Hyperactivism Considered Harmful

What I'll here call hyperactivism is a poisonous sort of dysfunction that you'll find in activist and advocate communities associated with struggling industries or long-standing initiatives that have failed to fulfill early visions of growth. It comes about because the early supporters in any new field tend to be passionate, driven, ornery, and focused: if they didn't have these characteristics, they wouldn't be up for the job of fighting over and again to persuade people to see things their way. If you are trying to build a new venture, then you need these people: they are worth their weight in gold, and they will help you succeed.

When an initiative does succeed attracting broad support and a large community, the energy and quirks of the early activists are tempered by a sea of more sedate, everyday folk. Sometimes the pioneers are quietly airbrushed out of the official histories - once an initiative becomes large enough for its leaders to want it to look like a shiny, official, professional machine, then the original barnstormers and larger than life personalities start to be seen as a liability. Justifiably or not, they are shuffled to one side of the growing crowd. In this way, the ultimate accolade of success is to be made irrelevant in the movement you helped found: accepting that likelihood up front is the way to peace of mind for activists and advocates.

But when things don't go according to plan, and what was intended to be great fails to achieve its original promise, or moves too slowly, then the problems start. Some of the early activists, untempered by large numbers of new volunteers and supporters, become poisonous. Their hyperactivism manifests itself in perfectionism, attacks on members of the community, and other displays of frustration or bitterness: to their eyes, failure was avoidable, and the problem must be the other people involved.

You see some of this going on in the cryonics community, an example of success on the small scale amidst a failure to achieve the grand goals originally envisaged for the movement. Which is to say that the few people who choose to be cryopreserved have a good chance of successfully achieving that goal, thanks to decades of largely volunteer efforts, but the vast majority of people in the world don't know, don't care, and go to the grave and oblivion just as they always have. So, understandably given human nature, you'll find a degree of hyperactivism amongst the long-standing members of the cryonics community. I noticed a perfectly passive-aggressive example of the type from Cryosphere the other day - which is disappointing, given the normally useful output there. It prompted a response in Alcor CEO Max More in his latest update, which I think is somewhat more useful.

Outside of pure mathematics and logic, perfection is not attainable in the real world. Even the flawless achievement of one goal means giving up another goal of inferior but substantial value (the economists' concept of "opportunity cost"). And achieving some aspects of a desired goal will mean giving up others. You may want a car that gets excellent gas mileage, but that will probably mean giving up the level of performance you hoped for. You may want to delay having children until you've accumulated more wealth and experience, but your fertility level may decline.

Tradeoffs clearly exist in cryonics, although you wouldn't know it by listening to most critics. We would all like cryonics to be perfect, but we know that gains come at a cost. We would like the costs of membership dues and cryopreservation charges to be lower. We would like the quality of cryopreservations to be higher. We would like everything to be run by medical professionals at low cost and with total commitment.

You can't have everything, no matter how much a hyperactivists might wish for it. Hyperactivism is something that we're all prone to, being human as we are, and it is also something to watch for when we support our favored organizations. It is important to keep the community honest, to criticize what should be criticized, and help other members of the community achieve success where possible - but if you have come to the point at which you feel that attacking other parts of the community is helpful, then somewhere you crossed the line.

I'm of the mindset that the right response - when you find yourself at that point of frustration with an existing initiative or organization - is to channel your passion into support for an existing alternative, or start such an alternative yourself. It is better to build than to tear down, and if your frustrations are in fact based on a meaningful or useful point then you have a shot at irrefutably demonstrating that point by building a better initiative, a better product, a better community. Many people in the cryonics community have worked on doing just that over the last decade - and progress springs from this impulse to achieve better results, not the impulse to attack those who are somehow not doing things your way.


Just for the record: What I wrote that you quote above was not written in response to Mike Darwin's distorted piece. I wrote it several weeks earlier. But it COULD have been a response, and was actually motivated by similar distorted criticisms of current cryonics.

Posted by: Max More at June 7th, 2011 8:02 PM
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