interest of people. I don't care how brilliant you were in your own age, in a future time you are just one more mouth that no longer has relevancy anymore. They are NOT going to resurrect you.

Examine really famous people from history in this light: what if we could bring back Thomas Savery, the man who first patented a steam engine in 1698? Brilliant man, sure. Genius. Made history. Do you want to pay to take care of him? Do you want to explain to him that beating women with wooden rods isn't allowed anymore, or that bathing is expected now? You have a job for him? Yes, he made a very crude steam engine for a coal mine, but... now what? He is going to take a few decades just to get up to some sense of our world, much less electric, gasoline, and diesel engine technology.

I'll tell you where Thomas Savery will end up. Sorting trash at the recycling center next to all the Down's Syndrome folks. He'll go home to a crappy flat where the television will still frighten him, and he will be evicted for his insistence on hanging fresh meat on hooks -for days- by his door to 'ripen'. "It's the proper way!". No, not anymore. Final end: institution. For his own good.

This is why I did not spend my 20,000 dollars that I once had from my Happy Puppy days on a cryonics ticket. Instead I helped Sandi build a house which we sold. At a loss, sadly. The housing bubble and all. But I didn't waste it on a date with a can of liquid nitrogen for a very rational reason:

No one is going to ever revive you in the future. Not on average. Not statistically. One or three people will win the lottery. That's it.

Cryonics seems to me to be a new kind of religious afterlife for the desperate atheist. Just have faith that you might live again in a better future.

No. That is not going to happen. Why? Because people are people. They are human even in that precious future. And they have their now, their lives, their poor and indigent to worry about, and that does not include you, the homeless hobo from the past.

If you want to have an atheist afterlife, I suggest a much more rational hope is that we are all living in a vast SIMs-like ancestor simulation, and if you are interesting enough, your data might just be saved off for use in other games and simulations. Provided we aren't being covered by some draconian post-Singularity copyright act, of course. Which we probably are.

See you in data heaven, where all the deleted programs go when they die.

Because nobody will be seeing you unfrozen in the future.

It's only reasonable, really.

Sadly.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Earendil » Sun Aug 09, 2009 1:58 am

I wanna take out a loan so I can be frozen. :mrgreen:


You don't really need to take out a loan, you just need to get a life insurance policy that will pay to the cryonics provider in the event of your death. It's actually really cheap (probably less than your monthly cable bill).

Let's say cryonics works. Fifty or a hundred, or a thousand years in the future, they can thaw out anyone who has been cryogenically preserved, fix whatever is wrong with them - be it cancer, old age, or decapitation (some people just get their heads frozen, saves on cost) - and bring such people back to life.


I'm really sorry that you've lost hope in the future. I really do think- based on what I hope is rational thought and not blind optimism- that the future has a large chance of being a really, really nice place, for everyone, not just the rich and privileged. Could things go wrong? Sure. Things could always go wrong. We could all be wiped out by a killer meteor tomorrow. But there is still hope.

Humanity really has cleaned up its act a lot. Are there atrocities and horrors today? Of course, but compared to the past, we live in a paradise. Seventy years ago, Nazi Germany had the most powerful military in the world, and was about to steamroll all the nations of Europe into submission. Sixty years ago, one of the most brutal mass murderers in the history of the world- Joseph Stalin- was in possession of both the world's strongest army and the nuclear bomb. Fifty years ago, millions of people in China starved to death under the leadership of Mao Zedong.

Today, we still have power-mad dictators, but they're in charge of small, isolated nations, not major world powers. We still have wars, and they're still horrible, but we don't have entire generations being mowed down en masse in the same way that we did during WWI and WWII. We still have famines, but they're much smaller than they were a thousand years ago, when a majority of the world's population was basically perpetually starving to death due to overpopulation.

To see how cryopreserved people might fare in the future, imagine what would happen to a group of a hundred thousand of some of the most primitive people imaginable- say, hunter-gatherers from 20,000 BC, dumped into the modern world.

