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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two Variations of Contemporary Eugenicist Politics

The discourse of Medical Enhancement, to the extent that it contains the presumption that incumbent interests or certain self-appointed technocratic or biomoralist elites are authorized to designate what constitutes an "enhanced" human capacity, morphology, or lifeway, whatever the expressed wants of informed, nonduressed consenting persons might say to the contrary, constitutes in my view either an actual or aspirational Eugenic Outlook. So-called "transhumanists," who would engineer an optimal idealized postulated homo superior with which they presently identify at the cost of a dis-identification with the free and diverse homo sapiens with whom they actually share the world are advocating a de facto eugenicist politics.

The discourse of Medical Preservationism, to the extent that it contains the presumption that incumbent interests or certain self-appointed biomoralist elites are authorized to designate what constitutes a "normal" or "natural" human capacity, morphology, or lifeway that must be protected and insulated from change, whatever the expressed wants of informed, nonduressed consenting persons might say to the contrary, constitutes in my view either an actual or aspirational Eugenic Outlook as well. So-called "bioconservatives," who would ban safe, wanted, but non-normalizing therapies in an effort to "preserve" a static idealized postulated homo naturalis with which they presently identify at the cost of a dis-identification with the free and dynamic homo sapiens with whom they actually share the world are likewise advocating a de facto eugenicist politics.

What is wanted in my view is a politics that will shore up the scene of informed, nonduressed consent in therapeutic contexts, and celebrate the proliferation of wanted human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways that will be sure to eventuate from such a consensual scene. Against the eugenicism of the elitist "optimizers" and the eugenicism of the elitist "preservationists," I propose the alternative of a more informed, nonduressed consensual secular democratic multiculture.

20 comments:

Michael Anissimov said...

Transhumanists do not advocate any particular enhanced Homo superior. We merely wish for people to be allowed to make their own choices about enhancement. All the transhumanist literature argues this. There is no compulsion one way or the other.

I doubt that erecting H+ straw men and knocking them down will get you many new readers, or much respect from existing readers.

In summary: more negative attacks, more lack of attention, except from a few transhumanists with the stomach to follow this.

De Thezier said...

Michael Anissimov said:

Transhumanists do not advocate any particular enhanced Homo superior. We merely wish for people to be allowed to make their own choices about enhancement. All the transhumanist literature argues this. There is no compulsion one way or the other.

Anne Corwin's reply to this argument:

It isn't about specific people stating outright that they want to impose 2007-sensibility-informed optimality standards on others, it's more about a general set of largely-unexamined assumptions that in effect reinforce normativity even while those who hold them claim to be in favor of self-determination and the disregarding of norms.

Dale Carrico said...

And Anne is being generous.

In excoriating "disability extremists" in the non-hearing community who don't think they only lose for their differences from normal morphology or among perfectly functional and marvelous but non-neurotypical folks and so on many transhumanists make their optimality policing quite clear. The argument that non-human animals call out for an emancipatory "uplifting" into human sentience simply by virtue of not possessing it is another exhibition of their "stealthy" optimality standards.

I'll believe "transhumanists" who claim to advocate consensual therapeutic multiculture when more of them show anything like real concern about the ways in which savagely unequal distributions of authority, resources, reliable information, and legal redress duress the actually existing scene of consent in the present and propose as part of their presumed championing of consent to address these deficiencies with a strong defense of universal basic income and health care, a respect for democratic outcomes even when these frustrate the pace of development by their lights, and a celebration of actual diversity rather than idealized outcomes in their rhetoric.

I'll believe "transhumanists" really believe in people making their own choices about "enhancement" when fewer of them advocate free market feudalism, and fewer of those who know better stop choosing such feudalists as their political allies.

Just because "transhumanists" won't admit to themselves the implications of their expressed convictions or of their associations with problematic allies doesn't make those of us who see more clearly and testify to the results promoters of "straw men." The overabundant majority of people see "transhumanists" and "Singularitarians" as Robot Cultists and corporatist shills without any need for help from the likes of me.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "upliftig non-human animals": Just the day before yesterday I came across this interview of J. Hughes with George Dvorsky. I think it's a nice conversation whether you agree with the expressed views or not.

Modifying Apes to Become Citizens

FrF

AnneC said...

In excoriating "disability extremists" in the non-hearing community who don't think they only lose for their differences from normal morphology or among perfectly functional and marvelous but non-neurotypical folks and so on many transhumanists make their optimality policing quite clear. The argument that non-human animals call out for an emancipatory "uplifting" into human sentience simply by virtue of not possessing it is another exhibition of their "stealthy" optimality standards.

