Thursday, April 21, 2016

A brief anti-transhumanist rant

If human life is essentially a technology, then the problems associated with human existence are essentially technological problems, and as such, they have technological solutions. All social problems, for instance, can be solved by developing and applying the right kinds of social technologies—and most problems in modern society are political, requiring only minor adjustments to the present bureaucratic structuring of power. From a more personal standpoint, if human bodies are biological technologies that have been rendered inefficient by dumb evolutionary processes that are blind to the obvious advantages of rational intentional design, then it should be possible to compensate by intentionally augmenting the human body and extending the capacities of the human mind. So along with artificial hips and mechanical heart valves, we have an ever expanding inventory of chemical fixes and bookstore shelves filled with self-help books providing blueprints for organizing your life and techniques designed to get your life "back on track." Human nature—like all other aspects of the natural world—can be retooled and upgraded.

This thought-form reaches its logical extreme in a bizarre utopian movement called transhumanism, which has apparently been gaining widespread popularity among technophiles, science fiction fans, and other techno-groupies. According to transhumanists, industrial civilization is leading us toward a "posthuman" future, a world in which humanity will have been eclipsed and replaced by its own technological offspring. The "trans" part of transhumanism is meant to highlight that we are, at this point and in the immediate future, moving through a transitional period en route to a posthuman state of technological perfection, a period in which more and more of our organs and cognitive capacities will be replaced or enhanced with technologically superior alternatives. At some point in the future, all that is human—like everything else on the planet and every other planet within our grasp, I suppose—will have been refashioned, and we will have made ourselves into an entirely new kind of artificial life form and thus achieve technological immortality. For transhumanists, this is our manifest destiny as a species.

Transhumanism is ridiculous on its face (whether that face is made of flesh or a synthetic bioplastic). Its core assumptions emerge from a failure to distinguish metaphor from reality—especially with respect to biological evolution—and reflect a post-industrial, technology-centered projection of enlightenment-era notions of human progress. But from a psychological standpoint, there is more to transhumanism than mere metaphoric confusion. It is a childish attempt to disguise and deny uncomfortable truths of post-modern life. It provides a kind of fairytale gloss over the dehumanizing and oppressive nature of global civilization.

Transhumanism is ridiculous; nevertheless it may harbor a kernel of validity, especially with respect to the "transition" part. Global industrial civilization—like all civilizations of the past—is unsustainable and simply cannot continue. As fossil resources become stretched to the vanishing point, as potable water and palatable food become more and more rarified commodities, as poverty spreads and expands among the masses while wealth and power become increasingly concentrated in a shrinking elite, we may indeed be transitioning into a posthuman future, albeit one in which humans—artificial and otherwise—are entirely absent.

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