Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Part Two

The concluding part of my two-column series "The Trouble With 'Transhumanism'" is now online and poised to sweep the world. Take a look and let me know if you like it. Also, as always, feel free to share any brickbats, bitcheries, or befuddlements I may have aroused in you. This sequel is sunnier I think than the somewhat grumpy opener, but perhaps not all will agree with me on that.

1 comment:

Doctor Logic said...


Thanks for writing your columns. I wouldn't yet describe myself as convinced by your arguments, but they raise important issues. :)

I'm not comfortable with your definitions of bioconservative and tech progressive. Maybe "bio-authoritarian" and "bio-liberal" would be more apt.

Bio-authoritarians are motivated by fear, and they aim to ban enhancement outright. The right wing position has two arguments. First, we were created in god's perfect image, so we shouldn't tamper with perfection. Second, like all conservatives, what they conserve is power, wealth and status with those who already have them.

My sense is that the "left-wing" bio-authoritarians are no less authoritarian than the religious right. They fear that enhancement will only be for the rich, and that lack of enhancement will be a stigma or social disadvantage. Perhaps out of a sense of fairplay, leftists may argue that, if not all people of the world can be enhanced, no one should be enhanced. That's like saying if not everyone can get a college education, no one should have that opportunity.

In contrast, bio-liberals/transhumanists are motivated by both fear (for individual and human survival) and hope (for a longer better life). In my experience, transhumanists are liberals to a man. Some transhumanists are libertarians, or should I say bio-libertarians. However, I think that most of us want some at least some thoughtful government regulation (is that an oxymoron?). For example, though I consider myself a transhumanist, I still favor stronger regulation of genetically modified non-human organisms that are let into the wild. In my opinion, a genetically modified human individual is relatively well contained, whereas GM insects could threaten millions of lives. I also welcome the recent push to reclassify common compounds that are hazardous in nanoparticle form.

You are right to be raising these issues. In politics, liberal has become a dirty word because the electorate has forgotten what the word actually means. It's time we remind everyone that the opposite of liberal is authoritarian. For today, it is authoritarianism that threatens our planet, not liberalism.