If they had been dumped into ancient Rome, two thousand years ago, they wouldn't speak the language, they wouldn't understand all this technology and civilization stuff, they wouldn't know any of the customs, they'd be totally lost. They'd probably have been sent to the salt mines and used as slaves, in conditions comparable to Nazi concentration camps. They would live short, miserable lives, and would rapidly expire after a few years of being both worked and starved to death.

If they were dumped into modern America or Europe, their adjustment problems would, if anything, be worse, since our civilization is much more distant culturally from the ancestral environment than the Romans were. However, they would undoubtedly fare much, much better. They wouldn't be used as slaves, because we don't have slaves anymore. They wouldn't be worked to death in salt mines, because we don't work people to death, and all the heavy labor in our salt mines is done by machines. They wouldn't starve, because we have enough food to share with the less fortunate.

Would most of them be wealthy and successful, by modern standards? Almost certainly not. But they're much better off than they would be if they were dead, and indeed, they're much better off than they would be if they had stayed back in 20,000 BC.

As a separate comparison, consider what would happen if, tomorrow, Kim Jong Il finally came to his senses, disbanded the North Korean military, and began the long process of integrating North Korea with the South. There are twenty-three million people in North Korea- Northerners would make up roughly a third of the population of the united country. Most of these people have spent their entire lives living in desperate, grinding poverty, have never seen a cellphone or used the Internet, and have been subject for sixty years to both the arbitrary whims and the mass-brainwashing apparatus of a Stalinist state.

Yet, nobody would say that, if we had a red button we could press to make this happen tomorrow, we should avoid pressing it because of the difficulty of assimilating all of these people from a primitive, backwards culture. We would adapt, find a way, somehow, even with twenty-three million people.

Now, compare the difficulty of re-integrating North Korea into modern civilization with the difficulty of re-integrating cryonics patients. North Koreans represent 0.3% of the population of the world. Everyone currently in cryonic suspension, or signed up for cryonics, represents 0.00002% of the population of the world, and it's pretty likely to remain that way. Reviving cryonics patients doesn't have to be a big political issue. We don't have to have huge debates about it on national television- it could probably be done by a few hundred people in their spare time, for curiosity if no other reason.

If we can keep going along the trend- if we can keep improving as we have for the past four hundred years, just keep doing what we have been doing for a pretty long while- conditions in the future should be even better. Could they be worse? Yes. But, hey, it probably beats being dead.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Mitsukara » Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:11 pm

It is idealistically quite possible that there would be reasons your negative expectations would not pan out. Suppose, for instance, that you aren't really revived as-is as a normal human; what if your intact brain's consciousness gets uploaded into technoascensionhood (or kept alive in a jar a la Futurama! :dead:) or something like that? There'd be no humane reason not to offer the same to everyone else, unless their ancient minds were somehow dangerous, and even then there'd surely be ways to safeguard against whatever the problem was.

A better future is possible. I make no assumptions one way or another; it could be rubbish, or maybe we'll all die out. Or maybe it'll be totally rad. Or maybe things will be depressingly similar for millenia. Or maybe things will completely change to the point of practical comparison not being gaugeable. Who knows?
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby strange_person » Mon Aug 10, 2009 6:55 am

Apples-to-apples comparison. Let's say you're a merchant or artist or something, in England, in the year 1009. King Aethelred the Ill-Advised has just finished constructing a national navy, which will, over the next three years, be torn apart by Danish raiders after one of the king's commanders deserts to try his hand at piracy instead. The richest 1% of the population can get fresh meat and clean, hot water almost whenever they want. Artistic options are mostly limited to commission work of religious figures and military histories; perspective hasn't even been invented yet.

Today, there are full-time historical reenactors. The richest 1% of the population control assets that make the economy of medieval England (as documented in the Doomsday Book) look like a kid's lemonade stand. Major motion pictures routinely depict things (like travel through outer space, or through time) that weren't conceivable a thousand years back.

