Politics Poisons Everything - transhumanism should avoid “ideological baggage” for it’s own survival
Posted: Thu, January 31, 2013 | By: Reeve Armstrong
(Disclaimer - the following essay is the point-of-view solely of the author; it isn’t the POV of Transhumanity.net)
I think that it would be accurate to claim that transhumanism - as a distinct ‘movement’ or subculture - is fairly fringe. This is not intended pejoratively; it is simply true that a philosophical transhumanist opinion is not sort after in news reports. Transhumanism is not mainstream. Transhumanist themes and tropes are certainly mainstream, there’s no denying that, they are arguably present in almost all modern forms of story-telling. Consider the super-hero genre as just one example, and the current fascination with the idea of transcending one’s limitations. However this means that, at best, transhumanist ideas are “around” although they are rarely, explicitly identified as “transhuman.”
At this stage transhumanism is grass-roots. There are no large scale, widely known, transhumanist organizations or pressure groups or political parties. I am contending that this is a good thing. For transhumanists politics should be avoided. Or rather we should only be entering the political arena through proxy i.e. we should not wear “transhumanist uniforms” or use “transhumanist colours” and take to the streets. We should not have any “transhumanist agenda” be identified as a specific agenda. Of course we should be - those of us in countries where we are able to - steering the government and culture in a direction that supports scientific research and progress, and its promotion. However it is a mistake to make transhumanism something explicitly political.
A brief look at recent history shows us that politics is poisonous in modern times when it comes to advancing human civilisation. (Particularly in America) This is because politics is essentially a popularity contest where the utility and efficiency of ideas are secondary to how good they are for the proponents reputation in the public eyes; or how well they gel with the proponents’ stagnant ideology. In politics the currency is ego. And time scales are virtually always short-term. And once a particular idea is politically poisoned it is almost impossible to cure in popular culture. Consider the issue of global warming. These days, this topic can never be discussed without political motivations being brought up. In the the public psyche, global warming is now a political issue; not a scientific one. The political poison has muddied the waters such that it becomes increasingly difficult to discern fact from riled up opinion. Again and again we find that scientific issues that would, in theory, advance society – if they clash with an ideology – are warped into a feudal drama between the made up left/right divide. Stem cell research is another example of this. Genetic modification is another example of this. A quick search of YouTube and you will find propaganda put out by Greenpeace and their neo-luddite cronies.
Once the poisoning is done, any particular issue with be forever merged with a certain ideological position. And for transhumanism we need support far and wide, we need people of all stripes and creeds. We should not be burning bridges just because we personally disagree with someone’s opinion on an unrelated topic. That would be irrational and dangerous. Politics is an ad-hom mode of thinking. If transhumanism is going to survive and succeed it needs to overcome the out-dated traditions of this species. It should be possible to be “politically left” and be transhumanist; it should be possible to be “politically right” and be transhumanist; it should be possible to be religious and be transhumanist; it should be possible to be a capitalist or a communist and be transhumaist etc. We ought to remember that ultimately transhumanism is for everyone. And it is about using technology, knowledge and understanding to improve ourselves and society. There’s no convincing reason why that goal ought to be intrinsically related to any other intellectual or emotional position. There is nothing about this goal that means one must accept and support some other philosophical views.
I do not, for example, want to see transhumanism bound together inseparably with leftist gender politics. I also do not want to see transhumanism bound together inseparably with rasputin-looking, fascist, technocrats.
As transhumanism becomes more popular it would be undesirable for it to be politically poisoned such that one can not be a transhumnist without towing along other ideological baggage. All this does is create division and separation and gives you fewer supporters and more opponents. That is not the road to success. If that was to happen there would be stagnation and redundancy. The ideas that survive are those that can change and be shared. Therefore what must be avoided is the temptation to use transhumanism to piggy-back our other, personal, political views.
We should not use transhumanism as a platform for a myriad other “isms” so that our following is one nodding collective and that, in the public psyche, it becomes impossible to be a transhumanist without being pro-X, Y, Z. If that happened, every time a transhumanist voiced support of one particular thing or other, transhumanism would be attacked and campaigned against. And the thing being supported by the transhumanist would also be attacked – for opponents would conspiratorially suspect that there must be some political motivations involved, working against them. If transhumanism becomes bogged down in politics then the discussion, as we see in politics, would constantly be being side-tracked by personalisations and meta-commentaries on one another’s emotional investment. Such a mess would only achieve distraction, and not progress.
We can see this sort of situation worryingly taking place if we look to the secular/atheist community currently. Instead of education, rationalism and opposition to dogma, the hot topic in that community, as of now, is, strangely, gender politics. That is the situation to avoid. In transhumanism there needs to be discussion, criticism, debate, disagreement, argument and critical thinking. There should be people from everywhere, waving a patch-work of conflicting ideological flags joining in.
Transhumanism must not become a political position; or a religious cult; or a fixed, constructed, ideological artefact. Transhumanism needs to be more like an intellectual desire, akin to human curiosity: Organic, living, breathing, changing, evolving, with blood flowing through its veins.
Preferably silicon blood. And fibre-optic veins.