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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Funhouse Mirror Has Two Faces: Transhumanists and Bioconservatives on Robototalism

Futurity cannot be delineated but only lived, in serial presents attesting always unpredictably to struggle and to expression. "The Future," to the contrary, brandishing the shackle of its definite article, is always described from a parochial present and is always a funhouse mirror reflecting a parochial present back to itself, amplifying its desires and fears, confirming its prejudices, reassuring its Believers that the Key to History is in their hands. -- Futurological Brickbats
Two pieces on "transhumanism" have attracted a lot of interest this week, or at any rate exhortations to click links on my twitter feed, one of them written a couple of days ago, the other written a couple of years ago. One piece, by Frances Martel, is entitled Defying Human Nature One Cyborg Limb At A Time, the other, by Rebecca Taylor, is entitled Transhumanism Turns People Into Slaves to Technology.

The juxtaposition of titles seems to stage a confrontation, and it is true that one piece is mostly celebratory in tone, the other alarmist. But what strikes me as most interesting about the pairing is what they have in common: in order to take transhumanism seriously enough in the first place to find it worthy of celebration or of alarm both authors must first disdain actually-existing medical and material and computational techniques and their actually-urgent quandaries in the real world, the better to focus on entirely imaginary "technologies" and then to elicit from their conjuration entirely symptomatic wish-fulfillment fantasies and existential dread.

Not incidentally, both of the pieces arrive from right-wing reactionary precincts -- Martel's celebration was published by the notorious Breitbart scandal and conspiracy sheet, Taylor's by "LifeNews," a forced-pregnancy advocacy and woman's healthcare denialist site. This is not an accident -- to engage critically and factually with actually-existing techniques and the urgency of stakes associated with the inequitable distribution of their costs, risks, and benefits would inevitably take us to left-wing progressive precincts.

The first paragraph of Frances Martel's article immediately and insistently lodges her account in the fantastic:
The past few years have seen a surging interest in the international scientific movement to "help end human death." It fears no mechanics and abhors the imperfections of the human body. Transhumanism is snowballing into an international movement aggressively defying human nature and embracing machines.
To begin where Martel begins, let me just insist at the outset that if we are talking about self-identified "transhumanists" and "singularitarians" who think they are part of a techno-transcendental movement sweeping the world, then we need to take assertions about "surging interest" and a "snowballing… international movement" with a grain of salt. Transhumanism remains as it was twenty or forty years ago (depending on whether you want to treat Ettinger's Cryonics Institute, O'Neill's L5 Society, Negroponte's Media Lab, or More's Extropy Institute as the superlative futurological locus classicus) now as ever a minute, marginal, minority subculture or fandom that is indicatively white, male, elite, incumbent. Given the simplification and drama of their distinctive framings of complex technodevelopmental questions for a technoscientifically illiterate, gizmo-fetishizing consumer culture already prone to invest the "technological" with fantasies of superabundance and omnipotence as well as with nightmares of apocalypse and impotence, it has always been the case and remains true today that transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, and the other futurist sects of the Robot Cult have attracted considerably greater media attention than the substance of their claims or their (lack of) credentials would ever warrant otherwise.

Setting that aside, though, it is also true that extreme, marginal, defensive futurological subcultures exist in the context of more prevailing neoliberal/neoconservative consumerist, developmentalist, extractive-industrialist norms and forms suffused with promises of techno-fixes, denials of limits, assumptions about the necessity of performance enhancement, not to mention the pretense of agreement as to what such enhancement consists of. It is for this reason that I am one of these people myself who devotes more attention to transhumanists than they deserve on the merits: This is simply because I regard them as clarifying in their extremity of the absurdity of more prevailing reactionary attitudes (okay, they are also hilarious, and the pure pleasure of it another reason to poke at them). I am not sure that Martel would justify her own interest in transhumanist on comparable grounds -- but instead celebrating as a conservative, say, more prevailing reductive, eugenic, polluting, immiserating technocratic elitisms through celebration of their extreme transhumanist forms where I regard the relation more as a useful reductio ad absurdum.

