Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Monday, January 05, 2009
Yes!Trons Defending "The Transhumanist Core" from the HumanityPlusTrons
A manifesto has been published by denizens of one of the sub-basements of the already basement universe of Transhumanist Sub(cult)ure, this one called The Order of Cosmic Engineers. I think their motto is something along the lines of "We do more Cosmic Engineering in an afternoon while reading dogeared sf and eating Cheetos in our undergarments than you mehums will do in a lifetime!" or something to that effect.
I keed! I keed!
Come what may, the manifesto is entitled YES! to Transhumanism and it seems to be very angry with certain transhumanists who are saying NO! to transhumanism through their efforts to behave like "nice, soft spoken, moderate, ethical, responsible and politically correct quasi-mainstream social clubs." Henceforth, I will call the Cosmic Engineers who approve the manifesto the Yes!Trons, since they say Yes! to! Transhumanism! as against, I suspect, the transhumanist-identified folks at the World Transhumanist Association who recently re-branded themselves (one must admit, rather hilariously) "Humanity +" and whom I like to call, in consequence, "HumanityPlusTrons."
One is left, to be sure, a bit flabbergasted at the characterization of any transhumanists as "moderate" or "politically correct" given the whole let's freeze our brains while awaiting the Robot God to immortalize us in a cyberspatial paradise "program" that most transhumanists favor, at least in broad-strokes, when they aren't busy advocating neoliberal eugenicism and big industrial technofixes to industry-caused climate catastrophe in the meantime. But I do suppose it is nice (not to mention amusing) to find confirmation that even in the futurological funhouse one can observe the usual sectarian squabbles that characterize human, all too human, organizational efforts more generally.
I especially like the part in the Yes!Tron Manifesto in which the Cosmic Engineers briefly genuflect in the direction of "complex scientific, technical, cultural, moral, societal and political challenges to deal with. They require careful assessment, planning, and leadership. These challenges need to be met head on with due courage, forbearance, focused attention, rationality, compassion, empathy and wisdom. We must and will continue to do our best to overcome them. We will persevere to mitigate their potential and actual dangers, while safeguarding the maximizing of their potential and actual benefits." Funny (and not funny ha ha) how none of these problems are actually specified, how no suggestion of the ways in which they will be "mitigated" are suggested (Yes! to! Leadership! Yes! to! Wisdom!), how they never return as concerns once they have been hastily mentioned and shunted to the side the better for the eager Yes!Trons to move on to bigger and better things (sooper brains! imperishable robot bodies! hott virtual sex!), how they make no effort to even pretend that these concerns have anything to do with what actually matters to them at their own trasnhumanistical "core." I suppose it would be too "politically correct" and HumanityPlusTronic to hope for more on this score.
Quite apart from all that is actually batshit crazy about the Yes!Tron Manifesto, I have to say that what I find really striking about it is how content free it finally manages to be, especially given how convinced its authors seem to be that something really radical is going on here. "Transhumanists have always sought personal improvement; to free themselves from all the limitations of biology; to radically upgrade their mental and physical faculties; and to beat a path to the stars."
I get it -- what we have here is the usual posthumanistical catnip combination of capitalist motivational speaking conjoined to a little Western body loathing conjoined to millennial escapist fantasy. In a nutshell, in space nobody will have to poop.
But weird as all that is, it isn't actually all that substantial when all is said and done. I mean, are these "ideas" exactly, let alone radical ones? Honestly, quite apart from their wrongheadedness, is it intellectually interesting in the least to, like, dislike ageing and death? And don't, for heaven's sake, ask what concrete forms this Yes!Tronic "seeking" to get all post-biological and post-planetary have actually taken in the actual world -- inasmuch as they almost surely mean nothing more earthshattering than reading the yellowing pages of paperback space opera and taking multivitamins and the occasional recreational herb.
Although the manifesto protests that the Yes!Trons are grand defenders of the Old Tyme Transhuman Religion, it isn't at all clear what this Core they are defending really consists of, especially considering the way transhumanists get all fired up about what a Philosophy and Movement and Culture and all that they are supposed to so radically and so uniquely and so revolutionarily to represent.
As far as I can tell, the "Transhumanist Core" defended by the Yes!Trons consists of the expression of a rhetorical question: "Wouldn't it be nice if we could, like, live forever like glamorous sexy rich people in some glamorous sexy beachside resort or, you know, its Oort Cloud analogue or whatever?" And then, there follows something like a "program," admittedly a bit lacking in particulars: "Maybe science will somehow deliver all that, maybe even, like, you know, really soon! (Science fiction, science fiction, science fiction, science fiction...)" And then, finally, there is the crucial -- I do believe actually definitive -- expression of uncritical enthusiasm: "Wouldn't that be teh awesome? And aren't we teh awesome too for thinking so?"
Would somebody please explain to me how this fairly infantile and idiotic attitude constitutes, of all things, a "philosophy" worthy of the name, let alone a novel or unique perspective in the post-Enlightenment era West? Few people are particularly thrilled at the prospect of a painful ageing process followed by death, after all, and few would deny that it's nice to have nice things.
But how far beyond this do the transhumanists really sensibly manage to get? They do have a whole lot to say about how lovely nanobotic genie-in-a-bottle desktop anything machines would be, and how bad it would be if goo ate the world, and how they would be first in line to be therapized into getting model-hott athletic bodies and genius brains should the relevant science swing the feat, but it isn't exactly clear why sane people are expected to treat their wishfulfillment fantasies as philosophical insights or policy-recommendations whereas the wish-fulfillment fantasies in this vein discussed on the whole more interestingly in any group of geeks enthusing over their favorite science fiction novels, or even, one fears, in the ruminations of an eleven year old's scribbling in My First Diary -- the one with Chococat on the cover -- are rightly treated as, you know, not policy-recommendations at all. How this Yes!Tronic sort of thing rises to the level of a "worldview" or "movement," quite aside from what is actually problematic to the point of incoherence about it on closer scrutiny, is completely beyond me.
I must say, even given the low bar I set for Robot Cultists in general, the Yes!Tron sect seems even more than usually dim.