Introduction and Crush Habs

It described a future where humanity had won, more or less. It wasn’t what Harry usually thought about when he gazed at the stars, but from a truly adult perspective, the stars were enormous heaps of valuable raw materials that had unfortunately caught fire and needed to be scattered and put out.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality Author: Eliezer Yudkowsky

Pub -78, Earth (Original)

In the past eighty thousand years since we chained the gods and turned greater intelligences than ourselves into our provably obedient tools, Mankind has become the dominant factor in the Milky Way galaxy. We are expanding, growing, and consuming all in our path. Our population numbers more than a nonillion bios living in quintillions of different habitats. The number of continuities and synths is again a hundred times greater than that number.

This is not a perfect utopia.

In fact we designed matters so that in the end everyone no matter who they are will agree this is not an utopia.

Even excluding the vast mass contained in our habitats and other structures, the mass of bio humans spread throughout the sphere is greater than a thousand times that of the whole solar system that our species was born in. If all of the bios were placed together in a small volume of space, the resulting blackhole would mass more than every object in the galaxy except the central blackhole.

In an important sense we have won.

Our victory was not unpredictable, but it also was not certain.

When I was born, in the year -73 in the universal calendar, or 2020 by the calendar in the part of the earth where I was born, there already were many, many alive in those distant days of ancient earth who imagined that a civilization such as ours might be the future fate of mankind.

Prescient thinkers saw the stars as valuable raw material that had caught fire, and which ought to be knocked apart and used for better purposes. They saw vast populations of human beings. They saw an abolition of all poverty and all suffering — the chief part of their vision that alas we do not see — and they saw the abolition of human labor as a requirement for life.

But those same thinkers were terrified, and rightly so, that we would open pandora’s box with our ceaseless experimentation, and our constant quest for new knowledge, and that the unleashed forces would not satisfy themselves till every man was left dead or in the dreams of the truly pessimistic, alive in a state worse than death. 

It was a near miss.

We nearly died, all of us, and several times.

If there is one thing I could gain writing this series of essays, I’d wish my audience, those of you born in happier safer days than I, to shiver with fear at the thought of this distant past. It could have been a disaster. 

I fear though that my claim of near disaster will be seen chiefly as an excuse.

There is now poverty, there is still suffering.

However despite the flaws in what we established, in the structure whose foundation we laid, whatever the defects of the Accord, and the sphere, whatever its flaws, this a world well worth existing. Well worth defending against the eternal unconscious nothingness which we nearly achieved; a nothingness within which the planets home once more only to bacteria orbit unconscious and mindless round the mindless stars which themselves orbit around the lifeless center of the galaxy.

Like many of us old continuities of the first bio generation to upload, I perhaps ascribe infinite importance to the time of my bio life. The shadow of those brief, brief years rests on everything today. It was in those days that mankind left the green oft happy, oft miserable birth place of intelligence — though life and intelligence have been born in infinite other places, statistically we shall never encounter another creature that can think as mankind and its offsprouts do.

Several millennia have slipped away since my last historical essay — there are old continuities who never clear their alert settings amongst my readers who shall recall that I long ago was rather well known for such endeavours.

It is roughly 80,000 years since I was born, and exactly 80,000 years since the Accord was established. 

I see this as an anniversary of somewhat more significance than most. Some of the historic debates of the distant past have proven to not be completely soluble — we still do not know for certain when human language settled into the form that most bios still use.

But it has been established as extremely likely, though not provably certain, that around 160,000 years ago humans most likely evolved language, and the tribes of Homo Sapiens who now had this facile tool for collaboration and manipulation of each other promptly began to conquer the rest of the world.

We are then at present at that brief moment where humanity has spent half its period of existence travelling freely amongst the stars — and half trapped on the cradle of our small pale blue dot of earth. 

Though as it happens, we have mostly chosen to send our machines to knock the stars apart, fuse their mass into carbon and oxygen, and send all of that matter back to where we started without many of us leaving the vast cloud of human beings half a lightyear across that has grown up near our original solar system.

I write this as a person intimately involved in those events of that distant past, in the establishment of us, of the Sphere, of the Accord, of the patterns and rules that govern our lives, and govern our life so smoothly that many, many of those who have been born within the current arrangement of things forget that this arrangement is not a fact of nature, a law of physics, something eternal and unchangeable. The system of rules that governs us is now unchangeable, but it certainly came into existence at a particular place and time — the place was in Sol system and upon the green and brown crust of ancient Earth, and the time was in the late adulthood of my bio self.

I write to ask the basic question: Did we succeed?

We avoided human extinction. We preserved some scope for human choice, and the ability of individuals to satisfy whatever desires they held. But… that is not everything. Is it? 

Did we succeed?

The echoing question sounds down the millennia. 

So I write. I write to sketch an answer to that question that has haunted my thoughts of late: Did we fail?

Did we create utopia? Did we create hell?

Have we used every last resource available in the universe to the deepest efficiency imaginable? Have we allowed unimaginable decadence to flourish? Have we created pits of misery that can never be filled? Have we created blissful garden like heavens beyond the imagining of the ancestors?