Beyond this quibble, let me turn to some deeper conceptual difficulties that are already evident in these few opening sentences. To declare that transhumanists are "defying human nature [by] embracing machines" seems for one thing to assume that machines defy rather than express nature when of course they depend on an understanding of the natural world to work at all; and for another thing seems to assume that language-using, tool-making, clothes-wearing, body-training, ground-cultivating, shelter-making, culture-articulating humans defy rather than express their own nature in taking up and taking on prostheses. This arrant absurdity depends for its plausibility and force in fact on Martel's selective fetishization of very particular artifacts and techniques, real and imagined -- computation freighted with omniscience, enhancement freighted with omnipotence, petro/digi/nano/fabbing techniques promising superabundance and hence freighted with post-historical post-political omnibenevolence -- as what we mean by "machines" while denying to most of the field of existing, familiar, assimilated, emerging, fraught artifice and technique the designation "machine" at all.

To declare as Martel does that transhumanism, "fears no mechanics," leaves the important question open, surely, whether or not transhumanists fear any dangerous, violent, exploitative deployments of "mechanics" -- as well as the question whether perhaps a focus on the so-called "nature of mechanics" functions to disavow or distract attention from more urgent political questions of who accesses and controls "mechanics" and to what ends. Likewise, to declare as Martel does that transhumanism "abhors the imperfections of the human body," leaves the important question open, surely, whether or not transhumanists are in a position to dictate what the imperfections of the human body are and in the service of which particular ends should some bodies be treated or made more perfect -- as well as the question whether perhaps a focus on the so-called technical perfectability of the body functions to disavow or distract attention from the fact that agreement does not exist about what human lifeways are and can be treated as legible, liveable, valuable, indispensable, flourishing.

"For transhumanists," writes Martel, "it is simply unethical to have the technology to permanently avoid death and not use it." But does it matter ethically that "the technology to permanently avoid death" does not exist to use, does not even remotely approach real availability for such use? Faith-based futurologists will start sputtering and handwaving at this point about genetic therapies and nanomachines and uploading their minds into Holodeck Heaven and all the rest. They will start citing loose pop-journalist talk and wildly extrapolate from pet press releases from austerity-starved research labs and soap-bubble tech companies, they will declare the "logical compatibility" of their sooper-tech daydreams with known physical laws, whatever our ignorance, whatever our available resources, whatever the costs, whatever the alternate priorities, whatever the distance from existing norms and forms, they will declare my realism and skepticism "anti-science" "luddism" and their own faith-based credulity and hyperbole the championing of "science" and "reason," and on and on and on. But the fact is that not only are none of these superlative techniques actually imminent and, face it, not even sufficiently proximate in the real-world developmental pipeline to enter into personal decision-making or public policymaking at all, but, not to put too fine a point on it: there is not a single therapeutic technique under research or in development the arrival of which in the next decade, or likely within even the coming quarter century, that will increase by as much as five years the average life expectancy of adults in the North Atlantic notional democracies.

Let me amplify the point: not only is it ethically nonsensical to declare "unethical" not using technologies that do not even exist for us to use, I will also say it is flatly unethical to discuss the ethics of imaginary technology at the cost of discussing real technoscience. There are no more urgent ethical dilemmas in the real world than the denial of universal access to basic healthcare in wealthy nations, than the banning of contraception, abortion, and assistive reproductive techniques to women around the world, than the neglect of treatable medical, nutritional, hygienic conditions in the overexploited regions of the world. What Mike Davis said fifteen years ago is as true as ever: access to clean water should be considered the most potent miracle drug on earth. These are the ethical and political discussions we are not having when we are discussing genetic superhuman and digital immortalization -- although, no doubt the latter discussions may best be understood as distorted allegories or symptomatic disavowals of these very real questions and their urgencies.

