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Friday, January 25, 2008

Transhumanists: Torchbearers for Vaccination (Or: Robots? Who Said Anything About Robots?)

Stephen Cobb hosts a podcast called The Future and You, offering up what he describes as "[i]deas and opinion about the future based on verifiable facts of today."

A summary of the topics covered in his recent interview with Canadian "transhumanist" George Dvorsky includes this statement:
[T]he mainstream medical community is working hard to achieve the goals of transhumanism (without realizing it) and will continue to work toward them with or without our encouragement. The vaccination of children is a perfect example of the transhumanist ideal[.]

I'm not entirely sure if this is Cobb's own formulation or a view being attributed to Dvorsky, but one does hear this sort of sanewashing rhetoric from "transhumanists" all the time these days.

I suspect it would be an instructive exercise indeed to compare the amount of discussion among "transhumanist"-identified folks devoted to the topic of vaccination as compared with the amount of discussion devoted to the topic of the imminent arrival of postbiological superintelligent Robot Gods who may or may not be Friendly, to the topic of how some people might somehow achieve eternal life by uploading their "selves" into computers, or to the topic of how programmable self-replicating nanoscale robots will make them richer than the dreams of avarice can fathom. It would also be instructive to ponder the role of "transhumanists" in the actual research, development, regulation, and distribution of actual vaccines to actual people in the actual world.

No, it simply is not the case that people engaged in mainstream medical care nor the countless millions of everyday secular progressive people who champion more medical research and development to end unnecessary suffering, treat neglected conditions, and improve people's lives are really truly "closeted" members of the "transhumanist" Robot Cult in their secret heart of hearts ("without realizing it").

You just don't need to join a Robot Cult to see the good sense of vaccinations or basic health care, nor does sensible healthcare really need the support of a few hundred Robot Cultists to get by.

Nice effort. Try again, guys.

15 comments:

peco said...

Of course they aren't transhumanists. They work "to achieve the goals of transhumanism (without realizing it)," which is very different.

(Transhumanism isn't widespread, but transhumanist actions/values are.)

rektide said...

You really need to find something better to do than kicking soft targets. There's plenty of utterly rediculous bloviation in the transhumanism movement sure (hint: it's an easier sell) and the irony of science become religion has not gone unnoticed, but landing blows on the fringe and fanatics a) doesnt really address those who've tried to adopt a more rational and contemporary transhumanism and b) is disingenuous to anyone who honestly believes humanity is and can undergoe positive willfully directed transformation. Yet there's a continuing barrage of assaults thrown against the umbrella group of transhumanism, even though most of these blows are targetted against the pop science fantasy Robot God camp.

Its handy to repeat a common literary discintion here, the line between science fantasy and science finction. Science fiction stories respect the laws of science, whereas science fantasy permits artistic liberties such as uploading minds or warp drives. If you want to trash on science fantasy go right ahead. If you feel trying your chops on a little more substantial target, go attack the principles of extropy or the Technogaianism movement, two of the factions of the transhumanist movement grounded a little more in science or science fiction than in religion and science fantasy.

The cultists lack of grounding in no way keeps vaccination and sensible health care from being extremely pertintent to transhumanism, unless one is convinced sensible health care and vaccination are not willful enhancements to humanity. Whether or not self labelled transhumanists are the torchbearers on the issue doesnt really affect the fact that it is a transhumanist issue, and that it is one of the core ways in how humanity is transforming. You only get to shred your transhumanist license if you deny that its changing us.

Dale Carrico said...

Yes, I already quite understood the initial claim, peco. I actually quoted it before criticizing it. Your repetition of the claim now doesn't actually constitute a response to my criticism.

You can't just invent a made-up bullshit "philosophy" including some mainstream attitudes (for example: health is good and unnecessary suffering is bad, informed people in fair societies can be trusted to make good decisions about their own lives and can solve shared problems peacefully, science can make life better if it is well regulated and directed to the public good rather than parochial interests, and so on) together with some wacked-out shit attitudes (for example: superintelligent Robot Gods are on the way to remake the world into heaven or hell, technology will make some of us immortal superhumans, nanobots will make the world into Eden or reduce the world to goo, and so on) and then claim that people who express these already mainstream attitudes are somehow "therefore" actually "closeted" exemplars of your wacked-out shit beliefs.

That is to say, of course you can do all that -- after all, most cultists do that very sort of thing -- but it's not like many people will let you get away with it. I for one certainly won't.

Dale Carrico said...

rektide wrote: If you feel trying your chops on a little more substantial target, go attack the principles of extropy or the Technogaianism movement, two of the factions of the transhumanist movement grounded a little more in science or science fiction than in religion and science fantasy.