If you ask me, if you get your brain frozen and they thaw you out in 3009, there won't be a big struggle to help you integrate with modern society. There won't even be an attempt. The whole cryogenics industry will have been bought up by some rich nutjob, on the grounds that any company that could survive more than a millenium of financial meltdowns was obviously doing something right; her kids will thaw and reanimate the corpsicles as a prank, build an indistinguishably-perfect virtual reality (riddled with jarring anachronisms, but survivable) when they should have been doing afternoon chores, then hide the whole thing in a basement with a ham-fisted watchdog AI and forget about it.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Anna » Mon Aug 10, 2009 7:54 am

Hm the basement link from our strange_person was interesting.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby draque » Mon Aug 10, 2009 10:09 am

The temptation to believe in something like cryonics is so similar to the temptation to believe in a religious afterlife that I'm wary on general principal. I honestly want to believe that it can work on any given end, but it seems like there are just too many obstacles. Jennifer brought up one of the best points, though. Even if the $20k that gets put up at the time of your death/suspension covers the cost of keeping you in person-pop mode indefinitely, the medical procedures necessary to pull you back up out of the cryo-grave again (assuming they ever come to exist) would likely be so obscenely expensive that the $20k and earnings wouldn't be able to cover it. Then when you compound that with the fact that most people only get their heads frozen... buying a new body would probably be pretty pricey, even in future-bucks.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby strange_person » Mon Aug 10, 2009 10:25 am

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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Earendil » Mon Aug 10, 2009 5:27 pm

Suppose, for instance, that you aren't really revived as-is as a normal human; what if your intact brain's consciousness gets uploaded into technoascensionhood (or kept alive in a jar a la Futurama! :dead:) or something like that?


That would be a lot of fun. :)

King Aethelred the Ill-Advised has just finished constructing a national navy,


Was that really his name? I wonder why we don't have cool names for our past leaders now. President Bush the Foolish? President Clinton the Promiscuous? President Nixon the Crook?

her kids will thaw and reanimate the corpsicles as a prank, build an indistinguishably-perfect virtual reality (riddled with jarring anachronisms, but survivable) when they should have been doing afternoon chores, then hide the whole thing in a basement with a ham-fisted watchdog AI and forget about it.


Why would we expect the future to treat human life cheaper than the present, when the trend for the past four hundred years has been in the opposite direction? In Biblical times, say, life was cheap and death was omnipresent. People routinely dropped dead at the age of thirty. The death penalty was prescribed even for what we would now consider minor breaches of good manners, like yelling at your parents, working on Sunday or having sex before marriage. And, of course, there was slavery; large numbers of people had owners who could kill them or torture them on a whim.

Nowadays, the United States gives the death penalty only for the most heinous of serial killers, and we are thought by a large portion of the civilized world as barbarians for doing even that much. Our nation, and most of Europe, is, if anything, even more concerned about physical safety than we should be.

It is true that the law, as it currently stands, doesn't give any formal protection to either people who have been uploaded into computers or legally 'dead' people who have been cryopreserved (Martine Rothblatt has a lot of interesting things to say about this). However, in a technological environment where such things are established as feasible and are becoming increasingly common, I am mildly confident in our ability to work out a solution that is reasonably sane; we have a pretty good track record of doing that with technologies like cars, the Internet, airplanes, etc.

Of course, as Mitsukara pointed out, the future could always be different from what we expect, but I wouldn't, personally, bet on us reverting to a society where the rich can kill and torture the lower classes at will.

the medical procedures necessary to pull you back up out of the cryo-grave again (assuming they ever come to exist) would likely be so obscenely expensive that the $20k and earnings wouldn't be able to cover it. Then when you compound that with the fact that most people only get their heads frozen... buying a new body would probably be pretty pricey, even in future-bucks.


It's possible, although I think unlikely, that cryopreserved patients can't be reanimated at all, but I don't think we'll see a situation where reanimation is technically feasible but too expensive to bother to use it. There really are very few technologies which are a). reasonably established (known to be practical, not bleeding-edge), b). of significant benefit to the average consumer, and c). too expensive for the average consumer to use. I can't even think of one example, actually.