When Martel describes the transhumanist "movement" -- quoting the cynical self-descriptive vacuity of stealth robot-cult think-tank IEET -- as "creative and ethical use of technology to better the human condition" it is notable that neither creative nor ethical nor better human uses are defined. To do so would immediately reveal the eugenicism and reductivism and techno-triumphalism driving transhumanoid norms. Nor is there any indication in the formulation that none of the "technology" IEET happens actually to be preoccupied with the use of actually exists. To do so would immediately reveal the hyperbole and wish-fulfillment fantasizing driving transhumanoid forms. But it is also worth noting that nobody has to join a Robot Cult (and, indeed, almost nobody ever has) in order to approve the creative and ethical use of actually-available and actually-emerging artifice and techniques, and that if one is looking for actual education, agitation, subsidization, incentivization, legislation based on substantial and relevant definitions of the key terms in that formulation one should certainly look to more mainstream, progressive healthcare advocacy and science advocacy organizations and actually constituted academic disciplines like science and technology studies (STS) and environmental justice criticism (EJC) rather than futurological PR or futurist sub(cult)ural fandoms.

Rebecca Taylor's piece devotes most of its attention to transhumanist tropes and conceits playing out in video games, and if anything this makes the paradoxical address of healthcare realities through the lens of imaginary objects, speculation, projection, hyperbole even more conspicuous in her account than the futurological scenario spinning on which Martel depends. Taylor describes the game "Deus Ex" as transhumanist agitprop -- which is fair enough, I agree -- declaring it a "hard sell for using technology to replace normal body parts augmenting healthy humans beyond normal human abilities." Once again, this critique presumes that what presently count as human bodily norms are not themselves historically-situated, culturally-articulated, prosthetically-elaborated. If transhumanist "enhancement" discourse pretends to know in advance what counts for all as better, optimal, capacious lifeways, in no small part through recourse to an imaginary ideal superior post-human being with which they identify (at the cost, mind you, of threatened dis-identification with existing human lifeway diversity), it is crucial to recognize that bioconservative "preservationist" discourse pretends to know the same, again in no small part through recourse to an equally imaginary ideal normal natural-human with which they identify (once again, at the cost, mind you, of threatened dis-identification with existing lifeway diversity).

"Transhumanism is super seductive," writes Taylor. "And yet the reality will be far from what is depicted" in games like "Deus Ex." It is interesting to pause for a moment -- what exactly is one "seduced" into by this "transhumanism"? Since regenerative/rejuvenation medicine doesn't exist to deliver added centuries of model-sexy youth to lifespans aren't actually available, since uploading our minds as cyberangel avatars in Holodeck Heaven isn't actually available, since there are no designer bodies or babies or clone armies or Harryhausen talking chimeras anywhere nor will there be anytime soon -- what exactly are we being seduced into by transhumanism? As I said before, there are dangers in being seduced into discussing these imaginary outcomes rather than real perplexities, but it seems to me that Taylor is contributing to this danger rather than ameliorating it: When Taylor warns that "the reality will be far from… [the] depict[ion]" she is describing these hyperbolized unreal outcomes themselves as dangerous and worthy of our discussion in their danger, just as Martel seems to regard these hyperbolized unreal outcomes themselves as marvelous and worthy of our discussion for their marvels.

"Once people begin to augment," writes Taylor, "others will feel compelled to do the same, removing perfectly good eyes, ears, limbs and replacing them just to be able to keep up. At this point transhumanism will make man a slave to the technology he creates." To the extent that humans have always been thoroughly linguistic, accultured, prostheticized beings it is in fact profoundly obfuscatory to declare that transhuman fancies, of all things, would inaugurate human "augmentation," and serves to naturalize the contingent norms through which bodies and lives are presently naturalized and abjected in ways that are open to and suitable for contestation. There is indeed quite a lot to be said for the worry that dangerous performance enhancing drugs in the context of organized sport or that profoundly limiting forms of pedagogy in the service of presumably objective standardized measures of performance caught up in a pernicious and parochial logic of competitiveness do enormous harm. There is also a lot to be said about the misinformation, exploitation, and threat of harm associated with actually existing medical techniques in the context of profound inequity and precarity, from organ and egg harvestation, sibling donorship, paid surrogacy to medical treatments made unavailable by intellectual property regimes and made available through misleading advertising. Taylor declares: "I want to applaud the behind-the-scenes creators of these make-believe jaunts into the future of human enhancements. They really do understand what is at stake: our humanity." Note the collapse of "make-believe jaunts" into predictions of real-world futures. If only such hyperbolic projections get at the technoconstitution of "our humanity" then are we to assume that I would be wrong to focus instead, as I do, on the inequitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of the effects of real-world technoscientific change on the actual lifeway diversity of humanity? Once again, for me there is a real question whether what is worst about articles on transhumanism like Taylor's and Martel's is that they distract us from actually-real actually-urgent medical and environmental and technoscience quandaries, or that they are actually symptomatic reactions and loose allegorical treatments of these quandaries that distort our understanding of their stakes and problems by deranging our factual understanding of their capacities and investing them with irrational fears and fantasies. But for me there is no question that they do little good.


