ddjango wrote, much abridged:
I confess to a deep queasiness when I read transhumanist tracts. Vinge's claim that he forsees "the end of humanity as we know it" sparks despair…. Much transhumanism has a eugenic flavor and agenda. They speak of "human enhancement", so they're talking about building some sort of pure, man/robot super race.
Within limits, human enhancement can be a good thing… without my medications I would be very sick. But I'm suspicious of what science might include as enhancement. I have seen talk of a human brain, without a natural body, controlling a sophisticated robot… I opt out, thank you.
Your most salient point is that we must "democratize" this. I agree, but have no expectation that democratization will occur. The rise of techno-fascism makes the question of "who chooses for whom" moot.
First off, I consider "humanity" an historical construction as much articulated by semiotic factors (like culture) as by material factors (like evolution) -- this isn't a distinction that holds up to every kind of scrutiny, of course, since I don't regard the semiotic as immaterial, by any means, but that's a side issue. What I want to get at here, is to say that if "humanity" is always articulated in history, then there is an important sense in which every moment of real freedom is a moment that constitutes an end of humanity as we know it, or better a collaborative re-making of what is possible and important when we make recourse to the prevailing but always contested idea, "humantiy."
I understand of course why one would feel despair -- or hilarity, or rage, or disgust, or embarrassment -- in grasping the profoundly unimaginative, disrespectful, exploitative, violent hopes and fears and desires that get registered by so many of the people who like to talk most about things like technology and science and medicine "changing humanity as we know it." But always remember that democracy's open futurity has a way of wreaking havoc with the sad, slick, sneaky variations on the theme of the futures pined after by those who put other ends ahead of democratization, peer-to-peer, of equity and diversity and consent.
To turn to another of your points, I want to reiterate that I personally think the word "enhancement" profoundly confuses the problems, stakes, and contests playing out in the emerging terrain of non-normativing healthcare practices.
"Enhancement" is not at all a neutral term, even though it seems well-pleased all too often to masquerade as one, since "enhancement" is always enhancement -- for whom? for what? at the cost of what?
Non-normativing healthcare demands a shift in the standards that would govern the equitable administration of medicine: We are shifting away from, on the one hand, the universality of "normal-function" or "optimal-function" -- arising out of the scientific ethos of consensus, a sign of which is the shared recourse to evidence, as much in instances of falsification of some prevailing consensus as in substantiating ones. And all the while we are shifting toward, on the other hand, the legibility of actually-informed actually-nonduressed consent in the service of therapeutic self-determination -- arising out of the ethical ethos of consent, a sign of which is dissensus, the political (and, if properly political, then non-violent) clash of opinions. Even after this shift is more fully consolidated, of course, healthcare would always remain in an interesting, actually constitutive, dialectic with the still universalizing "do no harm," but the shift itself is still an enormously transformative. It's no wonder that "authoritative" discourse is quite as befuddled as "popular" discourse as it comes to grips with this shift, and tries to re-order its priorities and re-frame its concerns in light of the shift as it is presently messily playing out in the lives and hopes and pain and healing of actual human lives.
I talk about the politics of prosthetic self-determination elsewhere, and I talk about what it is that makes transhumanist and bioconservative discourses both so eugenic in their thrust, despite their interesting differences, elsewhere too.
I agree that a democratization of the distribution of costs, risks, and benefits of emerging -- usually incredibly ill-understood however promising -- therapeutic technique is the crucial thing in this moment of fraught ongoing change. I like to speak of the ways in which healthcare might become a key site for the emancipatory expression of consensual self-determination in a planetary multiculture. But there is no question that the more urgent ethical and political reality besetting us, peer-to-peer, is that healthcare in the corporate-militarist frame of neoliberal global developmentalism offers up instead the ghastly inversion of such prosthetic self-determination, emerging ever more as a site in which millions of impoverished, transitory, migratory, vulnerable, malnourished, misinformed, threatened human (and nonhuman) beings bear the most obliterative imaginable brunt of their precarity as "experimental subjects" in the service of efficient healthcare administration yielding well-tested, least-costly "optimalities" for the privileged beneficiaries of the unspeakably violent, racist, patriarchal corporate-militarist order.
You say you "have no expectation that democratization will occur," and your worries about a "rise of techno-fascism" are certainly well-taken. I don't expect you will be reassured much by a wan reminder that we must struggle for democracy rather than hoping for it or counting on it, even though that is true. I will say that my adult life has been lived in the neoliberal shadow of Reagan-Thatcher-Bush, of market fundamentalist idiocies championed as stunning insights by elite discourse even as they reduced the world to shit and ruin and heartbreak. I know what you mean when you speak about "techno-fascism" -- and although the transhumanists and extropians and singularitarians and techno-immortalists and other superlative technocentrics I write about here often present particularly stunning variations on that theme in the flabbergasting baldness of their extremity, the truth is they've got nothing on the suave "mainstream" technocratic elitists of the corporate-militarist order, with their endlessly death-dealing Structural Adjustment Programs, Risk Vectors, Collateral Damage, and self-congratulatory commons capture stealthed as the culture of Entrepreneurial Innovation.
Nevertheless, I have personally never been more hopeful in my life, and Obama is less the reason for my hope than the iceberg tip, the symptom of my reasons for hope. I do believe that the bankruptcy of corporate-militarism has been fully exposed and rejected in the emergence of a planetary environmental politics while at the same time the proliferation of peer-to-peer formations for education, agitation, and organizing (concerning this very environmental politics among other things) have radically empowered the people of the world not only to demand but to enact change. This is not a call for democratization but its very substance.
Many virtuous circles arise out of these concomitant events: the radical undermining of the profitability and effectiveness of the industrial institutional landscape in which authoritarian politics have long flourished by means of the very peer-to-peer formations through which the anti-authoritarian politics that oppose them are being expressed, the elimination of the worst environmental culprits precisely through this ineffectiveness and unprofitability even as the more decentralized and appropriable alternatives connected to peer-to-peer formations lend themselves to sustainability (a billion solar rooftops rather than industrial elite nuclear plants or dirty coal -- and all coal is dirty -- mining; home organic gardens, localvorous agricultural distribution, and DIY info-networks as against industrial scorched-earth pertrochemical BigAg; flexible, multilateral diplomacy and scale-appropriate policing as against unilateral pre-emption, conscript armies -- including stealth conscription through artificial impoverishment and Drug War criminalization -- and WMD stockpiling; and so on), among many others.
And so, while I have no expectation that the necessary democratization will take place I do see signs everywhere of the substance of democratization playing out in the world all the while proliferating peer-to-peer formations facilitate ever more and more of this very democratization even as the institutional order of corporate-militarism is falling into ruin and disrepute.
Of course, the rich are enormously resourceful as always, incumbency has a lot of muscle at its disposal, reactionaries have the discipline and energy of desperation, and human beings are prone as ever to parochial and short-term thinking and, worse, to rationalizing the crimes and errors that eventuate from parochialism and short-term thinking. Climate catastrophe is at hand, resource descent and poverty-fueled pandemic vectors conjure the specter of mass extinction, world-ending WMD are proliferating, network-mediation of fundamentalist ideologies along with documentary evidence of unspeakable injustice yields permanent intractable social crisis. To be sure, things have never been more perilous.
Still, yeah, I'm hopeful.