While still a pretty unknown tendency in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries (where atheist humanism just recently has started to troll the consensus culture), transhumanism is a growing current in the Anglo-Saxon world. Rather than an outright ideology, I would claim that transhumanism is a form of zeitgeist or cultural affiliation that is having its roots in the longevity/neo-futurist movement of the 1950′s/1960′s, and the singulitarianism of Ray Kurzweil. Ultimately, transhumanism is a broad undercurrent with its ideological centre in California, the United States. There are libertarian, communist, anarchist, liberal and even fascist transhumanists.
What lies at the centre of Transhumanism, I would argue, are (as in many cases) three core beliefs. The first core belief is that the human being, rather than the pinnacle of creation and an ideal towards which everything else is judged, is a fleeting process, what Nietzsche would say is a “rope between the beast and the superman”. The second core belief is a positive belief in science similar to the techno-optimism of the late 19th and early 20th century (1870 – 1970), which is unparalleled in intensity, devotion and perhaps naivety. Technology will develop exponentially, will solve most social problems, and transform human civilisation. The third core belief is that humanity has an opportunity – even a duty – to take charge of its own evolution, in some cases even moving towards post-humanity. This can mean everything from life extension to merging with technology. There are even movements that wants to move towards antropomorfism, or “the uplifting” of animals.
What are my personal thoughts about the compability of the EOS values with transhumanism? Firstly, I would say that transhumanism – like the green ideology – doesn’t really espouse any values as much as a particular zeitgeist. Secondly, I would say that parts of transhumanism, like the movement towards for example eliminating debilitating conditions that many individuals are born with, like impaired hearing, blindness, allergies and similar through the use of specially tailored genetic medicines and technological implants, are something to be applauded. At the same time however, transhumanism to a large degree seems to suffer from a reality blindness, an overconfidence both in our current and future capabilities, a focus on hedonism, a casual to hostile disregard for the environment and an inability to understand the interests and world-views of the majority of the world’s population who aren’t academics or scientists.
To draw parallels with ancient myths, transhumanism leaps the risk of falling into the trap of human hubris, like Icarus flying too close to the sun. For example the “Happy Morning in Hedonistia, 2050” proto-novella casually described bullying and ostracisation of children whose parents have declined to use modifications on them. Instead of being seen as an institutional problem, it is seen as a neutral matter-of-fact in that hypothetical society. Instead of presenting a bold new direction for the ethical development of humanity, mainstream transhumanism instead seems to focus on the success-oriented individualism of the latter-day consumerist western world, with the ultimate aim of overcoming death (the final until now unstoppable barrier).
One can easily imagine that such a society would see increasing class differences, between citizens that can afford body and gene modifications in order to improve their efficiency, strength, intelligence and beauty, and the rest of the population. It would be a socially brutal, shallow and very materialistic society. Of course, it is possible to pursue such values, but the question is how well such values contribute to a sense of general human well-being. Of course, poverty can affect unhappiness numbers, but some of the wealthiest countries on the planet are also some of the unhappiest. There is a risk that what transhumanism pursues, technology as a replacement of religious faith, cannot really achieve what many transhumanists really want – a sense of fulfillment that will evade them even if they achieve immortalism.
This essay is not intended as a damnation of transhumanism, but rather as a criticism of a few tendencies within transhumanism. As long as transhumanism cannot transcend its class basis (Californian socialités and geeks), it will be relegated as a cultural appendix to the scientific community mainly in America. The world which is growing today, will be increasingly coloured, global south-based and has entirely different interests, namely how to distribute the resources of the world in such a manner that all human beings can get a decent standard of life. That issue will become increasingly important as the ecological systems are continuing to deteriorate. Any ideology which wants to be relevant for the 21st century, must not only embrace the individual, but must embrace all of humanity. We have a global future, whether we want it or not – and the best and least painful road would be to embrace that fact. Longevity, sexbots and space exploration doesn’t matter much to the bulk of Indian or Zambian women.
Ultimately, what I believe in is that with greater power follows greater responsibility. As a species, we must make the choice how we want our civilization to develop for the next 500 or 1000 years. I believe in a transhumanism of ethics.
Such a transhumanism would be the affirmation that humanity has moved forward during the course of human history. Assyrian kings built monuments where they boasted of how many women and children they raped and skinned alive. The Romans held gladiatorial contests and used mass executions as their equivalent to Super Bowl. The entire Aztec Empire was built on the institutionalisation of human sacrifice. The Spanish Inquisition used devilish torture methods to close the human mind for new thoughts. The weaker members of society have often (and still are) preyed upon by the stronger. Women, children, the handicapped, LGBTs and ethnic minorities have historically been brutalised, repressed, deprived of their human dignity and ostracised from decision-making processes. We can not deny that there still are a lot of oppression in society, but that it generally has been moving in a direction towards greater inclusion and less violence.
Transhumanists, such as the users at the Future Timeline community, seem to sometimes view this process as an appendix to the “greater goal” of biological human enhancement. I do not agree with that deterministic view, and I am convinced if we by our inaction are causing the collapse of most ecological systems in this century, that we will see a new dark age emerge, as evidenced by the march of the forces of Darkness in Greece, Egypt, America and other places. The struggle for human dignity is an active struggle, and not one that has been fought or won by the crowd that is reading Ayn Rand.
It is not – however – only a matter of human rights. It is also a matter on how we are viewing life. Is life an end in itself, or is it a tool to achieve a “greater purpose” (or individual self-gratification)?
I view life as an end in itself. It has taken 1,5 billion years for life to flourish on this planet. It has taken 65 million years since the last mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous. Is the purpose of life to maximise the economic growth during just a quarter of a millennium (1800 – 2050)? Or is the purpose of life, life in itself? Life has brought an enormous diversity of plants, animals, eco-systems and adaptions. It is a creative process involving millions of factors. It is a powerful symphony of colours, sounds and experiences. Human life arose from the biosphere. All rationalisations aside, this is ultimately only a matter of choices.
So, how would ethical transhumanism be like? An ethical transhumanism would affirm that with greater power follows greater responsibility. If we should become like the old gods of ancient Greece, it is my conviction that we must establish a much greater degree of responsibility towards life – all life. Instead of being elitists, we should strive to be humble in the face of the greatness that is the universe. Yet, I believe that we should strive to explore space, to walk on alien surfaces, to spread and experience all dawns.
We should become a civilisation of gardeners, who cherish at the thought of creating and spreading life throughout the Milky Way, for the sake of life itself. A transhumanism of ethics would be primarily concerned with expanding human conscience, moderation and love, rather than focusing on competition and status.
The value systems you are attaining should be consistent with your goals.
Enrique Lescure, Director of the Sequence of Relations, EOS
* hero image http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2048299,00.html