Quite a while ago I began an exchange with a techno-utopian "transhumanist-identified" person who seemed sufficiently ambivalent about that designation to be teachable. Here is the last of my replies to her or him or them, now too deep down the blog to easily scroll to, and hence beneath general attention unless you actually click the link to dredge the whole exchange.
We begin with the third of three questions I put to our ambivalent would-be Robot Cultist. The first two questions have been rightly and graciously conceded as devastating to the notion of "movement transhumanism" but my Anonymous interlocutor thinks one might still have a go at the third: Name one not crackpot belief common to most self-identified "transhumanists" that is not held by far more people who do not so self-identify.
Ah. This is the question that I now feel that I can answer satisfactorily. Put simply, it is the idea that the human condition is fundamentally, but not incurably, flawed, and that the only way to fix this is through the use of ridiculously advanced technology. From what I can tell, these flaws are as follows: death, disease, aging, stupidity, disability, the inability to sometimes communicate basic ideas with one another, not using all of the resources that are at our disposal, requiring a constant source of sustenance (food), weakness, and not being able to let one's mind focus on purely mental tasks. Every transhumanist that I have ever read about has expressed those ideas. I know that many other people share those same views as to Mankind's flaws, but transhumanists (to me) are the only ones that believe that technology provides the only, or best, means to fix these perceived problems. In my estimation, this belief is not crackpot. Misguided, probably. But not crackpot.
You will discover, via even a superficial survey of the record of human civilizations, that exasperation with the absurdity of mortality is a commonplace. But I think that to describe the constitutive finitude of the human condition as "flawed" is to imply a designer, a bad one, which I happen not to believe in at all -- indeed, I'll admit I find the find the notion of a perverse, or mean, or absentminded, or dumb Designer far more absurd, even insipid, than the condition of absurdity and heartbreak (and tender transformative promise, as it happens) bequeathed by the facts of our finitude…
But quite apart from all that jazz, and very much more to the point, the great works of medicine, education, artistic expression, and the helping professions are all of them already devoted to the work of ameliorating the vulnerabilities, diseases, humiliations, and ramifying ignorances human animals are so prone to.
You certainly don't need to join a Robot Cult to participate in any of these enterprises, and, I fear, the specific contributions of the brave boys of the futurological congress is mostly just to indulge in snide or hysterical wish fulfillment fantasies and then pout and stamp when grownups point out that far from making them scientific geniuses out to save the planet this tends instead to make them silly bores endlessly wasting time and confusing the issues at hand.
There actually is a more serious problem lurking in this formulation -- concerning the description of moral and aesthetic values (what counts as a disability? what do we take for stupid? what is it that is wanted from communication?) that are more properly conceived as the material of private perfection, as though they were susceptible of consensus in the way scientific descriptions provisionally are and ethical pronouncements formally are. This confusion fuels no small amount of the relentless reductionisms and whiffs of eugenicism that attach so indecorously to transhumanist formulations in the usual way that always plagues technocentric and techno-utopian discourses (a problem that is not, then, uniquely or even best addressed through a discussion of its transhumanist variant).
And so to speak more specifically of the Robot Cultists of transhumanism, singularitarianism, and the rest of the corporate-militarist Futurological Congress: Techno-immortalists, anti-political nanosanta cornucopiasts, cybernetic totalists ready to divest their informational "souls" of their meat encumbrances, and all those who pine or flutter over the coming of the Robot God are all of them, every one, awash in the most palpable and laughable crackpottery imaginable.
To the extent that this is what the Robot Cultists are on about, they are indeed crackpots. To the extent that they are just cooing their bland advocacy for medical research, technoscientific literacy, and a fairer more democratic distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of global technoscientific developments, well, then they're just secular social democrats like most intelligent decent people are and they'll find they're more apt to make a real difference in a real measure in the real world if they drop the self-delusions and the stupid crap. That is to say, unless the chief difference they are actually out to make is to attract attention to themselves through hyperbolic noisemaking the better to fleece a few vulnerable dumb-dumbs looking for a membership organization to order them around and tell them the meaning of life in exchange for cash. These Robot Cultists, bless them, are not just crackpots but cool frauds as well, indulging in a venerable all-American past-time.
As for the suave neoliberal assessors of "existential risks" one finds among transhumanists, who like to calculate the odds of asteroid impacts and chart the probable paths of bioengineered pathogens, they seem to be a minor sub-population who don't look to me to be crackpots (at least until they start treating the Robot God as an existential risk to be contemplated on a continuum with actual realities like tsunamis and illegal arms trafficking, or demanding we treat the proposition that we are inhabiting virtual reality as serious in a way that makes some kind of difference) so much as mostly self-appointed technocratic elitists looking to divert public monies into corporate-militarist coffers for industrial model solutions to political problem in what is instead a p2p epoch, so we'll leave them to the side. Most of them still hold to the crockpottery anyway, and the rest is just a sideline in assholery.