The broad-minded visionaries with whom he would contrast me here are, mind you, the coterie of Superlative technocentrics who think the imminent arrival of a post-biological superintelligent Robot God is a matter of grave concern for all, who think programmable self-replicating nanoscale robots are about to deliver superabundance for all (or, possibly, you know, reduce the world to goo), and who think genetic and prosthetic medicine (or, failing that, "uploading" their disembodied consciousnesses into apparently imperishable digital formats or robot bodies) may deliver superlongevity to some lucky people now living.
My critique of these sorts of flabbergasting Superlative aspirations -- and more to the point, of the prevailing hyperbolic, reductive, elitist techno-utopian discourses for which they provide, in their stark extremity, a particularly clarifying example and symptom -- Prisco derides as a matter on my part of "abstractness" and "vacuity" (one would almost think mortality were some zany fanciful notion I had invented), as "bullshit" and also "chickenshit" (Prisco entertainingly has much to say about my rudeness elsewhere in his piece), as "political correctness" (I have no idea what that one is all about), and, of course, as an expression of my "Deathism."
This "Deathism" seems to involve the fact that I expect to die like everybody else and don't lose sleep over this particularly, even though, again like pretty much everybody else on earth I'm not exactly thrilled at the prospect and think things like universal healthcare is a good thing because longer healthier lives are a good thing. The evidence Prisco offers up of my "Deathism" consists of this comment of mine: "[W]e people are all of us finite beings, forever prone to disease, accident, violence, betrayal, novelty. [A]nd fantasies about shiny robot bodies or angelic digital ones and so on rest on deep confusions about the actually embodied status of mind."
I quite cheerfully stand behind every word there.
I will also cheerfully admit that my “PC zealot thought policing” along these lines also extends to ridiculing self-proclaimed inventors of perpetual motion machines and folks who have convinced themselves they have squared the circle.
Against my "Deathist memes," so-called, the broad minded Guilio Prisco, well-known champion of Imagination against the likes of me, offers up as his contrasting vision: "Aging is like farting, and dying is like diarrhea. Both are unchosen biological accidents waiting for a good engineer with a good screwdriver. The sooner we can live without shitting our pants, the better. This is transhumanism in a nutshell, as I see it." One may as well take his word for it (Prisco until very recently was Director of the World Transhumanist Association, after all).
But I'm here to tell you, anybody who comes at me with a screwdriver claiming to have a miracle cure for diarrhea, I'm calling 9-1-1.
Prisco also quotes this passage of mine:
It is crucial to disarticulate the basic irrationality of The Denial of Death for embodied sociable narratively coherent beings in a finite universe from things like informed, non-duressed, non-norma[l]izing consensual healthcare in an era of unprecedented emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive therapy.
In that passage I tried to make clear that I do indeed grasp and take enormously seriously the potentially unprecedented nature of modification medicine, and tried to capture in just a few words the difference between superlative as opposed to technoprogressive responses to such techniques. I realize that the sentence is a bit dense -- but it was off the cuff, just a stab at some kind of substance amidst all the snark. To spell out the point a bit:
Already contemporary medicine has called into question a number of conventional expectations concerning when lives can properly be said to begin and to end, the quality of life we can expect as we cope with various medical conditions (among them conditions that were once too simply subsumed under headings like "aging" or "disability"), and so on. Under such circumstances it becomes crucial in my view for democratically minded people to offer up formulations that facilitate values like equity, diversity, and informed, nonduressed consent in the face of these emerging medical interventions rather than hyperbolic formulations that skew our sense of the actual problems and stakes of the technodevelopmental terrain with which we are coping, fraudulent misinformation playing on people's fears and fantasies in the service of profit or political advantage, "well meaning" eugenic impositions of parochial visions of healthy optimality, maldistributions of the costs, risks, and benefits of therapy as an expression and exacerbation of global injustice, and so on. Superlative talk about "living forever" or "uploading selves into computers" fails to contribute to that necessary work and functions instead as a direct barrier to it, no less than does bioconservative fearmongering about "clone armies" and "human-animal hybrids" when the questions at hand actually involve increasing budgets for medical research and providing access to cures for treatable diseases.
Prisco responds: "I am not going to waste too much time trying to understand what all these elegant and big words mean…. I believe I must have said a few times what I think of this nonsense." Quite apart from the patent anti-intellectualism of this response (I feel as though I'm about to be decried as a Hollyweird Leebrul), it is hard to understand how one can dismiss as "nonsense" what one refuses to understand in the first place. I waded through a whole hell of a lot of Superlative Technology discourse before I felt qualified to delineate its tendencies and assess them. Although I am sure that Superlative technocentrics (being, True Believers after all) would insist that the very fact that I have failed to find their vision compelling is proof enough that I have failed to understand their vision in the first place. Is it any wonder that, under such circumstances, I make recourse instead to ridiculing the ridiculous?