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Why Transhumanism Is Not Private Property

Posted: Fri, January 04, 2013 | By: Dirk Bruere

Transhumanism (H+), has made some progress recently. Well, at least progress in creating careers, generating PhD theses, raising money and generally attempting to become mainstream. Indeed, I would not be surprised if as much as 1% of the educated population have heard of it. However, a price has to be paid and it seems to be that of giving up H+ and even in some cases appearing to oppose its traditional goals. The techniques of doing so involve a weird kind of cognitive dissonance.

On one hand all the grand visions of artificial intelligence, uploading, raising the dead, re-engineering the cosmos and creating new species of PostHumans are being downplayed as somewhat embarrassing fantasies. Even the term “Transhumanism” is being dropped while at the same time those doing the dropping appear to want to exert a stranglehold on how it is defined. On the other, the big money spinner seems to be playing up the dangers and offering to protect the public from us crazies.

Meanwhile, the attitude is one of “responsible” commentary which is shorthand for not rocking the boat and upsetting the gravy train, to mix metaphors. Those who do are castigated for every crime one can imagine, especially if the subject touches upon taboo mixes of H+ and non-mainstream politics, religion, sex, drugs and maybe even rock’n'roll (well, I exaggerate the latter…).

There is also disdain for muddying the pure waters of H+ by “dumbing it down” and attempting to seek an audience that is wider than the existing H+ community (an oxymoron). It seems nobody should have an opinion on anything unless it is rubber stamped by one of the “traditional” orgs as well as the author having a PhD in an approved subject. The fear seems to be that H+ is being adopted by politically incorrect “extremists” who might frighten normal people, or rather, wealthy normal people aka “cash cows”.

We also have a kind of censorship-by-pressure where prominent members of dissenting organizations (eg Transhumanity and Zero State) are taken aside for a “quiet word” (and occasionally not so quiet) and told to reign in the crazies. At least it is better than in the past, where there were only a couple of big organizations and all they had to do was kick someone off their mailing list in order to shut them up for breaking the unwritten rules.

Well here is the good, or bad, news. It’s not going to happen. The crazies are loose and are not going back into their cages. Transhumanism is not going to stay defined by the old WTA or ExI documents. Indeed, there is considerable opposition in some quarters to the definition of the name itself as meaning “Transitional Humanism”. There is nothing inherently H+ about Humanism as a philosophy – it’s the tech that matters. I rather like “Transcending Humanity” as an alternative. It’s memetic warfare and may Darwin be the referee. We want to move H+ into every niche of Human society as well as the mainstream, and the easiest and most responsive sectors are always the extremists, because they are the people who actually want to change the world. But it’s going to be our Transhumanism that expands. Not the “ethical” politically correct, watered down, apologetic, suit and tie, version now on sale for $$$.

And we have one final word on the matter - The future of Transhumanism is not Transhumanists.


It is encouraging that there are brands being managed with a low-risk and cautious attitude, and other brands being managed with a more edgy attitude.

Both are required; it’s not one or the other.

It would be helpful, though, if instead of arguing with each other so much as they do, they both looked outward.

By Darren Reynolds on Jan 04, 2013 at 9:14am

VERY WELL SAID Dirk. I totally agree.

Here is an old related article of mine:

Transhumanism, young whores and old bigots

In a letter to Max Born (source), Albert Einstein quoted ”the beautiful proverb: Junge Huren - alte Betschwestern (young whores - old bigots)”.

We have seen it happen so many times: once upon a time there was a wild teenager, sometimes naive but full of creativity and enthusiasm. Then (s)he has to learn some hard lessons, like that you are supposed to show at work at 8am in a formal suit. And then (s)he falls in the dullest mediocrity, forgets all wild and creative ideas of the past, and begins wearing formal suits even on Sunday mornings. (S)he may even, and this is really sad when it happens, become a boring, self-righteous, pompous and intolerant old bigot who hates teenagers for still having the aliveness that (s)he has lost.

Most wild teenagers avoid this trap, but some don’t. And I am sometimes afraid that transhumanism, once a wild and frighteningly brilliant teenager, may become a hopelessly dull old bigot.