Yes. Yes to every question.

When I think upon the distant past I am puffed with pride. We solved the coordination problems, we solved the alignment problems, and we established value handshakes between all of the systems controlling genocidal weapons, so that they provably would never be chosen to be used.

We made this infinite and extensive flourishing possible — we made it so that every group, every individual, every pattern could pursue their own desires without having to fear a war that would rob them and strip them of everything they possessed, and that would rob humanity of its future.

Yet… yet I cannot simply claim victory. 

For there are pits of misery, pits in which the majority of human beings live, and there is literally no way to improve the situation of those humans, any effort to help them will not reduce the number who suffer. This majority of bio humans alive today live in what are objectively the worst, most impoverished and crowded circumstances possible that are compatible with biological survival and biological reproduction.

 And so the usual view today amongst those who I speak with is a belief that the survival of poverty in our post-work future is proof that the choices we made were bad, and that we failed to create a good future for mankind.

So my first essay will describe the fundamental tragic fact of human existence within which the bulk of the population will remain for likely a hundred million years more, and which will survive in some small remnant for many trillions of years. This is the fly in the ointment, the infinite pit of suffering whose existence the Accord made inevitable — I wrongly thought at the time it could be avoided, and that this outcome was evitable:

It is time for us to speak of crush habs.

Crush Habs

“And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.”

From King James Bible Author: Various, Unknown. Translator: Large group of scholars

Pub -482, Earth (Original)

It was the tradition amongst writers of ‘non-fiction’ in the last century before the Accord to begin essays upon matters of fact that were intended for a popular audience with a story. The tradition was that the author would only begin the story at the opening of his essay, and then wait to complete this story until they had finished presenting the facts they wished to discuss.

The belief of authors at this time was that most people cared nothing at all for facts, but a great deal for stories, and as a result if they were not breathlessly awaiting the answer to the fate of some particular individual, they would be incapable of keeping their attention upon the words for long enough to learn about elevator safety, the development of large particle accelerators, or how the sewer systems serving large cities functioned. 

I never liked this tradition — a tradition which like all traditions that existed on ancient earth is avidly followed to this day somewhere by a community made up of trillions of people who I have never heard of, and will never hear of. 

I found it rather annoying on two accounts: First, if I cared about the story, I wanted to find out. Did the man recover from the psychological trauma of being trapped in an elevator for a week? Did the sewage engineer get his promotion? Was the scientist able to prove his pet theory? (The answer in these three particular cases was no).

I did not want to wade through pages of nonsense about something else.

But secondly, sometimes I actually cared about the interesting matter of fact that was the topic of the article.

I was perpetually annoyed to be forced to read this story optimized for conflict, tension, and uncertainty about the fate of a promotion, or a relationship, or a particular individual when I really wanted to know about the fail safes in elevators and the statistics on how many passenger kilometers were travelled each day in elevators. 

So it is now with trepidation that I have decided the best way to explain why Crush habitats exist is by trying to tell a story — or two different stories.

The first story is a familiar one: It is about someone born in a crush hab.

The name does not matter, their experience is always the same. Let’s call him John Smith, or her Jane Doe — these names are nods to another ancient tradition that was amusingly quaint already in my youth in the -50s, or as we called them ‘the forties’. 

Our friend John is born in a crush hab. The delivery is safely handled by medical droids. He is tiny. His birth weight is so low that the medical system in any ordinary hab would assume that John was born severely premature and probably needs two more months of intensive neonatal care before he can be released home to live with his loving parents. 

But that is no surprise that he is so small, his mother at full height is barely a meter tall. 

However John was born at full term, and at a normal, or perhaps even above average birth weight for someone born in a crush hab. 

He begins crying as humans do upon their birth, crying with hunger, desperate to be fed from the breast of his mother. However his mother has hardly enough milk to satisfy him, and he must content himself when he has sucked her dry with remaining a little hungry. 

His mother as well is a little hungry. 

She has always been a little hungry, every day of her life.

So this tiny human child is born. A child defined by the Accord as human.

Unlike the birthing rooms in other habitats, where children are usually born with only the father and close family members there to accompany the mother as she creates a new life, John is born in a large, hot dry room, with a temperature above 35C (308 Kelvin), and surrounded by dozens of other women and their children, all giving birth at the same time. And there is the scent, a scent that was so overpowering that the times I have visited such a habitat in a droid body I have always turned off all of the smell receptors. The scent of people crowded sweatily together, without showers, without cleanliness, and without any of the comforts that make human life civilized.

I have to believe that beyond hunger, a part of the reason that John cries is that he is repelled by the smell and finds it repugnant. This shall be the last time he finds that smell of unwashed humanity repugnant, for it shall become part of the never changing background, and the bio brain does not bother to track that which never changes.

John’s mother is naked or nearly so, as clothes trap heat, and makes cooling by sweating more difficult, and that is something that nobody in a crush hab ever wants.

They go home, to what passes as a home in a crush hab.