I must say this is one of the most laugh out loud funny things I've heard in a long time. Ah, nothing like Extropianism for some real substance, yeah. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

The cultists lack of grounding in no way keeps vaccination and sensible health care from being extremely pertintent to transhumanism

It's easy to see why "transhumanists" would want to treat talk of vaccinations as pertinent -- to their efforts at PR. My point, obviously enough, is that "transhumanists" are not remotely pertinent to what it is that makes vaccinations possible or desirable or progressive. Vaccinations don't need "transhumanism."

Dale Carrico said...

And another thing, rektide seems to want to draw a distinction between the "wrong sort" of Robot Cult transhumanists and a "better sort" consisting of "anyone who honestly believes humanity is and can undergo positive willfully directed transformation."

Dude, have you like ever heard of culture? It predates your Robot Cult. Do you really think we need the word "transhumanism" to describe the attitude that the collaborative application of intelligence can contribute to progress in solving shared problems of human beings? Honestly, you people are unbelievable.

Transhumanists can't get past this impasse -- either they are a batshit crazy fringe Ayn Raelian Robot Cultists or they are a klatch of people who believe utterly mainstream things about science and technology and the usefulness of applying intelligence to solve shared problems but think for some reason that we need to invent a new word and sub(cult)ure and "movement" to describe these things millions of people already believe anyway.

Of course, what matters most to the "better sort" of transhumanists is still that they get to talk about exactly the same idiotic techno-utopian Robot Cult crap the "bad sort" of transhumanists talk about, only under cover of the wink wink nudge nudge that they're really just plain folks who care about healthcare and science education -- and it's just this complete accident that they spend all their time in the company of these Robot Cultists and so on.

Blah blah blah. My advice to transhumanists: Embrace your cult and pay the price in utter marginalization that goes with it or realize for once the nature of the beast whose belly you're in and get out while you can.

peco said...

You can't just invent a made-up bullshit "philosophy" including some mainstream attitudes (for example: health is good and unnecessary suffering is bad, informed people in fair societies can be trusted to make good decisions about their own lives and can solve shared problems peacefully, science can make life better if it is well regulated and directed to the public good rather than parochial interests, and so on) together with some wacked-out shit attitudes (for example: superintelligent Robot Gods are on the way to remake the world into heaven or hell, technology will make some of us immortal superhumans, nanobots will make the world into Eden or reduce the world to goo, and so on) and then claim that people who express these already mainstream attitudes are somehow "therefore" actually "closeted" exemplars of your wacked-out shit beliefs.

It isn't an argument for the "shit beliefs." It's an argument for people who disagree with "human enhancement."

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to follow Amor Mundi's recent trajectory in writing about Singularitarianism. In August 2007, Dale was still "pok[ing] friendly fun [...] at 'The Robot Cultists'" and while there's still some fun to be had nowadays -- if you're not the target of his attacks, that is -- it's hard to see any friendliness.

"I suspect it would be an instructive exercise indeed to compare the amount of discussion among "transhumanist"-identified folks devoted to the topic of vaccination as compared with the amount of discussion devoted to the topic of the imminent arrival of postbiological superintelligent Robot Gods [...]"

But then this can't be surprising because Singularitarians see FAI as a panacea (even for "stakeholder impasses") so there has to be this hierarchy of FAI at the top, after whose implementation everything else is just a "slam dunk".

Oh, and from what I gather by being a regular reader of George Dvorsky's "Sentient Developments", he is a vegetarian and feminist Buddhist and therefore should get some points of sympathy by Dale. Dvorksy isn't immune to what one could call polemically "breathless boosterism", as this video and his Must-know terms for the 21st Century intellectual show. (With caveats I enjoy the latter, though.)

FrF

Dale Carrico said...

It's interesting to follow Amor Mundi's recent trajectory in writing about Singularitarianism. In August 2007, Dale was still "pok[ing] friendly fun [...] at 'The Robot Cultists'" and while there's still some fun to be had nowadays -- if you're not the target of his attacks, that is -- it's hard to see any friendliness.

This observation seems both right and fair. I feel much less generosity about these Superlative viewpoints and their associated marginal membership organizations than I once did. I always thought they were a bit silly in their hyperbolic pretensions and facile philosophizing, but delving into them and engaging with their partisans through my critique of Superlativity I have come to find them less and less sadly silly and more and more actually damaging -- both to the state of public discourse on technoscientific change as well as to the good sense of their advocates. I can still name a few interesting and well-meaning people among them -- I can count them on the fingers of my hand -- but at this point I cannot for the life of me figure out what the hell they're doing in the company of all these pernicious Ayn Raelian freaks.

Dale Carrico said...

It isn't an argument for the "shit beliefs." It's an argument for people who disagree with "human enhancement."

