Laurent Alexandre is a French surgeon-urologist, essayist, and entrepreneur. The founder of the Doctissimo website, he is interested in the transhumanist movement and in the upheavals that humanity could experience, along with the progress of science in the field of biotechnology. His latest book is L’IA va-t-elle aussi tuer la démocratie [Will AI kill democracy as well]?
Grégoire Canlorbe: The alleged responsibility of human carbon emissions for contemporary warming is a subject that is conducive to raising the temperature in debates. Could you remind us of the main lines of your reassessment of climate policy?
Laurent Alexandre: Controlling CO2 emissions is going to be incredibly complicated. One is going to spend several very difficult decades. And if indeed, as I believe, there is a link between CO2 and climate, we will not be able to reduce CO2 emissions before 2050. We will have climate concerns probably until the end of the century.
First of all, collapsologists overestimate the social body’s acceptance of a CO2 reduction policy. We have seen what means a tiny drop in the purchasing power of Yellow Vests to fight against the greenhouse effect: one imagines what would give a drop of 30 to 40% of the purchasing power of the lower classes. One would have a real revolution, which would probably be a far-right revolution rather than an extreme-left one in the current context. A degrowth policy will therefore be very hardly accepted… and one can see that all the polls show that the priority of the French is the purchasing power before the ecological transition.
Besides, as the ecological world has been built on the fight against nuclear, the strategies that are defended at the moment are not really CO2 reduction strategies. Those are, in fact, nuclear exit strategies—which result into a non-decline, if not an increase, in CO2. This is evident in the ecological discourse in France: we see that Jadot, this week again [the week of the 1st July 2019], is calling for the closure of nuclear power. However, so long as intermittent renewable energies are not associated with electricity storage systems, the closure of nuclear power plants and the arrival of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels will translate—whenever there is no wind or no sun—into igniting gas plants that produce more than 400 grams of CO2 per kilowatt produced.
The ecological strategy that is favored today is therefore a strategy increasing global warming. The environmentalists of 2019 are the worst enemies of the climate due to the fact that they confuse two objectives: an old fantasy goal which is the exit out of nuclear, and the fight against CO2. There are some environmentalists who escape this dilemma nonetheless: this is the case of Jancovici, who stands for nuclear power. This is also the case of Aurélien Barrau, whom I must admit (even if I criticize him on his Malthusian aspects) that he is rather pro-nuclear in his last book… which, in view of the movement to which he belongs, is very courageous on his part. He recognizes that there is much debate on the subject, and that drawing a line under nuclear power is a little complicated from a climate point of view.
Third, green parties are Malthusian. As such, they refuse research on technologies that would accelerate the energy transition: they want to block science and technology. Yet technological braking is absolutely incompatible with finding solutions to climate change, which today are not easy to identify at all.
Grégoire Canlorbe: In your opinion, where does the Promethean soul of Europe come from—which it seems unfortunately to be disavowing in the ongoing “cognitive war” with the nations of East Asia?
Laurent Alexandre: I think that the socio-cultural dimension is more important than race in technical and cognitive progress. One only has to note the parenthesis that occurred—from 1450 until 1980—in the development of China… even though it was the world’s leading technological power. It is worth reminding how much Gutenberg did not invent much, given that in reality, printing and paper had been invented several hundred years before in China, the paper around 250 AD, and the movable characters around 1050. One sees how a socio-cultural factor—the arrival of an emperor who banned trade and large boats—gave rise to an eclipse of China over several centuries… before its powerful return.
On the question of Prometheanism, I would therefore tend to believe in socio-cultural factors rather than in racialist explanations, which do not seem to me to be really justified. Today, one can clearly see that the technological collapse of Europe is linked to a cultural factor: the arrival of an anti-science, anti-technology, Malthusian generation… and also, masochist geopolitically. A phenomenon to which is added that of a political class whose level is low; and this because there is no longer any secondary benefit to politics: one is poorly paid, one is not well regarded, and one has a permanent legal risk. Institutional conditions have been put in place, which make that we have a bad political class in France and in other European countries.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Under those conditions, would intervening on the genome of the embryo really be sufficient to redress Europe culturally and cognitively?