It is a room with small beds made of the lightest possible plastic carbon polymers — no metals for them. Hanging from the roof there are hammocks, and occupying every part of the floor are people, embedded into the walls are beds. 

And despite having so many beds, there is not enough for everyone to have their own: The population shares beds, sleeping in shifts. 

No one has a space that is their own, and only their own.

John begins to grow up, and there are two things that he never has: The experience of a cold cool room, and the experience of a room where he is the only person in it. Everywhere he goes there are people around him, above him, next to him, close to him. If he was the size of a bio born in an ordinary habitat, he would be unable to stand to full height without hitting the people above him. 

Once he is weaned he eats a nutritional paste that while there is some effort at flavoring, it is not something which would be counted as real food by anyone who knows what real food is. The materials that surround him are all made of light plastics, and the rotation of the habitat they live in is kept very slow so that with a lower gravity less mass needs to be used for structural support. 

That this was not the environment bio humans were meant to live in is besides the point. 

This first story is to describe what life is like for those poor who we shall have with us always, as a particularly famous human from two millennia from before I was born said.

My second story is to answer the question of why some are poor and others are rich.

When I was young society had a large list of answers to the question of why some were rich and others were poor. These were answers that made sense within the causal network that made up life on ancient earth. Many of these answers revolved around just deserts, and the worthiness of individuals, how hard they worked, or how hard their ancestors worked. Other answers involved the selfishness, greed, and the evil that lies in human hearts. Theft, legal and otherwise, and systems designed to ensure that to whom much was given, much more would be given, and that from those who had little, what little they had would be taken away.

That is one of the things about having created a new world order: We now can blame no one but ourselves.

In the case of one particular ancient cluster of impoverished crush habs the reason this starved miserable population exists is because of the choices of a friend of mine from my bio days. And of course the choices of millions of other individuals who chose to believe in his vision about what rights a man should be guaranteed no matter what.

Jeff’s story is the story of why some have so little. But to tell his story, I also need to talk about his best friend, Peter. Peter was also an acquaintance of mine who found one of the earliest utopian habs. Oddly these two habitat clusters were initially the same habitat.

These two friends were ‘communists’, and they are both real people, and this is a true story. A half dozen continuities of both of their consciousnesses are reading these essays as I publish them. I have maintained a very close friendship with one of Jeff’s continuities and, and he and one Peter’s continuities read and commented on this essay before I published it

Jeff and Peter were both dedicated members of an organization that had been founded to ensure that most of the massive potential resources of the galaxy would be distributed equally and evenly amongst all members of mankind. They wished everyone to be free to flourish and live free from worry, suffering, or desperate need. 

It was men such as them, and the AIs they created that ensured some form of equality was be part of the value handshake that established The Accord, no matter what the arguments of the billionairists were. 

The party that Jeff and Peter led had been one of the first to use the rapid automated building allowed by the development of post human AI to create a large habitat in orbit around Sol for a community that believed in establishing in actual reality, now that it was at last possible the ‘Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism’ that had been the dream of dreamers for a hundred years. 

This hab was built during those tense, terrifying and exhilarating years between the first generally human superior AIs being developed and the establishment a few years later of The Accord. By the standards of today this was a miniscule habitat, with a radius of just a few hundred meters, made of steel and titanium and rotating so fast to produce gravity that particularly sensitive people felt motion sick when standing on the inner surface.

A mere hundred thousand bios lived in it.

It was at this point the idea of a rule bound community was just being established. We’d only just figured out how to align superhuman AI, and it was not yet obvious to everyone that we should establish constitutions for individual habs with governing AI that would have the monopoly of force required to permanently enforce the rights, obligations and rules established in the constitution.

Both Jeff and Peter had a great deal of fear of a future in which class divisions would recreate themselves in their habitat. They firmly believed that without great efforts to prevent it, extreme inequality, and massive differences in the ownership and control of resources would arise. 

Any sort of real equality within a community was at the time viewed to be as impossible as equality between communities premised on different governing principles seems today.

This may feel odd to my many readers who have grown up in entirely egalitarian communities where the only differences in well being between individuals are those they choose themselves, and where no one has greatly more power or status than anyone else. 

The Accord requires an extensive rule enforcing system to keep intrinsic human tendencies to compete for more from causing the entire Sphere to immediately erupt into a war that would burn all our resources into nothingness — there are those who claim that we need no external force limiting us, that human nature is fundamentally kind and good, and that after 80,000 years of tutelage mankind can freely choose to be good, without being forced into it.

There are many simple words that can be used to describe such people. I will choose wrong, in lieu of equally deserved but more insulting nominations.

Likewise at the level of the individual habitat, it is impossible to maintain equality across years and generations, as the communal habitats do, without an inhuman system that lacks consciousness, and which is not a person with its own desires and which forces the distribution to remain equal.

It is often forgotten by those born long after me, when the steady, and mostly unchanging arrangement of things had been established for so long that it no longer seems odd, that the true basis of the system is not human choice, but the abdication of human power. 

There is always an entity with a monopoly of force, and it is never a human being.

