Thought — 4 Min Read

Horizontalist or Verticalist

by Case Greenfield, October 1st, 2023

Thought — 4 Min Read

Horizontalist or Verticalist

by Case Greenfield

October 1st, 2023

The horizontalist versus verticalist mind model is and will be one of the big issues in the world. You see it again and again. An eternal battle. People making efforts to live a better life, if needed at the cost of others. And people feeling alienated, flocking together for strength and support in their cosy rabbit hole.

Earlier I wrote about The Big Split. The Big Split is the idea that, in the future, humanity will split into the current Homo Sapiens, which I called Homo Sapiens Traditus,  and an evolution of the current Homo Sapiens, which some call Homo Deus, and which I called Homo Sapiens Modernus or simply “superhuman”. This evolution of current Homo Sapiens is the ‘improved version’ in an evolutionary sense: it has better chances of survival. (And yes, you can discuss about whether this is a new species or a new sub-species.)

Current mainstream thinking is that the evolution of Homo Sapiens will not be based on traditional (biological) evolution. That would take (tens of) thousands of years, probably. No, it will be based on biotechnical engineering, such as DNA-improvement with techniques like CRISPR-CAS, and cognitive enhancement, such as brain implants, like Neuralink.

The idea is that we can then create a superhuman species with superintelligence and superbodies. And, of course, not ageing: living forever.

Now, let me be very clear. I never said that this would be a good thing, or a bad thing. I just said, that I expect rich and powerful people to make tremendous efforts to achieve this. At least for themselves, of course. (It is already happening!) Who doesn’t want to live happily forever in good health with superior knowledge?

Brave New World

Suddenly, this morning, it appeared to me that this thought isn’t new at all. It was all described already in 1932 by Aldous Huxley in his novel Brave New World.

Brave New World was written between World War I and World War II, the height of an era of technological optimism in the West. Huxley picked up on such optimism and created the dystopian world of his novel so as to criticize it. Much of the anxiety that drives Brave New World can be traced to a widespread belief in technology as a futuristic remedy for problems caused by disease and war. Unlike his fellow citizens, Huxley felt that such a reliance was naive, and he decided to challenge these ideas by imagining them taken to their extremes. — (Quote from

Is history repeating itself? Well, maybe. Two thoughts:

  • Maybe technology wasn’t advanced enough in those days; maybe today’s technology will be. And if not this time, then maybe some day it will.
  • And, as always, technology can be used in a good way and in a bad way. But who decides what is good and what is bad? It depends on to whom it concerns, doesn’t it? After all, following Wittgenstein, ethical expressions are not objectively about reality but are a subjective condition for the realities that we ourselves create (yes, mind models). A bit like: who wins the war was the good guy, by definition.

So, let’s assume we will soon be able to succesfully create this biohacked superhuman species. All-powerful, always smarter and faster than the traditional human species. What will happen then? What will they do? Will they create Elysium? (Don’t we already have Elysium, to a degree?)

Horizontalist or verticalist?

That will strongly depend on the basic worldview of our superhuman. Are they fundamentally horizontalists or verticalists?

A horizontalist – or pluralist – is a person who fundamentally believes all people are equal (“all animals are equal“, to quote another novel from roughly the same time period), not identical, but tantamount, equivalent, equal in value, as important as, having fundamentally the same rights and plights, despite differences in merits, skills, abilities, contribution to society.

A verticalist – or elitist – is a person who fundamentally believes not all people are equal (“some animals are more equal than others“), some are better than others, more important than others, with more rights (and maybe plights) than others, based on their merits, skills, abilities, perceived contribution to society, and in reality, often, based on their powerful position in society.

The difference between the horizontalist and the verticalist mind model comes down to ‘do I feel I need other people or not’.

I guess, ultimately, the difference between the horizontalist and the verticalist mind model or mindset comes down to ‘do I feel I need other people or not’. It depends largely on your situation. Do you feel untouchable, unharmful, protected, save now and in the future, then you may be tempted to not need support from other people and not help other needy people. Do you feel vulnerable now or in the future, they you may be tempted to ask for support from other people and help the needy.

By the way. The horizontalist and verticalist mind models are also underlying the big political movements: left-wing politics tends to be based on a horizontalist worldview, right-wing politics on a verticalist world view. Also interesting is that those who tend towards building an improved version of Homo Sapiens tend to be progressive, and those who want to keep the current Homo Sapiens tend to be conservative.