Laurent Alexandre: It is clear that anyhow, the epicenter of eugenics finds itself more in California—and especially in China—than in Europe. The technologies of embryonic selection or modification are likely to be encouraged mainly in Asia… and to be very largely controlled, if not prohibited, in Europe conversely.
The eugenic countries that will seek to promote the cognitive upscaling of the population by genetic means are likely to be Pacific countries… like North Korea, Japan, and above all China where could exercise—although he was reprimanded and it is not impossible that he will be exposed to ex post sanctions—the researcher who carried out the first three genetic embryo manipulations. Those experiments, He Jiankui did not lead them in California where it would have been banned… he made them in China. In Europe, the challenge for our governments will not be to change our genome for geopolitical purposes; it will be to forbid it. And it is not impossible that this decision will result into an acceleration of the decline of the European man…
Grégoire Canlorbe: You do not fail to denounce the hype around Greta Thunberg. How do you assess the idea of creating a delict that would consist in adopting a behavior which contradicts the public discourse that one holds?
Laurent Alexandre: To instill a hypocrisy infraction would be to establish a dictatorship. Yet our vices are not crimes—the wording is not mine. The continuous observation of people and their behavior is very much possible in the age of social networks and computing as we know it, but it is not desirable. Pursuing each individual by finding a discrepancy between his speech and what he does is very practical… much appreciated by the public. In the past, Hulot the “helicologist” was mocked because he liked helicopters very much. But it would be unreasonable, in my opinion, to enter a society of ecological denunciation: only the Green Khmers, the green Ayatollahs, the Savonarola would be delighted to enter a world of denunciation. 1943, but in green.
Regarding Greta Thunberg, I am deeply pacifist and non-violent: the idea of burning his political enemies (as the Medici did with Savonarola… with the blessing of Alexander VI) revels me. On the other hand, fighting politically the Savonarola and the “High Sparrows” seems to me to be necessary: we must fight the mortiferous ideas of the Malthusian apocalyptic proponents of degrowth… even when those are fashionable. The task is difficult, because today, as Bruno Latour says in Le Monde recently, the apocalypse is exciting: one has an emotion that is given to people through the apocalyptic perspective. Many people find it even funnier to watch the end-of-the-world drives than to watch what Leonardo DiCaprio did in last week’s Gala.
A real battle is being prepared between collapsologists and rational people: those who preach the end of the world and those who seek technical and practical solutions to solve the problems of humanity like we have done for a long time. It is easier to preach the coming of the apocalypse than to reduce AIDS mortality or reduce CO2. I am part of pragmatists rather than apocalypse preachers; and this because I do not have a religious thought. Collapsology is basically a religious ideology… but instead of asking for forgiveness from God, we ask for forgiveness from Nature. Collapsology is an ideology of redemption and guilt to which I do not adhere. I do not more believe in Transcendence than I do in the Gaia god…
Grégoire Canlorbe: One certainly speaks of “transhumanism,” but rarely of “transcaninism” or “transfelinism.” Would it seem wise to you to attempt the genetic “increase” of animals, so that their mental and physical abilities be increased, but in a sufficiently weak way so that they do not develop the idea of rebelling against our hegemony over the planet?
Laurent Alexandre: The genetic increase of animals poses a real question. We know that the Chinese have made a first cerebral genetic manipulation on the monkey… with an increase in cognitive abilities that suggests the arrival, in a few decades, not of the planet of the apes, but of a working force made of monkeys capable of performing labor and manual tasks. The brain specialist Pierre-Marie Lledo said that we are getting closer to the moment when a monkey could screw bolts. But do we really need monkey workers at a time when robotics and artificial intelligence are coming? I do not believe that. Nevertheless we risk having owners who will want increased pups.
Therefore, will we pass a law to prohibit transcaninism? Or will we allow people to have smarter dogs? We know that the most intelligent canine breed is border collie: will it be desirable to let the owners of a German shepherd increase genetically the intelligence of their dog so that it is made equal to that of a border collie? Will it be desirable to render a border collie smarter than it already is? Those are complicated questions… and it is unlikely that we will reach a global consensus on the subject. Parisian owners who will want an augmented puppy will take the plane and find a canine genetic paradise to transgress French law.