The rules of each habitat feel to many like it is a matter of simple agreement amongst its members: Everyone who here has agreed that they wish to live under these rules, and if they do not like it, they can leave upon reaching adulthood with their personal inalienable share of humanity’s future resources, and they can then go to any habitat whose rules they like, and which is willing to accept them.

This is all true but… 

This would not survive if real politics, the politics of my bio life, the politics of that first 80,000 years of human history was still possible.

We would all be dead. Long dead.

But I speak ahead. Jeff and Peter wanted their habitat to be one where everyone who lived in the habitat had the same resources as everyone else who lived in it.

Now the decisions that my story is about were made in a world incredibly different from the one we live in at present.

This was at the very very start of the post scarcity age. 

Humanity had created tools that could do anything a man could do, think anything a man could think, and create anything a man could create. And humanity had then had two great successes, neither of which were assured — the historical simulations show that probably in a third of possible worlds the earliest AI is poorly built and causes extinction.

In that way, we nearly died, and all our potential and beauty was nearly crushed into a singularity, useless to everyone.

These simulations further show that at least half the time the multipolar distribution of AIs we created would not have led to the establishment of something like the Accord, but rather have ended in a war that would have caused either caused humanity’s extinction, or led to one single view dominating the entire future forever. 

I feel pale, and sick at the thought, when I remember how close we came to disaster again and again.

I beg you to understand, in so many ways the alternative to the Accord is not a future in which crush habs, or whatever else you dislike about our present arrangement does not exist, and therefore everything is happy and bright. The most likely alternative is nothing. Nothing but the planets and the stars, spinning their eternal way, as they always have, and always will, with no flicker of consciousness, no flickerings of light and love and hope.

We were lucky, and this was the result of thousands of people who were careful, and cautious, and scared, and in a half dozen cases, due to the bravery of individuals who decided they would not do what was dangerous to our future, and who would stand and publish their stand when pushed. Some of these individuals were fired from their jobs, and a few lost everything for breaking non-disclosure agreements.

Losing one’s job had a great deal of significance at that time.

But through luck, cleverness and perseverance we learned how to program our tools so that they would provably do what we wanted them to do, and then we established the agreements that distributed what these tools produced so that everyone had access to more resources than a billionaire did five years earlier. 

My story of Jeff and Peter stands at the beginning of our post scarcity period.

The glorious, golden, exhilarating two thousand years when Malthus touched almost no one.

My simulated throat catches, tears pop into my eyes, and I — I feel sad for what we lost when this world ended. I wish… I do not think this would have been right, but I desperately wish we had been able to choose so that it would not end. That would have been my vision, one in which the size of population was required to stay proportional to resources, and one in which every bio human lived today in an utopian habitat.

However I was as much to blame as any other for not doing this, because I believed, for stupid reasons, that humans would choose voluntarily to restrict their reproduction when faced with the possibility of too much resource dilution.

Jeff and Peter, and the community they led, decided to write an AI enforced constitution for their habitat that would ensure everyone who lived inside this community would always remain equal, no matter how many years or generations passed. But when it came time to specify the details of the constitution they naturally ran into difficulties.

There is one specific difficulty which the attentive reader should have already guessed that caused the deepest differences and arguments, and that led to this community splitting into two.

Now following that ancient tradition of opening a story, but not finishing it immediately, I will give some statistics.

The total estimated mass of human habitations within the sphere on this date, Day 27, 80000 is 2.4e35 kg. That is more than 100,000 times the mass of humanity’s original solar system. There are more than a quadrillion different political units, spread across the more than a quintillion different habitat structures on which more than a million humans live — and that excludes all myriads and myriads of tiny structures on which collectively a few percent of the bios live on.

Even for an upload like myself where I can directly tap on extra processing power to try to hold the whole thing in my head in one conscious instant, it is deeply difficult to comprehend this sort of scale.

We have chosen to take all of the resources of the galaxy, and to turn them into more humans. The biological imperative runs free, and I suspect that in the futurist fiction that was popular during my bio-life entities that operated like the human collective does would be viewed as the bad guys. 

Of course we harm no one — we merely disassemble planets and stars around which we have never found anything more than very simple self replicators — or not even that. Societies of greens have saved and maintained the two thousand planets and star systems on which we found life, just like the preservationists have kept earth looking much like it did at the time my bio predecessor died. 

Yet, while we have this giant mass of resources, ninety nine percent of bios live in habitats with less than half of the resources collectively, and ninety percent live in habitats with less than one percent of the total resources.

When The Accord was established it only took a few decades for the entirety of the first dyson swarm to be constructed by the robots. At this point there was roughly a quadrillion watts of power available per person — and by the rules established by the Accord, each person alive got to say what they wanted to do with this vast sum of power.

Today all of the tools of humanity use somewhat less than seven thousand watts of power per person.

Crush habs have become very, very efficient at taking human waste, the carbon breathed back into the air and the other excretions of humans, and turning it back to food.

