The novel begins with the presentation of The Three Laws of Transhumanism, as conceived by Jethro Knights.
The Three Laws:
1) A transhumanist must safeguard one's own existence above all else.
2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible—so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First Law.
3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe—so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.
Before we begin to explore the implications of these laws, it is important to recognize that they are not the basis of Knights' philosophy, but are conclusions and operating principles that are consequences of more fundamental premises.
The Three Laws are the result of the principle:
Transhumanist morality is "defined and decided by the amount of time we have left to live."(85)
which is, in turn, the result of the most fundamental driving force behind all of Knights' actions and philosophical conclusions:
“Death must be conquered. From now on, that is my first and foremost aim in life. That is the quintessential first goal of the transhumanist."(19)
which is a fundamental transhumanist value stemming from the conception of death as a "curable disease" rather than an immutable fact of nature.
This viewpoint, combined with its corollary principles and their consequences, requires an entirely new value system, which necessitates choices and actions that were inconceivable under the "guarantee of death" paradigm that has maintained its tyranny over all biological beings on this planet. Death has been viewed as an unavoidable leveler and equalizer among humans, irrespective of social or economic class or any other perceived differences between people. Our "mutually assured destruction" after a paltry few decades kept us "humble" and unable to make grand plans, as individuals with god-like powers, on a scale that becomes possible once this limitation is removed.
Once the conquest of death is deemed to be possible and is chosen as Jethro's highest aim, it follows that the urgency with which he will purse it is in direct proportion to how far he perceives that his dwindling lifespan may fall short of the time needed for science to enable him to achieve an indefinite lifespan. As long as the achievement of this goal remains an uncertain race against time and a possibly unstoppable march toward decrepitude and eventual death, severe measures will be considered and employed if they are deemed to increase the chances of Knights' fulfillment of his self-imposed "prime directive."
It is the very nature and finality of death that requires one who has chosen to do battle against it to employ extreme tactics involving an "above all else" and "at any cost" mindset. A person with a much less strident commitment to this goal, who would put the survival of one or more special, beloved people above their own survival, would, by doing so, decrease his or her own odds of survival, thereby failing to follow the first law.
Knights, who is not bound by sentiments like "democracy, decency, altruism, kindness, or notions of humanity and mammalian love—and especially not by that petty, archaic concept of religion"(85) will implement ANYTHING that will increase his odds of survival as long as the scientific triumph over death remains just out of reach. As Istvan said in his Singularity 1 on 1 interview with Nikola Danaylov, "Jethro may not be the best humanist, but he may be the best transhumanist."
Offense as Defense
Because his life can be threatened at any time by any being who is possessed of greater power than he, Jethro seeks to acquire as much personal power as possible and as soon as possible. Jethro speaks of an aspiration to achieve "a universal dictatorship—or at least a draw—over everything and everyone." This should not be mistaken for a "will to power" for power's sake nor some pathological lust to rule over others. It is only the fact that a power imbalance in anyone else's favor could result in his death at the hands of another that the second law dictates the acquisition of supreme power. According to the second law, he must be careful, however, to acquire power without creating so much animosity in others that they are motivated to attack and kill him and thus thwarting the intent of the first law. But, of course, the more power he has, the less he needs to worry about the ineffectual retaliation of others.
In order to maximize his survival-potential, he must also modulate the degree to which he is willing to "safeguard value in the universe," thus he will help to ensure another entity's survival as long as it doesn't diminish his power or lead to his own destruction. So says the third law.
The Passive Aggression of Apathy Toward Life Extension
In addition to the possibly of life threatening actions committed by others against Jethro, any indirect "sins of omission" working against his indefinite life extension goals take on a much more serious quality than they ever would to a person who sees their own death as unavoidable. "Every time someone gets in the way of life extension and human enhancement goals, every time a new anti-transhumanist law is passed, every time you decide to hinder scientific progress, you are knowingly shortening the lives and productive working hours of transhumanists and your own citizens. We have a specific legal term for that type of behavior in this country. It's called manslaughter." (28) Because of the transhumanist view that death can be "cured," anything that stands in the way of the most expedient development of such a cure is now, quite rightly, viewed by Jethro as life threatening "aggression" toward himself and all of humanity.
The possibility of achieving an indefinite lifespan doesn't merely raise the stakes in a "transhumanist wager," it creates stakes where previously there were none. Before the idea of a scientifically driven "war on death," was factored into the calculations of human values, there was no urgency and no absolutist rhetoric expressed about extreme life extension because an individual's life in corporeal form was deemed to be a matter of immutable "planned obsolescence" that was built into the system. Our physical mortality was a non-negotiable inevitability so any ideas about taking extreme measures "at any cost" to prevent death weren't even on anyone's radar. Preventing death wasn't even an option.
The situation that Jethro and the other transhumanists face is one of uncertainty as to when physical "immortality" will be achieved while obstacles are placed in their way as they try to conduct research that will replace ambiguity and unknowns with clarity and answers, all the while their lifespans continue to ebb away unabated. These circumstances create extreme tension due to the "amount of time we have left to live" clause in the transhumanist system of values.
Imagine an app with a horizontal slider that allows you to increase the years left to live by moving it to the right and decrease them by moving it to the left. Above the slider are several parameters that can be chosen in order to see how they are affected by the slider's movement.
Some of the most relevant parameters would be:
* intensity of advocacy for life extension research
* willingness to use force or coercion to achieve objectives
* unwillingness to compromise with opposing groups
The decreases in funding for life extension research and increases in prohibitive laws that stifle innovation, restrict the autonomy of scientists and limit the scope of what little research is still able to be done, all serve to delay the realization of life extending breakthroughs and have the effect of moving the slider to the left.
Jethro and the other transhumanists begin with the slider already left of center and watch it steadily move farther leftward as the coalition between religion and government crack down on all aspects of transhumanist advocacy and research. With each leftward move, the 3 parameters listed above increase in magnitude. This movement of the slider is the fuel and driver of all conflict in the novel. Now imagine the slider moving to the right: intensity of advocacy; use of force; and
uncompromising attitudes begin to diminish. With a steady rightward movement, Jethro could afford to consider pleas for gradualism from cautious and fearful people and would feel far less urgency to force their agenda on anyone. Instead, they could pursue their research and be happy with slower progress without an ever-present death-clock ready to go off before their goals are reached.
Here we see that it is the combination of an uncompromising life-expectancy centered morality-metric on the part of the transhumanists and a willingness of their enemies to push that slider in the direction of more intense transhumanist pushback, that generates all the conflict. An easing-up of either of these opposing stressors would reduce the tensions, at the cost of each side experiencing losses that would be unacceptable according to their diametrically opposed world-views.
And so it goes...