You Can't Take It With You

The latest round of publicity for cryonics was kicked off by thoughts on the age-old question of how to take your wealth with you - or at least keep it intact for later. This age-old question becomes somewhat more practical to consider when there is a non-zero, albeit unknown, chance of returning to society at some later date. A discussion is ongoing in the Extropy-Chat list (threads here, here and here) on this and related matters of how best to ensure your decisions are respected when you are no longer available to exert your own force of will.

When thinking about these matters, it's best to look at the incentives rather than the details. The trouble with property left undefended, as the ancient Egyptians and every other culture that buried wealth with the dead has handily demonstrated, is that no-one else's interests are aligned with yours. You'd like your wealth - in whatever form it happens to be in - to be your property once more when you are revived from cryonic suspension. Every other person in the world will benefit from taking these resources for themselves while you are out of the picture.

Options would seem to fall into the following categories:

  • Give the resources to some group you have charged to maintain them: perpetual trusts, complex legal manipulations, or simple trust absent the structures of law.

  • Convert the resources to something easily hidden and likely to retain some value due to scarcity - such as gold, or better, a cache of historical data - and hide it well.

  • Disburse all of your resources as you see fit and go into suspension with nothing to your name.

The inherent conflicts of interest mean that resources given over in trust are going to be raided or taken from you sooner or later - the only questions lie in the details of that theft.

Hidden wealth might seem to be a more attractive option - removing the human element insofar as that is possible - but any choice may turn out to be worth less than the dirt piled atop it. Hiding wealth as gems might have looked smart half a century ago, but gems will be be a mass-produced item within a decade. With advanced enough technology even rare elements are a mass-produced item. This is not even to consider that the society advanced enough to return you from cryonic suspension may just be advanced enough to scan your vitrified brain and read your memories of hidden caches from its fine structure.

Putting your body and brain into cryonic suspension is an educated gamble, we must recognize that much. I think it's a good gamble, since technology is advancing rapidly and comparatively few interests are aligned against you in the matter of revival and returning to a place in society. Trying to put your resources, your wealth, on ice strikes me as a much more risky endeavor - the long history of human attempts to take action or enforce a decision after death should amply demonstrate the futility of attempting to preserve post-mortem vision and wealth from the predations and honest choices of your fellow human beings.

But so what? If the future deals you a bad hand prior to the arrival of working anti-aging medicine, and cryonic suspension is the only alternative to the grave, then direct your wealth to those organizations that are working to produce the sort of world that will revive you and that you'd like to live in. I don't see that you can do better than that. If you should happen to be revived with nothing but a brain, body and debt in the future, then what of it? We've all conquered that situation at least once already; alive and challenged to win once more is a good deal better than the alternative.

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