Announcing The Techno-Humanist Manifesto: A new philosophy of progress for the 21st century

post by jasoncrawford · 2024-07-08T16:33:02.194Z · LW · GW · 4 comments

This is a link post for


  Part 1: The Value of Progress
  Part 2: The Future of Progress
  Part 3: A Culture of Progress

The picnic of the future

Humans are a curious species: We have a need not only to do, but to explain what we are doing—to each other and above all to ourselves. Movements begin with practice, but as they evolve, they need theory in order to maintain the coherence needed to change the world. Providing this is the role of what Joel Mokyr calls the “cultural entrepreneur,” whose function is “formulating a coherent doctrine that the followers can all accept as the consensus central message.”

The progress movement needs such a doctrine, and it has long been my intention to offer one. Years ago I thought that I would write a comprehensive history first, as the empirical foundation for philosophy. But the need for the doctrine has become too pressing, and I’ve decided that it cannot wait.

I am now writing a book laying out my philosophy of progress: The Techno-Humanist Manifesto. And you’ll be able to read it here, one essay at a time.

“Techno-humanism” is what I am calling that philosophy, a worldview founded on humanism and agency. It is the view that science, technology, and industry are good—not in themselves, but because they ultimately promote human well-being and flourishing. In short, it is the view that material progress leads to human progress.

The purpose of the book is to present a moral defense of material progress, and a framework the progress movement can use to understand what we are doing and why. It will present a bold, ambitious vision of a future that we want to live in and will be inspired to build. It will acknowledge, even embrace, the problems of progress, and point towards solutions. And it will show how progress can become not only a practical but a moral ideal—giving us a goal to strive for, a heroic archetype to emulate, and a responsibility to live up to.

This book is first and foremost for the scientists, engineers, and founders who create material progress and who are seeking to understand the moral meaning of their work. It is also for intellectuals, storytellers, and policy makers, to inform and inspire their thinking and writing. More broadly, it is for everyone in the progress movement, and for anyone who is curious to learn what we are about.

I am going to serialize the book on this blog and on Substack, publishing the first draft one essay at a time. The series will also be syndicated on Freethink Media, as part of their new Freethink Voices feature. Freethink’s purpose is “to cover the progress we’re making on new frontiers” and “to tell stories about a future that is possible so we can inspire others to make it real,” and to do so in a way that is “curious, thoughtful, open, and constructive.” I’m honored to be their first Voice.

Here’s the plan, including target publication dates:


Part 1: The Value of Progress

Part 2: The Future of Progress

Part 3: A Culture of Progress

To support this effort, we are turning on paid subscriptions at the Roots of Progress Substack, for $10/month. The book will be free to read online, but I will try to give some exclusives to paid subscribers, such as outtakes or excerpts from my research. If you buy an annual subscription ($100/year), I’ll send you a copy of the book when it is published. Founder subscriptions ($500/year) will get a signed copy and access to other exclusives, such as Zoom calls with me to discuss the book. But the most important reason to subscribe is to support this work and to support me as a public intellectual. (Note, all subscription revenues will be received by the Roots of Progress Institute, the nonprofit organization that employs me.)

This is, of necessity, a book for the moment. For the sake of time and readability, I won’t be able to research all prior work or to answer every objection (much as I wish I could). And as a manifesto, the purpose of the book is to state clearly and vividly a certain worldview as a reference point for people to define themselves in relation to—not to make the most thorough and unassailable case for that worldview. I would like to make that case eventually, and I expect this will not be my last word on the topic, but the full case will take me another decade or so. This is my best current statement of my ideas, for the people who need to hear them the most, right now. If you disagree with it too vehemently, all I can say is that it’s not for you.

If I do not have the obvious credentials to write this book, I hope that my long study of the subject, my position near the center of these conversations for many years, and my previous career in engineering and business gives me a unique perspective from which to write it. And if none of the ideas in it are original to me, I hope there will at least be value in pulling them all together into a foundation for the progress movement.

