The High Pristine Yes!Tronic Pontifex of the Order of Cosmic Engineers, or whatever he is calling himself these days, took apparent exception to a punchy little number I tossed off a few days back about an inter-faith squabble among some Robot Cultists. My statement that the techno-utopian aspirations of the Yes!Tronic Robot Cultists seems to be something on the order of "In Space Nobody Has to Poop" was, to all appearances, a real button-pusher. By all means, let's push it again! You should click the links if you are interested enough in this sort of thing to want to track all the argumentative to-and-fro. What follows are three contributions I made to the Comments section of the piece in question, which I think are intelligible enough on their own terms, but again, the links will take you to the full context if you like.
My First Comment (Italicized text is quoted material to which I am responding):
I think if we follow the logic of the author of the YES!Trons blog, cancer and Alzheimer should also be considered as noble manifestations of the vulnerability of the body, and revered as such.
Of course, you don't have to "imagine" where the logic of the author of the post in question will take you (in your skewed and facile reconstruction of it) on questions of whether or not cancer and Alzheimer's disease are "good" things. You don't have to "imagine" these things because I am endlessly on record dealing with these questions quite directly.
As you well know but seem not to have the honesty to report, I am an advocate of actually informed actually nonduressed consensual healthcare provision, whether normalizing or not. This means I defend forms of therapeutic self-determination that many bioconservatives decry as "unnatural" as well as forms that many transhumanists decry as "sub-optimal."
As it happens, I regard "bioconservatism" and "transhumanism," so-called, to be co-dependent extremisms, both disastrously hyperbolic, both actively irrationalist, both de facto eugenicist in their advocacy, and both deranging and hence dangerous to the proper practice of consensus science and its application to accountable policy-making.
You can pretend that wish-fulfillment fantasies about digital immortalization are of a piece with real-world health care advocacy or even real-world medical research advocacy, you can pretend that your infantile failure to come to terms with the vulnerability and finiteness of bodily life is somehow a stepping stone toward personal superlongevity or comic book superbodies, but few are fooled but a handful of other Robot Cultists like yourself.
Unfortunately, your simplistic formulations are just sensational enough and superficial enough to attract media attention and skew public technodevelopmental deliberation and (one fears) budgetary priorities, and certainly they tend to activate and exacerbate precisely the irrational passions of agency that always accompany technology-talk (dreams of omnipotence, dread of impotence) at a time when what is wanted is sane thinking about technoscience costs, risks, and benefits.
So, foolish though I think you are, marginal though I know you to be, you people do indeed manage to do far more real damage than any sensible person would suspect on a superficial looksee. Hence, secular progressives probably do indeed need to level ongoing sustained critique your way rather than simply leaving you bozos to your basements as you deserve.
By way of conclusion, let me just say that every single one of you reading this message are eventually going to die. And until the day you die, like it or not, you will always still have to poop. Denial of these things doesn't make you smart, it doesn't make you brave, it doesn't make you part of a cutting-edge movement, and it certainly doesn't constitute a philosophy worthy of the name.
My Second Comment:
Is this a threat Dale?
Pointing out the fact that like every other human being on earth you’re mortal? A threat? Are you kidding me?
But I do. Read the text above: “a very good writer who usually has intelligent (other) things to say when he forgets for a moment his obsession with transhumanists.”
Declaring me “intelligent” is neither here nor there. You implied that my argument entails the claim that disease is to be celebrated rather than treated. It entails no such thing. And you know I argue forcefully to the contrary, and regularly so, but you said it anyway.
I do not advocate public funding for the development of speculative technologies beyond the current timeframe.
What is your big stunning world-historical movement then, a knitting circle for sf-fanboys? Sounds about right to me, but it scarcely squares with the promotional images you lot disseminate about your organizations and movement! What, you don’t mean to redirect research agendas, policy priorities, public discourse on technodevelopmental questions, then? Hard to know if you’re being dishonest, delusional, or just haven’t thought this stuff through at even the most elementary level. Ah, transhumanists!
I consider long term speculative visions and here-and-now real-world actions as separate, not overlapping spheres of life. I dedicate some time to both.
Yeah, yeah, mild mannered advocate for healthy drinking water in overexploited regions of the world by day, radical techno-immortalist by night! How could anyone imagine one’s attitudes in the one sphere could possibly impact one’s arguments, interests, priorities in the other? Separate, but no doubt equal, eh, your worldly concerns as against your superlative ones? Like most people of fundamentalist faith, your superlative aspirations are the stained-window coloring your everyday inhabitation of the world. Would you be eager to put your money where your mouth is and have your readers casually take a look over the contents of your own writings available online to see what proportion of your attention you have devoted to policy concerns here and now as against superlative techno-utopianism? “Some time to both,” indeed.
My Third Comment (Taking off from my statement above: "Like most people of fundamentalist faith, your superlative aspirations are the stained-window coloring your everyday inhabitation of the world."):
Correct. That can be said about every part and shade of everyone’s worldview. Thanks for discovering hot water. So what?
So... you said they were separate and now you say they aren't. I already knew the falsity of your claim was obvious, now you agree. The question remains why you made it, then.
Re “what proportion of your attention you have devoted to policy concerns here and now as against superlative techno-utopianism?” Same as above. My own f-u-c-k-i-n-g business.
You ventured a proposition in public to which I responded. You'll forgive me if "mind your own business" fails to persuade me.
I wrote: “You implied that my argument entails the claim that disease is to be celebrated rather than treated. It entails no such thing.”
To which you replied: Then, please, tell me how to interpret “it is true that life is lived in bodies, and that bodies are various and vulnerable and mortal and hungry for connection, and that embracing embodied life demands an embrace of all this about bodies. To deny their variation, their vulnerability, their mortality, their sociability is to deny the body”.
You see these two statements as conflicting with one another? There is nothing in the second statement that entails that disease is to be celebrated rather than treated either. The whole point is that healthcare isn't about a quest for invulnerability or immortality or "overcoming the body," whereas these superlative techno-immortality discourses of yours (in this respect like cybernetic-totalist discourses) do indeed seem to pine after just such invulnerability and often to exhibit precisely such "meat" body-loathing.
"Extropia" [another Commenter] trots out the conventional desperate litany of anaesthesia, the Wright Brothers, and the telephone to remind me that Robot Cultists are on the side of History when they pine after consciousness digitization (even though the brain is an organ), techno-immortality (even though perpetual motion machines are impossible), and NanoSanta (even though alchemists have been failing to fulfill these infantile techno-fantasies since long before Bell and the Wright Brothers succeeded in their more modest if marvelous engineering feats, and long before Robot Cultists took up their superficially secularized magickal aspirations). Rather than agree with Extropia that the extropians and other Robot Cultists are supergeniuses with the Keys to History, I will venture to suggest that they are exactly as they appear, nutty garage enthusiasts thinking that theirs is the square-the-circle scheme that will be the Big Score.
So what? This does not stop me from considering it as a very desirable development
The statement, "wouldn't it be cool to live forever in a state of bliss" -- which has probably occurred in some form or other to most preschool children, after all -- hardly constitutes the basis for a practical or theoretical program worthy of serious consideration as such. By all means, indulge in whatever wish-fulfillment fantasies make you happy. Policy proposals, political, social, and cultural programs, and philosophical viewpoints offer themselves up to the critical scrutiny of others. You can't have it both ways.
As for the predictions about the practicality of "brain uploading," I think the very notion is incoherent, since what we mean by "consciousness" is embodied -- but we will have to agree to disagree about that. Rest assured, my radical skepticism about cybernetic totalisms derives from my materialism about mind and not any mystical faith.