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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Transhumanism As a Minuet of Truisms and Delusions

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Anonymous" wonders:
Would you agree with the critics who argue that transhumanism is a form of neo-Gnosticism?


I would agree with the critics who point out that the things transhumanists believe are either:
(a) truisms you don't have to join a robot cult to believe

(things like: that humans are conditioned in deep, definitive ways by the historical circumstances, social, cultural, artifactual in which they live, as everybody in the humanities has known for centuries, and that, properly so-called, progress is both a technical and political struggle, as most contemporary secular progressive democrats will also already tell you)

or
(b) palpably false and even flabbergastingly silly ideas that only somebody dumb or panicky enough to join a robot cult would ever fall for

(things like: that somebody -- maybe quite soon! -- will create "intelligence" without a brain and then invest a Robot God with superintelligence that will solve all our problems for us, and that somebody -- maybe quite soon! -- will invent a way to make all the right people invulnerable and immortal by turning "us" into software and plugging into imperishable robot bodies or networks, and that somebody -- maybe quite soon! -- will create swarms of nanobots that will cater to our every wish and make all conflict a thing of the past).

Not to mention, transhumanism too often amounts to a variety of eugenicism, which may be even worse than the robot cult problem.

Pondering whether or not transhumanism looks neo-gnostic once we assume a vantage of sufficient abstraction above it looks to me true enough as far as it goes, but to be less useful when all is said and done than simply noticing that wherever transhumanism is not peddling itself as reasonable by re-inventing various wheels to no good purpose it tends instead to be advocating batshit crazy nonsense, and some of it in the service of ugly authoritarian notions.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

But how can your judgement ever be trusted when one finds out how eloquent a spokesperson for transhumanism you were in 2003?

http://web.archive.org/web/20040202050559/www.betterhumans.com/Features/Columns/Progressive_Futures/column.aspx?articleID=2004-01-05-2

How do we know your current progressive positions are not errors in judgements that you will eventually regret and become critical of to the point we start forgetting that you once held and defended them?

Aren't you forever... compromised?

Dale Carrico said...

Nobody would regard me as "compromised" as a critic of transhumanism who wasn't already looking desperately for an excuse to so discount me in advance, for whatever reason.

The subtitle of that published article to which you refer was not my own, but my editor's, and I think it is a fairly flabbergasting stretch to claim that in that article even as it was eventually published I come across as "an eloquent spokesperson for transhumanism."

That piece was culled, by the way, from an MA thesis written in 1995 in which I was already critical of the notion of singularity and extropian transhumanism. The column you are referencing was actually preceded by one in which I argued against "transcendent" conceptions of technodevelopment, my first extended critique of superlativity. The extended version appeared on Amor Mundi as Transformation Not Transcendence and I welcome you to compare that version with the shorter, more edited, version that was published as a column under the same title. Two essays entitled "The Trouble With Transhumanism" appeared in that same publication by me that same year.

Ooh... how "compromised!"

Here is the extended essay that was edited to become the column you believe to represent transhumanist cheerleading.

My skepticism and criticism of transhumanism has been very consistent and one need only actually follow the links in question and read the positions delineated in them -- rather than taking your word for it, treating your insinuations as evidence, as you no doubt hope -- to see that is the case.

The closest I ever really came to treating transhumanism sympathetically arose from my efforts to be generous with a transhumanist-identified person named James Hughes with whom I disagreed about transhumanism but regarded as a friend. I suppose no good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes. Certainly I regret blunting some of my public statements for fear of causing Hughes difficulties, especially since even their blunted forms (in which it wasn't really that difficult to discern my skepticism and criticism about superlativity in any case) caused him problems anyway and lead to a break between us that felt pretty ugly to me.

I recommend that people actually read the actual arguments before they twist themselves into pretzels in which relentless very public criticism for years of superlative technocentrism is somehow accepted as representing advocacy of the opposite instead.

I would very much like to hear who you are, Brave "Anonymous," to know better what might be motivating this effort at doing a number on a very longstanding high profile critic of Robot Cultists like transhumanists, singularitarians, extropians, techno-immortalists, and other assorted futurological nuts.

AnneC said...

The whole idea of someone being "compromised" is silly anyway. People are allowed to grow, learn, and change their minds.

I don't consider myself forever sullied because I used to not only call myself a transhumanist but was on the WTA Board of Directors (though honestly I really didn't know what I was getting into at the time and I'm glad I got out when I did). Why should I? What purpose would that serve? If anything I am happy to serve as an example of how, no, changing your mind about something isn't the end of the world, and how no, one's (emphemeral?) subcultural associations need not define one for life, nor does anyone owe fealty to something they find interesting for a while until they realize it's not quite what they thought it was (at which point it can become "interesting" in other ways, but I digress).

jimf said...

> The closest I ever really came to treating transhumanism sympathetically
> arose from my efforts to be generous with a transhumanist-identified person
> named James Hughes with whom I disagreed about transhumanism but regarded
> as a friend. I suppose no good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.
> Certainly I regret blunting some of my public statements for fear of causing
> Hughes difficulties, especially since even their blunted forms (in which it
> wasn't really that difficult to discern my skepticism and criticism about
> superlativity in any case) caused him problems anyway and led to a break
> between us that felt pretty ugly to me.

That is sad, but it highlights, does it not, how social bonds make
it well-nigh impossible for people to extricate themselves from cults
(or mainstream religions, for that matter, though the phenomenon is
a fortiori one of the particular characteristics of cults) which they've
joined and come to rely on for social support (let alone the ones who've
been born into such a belief system, and have never known anything
else).

What a f*cked-up trade off -- "love" and "friendship" at the cost of
independence of mind.

I've been a loner all my life, and I take an almost unholy pleasure
in burning bridges when I have to, though of course that attitude has costs
of its own.

But to read Ellen Plasil on what it cost for her to break with
Objectivism, or John Duignan on what it cost to break with Scientology,
or all the accounts on YouTube on what it costs people to break
away from Mormonism (because they're gay) -- Christ, what a f*cked-up
world.