Yeah. And I've been uncomfortable with that "optimality policing" ever since I noticed it. It was sort of shocking to discover it, because initially I honestly thought, "Wow, here are a bunch of folks who could be allies in the move to embrace existing diversity, seeing as they want to proliferate even more diversity (via modification, etc.) in the future." But while there are a few (in the population of interest to this discussion) whose views overlap more or less with mine, there are far more (or so it seems) who maintain and even defend their eugenics-tinged unexamined assumptions about what kinds of lives are truly "worth living".

When I first encountered the "animal uplift" thing, I had no clue its advocates were as utterly serious as they apparently are. I figured the whole thing to be a sort of philosophical thought experiment -- one that reminded me strongly of a Star Trek plotline. If that's all it was, I'd not have an issue with it, but it seems that in some pro-uplift arguments, there's actually a really weird underlying reactionary assumption of earth's life as hierarchical, with "Man" at the pinnacle. Smacks of "white man's burden" stuff, too.

What I think is that anyone who thinks it's okay to invasively modify the brain of a bonobo to "make it more human-like" should instead volunteer to undergo a procedure to make their brain more "bonobo-like" (in order to establish better communication with the bonobos). And if the person doesn't like that idea -- if they see it as too big of a risk, or as a "loss" of something fundamentally intrinsic to who they are -- well, then, they might want to re-think their position with regard to modifying other creatures.

peco said...

I'll believe "transhumanists" who claim to advocate consensual therapeutic multiculture when more of them show anything like real concern about the ways in which savagely unequal distributions of authority, resources, reliable information, and legal redress duress the actually existing scene of consent in the present and propose as part of their presumed championing of consent to address these deficiencies with a strong defense of universal basic income and health care, a respect for democratic outcomes even when these frustrate the pace of development by their lights, and a celebration of actual diversity rather than idealized outcomes in their rhetoric.

In excoriating "disability extremists" in the non-hearing community who don't think they only lose for their differences from normal morphology or among perfectly functional and marvelous but non-neurotypical folks and so on many transhumanists make their optimality policing quite clear.

You engage in "optimality policing" when talking about societies... (so do I)

I think being non-neurotypical is bad because non-neurotypical people are less happy. I don't think being non-neurotypical is intrinsically bad. I think being non-white/Asian/Jewish is probably bad because non-white/Asian/Jewish people are probably less happy (they earn less money, anyway). I don't think non-whites/Asians/Jews are inferior to whites/Asians/Jews. I think it would be better if there was only one culture (not necessarily mine), but it doesn't mean my culture is better.

(etc.)

peco said...

(I think enhancement is whatever makes the person being enhanced more happy, whether they want to be "enhanced" or not)

AnneC said...

I think being non-neurotypical is bad because non-neurotypical people are less happy.

Says who?! I'm non-neurotypical (autistic spectrum) and my blog is called "Existence is Wonderful". What a horribly simplistic statement.

I'm one of the happiest people I know, and some of the things that make me happy are directly related to being non-neurotypical.

Please watch those unexamined assumptions. You have no clue what it's like to live with a brain like mine, so don't pretend you do, and don't try to make decisions on behalf of people like me based on your own ignorant, self-satisfied notions of who is capable of being maximally happy.

Dale Carrico said...

What I think is that anyone who thinks it's okay to invasively modify the brain of a bonobo to "make it more human-like" should instead volunteer to undergo a procedure to make their brain more "bonobo-like" (in order to establish better communication with the bonobos). And if the person doesn't like that idea -- if they see it as too big of a risk, or as a "loss" of something fundamentally intrinsic to who they are -- well, then, they might want to re-think their position with regard to modifying other creatures.

Beautiful! I think this is an excellent argument, Anne.

Dale Carrico said...

peco: I think enhancement is whatever makes the person being enhanced more happy, whether they want to be "enhanced" or not

You don't have to join a Robot Cult to value "the pursuit of happiness" enshrined by the Founders. If you want to defend autonomy and consent, then defend them. Talk of "enhancement" contributes nothing to the discussion and enables eugenic discourses of which you probably rightly disapprove.

Dale Carrico said...

Cut the crap, peco. Having preferences and arguing for them with good reasons isn't an "optimality" discourse in the actual sense I've been using it here, where optimality refers very particularly to those who would police wanted human lifeway diversity in the service of more parochial characterizations of hygiene, competitiveness, or what have you. Defending consent doesn't require me to become indifferent or insensible to all outcomes. Please try to keep your eye on the ball.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm one of the happiest people I know, and some of the things that make me happy are directly related to being non-neurotypical.