This book will, again of necessity, contain a large quantity of my personal opinions and philosophy. Ultimately, these opinions are mine alone. The Roots of Progress Institute as an organization works with a wide range of intellectuals and partner organizations, including our fellows, and none of them are responsible for anything I say here. Indeed, I expect that many of them will disagree with at least some of what I have to say—as will, I expect, many of you in my audience. I look forward to hearing your rebuttals and theirs, and I hope that we can have a healthy debate over the issues—one that leaves all of us wiser, and that sets a standard in civility and epistemic rigor for our community.

Thanks to the tens of thousands of subscribers and followers who have shown me that there is an audience for my work and given me the confidence to go from essayist to book author. I’m excited to write this in the open with you and to get your feedback along the way.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Richard_Ngo (ricraz) · 2024-07-08T23:08:41.708Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm broadly supportive, but I also have a similar reaction to the other comments. I'm not really sure who would change their mind upon reading this book.

Or, to put it another way: I think the most important input into intellectual work is choosing the right opponents. If you want to push the intellectual frontier, you should choose the intellectually strongest opponents. (My own take on techno-humanism sets it up in contrast to a worthy opponent: classic techno-optimism. I'd be curious to hear what your sense of the distinction between them is.) Whereas if you want to win converts, you should choose the most popular opponents. But I don't get the sense that this book really has any opponents. Yes, many people will disagree with it—but that's different from the book actually taking them on directly. E.g. the degrowth people will hate this book, but this book is not a deconstruction of degrowthism. Probably woke people will also dislike this book, but neither is it a deconstruction of wokism.

I get the sense that you're deliberately choosing to make the book a little on the anodyne side in order for it to serve as a foundational text for the progress movement. But I actually think that, if you're aiming to be a foundational text, you should do the opposite. Movements are founded by books that go in all guns blazing. Think of Das Kapital—this is Marx setting up capitalism as his foe, then taking an axe to it. Or The Second Sex, or The Road to Serfdom, or Where's My Flying Car?, or even the Sequences. Foundational texts are polemics; they have a fire in them. (Possible counterexamples: I haven't read On Liberty or A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, maybe they're a bit more chill?)

And there's plenty of stuff to be fired up about! The FDA is killing millions; the NIMBYs are strangling the entire western world; the environmentalists are absolutely wrecking any project that has the faintest hope of helping the environment. If you want people to care about progress studies, first get them fired up about how crazy the situation is, and give them a diagnosis of what's going wrong, and only then bring in the abstract philosophy, and the history. Anyone who used to be (or still is?) an objectivist is definitely disagreeable enough to do this; I'd be excited to see you give it a real shot.

Replies from: jasoncrawford
comment by jasoncrawford · 2024-07-10T14:16:11.846Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't intend to write something anodyne, and don't think I am doing so. Let me know what you think once I'm at least a few chapters in.

comment by Seth Herd · 2024-07-08T21:21:52.310Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looks good. I hope it makes new converts rather than preaching to the choir and irritating the opposition into being more adversarial. I and I think most LW users share pretty much all of the beliefs you list in the outline, but it would be nice to have a compelling, attractive pitch for this worldview.

I notice you don't mention AGI. If this vision of progress doesn't include AGI/ASI and alignment challenges, I personally wouldn't support it, particularly if it was well written and compelling to those making decisions about progress.

comment by David Gross (David_Gross) · 2024-07-08T21:56:59.786Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I don't see in your outline, and what I think would make your proposed manifesto stronger, would be a chapter along the lines of "this is the steelmanned case for why continuing progress in technology is problematic and dangerous and for how humanity could prosper or avoid disaster by putting the brakes on it."

Otherwise it does look like a preaching to the choir thing. Manifestos are often that sort of preaching, so maybe that's okay for what you're after, but for all the usual LW-communications-ethos reasons, I hope you decide on something better.