Observing the curiously mimetic while at once denunciatory co-dependence of transhumanists and bioconservatives over the last few days has been an enormously clarifying and edifying spectacle, I must say. Let's keep this exercise going while it remains useful.
The reason John Howard is concerned about same-sex conception and others (not only bioconservatives, certainly) are concerned about reproductive cloning is that we can now sketch actually plausible pathways to their palpably proximate realization. But neither of these proximately upcoming techniques can yet be described as "actually emerging" -- they are tantalizingly near, say, but not sound enough to be safely implemented even in clinical trials (but seem sure to be sooner rather than later).
To the extent that John Howard and others are zeroing in on the worry that this very proximity will induce some to jump the gun and "try it and see" he is saying something absolutely reasonable. This is especially so to the extent that medicine is a for-profit concern in the corporate-militarist epoch of capitalism, in which cost-externalization is as or more profitable than production and ubiquitous financialization constricts the horizon of concern to the quarterly profit report rather than the horizon of relevant foresight.
What might seem a critique of "technology" (and therefore get branded by a facile transhumanist as luddite or bioconservative) is in fact a critique that under these circumstances the distribution of technodevelopmental risks, costs, and benefits is exploitative and unfair, precisely because it is undemocratic. "Try it and see" will mean vulnerable people assuming possibly catastrophic risks to themselves and their offspring through misinformation and the duress of the precarity in an unjust world, to help hammer out the therapeutic details the better to make benefits available in a payoff for rich and privileged people soon thereafter who assumed far fewer of these burdens.
But I believe that these reasonable concerns are only the sensible face of a bioconservatism that is fueled in fact by the reactionary and eugenic project to constrain lifeway diversity into the forms in which bioconservatives are themselves invested, parochial forms which they then term the "natural" ones, in a project of policing they then term "defending dignity." These moves are very familiar from the anti-abortion/anti-choice framing of itself as "pro-life." I've been saying this for years, as in Bioconservative Bait and Switch, and also: Keep Your Laws Off My Body!
A bioconservative will say that the techniques that happen to push their "unnaturalness" buttons (all too typically these buttons will be legible, without much difficulty in the translation, as slightly skewed expressions of very familiar homophobic or racist attitudes, inter-generational anxieties, and the like, see my: Chimera) are not only unsafe here and now, but inherently unsafe, forever unsafe, and must be banned in perpetuity. The reason for this is because what is really "unsafe" about them is that they undermine the familiar "natural" world in which the bioconservative is invested. This is the biopolitical face of the political incumbency I rail against in my defense of p2p democratization.
Incidentally, note how an "old-fashioned" "calcified" left-right distinction of incumbency as against democratization seems, as usual, quite equal to technodevelopmental complexities here, while the introduction of new "clarifying" dimensions to the analysis of technodevelopment "beyond left and right" function only to enable reactionaries to lie about what they are up to and encourage progressives to forget what they should be working on.
In any case, the bioconservative seizes on sensible concerns and skepticism about proximately upcoming techniques (usually framed hyperbolically through the lens of more fantastical projections that are not yet even palpable: clone armies, designer babies), to indulge an hysterical repudiation of what they experience as change that is threatening to their parochial but familiar conception of the world, and their privileged place in it, a familiarity they term the "natural" and invest with moral significance. The proximate concerns on which they focus are just the occasion, the pretext for a project of profoundly anti-democratizing, anti-consensualizing reactionary policing in the service of the status quo.
Transhumanists like you Giulio seek to confuse the superlative outcomes in which you are invested with actually emerging or palpably proximately upcoming technodevelopment as well. But these just are not the same.
Same-sex conception may well be generally and safely available to the next generation of would-be parents, but neither you nor anybody else are ever going to be immortal, you are never ever going to upload your consciousness into a digital network, you are never ever going to find yourself in a post-political world of superabundance, you are never ever going to confront a Friendly or Unfriendly Robot God at the End of History.
These are not "highly imaginative scientific speculations" or "far-flung technical projections" but entirely conventional exhibitions of hysterical denialism about human finitude of a kind that tend more typically to invigorate fundamentalist and militarist social formations, only in the transhumanist case translated into superficially technological terms.
You say in your intervention that one can simply "replace" same-sex conception (which, mind you, the basic science of which should be publicly funded and regulated before clinical trials are contemplated, let alone the techniques made generally available, and, one hopes, progressive activists will struggle to render regulatory oversight incomparably less corrupt and more effective, provide ever wider access to knowledge that is reliable, and ameliorate the duress of neoliberal/neoconservative precarity through the provision of basic healthcare and income) with the more "imaginative scientific speculations" of transhumanists.
Well, first off, quite a bit of the highly "imaginative speculations" of transhumanists are actually science fiction rather than scientific practice, a distinction you, Giulio, seem even less capable of holding in your head than most transhumanists are, who generally have trouble with sort of thing. But more to the point, and contrary to incessant statements to the contrary by my transhumanist critics on this score, my point isn't just to urge more caution about "far-out" speculations. See my: Superlative Schema.
In that piece, among many others, I try to make plain the moves by which transhumanists take actually emerging and proximately upcoming technodevelopment (usually framed hyperbolically through the lens of more fantastical projections that are not yet even palpable: Drexlerian nanofactories, SENS therapies so successful they raise human healthspans past 120 years), and invest it with the transcendentalizing aspirations familiar from theological omni-predicates, but in technoscientific super-predicated forms.
The schema, in a nutshell:
I. Omniscience / Superintelligence / Singularitarianism --
II. Omnipotence / Superlongevity / Techno-Immortalism --
III. Omnibenevolence / Superabundance / Nanosanta-Digital Utopianism.
Superlativity is an infantile revolt against human finitude, against the contingency, mortality, fallibility, and inter-personal insecurities of human life. It is a project of reassurance that is deeply vulnerable to authoritarian institutionalizations (it is, after all, a precise correlate to the authoritarian politicization of religiosity that produces fundamentalist social formations with all their moralizing militancies).
Technoscientific change is indeed disruptive and radical, shifting the dynamic of history by making available new materials and tools that people will take up opportunistically in their collaboration and contestation with one another and toward their own projects of personal perfection. The opportunities for violence and exploitation and catastrophe are manifold -- demanding that actual progressives champion a scene of legible and substantial informed nonduressed consent for those who would make recourse to these new tools on their own terms. The opportunities for creativity and emancipation are also manifold, and actual progress (which is more than the politically indifferent accumulation of a toypile) demands that their costs, risks, and benefits must all be distributed fairly by the lights of the stakeholders to technoscientific change.
But come what may, technodevelopment will not "deliver us" transcendance. Nor will efforts to ban technodevelopment "return us" to a Lost Eden.
No Heaven before us. No Golden Age behind us.
Just ongoing technodevelopmental social struggle, rendered more progressive the more consensual (actually informed, actually nonduressed) we manage to make it.