Will superhuman need us?

Anyway, it will all come down on the question whether the to-be-created superhumans will be horizontalists or verticalists. ‘It’ being the fate of traditional Homo Sapiens. And, will they see traditional Homo Sapiens as their family? Stated differently: will superhuman need us or not? Well, the answer is simple. In a practical way they will not, because they can solve all of their practical problems themselves, probably. That leaves us with a non-practical, more ethical, or philosophical argument. So, what’s then left will be the question ‘will they feel existentially lonely without us?’ Or, to phrase it more cynically, will they need someone to give them the good feeling that they are superior (in the ‘vertical’ sense)? That will be the only hope we have.

And for now

On a shorter timeframe, the comparison of today’s world with the interbellum of 1932, tech-optimism and Brave New World isn’t far-fetched. Superficially seen, we seem to live in a time of increasing global unrest, moving global powers, actual and threatening war zones, apocalyptic threats with respect to global warming, tech-hypes of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and quantum supremacy. That may make people feel vulnerable.

And social media strongly exaggerate these negative ideas and force people into their self-confirming information bubbles. But you can also see it differently, positively. Never have so many people on Earth lived in peace and prosperity. “Just step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise worldwide.” But, secretly, we all know how difficult it is to stick to ‘factfullness‘.

Anyway, the negative thinking could well be abused by certain powers in the world to create chaos and a grimm atmosphere leading people to feel threatened and vote for politics that may lead to not much good. I’m not saying history will repeat in this respect. We are warned with the lessons from the past, but we sure must be aware and take counter-action.

No Big Split?

Brave New World made me think. Are we moving into a technocratic meritocracy? Or will those efforts fail? And if it does work out, will The Big Split be a good thing? Hard to say. It depends. One could easily write a very thick book about that, which I am not going to do. Should the ambition to create superhuman be stopped? I don’t know. I think, it is unstoppable, anyway, despite the lessons of Brave New World.

Or will the one who wins the war be the good guy … ? By their own definition, a bit more equal than others.

We’ll see.

We’ll see.

I do know one thing.

The horizontalist versus verticalist mindset is and will be one of the big issues in the world. You see it again and again. An eternal battle. People making efforts to live a better life, if needed at the cost of others. And people feeling alienated, flocking together for strength and support in their cosy rabbit hole.

Let’s be brutally honest here. Don’t needy people tend to be horizontalists, until they climb the societal ladder only to then slowly become verticalist? Is being a horizontalist or verticalist an existential property of you as a human being, or is it largely determined by your situation? Is it simply situational? Is it all just about evolutionary fitness payoff? Maximizing chances of survival?

Or am I being too cynical now? Is there something like true, sincere charity, love for other people, other living beings? Even it would mean that we would sacrifice our own interests, let alone our own chances of survival? (I know, I would without doubt for my children, but maybe not for just anyone … ) Or are these feelings just make-believe that we tell ourselves – yes, a mind model – until we are really confronted in a situation where we could or should sacrifice our own interests in favour of someone else?

And ‘should’ then is a very interesting word, of course. Who or what determines that we should? It all comes down then to norms and values, ethics, right? Like many religions teach us. Like for instance Jesus Christ, “who did not hold onto His position and power, but instead laid it all down to be a humble servant and gave up His life on a cross” for us.

Or for many of us like ‘that little voice in our heads’ tells us …

I think I will just go and paint.

– – –

[Afterthoughts — October 14, 2023]

About so many things being ‘situational’. If so many things are situational, could it be that not only our behavior, but also our character is largely situationally shaped. If we only encounter specific situations often enough, or if an event makes a strong enough impact on our life, could it be that these situations become engraved into our brainstructure and come to define our character? It think so. So, are you a good or bad person by nature? Not sure, I believe it has a lot to do with your live events.

The other thought I had is inspired by the book The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz. You see it in lots of wealthy parts of the world: loneliness. We hide the elderly in retirement homes, young people hide themselves behind earpods and headphones, and many feel unsupported in the rat race at work. In my view this correlates strongly with the verticalist worldview. It’s a bitter observation: first we are needy, so we tend to be horizontalist, then we manage to create a better life, only to hide in our verticalist shelter and become existentially lonely. I said it before: freedom is lonely. Weird, really weird.

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