Technology, when it is first developed, is usually expensive. But it's so profitable to make it affordable that it usually becomes much cheaper very quickly. Henry Ford did that to cars and became a billionaire. Steve Jobs did that to computers and became a billionaire. Thomas Edison did that to electricity and became a billionaire. Andy Bechtolsheim did that to servers and became a billionaire.

Suppose you got ten million dollars tomorrow- you're rich enough to never have to work again. What new technology could you buy, that you couldn't buy before (assuming you live in the First World and have an average sort of job)? As Paul Graham says:

The rich people I know drive the same cars, wear the same clothes, have the same kind of furniture, and eat the same foods as my other friends. Their houses are in different neighborhoods, or if in the same neighborhood are different sizes, but within them life is similar. The houses are made using the same construction techniques and contain much the same objects. It's inconvenient to do something expensive and custom.


You can buy lots of shiny toys to show off your wealth, like useless $10,000 Rolex watches and $200,000 custom-made cars, but you probably won't live an entirely different kind of life, like the lords of feudal Europe did.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Jennifer Diane Reitz » Tue Aug 11, 2009 12:26 am

Earendil wrote:Suppose you got ten million dollars tomorrow- you're rich enough to never have to work again. What new technology could you buy, that you couldn't buy before ......You can buy lots of shiny toys to show off your wealth, like useless $10,000 Rolex watches and $200,000 custom-made cars, but you probably won't live an entirely different kind of life, like the lords of feudal Europe did.


I have had... the experience... of meeting people from every level of wealth in my life. Let me tell you first hand.

If all you have is ten million dollars, especially if you just acquire it, you will not change your life dramatically, this is true. Lottery winners inevitably end up in a very similar life, they just have money in the bank that they don't use that much, really. The occasional trip. Ten million dollars really isn't that much, though.

If you make a hundred or two hundred million dollars, and you are the one that made that money, then you may have a very fancy house, and you may drive a very nice fleet of cars, but you will still - despite the toys- live not that amazing a life. Pretty much, such money, to the newly rich, means you can own almost anything you want, but the problem is that the personality that makes this kind of money is very focused on work, and a few big hobbies, and that's the extent of the use of their wealth. They may show you their imported car collection, they may host the occasional party, but... they aren't changing the world.

At the billionaire level - for the newly rich- life may involve pet projects funding the odd concern, buying the odd super-mansion, having some servants, starting companies and such. Again, the type of personality that can make this kind of money is very focused on work and projects, they are driven. They may be extravagant at times, but mostly, they are pretty boring, and often frighteningly conservative and narrow, with some exceptions.

But... for the Old Money billionaire, for the Old Money near billionaire (500 to 700 million dollars), of a family that has had money for generations, that is established in wealth, and established in the society of the wealthy, things are a bit... different.

These people genuinely imagine themselves to be a superior species above normal mankind. They genuinely see you and I as 'eaters', consumers, something akin to a slave-class subspecies who exist to service them. Our lives are at best quaint, and our only purpose is to work for them directly or indirectly, either by entertaining them with our antics, or by slaving for them at the wages they provide. In their worldview it is our fault, and our failing, that we are not wealthy, and it is the cosmic plan that we should be the lesser beings that they effectively... own.

These people, at this level, live like gods. They do think of themselves a bit like gods, over man. If they worry for our lives or deaths it is in the way that you might worry that dogs are being gassed at the pound when people don't get them spayed, and if they work for a cause, such as starvation in Darfur or such, it is primarily because doing so gains them points among those that matter - which is to say, people like themselves, the Old Rich. The look down on the newly wealthy, however much money they may have; these are interlopers, accidents, mistakes, and are not part of the Superior Species.

Old Rich do not want to be famous, they do not want to be known, and they do not want to be seen - except by their own kind. They despise anyone who seeks any kind of fame.