A few years ago I used to say that the transhumanist movement had to grow up from its “nerdy sci-fi roots” and become an influential voice in the mainstream world. The metaphor I used was the same I am using now, a wild teenager who grows up and goes to business meetings in a formal suit. I also used to say that the transhumanist movement should not focus only on nerdy sci-fi stuff like immortality, conscious AI, brain implants and mind uploading, but also on the problems of today’s world and the attempts to find viable solutions. I still say and believe it: we should be part of progressive mainstream thinking, wear formal suits if it helps, and even get our hands greasy with the messy details of practical policy making and politics.

But, and this should go without saying, without giving up the core elements of our worldview. We, or at least most of us, *are* sci-fi nerds. I am certainly one. I believe that developing and deploying advanced technologies for human enhancement, without self-imposed a-priori artificial “ethical” limits, will make the world a better place and improve the quality of life and happiness of everyone on this planet and beyond. Which is, I believe, the only things that really matters. Of course I am not at all against practical ethical considerations related to the quality of life and happiness of actual, concrete persons, but I am very much against abstract “ethics” -what god does or does not want, absolute truths, objective morality, undefined notions of human dignity, if it is moral for flying donkeys to discuss number theory with crystal pigs, and all that.

A few years ago we founded the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies as “a mainstream transhumanist think-tank in a formal suit”.  Then we stopped using the T label, which was felt as too limiting, and invited non-transhumanist thinkers to join the IEET. Under the executive leadership of James Hughes, the IEET has carved itself a niche as a left-wing, transhumanist-friendly technoprogressive think tank. This is an important role that will, I hope, result in radically technoprogressive ideas of human enhancement becoming more and more accepted in mainstream policy.

Why am I writing this? Because I hear proposals to water down transhumanism to the point of becoming unrecognizable. And I am not referring to the predictable broken-disk anti-transhumanist rants of well known bioluddites, but to ideas put forward by people close to transhumanism and even by declared transhumanists. They seem ashamed of radical transhumanist ideas and mainly wishing to sound reasonable, “ethical” and politically correct to win the approval of the anti-progress bioluddites out there. Pleeease! Give me more of the old nerdy sci-fi stuff anytime.

To be clear: I am a left technoprogressive and very concerned with the problems of today’s world. But when I want to say or do something in support of food and clean water for everyone, affordable health care, education for all children, reduction of the digital divide, BIG, reduction of the North-South gap, world peace, civil rights, etc., I do so in other contexts, activist movements or political parties. Who is concerned about, for example, the environment, should join an environmental movement or a green party and *do* something, instead of trying to transform transhumanism into an environmental movement…

I want transhumanism to remain transhumanism. Perhaps even with some kind of “return to the origins” and some more sci-fi nerdiness to correct what I am beginning to perceive as the political correctness of old bigots.

By Giulio Prisco on Jan 04, 2013 at 9:41am

@Darren - It is less “...arguing with each other” than it is with some people trying to tell us who, and who may not, post articles on sites other than their own, and which views they find unacceptable and should not be given a voice with Transhumanism.
Simply put, I and many others do not like being told what we can and cannot say. In the past I was kicked from both ExI and WTA for breaking their “unwritten rules”. That’s not going to happen here because we REALLY believe in free speech.

By Dirk Bruere on Jan 04, 2013 at 4:01pm

Nice essay Giulio - probably bigger than mine! Maybe Hank could publish it as a separate article?

By Dirk Bruere on Jan 04, 2013 at 4:06pm

Great insights,Giulio.I consirer myself a “leftist"indefinite life extensionist.Let’s keep in touch!!!

By Tom Mooney on Jan 06, 2013 at 11:02am

Great article, and all good comments. As much as I agree with Dirk’s clarification, I’m fully on board with Darren’s comment that we all need to look outward. And it is helpful to have different “flavours” of Transhumanism, exploring different avenues - let a hundred flowers bloom, as the man says. The only problem is when some people start implying (or even outright saying) that Transhumanism must be a certain thing, and if you don’t believe X, Y, Z you can’t be a member of the club. Luckily, that kind of mindset is self-defeating, so we don’t have to waste any effort struggling against it. We just smile and keep on truckin’, spreading the (old skool, full strength) message across pastures new…

By Amon Kalkin on Jan 08, 2013 at 3:59am

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