Anonymous said: could you explain what a transhumanist is (if you haven't before)
Nope. Nothing to add. This is the sort of transhumanism I can get behind.
I was just today reading a critique by Stephen Shaviro of Kurtzweil’s book on the Singularity actually and I think this particular quote might be relevant:
A transhumanist is a person who accepts the ideological values and goals described as transhumanist. This doesn’t explain much by itself so let me explain those (sort of summarizing this here).
Life over Death/Health over Disease: Although some “clever” people try to argue for it, it is easy to see that death - even “natural” death - is very bad. It forever annihilates everything a person is and brings great sadness and grief to others.
Transhumanists consider death as an enemy in general, and hope to achieve a radical extension of human lifespans and healthspans through technology.
Even if physical limits or the like ultimately it impossible to have actual deathlessness, it does not mean we can live much longer than we do now. And we want to be healthy and happy at an old age, too. Not decaying in a hospital bed. We hold such a change in the current situation to be desirable.
Now, for some reason this kind of reasoning has been culturally coded as villainous, but the arguments about that are for another post, I’m using this one to just explain what transhumanism is.
“There is no glory, no beauty in death. Only loss. It does not have meaning. I will never see my loved ones again. They are permanently lost to the void. If this is the natural order of things, then I reject that order. I burn here my hopelessness, I burn here my constraints. By my hand, death shall fall. And if I fail, another shall take my place … and another, and another, until this wound in the world is healed at last.”
Overcoming human limitations: All humans could theoretically be improved in some ways. We grow old, we forget things, we are physically unimpressive relative to other animals, our minds are extremely prone to bias…
Transhumanists also hope to use technology to grant the possibility to improve our conditions and be happier. There are a few ways in which this is already happening, even.
Morphological Freedom: This one is important. We believe that in general people should have the freedom to do what they wish with their bodies. Individuals can think very differently and have different goals.
For example, one person could want to use technology to look like an elf, another could want to use it to become smarter, a third could want to remain as they are. Under this principle, all of them deserve the freedom to follow their individual goals.
This value is even important enough to overrule the first. We may consider death to be bad, but transhumanists in general seem to be in favor of letting people have the freedom to end their lives if they really really want to.
This is important, because one of the uninformed criticisms people make to those who wish for immortality is “But what if you get bored and just want to die some day?”
Then one can answer “That won’t be for a very long time, but if I succeed in spreading my values, it won’t be an issue since I can just do that once I want to.”
Wide Access: If human enhancement technology appears but is restricted to a tiny elite, that is not the preferred outcome. Transhumanists want to give access to everyone who wants it.
We don’t want to just avoid death, we want to deny it to everyone who does not wish for it. We truly want people to stop suffering and dying involuntarily.
I notice that a lot of the people who criticize transhumanism as some sort of rich libertarian thing don’t seem to be aware that we actually want this sort of arrangement, which is pretty odd since it is also one of those big things you notice from reading pretty much any of the influential transhumanists…
We do want everyone to be able to improve themselves, be healthy, and have longer lives. It is more fair, it increases the chances that our loved ones and us will benefit, it reduces global suffering much more than limiting to an elite would…
We also do think that, unless great efforts are made against this, human enhancement will eventually reach everyone. If history teaches us anything, it is that new technology usually does start out as nice toys for the rich, but then the price drops and everyone can enjoy it. It has happened many times before.
Hope for the future: Another trend we notice through history is that, in general, things have been getting much better over time.
This is the hope that the trend continues. But hope is a lousy defense.
We also try to promote work based on this hope. Work to prevent global catastrophe and improve people’s lives.
The future is to be protected before it can be enjoyed. The present does not treat everyone nicely, so we want to help those who need it. Nature does not care about us, but we do.
Do my transhumanist followers have more to add?
As Jameson laments, towards the end of his recent book on utopian and science fiction (2005): “we have been plagued by the perpetual reversion of difference and otherness into the same, and the discovery that our most energetic imaginative leaps into radical alternatives were little more than the projections of our own social moment and historical or subjective situation: the post-human thereby seeming more distant and impossible than ever!” (211). Slavoj Zizek makes a similar observation (though he isn’t referring to science fiction specifically) when he says that “today it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest change in capitalism” (Taylor 2005) . We have no trouble picturing the catastrophic breakdown of the capitalist order, and the extermination of human life on this planet; but we are scarcely able to envision a tolerable and pleasant world without money, without advertising, without brand names, and without the vast inequities that characterize a capitalist economy. Kurzweil’s book is only the crass exemplification of a much wider problem: the way that all thought today, even explicitly oppositional thought, has been colonized and appropriated in advance by the flows and metamorphoses of Capital.
I’d add to the description above, which I think is very useful, a specification for Leftist Transhumanism. Leftist Transhumanists have a responsibility to conceive of utopia not in just in technological but in social terms, and to imagine ways of improving and de/reconstructing not just individuals (in the libertarian transhumanist model) but social systems as well.
Like, Shaviro references Kurtzweil talking about the importance of preserving intellectual property. That’s… wow does that ever lack vision, to me. I’m not satisfied with the “tech will trickle down” notion. I’m not satisfied with a transhumanism that still has bosses controlling the means of production, or corporations controlling copyrights and trademarks and patents indefinitely. That’s not good enough for me.
So I’d add to this a (proposed!) Leftist Transhumanist value:
Belief That We Can Transcend Oppressive Power Structures As Well As The Limits Of Our Bodies.