Mark Plus said...

"now as ever a minute, marginal, minority subculture or fandom that is indicatively white, male, elite, incumbent"

I organized a cryonics convention which happened back in October, and I met a few people there who don't fit your profile, including two Russian men, a Lithuanian woman, an African black gentleman, a Sikh gentleman, an American black woman with a disability and a Chinese woman. I suppose you would dismiss the Russians as elite white guys with funny accents, but they made a special trip to the U.S. for this gathering because Russia has its own indigenous transhumanist movement, called Cosmism, which started decades before the Western version.

I don't know why you would consider me a member of an "elite," however. I come from Southern white trash, the kind of people H.L. Mencken called "Moronians," and I've never tried to pretend otherwise. In fact my mom came from a literal hillbilly family in Arkansas, and her family spent part of her childhood living like the migrant laborer families in The Grapes of Wrath.

Or do you mean "elite" from the fact that even whites from the gutter can display higher IQ's than, er, other groups in the U.S. and in the vicinity? My father grew up dirt-poor on a farm in Oklahoma; yet when the Army drafted him in 1945 and looked at his results on the IQ tests it gave all inductees, it realized that he had the intelligence to become a cryptographer in the Air Corps. Later he used his G.I. benefits to get a pharmacy degree.

As the state of transhumanism, I've become an annoyance about its shortcomings nearly as much as you, though I try to write about it in plain English. I've even written about these shortcomings online in reference to what I call That '70's Transhumanism, which you can find through a web search of that phrase.

And yet, cryonics has an empirical basis in the here and now which makes it different from other aspects of transhumanism. Look up the website of the Brain Preservation Foundation, set up by mainstream neuroscientists and cryobiologists, whose work the professional skeptic Michael Shermer supports by serving as one of its advisors. I think you dismissed this reference previously as a "weak foundation," or words to that effect; which concedes more than having "no foundation," and allows for progress towards "stronger foundations" by directing resources and human minds towards solving the problems.

Dale Carrico said...

Your little multicultural anecdote is offered up in the face of the overabundant overwhelming evidence to the contrary for anyone who devotes the least attention -- and things look worse the longer and deeper you look -- to the memberships and especially the officers of futurological organizations, the key voices promoting their views, the authors of its canonical texts, and so on. It is hard to see why you would want to make even this hilariously inadequate effort at attaching a figleaf of respectability on questions of diversity and equity (let alone actual science -- Mr. "mainstream sciences agree we will immortalize our frozen hamburgerized brains!") to the libertechbrotarians and evopsycho douchbags of your movement when you so resoundingly and triumphantly reveal yourself to be one of them yourself.

kurt9 said...

All of this transhumanist technology is being developed by private parties using private money. This is especially true for the life extension and cryonics stuff. If we are able to develop this technology on our own, using our own resources, why do we need to get the consent of those who do not share our objects? Or even discuss it with such parties at all? We can simply develop it on our own independent of the attitudes of those who do not share our objectives. I find these kind of "debate" and discussions to be pointless.

jimf said...

> (depending on whether you want to treat Ettinger's Cryonics Institute,
> O'Neill's L5 Society, Negroponte's Media Lab, or More's Extropy Institute
> as the superlative futurological locus classicus)

I take the "locus classicus" as the cohort exemplified by the father
of an 8th-grade school chum of mine, who was a chemical engineer
for a corporation which I will not name (I have no doubt the family
were Republicans), and whose "utility room" (as those semi-detached
carport closets were called in the suburban development
in which we both lived) was packed floor-to-ceiling with sci-fi paperbacks
going back to the early fifties (35-cent Ace Doubles). When I saw
that room, it was like Smaug's hoard for me at that age.
Unfortunately, like Smaug, my friend's Daddy was jealous of his
hoard, and didn't want a neighborhood 12-year-old borrowing any
of his precious stash, even though it was moldering away in an
unheated room probably never to be read again.

