The text below is mine, derived from comments on the TNET article “Futurist Arts & Culture”. My words are in response to a clear, calmly offered comment advocating consistent and total optimism in Transhumanist messages.

I must admit, that is a view which I have long taken issue with. I believe that while a dash of that stance is helpful (critical to the success of our efforts as a civilization, in fact), too much is actually wildly unrealistic and counter-productive.

My response should speak for itself, and is an important issue with regard to Transhumanist subculture and questions of strategy in approaching our goals:

As much as I understand and sympathize with this view, I think it is important to understand it in the broader context. This (once called “Dynamic Optimism“) is of course the default Extropian view, which passed from Extropy (the name given to the Extropian philosophy) into Transhumanism as a whole back in the late 80s. I have personally considered myself to be an Extropian since the early 90s, although like most Transhumanists I am averse to anything that smells a little too much like a rigid, doctrinaire view.

The main thing about Extropy that I’ve parted ways with in the intervening ~30 years or so, is the kind of Right-wing Libertarianism which is not only a very American phenomenon, but which was also very du jour in the 80s. The other thing is an undue commitment to an unrealistically, even cartoonishly optimistic view of reality (a related phenomenon is painfully superficial and/or literal criticism of religion, mythology, and the arts, but that’s another topic for another day!). It is good to be optimistic and pragmatic, but reality is a more complex thing than a story of perfect outcomes and happily-ever-afters. Only a fool would believe otherwise.

Aside from the simple fact that we must be properly cognizant of historical and potential dangers (a hard thing to do when insisting that everything is, and can only be, rainbows and unicorns all the way), we should also note that Transhumanism as a subculture has been woefully inadequate at getting its message out on its own terms. The message gets out, sure, but only when Hollywood and others take that message, strip it of doctrinaire insistence on this or that, and sells the message in whatever way will sell to a broader audience. Dystopianism-with-a-hopeful-message, for example, will reach a hundred times as many people as unalloyed optimism will.

Of course, it is easy to slip into negativity, and we must be optimistic, focused, and pragmatic in our efforts. But at the end of the day; which is more important; To be unremittingly optimistic even when that is not in line with available evidence regarding any given situation, or to allow a broader view of things and thereby reach a much larger audience, much faster?

To conclude – and make my fundamental viewpoint clear: I agree that we must be positive, and that it is easier to slip into negativity than to be positive and constructive in addressing problems. But I also believe that this is a view which can be (and frequently is) taken too far by Transhumanists, to counter-productive ends.

The middle-ground I advocate is one in which we depict the world as it is, full of both dangers and positive potentials, and make it clear why we are so committed to realizing those positive potentials. If the world is going to be wonderful no matter what (hint: It isn’t), then why should people make any effort to help us work toward a positive future?

Acknowledging a world full of dark and dangerous things is not the same as celebrating negativity, but is often more like a catharsis, which can also offer a powerful opportunity to reach a large audience with a very positive, pragmatic message.

If we cannot acknowledge the world as it is, why should the world listen to what we have to say?

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, please share this article, and tell us why you feel the way you do, in the comments below.

It is important for Transhumanists to understand the underpinnings of their own worldview and media strategies for encouraging support, if we are to be (A) the empiricists we claim to be, or (B) anything other than ineffectual and inconsequential cheerleaders for positive change through technology.