An "Anonymous" commenter responded in the Moot:
I've been reading your blog for quite some time, and every time you mentioned this I've always wanted to pipe up and say that I have never actually read about any transhumanists wanting to enhance humanity. Instead, I hear them talking about 'enhancing' themselves (whatever that entails -- it seems entirely reasonable that they want only to modify themselves to whatever manner they deem to be improvement). And, to me, there's absolutely nothing with this. If someone wants to do something to her own body, let her.
I just don't see [this] as being a fair criticism, since, as far as I know, there isn't anybody advocating for widespread 'improvement' of the human race. Though, I could very well be wrong -- I tend not to follow quacks too much
I advocate consensual prosthetic self-determination myself, after all, so I can't say I disapprove of folks seeking to change themselves, either, so long as they aren't under duress or unduly misinformed about risks and costs and benefits and so on. I take consensual prosthetic self-determination to be the usual Pro-Choice politics, simply elaborated to include both the right of all women to end their unwanted pregnancies safely as well as to facilitate wanted ones through assistive reproductive techniques, but also elaborated further to include a host of familiar civil libertarian positions on biomedical and lifeway issues concerning the self-determination of end-of-life conditions, informed consensual comparatively harmless recreational drug use, consensual body modification (cosmetic procedures, sexual reassignments, body modifications like tattoos and piercings and so on), and elaborated further still in the context of actually emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive interventions to affirm and protect the choices of sane competent adult citizens either to make recourse to or refrain from entering into emerging therapeutic regimes, whether they are normalizing or not, even when their eventual and combinatorial effects are imperfectly understood (as is usually the case after all), so long as participation is not under duress (where "duress" marks force, the threat of force, but also precarity: insecure legal status, the pressure of poverty, and the disruptions of war, pandemic, or catastrophic climate change), the decision to participate is informed (not compromised by fraud, secrecy, or misinformation), and the regime is regulated, transparent, and accountable. Inasmuch as I ultimately take all culture to be prosthetic and all prostheses to be culture I also believe a defense of consensual prosthetic self-determination to connect in the largest sense to the championing of access-to-knowledge and public education and the celebration of lifeway diversity and convivial consensual secular civilization.
However, it seems to me that far too many "transhumanists" (and so-called "liberal eugenicists" more generally, whether so described themselves -- as, incredibly, some do -- or taking up comparable descriptions -- "better humans," "humanity plus" -- or deserving of the moniker come what may) have a distressing tendency to describe as "objectively suboptimal" many capacities, morphologies and lifeways that are actually viable and wanted (deafness, neuro-atypicalities, among others) but which happen to fail to accord with their own parochial values.
Much desolating talk of "efficiency," "competitiveness," "performance" tends to get megaphoned where this sort of "enhancement" cheerleading is afoot, you can be sure. It is rather what you would expect, frankly, from a "movement" whose members so often seem to treat "Science Fiction plus Vegas plus self-esteem workshops plus nutritional supplement informercials" as equaling "civilization."
Especially charming I must say are the discussions of the ways in which "atypicalities" and "sub-optimalities" impose social costs that should not be borne by the more typical and more optimal, as well as the discussions which seem to pine for bodies transformed into interminable arms races of ever more enhanced competitiveness. Quite apart from the fact that one never quite knows how to square such puritanical frugality with the predictions these futurologists are endlessly making about the stunning techno- nano- robo- info- sooper-abundance that is always just around the corner if we will truly believe in it enough, one also has to wonder about all this hardboiled hard-edge hardcore utilitarian diversity policing just what kind of person thinks this would be a marvelous way to live one's life in this breezing buzzing befuddling bedazzling world of ours?
Even those "enhancement enthusiasts" who don't go so far as to advocate coercive implementation of their stainless-steel vision of post-human sooper-models, still collaborate in the denigration of perfectly legible actually wanted lifeways of present-peers while peddling facile visions of "better-humans" who I daresay would still know hardship and humiliation contrary to the glossy brochures.
It wouldn't be fair to say that every "transhumanist"-identified person is an explicit braying coercive eugenicist, certainly -- and I do not make, nor have I ever made, that claim. But I do think "enhancement" discourse is saturated with implicit eugenicist assumptions (often under-interrogated by more or less well-meaning or at any rate deluded advocates) and unwarrantedly intolerant consequences.
What is troublesome in so much of this "enhancement" discourse is the suggestion that viable wanted difference parochially designated "suboptimal" translates inevitably to inequity, that disapproved difference is dis-ease, and that ideally a commitment to justice demands arriving at homogeneity via medical intervention peddled as the arrival at an "optimality" that inevitably reflects very parochial prejudices concerning what human beings should look like and be like and what we are for.
It is not surprising to stumble upon suggestions even from "liberal" and insistently anti-authoritarian enhancement-enthusiasts that deaf parents screening for a wanted deaf child is equivalent to deafening one's actually hearing child, that parents with differently-enabled children inevitably find themselves in an especially tragic circumstance. As if a child with mild Down's cannot be a flourishing cherished person, familiar, and peer? And also as if the parent of a "normal" child, however construed, won't be beset by heartbreak, distress, tragedy as well?
It is not surprising either to hear "transhumanists" insist that we have a moral duty to "uplift" nonhuman animals into human consciousness if we can do so. Notice that this is not just a claim that it might be interesting or useful or warranted to nudge non-human animal cognition into conformity with more human forms of cognition, it is the claim that such a transformation would objectively constitute an improvement or enhancement of that cognition, that difference-from-human-norms (in whatever construal) is tantamount to inferiority, nonviability, even a kind of harm, and that, hence, policing cognitive diversity into anthopocentric homogeneity becomes a kind of moral imperative a righting of the "injustice" of parochially disvalued differences.