Well, I say it is and provided my reasons. You haven't done the same and until you do there's little point in saying anything.

But I do want to add that I advocate shoring up the scene of informed nonduressed consent in matters of therapeutic intervention (a scene of consent far more robust than our own, in which people are badly informed and sometimes fraudulently misinformed by corrupt and profit-hungry incumbent interests, and whose acts of consent are duressed by fear of social stigma, loss of livelihood, and so on), and believe that doing so would yield a proliferation of human wanted capacities, morphologies, and lifeways.

I actually disapprove of "enhancement" discourse -- which contains in my view the eugenic presumption that some people are authorized to say what constitutes "enhancement" for everybody else.
I think "enhancement" as it is advocated by smug self-appointed technocratic and biomoralist elites is indeed a "shit belief," as it were.

rektide said...

Hmm I keep forgetting Extropian implies immortalist, which is damned downright unfortunte, and in my mind not accurate. If you'd actually take the time to read the guideline principles, I think you'd be shocked by how moderate and mainstream the ideas are. What sets them appart is that they're a lot of dispirate progressive notions, tied under a common banner, along with guidelines for practical optimism and self direction.

or they are a klatch of people who believe utterly mainstream things about science and technology and the usefulness of applying intelligence to solve shared problems but think for some reason that we need to invent a new word and sub(cult)ure and "movement" to describe these things millions of people already believe anyway.

I feel the need to self identify with some form of technorealist technoprogressive labelling because I believe that by enfranchising these notions as ideals, by siezing upon proactive change, we can escape the common reified view of progressive world change and make an active and radical difference. That active difference is the key of transhumanism, it speaks of the common driving factor of the will, the need to ameliorate our weaknesses, the need to generate dissruptive forces to shatter roadblocks. The notion of technological change is pervasive and mainstream, but Transhumanists have a somewhat brazen perspective on how they think technology should be empowering and how people can relate to their technologies.

Perhaps if instead of convulsing with automatic laughter you'd bothered to read the Principles of Extropianism you'd have some sense of what differentiates this particular sect from the mainstream?

There's an O.G. label for Transhumanists, back in the day we used to call ourselves Utopians, back before the warm brimming tide of modernity got riddled with bullet holes and mortar fire in the first and then second great war. I dont know if the movement was "mainstream" back then, but the movement that humanity is not merely improving, but must self improve itself through directed and collaborative action has, to my eyes, been slumbering for a long long time, and I believe its fair that the new technologically-pinned incarnate of actualization take up a new name.

I dont know what you're fighting here Dale. I'm fairly convinced you havent the faintest flying fuck what the principles of extropianism are, and that you've never read them, that you dont know a thing about the Democratic Transhumanism your websites subhead reads like the poster tag for, and that you likely embrace many technogaian ideals. Transhumanism is just a new utopian movement, and whether we tend towards believing in One Laptop Per Child or transcendal machine minds, I dont see how one could disregard the entire faction for the combined over moderation and overt psychosis of its outliers.

"I feel much less generosity about these Superlative viewpoints and their associated marginal membership organizations than I once did." Feel free to bash these discrete entities all you want, ratting on transhumanists is fine, but dont conflate these idealougues with the principles they so poorly misrepresent and are so unable to reason around. Although, coming to this sentance and reflecting back, I realize the mistake has mostly been mine. I'd read your attacks as attcks on transhumanism, when in fact you quite clearly specify transhumanists. Your premise that we should realize whose beast we are the belly of is both cute and apt, but I have faith in a more enduring and more realistic socio-technological growth, and I dont associate with fools in the first place. Nothing survives on hype alone, the problem will take care of itself, and the demise of charlatans will not be the end of Transhumanism.

rektide said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rektide said...

I actually disapprove of "enhancement" discourse -- which contains in my view the eugenic presumption that some people are authorized to say what constitutes "enhancement" for everybody else. I think "enhancement" as it is advocated by smug self-appointed technocratic and biomoralist elites is indeed a "shit belief," as it were.

The last time I heard this argument was 1900. Today its tempered by principles like "self direction" and "open society", two of the Extropian principles.

Do you disapprove of discourse, or just the potential negative impact you see? What are your thoughts on nootropics, PDAs, and wireless communication, and how do you see relationship between any of these technologies and enhancement?

Dale Carrico said...

I don't know what you're fighting here Dale. I'm fairly convinced you haven't the faintest flying fuck what the principles of extropianism are, and that you've never read them, that you don't know a thing about the Democratic Transhumanism your websites subhead reads like the poster tag for, and that you likely embrace many technogaian ideals.