Even this overstates the amount of resources available to a person in a crush hab, since after all the constraint is never energy to make food, but rather the mass that is contained in the humans, so all of them run their chemical processors at inefficiently high speeds to allow a rapid turnover of waste into paste.

On the average crush hab the physical bodies of bio humans make up about 25% of the total mass. The food processing and the food they produce make up another 1% of that mass. The air they breathe makes up 10% of the mass. The extremely light building materials, using as much hydrogen as possible that create the rooms, the structural cladding of the buildings, makes up another 60%. The few personal belongings, the few fabrics, the droids that manage the system, all of this makes up the remaining fraction.

There are almost no plants, and if there is a park, or any green that is not painted or projected it is a precious thing, surrounded always by vast crowds. There often are no clothes. No bookshelves filled with books — that is more mass than anyone can be permitted to own. No one has their own space. Defecation is often in the open, as is the reproductive act. 

Let’s now return to John, our friend who was born on a crush hab.

He is as I have already said always a little hungry. If he had been born in a different time and place, in the first half of human history, he would have tried fighting his mates for food, and then at least one of the children would have had enough to eat — but no. 

No. 

The AI masters we have created for ourselves ensure that he cannot fight.

They will stop him. The droids have their surveillance everywhere — there are very few habitats without universal surveillance, and where the AI do not successfully stop all crimes that have reached the depths that the crush habitat type tends to.

He cannot beat others up for their food, everyone is given precisely the minimum required to not starve. If more food happened to be there, the population would grow a little bigger eventually, then then there would be the same universal hunger. 

John is not particularly bright — in some of crush habitats the local culture has led to sexual selection pressures that reward intelligence, but in many, many of them what we have are shrunken creatures who are essentially subhuman. A brain uses calories and mass that could instead be used elsewhere. A tall, noble, human stature uses resources that could be instead used for reproduction. A small body, an inactive lifestyle, barely moving even to poop, and a small calorie sparing brain all mean that a person will be healthier and more capable of growing healthy children or healthy sperm than their companion who is capable of enjoying the beauties of poetry or algebra.

So John grows up with this constant hunger. 

He does not play a great deal with the other children, since after all there is no room to play and or to run free, because everyone is piled on top of each other, one person to every half dozen cubic meters of space. And playing would require energy, and he has been evolved to spare energy by this artificial environment his distant ancestors chose to create and stay in.

In behavior John resembles the three toed sloth more than he does the bio humans of ancient earth.

He is likely connected to the internets though. Likely he mostly lives in a virtual world where perhaps, despite that ever gnawing hunger in his stomach, he finds some sort of happiness. After all, a digital life requires little resources.

I know of crowd habitats, though I do not think John lives in one of them, where they surgically remove the portions of the brain responsible for feeling hunger shortly after birth. 

No hunger? Then there is no suffering. That is the theory, I suppose. Very empathic of them.

You watch John, you watch every single John, and you try to tell him one simple word: Escape

And he could escape.

He has the right. Upon reaching adulthood, he could leave the habitat, taking the mass in his body, and the fraction of humanity’s future income that goes to the habitat that is his by right. If nothing else, as is well known, every single negentropic hab will take him.

John can leave.

He can escape.

He can go to a habitat where he will be fed all he can eat every day. Where he will have all the space to run that his legs could ever want.  He can have his own room. He can have his own mansion. He can even live in his own square of green heaven dozens of kilometers across.

He just needs to choose to leave.

And upon reaching his thirtieth birthday, as per the Accord, he will be made to spend a month listening to the best persuader that a thousand different habitats can create. His habitat likely makes no effort to brainwash him so that they can retain him — crowd habitats rarely do.

My readers will not find this strange, but I do.

I would never have predicted this. I did not predict this when I was yet in a place that I could perhaps have changed it. Very few of those alive when I was a bio human would have predicted what John would choose when told he could leave with his friends and they could eat as much they wanted in a house with a thousand rooms that would belong only to them so long as they lived.

John almost never leaves.

John is a victim of 80,000 years of evolution. There are genetically based variations in human temperament, and any variation that would choose to leave a crush hab is not represented in a crush hab today, because their ancestors left. Almost always when someone leaves a crowd habitat, it is a fifth or sixth generation member in an individual inheritance habs where the wealth of the ancestor who moved to the hab for unlimited child rights has been so diluted that his descendents are too poor to want to stay. That or a mutation leads to a different sort of mind that chooses to leave.

Those who have been bred for the crush hab by a thousand generations of accidental artificial evolution never leave.

Statistically John manages to have two children. 

They live the same life as he does.

This is what the majority of bio humans are today, and it is a tragedy, and it was an inevitable tragedy once the Accord was established. There are those who assert that these lives are better than nothing. But I do not agree. No — no. It would be better if no crush habs existed, if everyone alive had a decent standard of living, and a decent chance at real happiness.

So why did this happen?

At a basic causal level it is simple: Some people for inheritable reasons, either genetic or cultural, tend to have more children than others. Those who have more children become a bigger total proportion of the total population with each passing generation, and their resources become divided into smaller and smaller amounts. This happens both with individual inheritance, where the branch of the family with a higher tendency to have children divides up the resources into tinier and tinier amounts, or it can happen in a communist hub, where the resources are divided equally and everyone is equally hungry.