Those people got together in "cons" in later years, but after the
advent of the internet (rec.arts.sf-lovers on Usenet, the Extropians
and other mailing lists, etc.) and later of ubiquitous home
computers and the Web, when a new generation (frequently the sons --
always the sons, of course) of the generation following my school-chum's
Dad's encountered each other on-line (and especially after Vernor Vinge's
appropriation of the "Singularity" as a brand-new sci-fi trope),
then we got the birth of "Transhumanism" as we know and love it
today. But the basic personality is the same old grumpy engineer
with the stash of sci-fi paperbacks in the closet.

I actually counted myself as a kindred spirit, or fellow-traveller,
of these people, until I got a chance to interact with them up close.
That shattered the illusion for me. ;->

jimf said...

Mark "Plus" wrote:

> As the state of transhumanism, I've become an annoyance about
> its shortcomings nearly as much as you, though I try to write
> about it in plain English.

Sadly, though, Mr. "Plus" has taken his blog ("The Life of Man Qua
Man on Earth" -- an allusion to the esteemed Ayn Rand) private,
so that his occasionally-entertaining bits of snark about transhumanism
and its principal players are not available anymore for quoting
here. ;->

Dale Carrico said...

All of this transhumanist technology is being developed by private parties using private money. This is especially true for the life extension and cryonics stuff.

Actually, no it isn't. It really isn't. "Uploading," for one, isn't even a coherent ambition (you are not a picture of you, and no computer is eternal), and the trumpeted genetic/ pharmaceutical/ prosthetic/ proposals are loose talk for rubes. I said that no medical breakthroughs will increase the average adult life expectancy in the notional democracies by so much as five years in the next ten years (and most probably the next 25 years). You can stamp your foot but I'm fifty and I've been following futurologists and transhumanists for thirty, this ain't my first time at the rodeo. Of course, medical research is a good thing and one hopes some good therapies and cures are indeed under development to ameliorate suffering and disease -- as I say, providing universal access to healthcare, clean water, basic support free billions of lives to contribute to shared problem-solving and creative expression. You should know better about the silly Robot Cult stuff when it still hasn't panned out in a decade and the promises remain exactly the same and exactly as blissed out.

why do we need to get the consent of those who do not share our objects?

You can join any cult you want to, "kurt9." And once you're dead it is a matter of indifference to me whether your corpse is buried, cremated, mummified, compressed into a diamond, shot into orbit, or your hamburgerized brain wrapped in foil and dropped into dry ice for Randian sociopaths to watch over in a desert. If you want to be resurrected in a sexy robot body that can do Hogwarts magic with nanofog or you want to be uploaded as a cyberangel in Holodeck Heaven, I can't say that is stranger by far than the faiths billions of other people espouse. As a cheerful atheist I find these idiosyncrasies charming to the extent that they do not function as rationales for reactionary politics. Of course, if fraudulent claims are being made, they should be prosecuted, and if ridiculous claims are being made, they should be ridiculed.

Or even discuss it with such parties at all?

I invite discussion but certainly am in no position to demand or censor it. You seemed to want to say something, and here you are saying it. I say what I want, too. It's not a bad arrangement.

We can simply develop it on our own independent of the attitudes of those who do not share our objectives.

You are not an island, neither science nor discourse more generally are solitary endeavors. It is true that transhumanoids and singularitarians often pine in public places for a separatist enclave to retreat to -- a private island, an oil platform paradise city, a dome under the sea, a secret lab in the asteroid belt. I daresay it is no easy thing to want to "technology" to enable you to live forever in a treasure pile under the ministrations of a kindly parental Robot God when all the actually knowledgeable scientists say you can't and most people know the difference between scientific communities and science fiction fandoms.

I find these kind of "debate" and discussions to be pointless.

I don't doubt it. True Believers always do. But I tell you earnestly that you will not find techno-transcendence in Robototalism, via Robot God, Robot Bodies, Nanobotic Magic, or the rest... not because your evil luddite foes don't believe in The Future with their whole hearts like you do, but quite simply because magic isn't real. Science and science fiction are both marvelous, but don't get it twisted.

Dale Carrico said...

rec.arts.sf-lovers on Usenet, the Extropians and other mailing lists, etc.

Ah, back in the early days when I lurked more than I smirked.

Dale Carrico said...

I still think the crucial proto-futurist sub(cult)ure accreted around OMNI magazine. I still remember getting my breathless mailings from Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw and Gerard O'Neill, the life extension and drextech scams were more than fledgling already. I'm pretty sure I heard about cryonics there first too, but maybe I saw Ettinger on Johnny Carson like so many million others -- funny the "movement" remained so marginal after all that free press, isn't it? L5 was a Drexler incubator. I can't remember if there was much cross-pollination between OMNoIds and MIT's Media Lab -- Minsky, Drexler, Hillis, Reingold cluster there with Negroponte -- there you find WIRED, the Foresight Institute, the Well, the crowd, the Long Now boutique futurists all rubbing shoulders... It really always has been a rather tinpot fiefdom, futurology.

John Howard said...

Rebecca Taylor is a lot like you: she moans about Transhumanism like she's the staunchest critic, but she actually is a Transhumanist in practice and belief. You are a transhumanist because you support enabling people to reproduce with someone of the same sex, which isn't something healthy humans are able to do, and she is a Transhumanist because she supports enabling people to pass on "fixed" gametes when they reproduce, rather than the genes they inherited, which isn't something healthy humans are able to do. I don't know how she thinks doctors will fix the bad genes in their gonads so that the reproduction is Vatican approved p-in-v unitive and procreative, but she considers this goal the proper Vatican teaching. If so, I think the Vatican is Transhumanist too.

Dale Carrico said...

Everyone's a transhumanist but you, John. And we're coming for your sperm. (See how I did that?)

John Howard said...

I think most normal people are against genetic engineering and same-sex reproduction. Most are both against paying for them and against letting people break the barrier of sexual reproduction and putting people at risk.

Don't you think it's interesting that the Vatican and her seem to hold out hope for germline genetic engineering to fix genetic defects, as long as it fixes the defect in the person's sperm and eggs, so they reproduce sexually with these improved eugenic gametes? I think it counts as transhumanism and violates people's natural rights and ability.

Happy New Year, Dale

Dale Carrico said...

Plenty of people support medical techniques that safely and affordably improve their lives on their terms. Plenty of people don't like the idea of dangerous techniques that harm people, especially in ways that they are not informed about, nor do they like the idea that potentially useful techniques to improve the lives of exploited or marginalized people are not developed because corporations don't expect to profit from them or because cruel, bigoted reactionaries don't care about the unnecessary suffering or unfulfilled needs of exploited or marginalized people.

I advocate equitable access to informed nonduressed consenting persons of safe, effective, wanted medical therapies, and I advocate increased research and development of medical knowledge to expand the availability of such therapies. That's the general principle here. It applies to existing medical techniques and would apply to medical techniques that do not now exist only when they did. Would most people agree with this general principle? Whatever you say to the contrary, they certainly should, and I am quite sure plenty do.

I also have advocated taking great care interrogating the perspective from which eugenicists declare certain differences to be "defects," or proclaim lifeways "optimal" or "unliveable" -- indifferent to the actual wants and needs and values and realities of people whose lifeways they are. I would hope the Vatican, like other influential and authoritative sites, takes care in making such declarations. If germline genetic techniques were to arrive that could actually safely and accessibly prevent parents from having offspring with unwanted conditions or capacities, I might disapprove of the ideological construction of traits compatible with human flourishing as undesirable in ways that would invite campaigns of education, I might disapprove of the safety or fairness of a particular implementation or oversight regime for a technique that would invite campaigns of agitation and organization for better access or better regulation. As for "hopes" and "fears" -- I don't much care about these except as symptoms, and I care more about the actual state of the art, the actual results of research, and the practical institutional terrain through which people are informed about, access, and afford healthcare that actually exists.

There is indeed a barrier to samesex reproduction, you know -- the barrier of its non-existence. Because no such therapies exist I think you are wrong to pretend that people "disapprove" of that non-thing any more than or in any different way than they would disapprove of leprechauns. It may be that no safe, affordable samesex reproductive techniques will ever arrive. I for one would disapprove any unsafe techniques, or techniques the costs, risks, or benefits of which were inequitably distributed to their actual stakeholders.

Dale Carrico said...

In any case, I have no real horse in this race since my partner and I don't want or even like kids. Samesex reproductive techniques are something I only discuss when you bring your personal obsession with them to my blog -- even though I have noticed that you like to declare that bringing samesex reproduction to the world is some part of "my gay agenda," presumably because you have some personal problems triggered by this topic that you really should take up with a therapist.

Now, I actually think providing safer, more accessible, actually existing abortion, contraception, and assistive reproductive techniques across the United States and to overexploited regions of the world is the urgent priority for reproductive medicine, and providing clean water, wholesome food, and basic healthcare for all human beings in the world is the more generally urgent medical priority. One way you can tell this is actually my "agenda" is that I say it all the time.

Anyway, I think the "transhumanist" pining to overcome all bodily limits, quite apart from the conceptual incoherence of such a wish, also tends to express an unhealthy fear of the ineradicable finitude of human life and a loathing of the body. I described this pining as "transhumanist," but more diffuse forms of this fear and loathing suffuse our wasteful, irresponsible, narcissistic, techno-fetishizing consumer society in ways that are probably not best characterized as "transhumanism." "Transhumanism" seems to me a clarifying extremity of more prevailing pathologies.

That said, the norms of human capacity and expectations of health are retroactive constructions reflecting historically contingent relationships to knowledge, technique, infrastructural affordances, customs, legal codes. These are always diverse and changing, whether you are comfortable with this reality or not.

A "bioconservative" valorization of present norms and pining for stasis is as incoherent as "transhumanist" declarations of smashing through all limits. I also tend to think obsessive idealization of present norms over possible differences usually expresses a bigoted fear of those who are different enough to want such differences. I put "bioconservative" in scare-quotes because like "transhumanism" I think these are clarifying extremities of more prevailing pathologies -- there are plenty of selectively reactionary fixations on scary changes that provoke loose talk of bans the authors of which probably aren't consistently "bioconservative" the way, say, certain socially conservative bioethicists are.

Dale Carrico said...

To be honest, if we are going to generalize this way, I do think transhumanoid and bioconservative temperaments are rather structurally similar in their arguments and also comparably unhealthy in the face of the basic role of chance and change in human lives as they are really lived: Transhumanists would pretend to control chance and change through compulsive pill-popping, fad diets, fetishistic consumption of flashy gizmos and cosmetic spectacles giving flesh to a more faith-based initiative of techno-transcendence and mastery through fairy-tale wish-fulfillment future technologies; while bioconservatives would pretend to control chance and change through selective excoriations as dangerous or undignified of the diversity of human subcultures and lifeways which they would limit with legal bans and boycotts of media representations and so on giving flesh to a more faith-based initiative of preservation of normality through the absolute repudiation of fairy-tale nightmare future technologies.

You seem to think even safe, affordable, accessible samesex reproductive techniques, whatever those might happen to be, if they arrive at all, should be banned on principle even if sane, informed, nonduressed people with whom you share the world differ from you in wanting access to them. If actually-existing techniques when they exist are actually safe and actually equitable accessible and wanted by actually informed, nonduressed citizens and you still want to ban them, I cannot say that your view makes much sense to me. You have repeated them over and over and over again over the years. We all know what you are afraid of. It was never sensible or it's not interesting anymore.

jimf said...

Mark "Plus" wrote:

> I organized a cryonics convention which happened back in October,
> and I met a few people there who don't fit your profile, including. . .
> an American black woman with a disability. . .

Whose initials wouldn't happen to be K.W., would they?

If so, she's certainly an outlier -- educated at Stanford and MIT
(according to the Web), a long-time Extropian, a libertarian,
and a "software QA engineer".

Her skin color and gender certainly make her an (extreme)
outlier, but the Stanford/MIT/Extropian/libertarian/software engineer
checkboxes aren't so atypical.

How many of the other folks in your list are computer programmers
and/or libertarians, I wonder?