Elon Musk’s favorite philosophy: the perils of longtermism
A Conversation with Émile Torres
If you’ve been out and about in the world lately, you’ve probably seen William Macaskill’s book What We Owe the Future and heard lots of chatter about the ideology of longtermism (which Elon Musk says is a “pretty good match” for his own philosophy). So this week I invited the number one critic of longtermism, Émile Torres, onto the podcast!
Émile is a PhD candidate at Leibniz University Hannover and the author of the forthcoming book Human Extinction: A history of the Science and Ethics of Annihilation. In the episode, we discussed their research into Elon Musk’s favorite philosophy and all associated questions, like: why do longtermists want to colonize space and create trillions of digital people? What’s the link between effective altruism, transhumanism, utilitarianism and longtermism? Do longtermists’ obsession with future people resemble the anti-abortion campaigners? And how is all this related to eugenics?
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Further reading from the episode:
Articles by Émile:
Elon Musk, Twitter and the future: His long-term vision is even weirder than you think (Salon)
Against Longtermism (Aeon)
Understanding “longtermism”: why this suddenly influential idea is so toxic (Salon)
The Dangerous Ideas of “Longtermism” and “Existential Risk” (Current Affairs)
Selling "longtermism": How PR and marketing drive a controversial new movement (Salon)
How Elon Musk sees the future: His bizarre sci-fi vision should concern us all (Salon)
More on longtermism:
More on existential risk studies and Nick Bostrom (Aeon)
The New Moral Mathematics (Boston Review)
Worlding beyond ‘the’ ‘end’ of ‘the world’: white apocalyptic visions and BIPOC futurisms (Journal article)
On Stanford’s Paul Popenoe, the marriage counseling industry and eugenics (The New Yorker)
What I’ve been reading
In occupied Ukraine, people’s internet is being routed to Russia—and subjected to its powerful censorship and surveillance machine (Wired)
Democratic Governments Are Failing to Leverage Technology Companies (Lawfare)
If you’re a California voter, Josh Lappen (the Anti-Dystopian’s guest on the Nationalize Gmail! episode) put together an excellent voter proposition guide.
Interesting Online Events
Monday, November 7 (online): No Tech for Tyrants’s launch "Surveillance Tech Perpetuates Police Abuse of Power." A new report unveiling how police use surveillance technology to abuse their power in the UK and globally.
Tuesday, November 8 (online): Biohacking Utopia with Émile Torres and Syed Mustafa Ali. This Cambridge seminar series seeks to co-examine the radical possibilities of technological intervention upon the politics and processes of embodiment, as well as more troublesome issues linked to biohacking (e.g., eugenics, necropolitics, and inequal distribution of tech).
Monday, December 5 (online): Mythology and the Colonisation of Space. I’ll be asking Mary-Jane Rubinstein about her new book Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race for The Philosopher’s digital dialogues series!