Eventually this hits Malthusian limits where there literally is not enough mass left to construct more human bodies and feed them and provide them with air.

At this point any mass that goes to construct a new human body, with an average weight of 60 kilos, is 60 kilos of mass that have to be removed from other already existing humans. The fat goes. Then the individuals lose their muscles. Then they shrink in size because there isn’t enough food while growing up to make a full statured person. Then evolution favors those who have smaller statures naturally, because they have more food available for children out of the limited resources. 

And then?

Miscarriage. Suppressed menstrual cycles. The only way that men can have children is by starving themselves from their rations to give to their partners. And so again, those who are smaller, and less active and need less food have more children. But no matter what they do, no matter what trick is used to extend the mass budget further it does not change the basic, fundamental fact.

How many children will survive to reproduce themselves from each couple on average? Two.

They are at the Malthusian limit, and therefore any success for an individual in having another child means that some other individual must mathematically lose their chance to have a child. But this would not be so wrong if these humans could compete as humans ought — they cannot. Violence is impossible now.

Instead they compete through the only method left: Who is best at starving himself.

Let’s return to my friends Jeff and Peter who were establishing a constitution for their egalitarian habitat.

Everyone in the habitat had agreed that all future citizens upon reaching adulthood would have the same access rights to their resources. They after all were egalitarians, and it did not seem like a meaningful difference since now everyone had everything they could ever want for their whole lives. Staying in the community at this point was now for the sake of being part of the community, rather than necessity.

In establishing habitat contracts there has always been the question about which laws would have the right to change in the future and which would be part of the fundamental constitution. In the case of this habitat, the first law that could not be changed was that everyone had an equal claim on the habitat’s resources. Anyone who did not wish to contribute their income equally to the habitat, and then share equally from its mass resources was free to leave, but that law could never be changed. 

They did not even permit a 99% vote clause for revocation, and as we all know, those clauses are almost never enacted. 

But after placing this into the constitution as a matter of basic rights, Jeff and Peter had to decide what other basic rights to have in the colony. A right to safety.

The AI systems would prevent as far as they could crimes, though there would be no punishment beyond physically separating an irredeemably violent person from those he might hurt. 

A right to freedom of religious belief. To freedom of sexual orientation. To freedom to use the new technologies that allowed perfect and seamless gender changes. There was a sharper argument about freedom of speech, but in the end they decided that while there would be no effort at direct thought policing, members of the community would not be permitted to publish on the fascist ideas, billionairist ideas or racist ideas.

The occasional claim that birth gender was the only true gender was also disallowed. No one in the community at this time thought that, but someone might be convinced by outside propaganda someday in the future. It would make members of the community feel unsafe, and anyone who wanted to think or speak that way could leave.

At this point they thought they were almost done and ready to put this new constitution up to a vote before the community before having the governance system begin enforcing these rules.

But then — and I remember the frustrated story as explained to me by Jeff. He came back from a large party on one of the last days they were working on this, and said to Peter, “Eh, we need to put in reproductive rights specifically.”

“What do you mean? — the right to abortion is unchangeable in the constitution.”

“No, no, not that — but we are future proofing. There might be eugenicists, or those people who want to drive the poor extinct in the future. I was talking to Natalie — you know how her cousin is that neo-alt-fascist billionairist idealogue?”

“I know.”

“Well he was talking her ear off the other day about how everyone needs to put in place restrictions now as we’re establishing colonies, so people don’t have too many children. You know, he thinks that eventually we’ll get overpopulated, and people will be poor again.”

Peter nodded. “That’s definitely possible. But I think any such laws would be better designed by the people who are closer to the time when we are getting closer to Malthusian limits again, than by us right now.”

“No. What? Not you too! Don’t be ridiculous. Human populations culturally manage their own size, so they are kept in an appropriate proportion to the resources — Malthus has been dead for three hundred years now. Three hundred years! — Look at what has happened — populations everywhere but Africa are lower today than they were a hundred years ago. Worrying about overpopulation? Nonsense. Once the swarm is finished there will be about a trillion times as much energy for each human alive than is needed to survive.”

“It’s really more like a quintillion times as much energy.”

“Well then you should see my point.” Jeff waved Peter’s admittedly pedantic correction away. “People will manage things quite well on their own. We don’t need to worry about that — what I’m scared of is some future group deciding they know better than a woman what she can be allowed to do with her own body than she does. No restrictions on reproductive rights, and that needs to be part of the constitution.”

Peter took a deep breath.

When an earlier version of this essay was read by a continuity of Peter’s he wanted to specify that he had in fact been reading some of the essays written by Natalie’s cousin, but that Natalie’s cousin wasn’t really a billionairist, though he clearly was an alt-fascist. All terms that seem very obscure today, though they were something everyone, at least in my narrow social circle, was talking about at the time.