Please watch those unexamined assumptions. You have no clue what it's like to live with a brain like mine, so don't pretend you do, and don't try to make decisions on behalf of people like me based on your own ignorant, self-satisfied notions of who is capable of being maximally happy.


Keep on rocking the free world, Anne!

Amor Mundi ("for love of the world" -- not so different as sentiments go from "existence is wonderful" come to think on it) is a No Neurotypicality-Bigotry Zone!

To value lifeway diversity and human equity as people of the secular progressive democratic left in an era of therapeutic multiculture demands neither pretensions to optimality nor to normality, but always only the struggle for more informed, nonduressed consent, peer to peer.

peco said...

Anne: I said that non-neurotypical people on average are less happy. If they aren't, then I could use some other example.

You have no clue what it's like to live with a brain like mine, so don't pretend you do, and don't try to make decisions on behalf of people like me based on your own ignorant, self-satisfied notions of who is capable of being maximally happy.

Yes, I do. I'm also non-neurotypical (autistic spectrum, too), and many of the things that make me unhappy/frustrated are directly related to being non-neurotypical.

Cut the crap, peco. Having preferences and arguing for them with good reasons isn't an "optimality" discourse in the actual sense I've been using it here, where optimality refers very particularly to those who would police wanted human lifeway diversity in the service of more parochial characterizations of hygiene, competitiveness, or what have you. Defending consent doesn't require me to become indifferent or insensible to all outcomes. Please try to keep your eye on the ball.

... (I agree with this paragraph now)

AnneC said...

peco, I didn't miss the "on average" thing. I just disagree that it means very much, even if it's true. Trying to assert "average group happiness" as a gauge for the goodness/badness of an essentially neutral variation in this way is, well, dumb. I'm sick of people thinking that prejudice isn't worth fighting because "technology" might grant us a means to homogenize the population more at some point.

sedicious said...

I have to agree with Michael, that your characterization of transhumanists here goes too far. Yes, they generally believe that they can improve the human condition, but I know very few who have ever proposed involuntary modifications. Or even have it in mind that very many people might continue to not opt in once they've seen the results...

Elitist, self-serving, hubristic, even deluded, sure, I'll accept those characterizations. But eugenicist, no, that's not fair. It's just shrill, and erodes your credibility.

If you want to point out that transhumanists tend to have this naive prejudice about what is "enhancement" and what is not, then fine, point that out. Why confuse the issue by making it out to be more than that?

Dale Carrico said...

I have to agree with Michael, that your characterization of transhumanists here goes too far.

Have I gone too far? Aunt Pittypat, my smelling salts! :)

Yes, they generally believe that they can improve the human condition, but I know very few who have ever proposed involuntary modifications.

It is not only those who go so far as to actively advocate involuntary modification who are typically described as eugenicist in my understanding. There are pressures beneath the threshold of conspicuous coercion that will yield eugenic effects. In my view the very idea of a discourse of morphological or lifeway "improvement" in the abstract -- rather than and apart from a discourse of actually diverse actually wanted informed nonduressed consensual therapeutic interventions -- is dangerously eugenic in its implications.

By the way, like most progressives, I too believe that people can solve shared problems together and enrich the world through creative expressivity. One doesn't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate progress and freedom and the improvement of current conditions. Indeed, very few do or ever will. I'm just saying.

[M]any people might continue to not opt in once they've seen the results...

In my view the very idea of "opt[ing] in" -- presumably to the transhumanist "program" of prosthetic "improvement" -- contains the kernel of fascism.

Elitist, self-serving, hubristic, even deluded, sure, I'll accept those characterizations.

Do you accept their implications as well?

But eugenicist, no, that's not fair.

Oh, pish posh. You've arbitrarily accepted a too-restrictive conception of what can count as eugenics and then pretend everybody else agrees with that conception. Certainly programs of involuntary medical intervention constitute the most catastrophic and heartbreaking end of the eugenicist spectrum, but one can easily observe homogenizing and restrictive effects of popular misinformation, social stigma, mass mediated norms, uncritical and inertial workings of orthodox institutional healthcare mechanisms, and so on...

Not everybody needs, as some transhumanists apparently do, to literally see a Nazi cracking a whip in the service of genocide before they will grant that even now society is conspiring unnecessarily and at great human cost to cast certain perfectly liveable and dignified and legible human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways as less-than-human, as offenses to humanity demanding remedy whatever those who incarnate them might have to say in the matter, and so on.

