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

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Transhumanism Is Either A Vacuity or Crazytown -- Either Way, It's A Fraud

From an exchange Upgraded and Adapted from the Moot, "Brandon H" writes:
All most transhumanists want is the pathway open to the use of human-enhancement technologies as they come to the table. All the fluff about assaulting naive singularists and technophiles just seems unnecessary--the major advances they hope for aren't due for 40+ years anyway. Fringe-optimists. Your saying that no "special 'transhumanist' technologies exist" just seems misleading -- we already have technologies that espouse the ideal..organ implantation, stem cell research, cochlear implants, plastic surgery, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, etc...
I reply:

You can't have it both ways. Nobody has to join a Robot Cult to advocate for healthcare, science education, renewable energy investment, or computer/network security. If enhancement is just healthcare then transhumanism is a vacuity, but if enhancement is what transhumanists actually always demonstrably do talk about "it" being when PR flacks aren't desperately trying to sanewash it -- that is to say, if it's all comic book sooper-bodies and holodeck heaven immortal uploads and nano-treasure caves and Robot God singularities ending history -- well, then it is crazytown and people who know it is crazytown will keep on calling you on it. Either way, vacuity or crazytown, face it, transhumanism is something of a fraud.


John Howard said...

OK, well which is allowing reproduction with someone of the same sex? Which is "overcoming the limits of fixed sex" and being able to be either sex. Is that medicine or crazyyown? I say it is Transhumanism and I don't see how you can claim it is just regular old healthcare, or a major enhancement of healthy human bodies into sooper-bodies?

Dale Carrico said...

Heaven only knows what you personally regard as the "fixed limits" of sexual morphology and gender practice, but the fact that you speak of "either sex" suggests that you have a rather bleakly reductive understanding assuming a foundational biological sexual dimorphism onto which comparably bleakly reductive gender roles are overlaid thereupon -- although intersexed human bodies palpably complicate such a schema even without artifice entering the picture, although presumably cultural gender assumptions palpably organize and produce the biological realities that presumably function as foundational in this understanding, although far more complex sexed/gendered performances have been part of the stories of human multiculture through recorded history and have been part of normative healthcare for over a century. I will set to the side your radically impoverished understanding of sex/gender as vectors in a material and semiotic systems of signification in which we all live our lives, I will also set to the side what I know from other posts from you over the years the sexism and anti-gay bigotry that drives your rage and fear, and I will try to use your question as the occasion to say something useful in general about the relation of futurology and healthcare for a readership that includes but it not confined to you.

You obviously don't have to join a Robot Cult to champion the rights of transpeople, intersex people, queers. You obviously don't have to join a Robot Cult to champion the rights of the "disabled"/ differently enabled. You obviously don't have to join a Robot Cult to be pro choice and champion the rights of informed, nonduressed responsible people to make actually safe wanted choices about their reproductive health and recreational sensoria and the bodily modification (tattoos, scars, piercings) through which they signal subcultural memberships and personal expressivity.

Dale Carrico said...

You don't have to join a Robot Cult to advocate universal access to safe, effective, affordable, or even free healthcare to everybody, including all these people.

None of these people have sooper- bodies, they have human bodies, none of these people are on the road to super-powers or immortality or virtuality as the result of their recourse to any of these technical practices. None of the actual political, social, cultural stakes of access to or application of any of these techniques (among which are the stakes you mention, how do we human beings ensure that all people are flourishing equitably in their diversity) is clarified by hyperbolizing them via futurological narrative of comic book superheros, immortality, clone armies, cyber-angels, bush robots, and the like.

Every human being is and always has been a "cyborg" in Donna Haraway's sense, an ineradicably acculturated being whose significance is historically situated and whose agency is expressed in history. Clothes, language, bodily bearing are artifactual. All culture is prosthetic, all prostheses are cultural. The transhumanists are fetishizing certain technologies and naturalizing others (this is an historical commonplace, the transhumanists idiotically try to make a virtue of it), the better to invest some artifacts with the status of signifiers that bespeak progress toward techno-transcendental outcomes they identify with "The Future" at the cost of a profound dis-identification with the present in its lived diversity and profound precarity.

Transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, nano-cornucopiasts, digi-utopians, and other superlative futurologists of the Robot Cult variety believe many outright nonsensical things, they talk about "technology" in ways that derange the terms of public deliberation to the harm of all, they are indulging in faith-based initiatives that seem in many of them to yield irrational passions and undercritical, defensive, dishonest subcultural practices. I have no problem with Robot Cultists who want to be enthusiasts about ridiculous fancies of their (though I am not above ridiculing them for being ridiculous now and again, as you know), but I focus my critique on their efforts to pretend these fancies constitute scientific practice, scientific literacy, scientific policy-making, serious philosophy (including philosophy of science, philosophy of technology, technocultural theory, ethics or bioethics, STS, etc.), contributions to progressive technodevelopmental deliberation, as well as focusing on the ways their discourse provides clarifying extreme illustrations of more prevailing pathologies in our unsustainable, corporate-militarist, white racist/patriarchal, scientistically reductive, techno-fetishizing, techno-triumphalist, mass-mediated, hyper-conformist, hyper-individuated, consumer society more generally.

As I said, I have been around the track with you John Howard many many times in the past. This is not the beginning but the end of this conversation. Your inevitable hysterical anti-queer follow-up screeds and declarations that I am the worst Robot Cultist of them all because I refuse to pre-emptively condemn the non-existing sexualized "technologies" that haunt your fever dreams will all be remorselessly deleted, so don't even go there.

John Howard said...

Intersexed people should certianly be allowed to use medicine to enable them to be fertile and have children, but only as the sex which their doctors believe is their most likely chance of success, without genetic engineering of their gametes to be the other sex. The sex which someone most likely would be able to conceive children using their own gametes is usually abundantly clear, even when there is ambiguous genitalia, and when it isn't, the lab can figure it out very quickly.

As for application of the law to intersexed people, we'd go by their public, legal sex for public legal recognition and marriage purposes, and the assumption would be that it matches the most likely to conceive sex so they would have the public approval to conceive offspring together (but not a guarantee, just like every other marriage). So some privately same-sex couples would wind up married. But a lab would notice after some preliminary lab work that they were both more likely to be fertile as the same sex, and thus it would be illegal to help them conceive offspring with each other. Their marriage would remain intact, because publicly they would still be a man and a woman, and the information about their true sexes would never leave the doctor's office. But the law is intended to stop unethical experiments in same-sex reproduction and genetic engineering, so of course it has to apply to the private actual sex, not the public sex.

It's health care to help an intersexed person reproduce as the sex most likely able to help them, not the sex they most desire to reproduce as, or as the other sex of the person they want to reproduce with. That is transhumanism.

Dale Carrico said...

I don't know who the "we" is supposed to be who is trying to shoehorn intersex folks into what you think of as consummately happy heterosexual families. You aren't a movement, John Howard. You are a troubled and confused person alone in a room with your feverish queer obsessions.

You will be pleased to know I also disapprove of unethical medical experiments in which clinical trials involve unsafe unaccountable procedures or subjects who are uninformed or under duress in any way. I get the feeling you think anything that involves anyone but a heterosexual male reproducing with a heterosexual woman is always-already "unethical" "unhealthy" and "unsafe" and even if it is not unhealthy or unsafe and even if it involves responsible informed nonduressed consensual subjects -- obviously I cannot concede that unhelpful idiosyncratic characterization. This isn't something I am willing to waste hours of my life re-adjudicating with you yet again -- that is to say, I'm not willing to get you off for free.

There are actually existing people and organizations that identify as "transhumanist" and one can discern their customary assumptions, positions, conceits, tropes, and aspirations from the actual things they actually say. That's my preferred method for understanding and criticizing futurological discourses, sub(cult)ures and fandoms, not simply accepting your personal definition of the moment as a non-transhumanist identified personal largely indifferent to actual textual evidence.

Your effort to identify queer politics with Robot Cultism seems to me pretty much equal parts straightfoward anti-gay bigotry and bioconservative hysteria about non-existing medical techniques.

That's it. No more. Good luck to you, happy holidays, go away.