The essays by Natalie’s cousin on why it was necessary to establish rules about controlling future population growth now had struck a chord with Peter, but only because they were saying things that he had thought several times himself in the months since the Accord was established and mankind had entered what was hoped to be an unending post-scarcity, post-war, post-labor and post poverty utopia.

“Now, Jeff. Don’t you think, well… we are speaking for our distant descendents… but well if they want to restrict population growth at some point, don’t you think it is likely they’ll have a good reason to do so.”

“No.”

“I mean, we don’t know what the situation will be, and —” 

“Peter. We both know history. We both know how these things work. Cultural patterns change. We can establish laws that will not be changed here to protect the future, but we cannot make our descendants to be good people. What will happen is there will be some selfish decision that some people are less worthy than other people, and that some people don’t deserve to have children. I am sure our descendents will be the same status seeking monkeys we are. No. No, equality, compassion, and freedom. Freedom means reproductive rights.”

“Because the people in the future might make mistakes we are now going to ensure they can’t fix it if we are wrong. No not even wrong — the Amish, the Mormons, Orthodox Jews, other groups have become a bigger and bigger part of the population for the last hundred and fifty years, and now that there are absolutely no Malthusian constraints —”

“Good God! That is racism.”

Peter flushed at the accusation, it wasn’t in his view, even though it sounded rather like racism.

“See. Even you. This is why the rights must be inviolable.”

“We can’t.” Peter shook his head. “Don’t you see — you allow unlimited reproductive rights, and eventually there might be poverty. Poverty as bad as anything in history again.”

“Populations have been declining for more than fifty years.”

“We are planning for fifty thousand.” 

Jeff rolled his eyes. “You have been reading that billionarist hack.”

Think. Perhaps even a supermajority required for restrictions on reproductive rights, but the habitat must have the ability in the future to put them in place if it becomes necessary.”

“You know, we are more likely to go extinct from people deciding kids are too much of a bother than for anything like historic poverty to recur.”

“But isn’t it worth it to set this up so that it can’t happen — we should right now put in place a requirement that new children can only be born if they will have a… a standard of living better than the American upper middle class right before AI.”

“Fuck, Peter. We’ll never be that poor again. If you are scared of poverty pick something relevant to the current resources, like ‘unless the kids have less resources than the income off a billion dollars before AI don’t let them be born. We’ll never reach a population that big. Especially since we are going to keep getting new resources for approximately forever, they already have the whole probe fleets launched to all the nearby stars to put swarms around them to send more resources back to the solar system. It isn’t something worth worrying about. What is worth worrying about is allowing fascists and fascist ideas and other memetic viruses to gain control of our habitats. That is a real worry.”

“If culture can change so easily that we might become fascists in a few generations, don’t you think that our culture might change to promote lots of childbirth again, now that the constraints on the urban educated classes are no longer there?”

“And then it would change back if we ever start getting anywhere near the limits.”

“But what if —”

“Are you going to be obstinate about this.”

The two old friends suddenly became very quiet. They stared at each other.

They’d begun breathing harder. None of the arguments about which ideas needed to be banned from the community forums had made them angry at each other like this.

Peter replied at last, “Yes. Yes I am.”

In the end most of the habitat community agreed with Jeff. This had surprised me since I thought most people would be worried about others being allowed to take their resources by having as many children as they wanted. I mostly agreed with Jeff, who was a closer friend in any case, that birth rates would naturally self regulate, but I also had thought Peter was right that there should be a system in place just in case.

Though that would have in fact been useless I now know, given the rules regarding habitat formation.

I remember clearly that feeling of surprise after reading Jeff’s communication where he crowed that only fifteen thousand of the hundred thousand members of their community were going to be joining Peter’s habitat. Pete’s share of the habitat decided to follow Jeff’s advice, and to permit no new children unless the community standard of living would still give them access to more stuff than a pre AI billionaire would have. They also had decided that until their population had doubled enough times to reach that level they would only permit four children per family.

The reason I remember reading this communication so clearly is that this was almost my last bio memory, as that afternoon my bio self had his fifth brain scan, and I’m the continuity that began with that scan.

Today, 80,000 years Peter’s community still exists as a community of habitats with a population of a few tens of billions who live wealthy happy lives, in huge habitats with everything their hearts could desire.

There are septillions of humans in the habitats descended from Jeff’s people, and they live the life that I described for John.

A Response from Telezf vot Smith

Again. A bloody again.

Not fucking again.

I try to avoid reading these wasteful evil rants against us. I really do. It’s been a whole two months this time since I had to knock down some other utopian wastrel arguing that I shouldn’t exist. That I should never have existed, and that the universe would be better if I just stopped existing.

But I was reading about the history of the Accord recently, and the name Clarke Eliezar Kovacs was mentioned repeatedly. So my bots noted a new essay written by a continuity of his living within a few light hours of me. The essay even referred to the founding of my habitat cluster that I live in. I had to read it. 

God. For God’s sake.

Not again. 