These are people who live in a way you cannot fully imagine or appreciate. It is nothing to have a personal staff travel with them to any location on the earth, on a whim, just to fix them the sort of dinner they prefer in the moment. These are people who literally have gold basins to wash in, diamond studded shower glass, and to whom owning a mansion is not a matter of prestige, or money, or importance or wealth or investment or even enjoyment - it is a matter of current utility.

I do not know what they can actually get away with, but to hear such people talk they, at least, are convinced that they can essentially do anything at all that they want, and never suffer a consequence. Have anyone killed, even famous people. Change any law, anywhere. Overthrow anyone. Take whatever they want. Do whatever to whomever at any time. To such people even the question 'are you serious' about such matter is met neither by humor nor by seriousness - it is met with incredulity that anyone would even question such a thing. To look in their eyes when asking such a question - it scared me shitless. Shitless.

There was no speck of anything remotely reminiscent of humanity, remorse, uncertainty, or compassion for others. The eyes of the sociopath incarnate.

Oh, they are charming, mostly. When they want to be. But under the surface, at least in the ones I met, there seems to be an undercurrent of royal violence; if they don't get their way, the anger is palpable, and the genuine fear in their staff is amazing. It amazed me, anyway. I was too young, perhaps, to grasp why anyone would be so afraid. So, the fancy car hadn't been waxed well enough before the party - it was as if the penalty was death.

I only met this level of society once. I had a friend in the 400 million range whose dad knew people in the billion range. I got to go to a party, once. It was enough.

These people could easily kill half the planet and think nothing of it. Just business. Culling the herd.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Earendil » Tue Aug 11, 2009 3:48 pm

I have had... the experience... of meeting people from every level of wealth in my life. Let me tell you first hand.


Wow. It must really be fascinating, to have met people from all these different, hard-to-reach upper echelons of society. Have you written about it elsewhere? I love reading your essays. :)

They may be extravagant at times, but mostly, they are pretty boring, and often frighteningly conservative and narrow, with some exceptions.


From what I know of the nouveau riche- which admittedly isn't very much- they actually tend to be less conservative and narrow than most Americans. Eg., Goldman Sachs, America's most prestigious investment bank- once headed by former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson- is one of the first companies to provide health insurance coverage for GRS.

These people genuinely imagine themselves to be a superior species above normal mankind.


Alas, this seems to be true in many cases. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but no amount of personally acquired power will make you rotten quite like inherited power.

I do not know what they can actually get away with, but to hear such people talk they, at least, are convinced that they can essentially do anything at all that they want, and never suffer a consequence. Have anyone killed, even famous people. Change any law, anywhere. Overthrow anyone. Take whatever they want. Do whatever to whomever at any time. To such people even the question 'are you serious' about such matter is met neither by humor nor by seriousness - it is met with incredulity that anyone would even question such a thing. To look in their eyes when asking such a question - it scared me shitless. Shitless.


I think- I am not entirely sure, but I will hazard to guess- that they are mostly fooling themselves. There was, indeed, a time, several hundred years ago in Europe, when that really was the case. The aristocracy was all-powerful, membership in it was inherited, and if you knew what was good for you you would get out of their way.

And, this is not to say that these families aren't still dangerous. They still have connections, they still have money, they still know how the system works. They can easily get away with doing things that none of us could get away with. They can, as you correctly pointed out, indulge in luxury to the point of comedic parody.

But, they don't run the world the way they once did. Most of the high-up muckety-mucks in government and business now- Bill Gates comes to mind- are the children of upper-middle-class parents, but they don't simply inherit their wealth and position in the same way that the early-19th-century aristocracy did. The old guard still has some power, though, so I think what happened is that they and the new upper class slowly came to a Terry Pratchett-style arrangement: the old money families have the power to do whatever they want, so long as they never exercise this power. This way, they can continue deluding themselves with fantasies of omnipotence, which is a very fun thing to do, while not causing any serious disruption to the societal order.