It's just shrill, and erodes your credibility.

With whom? Singularitarians? Fine with me.

If you want to point out that transhumanists tend to have this naive prejudice about what is "enhancement" and what is not, then fine, point that out.

Oh, I will.

Why confuse the issue by making it out to be more than that?

I daresay not everybody is as confused as all that about the argument I'm making.

sedicious said...

By the way, like most progressives, I too believe that people can solve shared problems together and enrich the world through creative expressivity. One doesn't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate progress and freedom and the improvement of current conditions. Indeed, very few do or ever will. I'm just saying.

You seem to have gotten the impression that I am a transhumanist myself. But no, the reason I've begun following your blog is that I have always disliked the transhumanist banner, and would very much like to see somebody burst their bubble.

But there's a big difference between misguided and misanthropic, and blurring them together is counter-productive in the extreme. Obviously, it alienates the merely misguided who might otherwise be willing to listen to what you have to say, and perhaps learn something. But what's much worse than that is, "crying wolf" too readily will lead to your voice being discounted, as just that hysterical Carrico spouting off again.

And there are genuine eugenicists still about in the world, just as there are genuine fascists. And all-too-frequent references to Nazis in online debates has made most people simply dismiss any comparison of an administration to Nazis out of hand, not only when it was hyperbolic, but also now when we actually have been sliding toward genuine fascism, and trying to sound a real alarm. Let's not similarly start diluting the charge of eugenicism, shall we?

sedicious said...

[E]ven now society is conspiring unnecessarily and at great human cost to cast certain perfectly liveable and dignified and legible human capacities, morphologies, and lifeways as less-than-human, as offenses to humanity demanding remedy whatever those who incarnate them might have to say in the matter, and so on.

But I thought we were talking about transhumanism? Why does it seem to me you're barking up the wrong tree here?

AnneC said...

sedicious, it isn't "just" about transhumanism. Transhumanism isn't an island; transhumanists are first and foremost individuals who, whether they want to acknowledge it or not, are at least in part products of the culture in which they are embedded.

Eugenicist attitudes don't "come from" transhumanism so much as show up in it like herpetic ulcers on occasion. Mass culture contains the infection; subcultures simply reveal it at various times and in various ways.

Transhumanists are an interesting paradox -- given how many transhumanist-identified folks claim to value individual choice, morphological freedom, cognitive liberty, and the right to adopt non-normative functionalities in the direction of what is personally perceived as "enhancement", you'd think that there would be a de-facto and practically universal understanding that some folks may choose lifeways and configurations that others never would.

But there isn't. And sometimes there's something that looks curiously like the precise opposite. And that's disturbing, and well worth rooting out and examining.

jfehlinger said...

Anne Corwin wrote:

> It isn't about specific people stating outright that
> they want to impose 2007-sensibility-informed optimality
> standards on others, it's more about a general set of
> largely-unexamined assumptions that in effect reinforce
> normativity even while those who hold them claim to be
> in favor of self-determination and the disregarding of norms.

In the Superlative limit (disregarding for a moment the
silliness of injecting superlativity into serious contemporary
policy discussions -- I'm speaking in SF salon-mode now),
the "2007-sensibility-informed optimality" assumption makes
the hysteria surrounding the necessity of making AI "Friendly TM"
(by "2007-[or 1957]-sensibility-informed" standards)
rather fatuous and risible.

It really bursts the bubble for me. C'mon, guys, decent
SF authors do better than that!

> [T]here's actually a really weird underlying reactionary
> assumption of earth's life as hierarchical, with "Man" at
> the pinnacle.

Yep. However really weird it is, it was, BTW, the party line
of the Ayn Randian "Objectivists" (anything else would betoken
a "malevolent sense of life" or worse).

It's also congruent with a kind of personality (not necessarily
outright Narcissistic Personality Disorder but somewhere on
the "spectrum") that can't imagine anything better than,
well, (as Miss Piggy would say), "moi".

Some people in the Amway rah-rah "dynamic optimism"
Seven Pillars of Self Esteem Tony Robbins on TV looks
mahvelous dahling uptone lets hype each other into mania
lifestyle think this is a Good Thing (even maybe a
Necessary Thing, if you're to be judged to deserve the
air you breathe). I do not. But that's an old debate.
Cf. William James, in _The Varieties of Religious Experience_
("The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness" and "The Sick Soul").