Sunday, June 9, 2013

Of Right and Left Transhumanism

The way we think about the possibility of transcending "the human condition" strongly reflects the way in which we think about humanity and society in general. Transhumanist thought has been no exception, evident across the political spectrum--while anything but the fundamental premise varies in line with the thinker's other political attitudes. In fact, it seems possible to speak of a transhumanism of the political right, and a transhumanism of the political left, the key difference between which is the context in which we would see technology utilized to effect fundamental changes in human beings. Rightist transhumanism seeks to achieve it within the existing social order (e.g. capitalism), and where the alleviation of problems like poverty or pollution are concerned, to anticipate that the new technologies associated with it will obviate the need for social and political change. Leftist transhumanism regards it as part of a broader project of human liberation, likely to follow the achievement of a more equitable society.

Ray Kurzweil's Singularitarianism is a clear case of the former, positing as it does our experiencing twenty thousand years' worth of change within the space of a century--and still finding ourselves living with a capitalist economy, while the solution of our environmental problems depends on the improvement of technology in response to market imperatives, rather than social and political innovation (like changes in values or the emergence of new institutions). By contrast, Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men and Star Maker, or W. Warren Wagar's A Short History of the Future, present the leftist version, in which the modification of the species follows the achievement of a "good society" which has moved past the inequities of our own.

Just as elsewhere in our intellectual life these past several decades, the ideas of the right have prevailed in this discussion, reducing the left to offering little but criticism of the visions of Kurzweil and company. Nonetheless, Ken MacLeod's recent piece in Aeon Magazine contending that socialism, or something like it, is all the more necessary in an age in which our already contentious identity politics have been made much more so by the addition of substantial biological diversity hints at the possibility of movement in this direction.

My Posts on Transhumanism, Posthumanism and the Singularity


Kenneth Lloyd Anderson said...

I approve of a blend of the natural process and genetic engineering in developing positive genetic mutations as we evolve toward Godhood. I don't approve of becoming trans-human cyborgs because we can lose actual life that way, replaced by artificial life. Artificial life, computers, etc. can aid in our evolution, but we don't want to become computers.

The natural process of evolution goes on, but it's slow and can cause much suffering as only about one in one hundred mutations are considered advantageous and the rest are often cruelly rejected. Speeding up this process can be considered humane and compassionate. We need to become more intelligent with more virtuous character as fast as we can to solve the big problems of survival on earth and in the cosmos.

But Wilson and Cattell and others have shown us that there are limits to cultural side-effects that go too far. As the body rejects transplants in proportion to genetic distance, so cultural transplants are not assimilated in proportion to their cultural distance. This is human nature. But short-term thinking and selfishness are also part of human nature, special-interests have tried to block human nature and block human evolution for selfish ends.

People have insisted on world equality, or that all-humans-are-alike, or on the other hand, people have imperialistically or racially exploited other nations, which does not relate harmoniously for long with real human nature. I believe the best way to harmonize political structures with human nature and forward evolution is to have small states or ethnostates protected in their independence and variety by light federalism and subsidiarity. I think evolutionary religion working with sociobiological science can be the best monitors of our long evolution. And voluntary compliance and not coercion is not only the civilized way to go but the practical way to go, given human nature.

Nader said...

I have to admit that at this point I'm still wondering if the questions will ever become anything more than speculative; where many of these technologies have been concerned, we've already been subject to a lot of exaggerated claims. But I do think that, as you describe, there will have to be a more conscious consideration of the larger political questions within this dialogue, and that we are going to see people take different sides not only over whether posthumanism is desirable, but the forms this could take - as well as whether or not human nature is something to be modified.

Thanks for writing.

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon