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

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Enhancing the Transhumanoid Stoopid

Dumb Dvorsky thinks people need to get past the "taboo" on human enhancement. Max More thinks people need to overcome their "fears" of human enhancement. I think transhumanists need to grasp that their notion of enhancement is either vacuous or incoherent.

Let's set aside for the moment, as one always has to do when one is talking to or about Robot Cultists, the fact that designer babies and designer bodies and all that jazz isn't actually doable or likely to be doable any time soon enough for it to make much sense to dwell on it in the first place when just getting clean water and mosquito nets to people would save millions of lives who could be helping us solve our shared problems and writing poetry to inspire us right now. Setting that aside, "enhancement" is always actually -- "enhancement," for whom? "enhancement," in the service of what ends? "enhancement," with what costs, and for whom? "enhancement," at what risks, and for whom? "enhancement," with what benefits, in what contexts? The transhumanist discourse of "enhancement" pretends there is no contention over the values of particular prosthetic technical changes. That's why transhumanists talk about "enhancement" as though it were a simple, bald, neutral, technical term in the first place. More to the point, talking this way doesn't only pretend there is no contention over these values, it actively seeks to foreclose contention over these values so that the transhumanist's own parochial preferences (which often turn out to be held quite uncritically -- more competitive athletes! more diligent worker bees! more conventionally attractive!) prevail over other values. To be nice about it, I am calling such a conception "incoherent" -- but it is worth noting that it isn't exactly wrong to call such a conception "eugenic" either.

Retreating from the consequences of these positions in the face of rare criticism transhumanists will of course assure us that people "enhance" themselves all the time, drinking coffee when they need to work past bedtime, wearing heavy coats when it is snowing out, getting educations to gain a vocation or become better socialized. But of course, nobody needs to join a Robot Cult and become a transhumanist to debate the merits and problems of nutrition, fashion, pedagogy, or politeness, and no transhumanist really wants to spend his time saying bland commonplace things about nutrition, fashion, pedagogy, or politeness (and they don't) when they could be talking instead about how nanobots are going to rebuild their dead frozen heads into immortal cyberangels in holodeck heaven after the sooperintelligent Robot God they're coding in their basement or over at Google ends human history (and they do).

While it is easy to see why transhumanists want to say that people who have a problem with this sort of arrant nonsense are just skeered or superstitious, it seems to me more likely that the problem here is indeed simply the nonsensicality of it all. I think transhumanists need to get past the stoopid.


Black guy from the future past said...

You raised a really great point in the post about how mundane technology really is. When most people use the word technology they imagine fancy gizmos and doodads like iphones and microwaves. Too often people forget technology is as simple as a bed net or the rags on our backs we call clothes. Technology is also a perspective on the material world. A rock by itself is just a rock, but in the right hands, it can be a really effective tool/technology. I really think at the root of it all, transhumanists really despise the mundane. They really hate and are against everyday reality and banality to a large extent. Transhumanists are a very bored and boring group of boys and girls,most of them well off white folks, who want to turn the everyday mundane/banal material world of bed nets, clothes and glasses, into a technological cornucopia of constant wonder and marvel. They want to create a fantasy world where their attention spans are constantly grabbed by the latest tech fad. They are essentially children who have not yet outgrown the "buy a new/(generally the same toy) every year" syndrome. This is why they so desperately want to become robots, so that they can become toys, to be played with, shaped, molded and remodeled at their whim and fancy. This is quite sad really.

Dale Carrico said...

You may be on to something, but I must say if the transhumanoids really hate the banal so much they might try to get some new material -- not to mention noticing that banal late nite informercials have like totally stolen their act in the anti-aging male enhancement let's ask this scientician con-artistry arena.

Unknown said...

You should share your wisdom with the Chinese, they are well on their way to a eugenics world.

Dale Carrico said...

Hard to decide which is more objectionable, ugly idiotic racist fear-mongering about the "Yellow Peril" or ugly idiotic racist eugenicism about sooper-humans.

Black guy from the future past said...

@ Dale I think that both are not only objectionable but utterly reprehensible. And the Chinese will fail the eugenics just as the Germans did. It seems that many humans and their socities repeat the same stupidity over and over again.

Black guy from the future past said...

@Unknown Also, through centuries of education human beings have naturally gotten smarter, without genetic engineering or tampering of any kind. Einstein came out of a vagina not a test tube and that will likely remain the case for centuries to come. Furthermore, human beings have become incredibly intelligent over the centuries, yet are hardly any wiser for it. Maybe we should engineer wisdom, we are in dire need of it.

Dale Carrico said...

Patriarchy itself can be usefully viewed as the inculcation of a set of arbitrary norms driving a selective eugenic breeding program many centuries old, and so the "natural" default status into which eugenics-champions fancy themselves to be tampering is just as well viewed as a position taken in a long clash of stupid eugenic parochialisms. To the extent that "coming out of a test tube" can be and has been a phrase used by folks to describe IVF, I daresay an Einstein could emerge from one before emerging from a vagina easily enough. I think it is important to distinguish ARTs (alternative/artificial reproductive technologies) from eugenic-inspired proposals, even as we grant that there is some historical overlap between the two, as there is also a certain bioreductionist strain (that deserves the strongest critique as well) that sometimes frames both for their champions and critics.

John Howard said...

So the "natural" default status of men and women choosing each other to marry and having children together is eugenics? So what is not eugenics? Don't tell me: Peer to peer consensual fully informed blah blah voluntary genetic modification and same-sex/transgender reproduction is not eugenics and OK, right?

Dale Carrico said...

Needless to say, what John Howard describes as the "natural" or "default" state of men and women marrying and having children is neither natural nor a default for countless people -- and ever more so the more he may want to freight "married with children" with other modifications, for example, life-long, monogamous, nuclear, etc.

This is not an invitation for you to elaborate your point, John Howard, I'm not getting drawn into yet another of these homopanic exercises you post to my blog a couple of times a year since I know that treating you as a good faith interlocutor does no good a couple of exchanges down the road from this initial one. You have a history and a reputation and you have to live with it. Further communications from you will probably just be deleted.

For newcomers and lurkers, I will add that it is obviously not a negative judgment of those for whom desiring or sexual or affiliative lifeways really are legible and satisfying on comparatively now-customary terms to point out as well that the wider range of also perfectly legible human desires and sexual practices have been constrained and violated and punished by heteronormative and reprosexual assumptions, norms, ends.

And to the extent that heteronormative and reprosexual norms have functioned to police and abject and deform equity-in-diversity there is some urgency about refusing to allow such forms to be described as "natural" in the way John Howard wants to do.

He claims that heterosexuality is under attack, and is especially paranoid about futurological discourses in which imaginary technologies enable queer folks to have armies of clone babies who will steal his heterosexuality away from him (one suspects after a few argumentative bouts with him that he is just afraid of the loss of an unearned privilege and possibly can't deal with a hankering of his own for a little dick on the side).

To elaborate a bit more for the peanut gallery: "Patriarchy" names social formations in which the transmission of property and authority from fathers to sons requires that women be subordinated/owned as property as well so that men can control their reproductive capacity and hence facilitate that transmission of property and authority from fathers to sons. "Patriarchy" also describes social formations in which that which is constructed and marked as female/feminine is subordinated in comparison to that which is constructed and marked as male/masculine in order to facilitate the transmission of property and authority from fathers to sons, or as vestiges of a history of such transmission (vestiges that can linger and unexpectedly ramify and transform long after patriarchy in its initial legal and ethnographic sense has been overcome).

To the extent that in many historical and geographical sites men have chosen for countless generations to marry and have children with women who facilitate patriarchal norms it is perfectly obvious that patriarchal sex-gender constructions have articulated (which is of course not to say determined) both the men and the women as well as the cultures co-constructed by those practices and lifeways.

Needless to say, by the way, if queer folks marry and have kids (facilitated by ARTs or through elaborate surrogacy arrangements) but choose their partners and shape their offspring in the service of visions of optimality that remain paradoxically patriarchal (believe me, it happens), or racist, or according to various instrumentalizing competitiveness criteria, then of course these too can be framed as eugenic. It should go without saying, but I disapprove of the stupidity and anti-democracy of eugenic formulations as much from gay folks as from anybody else.

It is to be hoped that few of my readers will find the very idea of actually informed, nonduressed consensual democratic multiculture quite so contemptible as John Howard, defender of straight pricks, seems to do.

John Howard said...

I'm still wondering if you are saying that "actually informed, nonduressed consensual democratic multiculture" is not eugenic? And are you also saying that people who marry and have children in a traditional way in our society are practicing eugenics? Are you proposing your ideal use of gay ART as a non-eugenic alternative? (and you never explain how we will inform people and ensure nonduressed consent, without manufacturing consent through duress.

Dale Carrico said...

There is no such thing as my "ideal use of gay ART." I'm sure that after secular democratic multiculture secured a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent to prosthetic practices plenty of folks would choose expressions that wouldn't be my own cup of tea, including normative forms that might threaten to police diversity if it weren't for the diligence of art and activism to explore and protect diversity. You are right that there is an ineliminable tension between equity and diversity as secular democratic ideals and you are right that there is a danger in the constitution of any scene of legible consent that the terms of its constitution and maintenance must be subject to scrutiny and re-constitution lest they become forces for misinformation and duress as well. Although you claim I "never explain" such things, the truth is that I have actually devoted thousands upon thousands of words to these subjects, freely available online, in many posts on the topics of consent, eugenics, prosthetic self-determination from a few years back Lifeway Diversity and Eugenicist Reaction, but also in more recent posts theorizing the relation of the state form to democratic and nonviolent politics: Against Anarchy. Do read them carefully before sniping at me from the Moot. And remember that recognizing the fragility and difficulty of equity-in-diversity is no justification for anti-democratic plutocracy and reaction.

John Howard said...

I guess I define "explain" the way it comes up in Google:

"Make (an idea, situation, or problem) clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts or ideas."

Do I need to point out that means "Clear to someone other than yourself?" And did you know that writing "thousands and thousands of words" often obfuscates more than it explains? Links to essays tend to do the same thing.

My Civil Union proposal based on prohibiting creating people by any means other than joining unmodified sperm and egg from a man and woman would not be undemocratic or plutocratic, and though it leaves in place whatever patriarchal system we have, I don't think it is fair to call traditional marriage a form of eugenics. Eugenicists can make eugenic marriage laws and push for eugenic marriages, but marriage itself, consensual love-based mutually chosen marriages that are allowed and approved to produce offspring, shouldn't be tarred as eugenics, especially without explaining how your system would avoid eugenics any better than just letting people marry and have kids together according to their free choice.

Dale Carrico said...

Nobody cares about your weird homophobic egg and sperm proposal. Nobody. And if you are too stupid to understand my writing that's your problem.

John Howard said...

It's my problem only because it obscures useful discussion about practical matters. I don't really care what you think, I'd rather you just stop writing. BUt as long as you are writing, I think it is useful to point out that you aren't really saying anything useful or meaningful, and you aren't even thinking anything useful or meaningful. You don't need to join a thousand-word p2p consent fetish cult to participate in democracy.

Dale Carrico said...

I'd rather you just stop writing.

I'll bet.

you aren't really saying anything useful or meaningful, and you aren't even thinking anything useful or meaningful

Not everyone agrees with your assessment.

You don't need to join a thousand-word p2p consent fetish cult to participate in democracy.

You seem smart.

Dale Carrico said...

Bored now. Diminishing returns, thread commandeering potential rising. No more comments from you will be posted today, cool off, pester somebody else for a while.