Grégoire Canlorbe: According to a view to which you seem to subscribe in a recent article, nature is at best indifferent to our fate; at worst an enemy who does not want the prosperity of the human species, who hates our technology and our industry, and whom we must fight day after day to ensure our survival and our well-being. Another view is that nature is admittedly sadistic and ruthless, but that it’s about testing our creativity… in challenging ourselves to exploit and “rape” her, and to push the boundaries of an environment that is inhospitable at first sight.
Laurent Alexandre: Nature is nothing. One is a Darwinian animal like all animals… which is in a nature that is without vision, without project, and without soul. It turns out that genetic chance has endowed us with a conceptual intelligence that allows us to be the master of nature rather than the toy of nature. Nature is not intentionally sadistic, but she is sometimes very cruel: there are few people who smile at Komodo dragon or cobra, or who are enchanted when a virus soars them. Our relationship with nature, between bio-conservatives and transhumanists, is going to be one of the important axes of the reconstruction of policy in the coming decades. But a new dimension, which is not totally parallel to the axis transhumanism / bio-conservatism, will disrupt politics: the axis of collapsologists, who are not only bio-conservatives.
The apocalyptic ideology is causing trouble in the reconstruction of the political chessboard according to the bio-conservative / bio-progressive axis. It is an unexpected axis. Nobody had imagined that in a few months, the apocalyptic prophets would take so much voice… especially in Europe. We will have a lot of surprise as to the right / left axis, which is not dead yet, will be added the transhumanist / bio-conservative axis which is being structured… and which will become very unexpected as new NBIC technologies develop. The third axis collapsology / technological optimism will only add further uncertainty to the ongoing political reorganization, which is just beginning.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Speaking of the exploration of new territories, the conquest of space is a subject that deserves a comprehensive overview. What is the environment—in the broadest sense—that seems to you to be the most conducive to initiating the exploration of the cosmos… and to establishing colonies on Mars in a more or less distant future?
Laurent Alexandre: The 21st century opens new frontiers… including space, but not only. The nano-world and the nano-tech (playing with our DNA), as well as the neuro-tech (manipulating the soul, the brain, the conscience), are so many new open frontiers: the cosmos is certainly the most visible since the neurotechnologies are little visible, and nanotechnologies invisible for their part.
The regulation of space will not be only state: the UGO—Unidentified Geopolitical Objects—that are the GAFA and the BATX do not have a sovereignty as strong as that of traditional states, they tick many of the boxes of a state nevertheless. We can see Jeff Bezos’ plan to set up space stations sailing in the galaxy, or those of Elon Musk and Richard Branson (who, certainly, are not GAFA) to organize respectively the colonization of Mars and space tourism. Those are all entrepreneurial structures that are gradually acquiring geopolitical wills… including a desire to control the cosmos. The same can be said of Facebook’s desire—even if it is not about space—to create a new currency of a particular kind, the libra, which is an original cryptocurrency compared to bitcoin.
Today, the most advanced in space policy remains the United States, but China wants to surpass quickly—potentially in all areas—America. Compared to China, the United States has this particularity that there are giant companies participating in the space conquest. How will be played regulation between NASA, the federal state, and also the new private companies who want to go into space: that is one of the major stakes in geopolitics by 2030. That relates to the general debate on the regulation of GAFA and of the giants of artificial intelligence. As for who, between America and China, will provide future leadership in the space conquest, I think that no one can predict it at this time.
Will the Chinese population revolt against state surveillance and social credit… with a return of centrifugal temptations and civil wars that have often been difficult in China? Or will the Napoleon of artificial intelligence that is President Xi Jinping make China the world’s leading power? In my opinion, that is impossible to say, but it is clear that the battle for the control of technologies is engaged between America and China… with Europe as a helpless spectator. Europe has emasculated itself geopolitically, and the collapsologists are finishing it off. The question arises: are collapsologists manipulated—voluntarily or involuntarily—by China?
Grégoire Canlorbe: Thank you for your time. Is there anything you would like to add?
Laurent Alexandre: Message to young people: live it up, enjoy. Do not worship the apocalyptic idols that will screw up your lives and end up putting you under Prozac.
This post is also available in: FR (FR)