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

Monday, April 21, 2008

Once More, With Feeling

Transhumanism invests both actually-existing and actually-imagined technoscientific changes with what I call superlative significance, just as bioconservatives invest them with apocalyptic significance.

Transhumanism is an ideological and rhetorical project of the would-be "transcendence" of human finitude while Bioconservatism is an inter-implicated ideological project of the would-be "preservation" of a set of parochially preferred customs designated as "natural."

I advocate regulation and oversight of the provision and administrations of existing, emerging, and proximately upcoming genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive therapies, while advocating bans on clinical trials until a consensus of relevant scientists affirm that a technique looks promising enough to justify them, and then I advocate a scene of actually informed actually nonduressed consent (through positions on single-payer healthcare, basic income guarantees, and access-to-knowledge politics that recur in both my writing and teaching, which is where my work is actually located) all to facilitate a fairer distribution of technodevelopmental costs, risks, and benefits once emerging techniques are made available.

Again, I think our attention as technoscientifically literate secular democratic progressives should be on preserving a scientific practice that names medical risks, costs, and benefits as reliably as possible, on a commitment to universal access to knowledge -- rather than proprietary secrecy or for-profit misinformation/fraud or corrupt oversight in the service of incumbency -- and on the provision of universal basic healthcare and basic income to minimize the duress under which medical decisions are made.

The value and vision I champion is for the informed, nonduressed consensual recourse of my peers to wanted therapeutic interventions whether these are normalizing or not, and the celebration of lifeway multiculture in a pluralist present emerging into open futurity.

Bioconservatives like John Howard claim that they cannot see the difference between my vision and positions and those of the transhumanists I also criticize so relentlessly here on Amor Mundi. And of course this is largely because bioconservative hyperbole functions as a distorting lens such that anything that isn't immediately legible as bioconservative almost inevitably and automatically is shunted across the bright dividing line of "the natural" for bioconservatives into "the unnatural" of their polar opposite, their mimetic co-dependent evil twin transhumanism. The same goes, I fear, for transhumanists in the other direction, across the bright dividing line from their splendid "enhancement" and "Enlightenment" directly across to the "disability extremism" and "deathism" and "relativist Endarkenment" of their Objective Enemies, as witness my many exchanges with prominent transhumanist "luminaries," Giulio Prisco and James Hughes. (And don't even get me started with the even crazier Ayn Raelian contingent of that Robot Cult!)

The thing is, I just believe in good universally available healthcare, and in well-regulated well-funded research and development to make healthcare more capacious and effective in meeting the needs of those who would make consensual recourse to it.

I advocate consensual healthcare, whether applied to the constellation of techniques we're used to now (you know, people were arguing against the indignity and unnaturalness of anesthesia, making nearly identical arguments to the ones bioconservatives are peddling now a little over a century ago) or to the constellation of emerging genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive therapies, whether these consensual interventions yield effects that are deemed normalizing (and hence "therapeutic") or non-normalizing (and hence "enhancing" or "de-naturalizing," depending on which kind of True Believer you are, transhumanist or bioconservative).

I don't believe in the "natural" idealized human being bioconservatives faux-nostalgically hope to actualize through their Prohibitionism, nor do I believe in the "transcendent" idealized post-human being transhumanists superlatively hope to actualize through their "optimizing" Enhancements.

But what do I think should be resisted, then, if not the "unnaturalization" and "unmanning" of Man the bioconservatives rail against, or the "Deathist" scourge and "negativity" the transhumanists rail against?

Well, I think that what should be resisted is unfairness, violence, exploitation, duress, corruption in healthcare practices, now and emerging and upcoming, as elsewhere in society. Where there is exploitation, duress, actual reckless endangerment, misinformation, fraud, and unfairness in medical development or adminsitration, I oppose that as every progressive person does. Incredibly enough, bioconservatives who want to focus on non-existing clone armies and designer sooper-babies and transhumanists who want to focus on nanobot treasure caves and immortal brains in digital networks will chide my own discourse here for its insipid vacuity and refusal of their own hard technicality.

Intriguingly enough, when they like me transhumanists like to call me a "closeted transhumanist" just as when they disapprove of me they like to call me a "closeted bioconservative," meanwhile bioconservatives, when they disapprove of me, like to call me a "closeted transhumanist" (I think I'm too queer for bioconservatives ever to like me, particularly). Quite apart from the personal issue of distaste I feel as someone who actually did come out of an actual closet with real costs twenty years ago at being rhetorically "recloseted" by cultists for refusing to join their scared scarred little tribal sub(cult)ures, the larger point here is that with these guys it's always: Yer Either With Us or Agin' Us!

The fact remains that, in my view, transhumanism is a Robot Cult consisting of an archipelago of actually-existing self-identified organizations, embedded in a conscious sub(cult)ure that explicitly fancies itself an identity movement, devoted to a transcendentalizing derangement of technoscientific language and promising super-predicated capacities to its membership, superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance, not one of which makes any kind of sense. As far as I know there are no self-identified "bioconservative" organizations nor an explicitly "bioconservative" identity or program (as there is for, say, neoconservatism); there is instead only a series of rhetorically customary gestures that is susceptible of analysis as bioconservative in my definition of it in certain quarters of social and religious conservative discourse that also sometimes attracts the sympathy of people who otherwise like to think of themselves as "progressive."

I have written literally thousands upon thousands of words delineating the limitations of the transhumanist organizational movement, this sub(cult)ure, this discourse, this rhetoric, and also connecting it up to more prevalent neoliberal and eugenicist Developmental and Bioethical vocabularies that are also enormously damaging in the real world (and thousands more delineating no less pernicious bioconservative discourse as well). If bioconservatives cannot grasp the difference between what I am advocating and what transhumanists are up to (or vice versa) it is surely because their own hyperbolic moralizing assumptions and aspirations blind them to all the differences that make a difference here.


peco said...

If bioconservatives cannot grasp the difference between what I am advocating and what transhumanists are up to (or vice versa) it is surely because their own hyperbolic moralizing assumptions and aspirations blind them to all the differences that make a difference here.

You are much closer to the transhumanists than to the bioconservatives (the things bioconservatives oppose, you (and the transhumanists) generally support), and the bioconservatives may not care about the differences (just like you don't care about the differences among transhumanists). I don't care about the differences between the AWB and the MRLA; they are both just organizations fighting against the government to me. I know they are different, just like bioconservatives know you are different from transhumanists, but the differences don't matter to them.

Dale Carrico said...

Since neither "transcendence" nor "nature" exist in the sense that matters to transhumanism or bioconservatism I don't agree that it is coherent to speak of my proximity to either position. I reject them both.

peco said...

Since neither "transcendence" nor "nature" exist in the sense that matters to transhumanism or bioconservatism I don't agree that it is coherent to speak of my proximity to either position. I reject them both.

Oops, it's not, but if you asked transhumanists whether you were closer to transhumanism or bioconservatism, they would probably say transhumanism. Bioconservatives would say the same thing. What you want the government to actually do is more similar to what the transhumanists want, too.

Dale Carrico said...

Similar? How similar is similar? I mean, it's true I'm not a prohibitionist, I guess, but I do advocate regulation and oversight and disapprove of duressed market outcomes being treated as noncoercive by fiat, and I do disapprove of those transhumanists who argue that wanting deaf kids amounts to "deafening" the unborn somehow or that neuro-atypical people are a suboptimal "drain" on society or that nonhuman animals are begging to be "uplifted" just because they are different, or that humanities education amounts to a relativist menace, or that Friendly AI should be a real budgetary priority, or that people in general are too ignorant to deliberate about technodevelopment in an era of "accelerating change," or even that change really is properly described as accelerating (let along acceleration is accelerating as some of them like to handwave), or that nanotechnology can be counted upon to solve climate crises, and so on.

Key up the bleakly predictable chorus of transhumanists saying that none of these views are universal or characteristic of your movement. Okay, fine, do you disapprove of declared transhumanists who do in fact make these arguments in the name of your affirmed identity? No? Then own them, they're part of your "movement" and suitable objects for critique of it.

But more to the point I don't think transhumanism has any unique content apart from its superlative rhetoric, and I strongly disapprove of that rhetoric, and so if it is occasionally true that transhumanists will say sensible or interesting things about concrete technodevelopments or political situations (as is also true of bioconservatives in exactly the same way after all) it is better to say that in those moments transhumanists come closer to talking the way mainstream technoscientifically literate progressive people do, rather than proposing that in such moments the mainstream is endorsing what amounts to a marginal Robot Cult.

That is to say, no, I don't really agree with you that I am "closer" to the transhumanists in any sense that matters or makes sense. But I'm sure the bioconservatives will agree, and so the idiotic merry-go-round can joylessly grind its way another time round while the pipe organ wheezes away.

Anonymous said...

What is your stance on animal testing?

John Howard said...

Peco is correct. On the one single issue before us (prohibition) you are a transhumanist. I wish you could show me one of these "complete lassaiz faire" transhumanists or "nature worshipping" bioconservatives. I think we all probably drive cars and stop at the stop lights. If you don't like that idiotic merry-go-round, stop pushing it. Just talk about the issues that interest you, the decisions that we have to make as a society, without labeling everyone. And don't assume everyone's got extreme positions or crazy motivation that you need to expose. That doesn't help make the argument about the decisions in front of us.

Dale Carrico said...

John Howard is a transhumanist if he approves of vaccination. John Howard is a transhumanist if he approves of Lasik eye surgery. John Howard is a transhumanist if he approves of oral cultures becoming writing cultures.

Of course, it would be patent absurdity to propose any such thing.

Transhumanists are a marginal Robot Cult, most of whose members Truly Believe in or advocate one or more of the following: techno-immortalism, mind-uploading, imminent superintelligent AI, an upcoming singularity that ends history as we know it, funding of longevity medicine over funding for neglected diseases in the overexploited regions of the world, that only technocratic elites and not democratic deliberation can deal with "accelerating change" and "existential risks" like unfriendly Robot Gods, that wanting kids who incarnate what transhumanists deem "suboptimal" morphologies and lifeways like deafness, neuroatypicality, or nonhuman animality amounts to doing "violence" to not-yet-even-conceived humans, among indefinitely many other wrongheaded things.

They also frame technodevelopmental issues in anti-democratizing ways and facilitate incumbent politics in ways I've delineated in thousands upon thousands of words of analysis that make my actual positions manifestly clear, whatever you glib attributions you want to make to the contrary.

This is not a matter of "one single issue" that gets to be definitively frames through the superlative lens of transhumanist Robot Cultism. Your effort to drive me into a corner and smear me into association with views I've devoted years to fighting seems to me enormously deceptive and cynical.

I've no doubt at all it would be enormously pleasing to a bioconservative prohibitionist to be able to smear anybody who would support informed nonduressed consent to wanted therapies whether they are normalizing or not.