Because, in fact, we don't see large numbers of people being randomly gunned down all over the place because they got in the way of His Excellency Archduke von Pizzadoodle the Third's motorcade. It would have been very easy for the government, if they wanted to, to have started a nuclear war with Russia and killed billions of people at any time between 1960 and 1990. But they didn't. It would have been very easy for the government, if they had wanted to, to stage a second "terrorist attack" during 2004, and then use it as an excuse to declare martial law, call off the 2004 elections, and stay in power indefinitely. But they didn't. Ultimately, I think, most people just don't want to be supervillains, it's too much darned work. :)
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby RaharuAharu » Tue Aug 11, 2009 10:12 pm

"May I leave you with a bit of a riddle, Lord Tyrion?" He did not wait for an answer. "In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. 'Do it,' says the king, 'for I am your lawful ruler.' 'Do it,' says the priest, 'for I command you in the names of the gods.' ' Do it,' says the rich man, 'and all this gold shall be yours.' So tell me-who lives and who dies?"
[...]
"The king, the priest, the rich man-who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It's a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword."

"And yet he is no one," Varys said. "He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel."

"That piece of steel is the power of life and death."

"Just so... yet if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, why do we pretend our kings hold the power? Why should a strong man with a sword ever obey a child like Joffrey, or a wine-sodden oaf like his father?"

"Because these child kings and drunken oafs can call other strong men, with other swords?"

"The these other swordsmen have the true power. Or do they? Whence came their swords? Why do they obey?" Varys smiled. "Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law."
[...]
Tyrion cocked his head sideways. "Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?"

Varys smiled. "Here then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less."

"So power is a mummer's trick?"

"A shadow on the wall," Varys murmured, "yet shadows can kill. And oftimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow."
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby strange_person » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:16 am

Jennifer Diane Reitz wrote:Oh, they are charming, mostly. When they want to be. But under the surface, at least in the ones I met, there seems to be an undercurrent of royal violence; if they don't get their way, the anger is palpable, and the genuine fear in their staff is amazing. It amazed me, anyway. I was too young, perhaps, to grasp why anyone would be so afraid. So, the fancy car hadn't been waxed well enough before the party - it was as if the penalty was death.
Royal? No, I would say that's the kind of violence you see from a poorly-disciplined child with a gun. Certainly, if you work for such a person, they have the power to end your career - spitefully refuse to provide a good reference, or maybe even fabricate some petty but embarrassing criminal charges. With something like that hanging over your head, wouldn't you be willing to play along with hide-and-seek, or a tea party, and take all reasonable steps to prevent a tantrum? It's a pretty cushy gig, after all. They don't really know how much money is worth, so they pay the staff enough to put up with anything.
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby SilverFeathers » Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:00 am

I just want either a sky burial... or to be freeze dried, chummed up, and used to fertilize a tree in a memorial garden... The US seems to be really tetchy about both. Unless you donate yourself to a body farm. Which is cool in and of itself, and I'd love a chance to see one in person.

Okay, random comment over now. *returns to lurking*
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby Plasman » Thu Aug 13, 2009 4:19 am

SilverFeathers wrote:I just want either a sky burial...

A SKY burial? How the hell does that work? You mean, like in orbit? Or a nice firework?

A big cracker would be the way I'd like to go, but I doubt my family would be happy with me going out "with a bang" so to speak. They'd probably want to be all clingy and want to keep my earthly remains in a safe place, or something. :?
I'll spend the next 100-odd years sitting in an urn on top of a mantle piece, getting brought down for birthday parties and Christmas dinners... :frown:

At least it beats getting made into a diamond; I could imagine the fights among the heirs: "Hey, it's my turn to wear Great-Uncle Bob!"
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Re: Hello everyone

Postby SilverFeathers » Thu Aug 13, 2009 9:30 am

Plasman wrote:
SilverFeathers wrote:I just want either a sky burial...

A SKY burial? How the hell does that work? You mean, like in orbit? Or a nice firework?


Not... quite
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