There is an interminable tension in democratic societies that must struggle, reform, and experiment in an ongoing way to institutionally implement the values of equity and diversity, both of which are indispensable to a properly democratic vision of social justice, a consensualist vision of equity in diversity.
It seems to me that "enhancement" advocates identified with the left (however ambivalently) too readily err on the side of "equity" over "diversity" to the cost of freedom, while "enhancement" advocates on the right too readily err on the side of affirming a facile "diversity" including most or all choices, however duressed they may be by inequitable conditions of poverty, violence, ignorance, misinformation, exploitation.
It seems to me that those "enhancement" advocates and especially "transhumanists" who are not explicit eugenicists or who abhor eugenicism (of whom there are some I'm sure) would do well to spend less time in defensive denial about how this problem relates to them, and far more time addressing its causes and symptoms among so many fellow-members of their sub(cult)ural "movement" with whom they are nonetheless so eager to affiliate despite this asserted disagreement and abhorrence.
UPDATED from some subsequent exchanges in the Moot:
Another "Anonymous" poster to the Moot declared she or he "didn't get it" when I protested the position of some transhumanists who declare "screening for a wanted deaf child is equivalent to deafening one's actually hearing child." Brave "Anonymous" wanted to know "What is wrong with that claim? (Assuming the deafening is done right after birth, assuming equivalent means morally equivalent, etc.)"
After a brief shudder I pointed out, in response:
A fetus -- actually, since we are talking here about screening, a not even conceived potential fetus -- isn't a person who can be harmed and "who" must in "their" vulnerability be protected from violation or unwanted unnecessary risk. But a woman contemplating pregnancy or actually pregnant most certainly is just that, a person who can be harmed and who must be protected from violation or unwanted unnecessary risk -- and as an actually-existing hearing child threatened with such violation most certainly is, too.
A person cannot reasonably be said to suffer violation or harm simply by virtue of being different from every one of indefinitely many alternate persons who might have emerged out of the circumstances of their conception with whatever benefits and problems that that different person would differently incarnate. All that sort of rhetoric is just the usual obfuscatory anti-choice bullshit as far as I can see.
Another commenter wondered if I really "think all screening by parents is acceptable. If not then what criteria separate good screening from bad screening."
I think this question raises genuinely difficult issues. Here was my response:
The first thing to say is that every woman makes the right choice, by which I mean to say every woman's choice is the choice she has every right to make in respect to how she wants to end or facilitate a pregnancy in her own body, as far as I'm concerned.
Does that mean that I am unaware of the irrational prejudices (in respect to race, gender, atypicality, different-enablement, and so on) that can articulate many of these choices? Not at all. Certainly, I am aware of all this.
Let me make the point in the most personal way I can think of.
I'm a gay man whose own mother would very likely have aborted me had she known I was going to be gay. She has said as much to me, and it is clear that she would have made this choice at the time as much because she didn't know she would become a person who could love a gay child as easily as a straight one when the issue arose (which it turns out, happily, she could and did), as because she was too ignorant at the time, as most people were, I suppose, to know that society would afford a gay child a flourishing life rather than a miserable one (which it turns out, happily, it could and did).
But let me be very clear, that as a pro-choice person I fully defend the right of any woman to end an unwanted pregnancy for whatever reason makes it unwanted to her, even a person in an exactly analogous position as my Mother's in respect to the prospectively gay me.
Of course I know that pregnancies can be unwanted for reasons that are hateful, irrational, or deeply ignorant (as would have been the case with my Mother at the time, as she would now be the first to agree).
What is wanted in such cases is to shame the hateful, address the irrational, and educate the ignorant, so that differences that don't make a difference in the way they are sometimes hatefully, irrationally, or ignorantly imagined to be are no longer unwanted, so that whatever choices are made are better informed than not. The way to address hatred, irrationality, and ignorance is not through infantilization and prohibition of choices that symptomize these wrongheaded states of mind, but through argument, education, and wider exposure to differences that only seem threatening to those who lack the experience to know better.
I think that there is an incredible amount of misinformation and mystification and pernicious wish-fulfillment that takes place when talk turns to "screening away" unwanted kinds of people or "selecting for" especially wanted kinds of people as a matter of fact.
And I think much of this talk is enormously hurtful and relentlessly stupid, deeply disrespectful and insensitive to the actually viable, actually wanted, actually differently flourishing lifeways of any number of peers with whom the would be "optimizers" and "enhancers" are actually already sharing this world.
But it is crucial to distinguish the politics through which one would address this sort of hatefulness and irrationality from the politics through which one affirms the right of competent sane adults to informed, nonduressed consensual prosthetic self-determination where healthcare choices, cultural investment, and so on are concerned.
I understand that it can be really tricky to hold all these demands together.
That complexity and difficulty is of course one of the reasons why those who make recourse to "enhancement" discourse in the first place seek to simplify these quandaries through a depoliticizing would-be neutralization of what are truly parochial value-judgments, treating them as already settled simply by calling them, simply, "enhancements" at all -- when "enhancement" is always actually "enhancement" to whom? "enhancement" in respect to what end? "enhancement" at what cost to what other possible ends? -- and when these values and ends and costs and risks and benefits are all manifestly under contest in fact.
But whatever the difficulty and complexity, it does seem to me that resisting the impulse to undue simplification here is what democratic commitments to consent, equity, and diversity actually require of us here.