I was already watching the extropians like a hawk when they were printing their zine on paper, baby. I was there when they were unrepentent market libertopians and gun nuts (now you have to read between the lines to see the libertopian blight). I've been to parties where they were in hot tubs bloviating about spontaneous order and vitrification between tokes. Can you say the same?

The thighmaster futurists of the extropian "movement" were market libertarian right-wing reactionaries in the 90s and scientistic reductionists pimping cybernetic totalism and social darwinism -- and in the aftermath the dot.bomb and free marketeer cataclysms of Baghdad and New Orleans they are reduced to anti-environmentalist lies about precaution, corporate-militarist futurological apologiae, and feel-good go-getter self-help charlatanry.

Democratic transhumanists, so called, seem to me all too happy to de-emphasize the "democratic" in favor of prioritizing the "transhumanist" in their outlook, despite the reactionary politics, the reductionism, and the kooky Robot Cultism involved in this skewed priority.

Don't confuse self-serving PR and hype for substance. And pay closer attention to "democratic" technophiles who are so democratic they will excoriate as "disability extremists" people who demand dignity on their own terms despite their non-normal lifeways, who are so democratic they propose that non-human animals must be "uplifted" into human sentience as if only human-sentience is valuable, who are so democratic they will treat as allies those whose view of "consent" is simply a valorization of market outcomes in a world of savage inequality and market exploitation, who are so democratic they propose a politics in which one must be "pro-" technology but without specifying just what technological development with just what impacts on just who just how they are even talking about, who are so democratic they focus their political energies on tribal identification with like-minded technophiles and the unilateral implementation of a future with which that tribe parochially identifies rather than facilitating progressive pluralist deliberation and the shared democratic struggle of a diversity of peers in an always open future.

You are very foolish indeed if you imagine I don't know exactly what and who I'm talking about.

Nothing survives on hype alone, the problem will take care of itself, and the demise of charlatans will not be the end of Transhumanism.

"Transhumanism" has no content unique to itself that does not amount to charlatanism, and so I disagree that the "movement" would survive the exposure of its charlatans.

I also disagree that these problems with transhumanism will "take care of themselves" -- precisely because the transcendentalizing and technocratic vocabularies mobilized by transhumanism have a deep and dangerous appeal -- to low-information people and rightly-worried vulnerable people all deeply anxious about rapid radical technodevelopmental change as well as to incumbent interests eager to deploy technoscientific development to consolidate their positions. These appeals are real -- and their reactionary political impacts are also real.

Feel free to bash these discrete entities all you want

Cheers, thanks, you can be sure I will.

Dale Carrico said...

The last time I heard this argument was 1900. Today its tempered by principles like "self direction" and "open society", two of the Extropian principles.

You weren't alive in 1900. "Extropian principles" of "self-direction" and "open society" are desperate ass-covering rhetoric the actual meaning of which can be discerned in the substance of extropian caveats about democracy, extropian triumphalist handwaving about "no limits!" (which is inevitably actually an expression of the faith of the privileged that there will always be other people around to clean up "our" messes for "us"), extropian corporatist consultancy gigs, "Pro-actionary" anti-democratic big-industrial developmental models, and dead-ender shilling for libertopian and reductionist "theory" in extropian discourse to this day. Sorry if you were foolish enough to buy their line, but it's not too late for you to see sense.

Do you disapprove of discourse, or just the potential negative impact you see?

I'm not sure I grasp the distinction you are proposing here.

What are your thoughts on nootropics, PDAs, and wireless communication,

Which ones, developed under what circumstances, impacting what people in what ways?

and how do you see relationship between any of these technologies and enhancement?

Enhancement is always -- enhancement in the service of some end among others, as desired by some people among others who desire otherwise. One cannot speak of the relationships between technologies and enhancements without specifying the ends and the stakeholders involved. Technocentrics habitually fail to do so -- indeed often seem to pride themselves on refusing to do so -- and their analyses tend in consequence to be obfuscatory, facile oversimplifications, prone to hype, especially attractive to True Believers rather than critical thinkers, and so on.

peco said...

Is preventing the opposite of enhancement (something that is obviously not enhancement, like suffering extreme pain) enhancement? Many things are clearly bad, and some people don't want to stop them (the obviously bad things). This isn't unique to transhumanism, though.

There are other things that make it easier (or possible) to do certain things (I'm being intentionally vague). Some of them (reproductive cloning, artificial uteri, etc.) are not possible now, but they are definitely possible. Most people do not support those things.

(that might not be coherent--tl;dr: many people support stem cell research and abortion, but not cloning and (human) genetic engineering. Cloning and genetic engineering don't exist, but they are definitely possible. Stem cell research and abortion (especially abortion) are good because they let people do more things. Cloning and genetic engineering also let people do more things, so they should be developed too. Support for cloning and human genetic engineering is unique to transhumanism.