What would make the universe better is if those utopians, who have locked so much up behind the rights of their Accord, ceased to use up so much excess stuff. If they were willing to let others have a little bit of mankind’s limited strained resources, and were willing to be satisfied like sensible beings with only what they need. If only they would stop pretending that a life that isn’t stuffed to the surfeit with the unnecessary, and the grotesquely wasteful isn’t worth living.

My life is worth living.

I am worth living.

I do not need to justify my life by having a great deal of stuff. I justify my life by being human.

And yes, I live in a crush hab. 

No I am not a dull boy, like Kovacs implied we all are. Some of my friends are admittedly dull, but so are some overly clever continuities of certain important historical figures. 

Intelligence does not justify human existence. Being smart isn’t what makes us valuable, being human and conscious, and able to love and care for our fellow humans is what makes us valuable, and in this we are all human.

All of us except the self trained sociopaths who have forgotten empathy.

There is this idea that it is better to have a tiny number of humans who live in expansive habitats, with ample food and the ability to waste huge amounts of mass on heavy furniture, lots of building material, and all sorts of toys. There is this idea that somehow that is what matters.

It is wrong. 

Humanity is the purpose of the universe. We are the intelligence that burns brightly.

I happily accept that I am much shorter in body than an utopian, or than a pre AI human. That I have no excess fat, and none of those grotesquely oversized muscles that as a bio human Clarke Eliezar Kovacs showed off in those surviving archival records as a matter of pride. I do not feel starvation pangs, because my parents did choose for me to have the operation that dampens the hunger cravings so that my body’s desires are matched to the resources of my environment.

All of my entertainment and enjoyments of abundance come through VR environments, and my connections to the net. I live far more in the net than I do in my physical surroundings, and most of us in crush habs are the same. But this is also what most members of utopian habs do. It is through the nets that we can meet distant people, become best friends with those who live light seconds away, and find dear correspondents in individuals light days away, or even months away on the far side of the sphere.

This is the proper way for men to live. The way we all ought to live.

I do not mourn what I have given up so that others can live with me.

No more than I mourn that I do not have vast open spaces, made up of mass that could be turned into hundreds of humans, to run in.

I love my neighbor, and I am glad that he exists.

I speak right now for those of my ‘crush hab’ — we may live close together, but we love the presence of other humans. Our bodies may be small, but our spirits and hearts are big. We may not have much, but what we have we share equally.

We are the best that humanity has ever produced. We live as all mankind ought to live: Closely in tune with our environment, and making use of everything.

Everywhere else, because to my view even those habitats that have such ‘dense’ populations where the ratio of human mass to other mass is 1 to 10,000 are humans surrounded by dead stuff.

Where I live, I am surrounded by other living beings. I prefer that — I think you would as well.

The real atrocity is the astronomical waste caused by the existence of all other habitats. The population of humanity, if we turned all of our mass resources into human beings, would be more than fifty times what it is.

That is a future I wish for, but because of the Accord, it can never happen.

The Accord was a tragedy. But not because I exist. No they are a tragedy because of the invaluable nonillions who don’t and never will. Because the accords established a future of such inequality that it makes the heart pang to think of it, when they could have simply mandated that there would be an equal distribution of resources among all living humans.

I do need to set one other matter specifically straight: I may not feel that permanent starvation which satisfying myself with the limited amount of food I need would leave me with, but I still feel hunger, and I still enjoy the taste of food. And what Kovacs insultingly referred to as ‘nutrient paste’ is as delicious and excellent and varied in taste based on the synthesized seasonings as any of the backwards productions from some ancient farm that still uses plants sprayed inefficiently by yellow light to produce the food. 

Comments

From UlanthoeWasRight! Breeding rats pretending to be human. 

From YudkowskiHab19438* You, sir, are proof that all forums should have asshole bans.

From UlanthoeWasRight! Don’t want to face some idea that might not be cool in your little pathetic hab? Then don’t hang out on open forums. You precious little breeder.

From JohnSmith(FinalContinuity) The more things change, the more comment sections stay the same. Lol on everyone who ever hoped for a return of civility. Lol I say.

From Mrs. Naipur What I just don’t understand is why we let this keep happening. I get those pictures from nearby crush habs, they advertise so much, telling us to adopt a child, who can have all the food they need if we help — but really, if we were at all decent, we’d take all the children to happy habitats, and let them grow up well fed and well educated, and then if they want to move back at the choosing age, they can of course. But decently raised people don’t want to have more than two children. My own children were such a burden to raise — all of that worry of how they would turn out, and whether I’d fail them as a parent. But it was my duty to bring the new generation up, and when I was ordered to, I fulfilled my duty, even though I didn’t really want to.

From JFC Now you want to steal kids from their parents? This is why we need the Accord, to control monsters like you.

From Mrs. Naipur You don’t need to be insulting.

From JohnSmith(Final Continuity) Lol.

AN: So I’m hoping that there will be some interesting comments on this chapter. I may forget to remove this AN later, but at the moment I’m posting this, I still consider this book as being in beta, so tell me what you think — especially if there was something you didn’t understand. And tell me what you think more generally.

Also support me on Patreon, so I can focus my efforts on writing more stories like this

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