You’re right that the word “transhumanism” does have some very odd, and very frequently negative connotations. However, I have only truly realized this fact over the past 2 months or so, when I started to meet other transhumanists (and see how much they and I truly differ). But after about two years of calling yourself something, it can be somewhat difficult to stop thinking of yourself in that way. So I guess that I call myself a transhumanist simply as a relic of my own stubbornness
Despite all of the above, even though I am a not a tremendous fan of the title “transhumanist,” it can still, however, be somewhat useful to call oneself something that has values somewhat similar to your own. For me, I have found it helpful to compartmentalize my beliefs, so using a word like transhumanist to describe myself is appealing. For instance, I would really hate to call myself a “space exploration enthusiast/powered exoskeleton junkie/life-extension hopeful/etc…” That’s just far too long for my tastes. It really is much easier to sum up all of that into one connotation-filled, four syllable word, even if it doesn’t quite fit the bill.
Getting back to what it actually means to be a transhumanist, I still think that it is a gross over-simplification to say that all, or nearly all, transhumanists are somehow robot-cult members. If I had to guess, the vast majority of them are somewhat like me, in that their views are quite non-extremist, and they’re just interested in the possible paths that technology will lead the human race down in both the near and distant future. I am, of course, excluding some people like Michael Anissimov (whose blog I still can’t seem to stop reading, even though many of his views are in stark contrast to mine) and Ray Kurzweil, whose views are quite decidedly extremist at best, and, put bluntly, scary at worst. I know that this is a cliché, but it is easy to make generalizations about an entire group of people based solely on its most vocal members, even though this will result in a skewed view of what the group actually believes. If it were up to me, I would shut up the vast majority of those people, since they have the ability to make people like me seem like disgusting eugenics-lovin’ people just because they might like to compartmentalize their views in a similar fashion to myself.
Look, I'm not going to delve too deep into your personal life, it's not really my business.
You say "it is a gross over-simplification to say that all, or nearly all, transhumanists are somehow robot-cult members." I honestly think you are missing the force of my point altogether. Nobody who does describably foolish or damaging things is exhaustively describable as a fool or a danger as a result. As witness, the dictator who is kind to puppies or the neglectful parent who is a fine teacher blah blah blah. I daresay we can all accept as a given that people are multifaceted beings, their identifications are always at once multiple and partial and (as a result) dynamic. And so on.
There is certainly nothing wrong with being a space enthusiast, some of my best friends are space enthusiasts, some of my best fucks were with space enthusiasts, it's cool, everything's gonna be all right. Now, I am an "enthusiast," I suppose, for ranked or instant runoff voting reform, but I do worry that narrating my selfhood through too deep an identification with colleagues in a club devoted to an educational and organizational campaign on the subject would serve no useful purpose while at once possibly signalling that my life had gone awry in a "get a life" way that wanted tending to.
When you call yourself a "transhumanist," though, you are in some mighty odd company, my friend, to put the point kindly, and it probably isn't a bad idea for you to understand that there are many other people who publicly so identify who see that declaration as an indication of participation in a "movement," a "subculture," a world-historical force, of membership or affiliation in organizations with published "principles" and programmatic manifestos that explain the world and offer their Believers the Keys to History and so on.
Most of these principles and formulations are the most arrant nonsense imaginable (I have earned that glib assertion through too many words of close analysis, most of which you can read, if you care to do, by clicking the topic anthologies that cap my blogroll), and since these "transhumanists" (and so on) are actually making arguments, well, I read them as such and expose what seem to me to be their mistaken assumptions, their problematic historical contexts, and their anti-democratizing implications wherever I see them.
Taking these readings personally doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but I don't doubt it is rather an inevitable result when people become less critical about certain beliefs of theirs as the price for organizing a defensive marginal identity out of them. Many of the champions of these ideas say truly ridiculous things over the course of championing them and I am not ashamed to admit that I do not hesitate to expose the ridiculous to ridicule where pretending it serious gives it a power it doesn't deserve and with which it can do real damage in the world.
As I have pointed out many times, "transhumanists" and "singularitarians" are, when all is said and done, a rather marginal sub(cult)ure that never seems to expand beyond a few thousand members or so and are quite self-marginaling in their discourse in a way that suggests this will remain the case for good.
It is mostly because they illustrate and symptomize in their extremity particularly clarifying expressions of characteristically reactionary tendencies to reductionism, scientism, millenialism, fetishism, elite technocratic anti-politicism, and (crypto-) eugenicism prevalent in technoscientific discourses more generally that I have devoted energy to analyzing them.
Also, it must be said, at the practical-institutional level of the Robot Cult archipelago of diffusely inter-related organizations, I believe that it pays to devote close attention to some of their corporate-militarist funders and allies and to the curiously disproportionate impact their published intellectuals have had in framing certain quandaries of disruptive technodevelopment -- for example, describing parochial biomedical preferences as neutral "enhancements," farcically modeling technoscientific change as the acceleration of the acceleration of "growth," providing a rhetorical afterlife in popular discourse and public policy to long dead facile reductionist and "cybernetic totalist" notions of intelligence, life, and public life, suggesting a social priority of terrorizing existential threats over more proximate and local ones, likewise an industrial-elite geoengineering priority over distributed-p2p alternatives for solutions to environmental problems, fostering a relentless dismissiveness about critical technoscientific perspectives arising out of the humanities, and so on and on and on. All of these themes unvaryingly unspool in ways that (whatever the professed politics of the writers themselves) have proved congenial in their overgenerality, in their technocratic elitism, in their fear-mongering and hype-notizing emotionalism, in their budgetary priorities, in their reductionism, sometimes (shockingly often given current disasters) in their explicit adherence to market libertarian formulations, and so on to neoliberal and neoconservative agendas I personally abhor, as should you if you ask me.
At the end of your comment you made what looked to me like a promising claim: "Getting back to what it actually means to be a transhumanist..." I was expecting or at any rate hoping an actual address of the questions I posed at the end of our last exchange would be forthcoming, an effort on your part to actually characterize this "transhumanism" you would adhere to despite being so appalled, it seems, by so many of its perfectly representative published figures.
You'll recall the questions, I'm sure? [One] Tell me anything at all that is clarified about a presumably desirable technodevelopmental outcome by adding to it the designation "transhumanist." [Two] Name one quality about an artifact that can only be clarified by describing that quality as "transhumanist." [Three] 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.
I still think you would benefit enormously in coming to terms with these questions. Instead of doing anything of the kind, though, you follow your declaration about what it means to be a "transhumanist" by pouting that I have painted a picture with broad brushstrokes that hurt your feelings. Look, the world is full of nice people, full of bright, complicated people, full of people who do as many splendid and harmless things as dangerously idiotic ones. We're not in the nursery here, you can assume that everybody participating in this conversation is well aware of such vacuities already. You're talking about an ideological system with published formulations and funded organizations with published agendas. If what is wanted is a critique of these notions and their impacts it is simply neither here nor there that their adherents were sensible enough to vote for Obama or are likable at cocktail parties or are kind to their pets. Keep your eye on the ball.